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July 16, 2003

Prospectus Today

All-Star Diary

by Joe Sheehan

It's a little after 5 p.m. Pacific Time on Tuesday evening. Let's just start typing and see what happens...

    5:07 p.m.: Just to reiterate: "This Time it Counts" is a fraudulent notion being shoved down our throats by an administration known for disinformation and a cowed media without the courage to call a spade a spade.

    I'm not surprised to see Kevin Kennedy sell the idea; after all, he works for Fox, and this is Fox's baby. I am disappointed to see the ESPN staff climb aboard so willingly. I just wish I'd see one person on television with the temerity to suggest that tying World Series home-field advantage to the All-Star Game is a worthless gimmick, and moreover, point out that the real problem with the All-Star Game is interleague play, a worthless gimmick in and of itself.

    5:18 p.m.: Watching the introductions really gives you a sense of how little star power is in this game. I think I'd take my chances with the guys who aren't here:

    Guys Sitting in a VIP Room Team:

    Most of these guys are absent because of ill-timed injuries. Others are missing because of the byzantine team-selection process. (Eric Chavez is here because all the qualified third basemen made the teams.) This group of players embodies the spirit of the All-Star Game much better than the players who were just announced. Their absence makes the point better than I ever could that the All-Star Game has become the All-First-Half Game.

    5:25 p.m.: Nice tribute to Larry Doby: Dignified, brief, and appropriate for a player who played an important role in the game's history. I'm genuinely impressed that this wasn't made into a sideshow.

    5:28 p.m.: Ugh, Vanessa Carlton. That one song she whines through, the one that was the most-played one of 2001 or 2002? I cringe just thinking about it.

    Oh, and here's a tip: if you don't want to have to constantly pull up your top on national television, wear something that fits.

    On the other hand, it gave Barry Zito something to think about in the bullpen. "What? I'm NOT pitching today? Um. OK, I'll be right out."

    5:34 p.m.: I'm loving the attempts to not make "This Time it Counts" not seem like an insult to All-Stars of the past. Joe Buck nearly broke something trying to make it about the managers and how they'll approach the game.

    5:40 p.m.: The game starts too late. I think the East Coast people who want World Series and All-Star games to start at 7:00 or 7:30 are a bit close-minded, but 8:41? An 8:20 start would allow for introductions and a game that ends around 11 p.m. Eastern, while starting late enough to allow people in the Pacific time zone to miss a minimum of the game or catch it all while missing a minimum of work time.

    That, of course, is long-term, market-growth thinking. Fox doesn't think past the next commerical break.

    By the way, I'm always amused when a guy hits higher for the All-Stars than he does for his own team. Hey, Tony La Russa, think you might be able to slide Bo Hart down in the lineup so that Edgar Renteria can bat ahead of the monsters?

    5:43 p.m.: Has anyone been known to go into seizures watching a Fox telecast? The speed at which they move from shot to shot creates a strobe light effect.

    5:56 p.m.: In a game featuring a ton of good defenders, the first good glovework comes to us from...Carlos Delgado? He made a nice grab of Gary Sheffield's foul pop-up.

    Random thought: what's the BABIP and SLGIP in All-Star Games? Is superior defense one of the reasons the games of late have been lower-scoring?

    6:03 p.m.: Well, I looked that up. I guess the All-Star Game hasn't been that low-scoring of late, although it did go through a stretch of being so from 1980-91, exactly the period I remember best.

    The way this game has started, I'll have plenty of opportunities to do little research projects, because I'm certainly not going to have to pay close attention to rallies.

    6:06 p.m.: This time it counts! Jason Schmidt beans Edgar Martinez. The intensity is back!

    You know what was idiotic? Fox using shots of knockdown pitches in its All-Star Game promos. There is absolutely nothing an All-Star pitcher wants less than to hit a guy, and Schmidt's reaction to that pitch illustrates the point. Martinez is OK, though.

    6:08 p.m.: Hideki Matsui singles to left.

    6:14 p.m.: Martinez reaches second base.

