Breaking down the early returns in the American League All-Star voting shows that ballot-stuffing by Royals fans is again a problem.
Major League Baseball issued the first All-Star voting update of the season Tuesday afternoon, announcing the top five vote recipients at each position in the American League. As usual, the early voting reflects which teams have been most effective in motivating their fans to vote as much as it does which players actually deserve the honor of starting the All-Star Game, which will be played in San Diego’s Petco Park on July 12. We saw that phenomenon in the extreme last year, the first in which all of the voting took place on-line. At one point last June, eight of the nine leading vote recipients in the AL were members of the Royals. This year's first batch of returns make it clear that the voting process remains deeply flawed.
First of all, the voting still starts way too early—April 24 this year, a point by which roughly 8% of the season had been played. Also, fans are still allowed to vote an absurd 35 times each from every email address they own or can create. The official rules require “a valid email address,” but there is no automated confirmation process. Votes with dummy addresses such as “firstname.lastname@example.org” are accepted by the system, and while MLB does wind up voiding millions of votes from invalid addresses—erasing roughly 20% of the votes cast in the process—it would surely to be more effective to require confirmation up front rather than to hope that they can identify all of the invalid addresses after the fact, particularly when some of that ex post facto vote scrubbing comes in reaction to tweets like this one. Such shenanigans have continued this year.
The only change MLB has made to the voting process this year is that, while it will accept 35 votes from each email address, it will only accept five within any 24-hour period. That will significantly slow down some of the ballot-box stuffing, as a single fan can no longer sit down with five email addresses and submit 175 ballots in less time than it takes to eat lunch. It won’t stop it completely, however. That same fan can still submit those 175 votes; it will just take them a seven lunches to do it. The result is an early voting return that is again Royals-heavy, with a member of the defending world champions in the top two in the voting at every position, but not to as objectionable a degree as last year.
Other teams and fan bases that have succeeded in getting out the early vote are the Red Sox, who have a player in the top five at every position; the Orioles, who have a player in the top five at every position except designated hitter; and the Blue Jays. Of the top 15 vote recipients in the outfield, 11 of them play for Baltimore, Boston, Kansas City or Toronto.
The voting closes on June 30. Here’s a closer look at the early returns with some suggestions as to who might be most deserving of the All-Star start now that we’re entering the third month of the regular season.
1. Salvador Perez, Royals: 1,094,942
2. Brian McCann, Yankees: 319,679
This is what it looks like when a Royals player actually deserves to be leading the voting. Perez is hitting .277/.313/.494 (114 OPS+) entering Wednesday’s action and is the clear choice in a weak AL catching field, one in which just four catchers—Perez, McCann, Oakland's Stephen Vogt and Cleveland's Yan Gomes—are qualified for the batting title.
1. Eric Hosmer, Royals: 871,222
2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: 466,523
Minnesota's Joe Mauer, who had a huge April and then slumped badly in May before recently getting hot again, deserves to be in the top five, but isn’t. Hosmer and Cabrera are justified in their rankings here, though the vote should be far closer than it is. Still, it’s hard to argue against Hosmer. He’s hitting .330/.376/.553 (148 OPS+) to Cabrera’s .304/.380/.550 (152 OPS+) and is by far the better fielder of the two.
1. Jose Altuve, Astros: 624,218
2. Omar Infante, Royals: 473,205
3. Robinson Cano, Mariners, 354,415
Royals fans think voting for Infante (.244/.288/.331, 68 OPS+) is hilarious. I am not amused. Altuve (.327/.403/.550, 161 OPS+, 15 SB) is in the right spot, but this should be a thrilling race between him and Cano (.291/.352/.583, 156 OPS+, 15 HR). Instead it’s a farce. Meanwhile, Detroit's Ian Kinsler (.315/.364/.537, 144 OPS+) isn’t even in the top five due to the presence of Infante and the Orioles' Jonathan Schoop (.264/.286/.456, 97 OPS+)
1. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox: 598,847
2. Alcides Escobar, Royals: 593,218
Again, we have the right leader but a problematic vote. Just 5,629 votes separate the deserving Bogaerts (.350/.401/.516, 143 OPS+, 7 SB) from Escobar (.267/.297/.312, 66 OPS+, 10 SB), who was an undeserving starter last year. Meanwhile, Francisco Lindor (.306/.367/.413, 108 OPS+, 10 SB), who should rank second on this list, isn’t even in the top five.
