(This is part one of a two part series covering my All Star Fan Vote. I know you can’t wait to read this important news so here’s the link to part two.)
I’ll admit that I don’t take the MLB All Star game all that seriously. That’s not to say that the players shouldn’t be proud of being named All Stars or that it isn’t fun to watch Randy Johnson scare the heck out of John Kruk, but I never attached any significance to an exhibition game, no matter how much MLB wants to attribute meaning to its existence. Have your three days, smile for the camera, collect your bonuses, and get ready for the second half. But, if the League offices still insist on basing home field advantage off of this one game, I should at least seriously look at the candidates for the Final Fan Vote, prepping for my 6 hours of Twitter votes on Thursday.
For purposes of full disclosure, on Monday I voted for Anthony Rendon for the NL and Chris Sale in the AL. I’m 100% committed to my Rendon vote. He’s a special player, and he deserves to be there. People were up in arms about Kevin Frandsen saying Rendon was the Nationals best young player, but maybe Frandsen was on to something. I wouldn’t go as far to say he’s better than Bryce Harper . . . yet, but if he’s not, the gap between the two players isn’t as great as people want to believe. Anyway, I’m not changing this vote, so I won’t try to justify another NL player in his place. Really it’s because I’m too lazy, but I’ll call it integrity and move on. For the AL, I wanted to pull the trigger on either Dallas Keuchel (who I wrote about here) or Corey Kluber, but Sale’s numbers looked a little too gaudy on the MLB website (in particular that 0.87 WHIP) to not select the lefty. With MLB allowing me to vote as often as I like, I can vote again to fix the damage I’ve done, and part of me still wants to vote for either Keuchel or Kluber. Is it just sentiment? I plan to find out.
Of the five pitchers listed for consideration in the AL, Sale has started the fewest games and thrown the fewest innings (a full 17 1/3 innings less than the next lowest, Keuchel), and it’s the only reason he wasn’t included on the AL roster to begin with. What he lacks in workload he more than makes up for in performance, however. Of the five, he leads in ERA, FIP, BB/9, K/9, and WHIP, and he is second in fWAR at 3.2, 0.1 ahead of Garrett Richards and 0.2 behind leader Kluber. His seems to be the most impressive resume of the five, but 17 1/3 is a lot of innings, but of the five he does lead in average innings per start 6.78, which is slightly ahead of Keuchel in second at 6.77.
Another thing working against Sale is that the AL roster has four left-handed starters with Jon Lester, David Price, Scott Kazmir, and Mark Buehrle, so it’s not as if the AL staff needs another lefty. Also, the White Sox are already represented by Jose Abreau (Alexei Ramirez as well), so it’s not as if Sale’s exclusion would leave the best player on the team watching the game from home. These are nitpicky things, sure, and really have no bearing on Sale’s qualifications for making the roster, but I’m working through my vote here.
In terms of W-L record (which we can all agree means nothing) Kluber and Keuchel are the least impressive. Kluber is 8-6, but in two of those losses he allowed a total of three runs as the Indians lost 3-2 to Boston and 1-0 to the Dodgers. Of the five represented here, Kluber leads in innings pitched (125 2/3) and fWAR (3.4) and his K/9 of 9.81 and FIP of 2.65 is second to Sale for both. His ERA and WHIP rank third. Kluber and Sale are tied for most games with double-digit strikeouts with four apiece, but Sale has done that in five fewer starts. Of the five, Kluber is third in average innings per at 6.59, with one complete game. Also, working to Kluber’s advantage is that in 12 of his starts he’s allowed two or fewer earned runs. That ties him with Richards in this group, but makes him only third in percentage of starts at 63%.
In terms of star power, the Indians are currently represented by Michael Brantley who is having a career year, and his addition to the team shouldn’t be considered an embarrassment. Also, Kluber has a fairly rugged looking beard, and we shouldn’t dismiss this too lightly. His beard would raise the testosterone level in the AL roster to potentially dangerous levels and give them an advantage in winning this game.
Things were going so well for Keuchel up until the middle of June. After running his record to 8-3 and lowering his ERA to 2.38 with eight innings of five hit ball against Arizona, Keuchel has sort of been wretched. Prior to Wednesday’s game, in three starts and 18 innings of work, Keuchel had allowed 28 hits and 13 earned runs. Teams were hitting .384/.459/.507 in that span. Then, in one last glimpse before the vote, last night he allowed four earned runs and eight hits in 6 2/3 to Texas. Keuchel is not exactly the Don Draper of the pitching mound. Also, of the five, he’s fourth in terms of fWAR, K/9, FIP, and innings pitched. He does have three complete games, which leads the group, and his 6.76 innings per is second.
