Bryce Harper

Austin Jackson, Bryce Harper lead All-Star snubs

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You knew it was coming. In truth, I think those in charge did a better job of picking this season’s All-Stars than they have in recent years. Still, I have some disagreements, even if none of them are quite as vehement as last season’s.

Austin Jackson (OF Tigers) – Jackson’s DL stint probably cost him a roster spot, but he’s played in just as many games as Mike Trout this year and has the better OPS of the two at .945. In fact, he ranks sixth in the AL in OPS, and he’s played an outstanding center field for Detroit. Ideally, the AL would have found room for him, Trout and Adam Jones on the squad, but if one of them had to be left off, it should have been Jones.

Bryce Harper (OF Nationals) – No, Harper didn’t necessarily deserve a roster spot on merit. But it’s not like he was far off, either, and he’d give a lot of people more reason to watch the All-Star Game.  He probably would have been voted in as a starter had he been listed on the ballot. His .274/.346/.475 line is about as valuable as Jay Bruce’s .257/.327/.526, especially once one factors in that Bruce is putting up his numbers at Great American. There still could be room for him on the team if he wins the Final Vote, as seems likely.

James McDonald (RHP Pirates) – Incredibly enough, the NL All-Star pitching staff will feature just one guy in the top six in the league in ERA and three of the top 11. Brandon Beachy and Ryan Dempster, Nos. 1 and 2 respectively, are on the DL, so they weren’t possibilities. No. 3 R.A. Dickey did get the nod. However, the next three on the list: Ryan Vogelsong, Johnny Cueto and McDonald, were all left out. I see McDonald as the biggest snub. Not only is he sixth in ERA, but he’s fourth in the league in WHIP. His three losses this year have all come in games in which the Pirates were shut out.

Johan Santana (LHP Mets) – How many no-hitters does a guy have to throw to get some recognition? Santana is 10th in the NL in ERA ahead of All-Stars Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Wade Miley, Cole Hamels and Lance Lynn. I’d have gone with McDonald over Lynn, Santana over Miley and either Cueto or Madison Bumgarner over Hamels.

Edwin Encarnacion (1B-DH Blue Jays) – The AL is carrying three designated hitters and still couldn’t find room for this guy? Encarnacion ranks seventh in the league in OPS and fifth in homers. He’s also struck out 70 times fewer than Adam Dunn.

Jake Peavy (RHP White Sox) – In stark contrast to the NL, the AL managed to take its top five pitchers by ERA. Still, manager Ron Washington left off No. 6 in Peavy. Peavy also ranks fourth in WHIP and sixth in strikeouts, but he’s just 6-5 thanks to poor support. The White Sox probably didn’t want him pitching in the game anyway.

Jed Lowrie (SS Astros) – Lowrie leads all shortstops in homers and is third in OPS behind the AL All-Star Asdrubal Cabrera and the injured Troy Tulowitzki. I don’t mind Jose Altuve as Houston’s All-Star, but on merit, the NL should have picked Lowrie over Starlin Castro.

Aar0n Hill (2B Diamondbacks) – With Lowrie representing the Astros, Hill could have made the team over Altuve. Mr. Cycle’s .878 OPS is 75 points better than that of Altuve and 100 points better than that of any other NL second baseman.

Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs (RP Angels) – Frieri has pitched 23 1/3 scoreless innings and struck out 40 since arriving in Anaheim. Downs has a 0.35 ERA in 26 innings after finishing at 1.34 last year. I’d certainly rather rely on those two for matchup purposes late in the game than either Chris Perez or Joe Nathan.

Josh Willingham (OF Twins) – Willingham has the AL’s 10th best OPS at .913, but he was a casuality of the fact that the AL is carrying three DHs in David Ortiz, Dunn and Billy Butler.

Paul Goldschmidt (1B Diamondbacks) – If anyone deserves to play nine innings in the All-Star Game, it’s Joey Votto. Not only is he the NL’s best hitter, but there just weren’t any great options to back him up. Bryan LaHair was chosen as the team’s other first basemen, even though his numbers have taken a big nosedive of late. Adam LaRoche was more deserving, even if his .251/.338/.506 line is nothing special. My preferred choice, though, would have been Goldschmidt, who has shaken off a rough start to hit .293/.369/.542 in 225 at-bats.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.