“Who Created All The Stars?” (part 2)

November 10, 2015

Here’s a somewhat more systematic approach to All-Star game selections and mis-selections than my last piece took, with the caveat that I’m not by nature a very systematic analyst, certainly not as compared to Bill James, or most of my audience, for that matter. My other caveat would be that I don’t think there is a right way to pick All-Star teams, just several better techniques than the ones we’ve been using: any method  advocated here will find detractors a-plenty, because everyone has his own criteria in deciding who is (and is not) an All-Star.

It’s even an open question as to whether we should be choosing "All-Star players," or "players who are having an All-Star season" (or "half-season"), as well as an open question regarding such factors as  "Every team must have a representative." Must they? Some fans like that concept—I don’t. I find it patronizing to the weaker teams, who I think are served better ultimately by the motivation inherent in "Gosh, we haven’t had an All-Star in six years—ya think we oughta DO something about that?" Most of the "bad" choices quoted or linked to below can be explained by that single standard: they were chosen to fulfill the requirement that every team have a representative. But the only over-arching truism I’m spouting here is: "We can choose better All-Star teams," and not everyone agrees with even that statement. I, however, am always going to express my dissatisfaction with almost any process, and I’m going to express a lot of dissatisfaction with a process as flawed as this one is.

If you do a quick search on the Internet for "Worst MLB All-Stars," as I just did, you’re going to find that quite a few people have expressed opinions on the matter. (I stopped searching when I found my latest BJOL column at the bottom of page 2 of my search—"my own work" is my definition of "scraping the bottom of the barrel.")  I’m going to present a selection of what these various opiners have come up with, and comment on a few links.  Mostly they repeat each other, and I’ve edited out the repetitions. They also use very different standards: one goes back to the first All-Star game in 1933. Some set far more recent cut-offs. "Ten years ago" is my own cut-off date in my little list that ends this column of less-than-stellar players who made some recent All-Star squads.

In commenting on these lists, I’ve also imposed my own categorical judgments as to bogus and legitimate All-Stars. Cal Ripken’s name, for example, comes up on a few lists, because he made one All-Star roster long after passing his prime, when he wasn’t having a particularly good season by his standards. Another list included Willie Mays (in his last year)-- Reggie Jackson, Luis Aparicio and other HoFers crop up here and there. I agree that Ripken and Mays appeared on All-Star rosters well past their prime, but so what? I won’t waste space here arguing against the inclusion of elderly players who’ve amassed impressive career numbers and the adoration of a generation of fans. Willie Mays earned his lifetime All-Star status early on in his career—if he turns up on next season’s All-Star team, I’m not going to put up a strong argument. So I didn’t get into the websites that nominated these guys as bogus All-Stars.

Also omitted (mostly) are players who weren’t having good first halves, but who were coming off a strong previous year. It’s legitimate to adopt a standard of the quality of the entire preceding season—that is, of the current first half combined with the last half of the last season. The real question is how far back do you want to go?  To me, I want my All-Stars to have established some sort of reliable track record for stardom that extends well beyond the first part of the current season, and preferably to bring into this season a solid baseline of star-quality play. A lot of the players whom I have included below lack that well-established record of quality, and many of them had careers following their All-Star selection that make you question why, exactly, they found themselves on an All-Star team at all. Besides players chosen to fulfill the "every team must have a rep" requirement, my main complaint concerns those players chosen on the basis of a hot start alone amid the absence of All-Star quality performance in previous seasons.

So several of my choices are (like Don Leppert, a name that will not appear again in this article) players who got off to a hot start, in the middle of otherwise unexceptional careers, and maintained decent numbers for almost precisely the period in which All-Star teams were being chosen that year (usually through the middle of June), after which their career returned to their previously established levels of mediocrity. An extreme example of this phenomenon would be someone like Bryan LaHair, who in his first 28 games of the 2012 season, through May 9th, batted .384 with 8 HR and 18 RBI in 86 at-bats. Pretty impressive.  In his next 46 games, from May 10th through the All-Star game, LaHair returned to planet Earth, batting .228 with 6 HRs and 12 RBI in 145 at-bats, but the damage had already been done  so LaHair found himself on the All-Star team.   In the remainder of the 2012 season, LaHair’s slash numbers crashed (.202/ 2/ 10 in 109 at-bats) and he never (well, not so far, anyway) played another major league game.  I don’t think this is what we mean by "an All-Star player," a guy who hits uncharacteristically well for six weeks.

If you’re wondering, no, LaHair had not put up impressive stats before 2012 (he brought an OPS+ of 98 into the season in under 200 at-bats)  so there was no powerful reason to think his early 2012 stats were a demonstration of great ability. I bring up this example because it illustrates my problem with All-Star selection in a nutshell: any system that makes it even possible to qualify as an All-Star solely on the basis of 28 good games fulfills my definition of "flawed."  Honestly, I don’t even remember Bryan LaHair’s career at all (my first thought on seeing his name on the roster was "Is this a joke? LaHair? As in LaCombe or LaBrush?" and then I looked up his career).  Most of the other All-Star selections below are more legitimate than LaHair, but I was only able to recall most of them vaguely. I’m sure someone can come along to tell me LaHair’s virtues that I missed, or explain why he sank from MLB after 2012 for non-baseball-related reasons. If I’m not being LaFair to LaHair, please do tell me why. Or maybe you think that 28 games (in 6 of which he went hitless) does qualify someone to play in the All-Star game. That’s cool. I don’t.

Were the weaker players listed below chosen because their seasons got off to a hot start? Or because fate intervened and, bad as their numbers look, every other player competing for the All-Star team that year had even worse numbers? Or every legitimate contender was injured, maybe? Perhaps some of them were chosen by managers who felt warmly for whatever reasons towards them? Or maybe they were chosen by fans voting in a frenzy of passionate fanship, disregarding entirely the actual quality of play? Or because it was their turn to make an All-Star team? Doesn’t really matter to me: I’d prefer some system that established a baseline of past performance, ruling out the fluke selections, and that eliminated the personal biases of managers, and that disregarded the votes of fans from one rabid geographic location, and attempted to be more rational about the process than we’ve mostly been so far.

