Josh Harrison is the Pirates’ only All-Star this year, but he shouldn’t be. No, this is not another hand-wringing column about Starling Marte letting down the city and, no, it’s not another rant about how Felipe Rivero got snubbed for the Midsummer Classic. (Well, it’s not just another rant about how Rivero got snubbed for the Midsummer Classic.)
Josh Harrison is an All-Star because baseball is a numbers game, and because the league insists on including a member of every team in the game, even at the risk of leaving a few deserving players off.
So why is it Harrison for the Buccos? Because the Phillies are terrible.
Yes, Harrison can thank a pretty decent first half of the season for his All-Star nod, but in doing that he should give a hearty pat on the back to Phillies reliever Pat Neshek, who was chosen in part thanks to his own good first half, but more for the simple reason that nobody else on the Phillies deserved any consideration at all for the free trip to Miami.
The same goes for the woebegone Padres, who have just 38 wins at the break (nine more than the Pirates’ cross-state rivals in Philly, FWIW) and sent only lefty reliever Brad Hand to Miami.
The NL roster has eight outfielders, three first basemen, three players at second — including Harrison — three at third, two shortstops, two catchers and 13 pitchers. Thirteen pitchers! Yes, that includes Clayton Kershaw, who won’t pitch, but it also includes six relievers, and it’s hard to find many with better credentials for the ASG than Rivero.
That said, there are 68 players who were named to the All-Star team this year. Not all of them will play, as some were voted in but are injured, like the game’s best player Mike Trout, while the game’s best pitcher, Kershaw, pitched Sunday and can’t throw again tonight. And yet, 68 guys were named to the two teams playing tonight, so it’s hard to get worked up about anyone really being snubbed.
With 30 teams and 25 men on each active roster, there are 750 players in the majors, which works out to 9.1 percent of the league being named to this year’s All-Star team. And yet, get mad, yinzers, because how in the heck was there was only enough room for one Pirate this year? And how in the heck was that Harrison, not Rivero?
By the way, it’s not just the Phillies and Padres to blame (or thank) for Harrison’s inclusion over Rivero. It’s also the Marlins and Diamondbacks. And the Dodgers. Sort of.
The host Marlins are 41-46 at the break and have two players starting tonight, so there’s little chance they’d get a third on the team, which leaves Dee Gordon sitting at home and watching. In the same number of games, Gordon is hitting .295 to Harrison’s .280, he has 104 hits to Harrison’s 90 (in 25 more at-bats) and while Harrison has 29 RBI to Gordon’s 18, the Marlins’ second basemen has 53 runs scored to 38 for Harrison.
Harrison does have a higher on-base percentage — .361 to .342 — and OPS — .797 to .701 — but Gordon makes up for that with 32 steals to Harrison’s 10. And while Gordon isn’t one of the top defensive second basemen in the NL this season, Harrison doesn’t even actually qualify, as he hasn’t played enough games at second base this year.
His versatility may have given him the edge in being selected. Or, you know, the roster math.
— Pirates (@Pirates) July 10, 2017
Arizona’s Brandon Drury also has a higher batting average and a better OPS than Harrison, with more RBI and extra base hits as well. So does shortstop Chris Owings, who has a better batting average and OPS than both Drury and Harrison. But Drury and Owings play on a good team that has four all-stars, including two in their infield. There was no chance the D’Backs would get three infielders to Miami, merit be damned.
And so, as the NL coaches put together the puzzle of including every team while trying to build a winning side because “this time it (still) counts,” Harrison was in and Rivero was out.
Of the six relievers (out of 13 pitchers) on the NL roster, four are the only All-Star participant for their team. Of the 15 teams in the NL, eight have just one All-Star selection. The Dodgers? They have six guys on the team, and five eligible to play. So blame them for nothing other than being good.
Be happy for Harrison, but if you’re watching the game tonight and one of the NL relievers gives up a game-winning hit, remember why Rivero isn’t there. Not because he doesn’t deserve to be, but because other players on other teams deserved to be there less, so other pitchers who also deserved to be there less got picked instead.
Does that make sense? No? Exactly. Welcome to MLB’s All-Star math. Let’s not even get started on how a guy with 11 homers in the first round of a home run contest advanced, but a hometown guy with 22 didn’t. Baseball is, indeed, a numbers game. Sometimes the numbers don’t make any sense.
The recent Pirates’ drought is starting to catch up with them. This is the first in seven seasons the Pirates don’t have at least two All-Stars. Since 2011, Pittsburgh has boasted 20 All-Stars, including five in 2013. Before that run, the Pirates had more than one All-Star just three times in 17 years.