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    Friday, July 23, 2021

    All-Star Game Trivia: Who Were the Best All-Stars, Worst Snubs, Most Extreme Repeats, and so on

    I guess publishing an article about All-Star Game trivia during the week of the All-Star Game is usually preferable, but there’s not much you can do when the inspiration comes to you during the All-Star Game itself (“the inspiration” in this case being “my brother started asking me questions I didn’t know the answer to during the game”). I guess I could sit on this idea for a year and run it for the 2022 game, but that seems a bit like overkill, and I’m not sure I trust myself to remember it for that long. So instead, let’s just take a look back at the different extremes when it comes to making the All-Star Game.

    The obvious starting point is “who has made the most All-Star Games”, which, for anyone not aware, is Henry Aaron. The late Hammerin’ Hank made 25 different All-Star teams across his 23 years in the Majors, only missing in his first and final seasons. For anyone looking at those numbers for a typo, it’s worth mentioning that there were two Games per year from 1959 to 1962 (this will come up later), during which time Aaron went 8-for-8.

    Stan Musial and Willie Mays also made two games all four years, which is a big part of their runner-up totals of 24 All-Star selections. The highest total for a player who couldn’t double up like that is Cal Ripken Jr., who made the Midsummer Classic in nineteen different seasons (which is still two behind Aaron and one behind Mays and Musial). Meanwhile, Mariano Rivera leads all pitchers with thirteen Games, with Tom Seaver right behind him at a dozen. Kind of a big step down there. Anyway, all of that is easy enough to find with a basic search, so let’s move on to the more complicated stuff. I’ll separate it into position players and pitchers.

    Position Players

    The first, most obvious questions are the counterparts, “Who’s the worst All-Star of all-time” and “Who’s the best non-All-Star”, both of which are fairly easy to find as well. Starting with the latter, going by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement, Tony Phillips leads all players without an All-Star Game selection, with 50.9 WAR. Which makes sense; the utility star’s combination of defense, flexibility, and on-base percentage was underrated during his career. Honorable mentions go to Tim Salmon (40.6 WAR) and Eric Chavez (38.3). Kirk Gibson (38.4) is a debatable case as well, as his problem was partially self-inflicted (he twice declined selection). Andrelton Simmons is the active leader here,* to my surprise; at 36.3 WAR, passing Phillips might be a tall order, but he could easily catch Salmon and Chavez.

    *After Simmons, the only active position players with 20+ career WAR and no All-Star selections to show for it are Keven Kiermaier and Josh Reddick.

    For the other question, Bob Clarke has the lowest career WAR total for any All-Star, at -5.1. But it feels like there should be an asterisk here; Clarke was catcher in the Negro Leagues, with his lone selection coming while he was on the 1940 New York Black Yankees. However, he only has 17 games recorded for that season in Baseball-Reference, which leads me to wonder if this is a case of his stats for the season being incomplete.

    If that is the case, the title would go to Myril Hoag. Hoag was an outfielder on three champion Yankees teams for most of the 1930s, but finally made the team in 1939 after a trade to the Browns. I tried poking around to see if this was a case of the “one player per team” rule, as Hoag wasn’t great that year (a .295/.329/.421 slash line out of right field, good for an OPS+ of 89), but I couldn’t find anything definitive on when that rule started (still, it looked like most teams got at least one player each year in this era, so I wouldn’t be shocked if it was at least the informal policy; let me know if you have anything definitive, though!).

    Neither of those were that difficult either, so let’s take it another level. Who was the best one-time All-Star, and the worst repeat choice? Again, we’ll handle these backwards. Sorting by worst All-Stars by WAR, our first repeat electee is Dick Seay. Seay was a second baseman in the Negro Leagues, making the team three times in 1935, 1940, and 1941 while amassing -2.1 Wins. Again, though, I’m not sure how similar the election process was for the Negro League All-Star Games, and while Seay’s record looks a little more complete than Clarke’s, the shortened seasons of those leagues still means that Seay’s three All-Star campaigns amount to just 114 games.

    If you wanted to stick to just the American League/National League contest, your choice is Hal Smith. Smith, a Cardinals catcher, made three teams in 1957 and 1959 (‘59, of course, being the first double All-Star season) while only amassing 1.5 WAR between those two seasons. For his seven-year career, the no-hit catcher was only worth 1.9 Wins. Perhaps he’d look better with modern pitch framing stats, though? He’s not too far from the runner-up here, Hal Wagner (2.6 WAR). Wagner was another catcher, this time representing the A’s and Red Sox in his two selections. If both Hals got big boosts from their pitch framing, though, our new title holder would be someone you’ve actually maybe heard of: Don Zimmer (2.7), who made both 1961 Midsummer Classics.

    Let’s return to the other question, the best player with the fewest selections. First, if you’ve never looked at All-Star games as a stat before, the big cutoffs are roughly 5 and 10 All-Star Seasons. 5 Games is like 60 WAR or 400 homers or 2000 hits, where people start to take notice, and 10 selections is like 70 WAR or 500 homers or 3000 hits, where just about every player is in the Hall of Fame.

