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Nats all-star review: 2014 and years past

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Congrats to Zimmermann on his all-star selection.  Photo dcist.com/(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Congrats to Zimmermann on his 2014 all-star selection. Photo dcist.com/(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Here’s my annual Nationals All Star selection post.   As with last year’s post (which also links to subsequent years), I’m including a retrospective on our “illustrious” All Star representative history from years past.  If you read on and it sounds familiar, that’s because a lot of it is cut-n-pasted from previous versions of this post.  Even so, reading backwards to see who our All-star representatives were in the lean years is an interesting exercise.  There were many years that the “one representative per team” rule was bent pretty far in order to include a member of our lousy teams.

Discussion item for the comments: Do you feel that the Major League all-star game should be a collection of the games biggest and best stars year after year, or should it represent who’s having the best current season?  I’ll put in my two cents: right now (thanks partly to the one player from each team rule) the rosters are somewhat of a mix of these two philosophies but are leaning more and more towards “who is having the best season.”  This year for example, future hall of famers like Albert Pujols are not on the team while 2-month flash in the pans like Charlie Blackmon are.  But I feel like a showcase event like the All-Star game needs to highlight the games biggest stars.  And I don’t feel like it does.

Keith Law is right: when (to use our local examples) marquee/famous players like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are not selected in lieu of middle relievers who have a great ERA through 20 innings in the first couple months of the season, it does a disservice to the game.  Harper can’t open his mouth without it making national news and he’d be a draw at the game.  Same for Strasburg just on fame factor.  In this respect I always thought the NBA all-star game did the best job of making its event an actual “All Stars” event.  If you want to have an event that rewards players for the best SEASON … then do what the NFL does and have the all-star game after the season.  Right now we give all- star spots to guys who have a couple of hot months and who might be hitting .220 again by the end of the season.

The most egregious example of this lately probably was 2012′s Cubs representative Bryan LaHair, who made the all-star game thanks to a scorching first half in 2012.  You know where LaHair is now?  Chicago *released* him at the end of 2012; what all-star gets released in the season in which they make the team?  He played in Japan in 2013 (perhaps why he was released but still indicative of what the team thought of his true talents), hit .230 there, and is currently sitting on Cleveland’s AA roster (having hit .113 for their AAA team and getting demoted).  I dunno; is this the kind of “all star” you want to see in your league’s marquee event?  I don’t think so; even if Joey Votto is having a down year, I want to see him suit up and not some flash in the pan.

One other quick point.  If the season ended today, here’s your playoff teams and the number of players they have in the ASG: NL: Atlanta (3), Milwaukee (4), Los Angeles (4), Washington (1) and San Francisco (2).   And AL: Baltimore (3), Detroit (3), Oakland (6), Los Angeles (1) and Seattle (2).   Wow; looks to me like both the Nats and the Angels have some serious griping about player selection.  The Angels have the 2nd best record in the league and got just one representative (Mike Trout of course).

Anyway, on to the Nats historical representatives.


Here’s a link to the All Star Rosters for 2014, prior to the “last man in” voting and any pending injury replacements.

2014

  • Nationals All-Star representative: Jordan Zimmermann (Update post-publishing: Zimmermann strained a bicep, and had to withdraw from the ASG.  For a bit it looked like the Nats wouldn’t even have a representative, until Tyler Clippard was named on 7/13/14).
  • Snubs: Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Zimmermann’s been the best starter on the best pitching staff in the majors this year, and thus earns his spot.  I find it somewhat odd that a first place team (or near to it) gets just one representative on the team (as discussed above).  Rendon tried to make the team via the “last man in” voting, but historically Nationals have not fared well in this competition (especially when better known players from large markets are in the competition, aka Anthony Rizzo from the Chicago Cubs), and indeed Rendon finished 4th in the last-man voting.  LaRoche is having a very good season, almost single handedly carrying the Nats offense while major parts were out injured, but he’s never going to beat out the slew of great NL first basemen (Joey Votto couldn’t even get into this game).  Soriano has quietly put together one of the best seasons of any closer in the game; at the time of this writing he has a 1.03 ERA and a .829 whip; those are Dennis Eckersley numbers.  But, the farce that is the all-star game selection criteria (having to select one player from each team) means that teams need a representative, and deserving guys like Soriano get squeezed.  Then, Soriano indignantly said he wouldn’t even go if named as a replacement … likely leading to Clippard’s replacement selection.  The same goes for non-closer Storen, who sports a sub 2.00 ERA on the year.  Advanced stats columnists (Keith Law) also think that Stephen Strasburg is a snub but i’m not entirely sure: he may lead the NL in K’s right now and have far better advanced numbers than “traditional,” but its hard to make an argument that a guy with a 7-6 record and a 3.50+ ERA is all-star worthy.