I thought I might try simply selecting the best 25 players in past leagues on the basis of WAR or some such objective standard, just to compare such rosters to the historical All-Star rosters, but realized that in addition to being a tedious process, there was no way to arrive at a fair cutoff date. Even if I wanted to compute each contender’s WAR as of that half-season, how many games would constitute a half-season? And if I did that, somehow, shouldn’t I include at least the previous season’s WAR from the All-Star game on? And if I did that, why not include the entire previous year’s WAR? Or maybe half of the previous year’s WAR? Or maybe, in Bill’s fashion, the entire WAR of the current season (up to some arbitrary date), plus half of the previous year’s WAR, and one-quarter of the season’s WAR before that? But if I include the past 2 and ½ seasons, wouldn’t it then be impossible for any rookie ever to make an All-Star team? Whatever system I devised for using WAR, or Win Shares, would have its own flaws, and would likely lead me to no better a conclusion than I can draw right now: the rosters would be different with any "objective" system, but it would probably reflect genuine stardom better than the subjective All-Star selection process we continue to use.

 

http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/lists/Worst-MLB-All-Star-picks-in-​history#photo-title=&photo=

This is a Fox sports slideshow of poor All-Star selections from the past decade or three, featuring the aforementioned Cal Ripken, who gets a pass from me,  and this cast of genuinely weak selections:

 

Roger Pavlik, p, 1996

Lance Carter, p, 2003

Scott Cooper, 3b, 1993, 1994

Mike Williams, p, 2003

Cesar Itzturis, ss 2005

Mark Redman, p, 2006

Mark Loretta, 2b, 2006

Sandy Alomar, c, 1991

 

A pretty fair list of players widely considered to be non-All-Star caliber. "Loretta, get back to where you once belonged" sums it up for me.

 

http://www.realclearsports.com/lists/top_10_mlb_allstars/steve_rogers.html?state=stop

 

The best ("worst") new names by this slideshow list are probably

Steve Rogers, p, 1974

Freddie Patek, ss, 1972

Alfredo Griffen, ss, 1984

 

This list goes back a little further, but stops in the early 1970s, leaving open the issue of poor All-Star choices from the inception, 1933, through the next four decades.

 

 

http://www.sportingnews.com/list/4647514-worst-all-stars-baseball-history-voting-royals-ballot-stuffing-omar-infante/slide/332441

 

This somewhat buggy, unnavigable, click-bait-laden slideshow from the Sporting News also covers the past 40 years, and it does suggest better alternatives to the players named. Problem is, the alternatives suggested often have little better credentials than the players actually named to the All-Star team. Many of these are arguable, but if the best case you can offer is merely arguable, I don’t really see the point.  One interesting case is Freddie Patek, whom they name for his 1978 selection, claiming (contra the realclear list above) that he was a legit selection in 1972 but a poor one in 1978.  Ken Reitz’s 1980 starting selection is justifiably questioned, as his middle-of-the-pack career numbers are about the same as his 1980 numbers—more deserving contemporary 3b-men suggested here (to replace an injured Mike Schmidt) are Ray Knight, Ron Cey, Darrell Evans, and Bob Horner. Hard to argue that Reitz was a better 3b-man on the best day of his life than some of those guys. Kosuke Fukudome in 2008 got off to a decent start, but Adam Dunn (40 HRs in 2008) and Carlos Beltran missed the cut that year, so Fukudome may be hard to justify. Richie Zisk’s second All-Star appearance in 1978 is questioned, with Otis, Bonds, and Singleton missing the team that year.

 

 

 

 

 

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=list/worstallstars

 

This list, and the next one, interest me because they do extend back to 1933, dealing with the decades when we have only the record books, not our eyes, to tell us who was legitimate and who was not. There are some war-time picks here (Frankie Zak, 1944, and Eddie Smith, 1944, and no, I’m not just making up those names), and a few mediocrities from the 1950s and 1960s whom I don’t ordinarily think of when I think "All-Star" quality players (Billy Hunter, 1953; Dave Stenhouse, 1962; Chris Cannizzaro, 1969; and Ellie Rodriguez, 1969). Mostly those picks played for expansion teams, some in their first year of existence, which is both a good argument for not awarding a rep for every single team and simply for choosing better players from those lousy teams. Nate Colbert and Ollie Brown were having productive years, while Cannizzaro blocked such catchers as Manny Sanguillan and Jerry Grote, both having good years, from the squad. In more modern times, ESPN chooses such non-stars as Tyler Green and Heathcliff Slocumb  (both Phillies in 1995), Steve Swisher (Cubs, 1976) and Billy Grabarkewitz, (Dodgers, 1970), all hard to make much of a case for.

 

 

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1241568-40-most-undeserving-mlb-all-stars-of-all-time/p​age/2

 

This list goes back to the 1930s, and usually suggests better alternative choices. New names to our list include:

 

1933: Woody English

1934: Jack Russell

1940: Billy Jurges

1946: Eddie Miller

1948: Clyde McCullough

1950: Ray Scarborough

1960: Jim Coates

1960: Dick Stigman

1961: Mike Fornieles

1981: Dick Ruthven

1999: Ron Coomer

 

How did Ron Coomer make the 1999 All-Star team, you ask? Even if you don’t, you could probably guess: he got hot for the season’s first month, batting .365 through May 16th. Outside of that first month, Coomer compiled a career .730 OPS (OPS+ of 87 including his hot start in 1999) as a first-baseman in the steroid era. Without checking, I suspect that scenario, or something very much like it, applies to most of these picks.

