Your All-Star Controlled Scrimmage

Jayson Stark tweets that All-Star Managers Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel were told to pick one “multi-position” player to their teams, which explains, if not excuses, the ludicrous selections of Omar Infante of Atlanta and Ty Wigginton of Baltimore. 

They are not All-Stars. They do not play every day. They are a kind of baseball equivalent of Special Teams guys, and that’s okay if that’s the way you want the All-Star Game to devolve. But you have taken it from an All-Star Game in which the actual stars often used to play the entire game, to an All-Star exhibition in which the roster is framed around a fans’ popularity vote, to one in which it is further restricted by a requirement that each team have a representative, to an All-Star Controlled Scrimmage in which a few more of the precious discretionary roster spots are awarded based on very narrowly defined “success.”
“Multi-Position Players”? “Middle Relievers”? What next, “Pinch-Hitters”? “Top Rule 5 Picks”? I mean, you could legitimize the ludicrous talk of having The Strasburg pitch in the game seven starts into his career by making sure a place on each team was reserved for “Top Rookies Brought Up Late To Avoid Super Two Arbitration Status.” And when you get to that point – and we’re close enough as it is – just call the thing on Monday “The Home Run Hitting Contest,” and the thing on Tuesday “All-Star Pitching Warm-Ups and Batting Practice.”
To expand on the issue of Middle Relievers, I have no problem with them. When Joe Torre put Mike Stanton on the 2001 All-Star team, many howled, I did not. But they have to be having a season that is as proportionately good as any Closer or Starter. And I don’t think Matt Thornton of the White Sox or Evan Meek of the Pirates are close to the top. Thornton is not an embarrassing pick (another tweet today suggested a good MLB scout considered him one of baseball’s top ten relievers – though I’d argue that surely at least one of the Padres’ Mike Adams, Heath Bell, or Luke Gregerson deserves to be ahead of him on that last, as does Bard of Boston, and very possibly Kuo of the Dodgers).
But I went a little further into the selection of Meek and it is just indefensible. 
Meek has pitched brilliantly this season. Obviously leads in Pittsburgh are scarce, but not impossible: Octavio Dotel has as many Saves as Jonathan Papelbon and one more than Mariano Rivera. One can argue that an All-Star Reliever – like Evan Meek – is more valuable with the Pirates than he is with the Yankees because leads are such a precious thing. Yet though he has pitched 38 times this year, the Bucs have only used Meek twelve times when they were ahead, and only five other times when they were tied. 
He comes to the All-Star table with more than half of his statistics compiled in games already lost, or nearly so. Twelve appearances with a lead. Ten appearances with his team already losing by three runs or more. These just aren’t the circumstances in which the other nine All-Star relievers have had their mettle tested. That he has been spectacular in 21 meaningless games, and less so in 17 others, is a virtual disqualification for consideration. You’re a step up from factoring how well guys did in AAA this year, or on Rehab, or in the AFL last fall.
It is also discouraging to how Meek has fared in the middle relievers’ equivalent of “Close And Late”:
Twelve Meek Appearances With Lead:
Games Saved:                                1
Games Held:                                   5
Games Won:                                   1
Blown Saves:                                  5*
No Win, Hold, Save, or BS:              1
“Record”:                                  7*-5-1
   * Blown Save 4/13, received Win
Five Meek Appearances In Ties:
Games Won:                                   2
Games Lost:                                   2
No Won or Loss:                              1
“Record”:                                    2-2-1

Even giving him both statistics in that April 13th game against the Giants in which he inherited a runner in the sixth, then gave up a single and a groundout producing the tie run, and then becoming the pitcher of record in what was ultimately a Pittsburgh victory, Meek, “Close And Late,” is 9-7-2. It’s counted seventeen times, and he has failed on seven of those occasions, and only twice because he inherited a runner and let him score.

Not only that, but the Pirates seem to be using him ‘when it counts’ less frequently as the season has worn on. Seven of his first fourteen appearances came while Pittsburgh was ahead or tied, and eleven of his first twenty-one were. Only six of his last seventeen have been.
I know this reads as if I’m beating up on Evan Meek. I’m not. He’s got great natural gifts and after years of struggle, his dedication to his craft and his willingness to learn has made him a valued major leaguer. I understand about the jigsaw puzzle that is the All-Star Roster (if Andrew McCutchen is actually the Bucs’ All-Star – and he is – then Michael Bourn can’t go representing the Astros and suddenly you’re making Matt Lindstrom or Brandon Lyon an All-Star). It’s not personal (it actually startles me that Pittsburgh, in another rebuilding season, hasn’t worked him into more pressure situations; heck, I even had him on my rotisserie league team for a month earlier in the season, and I take that stuff way too seriously). But the statistics of how they are using him suggest that no matter how good he might look against an individual batter or even in an individual game, the Pirates use him as if he were the second or even third best middle reliever on their team.
And when the second or third best middle reliever on the worst team in the league is an All-Star, it’s no longer the All-Star Game.

11 Comments

I wouldn’t lump Wigginton in with Infante completely. At least Wiggy does play nearly everyday — 77 of Baltimore’s 83 games, starting 70 of them — and is 13th in the AL in homers. True, he’s an All-Star only because of the team rule, but he’s no reserve utility man.

