Every year when the All-Star Game rosters are announced, there are immediate declarations that so-and-so was robbed of their spot. On one hand, such claims are silly, both because there are always going to be close calls to make that can reasonably be disagreed with and because none of us are going to remember who was “snubbed” 20 years from now (at least, I hope none of us will remember). On the other hand, as a baseball fan, I think the All-Star Game is an honor for any player and would like for the right players to receive that honor. So, I’m going to throw in my two cents on the American League roster.
I don’t think it’s fair to cry about someone being left off the team unless you’re willing to say whose spot they deserve. In other words, for every deserving player left off, there must be an undeserving player on the roster, whom you believe should be kicked off to make room. I’ve identified five players I think belong on the team, and five players who don’t .
(note: I don’t think Derek Jeter has any business on the team, but I’m only looking at the reserves/pitchers for this exercise. I’m also accepting that their must be one player from each team, so while the Mariners might not deserve to have anyone on the team, my roster changes will not take away any teams’ only roster spot)
Nathan’s return from injury to reclaim his spot as a strong relief pitcher is a nice story. But Robbie Ross, Pedro Strop, and Scott Atchison have all pitched more innings and kept a lower ERA than Nathan (they each also have a higher bWAR then Nathan, if you’re into more advanced stats), and you don’t hear many people crying that those guys belong on the team. Meanwhile, the only A.L. starter with more innings and a better ERA than Peavy is Justin Verlander. Peavy is 6th in ERA (min: 80+ IP) and 5th in ERA+ ( which adjusts for ballpark, helping guys like Peavy who pitch primarily in a hitters’ park), all while throwing the 3rd most innings in the league.
There are too many relief pitchers on the team for my liking. Yes, they have shiny rate numbers, but they’ve done it in only 30-35 innings and I don’t see the need for 12-14 pitchers on a team for a 9 inning game. Perez is tied for the league lead in saves, which is the main reason he’s here. That’s not enough for me. Willingham ranks 9th in the American League in OBP, 10th in SLG, and 9th in OPS. He’s 10th in doubles, 11th in home runs, and 5th in RBI, if you prefer more traditional counting numbers. In short, he’s been one of the best hitters in the league during the first half of the season.
This may not be popular among White Sox fans, but the numbers show it pretty clearly. Dunn’s advantages come in HR (24 to 22), RBI (58 to 55), and walks (64 to 32), but even with all those extra walks, Dunn’s OBP is lower (.359 to Encarnacion’s .373), because Encarnacion has a batting average 81 points higher (.291 to .210). Encarnacion SLG and OPS are also substantially higher than Dunn’s. Dunn is a great story, on pace for 50 home runs one year after one of the worst season’s in baseball history, but Encarnacion has been a better hitter, and to the extent either player brings much to the table on the bases or in the field, Encarnacion gets the edges there too.
Butler has been the better hitter, so it is not surprising that he got the nod. He’s also a DH though, and as a DH, his offensive numbers aren’t eye-popping. He probably rates as the third or fourth best hitter among DHs. Moustakas plays 3B, and his numbers rate him as either the 3rd or 4th best hitter at that position. Moustakas has also been playing strong defense over there at the hot corner, which I think is more than enough to make up for the moderate advantage Butler has on offense (it’s .877 to .803 in OPS). This wasn’t highway robbery or anything, but I believe Moustakas is the most deserving representative for the Royals as they host the All-Star Game next week.
These two are basically deadlocked in AVG and OBP, Kinsler has the lead in SLG, which also gives him an edge in OPS (.786 to .760). Kinsler has also scored more runs, he leads the league with 61 in fact, while Kipnis has 47. Kinsler plays in a great hitters’ park though and is part of the best lineup in baseball, while Kipnis plays in a fairly neutral park and is part of a decidedly average lineup. OPS+ adjusts for ballparks though, and here Kipnis has the edge, 114 to 104, putting Kipnis 2nd to only MVP candidate Robinson Cano at the position. Kipnis has also stolen 20 bases while being caught just once, compared to 15 SB and 5 CS for Kinsler. Defense is hard to rate, but Baseball Prospectus, Baseball-Reference, and FanGraphs all have Kipnis as the better fielder this year. He deserves the spot.
Kipnis is a classic All-Star snub, in that he plays for a mediocre team in a smaller market, he’s young and has not been in the league for long, and some of his value is tied into his defense. Established players on good teams will always have an edge, especially if they play in a large market. Occasionally players (such as Omar Vizquel) reach a level where their defensive reputation helps them in such things, but for the most part All-Stars make it on their hitting (and/or their name recognition). For those reasons, I fully expected Kipnis to miss out on the team, shame as it is.
Peavy though, I was stunned that he missed out. He’s pitching for a 1st place team in the third largest city in the country and he’s been a good player for a decade now and is a former Cy Young winner. Odds are, Peavy will still find his way onto the team. He was named to the five-man “Final Vote” ballot, and while I expect Yu Darvish to win that spot, injuries (both real and imagined) will open up a couple more spots, and Peavy will likely get one of them. The other four players I’ve mentioned here will all have to hope someone at their position drops out.