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The MLB All-Star Game rosters always spur controversy for who's out and who's in, but also because there aren't clear rules on what makes an All-Star in the first place. I've never bought the maxim that it should just be the players who are having the best current seasons, because that's the ideal way to leave out a few legitimate stars while including a bunch of guys who had two fluky hot months.
But that philosophy also ignores the original purpose of the game, one that still matters today: This is Major League Baseball's one night to get all of its best players on one field in front of a worldwide audience. The focus should be on getting as many of the game's current and emerging stars into the game, and if that means a one-hit wonder gets left off the roster, so be it.
With that in mind, here are my main guidelines when critiquing the All-Star rosters: No player should go to the game for a first half that might easily be a fluke, but the sport does have a vested interest in getting a few rising stars into the game so they can play before a national audience. Of course, you don't need those guidelines to realize there's an enormous mistake on the AL roster …
Scott Kazmir or Mark Buehrle over Chris Sale: These two player selections are the dumbest of anything this year, and there's a fair amount of ridiculousness going on for both rosters, so the bar is high. Sale would be second in the league in ERA if he qualified, just .05 behind leader Felix Hernandez. He's sixth in the league in WAR and tenth in rWAR, despite having 20 fewer innings pitched than any of the pitchers ahead of him. He's 8-1 if you actually care about something as useless as a pitcher's won-lost record. And Sale was a top five pitcher in the league last year, too.
Did the players just look at the ERA rankings and forget Sale because he doesn't have enough innings to qualify (he's one inning short) for the chart? Is it really that hard to remember a guy who is a threat to win the Cy Young award if he can hold up for 200 innings?
Kazmir/Buehrle over Corey Kluber: Sale's omission is infuriating, while Kluber's is more puzzling. He's eighth in the league in ERA, fifth by fWAR (which relies on FIP rather than actual runs allowed) and sixth in strikeouts. He and Sale are on the “final five” ballot for the AL, but both guys should be in the game outright, and assuming Sale runs away with that vote, I'm hoping manager John Farrell picks Kluber for the inevitable injury opening.
Victor Martinez over Ian Kinsler and Kyle Seager: Kinsler is third in the AL in WAR this year and Seager is seventh, yet both missed the All-Star team, even though they have performed at All-Star level before. Granted, it was a few years back in Kinsler's case, but it's not as if he's a career minor leaguer having some weird half-year fluke. Their exclusion isn't about any one specific selection ahead of them, but a host of players marginally worse than those two filling out the roster.
[+] EnlargeVictor Martinez
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports
Victor Martinez is having a great season at the dish, but won't be able to help out on defense.
Sending two DHs is probably the worst choice, as the players added Martinez -- a good player having an outstanding season -- to the fan-selected Nelson Cruz. The team doesn't need multiple DHs, and Seager could potentially move to second base if the need arose (although he's played it only sparsely in the majors, and not since 2012).
I would also have taken either of these guys over Farrell's choice of Brandon Moss, probably the fourth-best first baseman in the league and a below-average defender in the outfield corners. Edwin Encarnacion's injury should let Farrell get one of these two deserving candidates into the game.
While I think four relievers is too many for an All-Star roster, the players did pick three of the best in the league, including the top two by fWAR, and Farrell added Twins closer Glen Perkins, a very good reliever who happens to pitch for the host team. Compared to the NL pitching staff, this batch of relievers looks completely rational.
And finally, it's a bit of a shame that Jeff Samardzija will miss out on the game just because he was traded the day before the selections were announced. Even if he can't pitch, he should be allowed to attend and participate as a full-fledged All-Star, even though it'll be in his new team's uniform.
Devin Mesoraco over Buster Posey: Yeah, you wouldn't want one of the 10, maybe five most recognizable stars in baseball, an MVP winner who's produced 2 WAR this year, in the All-Star Game. Better to put Mesoraco, a solid player having his first-ever productive season in two-thirds of the at-bats that Posey has had, into the game.
This is the ultimate incarnation of the myth that the All-Star Game is supposed to be only about performance in the current season. It's not. Stars aren't determined in 70-game stretches. Posey is still a top-10 player in the National League, and the sport in general is worse off for his omission in favor of a player who has played like an All-Star for only 50 games.
Aramis Ramirez over Anthony Rendon: Ramirez isn't playing like an All-Star this year, and he didn't play like one last year either, even when he wasn't missing half the season due to injury. He's 13th among NL third basemen by rWAR this year and a below-average defender at third who doesn't get on base.
Third base is weak in the NL in general, but Rendon ranks second in the league in both versions of WAR, is out-hitting Ramirez across the board, and plays above-average defense. He's a budding star, a former top-10 pick who's breaking out this year now that he's back at his natural position. He belongs here over the underperforming Ramirez and even over Matt Carpenter, who also has taken a step back since what will likely end up being his career-best year in 2013.
Josh Harrison over a whole lot of players: Harrison is the antithesis of “All-Star,” the Mike Sharperson of this game, except that Sharperson was the token Dodger in a year when they had no real candidates, while Harrison is here alongside Andrew McCutchen, one of the best players in Pittsburgh Pirates history.
[+] EnlargeBilly Hamilton
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Who wouldn't want to see the electrifying Billy Hamilton on the basepaths in the All-Star Game?
I can understand Jason Heyward -- whose rWAR is third and fWAR is fifth in the NL, but whose success is built largely on his superior defense -- not making it. But where's potential Rookie of the Year Billy Hamilton, with performance that merits inclusion, but also a specific skill that makes him a good tactical weapon if Mike Matheny actually wants to manage like this game counts?
Is there ever a situation where you'd rather have Josh Harrison in the lineup or at the plate than, say, Justin Upton? If you just want another bat on the bench, how about Anthony Rizzo, who joins Upton and Rendon in the “final five” voting?
I can only assume Harrison is here as some sort of super-utility candidate, forced on Matheny by the league, because I'd hate to think the Cards skipper believes Harrison, who had a .280 career OBP coming into 2014, was actually worthy of selection based on 70 wildly out-of-character games.
Tyson Ross over Stephen Strasburg: Ross is the token Padre, and that's a stupid, stupid rule; if you're a team GM or owner and don't want to see your club shut out of the All-Star Game, try getting better players. Meanwhile, the NL leader in strikeouts gets left home, and it's not like this is Strasburg's first time having success in the majors.
He has gotten very little help from his defense, with a .348 BABIP, but he's also been uncharacteristically bad this year with men on base, giving up a .311/.354/.439 line that's well above his career norm. If you're looking only at 2014 and only at ERA (or ERA and won-lost record), he doesn't look like an All-Star. If you're looking at the things he can control, and at his history beyond this season, he clearly belongs. And he has the fame factor in his corner, too; people might tune in just to watch him pitch.
I might also have tried to sneak Hyun-Jin Ryu on to the roster; he's top-10 in the NL in fWAR, getting great results with his new curveball, and having a Korean-born player in the game would give the game's ratings in Korea an enormous boost.
Middle relievers over starters: Every year now, we get middle relievers having fluky first halves in the game, when once upon a time it was all about the best starting pitchers in each league. Pat Neshek has been a great story this year, but should he be in the game on the basis of 35 innings -- when he was a replacement-level reliever last year -- over Ryu or Strasburg or Henderson Alvarez?
What about Tony Watson, whose 0.89 ERA doesn't truly reflect how he's pitched this year, and certainly isn't sustainable beyond this small sample? No one is turning on the game to watch middle relievers, who as a class tend to be fungible with short-lived peaks, over better and better-known starters who will also likely be just as effective when working in a one-inning stint. Five relievers on an All-Star roster is at least two too many.