All-Star Final Vote: Why Chris Sale, Anthony Rizzo deserve your support
The names of 68 All-Stars were announced Sunday night, including 17 starters, 49 reserves and two players who won’t be eligible to play in the game (injured American League catcher Matt Wieters and traded National League pitcher Jeff Samardzija). That number will swell to 70 on Thursday when the winners of the Final Vote competition in each league are announced and added to their respective league’s rosters. Throw in the inevitable additional injury replacements and replacements for pitchers who are due to start the Sunday before the All-Star Game, and more than 10 percent of active major league players will be All-Stars, and there will still be one or two glaring snubs.
The Final Vote was designed as a way for fans to include two of the players they considered most overlooked by the initial vote. However, the game's managers — John Farrell for the AL and Mike Matheny for the NL — are the ones who make out the five-man ballot for their team. Their picks don’t always include the players most obviously snubbed, such as the Tigers’ Ian Kinsler, who did not make either the 33-man AL roster or the five-man Final Vote ballot.A quick look at the AL’s Final Vote ballot reveals why Kinsler was not included. Farrell wants one more pitcher on his roster, but with a wealth of deserving candidates for that spot, he opted to let the fans make the selection for him. Farrell’s AL predecessor, the Tigers' Jim Leyland, did a similar thing last year when he put five set-up men on what should remain the most underwhelming Final Vote ballot in major league history. Farrell did far better this year, offering five legitimate choices, all starting pitchers who have had excellent first halves. In the NL, Matheny wanted another bat and offers a similarly stacked ballot.
Picking just two of the 10 men in the final vote is painful; realizing that most of the other eight will wind up All-Star snubs (some may make the roster as injury replacements) is even moreso. With that in mind, here’s how I’d rank the five men on each ballot:
Season Stats: 8-1, 2.16 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, 6.00 K/BB, 6.7 IP/GS, 2 CG, 187 ERA+, 13 GS
Sale missed a month with a flexor strain in his pitching elbow earlier this year, and that’s the only reason that he has to clear this additional hurdle to make the team. On a per-start basis, he has been by far the best of the five pitchers on this list (it’s worth mentioning, even if it’s not relevant to the vote, that at 25 he is also youngest of these five). Sale also finished in the top-six in the Cy Young voting in each of the last two seasons. He is one of the best pitchers in the league, and this year's AL All-Star roster is incomplete without him.
Season Stats: 8-6, 2.86 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 4.57 K/BB, 6.6 IP/GS, 1 CG, 133 ERA+, 19 GS
Season Stats: 10-2, 2.71 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 2.90 K/BB, 6.5 IP/GS, 140 ERA+, 18 GS
Season Stats: 8-5, 3.06 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 3.11 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 3 CG, 1 SHO, 133 ERA+, 16 GS
Kluber (28), Richards and Keuchel (both 26) are all enjoying break-out seasons worthy of recognition. Keuchel has even popped up on Awards Watch as a down-ballot Cy Young candidate. However, after three poor starts in a row (0-2, 6.50 ERA), he has sunk to the bottom of this trio. As for Kluber and Richards, I could easily be convinced to switch their rankings, though that argument is moot given that there is no good reason not to vote for Sale.
5. Rick Porcello, RHP, Tigers
Season Stats: 11-5, 3.53 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 5.1 K/9, 2.56 K/BB, 6.6 IP/GS, 2 SHO, 118 ERA+, 17 GS
Porcello, who is three months older than fellow 25-year-old Sale, is having a less convincing breakout than the three men above him on this list. His peripherals are weak, his run prevention is unexceptional and he took the shine off his 25-inning scoreless streak in a big way by giving up seven runs to the Rays on Sunday night.
Season Stats: .276/.384/.487, 17 HR, 45 RBI, 139 OPS+
The NL Final Vote ballot offers a far more difficult choice. I could be convinced that either of the Anthonys on the ballot is the most deserving candidate. The Justins have both had excellent seasons, and Casey McGehee, though clearly the weakest candidate, offers a compelling story and by far the most surprising performance. Ultimately, I favor Rizzo here because he has so clearly out-hit his competition (he has both the highest raw OPS and adjusted OPS+). He is also an above-average defensive first baseman, and I feel that he has legitimately emerged as a star this season at the age of 24.
Season Stats: .282/.340/.483, 12 HR, 50 RBI, 8 SB, 126 OPS+
Season Stats: .273/.349/.503, 17 HR, 50 RBI, 7 SB, 134 OPS+
Upton has clearly out-hit Rendon this year, and both have been valuable on the bases, having been caught stealing just once each. However, Rendon, who has bounced between second and third base for the Nationals as needed and is a fine fielder at the keystone, has far more defensive value than Upton, a sub-par leftfielder. Add the positional context for their hitting performances, and Rendon comes out on top for me. Need another reason? Upton has already struck out 97 times this season (28.4 percent of his plate appearances) against just 33 unintentional walks, a 2.9 ratio. Rendon, with just 59 strikeouts, has a 2.1 ratio.
Season Stats: .316/.348/.518, 13 HR, 59 RBI, 126 OPS+
To his credit, Morneau’s comeback is not a Coors Field aberration: He’s hitting .303/.337/.487 on the road and is striking out less often overall than he ever has before in his career (just 11 percent of his plate appearances). However, given that he does have the advantage of playing his home games in Coors Field, Morneau would have to be clearly out-hitting the three men above him to earn my vote here. He’s not. Rizzo has a higher unadjusted OPS and a huge lead in on-base percentage. Upton trails by just 16 points of slugging and is actually a point ahead in OBP. Morneau is out-hitting Rendon in raw numbers, but OPS+ shows that when adjusted for park, their offense comes out even, and Rendon is far more valuable on the bases and in the field.
Season Stats: .320/.389/.393, 1 HR, 53 RBI, 118 OPS+
McGehee’s supporters will point out that he is first in the league in hits (108), fifth in batting average, sixth in RBIs and ninth in on-base percentage and has walked 41 times against just 53 strikeouts. However, if you’re going to be an All-Star at a corner position while slugging less than .400, you need to be doing something special in the field, and McGehee is not. In fact, he’s been below average at the hot corner. McGehee deserves a ton of credit for rejuvenating his major league career at the age of 31 after hitting .221/.282/.351 in 2011 and 2012 combined and spending 2013 in Japan (where his bat found new life), but while he’s a good story, and was a terrific gamble for the Marlins, he’s not an All-Star.