Wednesday, May 1, 2013

All Star Balloting Still Has A Ways To Go

MLB recently released their online balloting for the 2013 All-Star Game taking place at Citi Field July 16. I was waiting for this. I was ready to call on MLB to step up there system to be more judicious, more fair, to players who, well, actually played. Upon reviewing their ballot, I have to applaud the changes they have made, but note there are still ways to improve the ballots.

Previous all star ballots let fans vote for 1 of 8 players for each position. The biggest problem with that was MLB never updated the rosters. Despite being the most tech savvy major sport, they willfully remained stuck in the dark ages when it came to updating online ballots. Arguably this was to show some consistency with ballots fans filled in at ball parks. However, fans were already at a virtual voting advantage as they could vote up to 25x for all stars per e-mail account registered with mlb.com.  Furthermore, the ballots often seemed preordained as players who started break out seasons remained off the ballot while past stars who struggled or were injured remained on the ballot despite not playing at all.

The current ballot appears to go some way to address this issue. Each team has a position player listed and every team has three outfielders. However, there are still a handful of players who have not produced enough to garner "point-and-click" votes due to injury. Injuries that will keep them out until the all-star break anyway. A quick review identified Brian Roberts, Jose Reyes, Derek Jeter, and Brian McCann as names that should be dropped. The first two suffered injuries in season that will keep them out, the latter two have yet to play a game this season. McCann is particularly problematic as his inclusion is keeping Evan Gattis, who is off to a blistering start, from being on the ballot. If MLB really wants to reward its fans it can start giving them the best opportunity to place educated votes for starters and not simply relying on managers selecting the best of the rest. I am not saying Gattis would garner more fan votes than Buster Posey or Yadier Molina, but he deserves more votes than McCann this year. 

Roster lists appear to have been submitted by each team to MLB sometime during Spring Training on what they thought would be their projected starters. Given how MLB provides a daily updated lineup link for each team, I find it hard to believe that could not create a list based off opening day rosters or update it based on updated information (such as long term injuries). Yes each of these players mentioned have previously been all-stars. They are fan favorites to many even outside their current teams. If fans really want to see them, that is why the write-in candidate box exists.

Current stars. Rising Stars. The Next Generation. The All-Star Game should highlight these players, build the game with more new players, not mediocre production (if any) from older names. With so many teams embracing a youth movement MLB should jump on that bandwagon and knock off players who do not play in April or miss more than 25 days. Josh Hamilton would not make my ballot today, but at least he is playing, if you want to vote him in go ahead. Jeter, icon of all things Yankees though he is, does not deserve to be on the ballot. He is injured, he will not play before the all-star break. Future Hall of Famer though he is, he does not warrant being voted onto the all star team even if this is his last season. If enough people want to disagree with me and write his name in, I could live with that result. I find it hard to believe that enough people would vote him as the best American League shortstop despite not playing a single inning, but I have been wrong before. 

The perversion of the All-Star Game from an exhibition of the games top stars to having some relevance should encourage managers to endorse this remedy. When the game was "just" for the fans there was little harm in letting players on the team to tip their caps and sign some autographs. Unfortunately, Bud Selig decided the game needed to "mean" something and tied it to home field advantage in the World Series. With such a prize awarded to the victor, each manager should want the best current players on his team. That is the best players of this season, not of their careers. Pitchers who pitch the Sunday before the game are already blocked from participation, which limits how effective the managers can be. Allowing fans to dictate starting rosters, and presumably players who will play the longest, further cripples managers abilities so long as lackluster options are just a click away.

Popular, but limited, players do not help either side win. They also keep casual fans from seeing the next batch of all-star talent. Baseball fans are not dumb, most can put aside team affiliations for the All-Star Game and appreciate the spectacular performances provided. MLB has improved their online balloting by including more players than ever, but until they start knocking players off due to significant injuries or failure to play in games, they are still doing their fans a disservice.