"Embarrassing" and "ridiculous" are the two words that appear again and again in reference to the number of 2011 All-Stars. Thanks to injuries and pitchers who are unavailable due to pitching too close to the mid-summer classic itself, the rosters have been revamped. The number of All-Stars has jumped from 68, the normal amount once the fan's Final Vote ends, to 85, an all-time high.
Two questions arise from that total. The first is what that "all-time high" means when you throw some context behind it - is it actually "embarrassing" that there are this many All-Stars? The second is whether or not, despite having the most players ever nominated for the game, we are still missing players who are, in fact, All-Star worthy. If we take a trip back to the past, we can answer both of those questions simultaneously.
Until 2009, All-Star rosters were composed of 32 players on each side. That number increased to 33 for the 2009 season, in order to add an extra pitcher to the roster, and in 2010, we got yet another player added, giving us 68 required All-Stars. Those 68 players make up 9.1 percent of the league's players -- 30 teams multiplied by 25 (the roster size) is 750 total players in the league at any time. Thanks to the flurry of substitutions, 11.3 percent of the league's players are 2011 All-Stars.
Those are the numbers you get with today's teams, anyway. Hop in a time machine back to 1962, and you'll find that there were just 16 teams back then -- and similar All-Star rosters. The American League squad had 31 players, while the National League fielded 30. (With the rule of 32-man rosters in place, 16 percent of the league was an All-Star until more teams were added. The jump from 68 to 85 seems like a huge amount, but it would take another 35 All-Stars to reach 16 percent of the league like they had back in the day. That is an entire extra All-Star roster, plus another player, worth of nominations.
All of a sudden, that "all-time high" doesn't seem as ridiculous. Sure, it's more players than maybe we want to see, given 85 is a larger number than we are used to and has the "all-time high" label slapped on it, but given the way history and the All-Star game has worked in the past, it's not as big of a deal as it seems at first blush.
Who would be an All-Star were we to add those "missing" players, based on 1960s percentages? Since we can't split 35 down the middle evenly, let's add another 17 players to each league's squad. Using Baseball Reference's wins above replacement, we can see who the next 17 most worthy players who haven't already been named to the All-Star rosters are.
In the American League, there are a number of legitimately great position players players who have been left off of the roster. The leftmost column, "Rk", is that player's rank among position players (or pitchers, as we will see) in their respective league. Meaning two of the top 10 position players in the AL were left off of the roster entirely:
|27||B. J. Upton||2.5||TBR||352||74||13||0||15||39||21||7||.239||.325||.427||.752||*8|
Dustin Pedroia and Ben Zobrist are both having better seasons than the starting second baseman, Robinson Cano, according to wins above replacement. Denard Span's combination of solid hitting -- in a pitcher's park, no less -- and excellent defense has put him on pace for quite the season, as well. In fact, there is a whole lot of defense here, part of the reason these players didn't receive the same kind of love from fans or Ron Washington. Erick Aybar may look like the weak link on the surface, but you have to remember he is a shortstop, and is a fine one at that.
The NL has their own obvious snubs at the top, with Michael Bourn and Chris Young both looking like they are on pace for six-win seasons, and Danny Espinosa's 16 homers at second base were also ignored:
Three of the top 10 pitchers in the NL via WAR were left off of the roster, but would be in under 1960s rules, at least:
All 34 players listed here are having wonderful 2011 seasons, some of them even better ones than those who made the All-Star teams themselves. Because of this, saying there are too many All-Stars, or that the game is now a joke due to the sheer number of players who are involved (and the assumption that the substitutes are all inherently inferior to the players they are replacing) means little, unless you mean to say it was also a joke prior to the substitutions.
Rosters, while larger than they used to be, showcase less of the league's talent than they used to. If anything, there is room for more All-Stars, but with just the one nine-inning contest each summer, it just isn't possible to squeeze them all in.