Wednesday, June 24, 2015

All-Star Vote Broken? Here’s a Repair

By Jeff Kallman

I didn't cast my own all-star vote until this past Thursday, but I'd like to think that I applied a little more intelligence and a lot less up yours to the exercise than seems to have been applied by those determined to stuff the American League's starting lineup with Kansas City Royals whether or not said Royals (I'll get to that shortly) actually deserve starting berths.

For my own votes, I used wins above a replacement-level player as the operating criteria. (Remember: fans don't get to vote for the pitchers.) By that, my American League ballot went as follows, and these players remained the WAR leaders at their positions as of Friday morning:

C - Russell Martin (Blue Jays)
1B - Miguel Cabrera (Tigers)
2B - Jason Kipnis (Indians)
3B - Josh Donaldson (Blue Jays)
SS - Jose Iglesias (Tigers)
OF - Mike Trout (Angels); Lorenzo Cain (Royals); Yoenis Cespides (Tigers)
DH - Nelson Cruz (Mariners)

By the same criteria, and with the same players in the WAR lead at their positions as of Friday morning, this was my National League ballot:

C - Anthony Rizzo (Cubs)
1B - Paul Goldschmidt (Diamondbacks)
2B - Dee Gordon (Marlins)
3B - Todd Frazier (Reds)
SS - Brandon Crawford (Giants)
OF - Bryce Harper (Nationals); A.J. Pollock (Diamondbacks); Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins)

When I voted, the Captcha code — those blurry looking numbers a voter must enter to prove he isn't a bot or some other artificial cyber intelligence — restored itself repeatedly. That's how I had it confirmed that's all-star ballot pages allow you to vote up to 35 times via a single e-mail address. Indeed, the Captcha repetition told me it wanted me to vote 35 times.

Can you imagine going to the polls on Election Day and getting a message, after you cast your ballot, that they want you to vote 34 more times? (Outside Chicago, that is?) I caught on after, apparently, six ballots cast, and I stopped. I'd railed against the ballot box stuffing before I voted and I had no wish to look like a fool or a deliberate hypocrite.

Had I chosen, I could have cast 35 total ballots of different voting composition and gotten away with it. Since I also have two other e-mail addresses that I normally use as backups in case something disrupts my normal e-mail, if I chose to do so I could have returned to the all-star ballot pages and voted under each of those backups. It would have given me 105 votes if I had done that.

On Friday night, I received this in my e-mail from the all-star ballot pages: "Thank you for voting for your all-stars on the 2015 Esurance MLB All-Star Game Ballot. We invite you to return to the ballot at online or via your mobile device and vote 35 times. Your votes matter and may help your players get to the 2015 All-Star Game." (Emphasis added.)

Since the all-star voting expanded to the Internet in the first place, never mind this year's online-only voting, perhaps the only shock should be that the kind of ballot box stuffing Royals fans have indulged thus far — there have been bids to stuff for individual players in recent seasons, but not, to my knowledge, for an entire team, until now - hasn't happened until now.

Maybe the only shock is that it's the Royals who stand most to benefit. It could well have happened on behalf of just about any other team. The apparent Royals ballot box stuffing provokes mere voluminous debate. Any such ballot box stuffing coming from Yankee fans would have provoked World War III.

When the All-Star Game continues to be a) a popularity contest, and b) the silly determining factor in World Series home field advantage, it matters that one league's starting lineup may be stuffed with those who don't deserve to be starters. The only Royal who really does deserve to start, based on WAR, is Cain; the only other Royals who deserve to be on the all-star team at all, also based on WAR, are Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon.

(Sidebar: There could be an ex-Royal starting in the National League's all-star outfield, too. Nori Aoki, San Francisco, now leads Stanton in the voting. Fathom that, if you will.)

Omar Infante, the Royals second baseman who leads all vote getters through this writing despite his proper status as a Mendoza Line all-star, is both dumbfounded by his vote lead and of the mind that Houston's Jose Altuve should get the all-star start at second base. The Royals' communications director, Mike Swanson, says the Royals have hit "the perfect storm ... People like these guys because they're likable guys. And when you take the paper out of it, you end up leveling the playing field."

I'm not sure which of Swanson's remarks should draw the heartier guffaw. The Royals this season aren't always as likable as he thinks. And if taking the paper out levels the playing field, explain how eight Royals become American League all-star starters despite only one of them having a bona fide case to start.

MLB Advanced Media cancelled out 60 million online all-star votes toward the end of the week "over concerns of improper voting." Will it put an end to the apparent Royal stuff? Will it just drive the Royal stuffers to more elaborate lengths? Want to address such concerns constructively?

Since it isn't likely that the fan vote will be rescinded again — as occurred for over a decade, after the ballot box stuffing on behalf of the Cincinnati Reds for the 1957 All-Star Game — here's a possible fix:

* Stuff the 35-vote allowance where it belongs, right into the recycle bin. One fan, one all-star vote, one e-mail address, one time. Make it so time consuming to think about such tricks as proxies and multiple e-mails that it just won't be worth any stuffers' time.

* Develop a system whereby a voting fan gets to vote only from among the top three players in WAR at their respective positions.

* Stop this nonsense about pegging World Series home field advantage to the final score of the All-Star Game.

It's admirable on a human level that Royals fans want to stand by their man Infante while he's struggling this season. But is there really any legitimate cause to make any kind of all-star out of a player who isn't even a tenth of a win above a replacement-level player this season ... at a time his own team may be looking into an upgrade at his position?

Yahoo! Sports's Jeff Passan observes that the Royal stuff got the American public talking about the All-Star Game — an exhibition game — smack dab in the middle of the NBA Finals and the finale of the Stanley Cup playoffs. That's not necessarily a terrible thing, if it turns into constructive all-star reform. We're still waiting for Commissioner Rob Manfred to step up, step in, show some spine, and act accordingly. It may or may not be a long wait.

The blatherings of some in the pack to one side, I'm not convinced the Royal stuffers have anything much more sophisticated in mind other than a none-too-polite up yours to the rest of the game. They may yet accomplish what some think impossible: turning one baseball team from a national sentimental favorite one year to a national hate object the following year. A consummation devoutly not to be wished. For the Royals, or for anyone.

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