When the American League takes the field in Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game, Derek Jeter will walk out of the dugout to what is sure to be thunderous applause and take his familiar place at shortstop.
That’s nothing new. Jeter, who plans to retire at the end of this season, has been named an All-Star 14 times in his storied career, starting the game at shortstop nine times. This year, though, he’s playing at nothing near an All-Star level. According to wins above replacement (WAR), Jeter has been one of the AL’s worst shortstops this season.
It’s tough to get too worked up, though, about Jeter getting the starting nod — however undeserved — in the final All-Star Game of his career. Although Erick Aybar of the Los Angeles Angels almost certainly warranted the accolade instead, baseball has a long history of awarding statistically unjustified All-Star Game starts. Surprisingly, though, the worst All-Star starting bids (since 1974 — excluding 1981, due to the players’ strike — according to FanGraphs’ WAR through the end of June for the season in question) are not exclusively the realm of sentimental picks like Jeter:
Forty-year-old Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2001 All-Star Game start was awarded purely out of legacy, and it’s been frequently compared to Jeter’s this week. Ripken, however, had the worst first half of any All-Star Game starter from the past four decades, having played much worse than Jeter has thus far in 2014. Ripken’s first-half triple-slash line in 2001 was .240/.270/.324 (good for a 56 Weighted Runs Created Plus); Jeter’s 2014 line is .272/.324/.322 (80 wRC+), despite playing in a more difficult offensive environment. Jeter may not be playing like a typical All-Star, but he hasn’t been as bad as Ripken was at the same age.
Perhaps more interesting is the fact not all — or even most — ill-advised All-Star starting picks went to sentimental selections. Of the 50 worst starters listed above, there are more players under age 30 (18) than 35-or-older (16). For most of the prime-aged players who started the All-Star Game despite poor first halves, though, their presence can be explained by a good season the year prior. This phenomenon is fueled by baseball’s long-standing confusion over whether the All-Star Game is supposed to honor the players who played best in the first half of the season in question, those who played best since the previous All-Star Game, or simply the best players in general.
Jeter falls into none of those three categories, but he will carry on the proud tradition of the legacy pick when he takes the field tonight.