Cleveland Indians’ All-Star Game Voting Struggles Prove That It’s Time to Change the System

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The All-Star ballot system has its share of flaws

The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals begin a series in Kansas City on Tuesday, but they have another kind of competition raging off the field. The All-Star Game is just over a month away, and Royals fans are doing all that they can to make sure their entire team takes the field.

Fan voting is one of the worst aspects of the system and it’s time for MLB to adjust the rules. By limiting the amount of votes that can be cast for a specific team’s players on each ballot, it would force fans to pick the best players from their teams, and use their remaining votes for more worthy candidates on other clubs. Four seems like a pretty solid number – it would be a challenge to find a team that has more than four players who are the best in the league at their position.

For those who may not know how fan voting works, each team submits a ballot at the beginning of the season that includes one player at each eight positions and a designated hitter. This has nothing to do with performance, and everything to do with who the team assumes will be their everyday players for the season. For example, the Indians’ list includes Jose Ramirez, Michael Bourn, and Lonnie Chisenhall. Last year, Jason Giambi was on the ballot for the Tribe.

Undeserving players have always received All-Star votes because there are fans who vote only for their favorite team’s players, regardless of what’s happened on the field. There’s even an option on MLB’s mobile At-Bat app ballot to automatically select all players from one team, so that fans don’t have to go through the pesky act of reading the other potential choices.

Filling in the circles for nine Royals or nine Indians can be interpreted as loyalty or ignorance on the part of fans, but regardless of which line of thinking is correct, MLB can put a stop to it. Letting fans vote 35 times is fine, but letting them vote 35 times for players who aren’t truly All-Stars is a bad idea. Limit each ballot to no more than four players from any one team, and there will be a major improvement in the quality of selections.

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Right now, Kansas City’s players lead the majority of the American League positions in votes, but their players’ statistics don’t quite measure up. Mike Moustakas, Kendrys Morales and Eric Hosmer are all in the top-15 in average and OBP, but there are still several outfielders and first basemen ahead of them. In home runs, Hosmer ranks 28th, and that’s the highest of any Royal. Lorenzo Cain is eighth in stolen bases, behind seven other outfielders. Even if those four players deserve All-Star consideration, does the rest of the team?

Take this example:

Player A is batting .231/.241/.327 this season. He has yet to hit a home run or steal a base, and he’s made three errors. He’s walked just three times all year.
Player B is batting .340/.411/.529, with five home runs and five stolen bases. Defensively, he has two errors on the season.

Which player would be best suited to help the AL’s team win? Obviously, it’s Jason Kipnis (Player B), and yet he’s currently trailing Omar Infante (Player A) in the voting.

Getting the fans involved in the process is great. The All-Star Game would be unsuccessful without participation from outside of the league. But since home field advantage is on the line, and fans aren’t judicious enough to make it truly a collection of the best talent instead of a popularity contest, MLB needs to step in. That’s where the four-player limit would come in.

Royals fans could still vote for Moustakas, Hosmer, Cain and Morales. But instead of feeling obligated to pick five other Royals for the remaining positions, they would be required to look at other teams’ players for their final five options. Perhaps Kipnis at second base, or Athletics’ catcher Stephen Vogt, who’s batting .322/.411/.611 with 11 home runs. Jose Iglesias is tearing it up for the Tigers at shortstop, hitting .338/.396/.426, along with seven stolen bases, and Nelson Cruz has already smashed 18 home runs for the Mariners.

It’s hard to look at those numbers and not feel that voting by team allegiance is ruining the entertainment of the All-Star Game. Throw in the fact that the outcome has an effect on the World Series, and it’s surprising that MLB hasn’t already implemented an idea like this. Home field advantage in other sports is a very limited advantage – regulation-size fields or courts and identical rules mean that the biggest difference is whether the crowd is cheering or booing. But in baseball, home field advantage affects everything from park size and pitcher-friendliness to whether or not a designated hitter is used.

Limit the damage that fans can do. The best players deserve the honor of being an All-Star, and the people who watch the game deserve to watch the league’s top talent. Make the All-Star Game entertaining, not a contest to see which team has the most fans.

Next: Oh Kipnis, 'May' we have another month like this?

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