ANAHEIM -- Here's what to look for in the Midsummer Classic tonight:
It's the official theme of the first half, what with runs, home runs and batting average trends rolled back to 1992 levels. Veteran hitters such as
Mix in a game that will be played through the early innings in twilight, and you have the makings of an All-Star Game that befits this season -- and perhaps an era. This generation of pitchers is not only the first to surface in the big leagues since the institution of rigorous testing and penalties for performance-enhancing drugs, it also is the first during a time in which general managers across the board have placed the development of young, controllable players -- especially pitchers -- as the most valuable mission in the game.
The draft-develop-and-hold approach to pitching is what drives every organization. The cataloging and availability of information have made the development of pitchers more science than art, and baseball is benefiting.
At the 2003 All-Star Game, you would have found
You would think, given the informational evolution, this generation is in better hands. One way to measure this evolution is to look what happens in the second half to
Just watch the game tonight -- and all of its young, homegrown pitchers -- to get a sense of where the game is headed. And keep these notes in mind:
• Of the 19 starting pitchers named as All-Stars, 12 are in their 20s and pitching for the organization that originally signed them. Only two starting pitchers made this All-Star team after switching teams via true free agency, and both of them were bought by the Yankees:
• The starting pitchers tonight, Price and
• Forty-three pitchers in their 20s who qualify for the ERA title reached the break with an ERA below 4.00, which if it held up over the full season would be the most such young guns since 1978. Ten years ago, in the height of The Steroid Era, there were only 11 pitchers in their 20s who could post an ERA under 4.00.
Seventh? When was the last time you hit as low as seventh, Mauer? "I don't know. It's been a long time," he said. "Had to be my first month when I got called up." True enough. Mauer hit mostly seventh and eighth when called up in 2004.
The problem for the Twins, however, is that Mauer has hit too much like a seventh-place hitter all year. The power growth he showed last year (career-high 28 home runs and a league-best .587 slugging percentage) has disappeared, especially at home. Minnesota's move from the Metrodome to Target Field has not gone well for Mauer: no homers and a .388 slugging percentage. His overall slugging percentage is .424 -- just a bit better than the average seventh-place hitter in the AL (.413).
"I've hit a few balls, yes, that I thought were out," he said about Target Field. "It seems it's playing as a pretty big ballpark right now."
One of the problems with the park is the hitting background. Hitters, catchers and umpires have complained that glare and bright objects during day games and in the early innings of night games make it difficult to track pitches. A similar problem occurred when Safeco Field in Seattle opened. The Mariners addressed the issue with a matte-finish paint and netting.
"That's the example we've heard," Mauer said. "It's an ongoing issue."
In other words, managers are making selections to facilitate how they run the game. I'd rather see guys who are important enough to start games and close games be selected over specialists (i.e. Mat Latos,
The Rangers' outfielder is the first AL cleanup hitter not from the Yankees or Red Sox in seven years. (The Yankees and Red Sox had accounted for nine of the 12 starters in the three and four slots since 2004.) Hamilton and Detroit first baseman
Harper is in town for the announcement today of the Golden Spikes Award, the Heisman of college baseball. Harper is one of five finalists for the award. Harper met many All-Stars, including Mauer ("He's huge. Much bigger in person.") and Jeter ("Great guy.") But when asked which All-Star he most was thrilled about meeting, he quickly replied, "Josh Hamilton."
Eleven years ago, Hamilton was the Bryce Harper of the draft: a lefthanded-hitting teenage outfielder with prodigious power selected first overall. (Hamilton was 18 when drafted by Tampa Bay; Harper, selected by the Nationals first overall, is 17). Hamilton, though, fell in a dark abyss of drug abuse and didn't play his first full big league season until he was 27.
Asked what advice Hamilton gave him, Harper replied: "To stay humble and to trust in the Lord."
Harper will watch the game tonight from the luxury box of his adviser,
Actually, if you look for them you won't find many. There were nine free agents last winter who signed for more than $15 million in guaranteed money. Only one of them is now an All-Star:
The second through ninth most expensive free agents are home tonight: