It's just about time to pick the All-Stars. And if you'll let me gripe for a minute, the way we pick All-Star teams has in recent years become really, really stupid.
You think I'm going to say something about the fan vote, or the players, or the extra vote. I'm not. Those are all fine. In fact, with the possible exception of the player vote, I would argue those facets of the roster selection are more or less perfect.
(Yes, including the fan vote. It's designed for fans to show up big. Royals fans are doing that. I guarantee the Royals fans aren't better hackers than the other teams; they're working the system just like fans of every team could be doing. If they want it more, reward them more. OMAR INFANTE AND ALEX RIOS SHOULD START. Or something.)
No, my complaint with the All-Star roster creation in recent years is our insistence on loading the rosters up with relievers. The last five seasons, there have been (by my quick-and-dirty count) 45 All-Star relievers out of 289 total All-Stars, meaning almost 16 percent of our All-Stars are relievers.
Think about that for a minute. Most of our best relievers (though this is becoming less true by the year) are failed starters. Wade Davis is the prime example here; he was modern-era Joe Kelly as a starting pitcher, and current looks like the baseball version of Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson as a reliever. He doesn't have new pitches now; he can just better use his repertoire, letting it all out for an inning or so at a time rather than having to save it for 100 pitchers, three times through the order, etc., etc.
(The most egregious, of course, is the 2013 extra-man vote in which all five candidates were middle relievers. That is the nadir of my baseball fandom, I tell you that.)
Do we reward that? I mean, sure, someone pitching as well as Davis this year almost has to be an All-Star (unless all those Royals position players squeeze him out), but there has to be a threshold. And that threshold needs to climb.
Last year, I looked for closers who had struck out at least a guy an inning with a WHIP better than 1.00 and at least an 80-percent save rate. Two out of those three thresholds, I figured, were enough to make a guy an All-Star candidate, so long as the third wasn't crazy out of whack. There were 22 such guys as of mid-June in 2014; there are 29 so far this year. Adjust those thresholds (say, 10 K/9, WHIP better than 0.95, 85-percent save rate), and there are still 22 qualifiers (through Saturday's numbers):
Closers with at least two of three (10+ K/9, 85% Save Rate, WHIP <0.95)
You can start parsing that list down, sure. Allen and Grilli have high WHIPs. Miller is hurt. Soria has fallen off a lot of late. Ziegler doesn't strike people out — though in his case, it's not really what he tries to do, so I have a hard time dinging him for it. On the other hand, those numbers don't include non-save-getters who could make an All-Star argument like Kelvin Herrera, Tony Watson, Steve Delabar and Darren O'Day.
The point is, all of baseball is hard. Very hard. But in that realm of "very hard" things, there are parts that plainly aren't as hard as others. In this era of reliever specialization and increased strikeouts, pitching in relief is maybe the easiest of the super-hard things.
People want relievers as All-Stars because almost all the pitchers go one inning at most in the game. Great. But I'd much rather see a second-tier starter like, to name a name, Carlos Martinez in the All-Star game than another reliever who does what all the other relievers do.
If every reliever is great, how great is any one reliever, really? On to the rankings:
|1||Kenley Jansen||LAD||1||Still no walks; still No. 1.|
|2||Dellin Betances||NYY||2||Everyone gets one bad outing; Betances rebounded well from his.|
|3||Aroldis Chapman||CIN||3||Congrats on his new baby, and now he's back from paternity leave.|
|5||Craig Kimbrel||SDP||6||His numbers have really leveled off of late.|
|7||David Robertson||CWS||5||Between his recent underwhelming performance and the White Sox being the only team with five games next week, he drops a bit.|
|8||Greg Holland||KAN||15||Thinking outside the box, but shouldn't Kansas City look to trade him?|
|9||Mark Melancon||PIT||11||He's getting it done without strikeouts, which is weird, but whatever, it's effective.|
|12||Huston Street||LAA||7||Had his third blown save Sunday, giving up a homer to Kyle Seager.|
|14||Joakim Soria||DET||16||He settled down a little last week after a really rough stretch.|
|15||Francisco Rodriguez||MIL||12||Nice part about being a successful player on an awful team -- decent shot Rodriguez is an All-Star by default.|
|17||Wade Davis||KAN||21||His performance has been other-worldly for two seasons now.|
|19||Tyler Clippard||OAK||20||As the team's performance improves, his trade stock falls, because they'll keep him if they're in the running.|
|21||Jeurys Familia||NYM||30||Looks fine coming back from a short-term injury.|
|23||Shawn Tolleson||TEX||19||The Rangers were playing over their head for a bit; his chances might go down now.|
|25||Brad Ziegler||ARI||28||His lack of strikeouts don't worry me nearly as much as Melancon's; strikeouts just aren't his game.|
|26||Brad Boxberger||TAM||NR||It certainly looks like he's the guy over Jake McGee and the rest.|
|27||Roberto Osuna||TOR||NR||He still hasn't officially been named the closer, but come on.|
|29||John Axford||COL||23||The other shoe has started to drop on Axford; he just wasn't as good as he looked early.|