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All the Stars
I’m a sucker for certain baseball-related debates. At the top of that list would be All-Star Game selections (and don’t even get me started about the Hall of Fame).
Over the weekend, as you might have noticed, Major League Baseball announced the rosters for the American League and National League All-Star teams, as voted upon by the fans, the players, and the managers of the respective leagues. Four Reds were selected to participate: third baseman Todd Frazier, catcher Devin Mesoraco, and pitchers Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman.
First things first—I don't have any complaints about the selections (at least with respect to Cincinnati's representatives)! But I know what you’re thinking. What fun is arguing and debating the rosters if you can't whine about players who were snubbed?
Some Reds fans have argued that Alfredo Simon (11-3, 2.78 ERA) should have been picked for the NL squad. Let's dispense with that argument quickly. Sure, Simon is tied for the National League lead in wins. That's something, I guess. On the other hand, Simon is 44th among all NL starters in WAR, 43rd in FIP, and 40th in xFIP. That's just among starting pitchers in the Senior Circuit. No, Alfredo Simon isn't nearly one of the better starting pitchers in the league, and I can't call him an All-Star based on three (somewhat lucky) months.
What's interesting to me is that the Reds were treated very fairly, with four players selected for the third time in five years, but three of the four selections were first-time All-Stars (more on that in a moment). Amazingly, none of the four were named Joey Votto (four-time All-Star), Brandon Phillips (three-time All-Star), or Jay Bruce (two-time All-Star).
Frankly, none of those three Reds stars deserved to be named to the 2014 All-Star Game, but if someone had told you before the season that the Reds would have four All-Stars, and Votto/Phillips/Bruce wouldn't be among that number, would you have believed that? Probably not.
(One can only imagine where the Reds would be in the standings right now if those three had been performing as we have become accustomed. It's amazing that the Reds are hanging around in the NL Central race at all, given how much the offense has had to rely on Frazier and Mesoraco. It's probably not an accident that none of the "big three" are heading to Minneapolis after a half-season in which the Reds largely struggled.)
Okay, I've wasted enough space talking about players who weren't selected. Let's look at the guys who were picked. I noted above that three of the Reds selected—Frazier, Mesoraco, Cueto—were first-time selections. If we're going to be honest with ourselves (take those Pete Rose-colored glasses off for a moment), we have to concede that the one Red who isn't an All-Star Game virgin is probably the least qualified.
I'm talking about Aroldis Chapman, of course. Chapman, who made the NL All-Stars each of the last two seasons, has only pitched 24.2 innings this year after the start of his season was delayed by injury (the gruesome liner he took off his forehead in spring training). Certainly, Chapman has pitched very well since his mid-May debut (0-2, 2.55 ERA, 17 saves, 1.4 fWAR, 0.80 FIP) but again, it's only 24 innings. I was surprised to see that he was selected by the players. I guess if you had to pick four Reds, he'd be the logical fourth choice, but his case for selection isn't nearly as strong as Frazier, Mesoraco, or Cueto.
Then again, there's no question that Chapman is a star. That's what we're talking about, right?
Johnny Cueto (8-6, 1.99 ERA, 2.89 FIP, 2.9 fWAR) is the only other Reds hurler on the NL staff. While this is Cueto's first All-Star appearance, if it weren't for untimely injuries and a dumb Cardinals manager, he could have been an All-Star any of the last three seasons. (Over the last four seasons, Cueto has posted a 41-22 record with a 2.47 ERA. Not too shabby.) This season, Cueto ranks in the top six among NL starters in most statistical categories, and an argument can be made that he has been the most effective starter in the league. Whether you are looking at career performance or 2014 stats, Cueto is a deserving All-Star. I'm glad to see him finally get a little national recognition. He's good, you know.
It's nice to see Todd Frazier (.291/.355/.500, 17 homers, 47 RBI, 3.5 fWAR) getting some recognition, as well. Certainly, Frazier's case for All-Star status is based largely on his performance up to this point in the season, but he has been the most productive third sacker in the league, by most measures. Frazier leads NL third basemen in WAR, home runs, and slugging percentage, as well as wOBA and wRC+. By the statistical measures (which you should take with a grain of salt, admittedly), Frazier has also been one of the better defensive players at the hot corner, as well.
Forget all that for a moment; there's a better reason to be happy to see Frazier selected to his first All-Star team this year, of all years. Check out the picture below.
— Church of Baseball (@churchofbasebal) July 7, 2014
Yep, that's 12-year-old Todd Frazier, a Little League World Series hero, standing on the field at Yankee Stadium next to Derek Jeter. If you're a fan of baseball history, you have to love the symmetry of Frazier playing in his first All-Star game against Jeter, in the final midsummer classic for the Yankees legend.
That brings us to the final Cincinnati All-Star, catcher Devin Mesoraco. You may recall a couple of weeks ago when I attempted to make the case within these digital pages for Mesoraco’s pot in the mid-summer classic. Since that piece, Mesoraco has continued to pound baseballs at a remarkable rate: .317/.379/.634, 15 homers, 42 RBI in 52 games, 2.9 fWAR. In his first season as Cincinnati's starting catcher, Devin leads all NL catchers in slugging, wOBA, and wRC+ (by a wide margin), and is second in home runs and wins above replacement. Mesoraco's case is the same as Frazier's; these guys have been so good during the first half of the season, it would be a crime to omit them from the National League roster.
To that point, kudos to the NL's manager in this year's game—Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny—for selecting Mesoraco. It might have been easy to leave him at home because of the time he missed earlier in the season due to injuries. That would have been the wrong decision. It seems like the current brain trust in St. Louis is more reasonable than the last guy they left in charge of that particular asylum.
Cincinnati's four All-Stars matches first-place Milwaukee's total; division rival St. Louis also garnered four selections. Of course, Milwaukee has two starters in the game (3B Aramis Ramirez and CF Carlos Gomez) and the Cardinals have one (catcher Yadier Molina), but one doubts there will be much complaining over Cincinnati's failure to nab a slot in the starting lineup. Heck, the Redlegs are in fourth place; let's take what we can get.
Ultimately, this is just a glorified exhibition (despite commissioner Bud Selig's protestations to the contrary), but it's fun to discuss. Now we have to cross our fingers and hope these guys help lead the National League to a win. After all, the Reds are going to need that home field advantage in the World Series this October, amirite?