Friday, July 07, 2006

Super Snubs

I love baseball, but sometimes I truly hate the MLB. I don't have a problem with the fact that Bud Selig & Co. have attempted to add more meaning to the outcome of the All-Star Game by handing home field advantage in the World Series to the winning team; what I have a problem with is that they are consistently contradicting the stance that the game is important by taking measures to prevent the best players from being involved.

Letting the fans pick the starters for the All-Star teams obviously keeps a lot of deserving players from smaller-market clubs out of the starting lineups, but whatever, it's who the fans want to see. Letting the manager of the league champion from the prior season pick the backups is going to bring heavy bias into the selection, but whatever, the coach earned the job by taking his team to the World Series the previous year. While flawed, both of those methods of selecting All-Stars are at least somewhat understandable and generally end up putting a lot of deserving players on the roster.

With that said, the "Final Vote" system, which was first instituted in 2002, has to be the stupidest voting mechanism imaginable. The system selects five players for each league that are seen to be the most deserving players not elected through the other methods, and allows fans to go online and vote for them as often as they please for a few days. When voting ends, the top vote-getter for each league becomes the last member of the respective All-Star squad.

Contrary to what you might believe, my frustration with this system is not totally a result of A.J. Pierzynski being elected as the American League's final representative over the Twins' Francisco Liriano. Let's look at this from a broader perspective.

In the five years (including this year) since the Final Vote has been instituted, it has yielded five A.L. All-Stars. They have been Johnny Damon (2002), Jason Varitek (2003), Hideki Matsui (2004), Scott Podsednik (2005), and Pierzynski (2006). Now, I'm not going to say that each of those guys was undeserving, but look at the cities they play in: Boston, New York, Chicago. All big markets. The National League voting has seen similar results, with each year's winner (except for Milwaukee's Geoff Jenkins) in 2003 coming from a large market.

There's no way to argue that this is not a complete popularity contest. While it's a nice thought that the MLB is trying to give the fans a chance to vote in one more guy they want to see, the fact is that the vote is really only affected by fans of a particular player or team that is in the running for the spot. While the casual fan might go online once and vote for the player from each league they find deserving, they really have no perogative to vote multiple times. Meanwhile, fanatical fans of a particular team are likely to go on and vote repeatedly for their player, and since there is no limit to how much you can vote, that can mean a lot of votes for players on a big market team with a large fanbase. Meanwhile, players like Liriano who play in smaller markets stand absolutely no chance.

Want a prime example of how flawed the system is? Just take a look at this year's results. Pierzynski was voted in as the A.L. final man, coming out of a pool that included Liriano, Travis Hafner, Ramon Hernandez and Justin Verlander. Not only can the argument be made that Pierzynski is the worst player in that group, it would be rather difficult to argue that A.J. is not the worst player in the group. Now, I don't mean to completely put Piezynski down; he's having a good year, hitting .326/.377/.446 with five home runs and 28 RBI. But compare those numbers to Baltimore's catcher, Hernandez, who is hitting .274/.334/.497 with 15 HR and 59 RBI. Aside from hitting for plenty more power than Pierzynski, Hernandez has been much stronger in terms of shutting down the opponents' running game, throwing out 50% of opposing base-stealers, compared to 29.8% for Piersynski. Liriano has been possibly the best pitcher in baseball and Verlander ranks second in the AL in ERA and wins (and also pitches for a first-place team, unlike Mark Buehrle who is for some reason an All-Star). And then there is Hafner, who leads the league in OPS by a large margin and yet still cannot get any love from the voters. Can you tell me that Pierzynski is truly having a better year than any of those four, in any respect?

When it boils down to it, all this Final Vote system does is get another overrated big-market player into the All-Star Game, which is really the last thing the game needs. Baseball is a great sport, but the MLB is crippled by the big-market paradox. Voting for All-Star teams, for MVP and Cy Young awards, and for the Hall of Fame are all completely skewed in favor of larger market teams, frequently preventing the best players from being honored. This trivializes the legitimacy of these awards in the eyes of people that truly understand and care about baseball, which is a sad thing.

Sadly, as much as I complain about the faulty system that the league has for selecting All-Stars, I couldn't really tell you what should be done. Should the players and coaches vote on which players make the team? Even then, it would probably be a popularity contest. Should sportswriters select the All-Stars? They showed their incompetence in the Cy Young vote last year. Should bloggers have the task of finalizing the squads? In my dreams.

Nick Mosvick's Take on It:

I believe Mr. Nelson brings up a lot of good points here, but I think there may be a solution to this issue. It would seem to me that the one major indicator of a big-market team is a large fan base, and thus, high attendence.

My suggestion is that the 32nd man be based off attendence. That is, removing the higher attendence teams from the pools. The only way to get the deserving players is to force the majority of fans, like Cubs or Yankee fans, to consider players for the All-Star game other than their own. Salary, obviously, is another measurement by which to do this, but the point is to use statistics to create a pool that only contains small market teams.

That would mean great players of this era, like Travis Hafner, our Fransisco Liriano, Justin Verlander, Carl Crawford, Chris Young, Chris Capuano, Prince Fielder, Ryan Zimmerman, and other future stars would have a much better chance to go the game. Fans definitely deserve to see the best players and small market fans do deserve an opportunity to see their best player(s) take the field on All-Star night.

Overall, though, I agree with my associate. Its a deeply flawed system that greatly desires change. The All-Star game is already for the most part a popularity contest that drives a lot of small market fans away when their stars never get a starting job. Hopefully, this idea and others will be consider by the MLB because this is one of the dumbest facets of major league baseball.


Anonymous said...

Part of the problem is that baseball is a business. TV executive HATE HATE HATE when the World Series is between, say, Florida Marlins and the Seattle Mariners.

Every year, they want NEW YORK, vs. NEW YORK. Or barring that dream series, New York vs. L.A., or barring that, New York vs. Chicago. Money money money money money money money money.

Anonymous said...

They could set up the voting so that the fans couldn't vote for the players on their team. For example have the ballot in NY include all of the AL starters sans the Yankee players.

Or they could give an equal number of votes to each market, making the allstar vote like the senate where each state gets an equal say.

Aside from that the teams with the highest attendance/ largest fan base have such a tremendous advantage that the game will never feature the most deserving players, only the most popular players that play in the largest markets.

Anonymous said...

Your first suggestion is nice but wouldn't work, because of internet voting. IP Addresses can be faked.

The second suggestion I like better, but again, how do you determine where all the votes are coming from? That system could be manipulated.

Perhaps we should draw people out of a hat. I kind of like that idea. It certainly would make things interesting.

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with a big market player making it because lots of his fans vote for him once (or even 10 times each). I do have a problem with organized marketing campaigns to get individuals to vote hundreds (or thousands) of times each, such as Punch A.J. (Love the name, though.)

How about this idea. Everybody gets to vote once a day, free. After that there is a fee of, let's say, 10 cents per vote. Not enough to deter anyone from voting 10 or 20 times if they want to, but enough to make them think twice about a thousand votes. The money could be given to MLB-approved charities such as breast or prostate cancer.