Since 2003 the Major League Baseball All-Star Game has determined home-field advantage for the World Series. Baseball officials felt the game needed to have some stakes. The decision was also made in an effort to garner support after the 2002 All-Star Game ended in a tie. Unfortunately, they got it wrong. The All-Star Game should have zero impact on anything, especially not deciding who gets home-field advantage in the World Series.
My first issue with the All-Star Game having stakes is that it’s rarely the best team that’s put out on the field. It’s fan voted, and as a result, often turns into a popularity contest. Last season, the Kansas City Royals would have had eight starters, but Major League Baseball had to step in and disallow 65 million votes. It sheds light on a very real problem, where the most deserving players aren’t always the ones playing.
If the game were played today, this would be the National League starting lineup:
C – Yadier Molina (Cardinals)
1B – Anthony Rizzo (Cubs)
2B – Ben Zobrist (Cubs)
3B – Kris Bryant (Cubs)
SS – Addison Russell (Cubs)
OF – Dexter Fowler (Cubs), Bryce Harper (Nationals), Yoenis Cespedes (Mets)
So we look at this list, and see no surprise that the Cubs are well represented. They are the best team in baseball after all. But are all of those guys really the best players at their position? The answer is no. Addison Russell is not the best shortstop. He’s been great in the field, but struggled at the plate, only hitting .232 with a .671 OPS. Corey Seager or Brandon Crawford, however, each have an argument for being the best shortstop in the National League at the moment.
Seager, a rookie for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has 2.6 WAR and has played great baseball this season, but isn’t even top 5 in voting. Then there’s Brandon Crawford, who has continued to excel in the field and has put up 2.7 WAR, so far. He’s third in voting but trails Russell by a little less than 500,000 votes.
Yadier Molina is another player reaping the benefits of the fan vote. While he’s still above-average behind the plate, he’s struggled with the bat this season. He ranks 13th among NL catchers with 0.4 WAR. And once again the guy at the top of that list isn’t top 5 in votes. Jonathan Lucroy should be the starter if it’s based on WAR, but I doubt anyone would complain about Wilson Ramos getting the nod with his .333/.383/.548 slash line.
These examples show the biggest issue with the All-Star Game format. The players playing the best baseball are not on the field. And if Major League Baseball wants the game to have stakes, then that presents a big problem.
That’s not the only issue with the All-Star Game though. The other big problem has to do with the nature of an All-Star Game. Players don’t play the same way that they do in the regular season. They don’t want to get hurt, and they don’t want to hurt anyone else. And it makes perfect sense. It’s supposed to be fun for them. They should be able to enjoy the honor of being there, and more importantly get a break from the grind of the regular season.
The bottom line is that the All-Star Game is an exhibition. It’s meant to be fun. It’s meant to provide great moments. Everyone loved Derek Jeter’s last All-Star Game. It was a great moment for the entire league, but Derek Jeter was definitely not the best shortstop in the American League. Going into that game he wasn’t the player that a coach would say is going to give him the best chance to win.
But, Derek Jeter’s career earned him that All-Star moment. He was the consummate professional, doing everything right. And that’s what the All-Star Game should be about. It should be about those moments. It should be about honoring those guys that make the game what it is. It should be about giving those moments to the fans. It shouldn’t be made into something that it’s not. Major League Baseball needs to fix the All-Star Game.
Stats Courtesy of FanGraphs