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July 13, 2009

Prospectus Today

All-Star Grab Bag

by Joe Sheehan

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It's 80 degrees and sunny, and I'm staring at my glove, planning to play a little catch later today. Do you really think I can focus?

  • The Futures Game, already stuck in a ridiculous time slot, was victimized by a four-hour rain delay that completely mucked up the proceedings. Kevin Goldstein makes the key point: the game shouldn't have been picked up after the rain, due to field conditions that elevated the risk of injury to the most valuable properties in the game to unacceptable levels. MLB's insistence that their prospects take the field late yesterday afternoon was a mistake, and it is a tribute to their never-ending good fortune that this criticism isn't accompanied by the picture of a talented young player grimacing in pain.

    The only saving grace of the rain delay is that it shoved the Game almost into a decent time slot. Playing the thing on a Sunday afternoon with 11 MLB games up against it (and eventually 15 being played during its scheduled window) is an unconscionable waste of an opportunity to showcase future stars. The vast majority of baseball fans, given a choice between a minor league all-star game and their team's contest, will choose the latter. Those who aren't choosing are out in a park, on a beach, on the water, or doing all the things people do on a Sunday in July. The Futures Game ends up being a showcase for scouts, GMs, and a subset of people in the host city, and that's all.

    It deserves better. There are no games today. There are no games Wednesday. Would it really be that hard to stick the Futures Game on one of those days? Maybe having it Wednesday would be annoying for people who want to fly that day, but honestly, I know a ton of people who go to the All-Star city just for that game, so they'd just have to come in for it anyway. It would be less convenient for the fans in the local city, but so what? You're trading off 30,000 people for a potential audience 20 or more times that, watching the only baseball game in town in prime time on a weeknight. That's 600,000 people being introduced to Jason Heyward and Chris Tillman and Eric Young Jr. That's how you sell baseball's future.

    I want more people to see the Futures Game, and until it's moved from its utterly ridiculous Sunday afternoon slot, that won't happen. Something as simple as playing the celebrity softball game first and the Futures Game after it, say at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. local time, would allow for a larger audience.

  • Then again, that's not my real argument. My real argument is this: play the Futures Game on Monday night, and just shoot the Home Run Derby dead. The latter takes far too long, isn't terribly interesting, and occasional cool moments aside, is kind of a numbing experience, a one-hour BP session stretched to three hours.

    The counter for this argument is "Josh Hamilton." Here's my re-counter, the AL's team in the Derby:

    • the "33rd man" All-Star and his career .402 SLG
    • an injury replacement with 44 career homers
    • an injury replacement for a second baseman
    • A guy with one homer for every 40 AB in his career

    Really? I mean, not for nothing, but were the injury replacements made to do this as a quid pro quo? Was the balloting for Brandon Inge-the weakest candidate on the AL list-tweaked at all to reflect his willingness to participate? Was Carlos Pena slotted to replace Dustin Pedroia not just because his manager was also the AL's manager, but because he agreed to fill out the field? Joe Mauer is the only primary-path All-Star in this group. Hamilton, who owes much of his fame to this event, won't return to it. Justin Morneau won't defend his title. Evan Longoria and Mark Teixeira, the real power in the AL lineup, both passed.

    The field is a bit better in the NL, although it includes a guy in Ryan Howard who's an All-Star like I'm a vegetarian. A first baseman with a .257/.341/.529 line and, at best, so-so defense? He was a homer pick, selected by his manager to play in his hometown, probably with an eye towards the Derby. It's not even the worst crime this year, just another data point in the case for Howard being the most overrated guy in the game.

    My point is the the Futures Game is a better event for baseball. It's better marketing, better entertainment, and if not better TV, certainly not worse, and better for the attendees. The players, warranted or not, are voting on the All-Star Game with their feet; that AL team is an embarrassment. Pull the plug on this event and give the spotlight to the prospects.

  • The Nationals fired Manny Acta last night, a move that was as inevitable as it was unwarranted. Acta is a smart baseball man with very good people skills who was handed an impossible job, inheriting a roster built by an organization still recovering from the threat of contraction and the years of neglect which followed. Acta was never given sufficient talent with which to win, and in fact, has his job made more difficult by the organization's curious approach to talent acquisition.

    Firing Acta and turning the team over to Jim Riggleman is the kind of pointless move bad franchises make. It would not surprise me at all to see the Nationals play well enough from here on out, simply by regression, for the organization to make the terrible move of falling in love with the interim and keeping him on rather than going through a legitimate search. That move never, ever works out, and is a hallmark of winning organizations such as the Royals, Blue Jays, and Reds.

    Manny Acta will eventually be hired to manage again, maybe as soon as this offseason. (He'd be a two-win upgrade for the Mets right now.) When he does, he will succeed, just as Terry Francona just needed the right situation to succeed. Manny Acta will reach the postseason before the team that just fired him did.

  • Yovani Gallardo didn't pitch well yesterday, which doesn't change the fact that he should be pitching on Tuesday. If he and Adam Wainwright, both overqualified for the All-Star team, were not selected because they were starting yesterday, then the process is broken. You pick the best players and deal with it later.

    I mention Gallardo because he was up against Clayton Kershaw, five days after facing Wainwright, 10 days after facing Johan Santana. Despite the perception that number-one starters face number-one starters, and so on, the fact is that pitcher draws tend to balance out over the course of a season, with no pitcher seeing a more difficult or less difficult slate of opposition hurlers. Gallardo, however, seems to have had one brutal draw this year. In addition to the three guys listed above… actually, let's just run a list, including Gallardo's opposition ranks on their team and in their league in pitcher VORP:

    
    Pitcher                 League     Team
    Randy Johnson            102         8
    Edinson Volquez          105         8
    Johan Santana             22         1
    Felipe Paulino           311        16
    Ian Snell                240        15
    Paul Maholm               76         6
    Ryan Dempster             40         4
    Wandy Rodriguez           14         1
    Chris Carpenter           11         2
    Micah Owings             136        10
    Jair Jurrjens             10         2
    Aaron Cook                29         3
    Jeremy Sowers            188        14
    Justin Verlander          10         2
    Matt Cain                  3         2
    Johan Santana             22         1
    Adam Wainwright            6         1
    Clayton Kershaw           12         1
    

    The numbers probably don't do the list justice. Volquez was one of the best pitchers in the league last year, and Johnson has his moments. Santana's VORP ranking is low, but he's nothing less than one of the three best pitchers in baseball, and has twice beat Gallardo 1-0. Since late May, Gallardo has made 11 starts, and in nine of those he's been up against pitchers ranking no lower than 29th in their league in VORP. He's faced one of two best pitchers on the staff in five straight starts, and in eight of 11. That's an insane run of opponents, and is a partial explanation for why Gallardo has an 8-7 record despite being the eighth-best starter in the league.

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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