When I joined the Baseball Bloggers Alliance last week, I was most excited to vote on awards, including the All-Star teams. While I understand why MLB wants fans to vote on the All-Stars (the game is for the fans, after all), I’ve always been disappointed by the voting results and have little faith in fans choosing the best players. I thought a group of people (there are just over 300 of us) who write about baseball all the time would do a better job than the fans of objectively assessing players’ seasons and picking the best possible team.
I was wrong. Several bloggers have shared their All-Star picks via email with the rest of the alliance, and I’ve been routinely appalled, less by regional bias and more by the ways baseball bloggers honestly evaluate players. Just as MLB offers the fans no guidance as to what constitutes an All-Star, the Alliance lets its members determine our own voting standards. If we want to use career accomplishments or calendar year numbers, rather than stats from the first three months of the season, we’re welcome to do so. If we want to pick all the players from our favorite teams, regardless of their performance this season or throughout their careers, we’re allowed to do so. If we want to mash the keyboard with our palms for fifteen minutes and call it a blog post, as I suspect some of my peers have done, no one’s stopping us.
With certain exceptions, I respect each voter’s right to fill out his or her ballot as he or she pleases, but I wish more voters had standards similar to (but not the same as) my own. Here are four of my voting pet peeves, in ascending order of offensiveness, and the way they’ll affect the results I expect to see from the Alliance vote:
1. Living in the past
It makes sense to elect players to an All-Star team because they’re “stars”. If Chipper Jones’s 2011 numbers are within shouting distance of Chase Headley’s and Ryan Roberts’s, it makes perfect sense to elect the established star and let him have another weekend of glory. My pet peeve is with blindly voting for an established star well into his twilight years when other, younger players are more worthy, effectively making the younger player wait for the incumbent star to retire before he can start his first All-Star game. I was more accepting in Cal Ripken’s twilight years than in Derek Jeter’s, but it was equally wrong then. Jeter’s career accomplishments have been given their due, and will keep being praised when his number is retired and he’s inducted to the Hall of Fame. But from the day the 2011 baseball season began, Asdrubal Cabrera has been and will be better at baseball than Derek Jeter.
2. Neglecting defense
Anyone who writes about baseball, or has ever played baseball, or has even watched a baseball game, understands that run prevention is exactly half of the game, and that almost all the players on the All-Star ballot are responsible for preventing runs in addition to scoring them. Yet the majority of the ballots I’ve seen have exclusively cited offensive statistics, as if Lance Berkman’s value to the Cardinals with a .950 OPS is precisely as valuable as Andrew McCutchen’s value to the Pirates with a .950 OPS. Defense counts, as does baserunning. Berkman may be worthy of a spot on the team, but he hasn’t been one of the three most valuable outfielders in the National League this year because his defense has been attrocious (negative 8.6 runs saved above average)
I understand that some people have (sometimes valid) concerns about the validity of the Runs Saved Above Average numbers that go into the WAR calculation, but there are otehr places to go for defensive numbers. Zone Rating and Range Factor are even available at free, mainstream sites like ESPN.com.
3. Relying on newspaper stats
A hundred years ago, the Chalmers Automobile Company gave a car to the major league player with the highest batting average. We’ve made a century of progress in objectively analyzing baseball games, teams, and players, but some voters still use stats like batting average, RBI, and wins to pick their All-Star teams. Sure, a guy with a high batting average and a lot of RBI is probably having a great season, but do those numbers really compare his value to other players who help teams win games in different ways? Batting average completely ignores walks, one of the successful outcomes a batter can achieve, in measuring the rate at which a batter is successful. It’s like figuring a tennis player’s winning percentage but excluding all the wins he had in matches against lefthanded opponents. RBI are completely driven by context. Adrian Beltre hasn’t driven in more runs than Miguel Cabrera because he’s having a better season; Beltre’s just had more opportunities to drive in runners.
The most obvious beneficiary in this category is Robinson Cano, who’s batting .290 with 14 home runs and 48 RBI, a pretty decent newspaper season. Look a little closer and Cano’s on base percentage is .334, which is below league average. His weighted on base average, which gives him credit for all those home runs, is .366, which is very good, but inferior to AL second basemen Howie Kendrick and Ben Zobrist. Throw in defense and baserunning (neither a strong suit of Cano’s) and he falls behind Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler in fangraphs WAR. Cano is a defensible pick if we’re considering 2010, when Cano was among the AL MVP contenders, but I’ve seen too many writers cite his 2011 batting average and home runs and call him the best second baseman in the AL this year, which is simply not true.
4. Toeing the party line
Again, fans are encouraged to vote for their favorite players, most of whom probably play for their favorite team. As writers, though, we have a responsibility to be objective and consider the merits of the other players on the ballot. If I’m a Phillies fan and I think Placido Polanco’s been close enough to the best third basemen in the NL that he deserves my vote, I can defend my position, but a Mariners fan voting for Chone Figgins when there are several superior candidates is absurd and irresponsible. If every fan voted for all the players on his or her favorite team, the team with the most fans would see all its starters elected, regardless of their accomplishments on the field. Why not just replace the All-Star game with an exhibition between the Yankees (or Red Sox some years) and Cubs (or Phillies some years)?
The worst ballot I’ve seen so far was that of a Rangers blogger who blindly picked all nine Rangers (don’t get me started on Michael Young’s overratedness this year), then picked Albert Pujols and former Ranger Marlon Byrd and filled in the rest of her NL ballot with “don’t care”. If that’s a legitimate All-Star ballot, I’d rather not be a part of the process.
That’s enough negativity for one post. A lot of bloggers are doing great things with their ballots, so I’ll share my favorite one. Charles at Left Field based his ballot primarily on fangraphs WAR over the past calendar year (6/15/10 to 6/15/11). It’s not my preferred method, and his results weren’t all the same as mine (he’s even got Cano and Beltre in there), but he picked a method that made sense, considered all around value, and made reasonable picks worthy of a friendly argument.
It’s ballots like Charles’s that make me proud to be a member of the Alliance.