Each year, about 15 minutes after the excitement of seeing who was named to the All-Star Game has worn off, the next step we take is to start carping about who didn’t make it. It’s a summer rite of passage as old as the game itself. Here at FanGraphs, we’re no different, so let’s take a look at the snubbiest snubs that were snubbed.
First, let’s establish the ground rules, because frankly, we have to narrow the focus — I could go all day here. It’s no secret that Pablo Sandoval isn’t the best third baseman in the National League this year. In fact, by WAR, he is tied for 10th in the NL with Chris Johnson. That’s not a newsflash. It’s also not a newsflash that guys like Derek Jeter had no business on the American League team, and that any sentence that begins with “All-Star Bryan LaHair” will have a 95 percent chance of ending in hilarity. But that’s not what we’re going to look at here. No, today we’re going to focus on the managerial selections, because Tony La Russa and Ron Washington have the chance to rectify the wrongs of the fan and player voting.
For frame of reference, here is a handy chart breaking down who was selected by whom:
Some of the selections were mandatory players — the Diamondbacks, Marlins, Padres and Phillies. For the D-backs, the choice likely came down to Wade Miley versus Aaron Hill. There isn’t much question that Hill is having the better year, as his WAR is 0.7 greater, and you would think that the added bonus of being the first player since 1933 to hit for the cycle twice in the same season would serve as a nice tiebreaker, but it didn’t. Hill is also leading NL second basemen in wOBA, wRC+, homers, ISO, SLG and WAR. And Hill’s WAR total hasn’t been aided much by his defense — his inclusion was really a no-brainer.
Even more egregious on a team level though was the selection of Huston Street over Chase Headley. Street was hurt for a good portion of the season, and has only compiled 0.9 WAR, compared to Headley’s 3.3, a mark this is second among NL third basemen only to David Wright. Street has had a nice season in his own right — his WAR ties him for sixth among NL relievers, and his 1.24 FIP ranks second (min. 20 IP). But that’s the thing, he’s only thrown 20 innings this season, and it’s hard to justify the inclusion of a guy who’s only thrown 20 innings.
Street’s selection has been justified in some circles as the need to have extra pitchers, but that doesn’t fly in my book. The player vote ensures that five starters and three relievers are selected. Honestly, you can’t make it through a game with eight pitchers? Your top three starters can throw two innings each, and then your relievers toss one inning each, leaving two starting pitchers to cover any extra-inning scenarios. At two innings per leftover starter, that takes you through the 13th inning with no problem. Only three All-Star Games — 1950, 1967 and 2008 — have ever progressed past the 13th inning.
However, if you did need more pitchers, it seems unfathomable that you would pick a reliever over a starter, especially when that reliever was a voluntary selection. While Street can hide behind the sole selection, there is no excuse for Jonathan Papelbon’s selection. Even among relievers, his selection wasn’t justified — his 3.02 FIP ranks 18th among qualified relievers, and his 0.5 WAR is tied for 17th. Papelbon has not even been an elite reliever, let alone an elite pitcher. In his place, either Zack Greinke or Johnny Cueto should have been selected. Greinke leads all NL pitchers with a 3.6 WAR and 2.21 FIP, and it’s not like he’s suffered in traditional categories either — he’s 9-2, and his 2.82 ERA is tied for 13th in the NL. He is one of eight NL pitchers to have already crossed that 100 strikeout threshold. Really, there’s no excuse. Cueto has been nearly as good in his own right. To add insult to injury, neither player was chosen for the Final Vote.
Greinke’s exclusion is the most egregious on the NL side. The selections of Ian Desmond (who is leads NL shortstops in WAR and is second in both wOBA and wRC+), Cole Hamels, Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Ruiz (third in the NL in WAR) and Giancarlo Stanton all make perfect sense. However, if Hill and Headley make the team, there is less need for Desmond, and his spot could have gone to Greinke, Cueto or one of the Braves’ outfielders. Then again, one of them should have been selected instead of Jay Bruce. The Braves’ three outfielders, Michael Bourn, Martin Prado and Jason Heyward rank fifth, sixth and eighth in the NL in WAR. Bruce is tied for 44th. Yes, he is tied for fourth among NL outfielders in home runs, but his .257 average ranks 22nd, behind Will Venable. Neither his wOBA nor his wRC+ rank him in the top 10 among NL outfielders. Between the Final Vote and Matt Kemp potentially needing an injury replacement, Bourn may eventually find his way on to the roster, but the fact that justice may ultimately be served doesn’t excuse the poor original selection.
Over on the AL side, the selections of Elvis Andrus, Felix Hernandez and Joe Mauer all make perfect sense. You could argue that a third catcher is not necessary, and that perhaps Josh Willingham was slightly more deserving than Mauer, but Mauer is one of the game’s marquee names, and Willingham is going to have to better than 0.1 WAR in difference to bump him. Similarly, Matt Harrison has pitched very well, and it’s difficult to really be upset with his selection, unless you’re Jake Peavy. Peavy has a better WAR and FIP than does Harrison, but they’re close enough that Washington can’t be killed for picking his own guy. And if he was going to select another reliever, Joe Nathan was clearly the pick — he has led AL relievers in WAR and FIP. But with Nathan in tow, there was really no reason whatsoever to choose Ryan Cook over Josh Reddick. Cook is tied for fourth in the AL in shutdowns, but neither his 2.91 FIP or 0.7 WAR are anything special. Even his 1.54 ERA ranks only ninth among qualified AL relievers, and six of the eight in front of him didn’t make the team.
Reddick, on the other hand, is the only A’s player with a WAR greater than two, and one of just nine AL players to have a WAR greater than three. Six of those nine made the All-Star team, but Reddick, Austin Jackson and Alex Gordon were left out in the cold. Gordon could have easily been the Royals’ selection, as between David Ortiz, Adam Dunn, Mauer and Mark Trumbo, the AL already had plenty of guys who have no business playing the field in an All-Star Game. Gordon should have been the choice over Billy Butler. And while Nathan has been the AL’s best reliever, I come back to the point that eight pitchers are all that is necessary. With Harrison and Hernandez, that made 10. Nathan simply was not needed. You can argue all day that relievers are better suited for the All-Star Game because they are more used to warming up in-game, but there is no reason that the manager can’t map out his pitchers ahead of time, giving each starter the requisite time needed to warm up. Jackson, Edwin Encarnacion or Jason Kipnis were more deserving of Nathan’s spot.
Each season, the convoluted All-Star process makes it difficult to get the best 68 players into the game. But the managers are given the final say, one last opportunity to make things right, and they continuously fail to do so. The Final Vote is somewhat of a measure to do this as well, but the most deserving players aren’t always put on the ballot there either. Wade Miley, Huston Street, Jonathan Papelbon and Jay Bruce could have easily been Aaron Hill, Chase Headley, Zack Greinke and Michael Bourn or Johnny Cueto. Likewise, Ryan Cook, Joe Nathan and Billy Butler could have been Josh Reddick, Austin Jackson and Alex Gordon. That they aren’t isn’t a great crime — after all, it’s just an exhibition game, no matter how many incentives Major League Baseball tries to tie to the result — but it’s disappointing when the best players aren’t recognized.
Apologies to Josh Johnson, James McDonald, A.J. Ellis, Matt Holliday, Madison Bumgarner, Cliff Lee, Brett Lawrie, Mike Moustakas, Ben Zobrist, Jason Hammel and Yu Darvish for being snubbed from being a snub. You all deserved better.