1. Manny Machado, Orioles: 630,028
2. Mike Moustakas, Royals: 566,278
3. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays: 450,585
4. Nick Castellanos, Tigers: 253,160
5. Travis Shaw, Red Sox: 240,730
Third base in the AL is an incredibly crowded position. Machado (.317/.389/.614, 167 OPS+) is the deserving leader here, but Donaldson is the defending AL MVP. Tigers and Red Sox fans have rewarded hot starts by Castellanos and Shaw, and with Moustakas—who was off to a strong start in April before succumbing to injuries—getting that K.C. bump, there’s no room for Texas' Adrian Beltre, Seattle's Kyle Seager or Chicago's Todd Frazier, who is the AL home-run leader.
With Moustakas out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, one assumes his vote total will tail off, but that’s not a given. Machado needs continued support to receive his well-earned first All-Star start.
1. Mike Trout, Angels: 934,137
2. Lorenzo Cain, Royals: 647,339
3. Mark Trumbo, Orioles: 641,594
4. Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox: 554,887
5. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: 551, 812
6. Alex Gordon, Royals: 540,309
Trout was the only player whose star power managed to eclipse the Kansas City ballot-box stuffing when it peaked last June, and he has a comfortable lead here, and deservedly so. Solid arguments can be made for each of the next three men on the list. Cain finished third in the MVP voting last season and recovered from a poor April this year to catch fire in May (.351/.387/.577 on the month). Trumbo has been one of the league’s top power hitters (.283/.333/.561, 136 OPS+, 15 HR), and Bradley has been red-hot (.331/.409/.601, a 165 OPS+ and as a recent 29-game hitting streak). You could also argue against all three, however, citing a lack of track-record in the cases of Bradley and Trumbo—the latter was such a disaster in the field that the Orioles have largely moved him to designated hitter—and inferior overall statistics in the case of Cain (.295/.348/.456, 116 OPS+).
Things get messy after Bradley. Bautista, Gordon, ninth-place Adam Jones and 11th-place Carlos Beltran are all bold-name veteran stars who have underperformed their established level of play in the early going. That's particularly true of Gordon, who wasn’t hitting when he suffered a fracture in his wrist that will keep him on the disabled list for most of June. Seventh-place Mookie Betts of the Red Sox (.283/.325/.522, 121 OPS+, 8 SB) and 15th-place Michael Saunders of the Blue Jays (.291/.371/.529, 143 OPS+) deserve to be on this list, but Paulo Orlando (eighth), Kevin Pillar (12th) and Joey Rickard (14th) are pure ballot-box stuffing on the part of Royals, Blue Jays and Orioles fans, respectively. Meanwhile, it’s inexplicable that Colby Rasmus (.224/.320/.397, 98 OPS+) is on this list instead of his far more deserving Astros teammate George Springer (.288/.376/.509, 143 OPS+).
While not as shocking, there’s a similar “wrong guy” effect in the presence of Melky Cabrera (.283/.349/.409, 113 OPS+), who was off to a hot start but has cooled with the rest of his team of late. Nevertheless, Cabrera has gotten more votes so far than White Sox teammate Adam Eaton (.278/.361/.395, 114 OPS+), whose defense was a key component of Chicago’s early success.
Other players who deserve more attention in the voting here are a pair of compelling off-season additions: the Rangers' Ian Desmond (.297/.344/.480, 116 OPS+, 10 SB) and the Mariners' Leonys Martin (.262/.339/.483, 128 OPS+, 8 SB), both of whom have impressed with their play in centerfield for different reasons.
The lack of a clear top three here is a perfect example of why it’s important to let as much of the season elapse as possible before placing your All-Star vote. Consider how much Cain has turned is season around in the last month. The AL outfield picture could look very different 29 days from now.
1. David Ortiz, Red Sox: 963,076
2. Kendrys Morales, Royals: 496,941
3. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays: 249,565
4. Victor Martinez, Tigers: 241, 208
5. Nelson Cruz, Mariners: 208,953
Ortiz (.335/.416/.716, 194 OPS+) is going to earn his farewell All-Star appearance, unlike a rival captain of recent vintage. Kudos to him for that. As for the voting, Ortiz, Martinez (.343/.387/.539, 152 OPS+) and Cruz (.295/.392/.508, 151 OPS+) are the only designated hitters having All-Star quality seasons. Morales and Encarnacion did have big seasons for playoff teams a year ago, however, so arguably these are the right five names, but two through five are in the wrong order. Not that it matters as long as Ortiz gets the start.
To that same end, looking exclusively at the leaders at each position—Perez, Hosmer, Altuve, Bogaerts, Machado, Trout, Cain, Trumbo and Ortiz—the only real complaint might be with the second and third outfielders, and that’s a tight race that seems likely to change several times between now and the June 30 deadline. So, while the voting process may still be broken, at least for the time being, the results have indeed improved.