We Need To Revise The MLB All-Star Selection Process Before It’s Too Late
by 4 July 2017, 10:27 AM
A simple change in voting policy will ensure the Mid-Summer Classic features baseball’s best.
The voting results for Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game were revealed on Sunday, introducing two rosters that consist primarily of established stars with a smattering of sparkling youngsters and surprisingly productive veterans. For the first time since 2003, the Mid-Summer Classic is entirely exhibitory and will no longer determine home-field advantage in the World Series.
For the most part, these rosters accurately represent the best in baseball to this point in the season. However, no All-Star Game would be complete without some head-scratching snubs, and 2017 has its fair share.
Perhaps the most egregious oversight is Seattle’s 2B Robinson Cano. Few would argue that AL MVP finalist, Jose Altuve, is undeserving of his starting role, and Baltimore’s lone representative, Jonathan Schoop, has improved upon a strong 2016 campaign, but the rest of Cano’s competition is a little suspect. Francisco Lindor and Starlin Castro round out the AL middle infield reserves, while Xander Bogaerts, Elvis Andrus, and (inexplicably) Didi Gregorius are candidates in the Final Vote. There are some compelling players in this mix, but Cano’s 17 HRs and 60 RBIs are tops among all middle infielders in baseball and the last decade of superstardom proves his productive 2017 is no fluke.
Another middle infielder raises some eyebrows as Colorado 2B DJ LeMahieu was announced as an NL reserve. Last year’s batting champion currently sports a .303 AVG and has been fairly productive in one of baseball’s most potent lineups; but unlike NL reserve counterpart Josh Harrison, who serves as the only Pirate on the roster, LeMahieu’s Rockies are very well-represented. His resume pales in comparison to some other notable middle infielders. Nationals’ SS Trea Turner leads all of baseball with 35 steals and has the edge on LeMahieu in most major offensive categories, despite DJ’s prominent advantage of playing half of his games at Coors Field. And perhaps even more deserving is Arizona utility-man Chris Owings, who is currently batting .297 and is on pace for a 20-20 season.
Still, even those of us who are prone to splitting hairs will find little to complain about with the voting results. A few weeks ago, however, the outcome was not so clear.
In what seems to be a growing trend, several less-than-deserving players came dangerously close to stealing a roster spot. Going into the weekend, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist were within striking distance of Marcell Ozuna for the final NL OF spot, despite injury-riddled seasons in which they have each sported an OPS significantly below league average. Meanwhile, another Cubs’ outfielder (Iowa Cubs, that is), Kyle Schwarber, seemed more likely to start an All-Star game than a regular season game. And despite performing horrendously (.221/.323/.337) over just 86 ABs, Abraham Almonte finished in the Top-15 among AL outfielders and accrued more votes than aforementioned snub, Robinson Cano.
This is all because the MLB allows fans to wield far more power than they can handle. If being named a Major League All-Star is supposed to carry a level of esteem and significance, we need to revise the election process to protect against honoring sub-par performances.
Now, the idea of “stuffing the ballot box” is not exactly a new concept. In 1957, seven of the eight NL starters elected by the fans were members of the Cincinnati Reds. With no regulations on how many ballots could be submitted, nearly half of the overall votes came from Cincinnati, forcing Commissioner Ford Frick to manually adjust the starting roster. As a result, voting was stripped from the fans for more than a decade until the league devised a way to keep ballot submissions relatively consistent. For the next 30 years, each team was given an equivalent number of ballots in an effort to guard against stuffing.
However, with the introduction of online voting, the danger of a mediocre player on a popular team sneaking onto the starting roster has become a yearly battle. In 2015, Royals fans managed to elect four hitters (Hosmer, Gordon, Cain, and Perez) to the lineup and barely missed electing Omar Infante, who owned a paltry .247 OBP at the time. Last year, it was the same story, as the Cubs’ entire infield, plus Dexter Fowler, won starting positions.
Many fans who are prone to voting for their home team’s entire roster (regardless of merit) can now enter those votes dozens of times. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with showing a little hometown bias, but when Abraham Almonte receives more than half a million individual votes, there is reason to suspect the system is flawed. It is only a matter of time before a truly deserving player is left at home in favor of a scrub hitting below the Mendoza-line.
The solution is simple: limit the number of players from any single team that a fan can vote for.
It’s not impossible for a team to have three or four players who are truly the best at their position, but beyond that, these ballots are almost always the result of blind favoritism that undermines the legitimacy of the honor. If submissions per team were limited, fans could still vote for several players from their favorite team, but would be forced to choose deserving candidates from other teams at the remaining positions.
For instance, if the submissions per team were limited to four, an Indians fan could still vote for Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley, and Edwin Encarnacion, but would then be forced to pick someone other than Almonte, Chisenhall, Gomes, and Kipnis for their other selections. This regulation would force fans to choose their most deserving candidates and disperse the votes for mediocre players to keep them from threatening election.
The most memorable instance of fan-voting gone awry occurred in the NHL last year when a campaign to elect John Scott, a veteran enforcer who had been demoted to the AHL, proved successful. In a story that was stranger than fiction, hockey internet trolls seized the night as Scott scored two goals and was named MVP of the festivities. The Scott experiment was spectacularly entertaining, as the defenseman’s amusing placement among hockey’s greats made for an unforgettable moment in sports history, but it’s doubtful that the novelty of Scott’s All-Star performance would become something we find consistently charming.
Fan input is part of what makes the Mid-Summer Classic so special, and it is an insightful way to measure the pulse of baseball in America. So Commissioner Manfred does not have to be quite as dictatorial as Ford Frick, but steps need to be taken to ensure that the All-Star Game features baseball’s best, before there is an inevitable blunder.
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