    6:15 p.m.: Roger Clemens is pitching the third inning for the American League. Clemens was named to the team in place of Barry Zito, who was theoretically removed from the roster by his manager and pitching coach because he pitched Sunday. The influence of Fox on this process is murky, but given how much they've shaped the rest of this All-Star Game, it's a bit silly to decide that it's when they start bucking for the selection of certain players that they've crossed the line.

    Heck, once Clemens came in, would anyone have really been surprised to see Mike Piazza come off the bench to hit for Javy Lopez? Roster, schmoster. THIS TIME IT COUNTS!

    Clemens belonged here on merit, though, and was left off initially because of the lack of room for starting pitchers from teams already having an All-Star. If this really is his last season, it's nice to see him going out with a good inning in the All-Star Game.

    6:16 p.m.: Trivia: Who drove in the first run in All-Star Game history?

    I'm going with Jesse Orosco.

    6:20 p.m.: It's 46 billion degrees in my office, so between innings I walked out to the living room to cool off. I mentioned to Sophia that it had been a boring game so far, and she responded, "but this time it counts."

    I don't know what to do with this. It scares me.

    6:22 p.m.: When Rafael Palmeiro hit his 500th home run, I had a debate with an analyst about Palmeiro's Hall of Fame credentials. One of the points used against my "he deserves induction" position was that he'd appeared in just four All-Star games. That's a fact, but how meaningful is it?

    These days, there are basically two paths to the All-Star Game: fan voting, and a big first half. The player voting basically came down the same way the manager selections had in the last 20 years, with the guys off to good starts getting the votes. With that in mind, we can reasonably say that being an All-Star is 25% career value, 15% popularity, and 60% having a good first half. That seems like a very thin thread on which to base Hall of Fame worthiness; what a player does in the second half of every season has virtually no impact on his All-Star appearances.

    I think that we've reached a point where All-Star appearances have to be a very, very small part of Hall of Fame consideration, especially for pitchers, who have no route to the game other than a good first half. We've seen the process up close for 20 years; we should remember its flaws when the players of this era come up for induction, and not compound the mistakes that were made.

    6:28 p.m.: Carlos Delgado gets the AL on the board by lining a hanging breaking ball from Randy Wolf into left field. I thought that Albert Pujols might have had a play on Ichiro Suzuki--who didn't get much of a break from second base--but he fielded the ball awkwardly and made no throw.

    6:32 p.m.: Jamie Moyer follows Loaiza and Clemens. I think the next name in this sequence is Bert Blyleven.

    6:50 p.m.: Serves me right for getting up to make some dinner. I come back just in time to see Todd Helton's two-run home run off of Shigetoshi Hasegawa, who has apparently been assigned the Atlee Hammaker role in this year's All-Star Game.

    7:02 p.m.: You almost never see this in a regular-season game, because no umpire likes to make a judgment call when he can just point to the rule book, but left-field umpire Mark Carlson awards Rafael Furcal home plate on a double down the left-field line by Andruw Jones that is touched by a fan. It seems like a bad call; Garret Anderson had the ball before Furcal reached third base, and to just give Furcal the run seemed like a real stretch.

    Albert Pujols makes it irrelevant by singling home Jones. It's 5-1 National League, Hasegawa has an All-Star Game ERA of 54.00, and the contest is most likely over, given that the NL has an absolutely inhuman bullpen.

    7:12 p.m.: Alfonso Soriano has enormous talent, but if I'm an American League pitcher, I do nothing but throw fastballs at his left elbow and force the issue of him hanging in the strike zone. Some umpire will eventually make the right call.

    This is also the solution for Mo Vaughn, Craig Biggio, Jason Kendall and all the other hitters who set up in the strike zone. Umpires want to complain about Questec; maybe if they enforced the rules in the rule book it wouldn't be necessary for a machine to point out that they don't.

    7:32 p.m.: Garret Anderson crushes a two-run homer to right-center, cutting the NL lead in half. Anderson has become one hell of a player, which couldn't have been expected given how lousy he was from 1996-99. He is now about as good a hitter as you can be without walking, with a run that looks a bit like Kirby Puckett's at the same age.

