The MLB All-Star Game intends to feature baseball’s brightest studs, but the AL and NL squads consist of some players who will soon become afterthoughts.
At this time last year, Jair Jurrjens received the prestigious honor of starting for the NL. He got shelled in the second half and just recently returned to the majors after a Triple-A demotion.
In every All-Star Game, the baseball community lavishly praises undeserving players who will not meet the lofty expectations set after three strong months. ESPN and Fox are not going to devote part of their coverage to explaining why a player’s peripheral stats indicate a second-half letdown.
Too cynical for the casual baseball fan? Probably, but how many people were brainwashed by Joe Buck and Tim McCarver into believing Jurrjens was baseball’s best young pitcher during last year’s game?
Expect these players who earned an All-Star bid to fall from stardom with subpar second halves. In a year or two, you will think back to the 2012 All-Star Game and wonder how these guys played a part in the contest.
Bryan LaHair is already well on his way to regression.
After beating out top prospect Anthony Rizzo for the Chicago Cubs’ starting gig at first base, the 29-year-old jumped out of the gate to maintain playing time. LaHair produced a scorching .390/.471/.780 line with five home runs and 14 RBI during April. He followed his sizzling start with another five homers in May.
June did not treat LaHair as well though. The first baseman hit .231 with six RBI in June. Expect a similar output going forward.
LaHair has struck out 85 times in 74 games at an alarming rate of 32.6 percent of his at-bats. A player who whiffs that often will struggle to maintain a .286 average from the first half that was aided by a .391 BABIP.
Also, not many All-Stars function as a platoon player, but LaHair cannot hit lefties. In 47 plate appearances he has managed only three hits and six walks. Despite LaHair’s great power, his inability to hit southpaws severely limits his potential.
If the votes were collected later, Paul Goldschmidt, another powerful first baseman with a much brighter future, could have received the chance to shine in the All-Star Game instead.
I sure hope Tony La Russa does not let Wade Miley determine home-field advantage in the World Series.
Miley’s unexpected success has raised some eyebrows, as the young lefty is making a case for Rookie of the Year honors with a 9-5 record, 3.04 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. Enjoy the ride while it lasts before it comes to a screeching halt.
As a ground-ball pitcher who has cruised past hitters without displaying strikeout ability, Miley is the leading candidate to become this year’s version of Jurrjens. Few pitchers can maintain this top-notch performance with only a 6.26 K/9 ratio.
With a .261 BABIP, most batted balls are finding his defenders, but that type of fortune cannot be relied on during an entire year. Miley’s 3.81 xFIP also indicates that his All-Star caliber pitching is unlikely to be duplicated in the second half.
Another example of why the MLB should delay the voting process in order to select the most deserving players.
Three rough starts in June fluctuated Lance Lynn’s numbers enough to second-guess his presence on the NL’s roster. He boasts a solid 3.41 ERA and 1.23 WHIP, but those numbers don’t stand out in a league where Johnny Cueto, James McDonald and Zach Greinke are among several pitchers with better stats.
Lynn is the pitcher on this list most likely to sustain his first half and continue to pitch serviceably throughout the year. His 9.17 K/9 ratio, 3.33 FIP and 1.9 WAR indicate that his early success is no fluke.
This is however, his first season as a major league starter, so some skepticism is warranted here. In two seasons as a starter in Triple-A, Lynn pitched marginally, allowing a 4.77 ERA in 2010 and 3.84 ERA in 2011. He also averaged a 7.72 K/9 ratio in those two years, so can he continue to strike out more than a better per inning against a higher level of competition?
Even if he does keep up this performance, he never should have even been an All-Star in the first place.
Maybe my doubts regarding Mark Trumbo stems from him proving me wrong with a phenomenal first half, but I’m still not ready to jump on the bandwagon.
Last year, Trumbo blasted 29 homers and stole nine bases in his rookie campaign, but he only managed a .291 on-base percentage while whiffing at a 20.9 percent rate.
Instead of dropping off and fighting for playing time in a crowded Los Angeles Angels lineup, Trumbo has taken a major step forward with a sparkling .306/358/.608 line, 22 homers and 57 RBI.
Trumbo is really good, but not this good. The .306 average is the stat that draws a red flag as a measure unlikely to be repeated. The 26-year-old has posted a .327 BABIP and is still striking out at a similar rate this season. Trumbo can offer plenty of value with his monster power, but he fits the mold of a .260 hitter likely to experience some prolonged slumps.
Forced to the outfield with the addition of Albert Pujols, Trumbo has also struggled mightily in his new domain. Trumbo’s 2.8 WAR would rank much higher if not for his -4.2 fielding mark.
Last season, I envisioned Trumbo as another Mark Reynolds. That comparison was unfair, but expect some regression as the season concludes.
Few closers stray further from the prototype than Jim Johnson.
Late-game relievers usually are expected to fire away and overpower hitters, but Johnson pitches to contact and still seals the deal. This sneaky success will be hard to keep up though.
Johnson has collected a ML-high 26 saves in 27 opportunities while sporting a 1.21 ERA and 0.75 WHIP. With Mariano Rivera out of the picture and Jonathan Papelbon pitching for the other side now, Johnson just might receive the chance to throw the final three outs of the All-Star Game if the AL establishes a close lead.
Sorry to ruin anyone’s innocence, but I’ll believe in Santa Claus before I accept that Jim Johnson is one of baseball’s best relievers.
I don’t know what voodoo Johnson is implementing on those baseballs, but a .157 BABIP is not sustainable. Then there’s the 96.9 percent strand rate, which would be suspicious for a dominant pitcher to hold but downright baffling when attached to a guy like Johnson.
Those factors have created a wide discrepancy between his 1.21 ERA and 3.82 FIP, so expect those numbers to balance out during the second half. Johnson received the benefit of a lot of luck, including the fortune of accumulating the most saves because he received so many chances.
If Johnson continues to shut down the opposition during the second half, I won’t know what to believe in anymore.
Ryan Cook is a much different pitcher than Johnson, but he sits in the same boat.
While Johnson has succeeded by throwing strikes and pitching to contact, Cook has lived on the edge, walking too many hitters but constantly limiting the damage.
In 38.1 innings pitched, Cook has fanned 39 batters and holds a 1.41 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. He will represent the Oakland Athletics as their lone All-Star, an honor he likely only received because each team needs at least one player on the roster. The AL better heavily utilize their starting pitching if they want to win in Kansas City on Tuesday night.
Cook, like Johnson, also was the benefactor of an incredibly low .149 BABIP, but he allowed no home runs although 44.7 percent of his batted balls were fly balls. Something does not add up there.
When his luck swings and a few baseballs tower into the seats, they likely will not be solo shots either considering Cook's 4.93 BB/9 ratio. Look what happened to Carlos Marmol after constantly walking the tightrope with poor command. And Cook’s stuff is nowhere near as electric as Marmol’s filthy repertoire when he finds the strike zone.
Don’t be surprised if Brian Fuentes or Grant Balfour regains the closer’s role before the season ends.