The Least-Deserving All-Star Game Starting Pitchers

Much of the time, the pitcher who starts the All-Star Game is very deserving, and is very obvious. It may not be the most-deserving pitcher mind you, but the selection is generally someone good enough that the selection is not worth arguing. This year is such a year: Both Max Scherzer and Matt Harvey rank second in their respective league in WAR, and are close enough to the front runners (Felix Hernandez and Adam Wainwright) as to make the differences negligible. But that hasn’t always been the case. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and look at some of the starting pitchers who weren’t quite as deserving.

Using our first half splits, which we have all the way back to 1974, we can see that — including this season — 54 of the 80 pitchers who started the All-Star Game ranked in the top five of their respective league in pitcher WAR. There were some who were not as deserving, though, at least according to how they ranked against their peers:

 

Lg Year Starter 1st Half WAR Lg Rnk #1 WAR Manager
AL 2007 D. Haren 3.0 6 Josh Beckett 3.4 J. Leyland
NL 2012 M. Cain 2.4 7 Zack Greinke 3.5 T. LaRussa
AL 2004 M. Mulder 2.9 7 Curt Schilling 4.7 J. Torre
AL 1994 J. Key 2.9 7 Roger Clemens 4.2 C. Gaston
NL 1986 D. Gooden 2.3 7 Mike Scott 4.6 W. Herzog
AL 1978 J. Palmer 2.6 7 Ron Guidry 4.5 B. Martin
AL 1975 V. Blue 2.7 7 Steve Busby 4.1 A. Dark
NL 1975 J. Reuss 2.7 7 Tom Seaver 4.6 W. Alston
NL 1985 L. Hoyt 2.4 8 Dwight Gooden 4.6 D. Williams
NL 2008 B. Sheets 2.5 9 Dan Haren 3.6 C. Hurdle
NL 1995 H. Nomo 2.1 9 Greg Maddux 4.0 F. Alou
NL 1993 T. Mulholland 2.8 10 Greg Maddux 3.8 B. Cox
NL 2006 B. Penny 2.4 11 Brandon Webb 4.1 P. Garner
AL 1991 J. Morris 2.2 11 Roger Clemens 5.2 T. LaRussa
AL 1976 M. Fidrych 2.0 11 Bert Blyleven 3.6 D. Johnson
AL 1989 D. Stewart 2.2 13 Mark Gubicza 5.0 T. LaRussa
AL 1985 J. Morris 2.4 13 Bert Blyleven 4.2 S. Anderson
AL 1981 J. Morris 1.3 14 Len Barker 3.0 J. Frey
AL 2010 D. Price 2.0 17 Francisco Liriano 4.0 J. Girardi
NL 1977 D. Sutton 1.8 19 Steve Rogers 4.4 S. Anderson
AL 1998 D. Wells 1.8 23 Bartolo Colon 3.5 M. Hargrove
AL 1977 J. Palmer 1.8 25 Dennis Leonard 4.5 B. Martin
AL 2006 K. Rogers 1.4 40 Jeremy Bonderman 4.2 O. Guillen
AL 1980 S. Stone 1.1 47 Jon Matlack 3.2 E. Weaver
NL 1984 C. Lea 0.8 49 Dwight Gooden 4.1 P. Owens
AL 1990 B. Welch 0.6 66 Roger Clemens 4.1 T. LaRussa

A few things jump out right away:

— The manager who most frequently picked someone who wasn’t a top-five pitcher, in terms of WAR, was Tony La Russa. I’ll allow a few seconds for you to register your shock. Twice, he chose one of his own pitchers (in another, less egregious example, he also picked Chris Carpenter over Pedro Martinez. In 1990, he made the single most egregious choice, when he picked Bob Welch over Roger Clemens. Welch would go on to win the American League Cy Young Award that season, on the strength of his otherworldly, but hollow, 27-6 record. Welch starting the Midsummer Classic no doubt helped strengthen the myth of his greatness.

