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Subjectivity Objectified: Measuring MLB Fans' Biases With All-Star Votes

NEW YORK - JULY 16:  Nick Swisher #33 of the New York Yankees celebrates his game winning RBI base hit in the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 16, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Rays 5-4.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Lewie PollisSenior Analyst IIINovember 4, 2016

It doesn’t take a hardcore sabermetrician to realize that the All-Star vote is a sham. After all, the best catcher in the game (Miguel Olivo) received only the 11th-most votes at his position, and Omar Infante made the cut while MVP candidate Ryan Zimmerman had to sit at home (not the fans’ fault, but still). 

But even if it’s impossible to distinguish the game’s best players by looking at the vote totals, I wondered if it would be possible to gather some more unorthodox information from the results: namely, the impact of fans’ biases on their ballots.

I quickly scratched out an equation for a statistic I made up, called “All-Star Score,” to measure how deserving a player is of fans’ votes for the Midsummer Classic:

All-Star Score = (Wins Above Replacement* + 2) ^ 2

*—numbers as of the All-Star Game

I calculated the All-Star Scores for each player listed on the ballot and added them together. I then added up the total All-Star votes cast (Major League Baseball releases the vote totals for only the Top 25 outfielders and Top 8 vote-getters at other positions per league, so I used 300,000 as a baseline for those players whose results were not available) and divided that by the composite All-Star Score to find out what the average All-Star Score Point was worth (just under 74,000 votes).

Finally, I calculated the votes-per-All-Star Score Points ratios for each team, then divided that by the league average to get an estimate of what proportion of votes each team's players got relative to what they deserved. The numbers below show each team’s relative figure as a percentage—a “Bias Score” of 100 would mean the team received exactly the right amount of support (of course, no club came out at 100).

I’m fully aware of the flaws in my experiment: the statistics used were compiled after the voting, not during it; I’m sure my 300,000-vote estimate for the lower-tier players is extremely generous to some and a big low-ball to others; and, of course, there’s no guarantee that my little equation represents the ideal proportion of All-Star votes a candidate should receive.

Nonetheless, I think the results are both telling and interesting.

 

Tier 1: The Unloved (79 and below)

1White Sox47
2Royals47
3Athletics48
4Padres49
5Giants50
6Cubs56
7D-Backs57
8Blue Jays59
9Indians59
10Nationals59
11Orioles60
12Rockies66

If you look at the vote totals, seeing the Royals and A’s at the top of the list shouldn’t come as a surprise—they’re two of the three miserable teams that didn’t get a single player on the voting leaderboards.

Meanwhile, the starting nine for the Orioles—the only other club to be completely neglected—have been so bad that Baltimore landed in the middle third of the Bias Scores despite having the absolute minimum number of votes. Ouch.

It’s no surprise to see struggling teams like the Indians and Diamondbacks fall this low, but I would have expected Padres, Blue Jays, and Nationals fans to show their favorite players a little more love in light of their teams’ expectations-beating early performances. And I’m shocked that the Rockies haven’t been able to generate more excitement, what with their recent string of comeback wins in playoff races.

However, I’d say the biggest upsets here are the teams from Chicago—particularly the Cubs. North Side fans have a reputation of being among the most loyal and passionate in baseball (after more than a century without a championship, they’d have to be). It’s a telling sign that something is very wrong in Wrigleyville.

 

Tier 2: The Average (80 to 120)

13Marlins80
14Pirates81
15Reds84
16Red Sox90
17Astros102
18Mariners114
19Rangers120

 

The first team that jumps out at you here is Boston—how can Red Sox Nation be classified as a relatively unbiased fanbase? Take a look at the leaderboards and it becomes clear.

Adrian Beltre finished behind Michael Young, Kevin Youkilis got barely half the votes of scuffling Mark Teixeira, even local hero David Ortiz fell behind the anemic Hideki Matsui. Derek Jeter has been better than Marco Scutaro, fine, but does he really deserve six times as many votes?

Two teams in this grouping redefine pathetic. A 20th-place finish for Andrew McCutchen is enough to put the Pirates squarely in the middle of the pack because their eight candidates have combined to be of less value than Dan Uggla.

Astros fans, meanwhile, turn out to have a positive bias because of Lance Berkman’s eighth-place finish at first base. That’s what happens when your team has a negative composite WAR .

The two AL West teams are both interesting cases. The Mariners don’t have much of a reputation for a strong fan base, but people love Ichiro and the now-retired Ken Griffey Jr. raked in over a million votes.

Given that the Rangers have the third-highest team vote total in the game, you might expect them to have a far higher Bias Score. But you might not realize that Texas also has the third-highest composite WAR.

 

Tier 3: The Coddled (121-150)

20Tigers126
21Angels129
22Dodgers129
23Cardinals134
24Brewers138
25Mets146

 

Most of these names were pretty predictable. The Brewers are probably the most surprising team to be ranked this far up. Their high score is entirely the fault of Ryan Braun, who led all outfielders with just under 3 million votes despite a significant offensive dropoff and horrific defense, even by his standards.

 

Tier 4: The Overindulgent (151-190)

26Braves159
27Rays163
28Twins171
29Phillies181

Eight years ago, the Twins were on the verge of falling victim to contraction. Three years ago, the Rays had never finished a season with more than 70 wins. If you’d said then that both teams would soon have some of the most passionate fans in baseball, you would have been laughed out of the room.

 

Tier 5: The Insane (191 and up)

30Yankees199

 

I’m sure some commenter will accuse me of writing this article for the sole purpose of blasting the Yankees. I’ll say here for the first and only time that, while their coming out on top was somewhat predictable, this is just how it happened.

Just look at the vote totals. A-Rod over Beltre two-to-one, Curtis Granderson over Alex Rios by a nearly three-to-one margin, Teixeira over Paul Konerko almost five-to-one, Jeter over Cliff Pennington by over 10-to-one . Is there any logical explanation for that? And this isn’t even taking into consideration Nick Swisher’s Final Vote victory over Youkilis.

I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t a definitive study—the rankings would surely be shuffled around if the full, precise vote totals were available (especially towards the lower end), and I don’t think anyone believes for a second that fans in Houston are more loyal than their counterparts in Boston.

But I still think the results are somewhat telling, so in the future, fans in Minnesota and Wisconsin might want to think twice before complaining about East Coast bias.

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