Justin Verlander is not having the best of seasons. His ERA -- 3.54 -- is the highest it has been since 2008. He's walking nearly a batter per nine innings more this year than last. After completing six games last year, he has pitched into the eighth inning just twice in 18 starts.
Maybe that's what the players were thinking, too.
Verlander was named to the American League All-Star roster Saturday, but not by his peers. It took an act from his manager -- who is also the AL manager, Jim Leyland -- for the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner to make the All-Star team.
We may never know the players' thought processes here. Did they believe Verlander's stats this season did not justify his inclusion on the team? Did they just assume he'd make the roster anyway? It's one thing to debate whether there are pitchers who are more deserving based on the first half of the 2013 season -- but it seems insane to deny an also-deserving Verlander the honor a year after a 2.64 ERA/239 strikeout season. Heck, maybe they just don't like the guy. It's possible to see how he would rub a few the wrong way.
Leyland told reporters his reasoning, at least, via James Schmehl of MLive:
"First of all, he's one of the great pitchers in baseball -- I think that's obvious," Leyland said. "I think you take a little bit of history into consideration. You also take into consideration that he's won nine games and has a lot of strikeouts.
"He's also one of the faces of baseball and I think he deserves to go. When you put all of those combinations together, I think it's a no-brainer."
I think it's a no brainer, too. The All-Star isn't about the automatic selection of the top five in ERA or wins. It's always been one part recognizing MLB's stars and one part rewarding extraordinary half-seasons. Verlander's ERA may lag slightly, but his FIP is fifth in the AL (obviously I don't expect players to know that -- but I also have my doubts that they pulled up a list of top ERAs before voting.) Verlander's even striking out batters at a higher rate than ever -- 24.8 percent, also fifth-best in the AL.
In short: There's no reason not to vote for him, and Leyland made the right decision by adding him to the roster.
Joe Sheehan's thoughts (an excerpt from his newsletter) are notable here:
"No more than 146 players voted for Justin Verlander. No more than 146 players voted for Chris Sale. You should remember this when you're watching studio shows dominated by former players to the exclusion, by and large, of non-player analysis. You should remember this when players drop something like, "You have to have played the game to understand." You should remember this when you're hearing about the importance of bunting and hitting behind the runner and pitching to the score and how some players are clutch. You should remember that no more than 146 players thought that Justin Verlander and Chris Sale belonged on the American League All-Star team."
If you thought Verlander's was an egregious snub, check out Sale's argument. Sale has a 2.78 ERA and 2.80 FIP in 16 games started for the White Sox. What he, like Verlander, does not have is a gaudy wins number. Sale is 5-8. Verlander is 9-5. Yet it's not his fault his team can't win. Sale has thrown quality starts 81 percent of the time. He has gone at least eight innings in half his starts and has two complete games. It's good to see Leyland noticed and made up for the players' mistakes.
You might think getting upset over who is or isn't on an All-Star roster is kind of silly -- and it is. The All-Star Game doesn't contribute to the standings, and a lot of fans would prefer their team's players take a few days to rest up for the second half. But it does matter. It matters to the team that represents its league in the World Series, and it matters down the line when All-Star Game appearances are used as a rung in sports arguments about the value of a player's career.
That players would leave Verlander -- or Sale -- off their ballots is unconscionable.