    For reference, the ten-timers not in Cooperstown (excluding players who haven’t been retired long enough) are: Pete Rose (17 All-Star seasons), Barry Bonds (14), Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez (12 each), Alex Radcliff, Roger Clemens, Bill Freehan (11 each), and Steve Garvey (10). Most of those are probably obvious why they aren’t in. Radcliff, if you haven’t heard of him, was a Negro League third baseman who mostly played for the Chicago American Giants and made 13 All-Star teams (two of his eleven All-Star seasons had multiple Games). If the Hall ever has another Negro League ballot, I expect he’ll get some more attention. As for Freehan, now that Ted Simmons is in the Hall, I wouldn’t be shocked if Freehan becomes the new big-name catcher getting the Veteran Committee’s attention (although Thurman Munson might give him some competition).

    Now, as I said, while 5 All-Star Games is about the start of Hall of Fame level, like with other stat milestones, not every great player reaches the mark. In fact, Adrian Beltre only made 4 All-Star Games, despite over 90 WAR, making him the best position player (among those who have played in the All-Star Game era) to not make it to 5. That’s a title he took from Jeff Bagwell, by the way. Rafael Palmeiro, Sal Bando, and Jim Edmonds all fall here as well. If you drop your cut-off to 3, you get Robin Yount at the top (with potential future Veterans Committee pick Dwight Evans as the runner-up and Bobby Bonds a bit further down).

    Two All-Star Games is where you get into the really underrated players. Willie Davis, who didn’t even make the Hall of Fame ballot despite over 60 WAR, has a narrow lead on Bobby Abreu, Darrell Evans, and John Olerud. And the distinction of best position player to only make a single All-Star Game goes to Brian Downing, who made only the 1979 Game. The longtime Angels DH had a narrow lead over Brett Butler, who made his only team in 1991 as a member of the Dodgers.


    Let’s try it all again from the top, but this time with pitchers. First things first, the best non-All-Star pitcher in history is knuckleballer Tom Candiotti, who managed 42.3 WAR in parts of sixteen seasons without ever getting the call. I’m not sure how much of that was being underrated as a late-blooming knuckleball pitcher and how much of it was that his value was relatively spread out, rather than a super-high peak. After him, the top choices are Danny Darwin (40.3) and Fritz Ostermueller (34.3).*

    *Unlike with hitters, there’s no Andrelton Simmons-type making a run at this title. Kyle Hendricks (23.6) and Carlos Carrasco (21.2) are the only active players over 20 pitching WAR, with Danny Duffy set to join them soon.

    Meanwhile, the inverse list is also straightforward. Right now, active Tigers reliever Joe Jimenez holds the title for “All-Star with the lowest career WAR”. Since his 2018 All-Star season representing Detroit, Jimenez has thrown over 100 innings with a 5.60 ERA, en route to -1.6 career Wins Above Replacement.

    *Side note: it’s only been three years, but I had already forgotten that the Tigers finished third in their division that year while losing 98 games. Wild.

    If Jimenez wants to escape this distinction, he’s going to need just 0.2 WAR to pass Harry Kincannon. Kincannon was a starter for the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the second Negro National League when he made the 1934 Game. Of course, Kincannon’s numbers may change with future discoveries, so if Joe wants to play it safe and pass the worst MLB players to make an All-Star team, he needs 0.6 to tie Tyler Green (1995 Phillies) and Hal Gregg (1945 Brooklyn Dodgers) at -1.0 WAR. Relatedly, this is apparently a rough subject for Hals in Baseball.

    Again, it’s time to add another layer: who’s the worst repeat-All-Star to take the mound? This one was even rougher to find than the position player question, as there are a lot of pitchers who achieved a single selection and were then forgotten. Even our title-holder arguably fits this mold. Jim Coates led the AL in winning percentage in 1960, going 13-3 for the pennant-winning Yankees while pitching in 35 games (half of them starts). 1960 happened to be one of those double All-Star seasons, and Coates made both teams on the strength of those wins, despite a 4.28 ERA that was worse than both the league average (84 ERA+) and his eventual career average (4.00 exactly). B-R credits him with -0.6 WAR in that year, and -0.2 in total.

    But riding one fluke season to two picks feels a little like cheating. What if we want a player who made two Midsummer Classics in different years? It’s a bit of a jump, but our title in this case belongs to Johnny Williams, a member of the Cincinnati-Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American Leagues who made three teams in 1946 and 1947. However, this is one case where Baseball-Reference’s records are definitely incomplete (his 1946 season in particular has only 1.2 innings recorded). Seamheads, who’s done some great work compiling Negro League stats has a few more innings for him spread out over his career, but both sites’ WAR calculations land him at 0.5 Wins in his 5-year career.

