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July 5, 2012

The Lineup Card

Nine All-Star Snubs

by Baseball Prospectus

1. Alex Gordon
When Matt Kemp was elected to the All-Star Game, despite his not-quite-yet-healed injury, it was widely assumed that Michael Bourn was the natural heir to Kemp's roster space. Kemp, as expected, bowed out, and his spot went to... Chipper Jones. Now that I'm in exile in Atlanta, I can understand giving Larry Wayne one last hurrah as an All-Star. Jones has been haunting my dreams since my sophomore year of high school in Cleveland (aka, the 1995 World Series), so it's a nice gesture and a tip of the cap to a guy about whom there is no doubt concerning his hat preference on his HOF plaque. As a society, we honor "good guys" who have been around for a long time.

But, since we're doing sociological gestures with All-Star roster spots, why will the loudest roar in Kansas City be given to hometown hero... Billy Butler? Since every team needs a representative (a rule aimed straight at the heart of the 10-year-old fans), why not Alex Gordon? Gordon will always be the guy who was drafted before Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, and Andrew McCutchen, among others. But after what has probably seemed like years of growing pains, Gordon has finally turned into a pretty good player. Sometimes you have to wait and sometimes wait for years, but if you give up too early, you miss out on the good stuff. If we're going to make All-Stars into walking societal metaphors, is Alex Gordon not the perfect embodiment of that message?

Oh, by the way: Hi, everyone. —Russell Carleton

2. Sergio Romo
In 2003 and 2004, Eric Gagne had a 1.59 ERA, a 0.77 WHIP, and 14 strikeouts per nine. He struck out seven batters for every walk and allowed a home run every 20 innings. His ERA+ was 248. He was, for a short time, probably the best reliever I ever saw. He won a Cy Young award, and finished seventh in the voting for another. He was an All-Star both years.

Sergio Romo has not thrown nearly as many innings as Eric Gagne did in each of those seasons. But on a per-batter basis, he has been just as good. In 2011 and 2012, he has a 1.27 ERA, a 0.72 WHIP, and 13 strikeouts per nine. He has struck out eight batters for every walk, and allowed a home run every 23 innings. His ERA+ is 278. Nobody freaking cares.

Yes, it's sort of ironic that all the talk has been about the Giants' ballot-box stuffers screwing up the balance of the All-Star roster, while I'm complaining that Romo (among other Giants pitchers!) has been snubbed. Not only that, but there should probably be a lot fewer relievers on the All-Star rosters in general, given the nature of what they do, who they are and how they get there. But there are a lot of relievers picked, and they're all worse than Romo. Relievers are this good very rarely, and for a very short time. They burn out. They turn into Eric Gagne, 2007-2008. And it's a little bit of shame that Romo's genius will continue to go unrecognized. —Sam Miller

3. Madison Bumgarner
If someone were to tell me Madison Bumgarner were nothing more than a fringe snub, they wouldn't get an argument from me. That said, he's better than two starting pitchers selected to the National League squad, Lance Lynn and Wade Miley, and the equal of another, Cole Hamels. Bumgarner has appeal to the traditionalist and the advanced stat types. His 10 wins are tied with two others for third in the National League, his 1.06 WHIP is tied with one other for seventh, and his 110.2 innings pitched ranks sixth. For sabermetrically-inclined fans, his xFIP, tERA, and SIERA are all top-10 in the National League. Statistically speaking, Miley is a “poor man's” Bumgarner, and Lynn isn't even in the discussion.

Since the game is supposed to “mean something,” and it’s not supposed to be considered an exhibition, an argument could be made recent performance should be weighed most heavily. Those in the camp that agree with that argument should be firmly in the corner of Bumgarner being an All-Star. In the month of June, his innings pitched, strikeouts, FIP, and xFIP all ranked in the top five in the National League, and he was tied with two others for the most wins in the month with five. Others may believe that a larger body of work should come into consideration when naming All-Stars. Perhaps looking at a player's performance since the previous year's All-Star game would appease that crowd. Bumgarner comes out smelling like roses when looking over that body of work as well. Since last year's All-Star game, he has pitched 210.2 innings, winning 19 games, losing just eight, with a sparkling 1.75 BB/9, a solid 8.16 K/9, an outstanding 2.69 ERA, and a 1.07 WHIP. While he's not the biggest snub, Bumgarner is a more worthy All-Star than some of his peers selected. —Josh Shepardson

4. Daniel Nava
Broadly speaking, there are two ways to pick an All-Star team. The first way is to choose the best players. You take your Alex Rodriguezes, your Tim Lincecums, regardless of how their season has gone, because those are the very best players in the game. The alternative, which seems to be the most prevalent method, is to pick the players who have had the best half-season. There are problems with both approaches because both lead to players who, again broadly speaking, don't deserve to be on an All-Star team.