All Star Game Trivia Challenge: Thanks to his 2 month absence, Bryce Harper will not make the 2014 all-star team, thus he drops off as an answer to one of my favorite baseball trivia questions.  Prior to this season, Harper had been selected as an all-star in every season in which he has appeared in a game.  As far as I can tell in baseball history, there’s now just 4 players in Major League History who can say this.  Name them (discuss in comments):

2013

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmermann
  • Snubs: Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond
  • Narrative: Harper comes in 3rd in the NL outfielder voting, ahead of some big-time names, to become only the second Nationals position player elected as an All-Star starter.  He was 4th in the final pre-selection vote, so a big last minute push got him the starter spot.   Harper also becomes the first National to participate in the Home Run Derby.   Zimmermann was 12-3 heading into the game and was on mid-season Cy Young short lists in July in a breakout season.  Strasburg’s advanced stats are all better than Zimmermann’s, but his W/L record (4-6 as the ASG) means he’s not an all-star.  It also probably doesn’t help that he missed a few weeks.  Desmond loses out to Troy Tulowitzki, Everth Cabrera and Jean Segura.  Tulowitzki wass having a very solid year and wass a deserving elected starter, while Cabrera and Segura are both having breakout seasons.  Desmond was on the “Final vote” roster, but my vote (and most others’ I’m guessing) would be for Yasiel Puig there ([Editor Update: Desmond and Puig lost out to Freddie Freeman: I still wished that Puig finds a way onto the roster but ultimately he did not and I believe the ASG was diminished because of it).   Gio GonzalezRyan Zimmerman,and Rafael Soriano are all having solid but unspectacular years and miss out behind those having great seasons.

2012

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Stephen StrasburgGio GonzalezIan Desmond, Bryce Harper
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRocheCraig Stammen
  • Narrative: The two starters Strasburg and Gonzalez were the obvious candidates, and my personal prediction was that they’d be the only two candidates selected.  Gonzalez’ first half was a prelude to his 21-win, 3rd place Cy Young season.  The inclusion of Desmond is a surprise, but also a testament to how far he’s come as a player in 2012.  Harper was a last-minute injury replacement, but had earned his spot by virtue of his fast start as one of the youngest players in the league.  Of the “snubs,” LaRoche has had a fantastic come back season in 2012 but fared little shot against better, more well-known NL first basemen.  Stammen was our best bullpen arm, but like LaRoche fared little chance of getting selected during a year when the Nats had two deserving starters.

2011

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Tyler Clippard
  • Possible Snubs: Danny EspinosaMichael MorseDrew StorenJordan Zimmermann
  • Narrative: While Clippard was (arguably) the Nats best and most important reliever, I think Zimmermann was a more rightful choice.  He was 10th in the league in ERA at the time of the selections and has put in a series of dominant performances.  Meanwhile Espinosa is on pace for a 28homer season and almost a certain Rookie-of-the-Year award (though a precipitous fall-off in the 2nd half cost him any realistic shot at the ROY), and perhaps both players are just too young to be known around the league.  Lastly Morse is certainly known and he merited a spot in the “last man in” vote sponsored by MLB (though he fared little chance against popular players in this last-man-in voting).

2010

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Matt Capps
  • Possible Snubs: Adam DunnJosh WillinghamRyan Zimmerman, Steven Strasburg
  • Narrative: Capps was clearly deserving, having a breakout season as a closer after his off-season non-tender from the Pirates.  The 3-4-5 hitters Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham all had dominant offensive seasons as the team improved markedly from its 103-loss season.  But perhaps the surprise non-inclusion was Strasburg, who despite only having a few starts as of the all-star break was already the talk of baseball.  I think MLB missed a great PR opportunity to name him to the team to give him the exposure that the rest of the national media expected.  But in the end, Capps was a deserving candidate and I can’t argue that our hitters did anything special enough to merit inclusion.

2009

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Ryan Zimmerman
  • Possible Snubs: Adam Dunn
  • Narrative: The addition of Dunn and Willingham to the lineup gave Zimmerman the protection he never had, and he produced with his career-best season.  His first and deserved all-star appearance en-route to a 33 homer season.  Dunn continued his monster homer totals with little all-star recognition.

