All-Star Mistakes and Snubs

Yesterday, the release of the AL and NL rosters for the 2012 All-Star game in Kansas City led to the inevitable flurry of debate and disgust that I’ll now indulge myself in. Over at Sports Illustrated, Jay Jaffe already has blogged his thoughts on the subject and at ESPN’s SweetSpot, David Schoenfield has done the same. And before the results were announced yesterday, Keith Law at ESPN Insider, Dave Cameron at Fangraphs and other ESPN pundits had given their roster votes.

I’ll start my thoughts with a few general comments before naming the mistakes, the snubs, and my take on the final votes. One thing I’ll note about the roster is that bullpen overkill is a theme. The rules mean the managers of their respective teams have to take relievers, but there seems to always be at least one more than necessary, leaving off a deserving starter for a pitcher with a fraction of the value. Another is that some mistakes are the lingering effect of poor choices by the fans–as we’ll see with players like Derek Jeter. Lastly, it is obvious, but there are of course only so many spots, so there are bound to be some snubs–it is the egregious ones that we really have to care about.

Let’s start with the mistakes. For me, these are the three worst selections on the A.L. Roster:

1) Chris Perez, RP, Cleveland Indians

Somehow, this is his second All-Star selection. Last year, at the All-Star break, Perez had a 2.43 ERA that masked a ugly 22/15 K/BB ratio in 33 1/3 innings. Perez is certainly better this year (32/7 ratio in 30 1/3 innings), but he’s taking a spot away from much more deserving teammates. Asdrubal Cabrera rightly made the team, but his middle infield partner Jason Kipnis should have as well. Perez is simply nothing special for a reliever with 30 1/3 innings so far, though as I’ll mention later, fellow reliever Ryan Cook could be here as well. It’s less about Perez himself and more about overvaluing closers generally. Anyways, what fan wants to see some decent relievers pitch in the All Star game over the likes of exciting starters like Yu Darvish, Zack Greinke, and Jake Peavy? Anyone?

2) Derek Jeter, SS, New York Yankees

This was a fan selection and it was one that seems to reflect Jeter’s status as a legend and his hot start that seemed to be a late career resurgence. But the luck ran out and Jeter has turned back into a lemon since April. With a groundball percentage of 65.2% and a isolated power of .103, Jeter is continuing a three-year trend of losing his power and becoming a streaky hitter. His defense also needs to be moved off of short at 38, but good luck convincing Jeter, his fans, his teams, and pundits of that. Nonetheless, Jeter’s batting line (.299/.349/.402, 102 OPS+) and his weak defense have his WAR totals low (0.5 rWAR, 0.9 fWAR). Elvis Andrus should be the starting shortstop, with Cabrera his backup spot and Jeter’s spot open so another deserving All-Star (Kipnis, Josh Willingham, Edwin Encarnacion, etc) could join the squad.

3) Billy Butler, DH, Kansas City Royals

Adam Dunn actually wasn’t that great of a All-Star pick either and he could be here just as well–after all, this is more about the absolute lack of necessity for a backup DH for the All-Star game as much as anything else.  But it is also about who should have been representing the host Royals at the All-Star game and there is no question that Butler’s teammates Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon have been much more valuable.

Gordon hasn’t been able to replicate last season’s breakout offensive numbers, but his defensive metrics, if trusted, are quite good and he’s still getting on base. Moustakas is the real breakout player here and a potential future star. He’s hitting .269/.333/.491 and playing excellent at third–giving him WAR scores of 2.5 rWAR/2.8 fWAR/2.2 WARP. Butler’s been fine, but if there was a need for a backup DH, Edwin Encarnacion would be a much better pick, with his .300/.383/.575 (.404 wOBA, .337 TAv, 2.6 fWAR/2.5 WARP) line vs. Butler’s .290/.361/.500 line (.367 wOBA, .295 TAv, 1.2 fWAR/0.8 WARP).

Biggest AL Snubs:

1) Austin Jackson, OF, Detroit Tigers

The Tigers already have a representative who’s among the least deserving at the game–one who could have been on my list–in Prince Fielder. The fans blew that. But Jackson has been among the best players in the AL this year and I’m not sure everyone has noticed. He lost some time to injury, but along with his usually great defense in center, he’s become a legitimately better hitter, cutting down on strikeouts and becoming more patient. The results? A .320/.402/.532 line (153 OPS+, .404 wOBA, .329 TAv, 3.1 refWAR/3.6 fWAR/2.8 WARP). Sure, he has a .396 BABIP, but he’s also a fast player for whom a higher BABIP isn’t as “lucky,” as evidenced by his career .374 BABIP.

