2011 MLB All-Star Game: Does Fan Voting Stack Up with Raw Statistics?
Earlier today, Major League Baseball announced the results of this year’s All-Star fan balloting, revealing the starting offensive lineups for the Midsummer Classic in Phoenix.
Every year, the same debate emerges: should the fans be given the opportunity to elect the starters, especially now that the outcome of the game has meaning? Baseball purists argue that fan voting focuses on popularity at the expense of merit, while most fans want to see their favorite players, who mostly hail from major markets.
While the debate won’t be settled anytime soon, we can evaluate just how wide the separation is between the two camps. The fan results have been tallied, and their choices have been contrasted with the Runs Created Sabermetric (as of June 30) across all eight defensive positions for both leagues.
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The fans score a perfect match at the AL catcher position.
Detroit’s Alex Avila was named the starting backstop for the American League, and he is also the clear leader at his position with 43.9 runs created. The 24-year old is batting .303 with 10 home runs at the half-way mark of the season and will now make his first All-Star appearance.
Carlos Santana of Cleveland is the statistical runner-up in this category, but he was not selected to the team. The Yankees’ Russell Martin and Baltimore’s Matt Wieters will join Avila in Phoenix.
AL First Base
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Adrian Gonzalez of the Red Sox narrowly edged the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira for the right to open the game at first base for the AL. Few would argue that Gonzalez doesn’t deserve this honor, being the league’s current leader in batting and RBI.
However, the leader in runs created among all first baseman does not come from the AL East at all. Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera has a slight statistical edge over the Boston slugger, creating 70.5 runs to Gonzalez’s 69.3.
Fortunately, Cabrera and his offensive prowess will still be heading to the desert next week, but third-place finisher Paul Konerko of the White Sox will have to wait for the “Final Vote” contest results before booking his trip. With such a strong supply of talent at first base, even Mark Teixeira (and his 25 homers) won’t be suiting up for the event.
AL Second Base
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Robinson Cano of New York will start at second base for the visitors, and while still slightly trailing last year’s pace, the seven-year veteran has contributed 14 home runs and 54 RBI for the Bronx Bombers in 2011.
Despite Cano’s strong showing, he is actually not the leader at his position in runs created, and is in fact not even second. Boston’s Dustin Pedroia has posted the most runs created (52.2), and Tampa’s Ben Zobrist (51.5) is a shade behind. Cano is a bit further back at 48.9.
Zobrist is another contender in the “Final Vote” showdown and will at least have a chance to participate. Pedroia? A very curious omission.
AL Third Base
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The fans and stat geeks agree on the American League third base selection. New York’s Alex Rodriguez swept both the popularity and math contests and will start at the hot corner for the AL.
Boston’s Kevin Youkilis was a close second statistically but was passed over in favor of former teammate Adrian Beltre of the Rangers.
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If Cano’s selection created any stir in the numbers camp, then the addition of teammate Derek Jeter to the starting lineup is causing absolute chaos.
Career credentials notwithstanding, the Yankee captain has delivered an uninspiring offensive performance in 2011, batting just .260 with only two home runs.
In fact, Jeter ranks 8th among American League shortstops in runs created, trailing the likes of Baltimore’s J.J. Hardy and Texas' Elvis Andrus. The Indians’ Asdrubal Cabrera is far and away the offensive leader and will at least be on the bench when Jeter makes the start.
Who’s slot did Jeter likely take? Jhonny Peralta of the Tigers ranks second in the category, batting .311 while pounding 14 homers in the first half of the season.
AL Left Field
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The controversy continues in the American League outfield with the fans’ nomination of Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton.
Hamilton has missed 38 games this year and despite solid play, he ranks only third among AL left fielders with 30.7 runs created. He ranks a distant third behind the Royals’ Alex Gordon.
Gordon, who is hitting .301 with 10 home runs and 46 RBI, may not even make it to Phoenix. He is in the same “Final Vote” boat as Konerko, Zobrist, Baltimore’s Adam Jones and Detroit’s Victor Martinez.
AL Center Field
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The two sides reach harmony again with the AL center field choice, the Yankees’ Curtis Granderson.
The five-tool lefty has successfully rebounded from a lackluster inaugural season in the Bronx, swatting 22 home runs and leading the majors in runs scored thus far in the season. Not surprisingly, he leads all AL outfielders with 60.1 runs created.
Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox ranks second with 53.3 runs and will head to Arizona as well.
AL Right Field
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To prove that there is indeed justice in the world, fans and analysts also agreed that Jose Bautista is the top offensive player in baseball.
The reigning Home Run King received the most fan votes (over seven million) and created the most hypothetical runs (78.6) through the end of June and will start in right field for the Junior Circuit.
