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June 4, 2013

BP Unfiltered

FourSixtyThree: The Baltimore Bounce

by Russell A. Carleton

We here at Baseball Prospectus take democracy very seriously. We're proud of our longstanding tradition of using witchcraft... erm, math to talk about all sorts of issues in baseball. And now it's election season again. In a few short weeks, the annual Midsummer Classic will take place in New York City, and your votes will determine the starters. And because this must be said before every election, "This is the most important election of our lifetimes." I can't wait for the first debate between Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano before the next Yankees-Red Sox series.

Yesterday, MLB released the first round of results from the American League side of the ballot. MLB releases only the top five at each position (top 15 for the outfield), rather than the full results, but there are interesting pieces of information to draw from the results.

1) The Orioles fly high.
Of the nine Orioles on the ballot, eight of them appear near the top of their respective positional votes. Only designated "hitter" Nolan Reimold (.188/.257/.327) didn't make the list. Second baseman Brian Roberts, who has appeared in three games for the O's this year, snuck into fifth place among second basemen, meaning that more people have voted for Roberts than the ever-underappreciated Ben Zobrist.

What's interesting is that while the Orioles were a nice story last year and have followed it up with some decent play this year, it's not like they have all the classic markings of a team that gets a big ballot bounce. What I mean is that the Orioles do not play in New York. Nor are the Orioles particularly high on the attendance list, generally coming in mid-pack on putting rear ends in the seats of Camden Yards. But I wonder if the Orioles have a secret weapon in their attempt to put together an all-orange starting lineup: the Washington Nationals.

For the first time in a long time, the baseball team in Washington is relevant. Until Colin Wyers destroyed their chances of winning the World Series, the Nats had their own buzz coming into 2013, buzz that probably drives voter turnout. Figuring that many Nats fans probably grew up in Maryland as Orioles fans (and some may retain dual citizenship), some Nats fans might be voting party line in the NL for Ian Desmond, but throwing votes to the O's. When the first round of NL votes are released, it'll be interesting to see whether there are Nats in the top five that don't belong there.

Either that or someone in the Baltimore media or PR department is doing a great job of turning out the vote.

2) There's thought being put into this (for the most part)
One classic critique of the fan balloting system is that too many votes are cast by people who don't really follow the game and just vote for big names. This year, Albert Pujols is hitting like a mere mortal and has been hampered by injuries. While the name recognition factor is normally worth a few hundred thousand votes, Pujols comes in fourth among AL first basemen, well behind Chris Davis and Prince Fielder.

Plus, fans appear willing to boost a niche candidate like Carlos Santana, currently third among catchers. Santana actually bests AL catching vote leader Joe Mauer in WARP (as of this writing, the difference was a mere .02 wins). He doesn't have a lot of name recognition and plays for a team that ranks last in the majors in attendance, but he has emerged as a hitter in 2013, and people have taken notice. Same basic storyline for Alex Gordon of the Royals (eighth among outfielders).

Now if someone would only notice Jason Castro. Not to have him win it. Just to get him a few votes.

3) Is it too early to call the race?
Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera both have virtually twice as many votes as their closest rivals (Ian Kinsler and Manny Machado, respectively). Is it over?

Last year, Cano beat out Kinsler with a total of 5.8 million votes to Kinsler's 4.9 million. Assuming that the vote total will be around 10 million votes again between first and second place, and that about two million of them have been cast (currently, Cano at 1.2 million to Kinsler's 650,000), Cano still needs to pull in 47 percent of the Cano-Kinsler vote to win. But Cano has another rival right at Kinsler's heels: Dustin Pedroia, and the math is about the same. Cano is still the favorite, but it's not like he's a stone-cold lock to be standing by second base when the AL takes the field in July.

It's too early to call. Keep voting! And keep reading FourSixtyThree!

Russell A. Carleton is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Russell's other articles. You can contact Russell by clicking here

Related Content:  All-Star Game,  Orioles,  All-star Voting

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