Hope you all had a fun holiday, despite the weather. Much griping this morning about the All-Star Game selections, especially the manager picks in both leagues. This has become somewhat of an annual tradition and I tend not to pay it much heed because nobody has found a perfect way to choose these things.
Yeah, Felix Hernandez probably deserved to go, but there would have been a ton of griping from other cities about the wisdom of putting three players on the roster from one of the worst teams the AL had to offer. Many would have pointed fingers at Ichiro, suggesting an .802 OPS is not what you expect from an all-star outfielder. That would have ignored the fact he is having one of the greatest seasons of his career from the standpoint of advanced defensive metrics. We can quibble about those another day, but for now, they are what they are and say what they say.
And they say that, this year, Ichiro merited a spot on the team. Other years? Well, there have been a few where fans may have had a better beef. And those questionable picks of Ichiro probably offset this year’s exclusion of Hernandez.
With all of the beefing that takes place over who the manager does and does not include, Ive been a little surprised at how some of the fan vote often escapes greater scrutiny. It’s as if the fans themselves expected their picks to be stupid — and they have been at many times — but didn’t care much because it’s “their” game. And I can accept that. Have no problem with giving the fans who they want to see. The problem I have is when they start applying double-standards and expect the managers to get every pick “right” down to some exact science that has no bearing on the rest of the roster.
In any event, lost amidst the griping over this year’s picks is the fact that, for the American League starting players at least, the fans came as close to getting their picks statistically right as humanly possible.
By “right” I mean by applying the WAR (Wins Above Replacement level) stat to see who the statistically “best” players are.
And on the starting nine for the AL, eight of the fan picks are the top WAR producers in the league at their position. The only “miss” by fans was picking Evan Longoria at third base over Adrian Beltre, who is having the better WAR season thus far. Longoria is second in the league in WAR amongst third basemen, so it really wasn’t that much of a miss. The fans came close to going 9-for-9 in their picks versus what WAR says those picks should have been.
How incredible is that? Let’s take a look back at the four seasons prior to this one.
Last year, when the game was played without a DH, the fans voted in four of eight players — exactly half — who had WAR scores stating they were the most valuable in the league at their positions.
Those who didn’t “merit” a pick included Mark Teixeira at first base (2nd in WAR), Jason Bay as a top-three outfielder (4th in WAR), Michael Young at third base (fifth in WAR) and Aaron Hill at second base (6th in WAR).
In 2008, with a DH, the fans gor four out of nine players “right”. Ichiro was named to the outfield despite being only 6th in WAR. Derek Jeter was the second best WAR shortstop, but got the nod anyhow. The picks that were “right” included Kevin Youkilis at first base, Dustin Pedroia at second, Alex Rodriguez at third and Joe Mauer at catcher. Hardly exceptional. You could go “Duh!” with each of those no-brainers.
One year earlier, in 2007, the fans got three out of eight “right”. I’ll give them a fourth, as well, since there was no DH and David Ortiz was picked to be the first baseman. Among the outfielders that year, only Magglio Ordonez had a top-three WAR score, with Ichiro making the team despite being fourth-best in WAR among outfielders. Ivan Rodriguez was named the starting catcher despite being fifth in WAR at his position. So, you had Ordonez, second baseman Placido Polanco, and third baseman A-Rod being the “right” picks along with Ortiz if you give them that one.
In 2006, things were a little embarrassing, since Ivan Rodriguez was also the catcher, despite being 7th in WAR at his position. Mark Loretta was the second baseman despite being ninth in WAR among his peers. A-Rod got the nod at third despite being second best in the league behind Adrian Beltre’s WAR score with Seattle, while Ortiz was picked at first base despite not being among the leaders in WAR at that position and being second in WAR among DH types behind Travis Hafner. The only “correct” calls were Ichiro and Vernon Wells in the outfield and Jeter at shortstop.
We could keep doing this forever, but, as you’ve seen, it’s almost unheard of for fans to get eight of nine picks “right” with the only miss being Longoria slightly behind Beltre.
Does this signify anything?
The knee-jerk response would be to say that the common fan is becoming more educated about advanced statistics and is more likely to make an “informed” pick than to simply go with a favorite. But I don’t know. You could also say that this year’s team includes a ton of “name players” who just so happen to have the WAR stats to back up their selections. I mean, Vlad Guerrero is the first name that usually pops into your head when the word “DH” is mentioned. And unlike last year, his WAR score this year is right up there with the game’s best. Same with Ichiro. And Josh Hamilton. The real indicator of a mass fan movement towards advanced stats would have been had they picked Beltre at third. But they did not. They voted for the “name” player Longoria, easily recognized by even the most casual of fans.
And in the NL, the fan vote was as mixed as ever.
The fans got Chase Utley at second and David Wright at third base as “correct” picks according to WAR. Like, no kidding. Who couldn’t have gotten those? But they also picked “no-brainer” Albert Pujols over Joey Votto at first base, even though Votto has the better WAR. And they bombed when it came to outfielders. None of the three picks was remotely among the league’s best in WAR. The closest was Jason Heyward at No. 14 among WAR for outfielders. Yikes! Yadier Molina got the catching nod despite being fourth best in WAR at his position.
So, yeah, I’d say the evidence of a trend here is thin indeed. The best I can suggest is, let’s monitor these things as we go forward and see whether this year’s picks were indeed a onetime fluke, or whether there is an indication fans are leaning more and more towards numbers to back up their selections.
If anything, these exercises give us all something to debate, complain and cheer about. And they should serve as a reminder to fans in Seattle and elsewhere in the country. The “best” players often don’t get chosen for these things. And for every guy who got “robbed” this year, there was probably a past teammate who “lucked out” by getting to play in the Mid-Summer Classic.