Cubs fans tilting NL All-Star voting results away from deserving players
Yesterday, I broke down the early returns from the American League All-Star voting and how Major League Baseball’s failure to improve the voting process had led to certain fan bases—that of the Royals, in particular—running roughshod over the process. The leaders in the AL voting, however, still largely reflected the most deserving players at each position, with the possible exception of two spots in the outfield. Things are much worse in the National League, where Cubs fans have been activated by their team’s tremendous start and have not only skewed the voting, but also pushed their hometown favorites ahead of more deserving players at multiple positions.
The biggest problem with All-Star voting remains the fact that it starts way too early. No one should be allowed to cast a vote until the final week of June at the earliest (the voting ends at midnight on June 30). The fact that a single fan can vote hundreds of times using multiple email addresses with no up-front confirmation of those addresses has perverted the process even further. The result is what you see below: a set of early NL returns that have only a tangential relationship to the on-field performance of the players in question, and that make you wonder who will be in the starting lineup when the All-Star Game is played on July 12 at Petco Park in San Diego.
1. Yadier Molina, Cardinals: 517,825
2. Buster Posey, Giants: 439, 239
3. Miguel Montero, Cubs: 286,494
There is so much wrong with this that it's hard to know where to begin. Let's try here: The Brewers' Jonathan Lucroy, who was an All-Star and top-four MVP finisher two years ago, has arguably been the best catcher in baseball this season (.299/.355/.531, 134 OPS+), and he’s not even in the top five in the voting. (The Diamondbacks’ Welington Castillo and the Nationals’ Wilson Ramos, both off to strong starts, fill out the list.) Montero, meanwhile, hasn’t even been the best catcher on his own team thanks to a back injury and a hot start by veteran David Ross (.250/.348/.461, 117 OPS+ in just one less plate appearance than Montero through Wednesday). Ross, who was supposed to be a backup, isn’t on the ballot, but Cubs fans interested in doing anything other than blindly selecting the players with “CHC” next to their names could have written him in.
On top of all of that, we have Molina (.266/.346/.359, 91 OPS+) leading Posey (.264/.323/.455, 110 OPS+). In addition to his superior hitting, Posey leads the NL in both caught stealing percentage (47%) and Baseball Prospectus’ framing runs (8.0), suggesting he’s better on both sides of the ball than the 33-year-old Molina—something that has been true for multiple seasons now. Posey did manage to overcome Molina in the voting last year to make just his second All-Star start, and this year’s early returns are close enough that he might do so again. Even if that happens, it won't solve the most egregious problem: the absence of Lucroy, who has been let down by Brewers fans.
1. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs: 874,471
2. Brandon Belt, Giants: 271,670
3. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers: 253,529
4. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks: 217,186
Goldschmidt, who finished second in the NL MVP voting in both 2013 and '15 and deservedly won the Gold Glove in both of those seasons, is once again the best first baseman in baseball. He has also outperformed Rizzo this season (.267/.421/.476, 138 OPS+ to .238/.377/.486, 132 OPS+), though Belt has been better than both of them (.299/.419/.503, 151 OPS+). At worst, this should be a close three-man race, with Rizzo no higher than second place. Instead, it’s a landslide for Chicago's slugger, who is undeniably one of the NL's true stars at the position but has done nothing to deserve his huge lead, never mind a total more than three times that of his closest competitor.
1. Ben Zobrist, Cubs: 732,519
2. Daniel Murphy, Nationals: 488,468
The competition at this spot is fierce. Neither the Dodgers' Chase Utley (.283/.369/.428, 120 OPS+) nor the Diamondbacks' Jean Segura (.306/.338/.464, 110 OPS+) made the top five, and although the Mets' Neil Walker (.283/.345/.522, 134 OPS+, 13 HR) and the Pirates' Josh Harrison (.328/.360/.431, 115 OPS+) did, neither are within striking distance of the deserving leaders.
Given that Zobrist and Murphy are both early-season MVP candidates, this should be a much closer race. Murphy leads the majors with a .394 average and the NL with a .636 slugging percentage, 179 OPS+ and 128 total bases, though he remains a liability in the field. Zobrist leads the majors with a .439 on-base percentage and compensates for his 20-point deficit in OPS+ by being a better fielder than his Washington counterpart. Both players are in their first years with their new clubs after signing as free agents during the off-season, and they should be neck-and-neck in the vote, most likely with Zobrist a hair behind. Instead, Murphy has just two-thirds as many votes as the guy wearing the Cubs uniform.