 

The earlier names are completely unfamiliar to me, so I’m reliant on bleacherreports.com’s judgment. (I was vaguely familiar with Jack Russell, but as a terrier, not a pitcher.)  I suspect we can look at Woody English’s competition in 1933 and find a HoFer or two having a good year. Let’s try:  hmmm, first place, there were 18 men to a squad way back when. Hardly seems comparable to current teams that have 38 or so men per All-Star team, not counting injured players. In 1933 the NL squad had apparently decided to dispense with the need for a backup SS or 1B-man altogether.  But back to NL 3b-men in 1933—while they didn’t need a backup SS or 1B-man, they seem to have needed TWO backup 3b-men. Dunno how they arrived at that formula, but it certainly worked for Woody English. He could be the third-best thirdbaseman in an eight-team league and still make the All-Star Game. Sweet! Actually, English got into that year’s game as a backup shortstop, his main position in previous seasons,  playing short in the 1933 All-Star Game for two innings (or one fewer than he played in the regular season for the 1933 Cubs). As to HoFers in the league who might have displaced English as a backup shortstop, they were mostly very young (Arky Vaughan’s second season as a starting shortstop) or very old (Rabbit Maranville’s last).  OTOH, Vaughan and Maranville both got MVP votes in 1933, which English did not.

 

Ray Scarborough’s 1950 selection is odd, if only because Scarborough was traded on Memorial Day, totaling a .500 W-L record and a 3.70 ERA for both clubs by the end of June. He ended up with a losing W-L record in 1950 for both the Senators, his old club, and the White Sox, his new club, although he did have a better 1949 season and a downright strong 1948 for the Senators, in neither of which years did he make the All-Star team.  Such a pattern, of a player getting selected to an All-Star team when he wasn’t having a particularly good season but when he had had a better but non-All-Star season, is virtuous, I suppose, and common enough. Woody English and Mike Fornieles, from this list alone, are examples of such "make-up" choices.  (English’s previous "All-Star" years, of course, had come prior to the first All-Star Game.) I call such choices virtuous because they at least recognize the players’ actual histories rather than just the first few weeks of an anomalous season, but of course the ideal is to choose players who are having both an outstanding current year AND an established history of outstanding play. 

 

Jim Coates’s selection in 1960 is also a strange one—I remember him mostly as a mediocre middle reliever on some very good Stengel/Houk Yankee teams (lifetime ERA+ of only 80), and as a particularly homely fellow (I think Bouton in Ball Four said that he modeled for the skull-and-crossbones on the iodine bottle—Coates’ nickname was "The Mummy.") But to my surprise, Coates was not a reliever on the early 1960 Yanks, but a starter, and a damned good one,  or a damned lucky one: Through June, his W-L record in 12 starts was 9-0, which is hard to find fault with,  though his ERA is questionable: 3.74 in a league whose ERA that year was 3.87. He did complete 6 starts in the season’s first three months, with two shutouts, both of which would make him a candidate nowadays for leading a league in those categories over two seasons, and which was pretty good even for 1960.  But he had a horrible winless July, and lost his starting job after giving up 24 earned runs in 20.2 IP though August 3rd. Aside from getting off to the good start in 1960, and pitching fairly well as a reliever in the previous season, his rookie year, Coates hadn’t really established himself as a dominant AL pitcher.  Oddly enough, 1960 was one of the very few years from 1950-1965 that the Yankees’ manager did NOT select the All-Star starting pitching staff, the White Sox having won the previous year’s pennant. His 6th and 8th wins of 1960 were against the Sox, the 8th win coming at around the point that Al Lopez would have made his choices. Notably absent from the AL squad was Jim Bunning, who had a mere 5-4 W-L record through June, but an impressive 2.48 ERA, and whom Bill has often asserted was the best pitcher in the league that year, his losing W-L record notwithstanding. Billy Pierce, also among the missing, was having his characteristically strong season, matching Coates’ first few months in everything but Wins and Losses but with a track record behind him dwarfing Coates’.

 

The 1960 AL staff is weird, in general. The Indians’ had two 24-year old pitchers who were having good first halves, Jim Perry, a second-year starter, and Jim Stigman, a rookie reliever. Perry had had a good rookie year in 1959, finishing second in the ROTY voting, and was 8-3 with a 3.14 ERA in over 100 IP through June.  Stigman had a higher ERA, many fewer IP, and no previous MLB experience, so naturally Stigman got the nod. Their previous and subsequent careers established Jim Perry as one of the top pitchers of his era, and Stigman as an annual nominee for the prestigious "Who’s he, again?" award.

 

 

http://baseball.about.com/od/allstargam1/tp/worstallstars.htm

 

This site adds a few new names to the list (Kent Bottenfield 1999, Jose Rosado 1997, 1999, Rolando Arrojo 1998, Junior Spivey 2002) while reiterating several of the other lists of "Who’s he?" All-Stars. Bottenfield is intriguing because he made the team in the middle of a very strong season, after a terrific start (14-3 by the All-Star break) but, again, had had an undistinguished career prior to that half-season, and an undistinguished one after that point, so benefited from a good few months. Apart from that 14-3 start, Bottenfield’s career W-L record was 32-42, playing for eight teams in nine seasons, accumulating exactly a 100 ERA+ over that period. A wiser choice might have been the reigning (and two-time) Cy Young Award winner, Tom Glavine, who got off to a slow start in 1999 (3-7 in the first third of the year) but after that point (and of course for many seasons before that point) pitched exactly like Tom Glavine. Is a 3-7 Glavine an All-Star while a 14-3 Bottenfield is not?  This is the Brett-Harrah debate redux.

 

 

http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/131282706/mlb-all-star-game-voting-questionable-selections

 

This site has writer Tim Healey IDing some questionable All-Stars, adding such names as Esteban Loaiza (White Sox, 2004) and Matt Capps (Nationals, 2010) to our illustrious list, and remarking on the reasons various players got misselected—his "blame game" lists managers, fans, or players as the culprits, but most of the blame overall goes to the system that insists on each team having one representative, however putrid or suspect his credentials. Kevin Correia? Shawn Chacon? Really?