2008

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Cristian Guzman
  • Possible Snubs: Jon Rauch
  • Narrative: The first of two “hitting rock-bottom” seasons for the team; no one really merited selection.  Zimmerman was coming off of hamate-bone surgery in November 2007 and the team was more or less awful across the board.  Rauch performed ably after Cordero went down with season-ending (and basically career-ending) shoulder surgery.   Guzman’s selection a great example of why one-per-team rules don’t make any sense.  Guzman ended up playing far longer than he deserved in the game itself by virtue of the 15-inning affair.

2007

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Dmitri Young
  • Possible Snubs: Ryan Zimmerman, Shawn Hill (though I wouldn’t argue for either)
  • Narrative: Young gets a deserved all-star appearance en route to comeback player of the year.  Zimmerman played a full season but didn’t dominate.  Our rotation featured 6 primary starters, none of whom are still in the league now, though Hill showed flashes of dominance throughout the year.

2006

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Alfonso Soriano
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonRyan Zimmerman
  • Narrative: Soriano made the team as an elected starter, the first time the Nats have had such an honor.  Our pitching staff took massive steps backwards and no starter came even close to meriting a spot.  Cordero was good but not lights out as he had been in 2005.  Soriano’s 40-40 season is a poster child for “contract year” production and he has failed to come close to such production since.  The team was poor and getting worse.  Johnson had a career year but got overshadowed by bigger, better first basemen in the league (a recurring theme for our first basemen over the years).

2005

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Livan HernandezChad Cordero
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonJohn Patterson.
  • Narrative: The Nats went into the All Star break surprisingly in first place, having run to a 50-31 record by the halfway point.  Should a first place team have gotten more than just two representatives?  Perhaps.  But the team was filled with non-stars and played far over its head to go 50-31 (as evidenced by the reverse 31-50 record the rest of the way).

14 Responses to 'Nats all-star review: 2014 and years past'

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  1. Starting with the rookies this year: Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka

    …and then Yu Darvish and Joe DiMaggio

    Mick Reinhard

    8 Jul 14 at 10:05 am

  2. A fun walk through memory lane, thanks. Rendon was ripped off (Harrison? Really?).

    I do think you’re unkind to Alphonso Soriano – his 2006 season was clearly his best season but you’re probably aware that the “contract year” phenomenon doesn’t hold up to actual examination. Sometimes people have career best years approaching free agency, sometimes they have career worst years. We just notice when it’s the career best, and so a narrative is born. If Soriano truly is done he’s had one hell of a career, with 412 HRs and 289 SBs. His career comps on B-R are players like Dale Murphy, Joe Carter, Jim Edmonds and … Matt Williams. No HoFers in there, but some really good ballplayers.

    Besides, Soriano got them their All Star this season (JZim was taken with a 2007 compensation pick for losing Soriano). So he did right by the Nats all around.

    John C.

    8 Jul 14 at 10:12 am

  3. The Nats having only one ASG representative this year is really representative of how this team has played (good, but not great). I’ll go one further and say that unless two players in particular who are suppsed to be great (cough, cough, Strasburg and Harper, cough, cough) step up their level of play to match the hype that surrounds them, the Nats are either going to be a diasppointing early exit from this year’s playoffs or not make it yet again. Even fully healthy, they (so far) just don’t seem to be able to put on the jets the way the on paper sum of their talent says they should.

    bdrube

    8 Jul 14 at 10:38 am

  4. Mick: boom all four correct. Good call!

    Todd Boss

    8 Jul 14 at 12:42 pm

  5. I know the sabre people say contract year performance improvements don’t happen in the larger sample. But boy its awful coincidental that LaRoche’s best years were all in contract years, eh? Its the same thing as lineup protection. It works for some people, not others. When you see someone who exhibits the behavior over and over, i call a spade a spade.

    You don’t think Soriano’s performance for us was a contract year bump? He stole 41 bases that year. The next season 19. Less than half the SBs. And he never came close to that many SBs again. He’s never come close to approaching his 2006 HR totals despite moving to a FAR easier ballpark in which to hit.

    Todd Boss

    8 Jul 14 at 12:47 pm

  6. Bdrube: You think the Nats have played “good but not great?” Perhaps by record, but not by run differential. They’re currently 5th in baseball in run differential and 2nd in the NL only trailing the Dodgers. They’re 2 games unlucky by pythagorean record right now and they’re just 2-8 in extra inning games that typically are a coin flip. One could reasonably say that this team should be closer to 54 wins than where they sit at 48 wins.

    I think they’ve done a great job of treading water waiting to get their offense back, been slightly unlucky in terms of their run differential, and are poised to take the second half by storm. Only an 88 win pace now i wouldn’t be surprised to see them step it up and get to a 92 win season. We’ll see though.

