The 2013 All-Star Game, set for Citi Field in New York City, is five weeks away. It has been decreed that the fans Must Select the starting position players, and – in recent years – individual teams Must Encourage their own fans to stuff the ballot boxes with votes for their own players as much as possible. Almost makes one beg for a Voter ID law in baseball.
But that’s not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about the other players: the pitchers. The ones that are supposed to be selected on merit alone… subject to that silly rule that every team still has to have a representative present (yes, even the Marlins). Thus, Bruce Bochy still won’t exactly be having a fun time with this task.
In the National League, this contest going to be pretty close – at least for the last 2-3 slots. The Braves’ Mike Minor has a legitimate shot at making the team. Let’s see how his candidacy is stacking up.
WIN/LOSS RECORD: No self-respecting student of the game likes this stat. Pitchers can never “win” a game… they can’t even entirely control whether it is lost, either. Regardless, it is always the first stat that presented whenever a pitcher’s name is mentioned, and it does represent the ‘bottom-line’ result… kinda. The chart here nonetheless shows just how well Minor’s results have been.
ERA: While still not a definitive stat (none of them are), this is at least a much better indicator of pitching prowess, since Runs Allowed points directly to your effectiveness as a pitcher. Here, Minor has developed into one of the elites over the past calendar year: in fact, as this was being written, the AJC’s Dave O’Brien tweeted that Minor “is 15-6 w/ 2.32 ERA and .199 opp avg in 28 starts since July 1, w/ 151 K’s and 35 BB in 178-1/3 IP.”
WHIP: Walks + Hits per inning pitched. The smaller the number, the fewer chances there are for an offense to score. This is also a fantasy baseball owner’s bane, since the numbers are often soveryclosetogether. Minor has excelled here as you see, plus he’s 6th in the NL this year in Batting Average Against (.203).
You might think that Minor would fall behind a bit in two other commonly observed pitching categories: Strikeouts and WAR. Though he had not been considered to be a ‘strikeout pitcher’ in past years, the strikeout is definitely part of his arsenal now: Minor ranks 10th in overall strikeouts, and 17th in K/9ip (Medlen: 26th, 30th).
But can he win the WAR? When you crunch the overall numbers into the fancy ones that Sabrematricians appreciate (Fielding Independent Pitching – FIP and Wins Above Replacement – WAR, and FIP is used as the core component of WAR for fangraphs.com), Mike Minor does not fare as well (15th and 12th, respectively among qualified NL starting pitchers). Why?
In the case of FIP, Minor is said to be ‘out-pitching his perpherial numbers’ (a 2.44 ERA vs. a 3.24 FIP). In 2011, Jair Jurrjens had a similar numerical disparity, though at the All-Star Break was pitching ‘lights-out’ – dominating nearly every start. When looking carefully at it, it seems like the FIP number penalizes a pitcher’s ability to get out of trouble by stranding runners. Of all NL starting pitchers stranding runners 75% of the time or better (and Minor’s strand rate is 80.4% – 7th best in the NL), only two had a better FIP than ERA: Lance Lynn and Adam Wainwright. Both of these guys are unique due to their absurdly low HR rates. None of this means that the numbers are wrong – but it does suggest that there is an element to quality pitching that the FIP and WAR values are not adept at capturing for certain kinds of pitchers.
Here’s an example of how FIP/WAR can be misleading: Homer Bailey. he is 7th in WAR, 5th in FIP. But he’s 3-4 with a 3.84 ERA, only stranding 68.7% of his base-runners. That said, Matt Harvey is he’s killing it with all of those numbers: with nearly identical FIP and ERA. But we’re getting off topic, so I’ll defer that discussion for another day.
Minor is 15-6 w/ 2.32 ERA and .199 opp avg in 28 starts since July 1, w/ 151 K’s and 35 BB in 178-1/3 IP. – Dave O’Brien
So is Mike Minor pitching well enough to be selected as an All-Star? Yes. Even if you isolate the charts above, you can certainly put him into the group of the top 8-10 starters that should be selected by Bruce Bochy in July. But let’s look a bit more carefully at the candidates that jump out at us:
- Jordan Zimmerman: with Strasburg ailing, and Gio Gonzalez only recently getting into a groove, Zimmerman is likely to be the pick from the Nationals.
- Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn: Wainwright is a mortal lock. If two of these three Cardinals get in, then it’s Miller, though Lynn has probably earned it as well.
- Cliff Lee: He’s getting the Wins this year, but is also pitching extremely well. Lee will be an All-Star.
- Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu: Kershaw is in; Ryu likely will be passed over – his numbers are not quite as good as several peers.
- Travis Wood: Wood could be the lone Cubs representative… note that here is a case in which Jeff Samardzija has a better WAR number, but Wood has better results. Could make a case for either pitcher.
- Patrick Corbin: Corbin is also a mortal lock. You can’t ignore a 9-0 pitcher (particularly in Bochy’s own division).
- Matt Harvey: the game is in Citi Field. I see no scenario in which Harvey does not make the team.
- Jason Marquis: no chance. He’s the NL walk leader (Braves? Are you paying attention to that for tonight?)
- Members of the Reds’ rotation: nearly all are worthy of some consideration. It is quite possible that none are selected as Chapman gets the nod out of the bullpen. The other option is that Bochy throws a dart at one of them, and leaves Chapman out so that he can pick a non-Red reliever (see below). Either way, this one’s gonna hurt.
- Jeff Locke: definitely not a Locke, especially since Jason Grilli will be on the squad with Andrew McCutchen.
So… let’s count: Wainwright (1; starter), Corbin (2), Lee (3), Kershaw (4), Miller (5), Harvey (6), Zimmerman (7), Wood (8). By my reckoning, that would allow room on a 14-man staff for Minor (with 4-5 relievers). It is certainly possible that you’ll see guys named to the team (like Strasburg) who cannot participate – perhaps a way to reduce the inevitable criticism of some picks. Minor’s not been a ‘flashy’ guy and not a headline-maker, but he’s clearly getting the job done. He likely has five more starts before the break, but at this point, he’s worthy of the selection.
Oh, and relievers? Yeah, real quick on that: Craig Kimbrel goes to New York. So does Jason Grilli, Aroldis Chapman, and Sergio Romo (remember who is managing/picking this team). A lot of deserving relievers (Rex Brothers, Jim Henderson, Mark Melancon, Jonathan Papelbon, Ed Mujica) could be left out.