Morning Coffee with Mark Whelan: Flawed All-Star System Neglects Top NL Closer Huston Street


Jul 4, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres relief pitcher Huston Street (right) and catcher Yasmani Grandal (8) celebrate after the Padres beat the San Francisco Giants 2-0 at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The All-Star selections were made yesterday. And very hearty congratulations go out to Tyson Ross for his selection to the National League squad. It is wonderful that Ross’ growth and success in his breakout year did not go unnoticed by Mike Matheny, the NL All-Star manager who selected him. Ross is among the top 20 starters in ERA, WHIP, and Wins, and is in the top 8 in Strikeouts and Inning Pitched, the last being a testament to both his consistency and manager Bud Black’s confidence in Ross.

Ross may have been a borderline selection based on his stats alone, but Matheny very likely selected him because Ross’ slider is an extremely effective out pitch, and is likely to be especially difficult for the AL players who are seeing it for the first time.

The Padres’ closer, Huston Street, was not selected for the game. Street has been the best closer in the league this year. Whose fault is this? Who should we be mad at?

All-Star game selections are complicated. Selections are made by a combination of 1) fan voting, 2) player voting, and 3) selections by the manager of the team. The players are responsible for selecting the lion’s share of the team, 16 of the 33 players for each league. They select a backup for each position player, and five starters and three relievers. Then the team manager fills out the roster, and has to make sure each team has a representative, while trying to include any deserving players not yet selected. And, on top of all that, he has to try to field a roster that will win the game.

This system practically ensures that deserving players will be left off the roster. This year, Buster Posey, Ian Kinsler, and Kyle Seager were left off the rosters.

As was Street. I would say that his being left off the team is an insult to Street and to the Padres, except that it’s really not. It’s the system that allows a player like Street to be ignored.

The closers selected for the team were Francisco Rodriguez of the Brewers, the Reds’ Aroldis Chapman, and Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel. On the surface, these are not bad selections, as K-Rod and Kimbrel are tied for the league lead in saves with 27, and Chapman has a well-deserved reputation as an intimidating closer. Since three relievers are selected by the players, pitchers with high strikeout rates and 100 mile per hour heaters are more likely to be selected than someone like Street, who provides a more “comfortable” at bat, but who actually gets better results than the fireballers.

Let’s compare Street’s stats to those of the selected closers.

Street leads the other three in every category except Saves. He is very clearly having a more effective season than any of the other three.

By the time Matheny got to make his nine selections, there were no Nationals, Mets, or Padres on the team. So he took Jordan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, and Tyson Ross. He also selected Zack Greinke and Devin Mesoraco, who certainly deserve to be there. That left four other selections. He used two on very effective utility players, and the final two on other relievers. So is this where we get mad? Well, yes and no.

Matheny selected Pat Neshek from his own Cardinals. And Neshek, while not a closer, actually has better numbers than Street. He’s only allowed 20 baserunners and 3 runs in 35 appearances. The other reliever was Tony Watson of the Pirates, another setup man. Both Neshek and Watson have better WARs and lower ERAs than Street. And by selecting relievers who aren’t closers, Matheny is acknowledging a group that has been very much ignored in All-Star selections throughout the years. It’s hard to fault him for that.

But it’s also hard not to feel like the Padres were getting snubbed. Rodriguez, Kimbrel, and Chapman all play for teams that fielded at least two other All-Stars. And Nishek and Watson also have at least two teammates on the squad.

It makes sense that no Padres position players were selected to the team. We get that. Despite Seth Smith’s good numbers, an offense that sets records for futility is not deserving of an all-star selection unless that player is an obvious choice, which Smith was not.

But the Padres’ pitching has been excellent this year, posting the second best ERA in the league as a staff, the second best OBP, and the third best OPS. The bullpen has been the best part of the Padres’ pitching. It is the best bullpen in baseball. They lead the majors in in bullpen ERA, opponents’ BA, opponents’ OBP, opponents’ OPS, and Save Percentage, and have the fewest Blown Saves in baseball, with four.

For a little perspective, 20 of the 30 teams in baseball have at least 10 blown saves, and every team except San Diego and Washington (5) has at least seven. And of San Diego’s four, only one blown save belonged to Street.

Street is the best closer in the league on the team with the best bullpen in the league.

He deserves to be an All-Star.

Who should we be mad at?