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July 4, 2005

Prospectus Today

All-Stars

by Joe Sheehan

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The changes to the All-Star voting process have made the debates over the final roster a bit less intense. After all, the two managers get to select just six or five players per team once the fans and players have their say, and most of those choices--especially in the National League--have to go towards completing the ridiculous 12-pitcher staff and meeting the one-player-per-team requirement. It's not quite foolproof…and if you think I'm finishing that thought, you're nuts.

As is usually the case, the front door to the Game was guarded well. The fans are to this process what the BBWAA has traditionally been to the Hall of Fame: a worthy gatekeeper, if not always perfect, and a darn sight better than the guys around back who let anyone in. The fans didn't make any head-scratching picks in either league. I may cringe a bit when someone makes the All-Star team off a hot 12 weeks, but it's not the worst thing in the world that the two league MVPs to date, Derrek Lee and Brian Roberts, are starting in Detroit next week.

In fact, there's nothing notable at all about the AL voting, except perhaps for Ichiro Suzuki not being elected despite coming off of his best season. His, and his team's, diminished performance in 2005 no doubt hurt him.

The NL had a couple of interesting outcomes. I don't have a problem with Mike Piazza's selection, because I'm all for sending Hall of Famers to the game in the absence of a younger "star." I have to say that when I looked it up, however, I was surprised to see that Piazza, having one of the worst years of his career, is still second among NL catchers in VORP. With Paul Lo Duca's second-half swoons a matter of public record, it's possible that Piazza will end the year as the best catcher in the league, at least at the plate.

David Eckstein gets his first All-Star start on the heels of the tremendous turnout in St. Louis, a player pool that almost makes the catchers look good, and more good press than "Sideways." He hasn't been as productive as a couple of other guys, but the players above him on the VORP charts, Felipe Lopez and Bill Hall, haven't even spent the half-season as their teams' starters. Like Piazza, Eckstein is a compromise pick, not a reason to criticize the voters.

The selection of Carlos Beltran carries with it a bit of justice. He might have started for the AL last year had it not been for his being traded to Houston in late June. He's not having anything close to an All-Star season, of course, and as is the case almost every year, the NL has a half-dozen guys who could start the All-Star Game in the pasture without anyone objecting. Miguel Cabrera will get other chances.

The fans did an acceptable job. The players, however, made a handful of idiosyncratic selections. That's a danger in a process where the #2 man in the player voting gets the spot if the #1 guy has been picked by the fans. That rule should change.

The AL has a lot of marginal bats on the team. Paul Konerko and Shea Hillenbrand both have OPSs in the low 800s and middling to poor defensive value. Konerko doesn't even have impressive counting stats; he's not in the top ten in the AL in homers or RBI. Hillenbrand's selection, thanks to his #2 position in the player voting at DH, is the modern equivalent of voting for None of the Above. Travis Hafner?

Ivan Rodriguez and Michael Young were marginal calls over a pair of Yankees, continuing a banner year in the Bronx. (Derek Jeter is on the second-chance ballot, Jorge Posada isn't.) Garret Anderson was an odd choice; this selection may herald his complete loop from overrated to underrated and back again. That he's an All-Star while Hideki Matsui and Torii Hunter go into the play-in vote is a great data point in the argument that playing baseball and evaluating baseball players require two widely disparate skill sets. On the other hand, a handful of outfielders are having better seasons than Ichiro, but I don't have a problem with putting the fan favorite who had 731 hits last year on the team.

The AL players did a better job with the pitchers, picking off the four best starters in the league so far plus Johan Santana. Mariano Rivera is an autopick (and has a 0.85 ERA), and B.J. Ryan has been the AL's best closer. Joe Nathan was a bit of a whiff, however.

Handed 26 names, Terry Francona was left to fill five spots, four of which had to go to pitchers, and he still needed at least one Devil Ray, one Indian, one Royal and one Athletic. With no good choices on the Royals, Francona went with Mike Sweeney, who at least was in the major leagues a year ago. Sweeney has now made about four All-Star teams this way. Francona took Danys Baez over Scott Kazmir (acceptable, if unimaginative), Justin Duchscherer over Huston Street and Rich Harden (a tough call) and Bob Wickman over a cast of thousands (horrible) to make his team legal. Until the ridiculousness of 12-man staffs for a single game goes away, we're going to be treated to an awful lot of these "best pitcher on bad team" All-Stars.

Finally, Francona filled out the staff with Bartolo Colon, a perfectly acceptable choice. Other than choosing Wickman ahead of Cliff Lee or C.C. Sabathia, he did a good job. It was the AL players, aided perhaps by the rules of the system, who screwed the pooch on this one, putting Anderson, Konerko and Hillenbrand on the squad. Four of the five guys on the "32nd man" ballot (Jeter, Hunter, Matsui and Scott Podsednik) are better choices than any of those guys. In addition to Hafner, Carlos Guillen and Jorges Posada and Cantu can consider themselves a bit screwed by this process. Freddy Garcia and perhaps Dustin Hermanson have cases as well.

The players did a better job in the NL, although again, some of the positions are so weak as to open the question of whether anyone is qualified. Paul Lo Duca and Cesar Izturis resemble that remark. Luis Castillo is a very marginal choice ahead of Marcus Giles at second base, and it should come as no surprise that the players chose RBIs in Carlos Lee as opposed to the stronger overall performances of people like Brian Giles and Adam Dunn.

The best player not already on an All-Star team (albeit eligible in the leftovers voting) is Roy Oswalt. The NL players missing him, perhaps in the shadow cast by Roger Clemens, is pretty much inexcusable. The players did choose Livan Hernandez instead of John Smoltz, which was a bit of a surprise. Chad Cordero is the best closer in the league, Brad Lidge hasn't been quite the pitcher he was last season, and Jason Isringhausen really owes Billy Wagner some money for taking his spot on this team.

Tony La Russa got two more spots to fill than Francona did, and he needed them. La Russa had to find a Red, a Pirate, a Padre, a Giant, a Rockie and a Diamondback, giving him just one spot to use on a player from any other team. He filled that one with Smoltz, so the rest of his choices were pretty much locked in. He didn't do badly, taking the best options from the Reds (Lopez), Pirates (Jason Bay) and Giants (Moises Alou). The Padres and Diamondbacks each had one strong candidate from the lineup and the rotation, and La Russa chose the combination of Jake Peavy and Luis Gonzalez over Giles and Brandon Webb.

The Rockies should have been forgotten in this process. Todd Helton would normally be the standard pick, but he's having a poor year (albeit one that might have made him the AL's backup first baseman). With the need to reach 12 pitchers, La Russa defaulted to the team leader in saves, Brian Fuentes. Fuentes is actually having a better season than Isringhausen or Lidge, but he's a marginal pick for an All-Star Game. All-Star slots really shouldn't come down to what the roster rules say you can do.

The NL, by the way, becomes the first league to have the voting for its 32nd spot come down to five pitchers. Oswalt is the best choice, although Wagner and Webb are also on the ballot. Position players with legitimate gripes about being left out include Carlos Delgado, Morgan Ensberg, Dunn and Cliff Floyd.

So give the fans an A-, the players a C (split as D- for the AL players, B for the NLers), Francona a B and La Russa an A.

Give the rest of us two days and we'll have forgotten about all of this. As much fun as it is to talk about this stuff in the moment, the story of who should have and who shouldn't have has the shortest shelf life in baseball.

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

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