The Miami Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara is having a perfectly serviceable year as major league pitcher. He has started 17 games for the worst team in the National League and posted a respectable ERA of 3.82. But if you look under the hood of Alcantara’s season, there’s some cause for concern. His WHIP is 1.40, and his fielding-independent pitching (FIP) is an unsightly 4.61, both worse than the current MLB average.
And yet, Alcantara’s across-the-board mediocrity has earned him a spot on the National League All-Star team. One thing is certain: It’s probably not because of his numbers. Every MLB team needs an All-Star, and Alcantara got the call for the Marlins. (Miguel Rojas is perhaps a more deserving All-Star for the Marlins, with 2.6 wins above replacement to his name so far this season, but the shortstop position is more crowded in the National League.)
Alcantara’s dubious All-Star selection is nothing out of the ordinary for the Midsummer Classic. Every year, players find their way into the annual MLB showcase despite subpar statistics like Alcantara’s for multiple reasons: They are the best players on bad teams; the beneficiaries of overzealous fan voting; the winners of de facto lifetime achievement awards; and the players who look good from statistics of bygone eras.
With this in mind, we looked at some of the most curious All-Star selections in recent history from a statistical — both traditional and advanced — perspective. We also opted to take this one step further and isolate each All-Star’s numbers at the time of his selection in order to get a true gauge of what the team managers and fan voters were looking at when they selected these non-star All-Stars.1 Using FanGraphs’ splits leaderboards from March through June since 2002,2 we ranked the 516 All-Star pitching seasons and 792 All-Star hitting seasons — including players who were replaced on their teams because of injuries — by various metrics to find the biggest outliers. Good news, Sandy, you didn’t even make the list.
Mike Williams, RP, 2003 Pirates
5.58 ERA (516th out of 516), 5.41 FIP (516th), 5.52 xFIP (516th), 1.60 WHIP (516th), 5.6 BB/9 (515th), .334 wOBA (515th)
Williams’s selection is downright bizarre. When the Pirates reliever was announced as one of the top players in the National League, he had a 6.29 ERA and had just allowed five runs in 3.2 innings over four appearances to start July. Through June, Williams allowed 19 runs in 30 ⅔ innings with a 1.60 WHIP, also the worst of any All-Star selection since 2002.
This may be an example of the relevant statistics of the day taking precedence. Williams was credited with converting 85.7 percent of save opportunities and ranking third in the league in saves.
Mark Redman, SP, 2006 Royals
.357 wOBA (516th out of 516), 5.35 ERA (515th), 5.32 FIP (515th), 5.49 xFIP (515th), 1.52 WHIP (515th), 3.3 K/9 (515th), .291 average against (515th)
Redman was the lone tribute from a very, very bad Royals team. That team lost 100 games for the third-straight season and went into the All-Star break at 31-56. But every team needs one All-Star, so Redman was the choice.
In fairness, there may not have been anyone better on the 2006 Royals — their top hitters that year by OPS were Esteban German and Mark Teahen. But Redman was especially poor in the first half of the season. From April through June, Redman had a 5.35 ERA, allowing 41 runs in 12 appearances. He walked more batters than he struck out, and opponents were hitting .291 against him. Redman wasn’t just bad for an All-Star; his numbers were bad for any player.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Redman did not pitch in the 2006 All-Star Game.
Matt Capps, RP, 2010 Nationals
.297 average against (516th out of 516), .331 wOBA (514th), 1.44 WHIP (513rd)
In terms of closers on bad teams, Capps was not as egregious of a selection as Williams. As the Nationals’ only All-Star (though Ryan Zimmerman’s .909 first-half OPS would like a word), Capps had a 3.38 ERA through June with 22 saves. Capps was just remarkably prone to giving up hits — 43 in 34 ⅔ innings pitched to that point.
Capps found his way into the All-Star Game, where he faced one batter. He struck out David Ortiz to end the sixth inning, and that performance was enough to become the winning pitcher for the game.
Tim Wakefield, SP, 2009 Red Sox
5.39 xFIP (514th), 4.18 ERA (510th)
Redman or Williams take nearly every pitching category, but Wakefield is a solid third-worst with his 5.39 expected fielding-independent pitching.3 Put Wakefield under a different category of bad All-Star selection: the lifetime achievement award.
Wakefield had an ERA of 4.30 when he was selected. He led the league in wins at the time, but the longtime Red Sox knuckleballer probably reached the honor because it was his 17th year in baseball and he had not been named an All-Star before. Wakefield missed most of the second half of the season with injury and finished with a 4.58 ERA.
Salvador Perez, C, 2018 Royals
.212 average (792nd out of 792), .253 OBP (792nd), .275 wOBA (792nd), 69 wRC+ (792nd), .639 OPS (791st)
A lot of the worst-hitting All Stars are catchers. Perez was by far the worst. Known for his defense, Perez was the starting catcher for the American League as an injury replacement, and was decent defensively, but his hitting numbers were atrocious: a .212 batting average, 50 strikeouts to just nine walks, and a remarkable 14 double plays hit into. Perez was more than eight runs below average at the plate through June.
Unlike every other player on this list, Perez has been an All-Star fixture for most of this decade, making six-straight All-Star Games — mostly the product of the AL’s dearth of good-hitting catchers or even mediocre-hitting-but-famous catchers. Perez batted twice in the 2018 All-Star Game. He struck out both times.
Scott Podsednik, OF, 2005 White Sox;
Elvis Andrus, SS, 2010 Rangers
0 home runs (tied for 791st out of 792)
Podsednik and Andrus were the only two All-Stars since 2002 to enter the All-Star break without a single home run. In fact, both finished their All-Star season with zero dingers. For Podsednik, it was a 12-homer drop-off from the previous season. Andrus would go on to hit 20 home runs in 2017.
Neither had particularly great seasons to that point along with their low power totals. Andrus hit .296 with a 96 wRC+, below league average. Podsednik had a batting line of .288/.363/.336, though he led the AL at the end of June with 38 stolen bases.
Neither Podsednik nor Andrus was his team’s lone selection — the White Sox had four and the Rangers had five. (Cliff Lee was traded to the Rangers days after the rosters were announced, making six.) Both the 2005 White Sox and the 2010 Rangers would win the American League, with the White Sox going on to win the World Series. Instead, both of these All-Stars might have been selected as reserves as a nod to their teams’ successes.4 Several players had to be responsible for all that winning, right?
Josh Hamilton, OF, 2009 Rangers
30 hits (792nd out of 792), 26 games (791st)
Sandwiched between Hamilton’s breakout and MVP seasons is an injury-riddled middling year that still earned him an All-Star selection. Hamilton had played in just 35 games when the rosters were announced — among All-Stars since 2002, only Matt Wieters had played fewer, at 26 games. And in his 35 games, Hamilton hit just .240 with a .290 on-base percentage.
But as one of the game’s brightest stars at the time, he was voted the American League’s starting center fielder. Luckily, he recovered from injury in time for the All-Star Game, where he contributed an RBI in the AL’s 4-3 win.
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