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    Monday, July 2, 2012

    Did Tony La Russa Intentionally Snub Brandon Phillips and Johnny Cueto?

    Dusty Baker has decided he needs to offer his thoughts on the All-Star Rosters. And, in a total surprise, those thoughts may not be well thought out.

    Basically, Baker accuses Tony La Russa of holding grudges with the Reds (specifically, Johnny Cueto and Brandon Phillips) after they were involved in a fight with the Cardinals two years ago (a fight that included Cueto injuring Jason LaRue, which eventually caused his retirement, just as an aside). In the end, he decides that those grudges are the reason that Phillips and Cueto aren’t on the roster.

    Admittedly, both players have an All-Star case. I even put Cueto on the NL roster when I edited it yesterday. However, La Russa does not have total control over the rosters. He does have to share his picks with the fans and the players, neither of which picked Phillips or Cueto either. This isn’t entirely on him.

    Which picks was La Russa responsible for? Well, according to, La Russa hand-picked Carlos Ruiz, Ian Desmond, Jay Bruce, Giancarlo Stanton, Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Clayton Kershaw, Wade Miley, and Huston Street. Let’s look quickly at those nine picks.

    Four of the picks could not have gone to Cueto or Phillips anyway; Miley, Street, Stanton, and Kershaw (since Kemp is injured) all represent their teams’ only All-Stars, meaning a replacement for them would have to come from those teams. That leaves Ruiz, Desmond, Bruce, Hamels, and Papelbon.

    Ruiz, Desmond, and Hamels would all represent snubs in their own right. Someone would be getting ignored no matter what, so I can’t imagine Cueto or Phillips’ histories with La Russa did them any favors. However, it is worth looking at the positions. There are already two second basemen on the roster: Dan Uggla, a fan-voted starter, and Jose Altuve, a player selection and the only Astro on the team. Phillips couldn’t exactly be swapped in for either of those (unless you want to mess with the rest of the roster). Phillips would have been, at best, the third second baseman on the team, and even then, I would have picked Aaron Hill first, given that he has a 101 point advantage in OPS. In fairness, Phillips himself may realize the difficulties in constructing a roster, as he took the high road and didn’t get involved in a petty press-war like everyone else involved.

    What about the pitchers, though? To keep the staff the same size, Cueto would have had to replace Hamels or Papelbon, basically. I’m not a huge fan of having five relievers on the All-Star roster, but that’s another fairly consistent thing, so really, it’s between Hamels and Cueto. I would have probably gone with Zack Greinke, though, to be honest. I think he’s the much bigger snub. He has a walked fewer batters, allowed fewer home runs (the fewest of any qualified pitcher, in fact), struck out almost as many betters as Hamels (111 to 102, both of which are K/9 rates of 9.00), and been worth 1.0 Win Above Replacement more than either pitcher. And La Russa doesn’t even have the (admittedly flimsy) excuse that Greinke pitches on Sunday to fall back on like he does for Cueto. And La Russa has also had issues with Greinke in the past, as well.

    So, what’s my conclusion? La Russa probably did let his biases into the pick, if only subconsciously. He’s very stubborn. However, it’s not like Cueto or Phillips were much more deserving than the people picked instead of them, or even people not picked. La Russa’s opinions may have served as a tie-breaker, but it’s not like he picked awful guys with the limited slots he had. And it’s not like he’s the only person that passed on them. If both Greinke AND Cueto don’t get picked after the swarm of Sunday pitchers drop out, then I’d be a little suspicious. But it’s not like La Russa’s trying to lose or anything. I’d say he’s done a better job of setting aside any biases than, say, Charlie Manuel (remember his pick of Ryan Howard over Joey Votto?).

    And on a larger scale, this is even less important. La Russa isn’t exactly biased against the entire team (his pick of Jay Bruce was probably his most questionable roster decision). And there are always All-Star snubs. This year won’t be any different no matter what we do. Just remember things like this when people try and use All-Star selections for things like Hall of Fame debates.

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