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The starting lineups for the 2017 MLB All-Star Game wouldn’t have happened with paper ballots

Corey Dickerson and Zack Cozart? Welcome to the era of internet voting.

Cincinnati Reds v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Corey Dickerson is a 2017 American League All-Star. He’s leading the AL in hits, hitting .321, has already launched 17 homers, and, of course, is the fastest DH in baseball. He was voted in by the fans, and he was something of an easy choice if you pick your All-Stars primarily by how well they’ve performed this season.

That would seem to be an unremarkable paragraph. Guy hits well, guy voted as a starter for the All-Star team. Except it’s a little stranger than you think when you write a similar paragraph while including the footnotes.

Corey Dickerson, a player that most fans haven’t heard of, was voted onto the AL All-Star team, and he’ll represent the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that most fans are only tangentially aware of.

It’s not just Dickerson that’s something of a surprise selection. Justin Smoak was also voted in, as was Jose Ramirez. While hardcore baseball nerds knew who they were before the season, those are not names typically associated with “overwhelming All-Star selection.” And with Smoak especially, even if they fans did know who they were, they weren’t exactly associated with a legacy of success.

There are two theories to explain these results. The first is that the people of Tampa and Cleveland rose up in huge numbers and overwhelmed the fans of the other 13 teams. That they were so excited about Dickerson and Ramirez, that they swarmed the online balloting. I’m not trying to belittle this theory; if I had watched somebody on my favorite team hit as well as Dickerson, I would have been enthused, too, and it’s easy enough to cast a ballot (or 30) online.

It’s the other theory that interests me more, though. When the great unwashed masses stumble onto the internet to vote for the players they want to appear in the All-Star Game, this is what they see:

Well, that’s close to what they see. The ol’ Internet Archive is a little wonky, and I forgot to grab a screenshot of the ballot before the polls closed, but this gets my point across fine.

Now compare that with an old ballot:

You can see the difference. Norm Cash isn’t even in the league anymore, for one. But the biggest difference is the information. As someone who follows the National League closer than the American League, I was surprised to learn of this “designated hitter” position, and I didn’t have strong opinions on who should be the AL representative. If I voted the old way, I would have seen something like this:

Dickerson, C. - TB

And I would have mentally skipped over the name in favor of someone I’m really familiar with, like Edwin Encarnacion or Nelson Cruz.

Here’s what voters are presented with now:

Dickerson, C. - TB — hey check this out, dude’s hitting like .330 with a bunch of homers, and Edwin Encarnacion isn’t doing much of anything.

Welcome to the high-information age of All-Star voting, in which fans can actually get some idea how their candidates are performing before tossing them a vote. The ballot has been online-only for three seasons now, and you’re seeing it in the results. If Justin Smoak were having this kind of season in 1989, there’s no way he would have been voted in. Well, he probably would have been because a toddler with 22 home runs would have been very, very famous. But a surprising and mostly unknown 30-year-old wouldn’t have stood a chance under the old system, even if he was having a dominating first half.

Back when I picked the only correct All-Star ballot for the American League, I forgot about the DH because I’m bad at my job, but I would have picked Nelson Cruz. Dickerson is clearly having the better season, but I’m a staunch track-record voter, paying more attention to a rolling average of the previous three seasons, give or take. I take this to something of an extreme, as I voted for Miguel Cabrera, even though he’s been roughly replacement level this year.

Without the stats next to Dickerson’s name, it’s possible that more voters would have erred on the side of history, remembering that Cruz has been excellent for years, now, and vaguely remembering a few highlights they might have seen on MLB Tonight.

Which means the high-information voter is killing my philosophy. The days of legacy votes are numbered, if they aren’t gone already. The voters selected Zack Cozart to start — Zack Cozart! He had 2,500 plate appearances that suggested he hit like Mark Belanger, and then he had 260 that suggested he’s hitting like Cal Ripken. The voters were rightfully impressed with those more recent at-bats, and they voted him in over name-brand candidates who would have fared better under the old system, like Corey Seager or Addison Russell.

While I’m a legacy-voter zealot, this doesn’t bug me as much as it could have. Because while I’m all for recognizing a great career, the legacy votes of old were often scattered to overrated players from large markets. I’m all for recognizing someone like Miguel Cabrera, but I was less interested in having Ryan Howard finish in the top-five of the voting when he didn’t deserve it. The starting lineups for both teams this year look like a fine time capsule of what’s happened in the first half of 2017. Considering the first-half marvels are what the majority of voters want to see, I’m OK with that.

At the same time, it still bugs me a little. With paper ballots, it might have been more likely for Cabrera to start it this year over Smoak, and when we looked back at the rosters in 20 years, they wouldn’t have seemed so bizarre. When we watched the game, we would have been treated to an inner-circle Hall of Famer instead of a 30-year-old who came out of nowhere to have the best three months of his career. I know which one I’d rather watch.

Welcome to the modern All-Star vote, where voters can tell who’s been great and who’s been lousy before they vote. It’s going to ding the veterans, and it’s going to prop up the players who are having the best first halves. You can use your own voting philosophies to decide whether that’s a good thing or not. I will accept my fate as a weirdo now and crawl back in my hole.

Where there are several pictures of Miguel Cabrera.