If you're going with the first way, you'd never, ever, in a billion years select Daniel Nava. If you're going with the second way, there's no way you can't. Nava is hitting .286/.401/.448 in 188 plate appearances for the Red Sox. If getting on base—i.e., not making an out—is the most valuable thing a hitter can do, then Nava is the eighth-most valuable hitter in baseball this season. His walk rate is the highest on the team, and he is third on the Red Sox with 25 walks, trailing only David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, who has had 150 more PAs. Nava has displayed other skills, but when talking about why he should be on the All-Star team, the compelling reason is his ridiculous OBP. That’s only one reason, but to my eyes, it’s a ridiculous and compelling one. —Matthew Kory

5. Thomas Paine
Paine is a hero of mine whose famous work of propaganda—“Common Sense”—helped ease us into the Revolutionary War. That work, while excellent, only scratches the surface of the brilliance of one of America’s great thinkers. I don’t think Paine would be too enamored of the selection process of the All-Star team. Who got snubbed? We all did. We do every year.

The day that Bud Selig had the insane idea to tie the result of the All-Star Game to home-field advantage in the World Series, it should have ceased to be an exhibition. Teams shouldn’t be built as a showcase to reward players for doing well. Fans shouldn’t get to vote. Every team shouldn’t get a representative. There shouldn’t be a post-vote internet popularity poll. The only thing that should matter is building an actual baseball roster to win the game.

If there is even a whiff of competitive significance to the All-Star Game, then the rosters should be carefully constructed to be as strong as possible. If you’ve got a dominant pitcher in a league, he should start and go as long as he can. Bullpens should be set up for key late-game matchups. Position players should play nine innings, unless you’re platooning. And so on—you get the idea.

Of course, we don’t really want any of these things to happen in an All-Star Game. That’s not what it’s supposed to be about. But Commish Bud changed all that by giving the game’s completely random result real-world consequences. It’s an affront to common sense, and to the legacy of old Tom Paine. —Bradford Doolittle

6. Jed Lowrie
The question that keeps coming to my mind when I study the All-Star Game rosters is why Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie was omitted from the National League team. Is it because he and Jed Hoyer once violated the unwritten rule that no organization should have more than one Jed when he was an infielder with the Red Sox and Hoyer was the assistant GM? Or is it because he has the misfortune of being playing next to Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, baseball's most lovable little guy? It has to be due to some kind of strange reasoning, because Lowrie has been the best shortstop in the NL this season—his 2.5 WARP is a half-win better than his closest challenger, the Cubs' Starlin Castro. —John Perrotto

7. Zack Greinke
As of the date when the All-Star teams were named, the NL had at least half a dozen starting pitchers with ERAs of 2.85 or lower who hadn't been named to the All-Star team: Ryan Vogelsong, Johnny Cueto, Zack Greinke, James McDonald, Madison Bumgarner, and Chris Capuano. All having impressive years. But with Greinke striking out a batter per inning, he's doing the most heavy lifting of the bunch, with the least reliance upon his defense, and he's doing it in a tough park for pitchers. Factor in microscopic walk and homer rates (2.0 and 0.4, respectively) and it's not surprising to find that he's second in the league in pitching WARP. He deserves to be going back to Kansas City for his due. —Jay Jaffe

8. Billy Butler
The Home Run Derby is the ultimate in fan service. It's a made-for-TV spectacle that gives the paying fans (many of whom have no chance at sitting in the stadium the next day) one hell of a show, allowing them a night of watching the best power hitters in the game achieve one of the most amazing feats in baseball over and over. The small size of the derby rosters makes for some interesting choices each year, with last year's changes—each league has a Derby "captain" who chooses his roster-mates—adding a giant wrinkle. The biggest problem is that, for the second year in a row, a very deserving slugger from the host city's team did not make it on the roster. Last year, it was Justin Upton left off the National League's roster by captain Prince Fielder, who gave it to his fellow Brewer, Rickie Weeks. This year, it's Billy Butler, the portly bopper from Kansas City, who was passed over by captain Robinson Cano.

The roster, as constructed, is perfectly defensible: Cano won the Derby last year, Jose Bautista leads the majors in homers, Mark Trumbo is a nice surprise with 20 homers on the year, and Prince Fielder always crushes the ball. But, as the ultimate in fan service, the Derby is lacking when it leaves off a hometown hero. Billy Butler would be a joy to watch at the Home Run Derby Monday night, for both the Kansas City fans at the ballpark and the fans watching nationwide. —Larry Granillo

9. Jake Peavy
Jake Peavy hasn't been the reliable rotation workhorse that he was in San Diego for three years. A litany of injuries to just about every possible body part have kept Peavy from throwing more than 110 innings since 2008, but he has already surpassed that total this year. But that's not all: Peavy is back to his dominant self, whiffing 8.1 batters per nine and demonstrating the best command of his career, walking 1.9 batters per nine innings. He has reclaimed his front-end starter label, and if the White Sox weren't in contention, he'd be a prime trade chip now. The shoo-in for Comeback Player of the Year who has been the eighth-most valuable pitcher in the AL with a PVORP of 14.1 should be getting a nod in Kansas City. —Stephani Bee

6 comments have been left for this article.

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