2014 All-Star Game: Pirates lack genuine All-Stars, but have balanced roster

Justin K. Aller

I couldn't care less about who makes the All-Star Game, but if we're going to talk about it, I agree with Ed Giles, who wrote on Twitter this morning that Tony Watson and Josh Harrison don't deserve to be there. In fact, after Andrew McCutchen (a deserving selection, obviously), you can make the case that no other Pirate should have been selected. The 2014 Pirates have received solid, but modest, contributions from lots of players, which is what Neal Huntington is talking about when he says the team lacks "glaring holes." What they haven't really received is star-caliber performances from anyone but McCutchen.

Watson has been fantastic this season, but he's a reliever. With very few exceptions, those making All-Star selections probably ought to consider "reliever" to be a description rather than a position, and stop including so many of them. If relievers were that good, they'd be starters, and most top starters could be dominant relievers. As David Schoenfield noted yesterday, selections of relievers tend to look silly fairly quickly, since relievers experience lots of year-to-year variation in performance.

As an example, last year's All-Star relievers included Edward Mujica, Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, Jesse Crain, Sergio Romo & Jason Grilli.

Of course, starting pitchers also get injured, and the selection process there has its own problems, but relievers simply don't have much of a margin of error if they decline a bit, because they weren't that good to begin with. Chris Sale is a much better pitcher than Pat Neshek, and if I had to bet on one of them being irrelevant at this time next year, it would certainly be Neshek. And yet Neshek is the one going to the All-Star Game. 

Grilli from his book:

[W]hat kind of report allows you to mistake a Triple-A also-ran with an All-Star-candidate reliever? That would be sort of like the Pujols' scouting report saying that he has warning track power but will never hit in Big League ballparks.

One of the many reasons this comment is hilarious is that relievers simply aren't like Albert Pujols. Grilli wasn't a perennial All-Star type. He was a guy with good stuff who caught lightning in a bottle for a while and then lost it again. That's not uncommon, and the line between an All-Star reliever and a "Triple-A also-ran" can be perilously thin. Tony Watson has been a key to the Pirates' success this year, and he deserves a heap of credit for that. But he shouldn't be an All-Star.

The same goes for Josh Harrison. Jeff Passan explains why:

Surely the greatest part of All-Star selection Sunday was the discovery of this headline on Bucs Dugout: "Clint Hurdle sees Josh Harrison as possible future utility middle infielder."

The Pirates' manager: "Possible future utility middle infielder."

Mike Matheny: "All-Star!"

The Pirates aren't even clearing an everyday spot for Harrison, and they're right not to. And as much as he's helped the Bucs this year, he shouldn't be an All-Star, either. Someone like Anthony Rendon, who's having a better season than Harrison and might be emerging as a genuine star, would have been a much better choice.

It might sound churlish to argue that two of the three Pirates who made the All-Star team don't really deserve to be there, and maybe it is. Besides, the All-Star Game is next to irrelevant to many serious fans of the game. I don't plan to watch it.

But picking the wrong guys leads us down the wrong path. After the Nate McLouth trade, how many times did we have to hear that McLouth was an All-Star? And what happened? The universe quickly remembered that McLouth is a role player, and the Pirates got two pitchers in that deal who are now in their starting rotation. Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke aren't All-Stars this year, but they're both helpful contributors. And other than Andrew McCutchen, if there's anything to celebrate about the Pirates' performance so far this year, it's that they've had a ton of helpful contributors. They're six games above .500 despite the fact that they lack real All-Stars, and that's because of players like Morton, and Locke, and Russell Martin, and Starling Marte, and Neil Walker, and Gregory Polanco, and Gerrit Cole, and Brandon Cumpton, and Vance Worley, and Mark Melancon. And, yes, Tony Watson and Josh Harrison.

This isn't a team that's loaded with stars. But it's a team. That's what the Pirates deserve credit for. I don't want to spend the second half hearing about how Josh Harrison should be playing every day because he's an All-Star. I want to hear about how he's one good sailor on a tight ship. He's one of many players who deserve little bits of credit for the Pirates' success, and the Pirates have assembled a roster that's been successful because (so far, at least) it lacks glaring weaknesses.

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