One of the things that makes the MLB All-Star Game great is that the fans are allowed to choose the starting lineup. By and large, the fans are in tune with the league and make some solid decisions, but it is inevitable that a handful of unworthy starters sneak in on a yearly basis.
That is once again the case this year as the fans seemed to vote based on name recognition more than production in some areas. Perhaps it isn't fair to blame the fans since they should get to see the players that they want to see, but a number of guys who should be starting the All-Star Game were robbed of that opportunity.
Here are the three least-deserving starters who will open the All-Star Game at Citi Field in lieu of red-hot players who should have gotten the nod.
There is no doubt that Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is one of the fastest-rising stars in baseball, but the fact that he is starting the All-Star Game is truly disconcerting.
Harper's numbers are decent as he is hitting .265 with 13 home runs, 29 RBI and six stolen bases during his sophomore season. However, he has missed some games due to injury, and there are several NL outfielders who should be starting over him.
The likes of Domonic Brown, Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Gomez, Andrew McCutchen and a few others have far superior numbers and have earned the right to start, whereas Harper was essentially handed that right.
Harper figures to be an All-Star for a long time to come, and he will have plenty more chances to start, but this year is far too early. Harper is the youngest All-Star starter in NL history at 20 years of age, according to ESPN Stats & Info, but it's a distinction he doesn't deserve.
It can be argued that Harper's numbers would be far better if he didn't get injured, but the All-Star Game is about what is rather than what could have been. Harper probably shouldn't even be in the game as a reserve, but at least that would have been tolerable. Voting him in as a starter makes a mockery of the process, and it lowers the credibility of the All-Star Game as a whole.
Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto is having an excellent year, and he clearly deserves to be a part of the National League All-Star team, but there are two NL first baseman who are far more deserving of a starting nod this year.
The biggest reason why Votto was voted in is the fact that he is a known star in the game who won the NL MVP Award in 2010. The likes of Paul Goldschmidt and Allen Craig simply couldn't compete with that.
With a batting average of .318 to go along with 15 home runs and 41 RBI, Votto has been a big-time contributor in the middle of Cincinnati's order. His run production is a bit sparse for this point in the season, though, so getting the start is a bit overzealous.
Goldschmidt, on the other hand, is hitting .310 with 21 homers, 77 RBI and nine steals to boot. It can be argued that Craig is even better by virtue of a .327 average, 10 home runs and 73 RBI.
Baseball fans can argue about who is having a better season between Goldschmidt and Craig until they're blue in the face, but there is no doubt that they are both outperforming Votto.
The selection of Votto is nowhere near as egregious as Harper being elected to start; however, it's unfortunate that guys like Goldschmidt and Craig don't receive the media coverage necessary to ascend to All-Star starter level.
Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista has been one of the game's best sluggers over the past few years, and he is at it again this season with 20 home runs at the All-Star break. The fans shouldn't be lambasted for electing Bautista as a starter, but there are some better choices to consider.
Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz is the obvious one, but even Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury can make a case for himself over Bautista.
Along with the 20 long balls he has hit this season, Bautista has also driven in 55 runs and hit for a .256 average. Those numbers are certainly respectable, but Cruz has him beat across the board in terms of power production. The hot-hitting Ranger has a solid .280 average to go along with 22 homers and 69 RBI, so it's nearly impossible to make a case for Cruz over Bautista.
Ellsbury vs. Batista is a more intriguing battle, but Ellsbury may be superior as well. The power comparison is no contest as Bautista blows Ellsbury out of the water; however, Ellsbury is hitting .301 with an AL-leading 36 stolen bases.
He also happens to be a fantastic fielder, and with all of those factors taken into account, Ellsbury beats Bautista in WAR as his 3.3 trumps Bautista's 2.8. Bautista was going to make the All-Star team regardless, but he probably should be a starter this year.
All-Star Game Starters
*Voting numbers courtesy of MLB.com
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