The Best Non-All-Star Seasons of the Past 50 Years

This past weekend, we learned the rosters for the 2013 MLB All-Star Game. Perhaps more popular than the game itself is the practice of complaining about who did and didn’t make it, and so there are countless articles talking about snubs, and whatnot. One does have to note the absence of both Evan Longoria and Josh Donaldson, who currently rank sixth and seventh in baseball in WAR. Each would be a deserving representative, as each has a compelling case for eligibility. But, to be fair, it’s unclear just what the All-Star Game is supposed to reward, and over the past calendar year, Donaldson’s WAR rank drops to ninth, while Longoria’s drops to 14th. Wait, I don’t think that made the intended point.

Longoria, probably, should be in there, as should Donaldson. On the pitching side, perhaps the biggest snub is Derek Holland. But I don’t want to sit here and complain about possible snubs; rather, I want to talk a little bit about the best seasons put up by players who weren’t All-Stars. It wouldn’t make sense to complain, since I don’t actually care very much. But history is interesting, and below, we’ll examine some great seasons from between 1963-2012 that didn’t include an All-Star nod. Granted, the All-Star Game is in the middle, but these seasons at least look funny in retrospect. How do Longoria and Donaldson measure up?

Here’s how this is going to go: a pair of top-five lists, for position players and for pitchers. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll use FanGraphs’ WAR, and we’ll include only qualified players. For pitchers, I didn’t know whether to look at FIP-based WAR or runs-based WAR, so I split the middle and averaged WAR + RA9-WAR. Because this is based on statistics with uncertainty, the results themselves are uncertain, but we at least know we’re highlighting great seasons by non-All-Stars, which is basically the point. I went back to 1963 because 50 years is a nice round number, and between 1959-1962 there were two All-Star Games each season. Yeah, I don’t know, either.

POSITION PLAYERS

So this top-five list is actually a top-six list, with a tie at the bottom. If you’re curious, Longoria is on pace for a 7.8-WAR season, while Donaldson’s on pace for 7.6. Great seasons, to be sure, but they aren’t quite Beltre’s 2004, which stands as one of the best seasons ever. Jacoby Ellsbury made the All-Star Game during his weird 2011, but Beltre didn’t go in 2004, later finishing as the MVP runner-up to Barry Bonds.

In 2004, among position players, Beltre finished second in WAR, while Drew finished fourth. Neither was selected for the Midsummer Classic, even though, in the first half only, Drew was third in WAR while Beltre was fourth. Drew carried a .628 slugging percentage into the break; Beltre, .580, with incredible defense. Apparently Beltre made $25,000 for not making it, having been designated “top snubbee.” Drew received no such bonus, although he did have Bobby Cox‘s support. Drew would make the All-Star Game one time, in 2008.

Santo was far and away the National League’s best player in 1967, finishing nearly two wins ahead of Roberto Clemente. Yet he was stronger in the second half than in the first, and he wound up fourth in MVP voting. Between 1963-1969, Santo made six All-Star teams — this was the one that he missed. This was also his highest WAR during that stretch.

Henderson finished with baseball’s top WAR in 1989, but he wound up only ninth in MVP voting, and in June he was traded from the Yankees to the A’s. Allen was 1964’s National League Rookie of the Year, and he’d ultimately make seven All-Star teams. Smith came out of nowhere to be a tremendous snub the same year Henderson was a tremendous snub, and he finished 11th in the MVP voting despite finishing first in OBP. Smith had a mammoth first half, but the previous few years he’d struggled with injuries, so he was the 1989 NL Comeback Player of the Year.

PITCHERS

For the sake of perspective, Derek Holland is on pace for a 6.1 average-WAR season. So, while Holland is a visible snub in this season, he’s not exactly on track to be one of the biggest snubs ever. Above, those are all Cy Young-caliber seasons that didn’t include selections for the All-Star Game.

