The All-Star Game is an event intended to celebrate the best players of the season, honor the grand tradition of baseball, and (confoundingly) decide who gets home-field advantage in the World Series. It should be a casual, light-hearted affair, but thanks to the process by which players are selected for the teams, a few deserving athletes don’t get to join in on the fun. Here are five such players who won’t be partying in San Diego this week. A few others could also be championed — Chris Davis, Adam Eaton and Jake Lamb come to mind — but these five really stand out to me.
1) Brandon Crawford, SS, San Francisco Giants
Chalk this one up to the popular vote. Democracy reigns when picking the starting lineups, and thanks to rabid fanbases and ballot-stuffing, some players who aren’t really All-Star caliber slip through. Addison Russell’s inclusion in the NL starting lineup created a cascading effect for the player/manager vote and NL skipper Terry Collins’s own selections. Be that as it may, it is flabbergasting to see Crawford left off of this year’s roster.
While Crawford does not find himself among the big-offense shortstops that are seemingly everywhere in baseball these days, he’s one of the slickest with the glove. He posted 19 Defensive Runs Saved and a 20.4 DEF in the first half, making him not only the best defensive shortstop in the NL, but the best in all of baseball. Plus, if we go by his .300 True Average, he’s actually been pretty productive at the plate, having added significant power to his game starting in 2015. Combine that with his aggressive yet efficient baserunning, and you have the NL’s most valuable player in the hole besides Corey Seager, not to mention the most valuable player on his own team. Crawford’s absence is a travesty.
2) Kyle Seager, 3B, Seattle Mariners
Seriously, what does Seager the elder have to do? The Mariners’ trusty third baseman exists perennially in the shadows, both at his position and on the team that employs him. Seager has been a solidly above-average hitter and great defender ever since his first full season back in 2012. Once his breakout year came in 2014, however, Seager has ranked fourth among all MLB third basemen in fWAR, and third in bWAR.
Moreoever, he’s having his best season yet in 2016. He’s posting career numbers in walks, power, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He’s on pace to slug 36 home runs. His 139 wRC+ and .319 TAv make him an elite hitter in the AL to go along with his sterling defense.
Seager was easily a top-15 position player in the American League in the first half of the season. Hell, by WARP, he’s a top-3 player! AL manager Ned Yost is only bringing two third basemen to the Midsummer Classic. He really couldn’t find room for the Mariners’ secret weapon? Really?
3) Rich Hill, SP, Oakland Athletics
Nobody could remember who Rich Hill was a year ago. The reliever had finally been bounced out of the league for good, plying his trade with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League. The Red Sox came calling soon after and decided to plop Hill in the rotation during September call-ups.
Hill was a revelation in his four starts, striking out 36 and walking only five in 29 innings of work. It turns out that was no fluke. Now with the A's, Hill missed a few starts in June this year thanks to a groin strain, but he’s been lights-out when healthy. The 36-year-old’s curveball of death consistently gets dropped into the strike zone and can’t get hit. Batters should know what to expect from Hill at this point; they're failing anyway.
If we go by Deserved Run Average and adjust Hill’s numbers for opposing hitter quality, park effects, defense, catcher framing, controlling the running game, and other critical contextual factors, Hill has unquestionably been the best pitcher in the AL, posting a 2.51 DRA in 76 innings.
Even by ERA, Hill’s 2.25 mark is the second-best in the junior circuit. He's striking out almost 29% of the hitters he faces. He's keeping half his batted balls on the ground while allowing an MLB-best 0.24 home runs per 9 innings. He's a soft contact king. The dude is a great story, and a legitimate threat to guys in the batter's box. The only way the players, coaches, and Ned Yost himself couldn’t have taken Hill along is that he hasn’t crossed the 100-inning mark yet. That shouldn’t matter. Hill’s been phenomenal.
4) TIE: Gregory Polanco, RF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Christian Yelich, LF, Miami Marlins
Polanco and Yelich are not All-Stars this year, besides both having breakout seasons and being two of the best outfielders in the National League. You know who is an All-Star? Jay Bruce. Jay f*&king Bruce. Who cares if both Polanco and Yelich are out-hitting, out-defending, and generally outplaying Bruce in every measurable way this year? What’s more, the Reds are already sending a deserving player to the ASG in Adam Duvall. This wasn’t a pity selection. No, the only thing that matters to Terry Collins is that Bruce is rocking 63 RBI, the fourth-most in the senior circuit. Jay f*&king Bruce is an All-Star, and Gregory Polanco and Christian Yelich are not. SMDH.
5) Jason Castro, C, Houston Astros
This pick might seem a little weird. Let me explain. Yes, Castro has been pretty light-hitting in the first half, thanks to a 95 wRC+ / .251 TAv in 230 plate appearances. He doesn’t offer much in the way of throwing guys out on the basepaths, either. Yet, Castro has been the most valuable catcher in the AL. How? Pitch framing.
Most everyone accepts the incredible value of pitch framing nowadays, but when most of your measurable worth rests on this vitally important skill, you still tend to get overlooked. Castro is no exception. Per Baseball Prospectus’s framing metrics, which adjust for pitcher and hitter tendencies along with ump zone variance, Castro has been the best framer in the AL, stealing 2.7% more strikes than the average catcher. Castro has saved his pitchers 15.3 runs by his framing alone.
Meanwhile, Stephen Vogt will be in San Diego, despite being genuinely terrible behind the plate and Rich Hill much more deserving of the sole A’s allocation. Ditto the Orioles’ Matt Wieters, whose only claim to a spot is that despite not hitting very well, he’s continually hit in clutch moments. Castro is a defensive whiz in maybe the sport’s most important defensive position, and Ned Yost doesn't care. I just hope that Castro does something fun with his time off.
So there you have it. Five guys who have performed at All-Star level and are still staying home this week. Maybe you disagree, but these five certainly have strong cases to tip their funny hats to the crowd at Petco Park on Tuesday. The All-Star Game is a weird institution. We forever tilt at windmills, looking for justice in its rosters. We rarely find the dragons.
Evan Davis is a regular contributor to Beyond the Box Score. His work has appeared in BP Bronx and Amazin' Avenue. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ProfessorDobles.