Tuesday, July 12, 2016

All Star Game Roster Logic

There are people who want the rosters of the MLB All-Star Game to consist of the hottest players from this season. Their logic is that they want to see the players who are playing the best, and that what matters for this year's game is what the player has done this year. It's not a lifetime achievement award, they argue - what Troy Tulowitzki did last year or the year before shouldn't outweigh the fact that he's playing like a tire fire right now.



Then there are people who are adamant that the All-Star Game is for stars, and that recognizing flash-in-the-pan first halves is a recipe for constructing rosters full of, well, whatever the opposite of "stars" is. They argue the best and most deserving players are the ones who have been doing it consistently for years, and that the rosters should ignore gaudy first half stats lest the teams be filled with guys like Brian LaHair - forgettable as soon as the second half starts.

In my opinion, they're both wrong. Leaving aside the ridiculous "play for home field advantage" nonsense Bud Selig tacked onto this thing and the ASG has two functions: One, to serve as a marketing tool for baseball, and two, to show the fans who they want to see. These two goals are not mutually exclusive, nor do they map entirely to either of the two viewpoints shown above. Yes, the teams should have established stars with name recognition - this is how you build the stars that viewers want to see in the post-season. And yes, the rosters should have some of the guys that people are excited about right now. Why? Because they're the ones people are excited to see, the ones showing up in the highlight reels, and a healthy mix of long-burning star power and bright supernovae hits, as they say, all the quadrants. To say that only first half stats matter is a great way to end up with a roster full of "who's that?", while saying only track record matters is a surefire recipe for missing great stories like, say, Trevor Story. The war for roster selection purity has largely sidelined the idea that the game is supposed to be fun to watch, a place where casual fans can dip a toe in the water and have familiar and exciting names there as a way in. We don't need the priests of the temple of Syrinx casting out the unworthy lest the sanctity of the affair - which, honestly, went bye-bye the year Mike Williams got selected, if not before - be irrevocably tainted. 

And the irony is that the way the game is evolving, neither side is going to get their wish. Because of the emphasis put on winning, and because of the way the game is changing, the managers have come to a couple of interesting conclusions. One, an awful lot of successful teams are building lockdown bullpens with multiple flamethrowers who are posting ridiculous stats. Two, starting pitchers - i.e. the sorts of pitchers people usually clamor to make the ASG - often make worse relievers than guys who are actual relievers. Three, they actually want to win the game, which means constructing their ASG rosters in a way that's conducive to giving them the sorts of tactical options they can actually use, which is to say, lots of flame throwing non-closer relievers. Which is a nice way of saying that the developing trend of larding up ASG rosters with guys like Brad Brach - guys who on one hand are often Small Sample Size Heroes and who on the other rarely excite anyone outside of deep fantasy leagues that use "Holds" as a stat - is just going to get worse. We'll see teams with fewer established stars, at least on the pitching side, and fewer phenoms whom people are excited about, all so the ASG managers can potentially call on the Mets' 7th inning guy like the ASG was a getaway day matchup against the Marlins. 

So fight about roster construction if you want. It's the nature of the game that's changing, and that's more of a threat to the idea of all-stars than a dozen Adam Duvall's might ever be.
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