Each year Major League Baseball attempts to market the All-Star Game as one that counts; so much so that home-field advantage in the World Series rests on the outcome of the mid-summer exhibition. However, we know that every season there will be a handful of players on the roster who do not deserve the honor and another handful left off for various reasons.
Perhaps the group that most often goes overlooked is middle relievers. When it comes time to pick an All-Star bullpen, closers with gaudy save totals are usually selected -- worthy or not. It would not be a surprise if Jim Leyland selected Jim Johnson and his 26 saves despite better options that lack the artificial statistic. Jose Veras (15 saves) of the Astros could be selected to satisfy roster requirements. If the game really counts, the bullpen should be comprised of the best relief pitchers regardless of role or team. With that in mind, here are some middlemen who deserve consideration, although their actual inclusion may be unlikely.
Jesse Crain, White Sox
The 31-year old right-hander might be the best relief pitcher in baseball who has not registered a save. He has the lowest ERA (0.52) among AL relievers (minimum 25 innings pitched) and has allowed just six extra-base hits, none of them home runs. He has been particularly stingy against right-handed batters who have hit just .162/.219/.206 against him. An influx of breaking balls have made him more of a fly ball pitcher in recent seasons, which would only play up in spacious Citi Field.
Admittedly a cop-out, but I could not chose one of these left-handed relievers over the others. Cecil and Smyly are flourishing in their new relief roles while Ross converted to the bullpen upon promotion last season. Cecil has been excellent against batters on both sides of the plate. Smyly (traditional) and Ross (reverse) have shown hints of platoon splits. Cecil has the highest strikeout percentage of the trio while Smyly has the lowest walk rate. Ross has yet to allow a home run and has surrendered just three in 100 2/3 career innings. Each southpaw is worth considering with no wrong answer among the group.
Mark Melancon, Pirates
After a failed season in Boston, Melancon returned to the National League where he now serves as set-up man for the league's leader in saves. A former closer himself, he -- along with Jason Grilli -- has stabilized the contending Pirates' bullpen. He has allowed just four runs to cross the plate in 37 1/3 innings with 40 strikeouts and four walks. Opposing batters have failed to square up his cutter with consistency while his curveball has been a two-strike weapon. His groundball rate is among the highest in the league and could home in handy when a double play is needed.
Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals
Rosenthal captured the attention of baseball fans late last season with a high-octane fastball that nears triple digits. The Cardinals decided to keep the former starter in the bullpen and he has been dominant. The 23-year old's strikeout percentage is fifth best among NL relievers and the highest of those without a save. Opposing hitters have swung and missed on nearly 30 percent of his fastballs. Edward Mujica has had the glory of racking up saves, but Rosenthal has arguably been St. Louis' top fireman.
The All-Star Game is should be more about pomp and less about high-leverage situations. But if we are going to treat it like a real game, managers should treat the mid-to-late innings accordingly.
Tommy Rancel covers the Tampa Bay Rays for The Process Report. You can follow him on twitter @TRancel.