He might get in later, but Blake Snell was deprived of a career milestone moment
Sunday night, when the names of the 2018 American League All Star Team were announced on television and the internet, Blake Snell was not among them. The American League leader in Earned Run Average, a young ace who is making The Leap right before the eyes of St. Petersburg and baseball fans all over, was not initially named to the All Star Team.
Snell will likely end up in Washington for the big day next week, of course, as pitchers withdraw from the game because they had to pitch on Sunday or because they’re injured. He will get his All Star jersey, he will have his name announced in front of all the fans, and he may even be able to pitch.
Lives are lived in moments. Some of them we work for all our lives, and some we remember forever. Important career milestones are big moments. Recognition for the season he’s having to this point, a breakout year if there ever was one, would be a tremendous moment for Blake Snell. In a season of transition, where so much is up in the air around him, he’s very much stepping up to a new level. Blake Snell is the stopper on a team with no brakes. He is the only starting pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays that has been in their rotation all season, sometimes with only one other partner. He has pitched in a division with two loaded lineups, and baseball stadiums that are not generally seen as friendly to left-handed pitchers. Yet he leads the American League in Earned Run Average. That is an All Star performance, and for Snell’s recognition to be delayed is a snub.
It is nice that Snell’s teammates, and several players from other teams, expressed support for the Rays’ ace. The immediate outpouring on Twitter had a number of Rays voicing disappointment.
The all star snub is a bit of an art form across sports.
In baseball, for a player to be properly snubbed, a number of factors have to be met. A player has to be at a loaded position, which for Snell was remarkable as so many starting pitchers get selected. That loaded position also has to include at least one representative selected because every team needs to have an all star, in this case the Minnesota Twins as well as the Toronto Blue Jays. Because the game happens at midseason, it helps when a player is making the leap so dramatically that it’s hard to write it off as a “fluke.” Having a better earned run average than Chris Sale, Justin Verlander, and the entire rest of the American League is one such emphatic sign.
Making matters worse, pitchers are generally left out of the final all star vote, where fans in both leagues can take up a cause to get their guy in at the last moment. With both Andrew Benintendi and Giancarlo Stanton in that final vote, it might not have done Snell much good to be included, but being left out of that as well just makes the snub seem that much louder.
Some fans since Sunday night have written this off as just another indignity of being a Rays fan, another log for the fire on top of St. Petersburg being the most poorly-treated city in sports and the geographic misconceptions of out-of-towners.
This is problematic thinking for many reasons. Foremost, it’s what those in the marketing profession call a bad look. It’s one thing for people to constantly decry what they think St. Pete is like as a baseball town, but when Rays fans start talking that way it reinforces misconceptions that a lot of people have.
Fans have no recourse when a pitcher is up for the all star game. There is no fan voting for pitchers, and while many players in baseball have a significant presence on social media, they aren’t likely taking suggesting for where to cast their votes. A #VoteSnell movement would not have gone anywhere. This is one area where Tampa Bay Rays fans are no different than the larger fanbases of their division opponents. Chris Sale didn’t get in over Snell because he is a member of the Red Sox.
The players, for the most part, do not explain their all star ballots. The general public will likely never know what Blake Snell didn’t do in the eyes of his peers. It could be that even the players vote for “brand name” types, and for the most part the pitchers on the AL team are brand names. Sale and Verlander have been among the best in baseball for some time now, and Luis Severino had his breakout year last year. Snell is well on his way to being a similar brand, and will likely get a bump in future votes as a result, but it’s very much possible that he was shut out because his name didn’t come to mind as quickly as the more highly-touted Gerrit Cole.
Wilson Ramos won the fan vote to start at catcher for the American League. The honor is much-deserved, as Ramos has been that experienced bat that has been the constant for an at-times chaotic Rays lineup. Ramos’ steadiness has been critical for Tampa Bay this season behind the plate as well, where he has helped develop the Rays’ young pitchers throughout abnormal pitching roles in 2018.
The unfortunate rumors that Ramos could be dealt by the end of the month make the selection bittersweet. The Rays are still trying to maximize value on their veteran players to make room for younger ones and restock their farm system in the process. A catcher with a bat is rare in 2018, and a contender in need of one will likely make a high offer for Ramos. As welcome as he has been to this Rays team, those offers are going to be difficult to pass up.
Kevin Cash will be part of the AL coaching staff this year. While coaches aren’t selected to the game in the same manner as players, Cash’s presence seems more than fitting. He went out on a limb, doing something nobody had ever done before, at least not as often. The experimental concept of the “opener” has, thus far, paid off and put the Rays above .500 with the best team ERA in baseball since the opener was first used in May.
Doing something new can be tough for a coach in any sport, but in baseball anybody who dares to try will be heavily scrutinized. Cash’s ideas were mocked, and are still hotly debated to this day by talking heads who seem to believe the Rays could field a $150 million pitching rotation if they just hoped hard enough.
Cash has had a deluge of things to deal with in 2018. Injuries and youth have messed with the very concept of a pitching rotation, but the Rays have made due. The franchise’s most popular player was among those dealt to clear room for the likes of Willy Adames, Jake Bauers, and soon enough Christian Arroyo. A promising if not world-beating 2017 team was, in the words of many fans, “broken up,” but Cash has not skipped a beat, keeping the younger version on pace with last year’s model.
This is an all star managing performance by Kevin Cash, and a manager who at times has been called out by press both local and national is establishing himself as one of baseball’s forward-thinkers.
In reality, there is likely no one true way to select all stars. Worse still, there is no true definition of an all star.
The term itself implies that a player is well-known and popular. The “star” part is brought up every time a player well past his prime lands a starting spot, such as when Cal Ripken Junior started for the American League in the late 90s. It could be easily argued that an exhibition like the all star game is, after all, for the fans.
While there is some real validity to that, teams pay players more for making the team. That, more than anything else in the discussion, suggests that it is the belief of the league itself that all star selections should be done on merit.
Merit itself is tricky here, as statistical measures sometimes disagree, and the onset of new and improved statistics make room for debate about which statistics to lean on. Should hitters be selected by Wins Above Replacement? Should pitchers be selected on FIP over ERA?
The selection process itself is tricky. Justin Verlander pointed out as things happened that the players are asked to vote very early. This punishes a pitcher like Snell, making the next step in his career and getting better as the year goes on. While other top pitchers have a lot of past performance to look on, Snell’s youth held him back.
Whatever the answer, we are left with a less than satisfying conclusion for a pitcher that pretty much all observers would agree should have pitched his way onto the all star team. Snell was deprived of his moment Sunday, and whatever the reason, once again baseball fans are disappointed in the results of a flawed selection process.