Jenkins would finish third in Cy Young voting. Clemens, first. Ellsworth was nowhere to be found, although the next year he was an All-Star even though his season ERA went up by more than a run and a half. Niekro was third in the voting. Saberhagen was first, and eighth for the MVP. Right there, that’s two non-All-Star Cy Young seasons, and I recall Felix Hernandez didn’t make it the year he won the Cy Young in 2010. Probably, there are others.

What might’ve contributed to the snubs? Jenkins’ second-half ERA dropped by 124 points. Clemens’ dropped by 142 points. Niekro’s dropped by 113 points. Saberhagen’s dropped by 87 points. All these pitchers generated far better results after the All-Star rosters were selected and the game took place. Yet, Ellsworth’s second-half ERA was 2.19, while his first-half ERA was 2.02. He wound up fourth in innings, sixth in wins, and second in ERA. He won the NL Player of the Month Award for May. Perhaps the people responsible for picking the All-Star team in 1963 remembered that, in 1962, Ellsworth lost 20 games and was bad. But it’s most curious he wasn’t chosen, even if I’m probably going to forget about this in a matter of days.

Nobody’s ever going to figure out a perfect way to determine All-Star Game rosters. One of the issues is that no one’s quite clear on just what the game is supposed to be about. This year, Evan Longoria and Josh Donaldson have been two of baseball’s very best players, and right now it looks like they won’t participate. But theirs, at least, aren’t looking like the best non-All-Star seasons. In 2004, Adrian Beltre had perhaps the best non-Bonds season of the decade. In 2010, he made the All-Star Game for the first time in his life.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


74 Responses to “The Best Non-All-Star Seasons of the Past 50 Years”

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  1. Brock says:

    The doubleheader thing started in 1959 as a way to raise some extra scratch for the players’ pension fund. Not sure if that’s why they continued playing two games through ’62 or not, but that’s why it started.

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    • Baltar says:

      Yes, and I was 12-15 years old and the NL’s biggest fan during those years. That was one of the best times of my life (girls had something to do with it, also).

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  2. Cory says:

    Great article Jeff. Have you ever given the idea of making an article about All-Stars who had the worse second halves/full year numbers?

    Mark Trumbo circa 2012 comes to mind.

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  3. Brandon Lee says:

    Very cool lists. The first one that came to my mind was Chipper Jones in 1999 when he won MVP (but at 7.3 WAR he missed the top-6 position players list above)

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  4. JS7 says:

    The All-Star game has lost most of it’s dignity and that won’t change unless the World Series home field advantage debacle is fixed.

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    • Synovia says:

      Debacle? Its the only reason the AllStar game is worth watching.

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      • wily mo says:

        yeah i’ve never understood why people are upset about that.

        back when it started, like 90% of the people who came on railing against “this time it counts” on the internet would, if you asked them exactly why it was so horrible, start talking about how deeply unfair it was to the team with the best record. when you pointed out that the team with the best record had actually never gotten home field in the world series, because it was just alternating years by league before, they would either (1) abruptly vanish from the thread, (2) go “oh wow i didn’t know that… ok it’s less dumb than i thought”, or (3) start conspicuously rifling their pockets for some other random reason to hate it because it was a thing selig had done therefore it had to be dumb. (which, selig has done a lot of dumb things! i just personally don’t think this is one of them.)

        i think it’s great. it was getting borderline unwatchable before. now at least there are stakes.

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        • JuanPierreDoesSteroids says:

          The players still don’t always take it seriously, though. Last year Verlander was pumping 100 mph heat in the first inning with not control and got lit up. And his reason for doing that? Because “… we’re here for the fans, and I know the fans don’t want to see me throw 90 [miles per hour] and hit the corners. Just let it eat, and have fun.”

          Well, I bet he wished he had taken it seriously when his team lost the world series 4-0.

