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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

What is the best way to make All-Star selections?

This All-Star selection business always draws out a chorus of opinion. So, what the heck, let's sing.

There are three ways to approach the issue. There used to be one, but the always-reactive Bud Selig changed that when he decided to make the All-Star Game winner get home-field advantage for its league in the World Series a couple of years ago. That's not a comment on the decision itself. It's simply a statement of fact. Making the game count for something alters - or should alter - the way the teams are selected.

Let's consider this theoretical shift by looking at Mike Sweeney's selection as the default representative of the Royals.

The selection of the squads used to be a matter of politics, semantics or both. Perhaps it still is. But however a player landed on an All-Star roster, it was considered that he had been rewarded for what he had done during the first half of the season or, because of fan voting, for what he had done previously in his career.

This meant that the players in the game weren't necessarily the best players in the league at the time of the All-Star Game itself. Often they were - success breeds popularity, and most of the truly great players were (and are) elected as starters.

Sometimes great players have bad seasons, however, and from time to time a great player would end up starting in the game when he didn't deserve it - simply because his former excellence had embedded itself on the fan/voter consciousness.

No one really cared, though. Rosters were a mix of fading stars, rising stars and others, who simply were having career seasons.

Under the old way, default selections from teams who might not deserve a representative were selected almost exclusively for what they did in the first half of the season.

If the outcome of the All-Star Game still didn't matter, the Royals' selection this season should have been Emil Brown or David DeJesus. In terms of Win Shares (the Bill James statistic that expresses a player's total contribution as a single, integral number), Brown and DeJesus are about even.

There are other metrics that could make the same point, but this should suffice. DeJesus has contributed more with the glove and, because of more opportunities, leads the Royals in total runs created. Based strictly on first-half production, DeJesus probably should be the choice.

Mike Sweeney has simply missed too much time. Part of being a productive player is being there. As has been the case all too often in recent seasons, Sweeney simply hasn't been there often enough. But thanks to Selig, the question is convoluted.

If the final score of the Midsummer Classic carries meaning, then perhaps players shouldn't be selected based strictly on first-half production. Maybe the best players should be picked - no matter how much time they've missed - to field the strongest teams possible.

If that is the case, then you don't look at cumulative statistics - rate stats take precedence. And you don't just look at first-half performance; you have to look at two or three years' worth of data.

In that case, Sweeney is the proper choice. Despite the missed games, Sweeney has been clearly established as the Royals' best player for the last half-decade even though he offers little defensive value. That's not based on this season, necessarily, because if you look at rate stats, a case can be made for Brown, DeJesus and even Matt Stairs.

That still leaves the third approach, and it's one that no one wants to talk about. If the All-Star Game actually matters and the goal becomes fielding the strongest possible team, then you have to make changes.

First, you have to eliminate the fan vote. Second, you have to eliminate the one-player-per-team minimum - tough choices to make.

If you do make those choices, however, then the question about the Royals' representative is moot.

No matter what rate statistic or performance metric you look at, whether you look just at first-half performance or two-or-three-season track records, the answer is the same.

No one on the Royals deserves to go to Detroit.

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