Every single year after the All-Star rosters are announced we immediately hear about who should have made it and which players were the most undeserving. This year is no different. The voting process has flaws and the overall process of selecting players based on production in one half of a baseball season is also flawed. However, this process probably will not change any time soon and it provides fans with an immediate conversation piece leading up to the All-Star game.
19-year-old Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper did not originally make the All-Star game but due to Giancarlo Stanton opting for arthroscopic surgery for a balky knee, Harper was named as a replacement All-Star. His American League counterpart, Angels outfielder Mike Trout also earned his first All-Star appearance. Both players made their 2012 debuts on April 28th with Trout being a year older than Harper. Both have been extremely productive for their successful teams. The Nationals are leading the National League East by 4 ½ games and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have turned their miserable start around and are now only 4 games back of the American League West leading Texas Rangers with a 46-38 record.
In 282 plate appearances this year, Trout has a .347/.401/.562 slash line. He ranks first in the American League in batting average, offensive WAR (wins above replacement), OPS+ and stolen bases (26). He ranks fourth in OBP and sixth in slugging percentage. Keep in mind he is playing with guys that are, on average, five to ten years older than him. The selection of Harper was the right one as a replacement and it was also the right choice not to include him as an original reserve. Although he is doing very well as a 19-year-old he did not have the production of a “first ballot All-Star.” Harper will be the third youngest player ever to be named an All-Star and at 19, he is the youngest position player ever to be an All-Star.
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One name that has been mentioned as possibly the biggest snub is Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto. The 26 year old has nine wins in 17 starts including 2 complete games on 114 2/3 innings pitched. He has the second best ERA in the National League at 2.35 and has struck out 86 batters while only walking 25. One of the reasons, reportedly, why Cueto was not selected was because he is scheduled to start two days before the All-Star game which would render him useless for the game. Another reason for the snub is that Tony La Russa, the National League manager, still remembers the game two years ago in which Cueto, during a bench clearing brawl between the Reds and Cardinals, kicked Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue in the head. LaRue never played in the majors again due to a concussion suffered from that kick.
La Russa respects the game and during his managerial career made sure that his players did the same. On the same hand, he loved to win. I do not think he left Johnny Cueto off of the National League All-Star roster solely based on that day. I do think, however, that La Russa examined all the pitchers that had the potential to make the team and decided that Cueto was not one of those ‘have to have’ pitchers this year.
Red Sox slugger David Ortiz and White Sox hit-or-miss designated hitter Adam Dunn both made the American League roster. Blue Jays designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion did not. At the time this article was published, 36-year-old Ortiz and Encarnacion had the same number of homeruns (22) and runs batted in (56). Ortiz has a slight lead over Encarnacion in the slash category with a line of .308/.397/.609 compared to Encarnacion’s .296/.380/.561. Ortiz also reached the huge milestone when he recently hit his 400th career homerun, which should have no bearing on his All-Star selection, but it gives him a little more publicity with fans. Adam Dunn is a slightly different story. He has 60 hits in 355 plate appearances with almost half of them coming on homeruns (25). He ranks number one in the American League with 66 walks but also ranks first with 130 strikeouts. The batter closest to Dunn in the strikeout category is 24 behind Dunn; Tampa Bay’s Carlos Pena with 106.
Dunn, remarkably with only 60 hits, has a .210/.358/.510 line. How did Dunn make the team over Encarnacion? Across the board, Encarnacion has better numbers but he does play in Toronto. Toronto does not get nearly as much publicity as the Chicago White Sox and that counts when it comes down to the fan vote. Encarnacion is more deserving of a spot than Dunn. Encarnacion has a 2.8 WAR which is 2 more than Dunn’s 0.8, meaning Encarnacion is worth almost three wins above a replacement player will Dunn is teetering around being an actual average player. Sure, he hits a lot of homeruns, works a lot of walks, and drives in a high number of runs but he is not nearly as complete or as good of a player as Encarnacion is. If Encarnacion was picked he would also provide a little more depth at third and first base but every player who is deserving of an All Star slot is not always picked.
Detroit centerfielder Austin Jackson was not only left off the All Star roster but he was not even including in the final fan vote. The 25-year-old is having a career year for the disappointing Tigers, batting .335/.411/.552. Jackson’s .335 batting average is second in the American League and he is one homerun (9) away from reaching his career high (10) through 63 games. He leads the league in triples (5) and has played flawless defense in centerfield. There is no way he should have beat out the three AL starters in the outfield; Josh Hamilton, Curtis Granderson and Jose Bautista and it would be tough for him to beat out a reserve crew of Adam Jones, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo but with the type of season he is having he should have been at least given the chance of being included in the final vote.
Athletics outfielder and possible trade bait Josh Reddick has also made a case for an All-Star spot. In his first season with Oakland, Reddick has already smashed 20 homeruns for an anemic offense. Oakland’s lone representative is reliever Ryan Cook so you can make a case, comparable to Austin Jackson’s situation, that the American League outfielders are too talented for guys on losing or disappointing teams (ex., Athletics, Tigers) to even have a chance.
The flawed voting system allowed Giants third basemen Pablo Sandoval to not only make the team but be the National League starter. He is having an okay season with a .309/.364/.489 line but his power is down (seven homeruns in 206 plate appearances) compared to previous years (25 HRs/2009, 23 HRs/2011) and so is his run production (only 28 runs batted in). The Big Panda is starting over Mets third basemen David Wright who trumps Sandoval in every statistical category. Wright has an astronomical .353/.443/.569 line along with 11 homeruns, 59 runs batted in, 8 steals, and 27 doubles in 348 plate appearances. He is ranked first in wins above replacement with 4.6, second in on-base percentage and doubles, third in batting average, runs batted in and runs scored, and sixth in slugging percentage and total bases.
The system needs to be reworked. There is always going to be flaws in any popular voting system but when you have players like Pablo Sandoval, who in almost everyone’s mind should not have made the team, starting over a perennial All-Star who is having a career year (David Wright) then it has to sound an alarm. It’s not going to change though. Commissioner Bud Selig loves it because when the rosters come out, everybody talks about the snubs leading up to the All-Star game. More publicity could lead to more money and that’s what it’s all about at MLB headquarters.