 

 

 

I have a few recent additions to add to the above lists, taken from recent seasons:  A.J. Pollock, 2015; Marco Scutaro and Domonic Brown, 2013; Evan Meek, 2010; Zack Duke, 2009; and Joe Crede and Dioner Navarro, 2008.  Most of these players’ careers, I admit, evaded my scrutiny, and if I was even aware of most of them, it was as an unexceptional player on a team that my team was facing. I don’t remember quaking in my flip-flops when I read in the morning paper that the Mets were facing Zack Duke or the Red Sox were going to have to figure out Evan Meek that night.  As a one-time Sox fan and one-time Mets fan (I’ve since abandoned rooting altogether, but that’s a subject for another column), I just couldn’t praise Marco Scutaro enough—but an All-Star? Please. In his dreams, maybe.  At age 37, he’d established himself firmly as a  scrappy utility infielder, playing second, short and third competently with an only slightly below average bat. So how does he find himself on the All-Star team that year?  Did Chase Utley die, and I missed that story, or something? Beats me.

I know that the Meek shall inherit and all that, and that Evan Meek had a crazy start to his 2010 season (an under-one ERA until late June) but the guy had an overall ERA of 3.63 in 196 IP, so do you think it’s the crazy start that’s maybe the anomaly?  That’s 196 IP in Meek’s entire career, btw. Nolan Ryan pitched that many before lunch.

Ryan pitched in the Major Leagues, incidentally, in nineteen seasons in which he did NOT make the All-Star team. I think I could find a few of those 19 seasons, long after he’d established his bona fides as a Star, where some bozo made the All-Star team in his place, but I’ll just let that figure sink in for a bit—nineteen years of not making the All-Star team. Gotta be some kind of record, right?

These are some of the most undeserving players, historically, to be chosen for the Mid-season Classic. I will post (very soon) my listing of the best players who never were chosen for an All-Star roster, and the years that I think they most deserved being chosen, but first I want to hear from anyone who’d care to defend these choices, or to defend the selection process used to make these choices. In the next (and final, you’ll be glad to know) installment in this series, I propose a slightly more rational selection process that compels the choosers to at least account for candidates’ previous careers, and not to choose so much on the basis of that season’s first few weeks.

 
 

COMMENTS (38 Comments, most recent shown first)

flyingfish
I wonder if we should distinguish between all-star reserves and starters for this discussion.
5:34 PM Nov 14th
 
MarisFan61
Steve161: Just one thing......
I always appreciate your comments and (whether this is good for you or not) :-) agree with almost all of them, but it's worth noting that hardly everyone agrees with your view about it being silly to have at least one representative from every team.

I think it would be terrible not to have at least one representative from every team. And I'm not even a fan of any team that very often has been affected by this (except maybe to have lost a spot or two so that every team can have someone).

While I'd guess that this is the main single thing being expressed here that would find wide disagreement, I'd guess that none of the objections would have very heavy support (except maybe the World Series home-field thing). It's similarly with all the proposals for changing the MVP system and Hall of Fame system. There isn't a lot of agreement on what the problems are, if any, and not a whole lot of agreement that drastic changes are needed, or even desirable. The objections are largely minority views.
12:15 PM Nov 14th
 
steve161
Somehow it always comes down to that recent Yankee shortstop. I would observe: 1) he is not a figure from the dim past who is known to us only through contemporary reports; we saw him wave at ground balls to his right and left, we have direct evidence as to his qualities, both visual and analytic, so we conclude that 2) he was a below-average major-league shortstop--and both of those hyphenated adjectives are important.

In general, there is a regrettable tendency among consumers of sabermetrics to oversimplify and overstate: where research has suggested that traditional stats like average, RBI, W-L, etc., don't tell us as much as we used to think they do, fans and media alike translate that to "They are meaningless." You can find just that assertion on messages boards and in commentary threads any day of the week, but it's simpleminded. This is nuance, just as is the understanding that being a below-average major-league shortstop is not the same thing as being a poor shortstop.

I have to add that the All-Star selections are not something I get terribly worked up about. Between the silly every-team requirement and the need to have players at every position, there will inevitably be misses--in both directions. As for me, I cast a ballot at every game I attend. I try to vote for the best player at each position, but, since I don't own a cell phone, I have to do it without the luxury of statistical support. The result is impressionistic and not guaranteed to be the same on Friday as it was on Tuesday.

I don't believe I ever voted for A.J.Pollock, but he's a helluva a ballplayer. (His name is Allen Lorenz Pollock: why is he called A.J.?)
6:52 AM Nov 14th
 
Steven Goldleaf
You can't reduce anybody's lifetime body of work to a few soundbites, so I hope you realize that when I reduce Bill's words to "Clutch hitting exists? Nope" or some such, to make a point succinctly, you accept that I'm not seeking to express his 10,000 words on that subject in only 4 and still capture every nuance. Of course that IS what his 10,000 words boil down to, with all the caveats and exceptions and hedging that Bob is pointing to--that's why Bill has written so much, and so often, on the subject, but if I need to boil it down for quick consumption (and I did, there), I'll stand by my summary. Bill taken the conventional wisdom and shown it to be wrong over and over again--you cannot take that body of work and reduce it to "What observers of baseball have written about it is overwhelmingly correct" (another summary, this time of your point) when that body of work is simply pointing to an exception of its general conclusion, which in Bill's case is "observers of baseball have been totally wrong about baseball over and over, and I'll show you how and who and when." You're pointing out the exception in Bill's work (in this case, a warning not to conclude that rational, systematic analysis is ALWAYS bounds to be 100% infallible) and saying that exception IS the rule, that rational , systematic analysis is not as good a tool as looking with your eyes in real time.

ff--as to "there wasn't an obvious flaw or bias in the selection methods," of course there was--and I've referred to that particular flaw many, many times in my "All-Star" series, so much so the Maris Fan61 conceded (graciously) that it's an obvious flaw, in his remark about Tony Phillips a few exchanges below: his manager was picking the All-Star reserves. "I would agree that if Casey Stengel had been Tony Phillips' manager and kept being the manager of the all star game, Phillips probably would have made it a bunch of times too."

