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.


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Brock
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Brock
3 years 22 days ago

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.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 21 days ago

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).

Cory
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Cory
3 years 22 days ago

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.

Fan Fav
Guest
Fan Fav
3 years 21 days ago

Or the worst season WAR for an all-star.

Careless
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Careless
3 years 21 days ago

Bryan LaHair. Made the All Star team and sat the bench most of the second half with about a .600 OPS

Brandon Lee
Guest
3 years 22 days ago

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)

James Gentile
Member
3 years 22 days ago

I made a list of MVP/no all-star seasons last year:

http://uzrillusion2.blogspot.com/2012/07/mvp-but-no-all-star.html

JS7
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JS7
3 years 22 days ago

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.

Synovia
Guest
Synovia
3 years 22 days ago

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

wily mo
Member
3 years 21 days ago

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.

BenRevereDoesSteroids
Member
BenRevereDoesSteroids
3 years 21 days ago

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…

Jon L.
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Jon L.
3 years 21 days ago

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.

joser
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joser
3 years 21 days ago

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.

Weston Taylor
Member
3 years 20 days ago

Okay

Doug M
Guest
Doug M
3 years 22 days ago

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.

JN
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JN
3 years 21 days ago

– Says the old guy

Brent
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Brent
3 years 21 days ago

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.

jpomrenke
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jpomrenke
3 years 22 days ago

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

65Kyle08
Member
65Kyle08
3 years 21 days ago

Kewl mane

StonetheCrow
Guest
StonetheCrow
3 years 21 days ago

Hershiser had a better claim on that 88 MVP

Ian R.
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Ian R.
3 years 21 days ago

To be fair, Gibson was twice chosen for the ASG (including in his MVP season). He just declined to participate both times. I don’t think that really counts as an All-Star snub.

Tommy
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Tommy
3 years 22 days ago

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.

vivalajeter
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vivalajeter
3 years 22 days ago

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!

wily mo
Member
3 years 21 days ago

that’s pretty strange man

Brillz
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Brillz
3 years 21 days ago

You seriously claim to follow baseball, live in Oakland, and have NO idea who Josh Donaldon is?
Hmmm….

Yeah I Said It
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Yeah I Said It
3 years 21 days ago

And he reads fangraphs too, apparently. Huh.

vivalajeter
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vivalajeter
3 years 21 days ago

Yeah, it’s pretty strange. Granted, I don’t have cable tv, so the A’s/Giants are the two teams that I can’t watch on mlb.tv. Also, I prefer the National League. But still, I was shocked to see how good the guy is.

Josh Donaldson
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Josh Donaldson
3 years 21 days ago

I’m the guy.

Peter2
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Peter2
3 years 21 days ago

Fangraphs is not a safe place for admitting you don’t know something. Especially a player…you could be like Mark Hutton? Who the heck is that? And people would say, what have you been living under a rock for twenty years?

ALeast
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ALeast
3 years 21 days ago

Didn’t anybody read his name? He’s a Yankee fan. Why are you surprised?

Synovia
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Synovia
3 years 22 days ago

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.

Moves Like Munenori
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Moves Like Munenori
3 years 21 days ago

You answered my question, thanks!

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 21 days ago

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.

Captain Obvious
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Captain Obvious
3 years 21 days ago

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.

Billy
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Billy
3 years 21 days ago

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.

Seconded
Guest
Seconded
3 years 21 days ago

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).

Nick
Guest
Nick
3 years 21 days ago

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.

Nicolas C
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Nicolas C
3 years 21 days ago

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

Richard
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Richard
3 years 21 days ago

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

No, it’s simply not.

Jason B
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Jason B
3 years 21 days ago

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.

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
3 years 21 days ago

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.

Gregory
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Gregory
3 years 21 days ago

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

all while playing amazing defense.

Spit Ball
Guest
Spit Ball
3 years 21 days ago

Oh and a horrific injury that was.

Basil Ganglia
Guest
Basil Ganglia
3 years 21 days ago

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?

The Guy Who Says Duh A Lot
Guest
The Guy Who Says Duh A Lot
3 years 21 days ago

Roids. Duh.

Mark
Guest
Mark
3 years 21 days ago

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.

Billy
Guest
Billy
3 years 21 days ago

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?

Richard
Guest
Richard
3 years 21 days ago

“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?

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
3 years 21 days ago

Interesting that Melky is very average this year.

chief00
Guest
chief00
3 years 20 days ago

@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.

wily mo
Member
3 years 21 days ago

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

atoms
Guest
atoms
3 years 21 days ago

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.

Captain Speculation
Guest
Captain Speculation
3 years 21 days ago

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).

Seconded
Guest
Seconded
3 years 21 days ago

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

Richard
Guest
Richard
3 years 21 days ago

this comment makes no sense

tommy
Guest
tommy
3 years 21 days ago

no, he went to the hitters void in Seattle.

Brent
Guest
Brent
3 years 21 days ago

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.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
3 years 21 days ago

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.

Bab
Guest
Bab
3 years 21 days ago

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

Gregory
Guest
Gregory
3 years 21 days ago

lahair, almost every middle reliever, this list would be too long

A's Fan
Guest
A's Fan
3 years 21 days ago

Justin Duchscherer say thanks for noticing.

atoms
Guest
atoms
3 years 21 days ago

Man, whatever happened to that guy? He was good and then all of a sudden he was gone.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles
3 years 21 days ago

Kevin Correia, Mike Williams, oh so many Pirate “All-stars” during the streak.

court168627
Guest
court168627
3 years 21 days ago

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

Bab
Guest
Bab
3 years 21 days ago

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

coninefan
Member
Member
coninefan
3 years 21 days ago

Tim Salmon

bstar
Guest
bstar
3 years 21 days ago

John Tudor

baycommuter
Guest
baycommuter
3 years 21 days ago

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

O's Fan
Guest
O's Fan
3 years 21 days ago

Nick Markakis: 7.5 r-WAR in 2008

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan
3 years 21 days ago

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

KCDaveInLA
Guest
KCDaveInLA
3 years 21 days ago

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?)

asdf
Guest
asdf
3 years 21 days ago

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?

Ian R.
Guest
Ian R.
3 years 21 days ago

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

jjhills
Guest
3 years 19 days ago

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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