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Strasburg Snub a Gutless Reaction

When it comes to All-Stars, Justice Potter Stewart had it right: I know it when I see one.

Anyone out there who hasn’t seen it when Stephen Strasburg pitches?

It’s been fun watching people tie themselves in knots trying to explain why Strasburg shouldn’t be in the All-Star Game. 

“He hasn’t earned it.”

“Six starts isn’t enough.”

“He’ll take a spot away from someone who deserves it.”

Even those who’ve argued this position concede that the Fox Network would love to have him in the game, because he’ll draw viewers. They usually go on to say that if this game really “counts,” he definitely improves the National League’s chances of winning. But still he shouldn’t be there.

What am I missing here? If you expect him to outperform the pitchers who were selected, and he’s captured the public imagination enough that people want to see him, how can you say he’s not an All-Star?

It’s an All-Star game, a game of stars. It’s not a game of Guys Who’ve Had a Pretty Good First Half.

Poll the Washington Nationals as to who’s their star pitcher, and I don’t think they’ll nominate Matt Capps, with his 1.39 WHIP, 3.19 ERA and four blown saves.  In 36.2 innings, Capps has allowed an OPS of .748, above the league average and second-worst among NL pitchers with ten or more saves. In the exact same number of innings, Strasburg’s WHIP is 1.06, his ERA is 2.45, and batters have a .549 OPS against him, lowest among all National Leaguers with more than one start. 

Strasburg also ranks first in that group of starters in strikeouts per inning and slugging average against, third in K/BB ratio, third in opposition on-base average, sixth in WHIP, eighth in ERA, fourth in Average Game Score (all stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com).  He’s 85th out of the 108 pitchers in Batting Average on balls put in play (BABIP), allowing hits at a .333 rate that suggests batters have been unusually fortunate (!) against him so far. 

But those are only facts, indicating how good he’s been so far. There’s a simpler gut test: How much do you want to see him face Mauer, Morneau, Hamilton, Ichiro, and Vlad? 

A whole lot, right? More than you want to see Tim Hudson or Yovani Gallardo do the same. They’re worthy selections, but hardly quicken the pulse outside of Atlanta and Milwaukee.

The tripartite selection process gives us three options for blame: the fan voting, the player poll, and the managers’ choices. The fans pick the position starters; the players select one for each position, five starting pitchers, and three relievers; the managers fill in the rest, which will total 13 pitchers and 20 position players per league. Every team must have a representative, which restricts the manager’s options. A final fan vote determines one per league from among five left off the team so far. 

The fans committed no atrocities; it’s easy to argue that Brian McCann is more deserving than Yadier Molina, but Molina’s defensive reputation balances the scales quite a bit. The players were seduced by the best month of Jose Bautista’s career, a 29-game stretch in which he hit 13 homers and had a 1.309 OPS; the mark for the rest of his season is .674, more in keeping with his previous six years in the bigs. 

Far more inexplicable is Charlie Manuel’s selection of Omar Infante, whose .311 batting average masks a wretched .721 OPS, below the league average that includes pitchers’ hitting. And while there might be a place for an occasional set-up man in the All-Star Game, we have 18 years of evidence that Arthur Rhodes is not a star, which should not be ignored because of his good first half. Whenever he’s been handed the closer’s role, he’s promptly handed it back. (He had 33 consecutive scoreless appearances this season, which is impressive, even when nearly a third of them are shorter than an inning. But the “record” he tied involves games in a single season; he equaled the streaks of Mike Myers and Mark Guthrie, neither exactly immortal, and fell short of Myers’ mark of 37 straight over two seasons, or J.C. Romero’s 35.)

It’s hard to imagine there wasn’t room for Joey Votto, Mat Latos, Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez, among other worthies. The fans can rectify the omission of Votto – merely the NL leader in OPS – but the others are beyond the reach of the final vote.

The American League hasn’t lost an All-Star Game since 1996. The National League can help itself end this streak by putting its best players on the field. 

Jeff Neuman is a sportswriter and editor, and co-author of A Disorderly Compendium of Golf. His columns for RealClearSports appear on Monday and Thursday.

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