— Speaking of the myth of greatness, we see that sabermetric whipping boy Jack Morris pops up three times here as undeserving. Morris started the game three times, and on each occasion he was no better than the 11th-best pitcher in the AL. It wasn’t always a case of Morris even having better superficial stats either. In 1981, he was 9-3 with a 2.56 ERA. Ken Forsch was also 9-3, but he had a better WAR and also a better ERA, at 2.27. Len Barker, who led the AL in WAR in that first half, had a 2.08 ERA. In 1985, Morris was 10-6 with a 3.04 ERA. That hardly compared to some of his competitors who bettered him in WAR, such as Bret Saberhagen (10-4, 2.78), Ron Guidry (12-3, 2.58) and Dave Stieb (9-5, 1.87). The situation was similar in 1991 — Clemens was 11-5 with a 2.22 ERA, while Morris was 11-6 with a 3.65 ERA. In 1981 and 1091, the Tigers were barely above .500 at the break. Bottom line: Dudes just liked Jack Morris, statistics be damned.

— Clemens was frequently bypassed. He entered the break leading the AL in WAR in seven different seasons, though he only started the game in one of those seven years. He started on two other occasions, and ironically,he ranked fifth in those two years.

Of course, there’s another way to look at this: Just because a pitcher wasn’t in his top five in his respective league’s WAR doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good selection. For instance, Dan Haren ranked sixth in the AL in WAR in 2007, but he was still a mere .4 WAR behind Josh Beckett.

But what about the bigger WAR gaps between the starter and the WAR league-leader?

 

Lg Year Starter 1st Half WAR Lg Rnk #1 WAR Diff Manager
AL 1990 B. Welch 0.6 66 Roger Clemens 4.1 3.5 T. LaRussa
AL 1988 F. Viola 3.6 2 Roger Clemens 6.9 3.3 T. Kelly
NL 1984 C. Lea 0.8 49 Dwight Gooden 4.1 3.3 P. Owens
AL 1991 J. Morris 2.2 11 Roger Clemens 5.2 3.0 T. LaRussa
AL 2006 K. Rogers 1.4 40 Jeremy Bonderman 4.2 2.8 O. Guillen
AL 1989 D. Stewart 2.2 13 Mark Gubicza 5 2.8 T. LaRussa
AL 1977 J. Palmer 1.8 25 Dennis Leonard 4.5 2.7 B. Martin
NL 1977 D. Sutton 1.8 19 Steve Rogers 4.4 2.6 S. Anderson
NL 1986 D. Gooden 2.3 7 Mike Scott 4.6 2.3 W. Herzog
AL 2001 R. Clemens 3.2 5 Pedro Martinez 5.4 2.2 J. Torre
NL 1985 L. Hoyt 2.4 8 Dwight Gooden 4.6 2.2 D. Williams
AL 1980 S. Stone 1.1 47 Jon Matlack 3.2 2.1 E. Weaver
NL 1999 C. Schilling 3.4 3 Randy Johnson 5.4 2.0 B. Bochy
AL 2010 D. Price 2.0 17 Francisco Liriano 4 2.0 J. Girardi
NL 1995 H. Nomo 2.1 9 Greg Maddux 4 1.9 F. Alou
AL 1978 J. Palmer 2.6 7 Ron Guidry 4.5 1.9 B. Martin
NL 1975 J. Reuss 2.7 7 Tom Seaver 4.6 1.9 W. Alston
AL 2004 M. Mulder 2.9 7 Curt Schilling 4.7 1.8 J. Torre
AL 1985 J. Morris 2.4 13 Bert Blyleven 4.2 1.8 S. Anderson
NL 1982 S. Rogers 3.1 5 Steve Carlton 4.9 1.8 T. Lasorda
NL 2004 R. Clemens 2.7 5 Randy Johnson 4.4 1.7 J. McKeon
AL 1998 D. Wells 1.8 23 Bartolo Colon 3.5 1.7 M. Hargrove
AL 1981 J. Morris 1.3 14 Len Barker 3 1.7 J. Frey
AL 2009 R. Halladay 3.9 3 Zack Greinke 5.6 1.7 J. Maddon
NL 2006 B. Penny 2.4 11 Brandon Webb 4.1 1.7 P. Garner
AL 1976 M. Fidrych 2 11 Bert Blyleven 3.6 1.6 D. Johnson

These were the biggest gaps. Twenty of the 80 were the actual league leaders in WAR. Of the remaining 60, 27 were within 1 WAR, and 34 were within 1.5 WAR. The other 26 you see above.

