Here in Oakland, we're used to seeing our players snubbed for All-Star Games. Frankly, it was a bit weird having six Oakland A's on the squad in 2014, and that pride cameth before quite a fall so maybe we should relish our invisible underdog nature. But the Midsummer Classic begins in just a couple hours, and a large part of its purpose is for all of us to argue about which players should have been chosen for it, so let's do our annual duty and complain for a minute.
A few pitchers, for a comparison. I'm including W-L record because this is an All-Star Game managed by Ned Yost, so let's be realistic:
If you just looked at those numbers and you had to pick one pitcher for the All-Star team, I can't imagine a single argument against picking the top guy. But of course, Player A (Rich Hill) is the only one on that list who isn't an AL All-Star this year. Before I go further, let me make clear that none of these guys are bad choices. They're all having good years and each of them has a great individual argument. What I'm trying to figure out is why their cases are better than Hill's.
The answer, of course, is obvious. Hill missed around five starts when a pulled groin landed him on the DL, and due to that absence he's thrown only 76 innings. The other four guys in the table have averaged around 113 frames, with all of them in triple-digits. That means Hill has only put in around two-thirds of the workload that his competition has, and that absolutely matters.
Here's the thing, though. When he has pitched, Hill has been so much better than these other guys that he's actually out-produced them in two-thirds the playing time. Doesn't that matter too? And there's no question that he's back and healthy, considering the vintage 10-strikeout quality start he laid on the Astros on Thursday. Oh, and everything he's done has come in front of the by-far worst defense in baseball.
I'm assuming the low innings total is the reason behind Hill's exclusion, since there really isn't anything else even resembling a good argument. But here are three reasons why I think that's total bunk.
1. Since when was quantity more important than quality?
We already established that Hill has been worth slightly more than his cohorts in far less playing time, but there's another side to that -- his cohorts have needed 50% more playing time just to approach his production. Relatively speaking, that means they are using sheer quantity to account for his superior quality, and that doesn't seem like the thing we usually try to reward in this kind of conversation.
When we talk about the Hall of Fame, being a "compiler" is usually frowned upon, so why would we reward 50% more good-not-greatness in an All-Star debate? Of course there has to be a line, so that we don't select some rookie who homered in his only at-bat (he has a 5.000 OPS!!), but Hill has pitched enough to put himself toward the top of the leaderboards for counting stats and that's when "small sample size" probably becomes more of a compliment than a critique.
This graphic fits here as well as anywhere:
Which pitchers are allowing hard-hit contact least often?— Mark Simon (@msimonespn) July 11, 2016
Rich Hill tops the list. Here's the top 51- pic.twitter.com/uKkW45TRry
2. The roster is full of relievers anyway
The rise of the All-Star reliever has gotten out of hand. It makes sense to recognize a couple of the top closers, but at some point we have to look at this logically. As a general rule, starters are better than relievers. What do you call a reliever with a wider arsenal and more stamina? You call him a starter. The best pitchers in the world are starters. Even Mariano Rivera couldn't hack it as a starter. And to make matters worse, the trend hasn't ended with closers, as now seemingly any middleman with an eye-popping small-sample ERA gets a nod.
But here we are, with an All-Star roster that includes eight starters and nine relievers (including injury subs). There are more pitchers from the inferior category, since of course it's easier to put up gaudy numbers in a half-season when that only means throwing 40 innings.
And that's just it. If Rich Hill was on the All-Star team, even having missed a bunch of time, he'd still be in the top half of the team leaderboard for innings pitched. Sure, he's a step behind the rest of the starters, but it only takes 40 great innings to make the squad these days and he's got twice that. If we're going to go crazy with relievers, then it seems kind of contradictory to turn away a starter based on a small workload.
3. The guys who beat him out aren't any more famous than he is
In the table at the beginning, I left off a few of the other AL pitchers. I didn't mention Chris Sale, Cole Hamels, or Corey Kluber because they are all really big names. Being a star still means something in the debate for the All-Star Game, and it's tough to argue against any of those guys in terms of reputation. Kluber has a Cy Young, Sale might win one this year, and Hamels is at the point of being an annual lock. Combine that with excellent numbers, and they all deserve it over Hill. I also left off Danny Salazar, who has a statistical case as the best starter in the AL so far.
But here are the guys from the table:
Player B: Jose Quintana
Player C: Aaron Sanchez
Player D: Marco Estrada
Player E: Steven Wright
None of those pitchers had to make the All-Star team. Well, maybe Quintana, who is still quite underrated. But there's not a C.C. Sabathia in here, or a Felix Hernandez, to make you nod your head as you grudgingly accept that everyone wants to see that guy more than your secret ace. Sanchez is in his first full season. Estrada was a nobody until he made a few good postseason starts last fall. Wright is a knuckleballer, which is admittedly awesome, but did the second-place Red Sox really need six representatives or could the love have been spread around a little bit? Heck, Hill, will probably be on the Red Sox in a month anyway, so call it an investment in future assets.
I would be a little more understanding if Hill had been snubbed for a bunch of superstar names, but instead he was left out in favor of ... well, a bunch of other Rich Hill-types, at least in terms of fame. And the logistics work, too -- among the belated injury replacements was Sanchez (last Saturday), and Hill was healthy by then and could have been the pick instead. The 24-year-old Sanchez will surely get another shot at this, but who knows if this was the last chance for the 36-year-old Hill. Oh well, now the third-place Blue Jays have five All-Star reps.
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But you know what? It's not bugging me as much as it probably would have in the past. Hill isn't our pride and joy like Sonny or (in past years) Donaldson, and we all know he'll be gone in a few weeks anyway. We're more likely to tell stories about the exciting prospect(s) we get for him than we ever would have been to wax poetic about All-Star Rich Hill. And since his health is paramount, and was already challenged once, the best result might be him chilling at home for a few days rather than traveling around and throwing a tense inning under some particularly bright lights.
But dang, guys. Show Oakland a little love, would ya?
(P.S. I'm not talking about Hill over Stephen Vogt, who will represent the A's in reality. Vogt was a fine choice, as he really is one of the top catchers in the AL and he's also our beloved fan favorite and emotional leader. He's just the kind of guy you want to send from a losing team, and it's better than a random reliever or something. But I think there was space on the roster for both players.)
How to watch the All-Star Game
Pregame: 4 p.m. PT (Fox Sports 1), 4:30 p.m. (Fox)
Game time: 5 p.m.
Online: Fox Sports Go
A's rep: Stephen Vogt (reserve catcher; last year, he played the 5th-7th innings)
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