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The Catch: Issues with All-Stars

May 30, 2012

MLB All-Star balloting opened May 20. Once again, just 40 games into the season, this is entirely too early. With the game being held July 10 in Kansas City, you would think the league could hold off on balloting for another two or three weeks, allowing All-Stars to be evaluated through closer to one-third of their games, rather than just a fourth. In my eyes, however, an even bigger mistake than the small sample size of games is the Little League mindset used by Major League Baseball.
What mindset? Every team needs to have an All-Star. Give me a break. This is Major League Baseball, not the Little Leagues. Even in the Little Leagues, when areas assemble All-Star teams to vie for a spot in the Little League World Series, I’m not certain every team has an All-Star named.
The whole concept of this simply defeats the purpose of the term “All-Star team.” Much more deserving players are left off the rosters, year after year, because teams like the 56-106 Houston Astros of 2011, the 57-105 Pittsburgh Pirates of 2010, or the 43-119 Detroit Tigers of 2003 must have an All-Star or their feelings will get hurt. Yep, good call, because they definitely earned a spot in the All-Star game.
The rule is a huge joke and needs to be changed. Thankfully the Minnesota Twins signed Josh Willingham in the offseason, because it would be absolutely thrilling to see the likes of RP Jeff Gray in an All-Star game.
With my dislike for the rule fresh in my mind, I took to the stat sheets in search of two squads of All-Stars — 38 players from the National League and 38 from the American League to make up my teams. Without considering team records or player popularity, I began by selecting a pool of players from each league that (in my mind) had All-Star type stats through the first 40 or so games of the season. My lists provided me with pools of sixty-one players from each league.
From here, my goal was to select teams that followed the standard All-Star team format: 3 catchers, 5-7 corner infielders, 4-7 middle infielders, 8-11 outfielders/designated hitters, and 14-15 pitchers. We’ll unveil my 2012 All-Star teams at a later date, but first: of the total one hundred and twenty-two players in my player pool, just seven of them came from teams with a winning percentage below .400. At the time of my findings, there were five such teams in the league; Kansas City (.395), Colorado (.372), San Diego (.356), Minnesota (.349), and the Chicago Cubs (.341). The respective players that made my All-Star selection pool were as follows:
DH Billy Butler (KC) .299, 9HR, 32RBI
C Ryan Doumit (MIN) .263, 5HR, 24RBI
OF Josh Willingham (MIN) .287, 8HR, 27RBI
1B Bryan LaHair (CHC) .310, 10HR, 21RBI
SS Starlin Castro (CHC) .313, 2HR, 25RBI, 12SB
SS Troy Tulowitzki (COL) .268, 6HR, 23RBI
OF Carlos Gonzalez (COL) .306, 8HR, 34RBI
Despite Butler’s solid numbers, there are currently three designated hitters in the American League enjoying arguably better years. Depending on who you are, Doumit’s numbers are anywhere from third to sixth best among AL catchers. And as for Willingham, he’s cooled off since his hot start, but is still among the top seven or eight AL outfielders. For the Cubs, Castro is much more likely to be the All-Star, as he is one of the best at his position. Meanwhile, LaHair has nice numbers, but not as nice as Adam LaRoche, Joey Votto, or Freddie Freeman. In Colorado, Carlos Gonzalez is actually a legit All-Star, bad team or not, even among the extremely deep NL outfield crop, which sent eleven players to last year’s game. Tulowitzki is having a down year for his standards, but may be voted in on name recognition alone. Notice there are zero San Diego Padres on my list? The closest they have to an All-Star is quite ugly. Chase Headley has 5HR and 20RBI, but his .245 batting average to go along with it is gross. Plus, at third base, it’s unrealistic for Headley to sneak in ahead of Hanley Ramirez, David Wright, or David Freese. Outside of Headley, San Diego has nobody with more than 2HR and nobody with more than 16RBI. At 3-1, with a 2.61ERA and 1.16WHIP, Cory Luebke is the Padres’ best starting pitcher, but that’s not good enough. Looks like the NL will have to waste a roster spot on either Huston Street or Dale Thayer, out of the bullpen. Combined, they’ve pitched less than twenty innings this year.
So, if things were the way they should be, you probably wouldn’t see an All-Star from the host Royals this season and San Diego definitely would not be represented in the game. Doumit and Willingham are both borderline All-Stars at their positions, while Starlin Castro and Carlos Gonzalez are the only sure-fire selections in this group. Unfortunately, this is just one of the many things that Major League Baseball has not been able to figure out. Oh well, I’m sure when the game is on the line in the bottom of the 9th inning and AL All-Star Manager Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers is looking for a hot bat to drive home the winning run and secure home field advantage, in the event his Rangers make their third straight World Series appearance, he’ll breathe a big sigh of relief when he looks over and finds sensational slugger Ryan Doumit waiting to be inserted into the lineup. Likewise, when NL All-Star Manager Tony La Russa is looking to record that elusive final out and secure home field for the NL, in the World Series, and he’s already exhausted all of his pitchers except one, he’ll feel uber-confident to know that last man standing in the bullpen is none other than Dale Thayer!
It’s the perfect scenario; just how Commissioner Bud Selig dreamt it. What baseball fan wouldn’t want to see a classic Ryan Doumit versus Dale Thayer showdown to decide which league gets home field advantage for the World Series? Wow, the suspense is killing me. I can hardly wait for July 10.

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