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The Convoluted All-Star Selection Process

The All-Star game rosters were announced Sunday, which of course means chaos ensued when the selections were revealed. Player X shouldn’t have gotten in while Stats-Stud Y should have been a lock. Since many of the selections were pretty predictable, those snubbed from the festivities, as usual, garnered a tremendous amount of attention.

Of those who were not selected, perhaps nobody was more egregiously snubbed than Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 24-year-old center fielder ranks eighth among National League hitters with a .395 wOBA. His 6.9 fielding runs derived from solid play at the toughest outfield position ranks third in the league behind Shane Victorino (also snubbed, but on the final vote, unlike McCutchen), and Troy Tulowitzki.

All told, his 4.6 wins above replacement ranks him ahead of everyone except the two Joses: Bautista and Reyes. Any list of first-half MVP contenders would be incomplete without his name, and yet fans, players and the coaching staff of the National League team somehow found a way to select other less-qualified players. That he isn’t even included on the final ballot for fan voting — the list includes Victorino, Todd Helton, Ian Kennedy, Michael Morse and Andre Ethier — further perpetuates the madness. McCutchen is one of the top players in the sport right now, better than Jay Bruce, Carlos Beltran, Chipper Jones, Morse and Ethier. Yet the first three members of that group were voted in by the players, and the latter two still have a fighting chance of making the team.

Upon reviewing the teams, I tend to think about who should have been selected over whom, and why, but this time my thought process changed. My mind gravitated towards the all-star selection process, and the game itself, which is really absurd. The game was originally designed to be an exhibition pitting the best players in the game against one another — but when interest waned, Bud Selig decided to make the game count by having the result determine home field advantage in the World Series. Interest improved, sure, but the process of selecting the participating players didn’t. So now there are fans of contending teams who have to wonder if a pitcher like Ryan Vogelsong will be the difference between their team getting three or four home games in the Fall Classic.

The rosters are selected by three different groups of people, in and out of the game, and under different rules that preclude the best possible team from being assembled. Realistically, all that changed was its status as an exhibition, which is alarming given all the stipulations. So how are the rosters selected? First, we have the starters, voted on by the fans, which becomes a popularity contest. Occasionally, the best players are the most popular group, but when half of the Yankees starting lineup is voted in over more deserving players, it becomes clear that popularity doesn’t necessarily correlate to ASG-worthiness.

Players then vote on the next 16 to make the team. They vote on eight pitchers, and one backup for each position on the diamond. If it turns out that the leading vote-getter by the fans is also the lead guy from the player-vote, the second place finisher in the player-vote gets in. This sounds good, in theory, until we remember that not every player closely follows the sport as a whole. A Reds player might vote for a Cubs player because he had two great series against them in the first half. Another might vote for a guy like Chipper over, say, Headley, based on past performance and reputation.

If some of us who complain about the process don’t take the fan balloting seriously — I can’t recall the last time I actually punched holes in a ballot — imagine how a busy player might feel.

Then the manager selects the starting designated hitter — each league uses one, even if the game takes place in an NL park — and eight others, be they pitchers or position players. The manager has a tough task in that he can’t merely select the best possible players. He has to choose with the caveat in mind that every team needs at least one representative. While that roster stipulation makes sense so that fans of every team can hold some type of vesting interest, it inevitably means that certain players will be picked over others because their teams were not yet represented in the fan and player votes.

None of this explains how McCutchen was snubbed by all three groups, or how he didn’t even make the final list of five to be voted on by fans. But it does explain how easily snubs can occur, and lends credence to the idea that “snub” is probably the wrong term. These players should probably be referred to as victims of circumstance given the convoluted selection process. The game, and the manner in which rosters are selected makes little sense, and yet year after year we allow ourselves to get stressed and take up the cause of a deserving player left off of the roster. This will be repeated until some type of change is implemented.

One way to fix the issue, whether it falls into the realm of Occam’s Razor or not, is to have the players and managers select the entire teams. Fans would then be able to vote on the starting lineups and pitchers from the previously selected groups. While some undeserving players might still find their way onto the roster, this “fix” would prevent a slew of them from preventing other superior performers from being left out in the cold. And it would still keep the fans involved, as their vote would be counted on to decide which selections deserve to start.

Is this fix reasonable? Are there other ways to fix the selection process in the game? Or would the best bet be getting rid of home field advantage ramifications and go back to an exhibition?