Most of his seasons (except when Richardson was having a great year for him, like 1962, or when there really were no other middle infielders having decent seasons in the AL, which might have happened by a fluke) are due to the same bias: Richardson's manager was trying to show him some love. That is a gigantic bias right there, and it's one of the biases I'm distinguishing from rational decision-making. The man had more lifetime All-Star rosters made than he had lifetime runs scored (slight exaggeration--he does probably hold the record for highest ratio of A-S games/Runs, pitchers excepted, and that was his job on offense, scoring runs, a job that over his career, as Bill has often shown, he did amazingly poorly.)

As to Maris Fan 61, I'll just repeat what I'm saying, and it's an argument you find very unfair, I know:
www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/richabo01.shtml

and

www.baseball-reference.com/players/p/phillto02.shtml

5:37 AM Nov 14th
 
MarisFan61
Flying: Very well said again.

BTW, we have occasionally had such anomalies more recently than 1975, and even pretty far into the present. There's a certain recent Yankee shortstop, or at least people who didn't much know about sabermetrics considered him a shortstop, and even a couple of us who do..... :ha:

However, indeed it's different about a guy like Bobby Richardson, because nobody particularly rested their impressions or accolades of him on "intangibles."
12:41 AM Nov 14th
 
flyingfish
Steven: Thank you for being willing to have a conversation with me. I do appreciate and learn from it. That said--and I haven't read Bill's Historical Baseball Abstract for a while--what struck me was that he really did seem to be deferring in many ways to the judgments of players' historical peers. You are absolutely right that he's an iconoclast and that's what makes him Bill James and a national treasure, but I never got the sense that he was warning us not to swallow his iconoclasm whole. I got the sense that he was saying that when you don't have video and radar guns and modern statistics, you really need to give credence to what knowledgeable people at the time were saying. These were smart, experienced people who saw the player every day, or at least every week, and their eye-witness impressions have historical value. I guess we could ask him; this is BJOL, after all. Anyway, that's my conclusion from reading Bill's work and from doing my own historical research. If Bobby Richardson got 6 all-star selections, and there wasn't an obvious flaw or bias in the selection methods, then he was very good at some aspect of baseball that perhaps isn't reflected in the statistics we can generate on him today. I know this sounds circular, because I'm saying that if someone has multiple all-star appearances he must be good, and if he doesn't seem good then the people that chose him must have seen some quality that we can't see. So I can't lose. :) But if you start in say 1975, when we had better video records and JUGS guns and better overall statistics, and didn't have to rely so much only on what contemporaries saw, I think you'll find fewer such apparent anomalies. At least, I hope so.
11:13 PM Nov 13th
 
MarisFan61
.....actually I think they don't even say that it's absolutely not a sustainable skill, or at least not all say that. As near as I've been able to tell, those who I consider the best and most thoughtful sabermetricians allow for the possibility that it's a sustainable skill but believe that at best it would be far less commonly the case than most people suppose.
10:21 PM Nov 13th
 
rgregory1956

Steven, I'm pretty sure that no sabermetrician has ever said clutch hitting doesn't exist. What they say is that it isn't a sustainable skill. There are oodles of examples of clutch hitting, players who hit .350 over a season or two, but that there is little predictive skill for subsequent seasons. Murphy and Cespedes of the Mets had very different "clutch" outcomes in this year's post-season. Murphy was definitely clutch (at least in the first two rounds), but there is no way of knowing which one of the two, if both Murphy and Cespedes are in the playoffs next year, might be clutchier in the future.

8:23 PM Nov 13th
 
MarisFan61
Steven, most of your 'defenses' just dig you deeper. You keep showing not just a defensiveness, but (seemingly) an inability to read carefully and/or an inability to make subtle but clear distinctions. Nobody here has said, nor attributed to Bill, anything like "Above all, trust the conventional, traditional ways of analyzing baseball because it's only the people who played the game before any of us were born that really understood how baseball works" -- but I guess you think we did.
6:04 PM Nov 13th
 
Steven Goldleaf
ff--"what Bill keeps emphasizing is that one shouldn't discount the judgments of the people who were there " This must be taken in the context of Bill's being one of the most radical iconoclasts, certainly in all of baseball history, if not in human history. This is Bill warning us not to take his iconoclasm raw, that of course he credits contemporary viewers with insight and perceptions that we can't possibly have--but Bill's entire career is built on the premise that the conventional wisdom is often dead wrong. Stolen bases are the key to victory? Nope. W-L records even out over a season? Nope. Clutch hitting exists? Nope. Players peak in their thirties? Nope. I could go on, but can you recognize some truth in what I'm saying? Bill's just adding, to his career of iconoclasm, "But I'm not perfect, and there have been valuable insights made by conventional thinkers, too." This is not an invitation to show conventional thought undying loyalty and respect, just a caution not to revere iconoclasm to the exclusion of all other ways of seeing. You can't seriously take Bill's overarching message to be "Above all, trust the conventional, traditional ways of analyzing baseball because it's only the people who played the game before any of us were born that really understood how baseball works." I can't accept that for a second, and I'm sure you can't, either. I'm not so sure about Maris Fan 61.
4:55 PM Nov 13th
 
MarisFan61
Well said.

Even aside from anything about how Tony Phillips compares to Bobby Richardson, he's hardly a sweeping comment on the all star system, except (I suppose) to the extent that it's heavily based on a player being strongly identified with a position, and of course Tony wasn't. It's not only that -- after all, which year exactly was he supposed to be picked for the all star team? There's no year where it was any kind of travesty that he wasn't, and really only a few years where we could say he might have been a very strong contender.

I'm struck every year at the significant number of players who are very good and who are having very good years who don't make it, and it's just a few times that Phillips had a season where we could say he was very strongly in the running. (BTW I'm going just on full-season records; I didn't look at his first-halves records.) But I think it's safe to say the main reason he never made it was that he was never strongly identified with any one position; if not for that, I'd guess he would have made it once or twice -- but only about once or twice.

