The Early MLB All-Star Voting Start Debate… A Royal All-Star Game?

April 29, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

Another season, another desperate promotional crawl toward the MLB All-Star game this July. And, of course, if you promote something enough through various media outlets then it simply MUST be important, right? That’s the only possible explanation. Well, if that’s the rule you live by, I hope you’re enjoying your Furby and Pet Rock. I have some GREAT Snake Oil I’d like to sell you, too.

Too often sports marketing becomes about repetition of message and not quality of product. No example better illustrates this fact like Major League Baseball’s promotion of All-Star voting for fans. Fans are asked after a short three weeks of actual baseball to vote on which players deserve to play in the All-Star game – you know, that game that decides home field advantage for the World Series. Sure, it is an exhibition game, but it is also a game designed to award the best league with home field advantage. Are you ready to pick those players in April, knowing full well that those players might be deciding if your team gets home field advantage in the World Series? I know I’m not.

This debate depends entirely on context. What is the context for the fans voting in the All-Star game? Are fans expected to pick the best players across the league to represent their preferred league in the All-Star game? Or, are fans simply voting for their favorite players? It seems that there is a substantial disconnect here. Fans are voting based on popularity in the current structure. Allowing fans to vote after three weeks of actual games is absurd because fans have very little sample size to go off of. The kicker is, of course, that the All-Star game is a game fans and players alike want to win.

So, to recap. Fans want to vote for their favorite players early and often. A smaller faction of fans, coaches, and players want to win the game to secure home field advantage in the World Series… a goal that the best players are required to accomplish. The equation simply does not add up, and the early voting perpetuates the problem. Any democratic situation requires the electorate be informed, but in this case the electorate is misinformed with bad information with a small sample size.

Popularity dictating the vote does not seem to make sense, then, because, popular players are not always the best players. And, the inverse is true also in that the best players are not always popular. The problem is, the best players a few weeks into April will not be the best players still after June 1. Consider this very real scenario, folks. If voting were ended right now here is a likely starting lineup for both sides:

American League
1B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
2B Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
3B Ty Wiggington, Baltimore Orioles
SS Yuniesky Betancourt, Kansas City Royals
LF Scott Podsednik, Kansas City Royals
RF Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians
CF Franklin Gutierrez, Seattle Mariners
C Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
P Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins
DH Vladimir Guerrero, Texas Rangers

National League
1B Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
2B Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves
3B Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
SS Ryan Theriot, Chicago Cubs
LF Andre Ethier, L.A. Dodgers
RF Kosuke Fukudome, Chicago Cubs
CF Michael Bourn, Houston Astros
C Ivan Rodriguez, Washington Nationals
P Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets
DH Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

Do those lists showcase the best talent in MLB, across the board, that is most deserving of an All-Star game apperance? No. Some of the players deserve recognition, but many will likely fade after the adrenaline of April wears off. And frustrated All-Star managers will be left holding the bag. I mean, do the Royals REALLY deserve that much All-Star attention? As a business issue – are fans going to PAY to see the stars from ROYALS? No, but then we’re back at the popularity scenario where the best players are not guaranteed a roster spot. The entire conundrum can be avoided easily if fan voting does not begin until a reasonable amount of baseball has been played.

Plus, if the World Series home field advantage depends on this game, why aren’t the selected managers able to build the type of club they want in order to win the game? Taking fan voting completely out of it, there is potentially a great deal at stake. It doesn’t make sense to put every manager in a difficult situation by forcing underqualified players on them in a playoff series that is a must win should their team reach the World Series.

If fans must be included in the voting, at least recognize that there is no baseball value in beginning the vote this early. It is an effort to pander to fans – an effort I find both insulting and useless. There are some aspects of the game that should be taken seriously, like contracts and championships. Opening the vote even earlier to fans makes a mockery of contracts by triggering All-Star incentives in contracts for players that do not deserve them, and by forcing less skilled players on managers charged with the responsibility of winning a game.

Allowing fans to vote at all is enough. Opening the vote up after three weeks into the season just stuffs the roster with questionable players and works against the goal of the game being taken seriously. Restore pride in the All-Star game… or just don’t bother.