In the For What It’s Worth department, on Sunday, KCAL-9 did its usual text message poll of Dodger fans, and the question was whether they approve of the All-Star Game determining which league has home field advantage in the World Series. The vote was 83-17 against. Vin Scully read the results and said he agreed, and that tinkering with the World Series in that way was unacceptable and abominable. I believe he used those words, or very similar ones.

Now, if there is one thing for which Vin is known besides being the poet laureate of baseball and the greatest broadcaster ever to sit behind a microphone, it’s that he tries to avoid addressing issues like that because he wants to keep the broadcast between the lines. For him to speak that strongly on the issue tells you how stupid that decision really was. But since Bud Selig made the decision … well, need I say more?

It’s been over 24 hours. I think I am calm enough now to vent about the Padres. First of all, THANK YOU for at least mentioning the best bullpen in baseball. How in the heck can the trio of Gregerson, Adams & Bell be ignored? Yes, I know they threw Heath a bone & have put him up as one of the final “Get your favorite in!” fan vote or some such non sense and yes, I am voting but really? You are telling me you didn’t want one of them on your staff on the first pass through? I know the media likes to treat the Padres like they are a minor league franchise. Well, don’t look now but that minor league team has the best record in the NL and the best record overall dating back to last year’s ASG. And why is that? Pitching! Pitching! Pitching! And while Adrian Gonzalez deserves every accolade he gets, the fact that this consistently excellent pitching staff (starters & relievers) were ignored is ridiculous.
Get rid of the stupid one player per team rule! Now you tell us about this utility player requirement too? Ugh. Game – ruined!
But hey, I’m calm..really..yesterday this post woulda been full of expletives ;-) Plus, I console myself with the fact that this game *doesn’t* mean anything. October matters. And after two seasons of utter drudgery, the Little Team That Could is & its fans are keeping the faith and are focused on an October slot.

clnowacki:

What is so frustrating to me is all of the “snapshots’ of individuals or teams as if how a team or a player is doing now means squat at the end of the season. The Cardinals’ bullpen is within a hair’s breadth of the Padres statistically and none of our relievers were recognized either. We do have two starters going and one who probably would if he wasn’t a rookie, but I am not going to press the point. :>) I have exhausted myself arguing all over the internet about whether Yadier Molina deserves to go to the All Star game. I have decided that I don’t care anymore. The ASG will come and go and the important stuff lay ahead.

Don’t you know that if you aren’t in NY or LA you don’t count? :>) I had a boss who went to law school in Brooklyn. He had a saying that all NYer’s believe that everything south of the Holland Tunnel is prairie. :>)

mrlyngreen,

Yeah, I know…it’s really an east coast bias with LA getting play because it’s Hollywood. And really Cardinals fans cannot complain! At least you DO get recognized & your starters ARE going and hello – the reason no one will ever really notice Adrian is because of Pujols (who I adore so I get it). Relievers (and middle relievers particularly) tend to get snubbed unless they are big money/name closers. Shoot, we used to have one of those :-) It took years for Hoffy to get noticed and I guess it will be the same with Bell. And generally I *like* being the Little Team That Could with no Superstars. Really. It’s just…well…sad how every year the ASG loses more and more of it’s luster.

I’m going back aways but the first Cardinal reliever to get significant attention in my lifetime was Bruce Sutter. There is also Hrabosky and Worrell, but Sutter is a HOFer.

Now all I hear about is Mariano Rivera. A Yankee of course. Not that Rivera is not a fantastic reliever but he is not the only one in MLB.

We non East Coasters will have to be satisfied with the crumbs I guess. :>)

Once again this shows how flawed the All Star games are. At least the MVP race isn’t contingent on team representatives and position diversity. Forget that Infante’s a reserve; he’s a reserve hitting an empty .311, bad enough. He ain’t Zoilo Versailles who at least had some pop in his MVP year. And if Pittsburgh fans are willing to tune in specifically to watch a middle reliever they see every other day MAYBE pitch, then you’d certainly expect the Pirates to have more revenue.
Dances with Wolves beat GoodFellas for the Oscar.
Christopher Cross beat Pink Floyd’s The Wall for the Grammy.
Omar Infante’s an All Star and Jered Weaver isn’t.

Just FYI:

Rankings for ALL (not just NL) MLB pitchers with a min of 40 IP:

Evan Meek

ERA – 1st
WHIP – 3rd
Hits allowed – T-4th
Runs allowed – T-2nd
Earned Runs allowed – 1st
Total bases allowed – 5th
BAA – 3rd
Opp. OBP – 3rd
Opp. Slg % – 2nd
Opp. OPS – 2nd

Hardly the stats/rankings of a player having a mediocre season and getting picked only b/c his team needed representation (although in this case, that’s how he got noticed). I’d say that’s a pretty good defense of his selection. What say you?

Watching Wigginton this year, he is without doubt the best player on the Orioles who need at least one player represented at the All-Star Game. I voted (25 times) for Andrew McCutchen to be a starter– his batting average has dropped to .295 but starter Jason Heyward is batting just .251 with 4 more home runs (McCutchen isn’t really a power hitter, yet). I don’t have a problem with Meek– 0.96 ERA– except it’s an insult to the San Diego Padres that not one member of their pitching staff (you know, the one that has pitched them to the best record in the National League?) was named to the All-Star Game. I could see them not being voted in because I’m not even sure who they are (some guy named Latos, but please don’t ask me who the relievers setting up Heath Bell are!). Anyway, why are we talking about this and not the snubbing of MVP candidate Joey Votto?

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