Fans deserve credit for making the right calls in All-Star voting
Unlike past years, baseball fans got it right with this season's All-Star selections
Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen might be this year's biggest All-Star snub
Jose Bautista shattered Ken Griffey Jr.'s All-Star record with 7.4 million votes
1. The fans had a great final week
There will never be an All-Star team that every player, coach, fan and writer agrees is perfect, but by and large this year's teams are a very good representation of the game's best players of this season and its biggest stars of the past several years, which have always been the dual qualifications for being honored at the Midsummer Classic.
While there were a couple superstars voted in who did not deserve recognition based on their 2011 merits alone -- Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton spring to mind as recent stars rather than stars of this season -- the fans righted some wrongs in the last few days of voting.
Most notably, Tigers catcher Alex Avila (. 900 OPS) overtook the Yankees' Russell Martin (. 723 OPS); Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder (1.004 OPS, 21 HRs) passed injured Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols (. 855 OPS, 17 HRs); Mets shortstop Jose Reyes (. 927 OPS, 15 triples, 30 SBs) went by the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki (. 843 OPS, 17 HRs, 6 SBs); and the Dodgers' Matt Kemp (1.027 OPS, 22 HRs, 22 SBs) grabbed the final outfield spot, though it did bump St. Louis' almost-as-deserving Matt Holliday (. 966 OPS, 10 HRs).
2. Andrew McCutchen has the day's biggest gripe
There remain ample opportunities for many snubs to still be honored as All-Stars between now and the game -- via injuries, the Sunday Starter and Final Vote rules, which are explained below -- but Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen is arguably the worst omission and the player with the toughest hill to climb to reach the game.
In spring training new Pittsburgh teammate Matt Diaz made a bold proclamation that seems very relevant today.
"We need to make Andrew McCutchen known around the nation as the best outfielder in baseball," Diaz said. "He is, probably, right now and he's just not getting the credit he deserves. As our team starts to win more games, he will finally start to get noticed for what he does. If you put him in the middle of the lineup, he'll drive in 120 runs. If you put him at the top of the lineup, he's going to score 120. With his defense in center, he's going to save the team 120." The Pirates have started to win more, but the credit hasn't followed suit. McCutchen has been the club's best hitter by far this season, leading the surprising team (only 2 1/2 games back in the NL Central) in nearly every category: average (. 289), on-base percentage (. 390), slugging (. 493), OPS (. 884), runs (48), home runs (12), stolen bases (15), doubles (20), triples (3), walks (46) and total bases (150). As importantly, he ranks third in the majors at that position with a 6.9 Ultimate Zone Rating, meaning he's saved nearly seven runs with his glove. That's an outstanding figure, even if it's far off Diaz's unrealistic projection.
McCutchen's WAR -- which stands for Wins Above Replacement and is an all-encompassing stat -- is 4.6, which ranks third among all major-league position players. It's that complete package that deserved recognition.
But the third-year Pirate was not selected to the All-Star team and isn't even on the Final Vote ballot, while the Reds' Jay Bruce (. 830 OPS, 1.5 WAR) and the Mets' Carlos Beltran (. 864 OPS, 2.7 WAR) both already made the team. Bruce was selected by a vote of NL players; Beltran was selected by NL manager Bruce Bochy. McCutchen will likely only get the call if either of them or if any of the starting outfielders gets hurt in the next week
Others who probably ought to have been selected -- but still have a reasonable chance to make the roster without having to wish an injury on a player -- are Yankees starter CC Sabathia, Rays second baseman/rightfielder Ben Zobrist (who seemed an obvious candidate to fill the AL's utility player role), Braves starter Tommy Hanson, White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, Angels starter Dan Haren, Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino and Royals leftfielder Alex Gordon.
3. The Sunday Starter rule and Final Vote ballots are the (almost-but-not-quite) Snub Safeguards
The rules that allow for starters who are pitching on the Sunday before the All-Star Game to be replaced and for one more fan vote to select the 32nd player will ease outcry over omissions.
Thus, a manager who selects a pitcher scheduled to start just before the All-Star break is essentially redeeming a 2-for-1 coupon. Thus, Bochy selecting a Sunday starter like Cain -- whose 7-4 record and 3.02 ERA are defensible as All-Star worthy but are far from a slam dunk -- gives the manager the ability to honor his own player while then filling out the roster with someone like Hanson. At the moment Cain, the Tigers' Justin Verlander, the Mariners' Felix Hernandez, the Rays' James Shields and the Phillies' Cole Hamels are all slated to start that Sunday.
Position players aren't as lucky, though omitted players can still make the team as substitutes for injured players or if they are selected by the Final Vote. Wisely, nine of the 10 final vote candidates are position players -- pitchers have the aforementioned Sunday Starter rule already -- so at least one overlooked hitter in each league will still get honored. In the AL Konerko, Gordon, Zobrist, Tigers DH Victor Martinez and Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones are on the ballot; in the NL Victorino, Nationals outfielder Michael Morse, Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, Dodgers rightfielder Andre Ethier and Diamondbacks starter Ian Kennedy are up for selection.
4. The managers' hands were pretty tightly tied
As noted by CBSSports.com's Danny Knobler, the AL manager (Texas' Ron Washington) and the NL manager (Bochy) had very few truly open slots to work with. Washington needed to use four spots on players whose teams were not already represented and then had only three choices, which he used on Tigers closer Jose Valverde, Rays starter David Price and one of his own guys, Rangers starter C.J. Wilson.
Bochy, meanwhile, used five picks on players whose teams were not already represented and then had four picks. He warned weeks ago that he might employ some managerial nepotism and did, choosing three of his own Giants pitchers (Cain, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong) and using the other on Beltran.
One can debate whether Washington should have chosen Price and Wilson over Sabathia or whether Gordon should have been the chosen Royal instead of reliever Aaron Crow, and one can argue that Bochy should have selected McCutchen over Beltran, but it's not like either manager had the ability to shape the lion's share of All-Star spots.
5. The Blue Jays' Jose Bautista demolished the voting record
It's been said that baseball doesn't have as many superstars as it used to even a decade ago when the game was populated by then-home run titans Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, who played concurrently with major stars like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and many more who were all in their prime.
Now Bautista, who was a virtually unknown journeyman until a year and a half ago and who currently plays for a fourth-place team in Canada, is joining that list of transcendent stars. Whether it's the pure power -- he's hit 80 home runs in 2010 and the first half of 2011 and few, if any, were cheap shots -- or the identifiable on-field rags-to-riches story, Bautista has gained great appeal in a very short period of time. This year he received a record number of All-Star votes. Bautista's 7.4 million votes broke the previous mark of 6.1 million votes, belonging to the Mariners' Griffey Jr. in 1994.
Bautista -- who leads the majors in home runs (26), walks (70), OBP (. 471), slugging (. 679) and OPS (1.150), while also batting .328, which ranks fourth -- also became the first Blue Jay to lead overall in votes and the first to be elected a starter since Carlos Delgado in 2003.