1. Addison Russell, Cubs: 544,240
2. Trevor Story, Rockies: 534,290
3. Asdrubal Cabrera, Mets: 247,954
4. Brandon Crawford, Giants: 246,390
5. Zack Cozart, Reds: 231,502
The best shortstop in the National League this season has arguably been the Cardinals’ Aledmys Diaz (.328/.361/.539, 139 OPS+). He isn’t even on the ballot, however, because Jhonny Peralta—who has yet to appear in a game this year due to a torn thumb ligament—remains St. Louis's intended starter at the position. Given that the ballots are now exclusively digital, you’d think MLB would find a way to correct such omissions, but thus far, it has not. As a result, Diaz is nowhere to be found on the ballot (though fans do have the option to write him in) or in the top five.
Meanwhile, Cubs fans have pushed the slick-fielding Russell to the top of the standings despite the fact that he shouldn’t even be in the top five, which goes double for Cabrera. The trick is that, absent Diaz, there is no clear choice here. Crawford was the best shortstop in the NL last year and has played well enough to earn inclusion on the list this year. Story was an early-season sensation and remains among the league’s home run leaders. Cozart is an outstanding fielder having his best season at the plate (.301/.326/.500, 119 OPS+). Dodgers rookie Corey Seager (.277/.332/.469, 119 OPS+) and the Brewers’ Jonathan Villar (.303/.409/.416, 123 OPS+ and a major league-leading 19 SB) should be there in place of Russell and Cabrera. Given how tightly bunched those players are, including Diaz, it’s still too early to decide which player deserves to be on top.
1. Kris Bryant, Cubs: 776,107
2. Nolan Arenado, Rockies: 593,691
Bryant is having a fine sophomore season, hitting .280/.366/.510 with 12 home runs and an NL-leading 38 runs scored. He even edges Arenado in OPS+, 134 to 130. Arenado’s combination of power and elite defense, however, should make this a landslide for Colorado's third baseman. Arenado, who turned 25 last month and is less than a year older than Bryant, leads the NL in home runs (16) and RBIs (43), and if those statistics are slightly inflated by his home ballpark, his glove more than compensates for any correction. Arenado is quite simply one of the best all-around players in baseball, and not having him at the hot corner when the NL takes the field in San Diego would be embarrassment for the league.
1. Bryce Harper, Nationals: 838, 599
2. Dexter Fowler, Cubs: 797,160
3. Yoenis Cespedes, Mets: 792,395
4. Jason Heyward, Cubs: 476, 595
5. Ryan Braun, Brewers: 448,717
6. Jorge Soler, Cubs: 312,645
Though you could certainly make an argument for a different trio, there’s nothing wrong with that top three. Harper was the unanimous NL MVP last year and has slugged .535 this season with a .413 on-base percentage. Cespedes was a sensation after joining the Mets at the trading deadline and is raking once again, with a .593 slugging percentage and 15 home runs. Fowler, meanwhile, leads all NL outfielders in Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR thanks to a .313/.435/.527 line, his 160 OPS+ and uncharacteristically high marks for his play in centerfield. Heyward and Soler, however, have no business making the top 15, never mind the top six. Missing from the top 15: Pittsburgh’s Gregory Polanco, Miami’s Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, and Philadelphia's Odubel Herrera, all of whom have taken big steps forward in the early going this year.
Braun’s placement, meanwhile, remains fascinating. He is deserving, ranking second behind only Murphy in the NL with a 166 OPS+ on a .352/.421/.579 line, but as we’ve seen above, deserving doesn’t always result in votes. Look no further than his Milwaukee teammate Lucroy, whose absence suggests it’s not Brewers fans who have helped Braun to his lofty place on this list. Braun made the All-Star team last year—his first since his ugly performance-enhancing-drug scandal and suspension in 2013—as an injury replacement selected by NL manager Bruce Bochy. Given that the fans elected fellow Biogenesis clients Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta as starters last year and Braun and catcher Yasmani Grandal were selected by Bochy, it seems clear that past PED suspensions are not being held against players in the All-Star selection process they way they have been in the Hall of Fame voting.
Taking the current NL vote leaders as a whole, only the outfielders and perhaps Zobrist at second base are deserving of their positions. In Posey, Goldschmidt and Arenado, the NL runs the risk of having three of its best players on the bench to start an All-Star Game played in a National League Park. Put simply, it’s a mess, though it's possible the more contentious fans who smartly wait until late June to vote will serve as a corrective, as they did in the AL last year.