Joey Votto, Aroldis Chapman and Jay Bruce are headed to Kansas City as All Stars. This is good news, because I like these players. But, as always, I'm ambivalent. The All Star Game decides home field advantage in the World Series and factors into Hall of Fame voting, but it's also an exhibition game that could turn into a nightmare if your favorite players get hurt. It's meant to recognize baseball's best talent, but it has only a MAXIMUM of a half-season's stats to go on - usually much less with early fan and player voting.
Votto and Chapman were both slam dunks. Votto is one of the two, possibly one, best hitters in the majors. Chapman is no worse than the second best reliever in the NL. Bruce, on the other hand, was charitably borderline. There are eight OF on the NL squad, 6 selected by the fans and players/coaches. Bruce ranks 20th in fWAR among NL OF, 13th in bWAR, 14th in wOBA and 15th in WRC+. Even if you give him a more generous bump in defense, he's still questionable.
I don't think it's too paranoid to say Bruce was an apology pick for snubbing Cueto. More on that shortly.
The NL rosters are decided thusly:
- Fans choose the 8 starters, making a couple of surprisingly astute picks and at least one gallingly partisan one
- Players, coaches and managers choose 16 additional players: 8 pitchers (5 SP, 3 RP) and one back-up player at each position
- The NL manager, in this case TLR, chooses the remaining 9 and works with the Commish on the Final Five for the "last in" fan vote
Starting lineup, roster and dissection that no one asked for after the jump.
Here's the NL roster:
1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
3B Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
OF Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals
OF Melky Cabrera, San Francisco Giants
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Craig Kimbrel, Braves
Aroldis Chapman, Reds
Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
Cole Hamels, Phillies
Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
Wade Miley, Diamondbacks
R.A. Dickey, Mets
Lance Lynn, Cardinals
Joel Hanrahan, Pirates
Huston Street, Padres
Matt Cain, Giants
Looking over that roster, Lynn, Street and Bruce strike me as the least deserving - with Lynn at the top of that list. The twist in the LaRussaist conspiracy theory here is that Lynn was voted in by the players and TLR chose Bruce. That makes it a little harder for me to impose the narrative that LaRussa is out for revenge.
Via Danny Knobler, these were La Russa's selections:
Hamels, Papelbon, Ruiz, Bruce, Clayton Kershaw, Wade Miley (as the only Diamondback), Huston Street (as a Padre), Ian Desmond and Giancarlo Stanton (as the only Marlin).
LaRussa had freedom from the one-player-per-team requirement on just six of his picks. He essentially took Kershaw and Hamels over Cueto. He added another SS (Desmond) and took two relievers (to make it five total; there were six last season) instead of Phillips.
With Phillips' snub, I don't think a clearly inferior 2B made the team (based on performance this season). Maybe Desmond's spot should have gone to him, but you can fudge it if you think there should be another SS. And, in fact, Aaron Hill probably should have been a head of BP for that spot. What is much less defensible is leaving Phillips off the Final Vote list in favor of Jones, Freese, even Harper.
Cueto is another story. I don't think it's indisputable that LaRussa had to take Cueto instead of Kershaw, but he's more deserving than Hamels.
So on the one hand, MacDonald, Greinke and Bumgarner were also snubbed: it's not just Cueto. On the other, unless I'm missing something, LaRussa could have easily taken, say, Cueto and Greinke instead of Hamels and Bruce. Greinke and Cueto both have past beef with TLR, though Cueto is probably Enemy Number One. All of that to say, it's hard to belief the grudges didn't enter into it. The Bruce pick was a pretty telegraphed bone to throw, saying: "see, I'm not biased against the Reds, I'm just a simple country lawyer."
Taken altogether, it smells bad. Cueto and Phillips both get left off, with neither even afforded the ~20% chance to get in on the FInal Vote. But it's not nearly as bad as it seems. Which sounds like the All Star Game to me.