          Also, don’t even get me started on guys like Jeter skipping the game altogether to go on a weekend vacation…

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        • Jon L. says:

          JuanPierreDoesSteroids:

          True that! Lazy-ass Jeter only bothered to play in the all-star game in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. Terry Francona orchestrated a very clever snub in 2005, but I don’t know what the hell Jeter was doing in 2003 – either left off the roster because he missed the first six weeks of the season, or on one of his typical lazy-ass all-star vacations.

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        • joser says:

          Just because the stupid thing you’re doing now is different from the stupid thing you were doing before in no way makes it less stupid.

          I don’t really care about it that much, because home field in the WS doesn’t matter as much as people think it does (in fact, the only study I saw on the subject concluded it only mattered if the series goes the full seven games). But I hate that people insist that it somehow matters now, when the way it is played and managed suggests it doesn’t, at least not to the people involved.

          You really have two choices: insist it matters, and then play it like it matters — starting pitcher goes as many innings as he is effective, players are started based on platoon advantages and aren’t subbed for after a couple of innings to obey the little league “everybody plays” rule, etc — and also eliminate the popularity contest and pick the teams based on stats and managerial choice.

          Or, agree it doesn’t matter, and play it the way it is played right now with players picked by the current fan ballot-stuffing frivolity.

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    • Doug M says:

      The All-Star game had been slipping in significance for years. Barry Bonds didn’t want to play — Piazza tipping pitches — the infamous All-Star tie.

      We had decended a long way from the days that Willie Mays would insist on playing the whole game.

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      • JN says:

        - Says the old guy

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        • Brent says:

          Old or not, he’s right. Says another old guy.

          Interleague play has diluted the All-Star game, and free agency meant that the best players were no longer tied to one franchise for the majority of their career. The All-Star game was the only time you got to see Mays, Aaron and Clemente at the same time, in the same outfield, hitting against the best pitchers from the other league.

          It’s just a different mind-set now. The money these days has changed many, many things; All-Star game included.

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  5. jpomrenke says:

    Kirk Gibson won an MVP award … and never made an All-Star team in his entire career.

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  6. Tommy says:

    Won’t holland, donaldson, longoria make it anyways by someone named bowing out or due to an injury? I seem to recall the rosters only grow after the initial announcement.

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  7. vivalajeter says:

    I have a confession to make. I’ve been a baseball fan since I was a kid in the 80’s. I’ve been playing fantasy baseball since 2000, so I’m familiar with most under-the-radar players who don’t get national press. I’ve lived in the Bay Area for a decade, and I currently live in Oakland, a few miles from the Coliseum. Yet when I read this article, I had to click on Josh Donaldson’s name to realize who he was, and which team he played for. It seems like he’s David Wright, without the steals – and I can’t remember ever hearing the guy’s name!

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  8. Synovia says:

    Beltre not making it is crazy.

    Whats even crazier is who made it in his place.

    The Dodgers sent Paul Lo Duca, who put up 2.5 WAR, most of which was from his positional adjustment for being a catcher (as he had a 101 OPS+, and pretty neutral Defense.

    On the other hand, the guy Beltre lost the starting nod to, Scott Rolen, put up 9.0 WAR that year.

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  9. Baltar says:

    I was only mildly surprised that players with such outstanding years were All Star snubs. I was amazed that so many were big name players.

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  10. Captain Obvious says:

    Adrian Beltre’s wRC+, by season:

    2001 90
    2002 94
    2003 86
    2004 161
    2005 90

    Adrian Beltre was due to reach free agency after the 2004 season, did a boatload of PEDs for awhile, and got his monster contract. Pretty simple stuff, and understood by most at the time.

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    • Billy says:

      I’m not sure that’s really a fair accusation to make. We’ve seen plenty of spike years before for inexplicable reasons. As it is, it may have been luck, and even if he did pick it up because it was a contract year, there’s no particular reason to say it was due to PEDs. While PEDs are a factor that we don’t always know about sometimes events in people’s personal lives are as well.

      I know some players cheat. I’m sure there’s someone out there right now who is cheating that we haven’t caught (be it he’s smart or just lucky). But it’s probably not fair to arbitrarily toss around PED accusations whenever someone has a spike year.

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      • Seconded says:

        Whether you think it’s fair or not, it’s the most reasonable conclusion you can draw. Beltre’s sudden sparkling season in his contract year was more outrageous, by far, than Ken Caminiti’s 1996 season. Bill James examined the question of whether Caminiti’s season was an historic outlier, and the answer was yes. We now know Caminiti’s season was fueled by PED’s, and of course we know that Beltre’s season was near the peak of PED use, just before it came to a head.

        We don’t know what happened, but if there were any way to get an absolutely correct answer, I would happily bet six months’ salary that Beltre used (his blanket denials of Greg Gagne’s non-specific expose notwithstanding).

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        • Nick says:

          It might also be interesting to note that 2004 was his age-25 season. It’s a much more reasonable and fact based assumption to argue that this is a natural progression and the blossoming of Beltre’s potential.

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        • Nicolas C says:

          So did he do roids in 04′, take a few years off, then start doing them again in 10’? Reasonable…

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        • Richard says:

          “Whether you think it’s fair or not, it’s the most reasonable conclusion you can draw.”

          No, it’s simply not.

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        • Jason B says:

          Richard you beat me to it. It’s just the laziest and most cynical type of analysis possible.

          Is anyone here saying we know for a fact he didn’t use? Not at all. But we need more than the flimsiest of evidence – “gee he had a good year that one time! That’s good enough for me!!” Particularly since it ignores the many, many excellent years he had later.

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        • Hurtlockertwo says:

          I don’t know if Beltre used or not, but his 2004 season was one of the greatest in baseball history (#75 to be exact, #26 if you count the ties). He went from an average hitter to HOF numbers in one year, and then back to very good hitter since then. (even giving credit for the two +7 WAR seasons he’s had) It seems odd that the apparent large use of PEDs coincide with that time frame. Does it prove anything? No. Is it unusual, yes.

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    • Gregory says:

      2006 105
      2007 110
      2008 106
      2009 81 (injured)
      2010 140
      2011 134
      2012 140
      2013 131

      all while playing amazing defense.

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    • Basil Ganglia says:

      Adrian Beltre’s wRC+, by season:

      2001 90 (after nearly dying of appendicitis in spring and playing most of the year at about 160 lbs)
      2002 94 (still recovering recuperating)
      2003 86
      2004 161
      2005 90

      How remarkable is it that a guy who nearly dies after complications from a botched appendectomy comes back to still post 90 WRC+ season?

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    • Mark says:

      What do we attribute unusually excellent years to in the non-PED era? Aberrant years have always been around. I think, to make a strong case that we should be suspicious of exceptional seasons in the PED era, you would need to demonstrate that the rate of such seasons has increased.

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      • Billy says:

        Whenever there is a spike year PEDs are definitely a possibility; it’s a fact of baseball. But it’s unfair to assume it as the most likely reason unless we are given evidence that supports such an assumption.

        I’ve always wondered if, while Melky Cabrera was caught a few months into the 2012 season, he hadn’t started using before the 2011 season, when he really busted out with KC and he physically looked more fit. PEDs can absolutely be the cause a spike year, and Melky serves as an example of that because we have solid evidence against him. But that doesn’t make it fair to assume that of any spike year you see.

        And even with Melky, 2011 and 2012 were his age 26 and 27 seasons, which are ones that are most typically break-out seasons anyway. So was it the PEDs which we know about, or simply the course of a career arc?

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        • Richard says:

          “PEDs can absolutely be the cause a spike year”

          how do you know this? (hint: you don’t) what makes a player have one year stick out? he stopped using PEDs before they were tested for?

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        • Hurtlockertwo says:

          Interesting that Melky is very average this year.

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        • chief00 says:

          @hurtlockertwo: You’re right, but Melky’s had gimpy hamstrings for almost 2 months now. That needs to be factored into the equation, if only to be fair.

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    • wily mo says:

      the pet Beltre In 04 theory on alt.sports.baseball.la-dodgers at the time was that – see, beltre had a bone spur in his ankle for that entire season, 2004. supposedly it was killing him. needed surgery, never took time off to get it. it was the left ankle, so our pet theory was that, as a right-handed hitter, the bum ankle forced him to keep his weight back more than he usually did and not hack at everything. an externally-forced approach adjustment.

      it was probably a bullshit theory, and the spike happened for some other reason, be it steroids or contract year focus or some other unknowable thing. we liked it though. the theory. also the spike.

      then he had the ankle surgery and went to safeco and that was the end of him, for a while

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      • atoms says:

        I was going to bring this up. In addition to “keeping his weight back”, it made it literally painful for him to chase sliders low and away, and it seemed like this made him a little more of a disciplined hitter.

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  11. Captain Speculation says:

    Yes, obviously career years are all PED-fueled.

    He’s clearly not grown into a very good player, and that was clearly not a breakout (albeit it with a minor slide-back in ’05).

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    • Seconded says:

      He “backslid” from 1998 through 2009, according to any reasonable interpretation of the data.

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      • Richard says:

        this comment makes no sense

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      • tommy says:

        no, he went to the hitters void in Seattle.

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        • Brent says:

          Yup. He got “Safeco’d”. The fist year here, he’d hit a ball to left, certain it was absolutely crushed, start jogging for his home run, and watch it get caught not at the wall, not at the warning track, but on the grass, 20 feet in front of the wall. The disbelief on his face was evident.

          If it wasn’t for Brooks Robinson he’d be the best fielding third baseman I’ve ever seen.

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  12. Bip says:

    I just realized Evan Longoria’s lowest-ever wOBA is .367 and his highest-ever wOBA is .378. That is just off-the-charts in terms of lack of variation. Luckily that place he never strays from is a very good place to be.

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  13. Bab says:

    Let’s follow this up with undeserving All-Stars. Scott Podsednik 2005 is a start.

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  14. court168627 says:

    I would love to see a list of best all-time players that never made an all-star team.

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    • Bab says:

      A few guys who never made ASGs despite good careers/seasons (not exhaustive):
      Red Lucas
      Tony Phillips
      Tom Candiotti
      Danny Darwin

      A few who only made one ASG (not exhaustive):
      Gene Tenace
      Murry Dickson
      Bret Butler
      Jamie Moyer
      Larry French
      Ned Garver
      John Candelaria
      Doug DeCinces
      Mark Belanger

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    • coninefan says:

      Tim Salmon

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    • bstar says:

      John Tudor

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  15. baycommuter says:

    Eric Chavez– despite six Gold Gloves, 255 HR’s, $80 million plus in earnings.

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  16. O's Fan says:

    Nick Markakis: 7.5 r-WAR in 2008

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  17. Jonathan says:

    1993 Jose Rijo = 9.3 orr 7.0 depending on which one you use.

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  18. KCDaveInLA says:

    Does anyone else think that the AL Final Vote selections are the nuttiest thing going this year? Why couldn’t have Donaldson, Longoria, and Holland have been named for that? (and Alex Rios and Greg Holland if you want two more better names?)

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    • asdf says:

      Kyle Seager

      That was my thought exactly though, I don’t know where those “final vote” selections come from, but they’re often just plain bizarre, why a list of middle relievers that doesn’t even include Holland?

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      • Ian R. says:

        The All-Star manager (in this case, Jim Leyland) picks the Final Vote candidates. No, I have no idea what he was thinking either.

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  19. jjhills says:

    hi,allstar weekend is coming up and what a spectacular site it will be for all fans,king felix hernandez should be a show stopper if he play’s which he probley will,and yes I voted him in,haha,to all his critics,it all good.There were some players on the list that should be there in the all-stars but they did so oh well.I love the game of baseball and coached little leauge once and it was so much fun seeing the team play well.In Seattle the rain city.love jjhills

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