Of all the ways to celebrate his second consecutive All-Star Game selection, Kenley Jansen, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ closer, chose to eviscerate the people who on average pay more than $30 a ticket to watch him pitch. As noble and well-intentioned as his rant against Dodgers fans for not voting third baseman Justin Turner and shortstop Corey Seager into starting spots may have been, it reeked of ignorance, smacked of pettiness and reminded of the tone-deaf bubble in which so many ballplayers live.
“I’ll say it loud and clear again,” Jansen said. “It’s the Dodgers fans’ fault.”
Right. It’s the fans’ fault that for the fourth consecutive year, SportsNet LA, the regional sports network that broadcasts Dodgers games, is blacked out in the homes of millions across the Los Angeles metro area because of a carriage dispute stemming from the $8 billion-plus local-TV deal the Dodgers signed. It’s the fans’ fault that the easiest, most direct way for a team to urge them to rock the All-Star vote is stuck in the middle of a corporate tug of war with both sides’ hands bloodied beyond recognition – and neither willing to budge. It’s the fans’ fault that even though it’s obvious they want to see the Dodgers – the games that have been publicly broadcast got nearly five times the audience of the blacked-out ones – neither the team nor the provider will make the necessary concessions to remedy this embarrassment.
While the Dodgers’ poor turnout in voting pre-dates the TV debacle – the last time more than one player was voted to start: 1980 – the inability to mobilize such a potentially huge audience is a distinct failure. Considering the Lakers’ recent struggles and the Rams’ failures, the Dodgers brand could be untouchable in Los Angeles today.
Instead, for millions across Los Angeles, a blackout is as much a part of the Dodgers story as Clayton Kershaw and Cody Bellinger and Turner and Seager.
And Jansen. He is in the midst of a potentially historic season, with a 0.79 ERA and a 53-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Without all that TV money, perhaps the Dodgers wouldn’t have given Jansen the $80 million deal they did over the winter. Which would mean Kenley Jansen is going to the All-Star Game as a Dodger because of the exact thing that helped prevent his teammates from doing the same. Life comes at you fast.
Even though the target of Jansen’s ire is misguided, the sentiment is correct. It’s ludicrous that …
1. Justin Turner is not an All-Star, and not just because someone happened to vote him third in his first-half National League MVP ballot. Everything Turner does this season screams for him to represent the NL, even at a position as loaded as third base.
Look first at his slash line: .382/.472/.557. Focus on the first two numbers. Turner is hitting .382. Now, by this point, most of us are aware batting average is no be-all, end-all. It can be an overrated statistic. But .382? That’s the sort of batting average that brute-forces itself to relevance. That’s a batting average we haven’t seen at the All-Star break since Y2K. As Eric Stephen pointed out, of the 48 previous players who have gone into the break with a .370-plus average, just one didn’t make the All-Star Game – and that’s because there was no game on account of World War II in 1945.
The .472 on-base percentage is more indicative of Turner’s value, and among those with at least 250 plate appearances, it’s the best by 24 points. The last player to finish a season with an OBP that high was Barry Bonds in 2004. In and of itself, it is enough to warrant an All-Star spot for Turner. That he plays a delightful third base and rates a perfectly fine baserunner only adds to the case that his all-around game more than makes up for his missing 19 games with a strained hamstring.
Were it not for Jansen popping off, Turner’s case wouldn’t be getting quite the attention of …
2. Kris Bryant‘s snub, which really is the moldy cherry on top of the Chicago Cubs’ first-half sundae of sadness. The Cubs are still a .500 team, and not even the best part of it, the reigning NL MVP, can get love from the fans or his peers.
That Bryant, Turner and Anthony Rendon comprise 60 percent of the NL Final Vote – they’ll compete against first basemen Mark Reynolds and Justin Bour to see who can gin up the most Internet excitement these next few days – is almost unfair. In trimming All-Star rosters from 34 to 32, Major League Baseball almost ensured talent-heavy positions would wind up trying to answer an existential question: What does the All-Star Game want to be?
