Aaron Crow has been a very useful pitcher for the Royals in 2011. True, he blew the game last night against the White Sox by allowing three runs in 1.2 innings and topped it off by balking in the wining run, besides that he’s been the definition of lights-out. He’s been fantastic in the setup role and even owned the closer role for a minute while Joakim Soria was demoted. His season hasn’t gone unnoticed as he was named to the 2011 All-Star team. It’s a great honor for a really good pitcher. It’s also completely asinine.
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I’m not knocking Aaron Crow. He’s done a marvelous job in the role he’s been given, however that role is a small one. He’s only pitched 41.1 innings, which is less than Felipe Paulino who the Royals acquired at the end of May. He’s appeared in 34 games, which is only 6 more than the rarely used Mitch Maier. Nobody is even considering those two as representatives for the Royals in Arizona and rightfully so. Yet if you look at their fWAR they have as good or better cases than Crow to be the team’s representative.
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fWAR
Felipe Paulino 1.2
Mitch Maier 0.4
Aaron Crow 0.4
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The All-Star roster is not created in a vacuum and is rarely representative of the best players of the season up to that point. Often, players are rewarded for popularity, longevity or merely by being a decent player on a terrible team. If the roster were created by selecting the best players at each position in the American League and relief pitchers were considered, then Aaron Crow would be a no-doubter. Unfortunately, that’s not even close to how the rosters are picked.
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First, there is a fan vote to decide the 9 starting position players. The primary goal of this vote is to market the All-Star game. Get people to care about who makes the team, let them tell you who they want to see and develop a series of sign-posts to remind people that the game is coming up and to keep them voting. Since the game is an exhibition game I have no problem with this process. The biggest problem is that MLB has allowed Fox and ESPN to dictate which teams get the most coverage in exchange for money. The networks obviously choose large-market teams and so their players are over-represented in any kind of fan vote. It’s not the fans who are to blame, it’s the short-sighted decision-makers at MLB who have allowed their brands to be manipulated by other parties.
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Next, the players, coaches and managers vote for 8 pitchers (five starters and three relievers) and 8 position players. In theory, allowing the people who actually play the game to vote on their peers is a nice inclusion. You’d think that the players would have a pretty good idea who deserves a spot in the All-Star game, but that doesn’t exactly seem to be the case. These players are extremely busy people and often are working when the rest of the teams are playing baseball, since, you know, they are baseball players too. So again, their primary source for learning about players they don’t see regularly is through major media outlets like ESPN. Their approach is typically more nuanced, but again relies primarily on legacy and popularity. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s just the way it is.
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Then the manager of the All-Star team selects 8 players to fill out his roster. This is part politics, part marketing and part trying to actually win the game. At this point, the manager in conjunction with the Commissioner’s office has to make sure that every team is represented and fill needs on the team. It’s the first time in the process that anyone truly considers which player from each team is most deserving of a spot in the game. Meanwhile, the roster as it’s already constructed has 8 pitchers and 17 position players. With the possibility of extra-innings and the brief appearances of pitchers, it’s no surprise that the managers select a lot pitchers. When a team like the Royals needs to get a player on the roster and they have a very good reliever, then it’s an easy decision for the manager.
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Finally, there is one roster spot left and again the fans get to vote from a small selection of players deemed worthy of inclusion but who weren’t selected in the first three methods of roster creation. It’s actually the first time in the entire process where players are put to a vote who most deserve to be included on the All-Star team for their performance this season. But again, the fans vote on the winner and it boils down to a popularity contest.
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An almost non-existent part of this process is looking at which players have out-performed their peers and should represent their teams at the game. It seems to be at best a tertiary criteria for selection. So given the way the system works now, Aaron Crow was the obvious selection. However, he’s far from the most valuable player on the team. That distinction belongs to Alex Gordon, who has been the best left-fielder in the American League.
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Among left fielders in the American League, Alex Gordon is 1st in fWAR, 2nd in wOBA, 1st in OBP, 2nd in SLG. He’s been an excellent defender, an excellent hitter and he’s been doing it for the entire season. He’s been mercifully placed into the Final Vote where he will almost undoubtedly lose to a player from a better team in a larger market. Meanwhile, his teammate who hasn’t come any where near being as productive as he has (nor jerked around near as much), will be representing the Royals at the All-Star game.
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The worst part of this whole debacle is the fact that for the 4th year in the last 6 there will almost assuredly be no Royals in the box score of the All-Star game. In the modern “it counts now because we can’t have a tie for some reason in an exhibition game” All-Star game, pitchers are left on the bench in case of exta-innings. Barring some extraordinary scenario or a mandate from the Commissioner’s office to ensure every team’s representative makes it into the game, Crow will languish on the bench. That will leave the thousands of Royals fans feeling a bit empty after the game.
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As fans of one of the worst franchises in sports, we have few moments of pride in our team. The chance to see one of our own on the same field with the superstars is one of them. Watching Soria enter the game and saying “Hey, that’s our guy! Show ‘em what you got!” is a moment of true pride for Royals fans. Watching one of our own take the plate is a fuzzy memory that last took place in the 2004 when Ken Harvey went 0-for-1. The last time we got to stand up in our living rooms and cheer for a Royal getting a hit in the All-Star game was in 1989 when Bo Jackson won the game’s MVP award.
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I’m a huge fan of Aaron Crow. I’m proud of him for making the All-Star game and I sincerely hope he gets in the game and succeeds. I also hope that somehow Alex Gordon will win the Final Vote and earn his rightful spot amongst the games best players. Regardless, he’s a victim of being a part of a woeful franchise and a terrible selection process. A process, much like baseball itself that is stacked against the Kansas City Royals.
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It may seem trivial to care which Royal dons the All-Star jersey in Arizona next week, but it’s our team’s one moment to shine in the national spotlight. It’s the one moment where dad’s can nudge their kid and show him that there is a good reason to be a Royals fan. It’s a moment that will likely not come this year and a moment which will mean a bit less as the most deserving player is watching from his home in Kansas City and possibly pondering if he’d have been there if he was on a different team. It’s those thoughts that can combine to form a decision to walk when free agency presents itself. It’s those decisions which perpetuate a downward spiral for a franchise that hasn’t been relevant since the last time a Royal got a hit in the All-Star game 22 years ago.


Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.