    
                    Anderson                   Puckett
              AVG   OBP   SLG   EqA      AVG   OBP   SLG   EqA
    Age 28   .286  .308  .519  .271     .339  .379  .465  .308
    Age 29   .289  .314  .478  .271     .298  .365  .446  .294
    Age 30   .306  .332  .539  .294     .319  .352  .460  .290
    Age 31   .316  .345  .597  .313     .329  .374  .490  .310
    
    
    Anderson is a better outfielder than Puckett was at this point in his career, despite which he plays left field because his team has a human tuna net in center. Puckett would put up three more seasons of .289, .302 and .305 EqAs before the onset of glaucoma ended his career.

    Anderson doesn't have Puckett's resumé through age 29, but as a durable hitter with a similar style, could end up with better career numbers than Puckett and become a fringe Hall of Fame candidate.

    7:43 p.m.: Wow, Amy Grant looks different. I had such a crush on her during her post-gospel pop phase, when she had those ringlets and sang bouncy adult-contemporary songs.

    7:50 p.m.: So, how many left-handed hitters pull Billy Wagner 390 feet? Jason Giambi's bomb might be the most unexpected moment of this game for me. I honestly expected the AL to go down easy in the seventh, eighth and ninth.

    7:57 p.m.: Brendan Donnelly and his 0.38 ERA come in for the AL. Donnelly is getting press for his performance this year, but don't forget that he had a 2.17 ERA last year. His career ERA of 1.29 in 97 2/3 innings in the lowest in baseball history for pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched, and the record all the way down to 23 IP. The following list uses a qualifier of 20 innings:

    
    Pitcher                     ERA       IP
    ----------------------------------------
    Al Tedrow                  1.21     22.1
    Brendan Donnelly           1.29     97.2
    Harry Otis                 1.38     26.0
    Jimmie Foxx                1.50     24.0
    John Weyhing               1.62     66.2
    Jerry Upp                  1.67     27.0
    Scot Shields               1.77    127.1
    Myron Allen                1.77     35.2
    Al Spalding                1.78    539.2
    Ed Walsh                   1.82   2965.0
    
    
    Notice Donnelly's teammate, Scot Shields, is tied for sixth on this list. Consider this: if Donnelly can throw 2 1/3 innings without coughing up a bunch of runs, the Angels will have the two stingiest pitchers in history with at least 100 innings under their belts. That's an amazing fact, and one that hasn't gotten nearly enough coverage.

    (NOW will people stop accusing me of hating the Angels?)

    8:08 p.m.: Gotta watch those research projects. After getting to Wagner for a run, the AL has gotten doubles by Anderson--his third hit--and Vernon Wells off of Eric Gagne to make it a 6-5 game.

    8:10 p.m.: Hank Blalock, America. America, Hank Blalock.

    If you're Jim Tracy, though, aren't you happy? Wouldn't you rather see Gagne have his off night for someone else in a meaningless game, than for you in the middle of a playoff race?

    8:18 p.m.: Rafael Furcal flies to right, and it's the AL's top closer, Keith Foulke, who closes out a win.

That was a great game. The AL, which I wrote off after the Andruw Jones double in the fifth, came back against some of the most dominant relief pitchers in the game today. The junior circuit was led by two of the brightest young stars in their league, Wells and Blalock, players who, I have to admit, might not have been on the team if it had been me making up the rosters, given my preference for a longer curriculum vitae.

I'm certain that, in the aftermath of this excellent contest, much credit is going to go to "This Time it Counts." I don't buy it. This game didn't seem any more or less intense than many past All-Star Games, and in fact, lacked an element of fun that had enhanced the last few midsummer classics. No pitcher threw more than two innings, and just three--the two starters and Mark Mulder--threw more than one, so it's hard to see where the change in incentive affected pitching strategy. Not having the pitchers bat--the All-Star Game should always use the DH--and leaving the starters in slightly longer was the biggest reason why there were a number of extra players available in the eighth inning, and there's nothing about either of those things that has to be unique to the new system.

After all the hype, the end result is largely the same: an entertaining exhibition that is missing the uniqueness it held prior to 1997.

By the way, there are nine pitchers left. What time does the second game start?

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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