For some, it is a celebration of the first half – the sort of game where one could make an argument that the players did right in peer voting when they chose Arizona third baseman Jake Lamb over Bryant, Turner and Rendon. Maybe not a good argument, but at least one that at the time of the voting perhaps Lamb’s numbers were better.
Others prefer the game to live up to its second word: star. Kris Bryant is a star – and he’s a star whose .263/.391/.511 line doesn’t scream of some slouch. He is the guy whose smile was plastered across TVs all last October, and now he and every single one of his teammates who won the World Series will be spending the single most visible game of the year before October at home.
It’s true. The only Cubs All-Star is closer Wade Davis, and he spent 2016 with the Kansas City Royals. A year after their entire infield started the All-Star Game, the Cubs’ showing pales in comparison to the …
3. Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, Washington Nationals and New York Yankees, all of whom have five All-Stars this season. There’s a good case to be made the Astros could’ve had at least two more (Marwin Gonzalez and Chris Devenski). Same with the Nationals (Rendon and Gio Gonzalez). Aaron Hicks would have fit in perfectly well with the other five Yankees, each under 30.
The concentration of All-Stars from those four teams did have some sort of a tangible effect on the rest of the picks. Particularly in the NL, where a number of teams are spending the season wearing nothing but tank tops, there were cases where pitching spots went to the Padres’ Brad Hand and the Phillies’ Pat Neshek, both in the midst of excellent years, neither exactly bringing All-Star to mind.
Some of it cascaded down from the players’ poor picks. It wasn’t just Lamb. The players’ choice of D.J. LeMahieu to back up second base instead of Josh Harrison meant MLB needed to add Harrison to fulfill the Pirates’ slot – and take one away from Turner or Bryant or Rendon.
Admittedly, nitpicking the bottom of an All-Star roster can come off as petty, and so to distract from that going on in this space, just think about this instead: Marlins Park, filled to the brim like it was during the World Baseball Classic, pulsating with excitement because …
4. Aaron Judge is going to be in the Home Run Derby.
Think about it, because it’s still not true. Judge hasn’t said yes to his invitation. He hasn’t said no, either, though, and that leaves enough hope that the leading vote-getter from the American League will enter the Derby and hit a ball so hard it paralyzes the home run feature in center field.
Either way, Judge is going to be in Miami for the game after registering the highest vote total for an AL player. That he procured 4,488,702 votes as a rookie speaks not just to the size of the Yankees’ fan base – remember Kansas City going all Anarchist Cookbook on the voting in 2015? – but a resonance that extends well beyond All-Star balloting. Judge is officially a thing. It helps he wears pinstripes, sure, but his .327/.448/.687 line and 27 home runs have permeated the parochial barrier that extends across so much of baseball in 2017.
Fans are fans of their team. For them not only to acknowledge Judge’s excellence but support it overwhelmingly is an enormous compliment baseball offer way infrequently. It’s almost like seeing NL players vote …
5. Cody Bellinger onto the roster despite him spending nearly the first month of the season in Triple-A. The moral of the story, Justin Turner-style: It’s better to start the season in the minor leagues than it is to miss time during the year, even if you do wind up with nearly the same number of games played.
This is not to impugn Bellinger’s candidacy. He is the NL version of Judge, a must-see rookie, someone who’s getting people talking, a home run-launching machine of the majestic variety whose commitment Sunday night to the Home Run Derby gives it a nice jolt of excitement that Judge’s inclusion would supercharge.
It isn’t entirely fair to see Bellinger through Judge’s prism, and yet they’re almost inextricably linked. Their commonality does that, but then so does the injury that prevented …
6. Mike Trout from continuing his obscene line through the 47-game mark, when he tore a ligament in his thumb: .337/.461/.742. Trout hasn’t played for more than a month, and not only did his peers still vote him fourth among AL outfielders, fans thought enough of him to cast more than 3.2 million ballots with his name on them.
Just five players fetched more votes than Trout: Judge, Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, Daniel Murphy and Charlie Blackmon. It’s good company, especially since it’s unclear whether Trout will play a week from Tuesday. He’s trying to hustle back in time. This is his sixth All-Star Game … and he’s 25 years old. And it’s not like he’s lazing through them. In the first at-bats of his first four, Trout hit a single, double, triple and home run, in that order.
