This was inspired by seeing that relief pitcher Bob Howry had a career ERA+ of 120, including a figure of 152 over the 2004-2007 seasons, but was never selected to play in an All-Star Game. It got me thinking: which other players, in the current game and historically, have been similarly overlooked when it came time to play in the Midsummer Classic? After the jump, we'll crunch the numbers and see, beginning with those still playing in the game.
The methodology was simple. I used bWAR as the metric of choice, and the B-R.com play index allows you to filter by players who have never appeared on an All-Star roster. As a number of players have played at multiple positions, for each spot, I required each nominee to have at least 300 starts at the position in question, in order to be eligible for selection at it. This did lead to the omission of some deserving position players from the final line-up, so I added a "bench" category so they could get their just deserts. I went with a standard 25-man roster: eight starters, a DH, and four bench players, five starters and seven relievers.
- Catcher: Kurt Suzuki (9.9 WAR).
- First base: Aubrey Huff (16.9 WAR)
- Second base: Mark Ellis (25.9 WAR)
- Third base: Eric Chavez (33.4 WAR)
- Shortstop: Yunel Escobar (18.7 WAR)
- Left field: Josh Willingham (15.9 WAR)
- Center field: Mark Kotsay (20.5 WAR)
- Right field: Nick Markakis (21.0 WAR)
- Designated Hitter: Travis Hafner (22.5 WAR)
- Bench: Coco Crisp (20.1 WAR); Shin-Soo Choo (20.1 WAR). David DeJesus (18.0 WAR), Adam Kennedy (17.8 WAR)
Chavez is, far and away, the leader here - his tally of WAR is good enough for 32nd on the list of currently-active players, and he had had two years (2001 and 2004) where he finished in the the top eight for the year. He received MVP votes four seasons in a row, and picked up six consecutive Gold Gloves. 2002 might have been his best chance: that year, he won not just the Gold Glove, but the Silver Slugger at 3B, hitting 34 home-runs with 20 of them before the break. His 2001 was possibly slightly better overall, hitting .288 with 114 RBI, but that was fueled by a strong second-half surge, where he batted .340 with 21 home-runs.
He and Aubrey Huff both have 242 career home-runs, and might have a shot at the all-time record by a non-All Star. No-one has reached 300 HR without playing in an All-Star Game: the closest is Tim Salmon, who finished his career on 299. Markakis had the best single season of any active non-All-Star. He put up 7.2 WAR in 2008 for Baltimore, batting .308 with twenty home-runs. 14 of those came in the first-half, and he was hitting .300 there as well, but he lost out to Ichiro (naturally) and J.D. Drew for the American League roster spots.
But perhaps the unluckiest of all active players was Travis Hafner in 2006: he was hitting.322/.461/.650 at the break, with 25 homers and 74 RBI. However, the All-Star Game was played in Pittsburgh that year, and being a National League park, there was no DH spot available for Hafner. A 1.112 first-half OPS is quite possibly the highest ever posted, by a player not selected to take part in a game that year. Here are the career numbers for all our non-All Star All Stars.
- Starter #1: A.J. Burnett (22.4 WAR)
- Starter #2: Doug Davis (19.4 WAR)
- Starter #3: Aaron Harang (18.5 WAR)
- Starter #4: John Danks (18.2 WAR)
- Starter #5: Erik Bedard (15.6 WAR)
- Long-man: Darren Oliver (18.3 WAR)
- Left-hander #1: Scott Downs (10.0 WAR)
- Left-hander #2: Sean Marshall (8.9 WAR)
- Right-hander #1: Rafael Betancourt (12.6 WAR)
- Right-hander #2: Joaquin Benoit (9.3 WAR)
- Set-up: LaTroy Hawkins (15.0 WAR)
- Closer: Octavio Dotel (15.0 WAR, 109 saves)
It's a rather different selection here, with the starters generally being pitchers who have amassed long, solid careers without necessarily being particularly outstanding, as is shown by ERA+ numbers below 110, with the exception of Bedard. Danks had the best single season, 6.1 WAR with the White Sox in 2008, but a stretch of eight games in May and June where he had just one win, despite a 2.49 ERA, likely killed his chances of selection. Harang had a 5.8 WAR season with the Reds in 2007, reaching the break with a 9-2 record and 3.67 ERA. Perhaps MLB were concerned about the claims for damages which would result from all the photographers in attendance.
Oliver was an awkward one. Too few starts to qualify as a true starter, but too many to qualify as a pure reliever either. In the end, given he finished both in the top seven relievers by WAR and top five starters, he had to be fitted in somewhere, so I decided to make an exception and let him as a swing-man - call him if you need long relief or a spot start. However, a little further down the list, Miguel Batista (12.0 WAR) fell into the same boat: I couldn't really justify another exception, so he was excluded, most of his WAR having come in his years as a starter and he was well outside the top five there.
With relievers, there are some more impressive candidates, who haven't been given many of the high-profile save opportunities, but have been effective enough in other situations. Dotel's 109 is second all-time among active non All-Stars, to Kevin Gregg's 144, but Dotel hasn't had more than 22 for a single team in a single season. Amusingly, a trio of former Diamondbacks' closers find places in the top ten: Brandon Lyon (4th with 78), Jon Rauch (5th, 59) and Chad Qualls (=9th, 51).
Will any of these be able to break the streak going forward? Among the pitchers, Danks is likely the best bet, since he is still aged 27; reliever Marshall is the only other one selected who is currently below his age 33 season. It's not quite the same case for the hitters, with a number of the nominees to be found on the right side of 30: Markakis, Choo, Escobar and Suzuki. They would all seem still to have the chance of a breakout season that will push them to the recognition they perhaps should already have had.
Next time, we'll expand the list to look at those since the All-Star Game started in 1933 - there's a connection to the current Diamondbacks in there....