Year after year, articles are written decrying the selection of various players for the All-Star Game, and with good reason. Players who were hot in late April, when voting generally begins, may have cooled off by the time voting ends (see Charlie Blackmon's 2014 month-by-month, for example). The need to have every team represented often requires managers to choose a "star on his own team but probably not an All-Star." Fans vote in a veteran favorite player, even if his performance in that particular season is lacking ... or the player has in fact retired prior to the game.
On a related note, some All-Stars collapse in the second half of the year, rendering their overall stat line quite ordinary. If the All-Star Game was held after the season (like the NFL Pro Bowl), those players might not get the call. Here are some examples of players who got voted in despite full or partial-season stat lines that would have left them home if not for some of the aforementioned reasons.
Mike Schmidt, 1989 (.203/.297/.372 in 42 games): Schmidt appeared in 12 All-Star games between 1974 and 1987. A cold start in 1988 (.232/.315/.349 before the break) left him off the National League squad, though he had a .950 OPS in the second half. In 1989, the 39-year-old 500-home run hitter and perennial Gold Glover was in the midst of a 5-for-57 slump and playing subpar defense when he abruptly retired in a tearful press conference on May 29. Nonetheless, he was the fan's top vote-getter at third. He decided not to play, but he did participate in the game's opening ceremony.
Cal Ripken, 2001 (.240/.270/.324 prior to the break, .239/.276/.361 for season): Like Schmidt, Ripken was a nearly perennial All-Star. Fans and managers loved him, regardless of his numbers. In the latter portion of his career, he made the All-Star team in six different seasons in which he compiled a sub-100 OPS+. In June 2001 the 40-year-old Ripken announced he would retire at the end of the year. The fans voted him in as the starting third baseman on the AL squad, despite his .594 OPS. In the first inning of the game, Alex Rodriguez elected to switch to third base so Ripken could play his original shortstop position. The move allowed Ripken to set the record for most All-Star appearances at shortstop. Ripken even homered in the third inning off Chan Ho Park, winning MVP honors in the AL's 4-1 victory.
Pete Rose, 1982 (.287/.352/.367 prior to the break, .272/.345/.338 for season): With the exception of 1966 and 1972, Rose made the NL squad every year from 1965 through 1982. He had been named a starter at four different positions prior to his permanent move from third to first base in 1979. In 1982, in spite of the 41-year-old's declining skills at a premium offensive position, he was voted the starting first baseman over the more deserving Jason Thompson and Al Oliver. First-half stats:
Thompson: .301/.412/.535, 17 HR, 55 RBI
Oliver: .318/.384/.522, 13 HR, 57 RBI
Rose: .287/.352/.367, 1 HR, 31 RBI
Rose would finish the season valued at -1.1 WAR. It would be Rose's next-to-last All-Star appearance, as he would be named as a reserve on the 1985 squad, in large part due to his pursuit of the all-time hit record that year.
Ryne Duren, 1961 (3-9, 4.98 ERA, 1.626 WHIP prior to first break, 6-13, 5.19 ERA, 1.615 WHIP for season): The wild, hard-throwing Coke bottle-bespectacled reliever had been traded from the powerhouse Yankees to the expansion Los Angeles Angels in May. Duren had been a two-time All-Star (1958, 1959) with the Yankees, but had posted vastly superior first-half numbers to merit selection in those seasons:
1958: 23 G, .165/.275/.223, 55 SO, 20 BB, 2 HR
1959: 20 G, .161/.284/.197, 47 SO, 22 BB, 1 HR
1961: 25 G, .218/.363/.380, 68 SO, 50 BB, 9 HR
From 1958 to 1969, players, coaches, and managers were given the sole authority to elect starting position players. The newborn Angels had a few hitters who merited All-Star consideration based on their first-half performances:
1B Steve Bilko: .311/.431/.599, 12 HR, 34 RBI
C Earl Averill: .282/.394/.519, 12 HR, 38 RBI
CF Ken Hunt: .275/.337/.554, 18 HR, 57 RBI
LF Leon Wagner: .259/.325/.506, 17 HR, 43 RBI
But inexplicably, Duren was picked as the Angels'lone representative for the first All-Star game in 1961. He finished out the year as poorly as he started.
Derrick Turnbow, 2006 (38 IP, 23 saves, 4.74 ERA, .727 OPS, 1.395 WHIP prior to the break; 56.1 IP, 24 saves, 6.87 ERA, .820 OPS, 1.686 for the season): At the end of 2004, Turnbow had compiled 59.2 major league innings, with 46 walks and 43 strikeouts for the Angels. He got plucked off the waiver wire by the Brewers and went to work with pitching coach Mike Maddux. Suddenly something clicked. 2005 saw him save 39 games with a 1.74 ERA and a more manageable 3.2 walks per nine. He continued his strong work into the first half of 2006, then it seemingly all disappeared again:
April:: 1.80 ERA, 8 saves, 10 IP, 8 H, 1 BB, 6 SO
May: 4.85 ERA, 7 saves, 13 IP, 11 H, 6 BB, 17 SO
June: 2.84 ERA, 8 saves, 12.2 IP, 8 H, 5 BB, 20 SO
July: 21.32 ERA, 1 save, 6.1 IP, 11 H, 11 BB 7 SO
August: 5.19 ERA, 0 saves, 8.2 IP, 8 H, 7 BB, 10 SO
Sept/Oct: 15.88 ERA, 0 saves, 5.2 IP, 10 H, 4 BB, 7 SO
Fortunately for Turnbow, he had already accumulated those 23 shiny saves and not gone into full Steve Blass mode by the time the reserves were selected. Unlike Duren, the Brewers already DID have another representative for the game, one who had not started to turn into a pumpkin in Carlos Lee, hitting .290 with 26 home runs and 73 RBIs at the break.
Turnbow was selected anyway. He managed to pitch one clean inning, and then resumed his decline, losing his closer status for good by the end of the month. He hung on for another year or so, but was finished in the majors by May 2008.
So as you are watching this year's contest, and wondering why "player X" is in Minnesota while "player Y" is not, be mindful of the myriad forces at work ... only some of which you have control over.
Diane Firstman writes the Value Over Replacement Grit blog and is a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog.