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.
- 2004 Adrian Beltre, 9.7 WAR
- 1967 Ron Santo, 9.4
- 2004 J.D. Drew, 8.6
- 1989 Rickey Henderson, 8.4
- 1964 Dick Allen, 8.2
- 1989 Lonnie Smith, 8.2
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.
- 1970 Fergie Jenkins, 9.6 average WAR
- 1987 Roger Clemens, 9.3
- 1963 Dick Ellsworth, 8.9
- 1974 Phil Niekro, 8.8
- 1989 Bret Saberhagen, 8.7
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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