— Again, a stark picture is painted of La Russa’s failings. He committed three of the five most egregious offenses.

— We also see Clemens as the spurned ace who deserved to start. The three biggest gaps were between Clemens and another player. This was actually not all that uncommon. With a few different pitchers, the pattern seemed to be  they would get their All-Star Game start, and then be passed over in subsequent years. Whether it was  they didn’t want the honor, were injured or were simply bypassed to give someone new a turn, this phenomenon wasn’t isolated to Clemens. Steve Carlton started in 1979, and  watched four others start ahead of him, even though he led the NL in WAR heading into the break. Greg Maddux led the NL in WAR at the break from 1992 to 1997, but he only started the 1994 and 1997 games. He got another start in 1998, though he was just shy of first that season. Pedro Martinez started in 1999, when he led the league in WAR with an otherworldly 7.3. He then led his respective league in first-half WAR in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2005 — but he didn’t start any of those contests. Clemens got the nod in 1986 when he led the AL, but despite leading the league again in 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1994, he didn’t get any of those starts. In fact, in ’94 he wasn’t even named to the All-Star team.

Looking closely at both lists, we see  most of the same names populate them. No matter which way you choose to look at it, several of these starters were simply unworthy. Those who end up on both lists are:

Lg Year A.L. Starter
NL 2006 B. Penny
AL 1990 B. Welch
NL 1984 C. Lea
NL 1986 D. Gooden
AL 2010 D. Price
AL 1989 D. Stewart
NL 1977 D. Sutton
AL 1998 D. Wells
NL 1995 H. Nomo
AL 1991 J. Morris
AL 1985 J. Morris
AL 1981 J. Morris
AL 1978 J. Palmer
AL 1977 J. Palmer
NL 1975 J. Reuss
AL 2006 K. Rogers
NL 1985 L. Hoyt
AL 1976 M. Fidrych
AL 2004 M. Mulder
AL 1980 S. Stone
AL 1975 V. Blue

Eighteen pitchers are listed 21 times, with Morris being king of the undeserving and Welch being the most egregious error in terms of both rank and difference. What’s interesting is just how many stellar pitchers are on this list. Guys like David Price, Dwight Gooden, Jim Palmer and Don Sutton stick out, in particular.

When choosing a pitcher to start the game, there are often extenuating circumstances beyond who is the most deserving. The Sunday rule gives an out to many pitchers, including Wainwright this season. And, of course, evaluating by WAR isn’t the only way to decide the best pitcher was in the first half. There are plenty of other metrics from which to choose. But no matter what metric is chosen beyond simple wins and losses, there’s simply no way Welch or Kenny Rogers ends up as a deserving candidate to start an All-Star Game.

Starting an All-Star Game is an honor, and no doubt Scherzer and Harvey are excellent choices. In fact, the choices have been better in recent years: Counting 2013, eight of the last 10 starters were ranked in their respective league’s top five, and four of them ranked No. 1 . Hopefully things stay this way, because in the past they certainly weren’t, and the people who suffer the most are those in the game itself. The All-Star Game may be meaningless in terms of who wins the Fall Classic, but in October, the eyes of the nation are spread out among football, basketball, hockey and baseball. The Midsummer Classic is the time when baseball has the stage  to itself, and it must continue to put its best foot forward in the hopes of growing the game among casual fans.

Finally, because I love you, here’s the whole stats dump.