I better add, before somebody says "Ben Zobrist" or "Gil McDougald," obviously it's not that you can't make it without being strongly identified with a position. But clearly the weight is against you if you aren't. Zobrist has made it twice, McDougald made it a bunch of times. I would agree that if Casey Stengel had been Tony Phillips' manager and kept being the manager of the all star game, Phillips probably would have made it a bunch of times too. :-)
12:17 PM Nov 13th
 
flyingfish
One of the things I love about Bill James's Historical Baseball Abstract is his appreciation for and expertise in the discipline of history. I have written a couple of historically focused papers--about angling, not about baseball--and so I also am very appreciative of historical analyses. Anyway, what Bill keeps emphasizing is that one shouldn't discount the judgments of the people who were there and who were watching whatever player we're discussing. If the people who were watching that player all thought he was terrific, and our modern analysis of his performance suggests he wasn't, then we need to be careful. Not necessarily that we're wrong, not necessarily that they were wrong, but we need to be careful. People valued attributes in the 1950s that we might value less now, and didn't value attributes that we might value more now, but they still were watching the games and could see things that can't be captured in statistics. So I accept that the Richardson/Phillips question is an interesting one, but--again--I am not willing to conclude that his 5 or 6 all-star selections are examples of bad selections. As for Phillips, well, the environment was different in the 1980s and especially the 1990s, and I'm not willing to conclude that his failure to get any all-star selections (or Gold Glove awards) represents a failure of the system either, although it might (he played for two small-market teams, for example).
10:42 AM Nov 13th
 
wilbur
As a Cub fan, I'm far less traumatized by the LaHair selection - he at least had a hot stretch early that year - than by the Steve Swisher selection in the mid-70s. While not the nadir of my Cub fan life (I experienced the collapses in '69, '70, '71 and '73) it was a low blow. A low blow indeed.
9:30 AM Nov 13th
 
MarisFan61
It's very simple. Bobby Richardson was considered one of the elite second basemen of the time, and the top defensive second baseman in his league. Sabermetrics largely disagrees with all of that; it considers him a pretty mediocre player (although Win Shares sees him not badly; much more favorably than "WAR"), and sabermetrics doesn't see his fielding as anything to write home about (although "WAR" does see him as having been excellent in 1 year). Part of the discrepancy is that his on-base averages were mediocre (or worse) and that wasn't paid much attention at the time. I would add that he was considered excellent at "small ball" -- y'know, stuff that most of the field considers bull$shit, like productive outs, hitting behind the runner, "contact," stuff like that. For sure, some in the field are giving a bit more respect to that stuff now, but it isn't reflected in the 'large metrics.' That's all part of why Bobby Richardson comes out so much worse on analysis than what his reputation was at the time.

So, who do you want to believe? Do you want to believe the analysis (and people like Steven who say so comfortably that Tony Phillips was a far better player), or do you want to believe the reputation of the time? Does the reputation not make you at least question whether the analysis has it right, and whether the truth at least is somewhere in between, if not closer to the contemporary reputation?

And for that matter, what about the discrepancies in the analysis? What about how "Win Shares" sees him far better than "WAR"? And, even just looking at "WAR," what about how it sees him as tied for 2nd best fielder in the league in one year (not 2nd best at his position; 2nd best among all players)? Did Richardson suddenly become a world-class fielder in 1963, and pretty much stink the rest of the time? Is the problem really that Richardson wasn't that good a fielder and that his reputation was wildly mistaken, or is the problem with weaknesses and uncertainties in the analysis?

I wouldn't say it's wrong to believe more in the analysis than in the reputation. However, I don't think the view of smug certainty about the analysis deserves much respect.
9:46 PM Nov 12th
 
flyingfish
Well, I looked at their records, and clearly Tony Phillips had better hitting statistics than Bobby Richardson, and for longer, on their face. But they played in different eras (Richardson from about 1955 to about 1965 and Phillips in the 1980s and 1990s) and in different parks (Richardson in Yankee Stadium and Phillips mainly in Oakland and Detroit). There were more teams in the 1980s and 1990s than in the 1950s and 1960s. Were the methods of selecting players different in those eras? Also, Richardson won several Gold Glove awards playing 2B, and Phillips got none playing 2B, 3B, and OF. I can't explain it; maybe someone who understands baseball history better than I do can explain it. Or maybe it's just inexplicably odd, but I'm not ready to conclude that yet. Are there many other such cases?
9:25 PM Nov 12th
 
MarisFan61
If you think I'm assuming that you slanted the info of the sources, you read my comment poorly.
6:48 PM Nov 12th
 
Steven Goldleaf
No, of course, you didn't say "you suck." That was me, describing sweeping statements that are short on specifics. I'll revert back to my first example, the one that set MF61 off--Bobby Richardson was named to well over 4 All-Star games, Tony Phillips was named to none. I don't think there's any real comparison between the quality of these two ballplayers. In fact, I'll just let MF61 make his best case for Richardson playing on multiple All-Star teams, and I'll just say nothing besides "Look at their records."
6:06 PM Nov 12th
 
flyingfish
Hi again, Steve. I hope I didn't write "you suck" in either of my comments, either literally or by implication. If I did, I apologize; I didn't mean to. As for defending the bad picks, well, I don't really have to, because you do in a way. As an example, Kent Bottenfield at 14-3 versus Tom Glavine at 3-7 in 1999? Well, what's the purpose of your all-star game? In 1999, Glavine had been pitching for 12 years, with many of them being very good. His ERA in 1999 was his worst since 1990. You wouldn't have been crazy to think he was on the declining end of his career--and he was, in a way. Most of his very best years came before 1999, although he still was a very good pitcher for a while after then. So if you're showcasing great players then Glavine makes sense. But 14-3 is a pretty flashy number, even if Bottenfield's ERA and strikeout to walk ratio were anything but flashy in 1999 and worse most other years. But in 1999, I don't think people appreciated K/BB ratios as much as they do now, and so the selection doesn't look crazy to me.