The same nitpicky AL not needing another lefty rule applies, and the Astros are currently represented by Jose Altuve (3.1 fWAR, .341 batting average, leads the majors in hits, tied for fifth in doubles), which sort of makes sense seeing how he’s been their best, most consistent performer, and really, let’s be honest, does a team that’s currently 39-54 deserve to have that many players represented in the All Star game without George Springer clubbing home runs?
Keuchel is the sentimental choice for me, the one I wanted to select until I started looking through the numbers. He’s having a career year, a pitcher coming into his own, and if you lop off those last three starts he’s at least in the Top 10 in terms of potential Cy Young winners. He wouldn’t win the award, but he’s a down vote on the ballot without having to make too much of a justification. I don’t think I’ll vote for him to make the All Star game, but I hope he replaces one of the pitchers who inevitably bows out.
For a team that’s currently 53-37 and 4.5 games back in the West, owns one of the Wild Card spots, is second in all of baseball in terms of run differential, and pretty much a surprise team that no one paid much attention to heading into the season, the Angels have just one All Star. Of course, if you’re going to have just the one, you could do worse than Mike Trout the reigning best player in baseball. Richards, though, has been just as critical to the Angels success, at least in terms of leading a pitching staff that nobody thought would be good. Maybe we’re not talking about the A’s in terms of quality and depth or the Tigers in terms of star power, but the Angels starters currently rank third in the AL in both fWAR and FIP and fourth in ERA, and Richards leads the Angels in all of those.
Amongst this group, Richards is second in ERA, innings pitched, and WHIP, third in FIP, K/9, and fWAR and currently sports an impressive 10-2 record, if you believe in that sort of thing. He’s also tied with Kluber for the most outings where he’s allowed two or fewer earned runs, good for 67% of his starts. Of the five, he averages the fewest innings per outing at 6.45, but that can really be attributed to one outing against Oakland where he gave up five earned in 2/3 of an inning. Either remove that start or replace it with a rather pedestrian start of five innings, and Richards is now right in line with Sale and Keuchel. Richards is the only one in the group to not complete a game this season. Plus, Richards has a ridiculous curveball that should be showcased in the All Star game.
At first glance, Porcello is the odd man out of this group. The Tigers are well represented already with Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Max Scherzer, and adding a second starter from a starting staff that is seventh in the AL in ERA seems optimistic, especially one with an ERA of 3.53, 3.94 FIP, and 1.17 WHIP (all last in our group). Of course, those numbers can be a bit misleading. The Tigers starters are first in fWAR and second in FIP, and while Porcello doesn’t have any gaudy stats that stand out he is third out of our five in innings pitched and tied with Sale for second with two complete games. No, Porcello’s case for making this game is his recent run of success prior to his last game against the Rays. In his three starts prior to last Sunday’s stinker, Porcello didn’t allow an earned run in 24 innings, surrendered only 13 hits, and completed two games. He also ran his win total to 11, which is a nice big number for voters to focus upon. Still, he did post the lowest game score amongst our five (registering 17 against Texas back in May) and has allowed 1.5 times as many hits as strikeouts.
Porcello’s name really shouldn’t even be on this list. I’d rather see Kyle Seager be on here, or if you want to stick with a pitcher, how about Sale’s pitching mate Jose Quintana? Porcello seems to be a case of win totals making you believe he should be included when really there are far more deserving candidates.
I could probably make this easy and place a vote for Keuchel, Kluber, Richards, and Sale and call it a day, but that’s not how my mind works. It works in absolutes, and I want to be committed to a player, to feel like my vote truly meant something. So, after reviewing my choices in more detail, I’m going with: #TargetSale
Even though he’s thrown the fewest innings, the ones he has thrown have been of the highest quality, and that should count for something. This post basically led me full circle, but it’s like Malcolm Gladwell argued in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking that spontaneous choices are as good, if not better, than carefully deliberated ones. My unconscious knew the score. If not for Sale, I’d tweet #VoteKluber and be happy about the selection. In my own wishy-washy way, I still hope for Keuchel and Kluber to make it regardless.