    Todd Boss

    8 Jul 14 at 1:04 pm

  7. Yes, it’s awful coincidental. Coincidences do hoappen. It’s mighty convenient to say “it works for some people, not for others” as a way of eliminating inconvenient data points that make the “phenomenon” indistinguishable from random chance.

    Although Soriano’s SB levels dropped after 2006, that’s not surprising as he was entering his 30′s and stolen base production shelves rapidly as a player ages. The 41 steals were not a career high – his SB totals for the previous five seasons (his first five full seasons in the majors) were 43, 41, 35, 18, and 30. The jump in 2006 can be attributed in part to the fact that Soriano had more opportunities in 2006, as he played in more games (159, a career high) and his OBP was also a career high .351 – 40 points higher than his career .319 OBP.

    And it’s not like Soriano decided to take walks that year – it’s that there was essentially no one else in the lineup that was going to hurt the pitcher, so Soriano got pitched around a BUNCH (16 IBBs; he only hit double figures one other time in his career with 11 in 2008).

    John C.

    8 Jul 14 at 1:28 pm

  8. Interesting; so you are arguing against contract year performance, and you’re using, as part of your argument, lineup protection as the reason?

    Todd Boss

    8 Jul 14 at 1:55 pm

  9. Soriano had career-year NJ (higher OPS than Soriano) and ROY candidate Ryan Zimmerman (110 RBIs) hitting behind him in 2006, which is why he scored 119 runs that year. So he was plenty well protected in that lineup.

    bdrube

    8 Jul 14 at 2:34 pm

  10. Well, more accurately, if anything the opposite of lineup protection. The important point is that, for whatever reason, Soriano’s OBP was ridiculously high that year compared to his career norms, mostly generated by his walk rate (both in BB and IBB). This also gave him a lot more SB opportunities than he ever had before (or would again).

    I find it hard to believe that Soriano decided that he wanted to get paid and therefore, for once in his career, developed plate discipline (the “contract year” theory). This was before Moneyball theory was really widespread, so apparently Soriano was seeking to develop a skill that was NOT going to get him paid (because OBP was undervalued, and the only team that would understand that value was a team – Oakland – that didn’t have any money). If he wanted to develop the numbers that would get him paid (hits, HR, RBI, etc) in the baseball market of the time his incentive would have been to hack more, not less.

    John C.

    8 Jul 14 at 4:06 pm

  11. Here’s a study that concluded that there IS contract year performance improvement: http://economics-files.pomona.edu/GarySmith/MLBFreeAgency.pdf

    Where’s your “proof” that it does not exist?

    Todd Boss

    8 Jul 14 at 5:09 pm

  12. Todd, to the “good but not great” argument, I think the 2014 Nationals has one of the best pitching staffs EVER. With just a little bit of hitting, they should be dominating, especially against an extremely weak NL East. I can’t even keep up with who the Braves have in their starting rotation besides Teheran. When our pitching staff is not walking guys for a week at a time, we should be able to dominate, including in run differential…

    But, as suggested on another board, the Nats have had a lot of trouble scoring 4 runs or more. When they hit that number, they win. They’ve been making mediocre pitchers look like Cy Young and have lost 8 of 10 in extra innings. This has made them good this year, but certainly not great.

    Andrew R

    8 Jul 14 at 5:20 pm

  13. Their bullpen is like 1st or 2nd in most macro categories, which makes the huge losing record in extra innings all the more unbelievable. Unless its indicative of over-use/micro managing from Williams … if you’re in the 11th inning and you’ve burned all your good arms and are left with either Blevins or Detwiler, yeah you’re facing a probable loss.

    But i’m not sure that’s the case. It may be coming back to “clutch hitting,” the bane of the offense last year. Havn’t looked up numbers but would be curious to see what our offense looks like in extras.

    Todd Boss

    9 Jul 14 at 9:47 am

  14. Bullpen performance/extra innings: I always enjoy the meme that anything good that happens to a team is because of the players and anything bad that happens is because of the manager. Williams made some odd decisions early in the year handling the bullpen, but IMHO those have really dwindled over the past few weeks. One small example: he got Storen up last night for the 7th inning, ready to come in if Fister struggled. When Fister got through the 7th 1-2-3, with a 4 run lead Williams didn’t reflexively go to the “B” bullpen. As he said after the game, Storen was hot, so he brought him in even with a four run cushion. The wear & tear on Storen was a sunk cost from getting him up for the 7th, so using him both maximized his wear & tear and saved usage of other relievers.

    It’s a little thing, but a lot of managers don’t ever make that adjustment.

    John C.

    10 Jul 14 at 3:57 pm

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