All-Star season is officially in full bloom, and with rosters having been announced, and new substitutions seemingly every day, a baseball fan can scarcely avoid the ubiquitous discussions of which players are deserving and which ones have no business being anywhere near Kansas City next week.
Especially since this time, it counts.
In 2003, in order to the provide additional incentive for victory, it was agreed that the winner of the All-Star Game would be awarded home-field advantage in the subsequent World Series. The idea was that this would stop managers from simply parading players out on the field; with nothing on the line, the only duty of a manager was to ensure that fans from every city would get to see their representative get some playing time.
Since then, managers have been making a more concerted effort to bring the title home for their respective league. Or have they?
Baseball is never about one single player winning the game for his team. Any manager will tell you that games are rather won by a collaboration of all 25 guys. You need the big boppers, the base stealers, the benchwarmer who can lay down that perfect bunt, the long relievers, the lefty one-out guys and the closers.
The All-Star Game should be no different, but it's those smaller pieces that get often overlooked. Rosters get stocked with big jumbotron-smashing bats and pitchers who can light up radar guns, but it's the other, vital smaller pieces that can really win you a close game in the later innings.
One of the most prominent omissions from All-Star Game rosters are setup men. The pitchers whose job it is to maintain a lead in the eighth inning and hand the ball to the closer. Often able to pitch comparably well to the closer, the setup man's job can be a lot more matchup-based, and therefore arguably tougher. They have to be versatile, able to get the strikeout when called on with the bases loaded and nobody out or able to shut down that dangerous pinch-hitter that the opposing team has been saving for a big spot.
All-Star managers perennially overlook these guys, and instead load their rosters up with closers.
Here are five setup men who were snubbed this year, all deserving of a spot to represent their team.
Pitching Stats: 1.85 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 39/13 K/BB
The back end of the Indians bullpen has been a big reason for the team emerging as contenders in the AL Central this season. The eighth inning belongs to Vinnie Pestano, who is absolutely lethal against right-handed hitters, who are hitting just .115 against him. He's got closer-type stuff, but with All-Star closer Chris Perez following him, Pestano has to be content with his current role.
His numbers alone make a great case for Pestano as an All-Star. He would provide manager Ron Washington with a devastating right-handed arm in the later innings, especially looking at the National League bench, which is very heavy on dangerous right-handers from Andrew McCutchen to David Wright.
Pitching Stats: 1.42 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 32/7 K/BB
The entire Nationals bullpen has been lights-out, so you'd be hard pressed to just award one reliever the honor of representing his team. None, however, have been more consistent than setup man Sean Burnett.
A very effective arm from the left side, Burnett's numbers against lefties are even more insane than his overall numbers: Lefties are hitting just .188 against him, and he hasn't walked a single one. With his remarkable control, he'd be a perfect fit against a guy like Adam Dunn in the later innings of the Midsummer Classic.
Let's hope that Tony La Russa won't be dwelling on that fact as the Donkey circles the bases after one of his moon shots.
Pitching Stats: 0.95 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 21/12 K/BB
Belisario has been a very under-the-radar contributor for a first-place team. Coming out of spring training as a complete question mark after missing all of 2011, the hard-throwing Venezuelan has taken ownership of the eighth inning, posting a 0.81 WHIP while setting up for Kenley Jansen this year.
He could be the shutdown righty the National League needs late in the Midsummer Classic.
Pitching Stats: 0.72 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 30/7 K/BB
There is no doubt that Romo has off-the-chart, video game status numbers. In fact, he has been more consistent than the current Giants closer, Santiago Casilla, who is often unhittable but prone to scuffling every now and then.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy has acknowledged Casilla's struggles, but has stated that he likes Romo's versatility, and being able to use him in matchup roles in the seventh or eighth innings (h/t Henry Schulman, San Francisco Chronicle).
Romo is basically the linchpin that keeps the Giants in so many games, even after a shaky five-inning Barry Zito start. He can be called on for a whole inning, or to face a tough right-handed hitter in a pinch. Basically, he's the guy you'd want on the mound in the later innings of the All-Star Game, when Billy Butler is called on to pinch hit with the bases loaded. Tony La Russa may regret not bringing him along.
Pitching Stats: 0.31 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 18/6 K/BB
Scott Downs' numbers have been unreal this year, having allowed a single earned run so far through 29 innings. In fact, the only person in baseball who's been any closer to perfection is the guy to whom Downs hands the ball in the ninth, Ernesto Frieri, who has barely given up a hit, much less a run.
Frieri made it to the final fan vote for the American League's last roster spot, but was beaten out by Yu Darvish.
Scott Downs didn't make it anywhere close to the final vote, but is equally deserving of a spot. Instead of blowing hitters away with nasty stuff like Frieri, Downs is more of a control pitcher, able to get a ground ball when needed, and he would be a great option against lefties out of the 'pen.