For me, Jackson is the AL’s Andrew McCutchen. He’s only 25 and he’s a potential star the game should market. He’s also one of the best players around right now. Without question, a player of his caliber deserves to be at the game over someone like Jeter. To add insult to injury, somehow the MLB has decided that Jonathan Broxton and Ernesto Frieri–all of his 24 innings, though they’ve been quite good–are more deserving of being on the final vote ballot. Insane.

2) Josh Reddick, OF, Oakland A’s

Ryan Cook is the A’s sole representative at the All-Star game and that’s quite sad. It’s sad both because of Cook being undeserving and unnecessary and because Reddick has quite clearly been the A’s best player. In fact, he’s representative of the big win that Billy Beane had over the winter in the Andrew Bailey trade. Cook has pitched 35 innings and sure he’s been quite good–1.54 ERA–but like any 35 inning sample, it’s not that valuable. A .154 BABIP has helped him a ton–hence his 2.92/4.34 FIP/xFIP scores.

As for Reddick, he’s probably being punished for having a lower average and being a A’s player, but with his .258/.338/.520 line in that abysmal concrete dungeon they call a stadium in Oakland, Reddick has produced a 132 OPS+/.367 wOBA/.305 TVa and 2.0 refWAR/3.1 fWAR/1.9 WARP.  Reddick is in this spot as much for who is there in his stead from his team, but his individual case is plenty strong.

3) Josh Willingham, OF, Twins

Yes, Twins fans, Willingham is getting screwed. Joe Mauer is unquestionably a deserving pick (a .320/.420/.464 line, leading the league in OBP makes for a elite player that fans should been more than happy with), but Willingham should be joining him. He’s been killing the ball all season, though like Reddick, he’s probably still losing out due to his low average–managers still value that statistic despite the clear evidence that OBP is a much better measurement of offensive skill.

Willingham has hit .272/.383/.551, good for a 152 OPS+/.398 wOBA/.323 TAv and 2.4 rWAR/2.8 fWAR/3.1 WARP.  He’s been one of the best hitters in the league and, for what’s it is worth, he’s long been underrated. Naturally, Willingham isn’t up for the final vote either. This hurts more as a Twins fan, but this isn’t bias–the guy has been that good.

Apologies to: Jake Peavy, A.J. Pierzynski, Jason Kipnis, Moustakas, Gordon, Brett Lawrie, Encarnacion, Ben Zobrist, Jason Hammels

Now, let’s switch over to the NL, where we have the most egregious oversight–no Greinke returning to Kaufmann. Again, we’ll start with the mistake picks:

1) Bryan LaHair, 1B, Chicago Cubs

This one isn’t too hard to pick out. First base has been a weak position throughout baseball this season outside of baseball’s best hitter, Joey Votto, but LaHair hasn’t been that great regardless. The Cubs already have a representative in shortstop Starlin Castro, so they don’t need LaHair. LaHair, who’s 29 and getting his first real shot as a regular, is a great story–like former Mariners farmhand Michael Morse for the Nats–but that doesn’t make it a better choice.

His .288/.364/.521 line (139 OPS+, .375 wOBA, .304 TAv) is good but hardly overwhelming–hence the 0.8 rWAR/1.1 fWAR/0.2 WARP.  His selection is pretty indefensible, especially given that a backup first baseman isn’t that necessary–it isn’t as if David Wright or some other corner infielder couldn’t do it–and there are better backup first baseman available. One would be Paul Goldschmidt, who is hitting .308/.377/.551 (143 OPS+, .399 wOBA, .328 TAv), good for a 2.2 rWAR/2.3 fWAR/1.9 WARP. Again, Goldschmidt is a up-and-coming star the game should be aiming to display–especially given his light tower power. LaHair is a fine story, but his single hot month of April doesn’t make him an All-Star.

2) Huston Street, RP, San Diego Padres

This is the Ryan Cook problem in the NL, except for it might be worse. Street has a 1.29 ERA, sure, but in a mere 21 innings. You read that correct. It is hard to convince me that is enough to create value worthy of being an All-Star, especially when the Padres have better candidates for All-Stars, particularly Chase Headley. Because he plays in a park that is death to right-handed power (Petco), Headley’s unadjusted numbers (.271/.372/.417) don’t look that impressive, but with speed, solid defense, and on-base ability, his value is among the best for third-basemen in the NL.

Headley’s batting line gives him a 122 OPS+/.349 wOBA/.291 TAv, good for 2.3 rWAR/3.3 fWAR/1.6 WARP. Street isn’t anywhere close to that. Street has had a great 21 innings, but again, it’s the reliever issue. Do we really need another closer at the All-Star game? (Note that Jonathan Palpelbon could go here as well–he’s not even among the best relievers in the NL right now.)