    Restricting our search to just the American and National Leagues, we need to climb the all-time lists even more, all the way to 2.2 career pitching WAR. That total belongs to Blue Moon Odom, an interesting case who won three World Series and made two All-Star Games on the 1960s and ‘70s Oakland A’s. Odom’s two trips to the Midsummer Classic came in 1968 (famously called “The Year of the Pitcher”) and 1969, and Odom was genuinely good in them, although the league-wide environment and his home park might have oversold him a bit. However, his career WAR total maybe undersells him; he burnt out pretty early and hung on a little too long (his final four seasons actually cost him 3.6 Wins), and even at his peak, he mixed in some bad years in between the good (1967 and 1971 cost him a little over another 3 WAR combined). Also, it’s worth mentioning that Odom was actually a pitcher who could hit somewhat, and ended his career with another 3.2 batting Wins (with those final four years costing him almost half a win at the plate too).

    And now, we can tackle the best players with fewer than five All-Star campaigns. Weirdly, while pitchers don’t generally get as many All-Star selections as their position playing counterparts, especially at the upper end of the distribution, the pitchers who make the Hall of Fame still generally make 5 or more Games. Interestingly, this holds even among relief pitchers; the eight relievers in the Hall run the gamut from Rivera’s record of 13 selections down to Dennis Eckersley and Bruce Sutter at 6 times apiece. And this doesn’t appear likely to change in the near future; likely next relief inductee Billy Wagner (7-timer) is over the line, as are most of the names who might get any discussion in the near future.*

    *A quick round-up of the other closers who I think might get any Hall discussion in the next decade or so: Craig Kimbrel already has 8 All-Star selections, Aroldis Chapman has 7, and Joe Nathan, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jonathan Papelbon all have 6. Kenley Jansen is the only possibility I see who isn’t there, with only 3 so far, but if the end of his career is strong enough to improve his Hall chances, getting 2 more selections wouldn’t be out of the question, either.

    Anyway, the best pitcher by WAR to fall short of 5 All-Star Games is Bert Blyleven, who only made 2 Games despite just over 96.0 Wins. That’s probably correlated with why it took him fourteen tries to make Cooperstown. After him, Fergie Jenkins only managed 3 All-Star selections while racking up 82.2 WAR, and Don Sutton was selected only 4 times while accruing 68.3 WAR. Those three are the only pitchers in Cooperstown to not reach 5 All-Star teams.*

    *Also, if you want evidence of the ways in which player evaluation has changed over the years, it’s interesting to note that Blyleven, Jenkins, and Sutton were three of just ten pitchers to reach 3000 strikeouts prior to 1998, with Blyleven and Sutton third and fifth all-time until Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson had their runs at the record books in the 2000s. Blyleven reached the milestone in 1986, and would remain its most recent member until Clemens passed 3000 in 1998; meanwhile, from 1998 to present day, we’ve already had eight new members to the club, with Max Scherzer likely to join later this year, and none of them have struggled to reach five All-Star Games. In retrospect, it’s crazy to think that players who were that good at getting strikeouts, especially relative to their peers, were getting regularly overlooked prior to the late ‘90s or so. Maybe people were burnt out on Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver or something, and didn’t have room to appreciate any other strikeout pitchers? I really don’t know what the issue was.

    There are a handful of non-Hall of Famers in this range as well, although clearly none of them are on the same level as Sutton, Jenkins, or Blyleven. Tommy John is the only other 4-time All-Star to clear 60 pitching WAR, although Cole Hamels might be able to join him with a return. Tim Hudson and Johan Santana also landed in this range (also Bobo Newsom, although his Hall case is weaker than the other four). On the 3-time level, you get another batch of interesting players, including Rick Reuschel, Luis Tiant, Andy Pettitte, and Bret Saberhagen all in the 60-WAR range. Honestly, outside of Newsom, I think all of those guys are strong Hall snubs who deserve some reconsideration.

    The only-2-times club is where we see the snubs start to drop off. Jerry Koosman is Blyleven’s runner-up, despite falling nearly 40 Wins behind him. It’s another big drop after him down to Dizzy Trout. And the only-1-time club is even weaker. Kevin Appier leads the way, with roughly 55 Wins, then Jamie Moyer at 50, and Brad Radke at just over 45. I think you could make a case for Appier, although he should come after a number of other players in the hypothetical line.

    Also, like I mentioned earlier, most of the notable relievers made it to 5 All-Star Games. A lot of the best ones to fail to hit the mark were the ones who split their career starting, like 3-time All-Stars Wilbur Wood and Tom Gordon (at least Gordon was much more well-known as a reliever). John Franco is probably the biggest-name pure-closer to not make our cut-off, as he only made it 4 times while saving 424 games (fifth-most all-time). Maybe Jansen challenges him for that title someday, though.

    And with that, we come to the end of our week-late tour of All-Star Game history. Maybe I’ll re-publish this next year, when I can get a more timely publication out of it.

    1 comment:

    1. Great summary. Lesson number one: If you want your son to be a great ball player don't name him HAL!!