Talking Baseball

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Posted by Dave on Monday, July 12, 2004

The Real All-Star Snubs

For a game that's an "exhibition," we sure make a big deal out of the All-Star game. The meticulous method for voting players in highlights the All-Star Game's complexity. At the start, baseball fans across the country, and even out of the country, give votes to the players they want to see as All-Stars. In theory, these players should be the best at their respective positions, but it doesn't usually work out like that. That's where the manager and players come in. The players, managers, and coaches vote for eight pitchers (5 starters, 3 relievers) to compose the majority of the rotation. After that, the All-Star manager (the defending pennant-winner's manager from the previous season) makes a few final selections (4 pitchers and 3 position players). Finally, the fans vote again for the last All-Star. Oh, and for the players to be All-Stars, they must receive a plurality of approval in the Senate and a 2/3 majority in the House. Just kidding. To be sure, the process is certainly not cut-and-dry.

Nor should it be. The media duplicitously will hound players and managers about who got snubbed while simultaneously saying the game is merely an exhibition. It can't be both ways, and it's clear that the game has taken on greater importance. More often than not, players will receive bonuses for making the All-Star team. These are not some minor judgements that Torre or McKeon are making, in some cases it could cost a player $100,000 to be omitted from the squad. Of greater importance to baseball, however, is the fact that the All-Star game's victor does win something besides an "exhibition." It wins home-field advantage in the World Series for its league.

While that may not mean much to Jack McKeon, whose Marlins are struggling this season, it means a great deal to Joe Torre. His Yankees are likely on their way to another Series, especially if they reel in the Big Unit, Randy Johnson. It's not as if home-field advantage is some phantom media creation either, just go here or here to find some solid proof that the home-field advantage does indeed exist.

Given that each league really has something tangible to play for - that is, home-field advantage in the World Series - it should be understood that each manager will do everything in his power to win. So what if everyone doesn't get the opportunity to play? So what if the best players aren't necessarily on the team? As Fox has made abundantly clear to us, "this time it counts," just like the last one did. Each team needs to play to win - it's no longer an exhibition and a game for feces and giggles (that's just odd to read).

So who are the real All-Star snubs? The dominant middle relievers and closers that are absent from the Midsummer Classic.

Under the assumption that each team is playing to win - which it should be doing - which gauntlet of pitchers would you rather face:

Staff A:
Mark Mulder (for 2, I think he deserves the starting spot), Javier Vazquez, C.C. Sabathia, Joe Nathan, Tom Gordon, Francisco Rodriguez, Francisco Cordero, and Mariano Rivera.


Staff B:
Mark Mulder (for 2, again), Joe Nathan, Eddie Guardado, Gordon, K-Rod, Keith Foulke, Cordero, and Rivera?

Who would you rather face? Talk about a choice-less decision. Clearly, however, you'd rather face Staff A. Any team's chances for scoring improve for the two innings with Vazquez and Sabathia on the mound (as opposed to Guardado and Foulke in those innings). How many runs are saved by using Staff B as opposed to Staff A? Let's do a quick and dirty weighted average of the ERAs. Each pitcher's first-half ERA will be worth 1/9 of the team's ERA, except for Mulder who's worth 2/9:

Staff A: 2.29
Staff B: 1.93

The numbers do not lie. While I agree with the consensus that starters are almost always more valuable than relievers, it is not the case in the All-Star Game where each team is playing to win one and only one game. If Torre took and played purely relief pitchers when he could, he would save more than a quarter of a run. One quarter of a run is not negligible and it would go a long way in securing home-field advantage.

Unfortunately, Torre's not quite as unconventional as I am. Recently, he took Ted Lilly, Tom Gordon, Estaban Loaiza, and Joe Nathan to fill out the remainder of his spots. Loaiza and Lilly?! Lord, Lilly's not even as good as his teammate Roy Halladay, and Loaiza boasts a 4.77 ERA heading into the break - not exactly an All-Star caliber ERA. Neither will likely be utilized during the game. With those other two choices, Torre could have taken Foulke and Guardado, but he sacrificed the tandem of closers.

More relievers would be better (Torre could take on BJ Ryan and Juan Rincon as Lefty One Out Guys (using them in that fashion is just laughable, I may add)), but the current rules only allow a maximum of seven relievers. For Torre, at least, taking the maximum number of relievers would be the optimal strategy to use in composing his All-Star team. Any fewer than the seven relievers is willfully permitting more runs to be scored. This amounts to a decreased probability of home-field advantage in the World Series and subsequently to a decreased probability of a hoisting this thing. I would hope that Torre would not willfully lessen the Yankees' chance at a Series victory, but it appears he's done just that in filling out the remainder of his roster.

McKeon's not immune either. He passed over Guillermo Mota, Brad Lidge, and John Smoltz in favor of Sheets, Pavano, and Livan Hernandez. He could have saved some runs as well, but he has much less personal interest in the outcome of the game since the Marlins will have difficulty making the playoffs - let alone competing for the World Series. In addition, the starters in the National League are nearly as good as the relievers (at least in terms of ERA), so the foregone relief doesn't dampen the NL's chances as significantly.

So, next time you hear someone bemoaning the absences of J.D. Drew, Frank Thomas, Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, or Lew Ford, realize who the real All-Star snubs are - the players who could actually have had a profound impact on the outcome of the game - the dominant middle relievers and closers omitted by each league's manager: Eddie Guardado, Keith Foulke, BJ Ryan, Juan Rincon, Guillermo Mota, Brad Lidge, and John Smoltz.

Notes: It seems the majority of America disagrees with me on this front. When SportsNation did a poll about who the least-deserving AL All-Star was, 53% felt Tom Gordon took the cake. Though the information on the table is presented in a biased manner (they merely report that Gordon is 2-3 with two saves - they fail to report the 1.78 ERA or the 22 holds he has), it gives at least some insight into what most Americans think regarding the issue. It should also be noted that in the same poll, only 10% felt Guardado was the most glaring AL omission while only 7.4% felt Keith Foulke was the player most missed. Compare that with 30.5% percent from Paul Konerko and its clear that the fans didn't want to see anymore relievers in the All-Star game. In fact, if you think Gordon was voted on fairly, they wanted to see fewer relievers. I guess everyone doesn't have a shot at appearing in the World Series...

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