3)  Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati Reds

Dusty Baker is right to be upset about Johnny Cueto’s All Star snub, but one of his players also wrongly was added by Tony LaRussa. Maybe he should see that exchange. Bruce’s power has him getting plenty of love, but his .332 OBP is weak and keeps his value down–hence his WAR scores of 1.4 rWAR/1.4 fWAR/1.9 WARP and a 122 OPS+/.357 wOBA/.294 TAv. Bruce isn’t a terrible pick necessarily, but he certainly is compared to those he’s keeping out of the game in the outfield–particularly Jason Heyward, Michael Bourn, Martin Prado, and Matt Holliday.

NL All-Star Snubs:

1) Zack Greinke, SP, Milwaukee Brewers

A case for Greinke can be made by either traditional or advanced numbers. After all, it isn’t like he’s not winning games–he has a 9-2 record, 106 Ks and a 3.08 ERA. By the advanced numbers, he has a 2.37 FIP, 2.78 xFIP, 135 ERA+, 2.6 rWAR, 3.5 fWAR, and 2.4 WARP. Greinke’s 106/24 K/BB ratio has been excellent. This is where having someone like Palpelbon (Cole Hamels is on the roster, so the Phillies don’t need another rep) is indefensible if it means Greinke stays home. And, yes, predictably, Greinke isn’t even in the final vote. No, room had to be found for David Freese and his .334 OBP–that’s the guy who’s likely to win. Sigh.

2) Michael Bourn, OF, Atlanta Braves

As noted, the Braves have a trio of deserving All-Stars left off the roster between Bourn, Heyward, and Prado, so you could put any one of them as a snub, but I’ll go with Bourn. Bourn is a above average defensive center fielder who get’s on base, has shown a bit of a power surge this year, and of course, has wheels that give him value on the bases. He’s hit .305/.355/.444 (114 OPS+, .351 wOBA, .285 TAv) this year with a 3.7 rWAR/4.1 fWAR/1.8 WARP.  Bourn has been one of the better players in the NL this year and at least he’s on the final vote ballot. One thing I’ll say is because of that, Heyward maybe should be here–at least because he’s 22 and a up-and-coming star. Either way, having Bruce there over one of these guys is a shame. Holliday has a great case too, which is odd, since his old manager choose Bruce over him. Again, is Dusty sure there is that much vindictive bias going around?

3)  Aaron Hill, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks

Hill is on the final ballot, too, but he’s still a bad snub at least in part due to the presence of Rafael Furcal as the starting shortstop for the NL–a poor choice by the fans. Jose Altuve is the other second baseman on the roster, but he’s got a fine case and he’s the sole representative for the Astros. Also, the D-backs rep is Wade Miley, who’s been good but not great–certainly not better than Greinke or Cueto (though, he’s better as a pick than Lance Lynn, another Cardinal–apparently LaRussa just didn’t know who his best talent was).

Hill has been streaky and inconsistent throughout his career, with .205/.271/.394 and  .246/.299/.356 lines the last few years, but hitting in the desert has resurrected his career. He’s hitting .301/.359/.514 (129 OPS+, .371 wOBA, .293 TAv) with good value in the field and on the bases, given him WAR scores of 2.1 rWAR/2.8 fWAR/2.2 WARP. I continue to consider candidates like Cueto here, but I’d say there are bad snubs.

Apologies to:  Cueto, Prado, Heyward, Holliday, Headley, Madison Bumgarner, James McDonald

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2 Responses to All-Star Mistakes and Snubs

  1. Neal says:

    As a Reds fan, I was especially interested to read your NL assessment. I think you were right to look at Bruce’s undeserved honor as karmic compensation for the Cueto snub. I also think you were right to pick Hill for 2B. I’m sick of listening to people in Cincinnati carp about the exclusion of Phillips. After hearing the insipid statistical arguments (Phillips deserves the start because he’s leading the NL in RBI) and conspiracy theories (LaRussa is getting back at Phillips for fighting with Molina two years ago) that pass for All-Star analysis in my city, I find your blog to be a breath of fresh air.

  2. Nick says:

    Funny thing is that I didn’t even think much about Phillips. Phillips is a fine player, but as I’ve written about with regards to his extension, he’s long been overrated by the segment of fans and writers you refer to. Depending on your choice of metrics, he’s either doing pretty good this year (2.3 fWAR, 2.1 rWAR) or he’s doing pretty mediocre (0.3 WARP, .255 TAv, 102 OPS+, .333 wOBA). It’s easy to say, but the truth lies in the middle, which of course means that Phillips shouldn’t be an All-Star. But maybe I’m just biased against guys with .326 OBPs (.322 career). Is this becoming a theme with overrated Reds?

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