Wednesday, June 15, 2011

All-Stars and Fruits

By Mark Smith
Humor me for a moment. What is the best fruit? Apples? Oranges? Peaches? Bananas? Or are you one of those people who think big melons that taste like ever-so-sweet water with seeds that intend to get caught in your epiglottis are the best fruit? If you like America, you like apples. If you like potassium, you probably favor bananas. If you think the best fruit has the most seeds, then you might like strawberries.  If you like choking toward a slow, lonely death, you like watermelons. And if you like the obscure, you might take kumquats. What the hell does fruit have to do with baseball? All-Star voting.

Okay, so that still probably doesn’t make as much sense as it should. The point trying to be made above is that when you ask such a general question, you might want to be more specific. Baseball is notorious for being bad at this. What is a Hall of Famer? Is it just the best players on the field, or does it include off-the-field stuff? And how do you define best? What about MVPs? How do you define “valuable”? And are pitchers involved, or do we just let them have the Cy Young? I could go on and on, but I think you get the point, but this is especially bad when it comes to the All-Star Game.

What makes an All-Star? I would say that most people think that the people having the best first halves of the season should get in. Others say that the word “All-Star” means the best players in the game, even if it means eschewing a guy having a great first half in favor of a guy who has been better longer but not having such a great first half. Others say that the All-Star Game should be for the most popular players no matter how they’re doing because they are the players the fans would want to see. Others say that fans should vote for players on their favorite team. Still others have a weird amalgamation of a few of these plus other rationales. First, let’s look at the major processes when it comes to selecting All-Stars, and then we’ll ask more important questions.

Best First Halves - This is probably the most common criteria, and it’s not surprising. All-Star Games happen every year, and as a seasonal festivity, it should have the best players from that season. It also has the advantage of having the guys playing the best at the moment playing in the game, and if the game “counts”, you should want the best “now” lineup out there. I should also note that this is the best way to integrate new players into the game and expose fans to different players.

While those are pretty obvious, the disadvantages are just as obvious. First halves can be fluky, and you might leave off a player who is actually better. Putting the game in the middle of the season doesn’t help, but three months isn’t enough to declare someone “better”, “good enough”, or even “good”. Are you ready to put Kevin Correia into the All-Star Game because he has 8 wins already?

Best Players in the Game - This sounds a bit better. Ryan Roberts is a nice player, but are we really ready to say he’s better than David Wright or Ryan Zimmerman … or even Chipper Jones? Looking at a bigger sample size will help us find out who is the better player more accurately, and this allows a young player to prove he’s good enough to belong in such a game. It also ignores poorly-timed injuries to superstars.

But this also has its issues. What is the new timeframe? The first process has a nicely defined timeframe (Opening Day to the Break), but this doesn’t. Is one year good enough? Two? Five? Depending on how far you go out, you might miss out on the Dontrelle Willises of the world that don’t last long but were good and had some of the most distinctive personalities/entertaining quirks in the game.

Most Popular Players - This has the nice distinction of being the easiest to define and put into practice. Everyone go and vote in your favorites. There are no definitions necessary. Democracy rules, and because it is the fans paying to watch the game, they should be able to see who they want regardless of their recent performance. Who cares if Jeter is only the 8th or 9th best AL SS this season? If he gets the most votes, people want to see him. If there are more players people want to see, more people will watch.

Of course, this also has its issues. The game “counts” now, and it will help the AL more to have Asdrubal Cabrera, Alexei Ramirez, Elvis Andrus, Erick Aybar, etc. than Jeter. And the fact that the game moves brings another issue. The player may be the most popular in baseball overall, but is he for that area? Chipper may be the most popular in the Southeast, but what if the game is near Zimmerman and Washington? The people paying exorbitant prices to go to the game want to see who they want to see, too. How would you balance the TV public (already paying money for cable regardless) versus the fans at the game (paying like $200+ per person)?

Players on Favorite Team - I’m not sure this is defensible. I’m talking to you Cardinals, Yankees, Red Sox, and Cubs (when they’re good) fans. Brian McCann better start at catcher this year …


So you can easily see how fruit and All-Star voting is exactly alike. No? Listen, we all have our opinions. That’s fine. I like apples and picking the best players over a larger sample with a few exceptions for “legends”. You like watermelons, great first halves, and communism. Fine. This isn’t to say all opinions are equally good, but they are all flawed. For instance, the “best first halves” idea is the worst of the three major ones I discussed. Saying someone is an All-Star because of one great half is kind of ridiculous, but it has its legitimate strengths. But in a lot of ways, arguing about All-Stars is like arguing about fruit. We all have our tastes, and even within a certain group, we probably still wouldn’t come to the same conclusion. “I like fruit with edible skin.” Really? Apples, grapes, or pears? “I like the best players over the last year and a half.” Really? Choose the best 3 from Matt Holliday, Andres Torres, Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen, and Jay Bruce. Oh, you’re not using fWAR?

And now you’re starting to see the biggest problem of all--definition. I’ve been hinting at it the entire post, and I imagine you’ve been a little frustrated by that. We need specific definitions of what it means to be an All-Star. In regard to fruit, asking, “What fruit is the healthiest?” might elicit a better, more focused response. Likewise, it would be great if the MLB would give us a definition of All-Star, but they won’t and would probably piss off a significant population if they did. But we, as fans, can. So if you want to throw the gauntlet over All-Star picks or make your own, first take a minute and ask what your criteria are. Then state it clearly for your audience, whomever that may be, and at the very least, people can judge your picks based on that criteria. And please … please … keep in mind that your opinion has its validity and its faults. You can make an argument, but you’ll never be “right” because its an idea without a form. And when a player gets in that “shouldn’t”, remember that there are people who think he “should”. Democracy’s a $%#^, isn’t it?

And I guess, in the end, the All-Star Game ends up reflecting all of these thoughts and processes. You get your Russell Martins, your Robinson Canos, and your Derek Jeters. Hey, wait a minute …


Herbie said...

They have seedless watermelons now. They're pretty good, too. Better than the All-Star Game, anyway.

Mark Smith said...

Herbie, don't you contradict me! All watermelons are overrated and dangerous!

Bryan said...

Good analogy, Mark. I tend to side with the best half-year or best year-and-a-half argument and get aggravated when guys make the All-Star team just because they play in a big market.

That said, there's no point in letting fans vote if you're going to give them guidelines that push them to the right choice. Go with fWAR and we're not allowed to honor Asdrubal Cabrera's offense because Alexei Ramirez's defense has been better. Go with half-year results and we're not allowed to honor Troy Tulowitzki for his amazing fall because Jose Reyes has been better this spring.

If fans are going to vote, they need to make their own rules, even if that means they vote for Jeter.

But please, make it anyone but Jeter.

Mark Smith said...

I agree. I don't have a problem with the fans choosing. I have a problem with people screaming about a guy getting in and failing to see the logic behind him getting in/the faults with their own preferences for the ASG. Because the MLB never defined it clearly, people can pretty much use whatever reasoning they want. If you're going to get mad about it, make sure you make an argument for your methodology.

Chip said...

Crazy. Brilliant. And watermelons are tasty.

Lotaso said...

Apples are only good for pies... Watermelon is where it's at!