Let the record show that I am all about Omar Infante starting the All-Star Game. As Grantland’s Bill Barnwell recently stated at the beginning of his fantastic article regarding below-replacement players who’d received MVP votes: “Baseball has a rich historical tapestry of stupidity.” May anarchy reign. Whatever.
Inspired by Barnwell’s spirit of inquiry, I wanted to discover which All-Stars finished their season with negative WAR — a destiny, it should be noted, that neither Steamer nor ZiPS project Infante to fulfill (barely).
I think I know what you’re thinking: “Boy, I bet you had to dig way back into the archives. Barnwell discovered that the most recent below-replacement MVP-vote-receiving took place in 1997, and the MVP vote is decided by some silly writers, whereas the All-Star rosters are assembled by the fans (wisdom of the crowds) and real-live MLB professionals.” Well! You’re wrong. I decided to start with the 2014 All-Star Game and go back in time until I found five below-replacement All-Stars. My journey took me back to only 2007.
Has my informational quest been distorted because of the long-standing rule that at least one representative from all 30 MLB teams be present at the All-Star Game, even though a large handful of those 30 teams are bound to be terrible? As you’ll see with the players below, this often-inconvenient rule isn’t really responsible for your below-replacement dudes.
Quick honorable mentions to the four All-Stars I found who finished with 0.1 WAR on their All-Star seasons:
Edward Mujica / St. Louis Cardinals / 2013
Mujica was an okay selection at the time of the All-Star Game, posting a 2.20 ERA / 3.12 FIP in the first half of his season. Then Mujica stumbled to a tough finish, giving up nine of his twenty runs on the season in September.
Aaron Crow / Kansas City Royals / 2011
This year was not quite the bummed-out gutter of Dayton Moore’s rebuilding process, but it was close. Crow was the only representative in powder blue even though Alex Gordon put up a monster 6.6 WAR season, a fearsome total that the left fielder matched precisely in 2014. Evidently a May call-up was too late for Greg Holland, who struck out 74 batters in 60 innings pitched.
Chris Perez / Cleveland Indians / 2011
Even though Perez’s ERA nearly doubled from the first half to second half (2.43 to 4.44), his FIP jumped by less than a run (3.93 to 4.70).
Kevin Correia / Pittsburgh Pirates / 2011
Uh, something weird was afoot in 2011. Andrew McCutchen made his first trek to the midsummer classic in 2011 — an annual tradition for untold years to come — so Correia made it, I guess, on his own merits: 4.01 ERA / 4.18 FIP in the first half of the season.
And now our main event, the below-replacement guys:
Derek Jeter / New York Yankees / 2014
Ah, so much respect for the ol’ captain. I will assume, fair FanGraphs reader, that you have already heard quite enough about Jeter’s 2014 season.
Francisco Rodriguez / Milwaukee Brewers / 2014
Not only did Rodriguez get on last year’s NL squad, but he was allowed to work a full inning (one walk, no hits) even though he finished the season with a WAR lower than 136 of the league’s 141 other qualified relievers. Rodriguez’s FIP jumped by nearly three runs from the first half to the second half, from 3.57 to 6.35. And, uh, yeah, 3.57 doesn’t seem too All-Star-like, either. Rodriguez was 77th on the first-half reliever WAR leaderboard, including fourth on his own team.
In retrospect, Rodriguez’s inclusion on the roster is yet another occasion when MLB personnel were seduced by the siren song of saves, of which Rodriguez had plenty during the Brewers’ now-distant bodacious start to the season. The same song also seduced none other than the Washington Post, who included Rodriguez on a select list of especially deserving All-Stars.
You can purchase a poster commemorating Rodriguez’s inclusion on the team for just $22.99 on Amazon.
Joel Hanrahan / Pittsburgh Pirates / 2012
While the Pirates would endure a debilitating second-half collapse in 2012, at the time of the All-Star Game they led their division and also had McCutchen on the All-Star roster to boot. Hanrahan’s first-half 4.62 FIP was propped up by a .190 BABIP that sure indeed regressed in the season’s dog days. This meant that he was below-replacement through the first half of the season, ranking 136th among 154 qualified relievers. Yup, this was the saves thing going on again, but even just going off of ERA, Hanrahan did not stand out even in his own bullpen.
“I was just shocked, actually,” Wigginton said. “I feel like at this point, there are some guys having better years than me, both on the team and around the league. But obviously, we know somebody has to go from here, and it feels good that it’s me.”
Writing prophetically for SB Nation in 2010, our own Jeff Sullivan offered the following analysis:
Ty Wigginton isn’t just a utility player. Ty Wigginton is an All-Star utility player. I think I love this even more than I love the Omar Infante selection.
Yes, the Orioles had the very worst record in the majors at the All-Star Break, but Baltimore still had four position players and one pitcher to post more than 1 WAR in the first half, a level that Wigginton was not halfway towards reaching. I credit some next-level intra-divisional gamesmanship by All-Star skipper Joe Girardi here.
Ken Griffey Jr. / Cincinnati Reds / 2007
A farewell tour, a la Jeter? Well, no: after being nominated every season from 1990 to 2000, Griffey was an All-Star in 2004, then again here in 2007, and played his last, sleepy season in 2010. Yes, the Reds were the worst team in the NL at the time, and thus needed a representative — but that doesn’t at all explain how Griffey was the NL’s winner of the popular vote.
This may or may not have been the mood at the time, but if I were to guess, the baseball-watching public was entranced by an old legend — crucially untainted by the endless accusations of the PED era — rocketing up the home run leaderboard. While Griffey was the Reds’ best hitter through the first half, he was only their sixth-best player overall due to disastrous defense, behind notable personalities like Brandon Phillips, Adam Dunn, and rehabilitated rookie Josh Hamilton. Griffey would follow up his voting mandate by being the second-worst position player of the year’s second half.
Infante starting the All-Star Game in 2015 would be goofy — but it wouldn’t be a lot goofier than some extremely recent history.