Before you embark on your tenure as the leader of the world’s most intricate sport, I’d like to suggest a major change to the Midsummer Classic; one that will improve the fan experience, involve more players and ultimately teach viewers how to improve at evaluating the men in uniform.
No disrespect to Matt Wieters, but his election into the starting lineup in the All-Star Game presents an ideal teaching moment. An overhaul to the voting system is clearly necessary.
Let’s take a look at the roster spot filled by the Captain of the Yankees, the incomparable Derek Jeter. Mr. Commissioner, before you come to my house with an angry mob, I’m not suggesting anything other than examining the facts without emotion. There are 12 "qualified" American League shortstops. Ten of them have amassed more WAR than Jeter. None has produced less power. The three most valuable shortstops — Erick Aybar, Alcides Escobar and Alexei Ramirez — have never been to an All-Star Game before. Nevertheless, there are millions of Jeter fans casting ballots.
In the first half of the 2001 season, Tony Gwynn’s last, he hit .358 and got on base at a .393 clip, albeit in only 21 games. Gwynn did not receive an All-Star game nod as a player, but was instead named as an honorary member. Very cool idea.
I’m not suggesting we take away the fans’ votes. I think their seat at the voting table is well-deserved. In fact, I think we owe the fans a bigger stage on which to stand and shine.
What I suggest is the fans of Major League Baseball pick an entire team made up of a pool of all players, both AL and NL. Top to bottom, the whole roster will be constructed with their votes. If they select an injured player, like Wieters, the replacement from said injured players’ team gets the nod. In this case, Caleb Joseph is in (sorry, fans; you voted for the guy on the DL).
This is no snake draft, commish. The fans, as a reward for making our game exist, receive picks 1-33. Once the starters are announced, fans vote again on reserves. The top vote getter among pitchers is the game’s starter. These ticket holders also vote on who runs the game, selecting the manager and his entire staff. This entire team is the baby of the men and women who grace the seats. We don’t undermine their decisions by filling out their rosters for them.
Now that fans have their dream team, that team needs someone to play. I propose the opposing team be built by the leaders of the clubs.
All 30 general managers, with the help of their front offices, will vote in the other All-Star group as we pit "Fans vs. Evaluators." These selectors will have their work cut out for them as the top names will be off the board. No Kershaw, no Wainwright, no King Felix. Some names not recognizable to the casual fan will undoubtedly sneak their way onto the team. You may see a collection of the game’s top relief pitchers, for example, each capable of delivering an inning plus with filthy stuff.
Seeing new faces in the game offers an opportunity to learn why they were selected. We will see what the GMs look for as they try to beat the cast of starlit names. What appears to be a lopsided matchup on paper will be more competitive than it seems at first glance. The GMs won’t be able to pick the guys at the top of the HR, RBI and batting-average leaderboards. Instead, they’ll be forced use more predictive measurements like wOBA, a stat that FanGraphs points out "measures a hitter’s overall offensive value, based on the relative values of each distinct offensive event."
Perhaps the GMs would run a platoon at DH of Matt Adams, who owns a wOBA of .404 vs right-handed pitching, and Justin Upton (.497 vs left-handed pitching) to counter the fans’ selection of Nelson Cruz (.397). This roster decision would not have the same impact over the course of a season as it would in a single game, but as a teaching tool it does the trick. Upton, for what it’s worth, is 3 for 29 career against Kershaw, so maybe the manager will start Adams against Clayton, let him face the righties and wait for a lefty to enter the game late. The most likely scenario, however, is that the GMs’ club, after finding out that Kershaw gets the nod, moves this DH slot to the bottom of the lineup to avoid the confrontation all together, knowing Clayton’s removal from the game after an inning of work may be imminent.
The fans will have taken the pitchers with gaudy win totals and low ERAs already. Our evaluators may instead need to look at FIP (like ERA, the lower the better), which "measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls-in-play and timing were league average."
While the fans run out Kershaw (FIP 1.48), Felix (1.94) and Waino (2.45) for the first three innings, the GMs counter with men like Joakim Soria (0.74), Sean Doolittle (1.30) and Andrew Miller (1.34). These high-leverage relievers may not be used to coming in so early in games, but facing the lineup of superstars means there’s no place to hide. Funny, it turns out a run scored in the first or second inning is equally as valuable as one scored in the eighth or ninth.
No relief pitcher has ever started an All-Star Game and for the worst possible reason — because it’s the way it’s always been done. With this overhaul, we get to rid ourselves of a dogmatic belief system that is no longer useful. You’re freshly appointed, sir. Make your mark.
Of course, Mr. Commissioner, something should be on the line for our exemplary consumer group.
If the fans’ team is victorious, each man or woman who cast a vote receives a giveaway game souvenir paid for by a sponsor. If the evaluators’ team wins, they get to keep acting as GMs of Major League Baseball teams, a position coveted by every fantasy player in existence. That provides the extra incentive for fans — "see, I told you I could do better than Beane." The nearly insurmountable challenge alone is enough reward for the front offices.
Thinking through the benefits for each team crystalizes the obvious. The fans and MLB are in a partnership. They are our teammates, and we are theirs. As such, we need to trust the fans’ intelligence and challenge them to step up their games. By allowing them to vote for injured players, we are doing them a disservice. Rather than taking power from them, let’s inspire them by giving them more. Creating a competition will inevitably bring out the best in them and us.
I’ll write you soon with my proposal to remove the Home Run Derby in favor of a tools competition.
A baseball lover
P.S. — Home-field advantage in the World Series is earned by the team with the superior regular- and postseason record combined. Sometimes the simplest system is also the most logical.