How about Brock Holt in 2015? Like many of the others that are on your lists (he isn't), he was a product of the "every team gets at least one representative" rule. Then Ned Yost, KC manager, got to pick. When I listened to his rationale for picking Holt, it didn't seem as if his view of an all-star game matched mine; he seemed to be picking a player to complement his existing all-star roster for a full season's worth of play. I don't know anyone else who thought that Holt should have been picked over say Xander Bogaerts. Holt is a decent player but no way an all-star in my estimation. And many of your other examples stem from this rule. It seems from your data that we get one or two bad picks a year out of roughly 76 players. I can live with that and I think I generally understand why it happens. I am more concerned, but only a little even then because I don't really pay much attention to all-star games, about getting a more rational approach to picking "the best" players, whatever that means. And even then, I think it evens out; anybody with say 4 or more all-star appearances is almost certainly a very good player indeed. If I'm wrong on that--if you can find some players who have been to 4 all-star games who just don't deserve that honor--then I'll agree we have a real problem.
5:54 PM Nov 12th
 
Steven Goldleaf
I don't know that anyone has ever defined what the All-Star game is for, who it's intended to honor, what purpose it serves, etc. To me, that's part of the problem: it's set up to allow arguments about subjects that may or may not even be valid. I'd prefer a more focused approach, and I suspect you do too, that clarifies what we're discussing before we get down to actually discussing it.

My own underlying assumption, which may well be wrong, is that the All-Star roster is designed to consist of the two or three dozen best players in each league (the number growing as leagues and teams expand in size). Most of the websites I found seem to agree that absurdly poor choices get made when the rosters are forced to choose one player from each team, no matter how putrid that team's players may be, when the choosers over-emphasize players with a hot start (and a cold past and a cold future), when the choosers are managers with a soft spot for a certain player, and about a half-dozen other causes. These causes add up to players being chosen who are not among the top three dozen or top ten dozen players in the league--as I say, that assumption may be wrong, but it is my assumption, and I don't claim it's got to be right.

I really am interested in seeing any defenses of the players I wrote about. That's often my position when my views are challenged-- not to deal with a blanket complaint (such as "You SUCK!") but with one specific complaint at a time: In what area do I suck the most? Let's analyze that one area, and then move onto analyzing the other areas in which I suck the most.

Often I find people aren't all that interested in discussing the areas one-by-one and having a rational discussion of our differences, but just want to stay on "You suck" which is OK, because I certainly do suck. It's just not a topic capable of much depth.


2:24 PM Nov 12th
 
flyingfish
Hi, Steven, and thanks. Maybe I didn't completely think my comment through in advance, which wouldn't be the first time. My problem with any method for selecting all-star players or teams is that I don't know what the game is for. Is it to showcase up-and-coming talent? Is it to honor players who have had long and illustrious careers? Is it so that fans can see great players they don't normally see? Is it for the leagues to try to show they are superior to the other league by winning? Is it to determine home-field advantage in the World Series? Is it to assemble a team of the players who have had the best 162 games leading up to the all-star game? And so on and on. Then we have various rules, such as that every team must have at least one representative, and maybe that every player on the roster must get at least one appearance, and that no pitcher can throw more than 3 innings, and so on; some of these rules might not exist but some do.

Some of these goals and rules conflict with others, and so I have a hard time choosing among ways of selecting players and teams. It's true that whatever the goals might be, LaHair doesn't seem like a reasonable selection, but my impression is that there are very few LaHairs. So I am not focused on BAD selections--there always will be a few and as long as there are only a few, I don't care. My problem is how to choose between a Carlos Correa and a Troy Tulowitski (both AL players now), or between an Albert Pujols and some young stud first-baseman after one season; how to choose between a Derek Jeter near the end of his career and a Mike Trout near the beginning of his; how to choose between defense and offense; whether to construct a winning roster or just a collection of talent; and so on. I'd have different ways of selecting the team depending on which goal(s) I was trying to achieve.
12:58 PM Nov 12th
 
Steven Goldleaf
My previous comment was directed to flyingfish (hence the "ff" at the beginning).

MF61--why would you assume I'm slanting "the content and attitude of all those sources"? The links are right in the article--you can click and see if I'm presenting them fairly. You can also Google "worst All-Stars" and find out I'm omitting any other websites you'll get on the first two pages of hits.

"They're all too limited and rigid in their criteria." This is funny. If everyone disagrees with you, then they've got to be wrong and you've got to be right?

As to "silly waste of time," it's my time, isn't it? Talk about judging something in advance of reading it. Not that I expect you will endorse my opinions after reading them carefully and thoroughly, or anything, but as I say, I'm writing from an "outside-the-box" perspective as much as I possibly can here--if you're looking for views to support your thinking, or conventional thinking, or anyone else's views, you're probably looking in the wrong place, and in that case, you are probably wasting your time opening the link in the first place. It's like that Monty Python sketch--"You're looking for an argument? Oh, 'Arguments' are down the hall, this is 'Naysaying and Contradiction' here."

As you will (or won't) see, the article will argue strongly against any sort of affiliation, of which fan-ship is the easiest one to call into question, IMO. If you're someone who defines himself, and feels comfortable, as a part of a larger unit, as most BJOL readers and most people are, you're going to disagree with many of its premises. When I accomplish that goal, I feel like I'm performing my own function superlatively.
11:01 AM Nov 12th
 
MarisFan61
-- I was talking about what this article reflects, and so: If the article fairly reflects the content and attitude of all those sources, then they all are too limited and rigid in their criteria. (In fairness to those sources, I'm not necessarily assuming that in fact this article does fairly reflect their content and attitude, just saying "if.")

-- Unless you're going for humor and maybe self-mockery, there's a high chance that any effort you spend on an "essay about why I disapprove of rooting" will be a silly waste of time.
10:47 AM Nov 12th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Thanks, ff--I'll include those corrections in my forthcoming collection, USELESS MAUNDERINGS ABOUT BASEBALL BY SOMEONE YOU NEVER HEARD OF (pub date: never). I'm trying to write my essay about why I disapprove of rooting, and should have it out in a month or two, depending on whether I get my typing hand operated on soon or in a few months, and glad to know that someone is looking out for it.

