(Don’t?) Believe the Hype….

I’m a sucker for hyped rookie talent in baseball. Have been for years – since a hot September by a young player led to a great Strat-o-Matic card the following year. Hell, one of my oldest and closest friends bought a batch of Dave Valle rookie cards based on his 5 HR-in-53 AB performance during late 1986 (how’d that one turn out?).

Buying the hype continues for me to this day – drafting players like Chase Utley, Corey Hart, Andrew McCutchen, Tim Lincecum and Ike Davis in my rotisserie baseball keeper leagues while they were still in AA or AAA ball. And I really, really hope this Strasburg kid lives up to his potential – especially since baseball has done a piss poor job of promoting its young, exciting players and frankly, the game itself (thanks for nothing, Bud….)

That being said, reading this article that “makes the case” for Strasburg being an All-Star this season misses the mark in so many ways. Not that he hasn’t had three very solid starts – albeit against barely major league hitters on Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and a then-below .500 White Sox team (his next start will be against the Royals). But this piece of the argument is straight out of the “where have I heard this before?” book:

The only question on him now appears to be: Is he a once-in-a-lifetime pitcher, or a once-in-a-century pitcher?

Admittedly, the forces of stodginess will all be aligned against the appearance of Stephen Strasburg on an All-Star roster at this early date. There are always legions in favor of the baseball status quo. Let’s not do anything different, because, well, it might be too different. And in this case, even the Nationals probably wouldn’t want Strasburg pitching in a situation over which they had little or no control.

But, but, but Stephen Strasburg is a special case. The only negative result from putting him on the NL All-Star roster would probably be that some of the other All-Star pitchers, after seeing him work, would go back to their respective teams with inferiority complexes.

It isn’t about the “status quo” or not doing anything different – if it was, there wouldn’t be a Wild Card or intraleague play, and one Armando Galarraga would have a 28 out perfect game on record. In the case of Strasburg and this year’s All Star game, it is about whether he deserves to be there – plain and simple – not whether the hype mandates that he be there.

Let’s look back just a few short months – to one Jason Heyward of the Atlanta Braves. Chipper Jones comparing Heyward to former Tennessee Titans DE Jevon Kearse and Bobby Cox compared Heyward to Hank Aaron – before he saw one major league pitch that counted. And we can go back further and further – remember when JD Drew was compared to Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial before blowing off the Phillies when they drafted him? He’s still around and has had a pretty decent career – but come on – nothing near that hype. Of course, if you wanted a rookie NL pitcher on the All-Star squad that has deserved it from Day 1, look no further than Jaime Garcia on St. Louis, who only has 70Ks, a sub-2.00 ERA, 7 wins and a 1.21 WHIP through 14 starts.

The list goes on and on. Kerry Wood was compared to Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. Mark Prior was even better and had the “perfect windup” so as to never get injured. Eric Davis had 2 of the more amazing seasons in 1986 and 1987 and was compared to Willie Mays before a number of average, injury riddled seasons and a bout with cancer (which was one of the best comeback stories) left his career as another “what could have been”. I won’t even get into Doc Gooden or Darryl Strawberry – 2 guys who had very good careers and accomplishments, but nothing near the lofty instant-Hall-of Fame hype that was heaped upon them those first few seasons.

If Strasburg is this good, lucky and healthy, he will have many All-Star games to come. Ditto for Heyward, and maybe even Florida’s Michael Stanton or the Mets’ Ike Davis. But right now, neither Strasburg nor Heyward are even the most deserving player on their own teams. Let’s watch these guys do their thing and maybe blaze their own paths. But there is only one Mantle, Aaron, Mays, Ryan and even Clemens. In the meantime, if baseball wanted to do something that was “for the good of its fans”, then maybe coming clean on PEDs and marketing the players who have already proved themselves as perennial All-Stars or future Hall of Famers would be a better idea.

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  1. CTV
    Posted June 23, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    He probably has 3 more starts before staffs are named. If they are dominant, he should definitely be on the team. Despite the ‘this time it counts’ stuff – the game is an exhibition, meant for the fans, and why wouldnt you want him out there? The game should be used to excite real fans and drum up interest from casual fans. It’s the perfect showcase for him. Plus, the game *does* count for home field in the WS, and he is the best choice to actually pitch well.

    I’m a stathead, but I have never been in favor of using 1/2 year stats alone as All-Star input. Superstars having sub-super years should be invited, as should phenoms acting like phenoms, if not for a full 1/2 year.

    Strasburg is not about hype alone. He dominated real major leaguers in spring training. He pitched off the charts in the minors. He has dominated in his short time in the majors.

    Who wouldn’t pay to see him vs Josh Hamilton in the All-Star game? I sure would.

  2. Adam Lambert
    Posted June 23, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    intersting, Chris, and since I know you are a bigger stathead than I am, it is even more interesting to hear your take.

    I look at it as the game “counting” being irrelevant to who is chosen to play based on the current rules for choosing players (fan votes, manager of WS picks and the online votes for last guy in). Making the game somewhat relevant was more of a gimmick to me, and until the voting takes out the ballot box stuffing element, that is what we are stuck with.

    So if Strasburg was on the ballot and got in that way, so be it (although aren’t pitchers not on the ballot?)

    But if it is based on “who can generate the most buzz and interest”, then that is different than “who is having the best season” or “who do fans want to see the most” – both have merits but that’s what the NBA slam dunk contest, the MLB Home Run derby and NHL skills contests are supposed to do.

    of course, if his next 4 starts are like his first 3, then maybe there is a better case if he is 5-1 with a sub 2.00 ERA and 60Ks. But just not right now.

  3. CTV
    Posted June 23, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    I think the current implementation strikes a good balance between 1/2 season merit and other considerations, including career value and yes, buzz. It allows the manager (if they want) to make a small handful of picks that are not based only on 1/2 season merit. Strasburg should be one of those picks (as should Griffey, in my opinion, and sub-par superstars like Utley). This does not significantly impact the game enough that the “countiness” of it is affected.

    The biggest sham of the All-Star Game is the managing of the game to make sure everyone gets an at bat makes the game itself pretty awful.

  4. Adam Lambert
    Posted June 23, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    The biggest sham of the All-Star Game is the managing of the game to make sure everyone gets an at bat makes the game itself pretty awful.

    Couldn’t agree more – especially if the game “counts” now.

    I added a piece to this post about a truly deserving rookie pitcher – Jaime Garcia. Also, the “every team has a representative” would impact whether a Strasburg or Griffey gets added. But maybe a special “lifetime achievement roster spot” for retiring players could solve some of that.

    I do agree also on Utley – provided that a truly deserving 2B gets added based on this year’s stats. I hate when players get in on reputation and more deserving players don’t make the cut, but that happens every year and is part of the fan voting process…..

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