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The 2010 Best Rotation for the Money Debate… How to Reach the Postseason on a Budget

April 7, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Sports Geek.

A phrase like “best pitching rotation for the money” can be interpreted many different ways.

On one hand, you have a team like the New York Yankees. The Yankees are the name-brand shoppers of Major League Baseball, and only want the very best that money can buy. They have invested more than $60M into their pitching rotation, and last season it paid off for them in the way of a World Series championship.

Not every team has to spend top-dollar for their pitching talent, though. Some teams, like the great bargain-hunters of the world, have an uncanny ability to stretch their dollars to the very maximum. They may not get the top performers of the game, but they manage to find the right guys for the right price to get the right job done.

No team has managed to stretch their dollars better this year than the Minnesota Twins.

I know there are a lot of questions surrounding the Twins hurlers this year thanks to a new ballpark that seems to be hitter friendly, and the season-ending Tommy John surgery for closer Joe Nathan. What the Twins have going for them, though, is a very strong offense and a schedule that includes more than 30 games against either the Cleveland Indians or Kansas City Royals. Because of that, they don’t need world-beaters on the mound. Instead, they simply need guys who can come in and pitch consistently, keeping the offense in the game. That was the key to the Twins’ success last season, and 2010 should not be any different.

The Twins pitchers may not be the flashiest guys to set foot on the mound, and they may not put up the best numbers, but they will once again be successful. And, that success will come at a FRACTION of the cost the Yankees have invested in their hurlers. In fact, the Twins last season paid only $3.56M to the men comprising their 2010 starting lineup (Yankees’ starters C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett alone combined for TEN TIMES that amount), and will pay one of the lowest combined salaries in baseball again this season (only Washington, Pittsburgh, Florida, Tampa, and Toronto pay less). Yet the Twins reached the postseason for the fifth time in eight seasons in 2009, and will be among the teams competing for playing time in October once again in 2010.

Three of their budget starters, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Carl Pavano, combined last season for a record of 30-16 while in Twins uniforms. They are all practically locks to have winning records once again in 2010. Added to that mix is Mr. Consistency (Nick Blackburn), who has notched records of 11-11 in 33 starts in each of the last two seasons, with respective ERAs of 4.05 and 4.03 (his first outing of 2010 season resulted in a win and an ERA of – you guessed it – 4.05).

The only real question in their rotation is with their fifth starter, Francisco Liriano, who at one time appeared ready to become the next dominant name in pitching. However, on the heels of a 2006 all-star season where he pitched to a record of 12-3 and an ERA of only 2.16, Liriano had Tommy John surgery that he has not yet been able to fully bounce back from. After a very impressive winter campaign, though, Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire seems confident enough in Liriano’s ability to keep him as the fifth starter in the rotation. He also has youngster Brian Duensing waiting in the wings (at a whopping league minimum salary of $400K), who is more than capable of taking over a starting role, should Liriano prove unreliable once again on the starting mound.

The bullpen is the real question for the Twins this season, and the recent vacancy of the closer role by Joe Nathan is where the biggest challenge lies for Gardenhire. Nathan posted a career-high 47 saves in 2009 and has never had an ERA worse than 2.70 since becoming the Twins closer in 2004. Those are very tough shoes to fill, and the Twins don’t really have a bona fide closer who can produce those same results. They have named Jon Rauch as their closer pro tempore, and have Matt Guerrier on reserve, both of whom are VERY capable relievers. But neither will likely match the production that Nathan provided.

Nevertheless, thanks to residing in one of the weakest divisions in baseball, along with a very strong lineup at the plate, the Minnesota Twins should remain in contention for the postseason yet again. They don’t NEED the elite pitchers of the game to do that, because it would be a waste of money. The players they have in their rotation are consistent, successful, and most importantly CHEAP. They will manage to remain in HEAVY contention for the postseason with one of the least expensive pitching rotations in the entire league. I would call that one of the best pitching rotations for the money!

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