 

Year AL Starter 1st Half WAR Lg Rnk #1 WAR Diff AL Manager
2013 M. Scherzer 4.0 2 Felix Hernandez 4.2 0.2 J. Leyland
2012 J. Verlander 3.9 1 R. Washington
2011 J. Weaver 4.9 1 R. Washington
2010 D. Price 2.0 17 Francisco Liriano 4 2.0 J. Girardi
2009 R. Halladay 3.9 3 Zack Greinke 5.6 1.7 J. Maddon
2008 C. Lee 4.6 1 T. Francona
2007 D. Haren 3 6 Josh Beckett 3.4 0.4 J. Leyland
2006 K. Rogers 1.4 40 Jeremy Bonderman 4.2 2.8 O. Guillen
2005 M. Buehrle 4.2 1 T. Francona
2004 M. Mulder 2.9 7 Curt Schilling 4.7 1.8 J. Torre
2003 E. Loaiza 3.8 3 Pedro Martinez 4.1 0.3 M. Scioscia
2002 D. Lowe 3.3 3 Pedro Martinez 4.3 1.0 J. Torre
2001 R. Clemens 3.2 5 Pedro Martinez 5.4 2.2 J. Torre
2000 D. Wells 4.3 2 Pedro Martinez 4.4 0.1 J. Torre
1999 P. Martinez 7.3 1 J. Torre
1998 D. Wells 1.8 23 Bartolo Colon 3.5 1.7 M. Hargrove
1997 R. Johnson 3.8 2 Roger Clemens 5.1 1.3 J. Torre
1996 C. Nagy 2.7 4 Kevin Appier 3.3 0.6 M. Hargrove
1995 R. Johnson 4.7 1 B. Showalter
1994 J. Key 2.9 7 Roger Clemens 4.2 1.3 C. Gaston
1993 M. Langston 3.7 2 Kevin Appier 3.7 0.0 C. Gaston
1992 K. Brown 4.2 3 Roger Clemens 5 0.8 T. Kelly
1991 J. Morris 2.2 11 Roger Clemens 5.2 3.0 T. LaRussa
1990 B. Welch 0.6 66 Roger Clemens 4.1 3.5 T. LaRussa
1989 D. Stewart 2.2 13 Mark Gubicza 5 2.8 T. LaRussa
1988 F. Viola 3.6 2 Roger Clemens 6.9 3.3 T. Kelly
1987 B. Saberhagen 4 1 J. McNamara
1986 R. Clemens 4.2 1 D. Howser
1985 J. Morris 2.4 13 Bert Blyleven 4.2 1.8 S. Anderson
1984 D. Stieb 3 2 Phil Niekro 3.6 0.6 J. Altobelli
1983 D. Stieb 3.1 5 La Marr Hoyt 3.6 0.5 H. Kuenn
1982 D. Eckersley 2.9 3 Len Barker 3.5 0.6 B. Martin
1981 J. Morris 1.3 14 Len Barker 3 1.7 J. Frey
1980 S. Stone 1.1 47 Jon Matlack 3.2 2.1 E. Weaver
1979 N. Ryan 4.6 1 B. Lemon
1978 J. Palmer 2.6 7 Ron Guidry 4.5 1.9 B. Martin
1977 J. Palmer 1.8 25 Dennis Leonard 4.5 2.7 B. Martin
1976 M. Fidrych 2 11 Bert Blyleven 3.6 1.6 D. Johnson
1975 V. Blue 2.7 7 Steve Busby 4.1 1.4 A. Dark
1974 G. Perry 5.1 1 D. Williams

Other assorted thoughts:
— If you asked me to pick  one manager who correctly named his league’s respective WAR leader in both of his stints as manager, I definitely would choose Ron Washington. Neither guy was from his team. Impressive.
— Pedro in 1999. That’s an MVP-caliber season in half a season, and in one of the highest offense seasons of all-time. Just don’t tell George King or LeVelle Neal III.
— Jeremy Bonderman’s fall from grace was fast and furious.

