Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Less Than "All-Stars"

There's still five weeks until the All-Star Game, and already there's plenty of discussion about the Midsummer Classic. In fact, the discussion is already a couple of weeks old, and seems to be focused mainly on Manny Ramirez.

When the initial All-Star voting results were announced, friend of the blog Jason, from It Is About the Money, Stupid, decided to start the Vote for Manny! blog. The site is meant as a statement against the conflicting nature of the All-Star Game - on one hand, it's an exhibition for the fans (why else allow fans to vote for the starters, or require one player per team to be on the roster?), but on the other, it's a very meaningful game, with World Series home field advantage on the line. In Jason's own words:
I do not want to see Manny in the All Star Game. Are we clear on this? I started the "Vote For Manny" site to illustrate the joke that the voting, the "this time it counts"/World Series home field advantage rule, the mandatory representation, the still-soft PED rules...has become. I want to see the best players selected, not the most popular.
One of the more prevalent criticisms of Jason's "movement" is that, by voting Manny to the All-Star team, voters will be preventing someone more deserving, like Raul Ibanez, from making the team. It's a fair observation, and one that Jason is aware of. He addressed that topic today:
There's the rub: Many people felt that a vote for Manny would be taking the spot away from a player --like Ibanez-- who otherwise deserved to start (or make the team). Big kudos to the fans in Philly who got out and voted like mad. They launched Ibanez from 6th to 2nd last week, and up to 1st in this week's tally. Totally deserved, too.
But he also noticed something interesting:
So, my Philly friends, how do you reconcile the fact that you also voted for a shortstop who is hitting just 0.222 with and OBP of 0.261, three HR and just ten SB? Doesn't the vote for Rollins fly right in the face of "a more deserving player does not get to play in the ASG"? Isn't that hypocritical, silly, contradictory?
Jason goes on to say that he actually *likes* having the fan vote and having a one-player-per-team minimum, but all of that seems to fly in the face of "this time it counts" nature of the game today.

I can't say that I disagree with any of that, and I'm not sure I have a solution to it (outside of dropping the home-field advantage thing entirely). What I can say, though, is that these poor fans' selections - like Rollins - have been around for years and years, and would probably never go away as long as the fans have a vote. I took a look back at the All-Star starters for the last 25 years (non-pitchers, since fans only vote on the position players) and did my best to sort them into good and bad seasons. From there, I took the worst players looked at each player's 1st- and 2nd-half splits. The All-Stars with the worst first-half at each position are below. I guess you can call it an:
All-Star Roster of the Crappiest All-Stars
C: Benito Santiago, 1992 - .250/.281/.365, 84 OPS+ [Hometown Hero, San Diego]
1B: Steve Garvey, 1984 - .285/.308/.364, 90 OPS+ [Legendary]
2B: Steve Sax, 1990 - .270/.322/.321, 81 OPS+
[Legendary: Roberto Alomar, 2000 - .267/.336/.419, 90 OPS+]
3B: Cal Ripken, 2001 - .240/.270/.324, 56 OPS+ [Legendary]
SS: Ozzie Smith, 1994 - .240/.309/.323, 67 OPS+ [Legendary]
OF: Lenny Dykstra, 1995 - .262/.347/.672, 81 OPS+
OF: Vince Coleman, 1988 - .275/.326/.374, 100 OPS+ (45 SBs/14 CS)
OF: Hideki Matsui, 2003 - .299/.356/.449, 113 OPS+
Before I compiled the list, I expected to find three different types of bad selections: Legends (the players, like Cal Ripken, who was elected to start the All-Star Game because of his legendary career moreso than his current season), Hometown Heroes (the players, like Benito Santiago in 1992, who was elected to start the All-Star Game in his home ballpark), and Other (any other bad selection, usually based off of the players' popularity or his team's popularity, like being elected to start the All-Star game a year after his team was in the World Series).

While these categories definitely exist, they were a little harder to find than I expected. In fact, I initially tried fielding an All-Star team for each of those categories, but I couldn't. A few of the positions - outfield and first-base, mostly - were just too strong year-in and year-out. You can see that in the list above. Other than Lenny Dykstra, the outfield slots just aren't that bad. Coleman at least had 45 steals at the All-Star break that year, while Matsui was hitting .300. They may be borderline All-Stars, but they're nowhere near as bad as some of the other choices were.

Even knowing all of this, I still like the exhibition nature of the All-Star game. It's nice to have a say in who plays, and it's even better when your players get selected. Obviously, the fans don't get it right every year, but that is most certainly the exception instead of the rule, and one that I'm willing to live with. It's still the best All-Star game in pro sports, and I look forward to watching it every year. The home-field advantage is an interesting twist that adds to its significance, but I don't think it should last. As Jason points out with his Vote for Manny! blog, you should not have an exhibition game - that is designed to be fun and strictly for the fans - mean something significant. And, while it won't keep me from watching and enjoying the game, it would be nice to see the rules changed.


Jason @ IIATMS said...

I'd change it all by eliminating the "this time it counts" crap. Let the game be a 9 inning exhibition and that's it. If it's a tie, so be it.

Paul said...

I think Manny is very deserving of an All Star spot. He is one of the top 3 hitters in the National League, even if he has missed 50 games. If the NL is trying to win the game by fielding the best roster possible, then there is no doubt that Manny should be on the team.