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
* Blown Save 4/13, received Win
Five Meek Appearances In Ties:
Games Won: 2
Games Lost: 2
No Won or Loss: 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.