Year NL Starter 1st Half WAR Lg Rnk #1 WAR Diff NL Manager
2013 M. Harvey 4.2 2 Adam Wainwright 4.5 0.3 B. Bochy
2012 M. Cain 2.4 7 Zack Greinke 3.5 1.1 T. LaRussa
2011 R. Halladay 4.9 1 B. Bochy
2010 U. Jimenez 3.7 3 Josh Johnson 4.4 0.7 C. Manuel
2009 T. Lincecum 4.8 1 C. Manuel
2008 B. Sheets 2.5 9 Dan Haren 3.6 1.1 C. Hurdle
2007 J. Peavy 3.7 1 T. LaRussa
2006 B. Penny 2.4 11 Brandon Webb 4.1 1.7 P. Garner
2005 C. Carpenter 3.5 4 Pedro Martinez 4.4 0.9 T. LaRussa
2004 R. Clemens 2.7 5 Randy Johnson 4.4 1.7 J. McKeon
2003 J. Schmidt 4 2 Mark Prior 4 0.0 D. Baker
2002 C. Schilling 5.4 1 B. Brenly
2001 R. Johnson 4.9 1 B. Valentine
2000 R. Johnson 5.9 1 B. Cox
1999 C. Schilling 3.4 3 Randy Johnson 5.4 2.0 B. Bochy
1998 G. Maddux 5.1 2 Curt Schilling 5.3 0.2 J. Leyland
1997 G. Maddux 4.5 1 B. Cox
1996 J. Smoltz 4.3 2 Greg Maddux 5.1 0.8 B. Cox
1995 H. Nomo 2.1 9 Greg Maddux 4 1.9 F. Alou
1994 G. Maddux 5.2 1 J. Fregosi
1993 T. Mulholland 2.8 10 Greg Maddux 3.8 1.0 B. Cox
1992 T. Glavine 3.3 2 Greg Maddux 4.1 0.8 B. Cox
1991 T. Glavine 3.8 1 L. Piniella
1990 J. Armstrong 2.9 3 Frank Viola 3.4 0.5 R. Craig
1989 R. Reuschel 2.3 5 John Smoltz 2.8 0.5 T. Lasorda
1988 D. Gooden 3.1 1 W. Herzog
1987 M. Scott 3.6 2 Orel Hershiser 4.1 0.5 D. Johnson
1986 D. Gooden 2.3 7 Mike Scott 4.6 2.3 W. Herzog
1985 L. Hoyt 2.4 8 Dwight Gooden 4.6 2.2 D. Williams
1984 C. Lea 0.8 49 Dwight Gooden 4.1 3.3 P. Owens
1983 M. Soto 2.9 3 Steve Carlton 4.2 1.3 W. Herzog
1982 S. Rogers 3.1 5 Steve Carlton 4.9 1.8 T. Lasorda
1981 F. Valenzuela 2.8 2 Steve Carlton 3 0.2 D. Green
1980 J. Richard 3.5 2 Steve Carlton 4.7 1.2 C. Tanner
1979 S. Carlton 2.8 4 J.R. Richard 3.6 0.8 T. Lasorda
1978 V. Blue 3.4 2 Phil Niekro 4.3 0.9 T. Lasorda
1977 D. Sutton 1.8 19 Steve Rogers 4.4 2.6 S. Anderson
1976 R. Jones 2.7 4 Tom Seaver 3.7 1.0 S. Anderson
1975 J. Reuss 2.7 7 Tom Seaver 4.6 1.9 W. Alston
1974 A. Messersmith 3.7 3 Jon Matlack 4.1 0.4 Y. Berra

Other assorted thoughts:
— Harvey’s season is actually 10th best among National League All-Star Game starters. Not too shabby. Maybe next year people will know what he looks like.
— Only Stieb started back-to-back games in this period for the American League; in the NL, there have been three repeat starters: Glavine, Johnson and Maddux.



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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


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