So, yes, it would be nice if those tuning in got to see the best player in the world play. And if Trout doesn’t, at least …
7. Chris Sale vs. Max Scherzer looks like it’s happening. The second- and third-best pitchers in baseball today – Clayton Kershaw is still No. 1, don’t @ me – are on a collision course to the best starting-pitching matchup in the All-Star Game since Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens matched one another with a pair of scoreless innings in 2001.
In addition to the ancillary benefit of freeing up a starting-pitching slot for his teammate Alex Wood – who deserved to be part of Jansen’s snub party – Kershaw’s expected start this Sunday would remove him from consideration for starting, something oddly enough he never has done. Scherzer has been better anyway. He leads the league in strikeouts and strikeout rate, sports an ERA barely above 2.00 and has been damn near unhittable in the strictest sense of the word. Kershaw has been great. Scherzer is just better.
Sale is practically a mirror of Scherzer, a strikeout machine whom nobody can touch, only left-handed. He doesn’t have the league’s best ERA. And that’s cool. Jason Vargas can take that ERA and be positively elated with it and 101 out of 100 batters still will prefer to face him rather than Sale.
Between the Home Run Derby and the likely starting-pitching matchup for the game itself, this All-Star week has a chance to generate some of the best buzz in years, and the fact that …
8. Rob Manfred got rid of the single worst rule in all of sports, tying the All-Star Game’s results to home-field advantage in the World Series, only makes it more of a celebration. The death of “This Time It Counts” at 14 came 14 years late. The entire conceit was an insult to Newton’s Third Law. An equal and opposite reaction to the tie in 2002 would’ve been to put measures in place that ensured teams didn’t run out of pitchers. Baseball preferred to commit the mother of all overreactions and use the results of an exhibition to determine something nine of the last 14 champions had.
The game will be no different because of it. If anything, the addition of $20,000 in bonus cash for each player on the winning team will motivate the 64 players chosen even more. Granted, they will accept that money knowing such a gift pales in comparison to the one …
9. Zack Cozart will receive for making the NL All-Star team: a donkey. No, Cozart is not the beneficiary of some dowry. Just a benevolent teammate who keeps his promises.
In spring training, after Cozart showed an affinity for donkeys, Reds first baseman Joey Votto said he would buy one for him if Cozart made the All-Star team. Not only will he get to spend the week with Votto, his friend who was chosen by MLB as a reserve, Cozart is the NL starter at shortstop. It’s a remarkable ascent for a player who until last season wasn’t much more than a great glove and today is hitting .322/.403/.555.
Yes, those numbers match up nicely with Corey Seager’s, and it says something that a city the size of Cincinnati beat Los Angeles in a popular vote. Kenley Jansen’s anger over Seager playing backup and …
10. Justin Turner not joining the team at all is rooted in this notion, that population is all that matters, when in truth it’s a deep, fundamental issue the Dodgers have no strong desire to fix. It’s fair to say that because four years later, there is still no solution, which means either they’re beyond dumb or unwilling to compromise. And they’re not dumb, at least not in the classic sense of the word.
One could argue rather convincingly that allowing something like this TV issue to fester for four years is the epitome of stupidity. The Dodgers won NL West titles the previous three years and are on their way to another this season. Since the 2014 season, Turner has been by nearly every measure one of the 15 best hitters in all of baseball, and he still never has been to an All-Star Game.
“I feel like I’ve been campaigning for three months on the field,” he said of this season, and it’s a shame only those that go to the field get to see it. Because Turner really is a great story. The Reds drafted him and traded him to Baltimore. The Orioles designated him for assignment and saw him claimed by New York. The Mets kept him for parts of four seasons and non-tendered him, worried he cost too much. The Dodgers scooped him up and in everyone else’s trash found a star.
He may not have the name recognition of Harper or Trout, the ability to do the never-before-seem like Judge or Stanton, the platform of 29 other teams. What does Justin Turner have? Every reason in the world to be in Miami with the peers he deserves.