Not sure I get your point about "one person's idiosyncratic preferences," since most of the piece is referring to a half-dozen websites on which multiple people contributed to each one, and only the final graf or two reflects my own additions to the links, which contain much agreement in the form of repeated nominations. I certainly am not seeking to impose my opinions on the world, or on BJOL, as the only way to look at All-Star selections, but unless you're stating the system is perfect and makes perfect choices consistently, and I don't think you are, your point is lost on me. Would you care to defend LaHair's All-Star status? Or anyone's I named? That would be interesting, to hear the reasoning behind your dissent.

In these columns, and in my life, I'm seeking to provoke thought from others, so I welcome your input. A newspaperman once defined a good column as "entertaining, and slightly short of libel," and that's the standard I try to live up to.
10:25 AM Nov 12th
 
OldBackstop
All Gold Glovers plus top three in HRs, BA, and RBIs plus lowest five ERAs plus highest five saves.
10:24 AM Nov 12th
 
flyingfish
Hi, Steven. I noticed a couple misspellings (Alfredo Griffin, not Griffen; Manny Sanguillen, not Sanguillan, unless you're referring to actual players that I've never heard of), but I still think that this comes down to one person's idiosyncratic preferences for selecting members of an all-star team. I think the real issue is that no two people seem to agree on what an all-star team, or even an all-star game, should be, or even if there should be such things at all. As long as that disparity of views exists, I don't think you'll ever get agreement on how to select the members of all-star teams.

But I eagerly look forward to reading your article on why you've given up rooting for teams. I haven't really figured out why I still do, and I think your thoughts will help me clarify my own.
12:46 PM Nov 11th
 
MarisFan61
Do you have any problem with "the occasional mediocrity having a hot first half"? :-)
11:55 AM Nov 11th
 
MichaelPat
I always liked Bill's idea for an 'all mediocrities who are having a good first half' game.
10:49 AM Nov 11th
 
MarisFan61
The trouble is.....well I'll pick it up with this thing you said:
"It’s legitimate to adopt a standard of the quality of the entire preceding season—that is, of the current first half combined with the last half of the last season."

The trouble is, it's legitimate to have varied and various standards. Seen this way, there have been very, very few all star selections that bother me.

It can be based on established reputation.
It can be based on "the entire preceding season—that is, of the current first half combined with the last half of the last season."
It can be based on how the guy is doing so far this season, the dreaded "hot first half" Toby Harrah vs. George Brett argument (which Brett won, although Harrah made the team too).
It can be based on some spectacular thing the guy did early that season that made him a story.
It can be based on his being the best player on a team without any great players. I find those picks extremely interesting, and worthy. I mean, give those teams a break.
For that reason, I even remember the DALLAS COWBOYS' first pro bowl pick, while they were having a terrible but joyous first season. I was delighted to see their "representative" being introduced -- and I imagine the entire city of Cowboy fans was too.

Articles and arguments like this seem always to be based on a too-narrow view of who the all stars should be. It is similarly with all the articles and arguments for new ways of picking MVP's; somebody thinks the current system is a travesty or at least "needs definition" because Mike Trout obviously should be winning it every year, or Zoilo Versalles was a terrible choice....
10:36 AM Nov 11th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Yes, Joc Pederson is the current poster boy for the syndrome I'm describing here. His predecessor in several senses is Yasiel Puig.
9:21 AM Nov 11th
 
mauimike
"almost 4,000 words that looked like the something the cat threw up." Don't worry Professor, we're fully involved with post modernism on this site. Most everything that folks write, 'looks like something the cat threw up.' Not that there's anything, wrong with any of that. So it goes. Poo-tee-weet.
3:38 AM Nov 11th
 
DavidTodd
I remember Nolan Ryan being named to the All Star team one year, and then saying he'd rather have the break, say 1985.
1:27 AM Nov 11th
 
OldBackstop
First two sentences are sorta repetitive.

I was thinking of Joc Pedersen this year, 17 HRs in 53 games to June 3 with a OPS of nearly 1.000, then batted .177 the rest of the way before being benched.

But at least I'm not bitter for trading Cano for him. Nope.
10:03 PM Nov 10th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Eddie Smith is 1942, not 1944. Frankie Zak's career stats, as I didn't get to mention, are just unbelievably weak, even for a war time pick. Zak barely got to play MLB at all, yet he's got an All-Star game to his credit--probably the weakest All-Star pick of all time.
7:48 PM Nov 10th
 
Steven Goldleaf
I actually remember Dick Stigman pretty well, a lot better than I remember most of the All-Stars from the past few decades I named above. Had a pretty good Strat card, as I recall. Strat really burns a permanent mark on my memory.

Anyway, Dave Studes managed to fix whatever I screwed up, so it's fine to chime in now, obviously (he couldn't get rid of the redundant title and "abstract" at the beginning, for some reason, but we can just ignore that, can't we?) so thanks to Dave for that. Interested in what you guys have to say about this one.

Oddly enough, I'm teaching a writing class this semester in which I just discussed the invention of paragraphing, and how it is a very useful skill in a professional writer's toolkit, so it was especially embarrassing to see that huge block of prose, almost 4000 words that looked something the cat threw up.
7:42 PM Nov 10th
 
MarisFan61
I didn't much. "Jim Stigman" just jumped out at me.
Like, if I wrote Jim Mantle, it would probably jump out at anybody! :-)
And Dick Stigman, although maybe an obscurity to most, is a very known name to me and probably to most who were around to follow the game in that time.
7:25 PM Nov 10th
 
Steven Goldleaf
I don't know how that got in there, MarisFan. I corrected that error a few days ago--or so I thought. Anyway, I'm amazed that you struggled through this gigantic paragraph that far.
5:53 PM Nov 10th
 
MarisFan61
.....especially since you're still working on the formatting:
DICK Stigman :-)
3:53 PM Nov 10th
 
Steven Goldleaf
May I ask all you kind folks to refrain from commenting (like you can even read this article!) until I get all this stuff properly formatted? I seem to have submitted it so that it not only didn't have the boxes and urls I intended but even the paragraph breaks have somehow disappeared. I hope I haven't also inadvertently destroyed the entire universe.
3:11 PM Nov 10th
 
 
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