When the latest update for the American League All-Star voting was revealed Monday afternoon, millions of fans jumped for joy…
…in Kansas City.
Nobody was going to be surprised if this week's update projected an American League starting lineup consisting of a whopping seven Royals players, since the previous week's update projected just that. But as it turned out, the latest update upped the ante.
Go ahead and count 'em:
The list of projected Royals All-Star starters has grown from seven to eight. Omar Infante has overtaken reigning AL batting champion Jose Altuve at second base, even though Altuve is having another fine season, while Infante's .511 OPS ranks as the very worst among all qualified hitters.
Gadzooks! Criminy! Tarnation! Various other words that express surprise and outrage!
And sadly, my outraged friends, it's not just Infante. The other seven projected Royals starters may differ from Infante in how they're legitimately good players, but whether they're the best players at their respective position is debatable at best and flat-out wrong at worst.
For example, Eric Hosmer has had neither a better career nor a better season than hitting machine Miguel Cabrera. Ditto for Mike Moustakas and Josh Donaldson. And Kendrys Morales and Nelson Cruz. And Salvador Perez and Russell Martin.
And so on. More outrage. And then some more for good measure.
But let's get serious for a moment and be out with it: Yes, this is a problem.
Allowing fans to vote for the All-Stars they want to see is a fine idea in theory. But what's happening now is just the latest reminder that popularity and tribal loyalties guide voting decisions more than star power between the lines. And as we've been over many times before, that's not what MLB needs as long as the All-Star Game counts toward home-field advantage in the World Series.
What's happening is also a reminder that the system is too easily abused. And if anything, it's easier to abuse this year than it's ever been before. Major League Baseball has removed the balloting from ballparks and put it exclusively online, where fans are allowed to vote 35 freakin' times before MLB's hyper-police intervene.
Fortunately, the American League All-Star team need not be an All-Royals team.
Fans outside of Kansas City could take the advice Royals skipper Ned Yost expressed to Bob Nightengale of USA Today and "go out there and vote." Failing that, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred can make like Ford Frick in 1957 and use the power vested in him by baseball's best interests to overrule the vote.
During a visit to Fenway Park on Tuesday, Manfred refused to rule out that possibility.
"Lots of years we've worried about lots of things in respect to fan voting but in general over time fans have done a pretty good job, so we'll see how it all turns out," he said, per ESPN.com. "What I would say is I hope over time that what people come to think about the commissioner's office is when we have a situation such as this...that we are responsive and open to change if in fact it appears we get a result that is not consistent with the goals of the system that is currently in place."
Regardless of what happens, this summer's Royals obsession should be a wake-up call to MLB about how its All-Star rosters are selected. And if the league has a spine, it will make changes.
One option is to overhaul the All-Star selection process to be more than just a popularity contest decided by fans who may or may not need better things to do with their time. Ideally, a renovated system would involve input from players, coaches and executives as well as fans. Basically, give everyone a say.
Or, there's always the other option: MLB can stop pretending like the All-Star Game needs to mean something and make it an exhibition again. No home-field advantage in the World Series. No stakes at all. Make it a game played for shucks, kicks, giggles and, above all, fun.
That's one thought about the latest All-Star voting update. As for a few others…
The Latest in "Mike Trout Can Do Anything"
They say Mike Trout can do anything, and they're not wrong. As the Los Angeles Angels center fielder has made clear time and time again since 2012, there's not a phase of the game he can't dominate.
And now we know there's another tool in his belt: He can hold his own against Royal competition.
As frustrating as it is to see Kansas City dominating the AL All-Star voting, there's something fist-pump-worthy about Trout being the only guy standing in the way of the AL All-Star Game consisting exclusively of Royals. It's just so…right.
In hitting .311 with a .963 OPS and averaging over 30 homers and 30 stolen bases between 2012 and 2014, Trout elevated himself above all other players in baseball. And with a .297 average, a .958 OPS, 18 home runs and eight stolen bases, he's still very much himself in 2015.
So if nothing else, Trout's place in the All-Star voting indicates that a nation of fans has gotten the gist—not even the incredible voting power of Kansas City can hold Trout back.
It's either that or this theory from ESPN.com's Buster Olney:
Hmmm…he might actually be right. Shoot.
Has the Royals Craze Bled into the National League?
If you thought we were done complaining about those darn Royals fans doing darn Royals fans-y things, you thought wrong.
For now's the point where we turn to the latest National League voting totals, with a special focus on what's happening in the outfield:
What stands out is that San Francisco Giants slap-hitting left fielder Nori Aoki has surpassed Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton for the third and final starting slot.
That doesn't seem right…until you notice that Aoki is a former Royal! Dun, dun, dun!
OK, OK, OK. Fine. That's just one explanation. Another is that Aoki's .323 batting average could loom large in the eyes of many voters. Or, this could be a case of voters from Aoki's native Japan rocking the vote. That's been known to happen, after all.
Still, there's no denying the oddity of it all.
As a young, statuesque, handsome and very, very rich slugger who happens to have a .955 OPS and an MLB-best 23 home runs, many of which are absolute moonshots, Stanton is the very embodiment of an All-Star player. And here he is, struggling to get as many votes as a pesky slap hitter.
Things are funny sometimes.
Joc Pederson Might Be the Biggest Snub of Them All
As strange as it is to see Aoki leading Stanton in All-Star votes, it's hard to call Stanton the biggest snub of the voting so far. He may not be in line to start, but at least he's very well represented.
You can say the same of quite a few other players, namely Donaldson, Cruz, Martin and Jason Kipnis in the American League and Brandon Crawford and Todd Frazier in the National League. They all have a fighting chance to be elected starters in the end.
But not so much for Joc Pederson, and that's a damn shame.
The Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder is only eighth among National League outfielders with under 1.7 million votes, and that's hardly a total befitting of the season he's having. He may only be hitting .249, but he has a .928 OPS and 17 home runs. He's also played some truly excellent defense.
How good has Pederson been? According to FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement, he entered Tuesday as the eighth-most valuable position player in the league.
That sounds like a guy who deserves a bit more than just eighth place among his league's outfielders. So, pretty please with sugar on top, send some votes Young Joc's way.
National League Fans Have It Right at Catcher
OK, let's stop complaining about what National League voters are getting wrong. Instead, let's talk about what they're getting right.
Most recently, that list of things now features this in the catcher voting:
- Buster Posey: 4,345,579
- Yadier Molina: 3,930,399
This has been a back-and-forth race, but this is exactly how it should look.
There's no knocking Molina's career. He's a six-time All-Star and a two-time World Series champion who may very well be the greatest defensive catcher the game has ever known. In the end, he's going to have a reasonably strong case for the Hall of Fame.
But right now, Molina is not good. He was a league-average hitter in 2014 and has been below average this year with a .287 average and .681 OPS. He's even slipped on defense, as his caught-stealing rate is down, and Rob Arthur of FiveThirtyEight has wondered if he's forgotten how to frame pitches.
Meanwhile, Posey is following up yet another MVP-caliber season in 2014 with a .293 average, an .823 OPS and nine home runs, all while catching runners like never before and, according to Baseball Prospectus, framing the third-most strikes among catchers.
Best catcher in the National League? Best catcher in the National League.
Last but Not Least, the All-Star Tweet of the Week
And now, a bit of fun before we go.
It looks like a real threat right now, but odds are this year's American League All-Star starting lineup won't be all Royals. Be it through fan voting or Manfred's vengeful hand, there's sure to be more variety.
But in the event there's not, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports has a suggestion for National League skipper Bruce Bochy:
"Sick burn," say all of us.
"Too soon," say Royals fans.
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