Carlos Quentin of Chicago and Matt Joyce of Tampa Bay are the other right field selections, both statistically appropriate.
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Without the Yankees-Red Sox bidding war, voting tallies in the National League reveal stronger alignment with statistical achievement. Brian McCann’s nomination to start behind the plate for the NL reflects this trend.
The Atlanta receiver and 2010 All-Star Game MVP is having another stellar year in 2011, leading all catchers with 52.1 runs created. McCann is currently hitting at a .314 clip with 14 home runs and 47 RBI.
Yadier Molina will be the other catcher on the NL roster. He ranks fifth among catchers in the NL in runs created, but is off-the-charts on the defensive side of the equation.
NL First Base
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Since fans are so accustomed to punching the circle next to Albert Pujols’ name, they almost voted in an injured player with mediocre numbers. However, the stats contingent let out a collective sigh of relief when Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder was announced as the NL starter at first base.
The Brewers’ cleanup man leads all NL first basemen with 68.9 created by way of 21 home runs and a league-leading 69 RBI.
Meanwhile, in a clean mathematical sweep, Cincinnati’s Joey Votto and Florida’s Gaby Sanchez round out the selections at first base, ranking second and third, respectively, at their position in runs created.
NL Second Base
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In what was reportedly a close voting race, another statistical champion from Milwaukee will make the start in Phoenix.
Rickie Weeks, who leads all second basemen with 56.1 runs created, collected more votes than the Reds’ Brandon Phillips. Weeks makes his first All-Star appearance and will be joined by Phillips in Arizona.
Interestingly, Phillips is not technically the second-best second basemen—that honor belongs to the Nationals’ Danny Espinosa. The D.C. rookie has almost two additional runs created over his Cincinnati counterpart but will not attend the festivities.
NL Third Base
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The National League consistency came to an abrupt halt at third base when the fans gave Philadelphia’s Placido Polanco the All-Star nod.
The 14-year veteran ranks fifth among NL third baseman with just 37.1 runs created by way of a .280 batting average and only four home runs. In fact, none of the top three leaders on the sabermetric board are even on the team: San Diego’s Chase Headley, Chicago’s Aramis Ramirez and Arizona’s own Ryan Roberts did not receive invitations.
The only other third baseman on the National League roster is Atlanta’s Chipper Jones, who is positioned just above Polanco with 37.2 runs created.
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While perhaps there were no clear-cut decisions at third base, Jose Reyes’s first half made for a no-brainer at shortstop.
The Mets’ leadoff man is making the most of his contract year, leading all infielders with a whopping 72.9 runs created. The four-time All-Star leads the NL in batting and runs scored and has an incredible 15 triples to date.
In another bi-partisan move, Starlin Castro of the Cubs and Troy Tulowitski of the Rockies will also represent their league in Phoenix. While a solid distance behind Reyes, the pair occupies the second and third positions in runs created among NL shortstops.
NL Left Field
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Another position, another dominant Brewer gets the nod.
In this case, it is Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun whose numbers are head and shoulders above his peers, a feat also acknowledged by the voting community. Braun is doing it all this year: 16 home runs, 61 RBI, 19 stolen bases, and a .320 average resulting in 67.9 on the runs created scale. He is currently enjoying a 22-game hitting streak to boot.
The Cardinals’ Matt Holiday was the only other pure left fielder chosen. A sabermetric robot would have drafted Carlos Gonzalez of Colorado over Holliday, representing a minor snub within the reserve player ranks.
NL Center Field
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In another landslide victory for both parties, Matt Kemp of Los Angeles will start in center field for the Senior Circuit.
The Dodgers star is tops in the league in runs created with 73.5, not surprising for the NL leader in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS. 2011 marks Kemp’s first All-Star appearance.
No other everyday center fielders were added to the team, resulting in one of the most notable omissions on the NL squad. Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen was left off the roster despite a fourth-place showing among all NL outfielders with 55.3 runs created.
NL Right Field
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The journey around the horn comes to an end with another disconnect. In this case, it is a mild one.
Lance Berkman of St. Louis won the fan vote and the right to start, and is without question having a huge year. However, with six additional tallies in the runs scored column, Arizona’s Justin Upton is the NL leader among right fielders.
Upton will get to play the extra game in his home city and will be joined by four other NL right fielders: Houston’s Hunter Pence, the Mets’ Carlos Beltran, and Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce. None are crazy choices from a statistician’s view point, with the possible omission of the Dodgers’ Andre Ethier. Ethier, though, is a candidate in the NL’s “Final Vote” contest and could still make the team.
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