No, the All-Star vote is not a referendum on Biogenesis-connected players

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The first batch of voting results for the All-Star game will be out today. And as Bob Nightengale notes, there are a lot of players who, based on performance, should be All-Star candidates but who may not get much support. Specifically, the Biogenesis-connected players like Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera and Nelson Cruz. All of whom are having great years, but all of whom served PED suspensions last year.

Each of them had different circumstances involving their use of performance-enhancing drugs. All served suspensions. They apologized. And, soon, we will all find out whether they’ll truly be forgiven . . . Considering the All-Star Game is a showcase for the fans, who determine the starting lineup, perhaps this will be a barometer for whether fans are softening their stance toward PEDs.

Eh, no. Because that implies that fans have ever considered performance on the field n the first half of the season as the be-all, end-all of All-Star Game worthiness. Maybe the fan vote has hewed closer to rewarding worthy first-half players in recent years, but there are still a plethora of reasons fans will or will not vote for a guy. A lot of it is totally disconnected from performance and has more to do with how often the team reminds fans to vote, how strong the ballpark’s cell phone reception is and what kind of attendance the team had in mid-April when MLB starts pushing All-Star voting for some damn reason.

More fundamentally — and this may blow your mind — fans often vote for stars when they vote for All-Stars. Derek Jeter will likely be the starting AL shortstop. This is not because of his performance. It’s not because fans will be punishing Alexi Ramirez for some sort of transgression the rest of us have missed. It’s because he’s Derek Jeter and Derek Jeter is a big star and he’s famous and Alexi Ramirez ain’t. Which is fine, because it’s a fan vote and they can vote for any reason they want to. Often times, being famous or compelling or playing for a popular team matters a hell of a lot more than anything.

Ryan Braun had always been famous and popular before the PED stuff, so sure, I imagine if suddenly becomes an All-Star also-ran it’s in large part because of his now-sullied reputation. Jhonny Perlata could get a surge of support because he now plays for the Cardinals, not because fans have suddenly softened their stance on PEDs. Guys like Melky Cabrera and Nelson Cruz might get soft support because of the drugs or it could be just as much a function of them being Melky Cabrera and Nelson Cruz. Which, in terms of star power puts them a lot closer to Alexi Ramirez than it does Derek Jeter.

Poring over All-Star voting is fun to some, but mostly pointless. Trying to draw definitive conclusions about any specific fan opinion from them, however, is a fool’s errand.

Astros exemplify the player-unfriendly bent of analytics

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Even as recently as a decade ago, Sabermetrics was a niche interest among baseball fans. As various concepts began to gain acceptance in the mainstream, players slowly began to accept them as well. Players like Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke were hailed as examples of a new breed of player — one who marries his athleticism with the utilization of analytics. This year, much was made of certain players’ data-driven adjustments, including Daniel Murphy and J.D. Martinez. Both had great seasons as a result of focusing more on hitting more fly balls instead of ground balls and line drives.

Statistics can clearly benefit players. They can also be used against them, and not just by opposing players. The Astros, who are in the World Series for the first time since 2005, are a great example of this. The Astros spent a few years rebuilding after a complete overhaul of the front office, which included bringing in analytically-fluent Jeff Luhnow as GM after the 2011 season. That overhaul instilled so much confidence that, in 2014, Sports Illustrated writer Ben Reiter predicted that the Astros would win the 2017 World Series. He’s only four Astros wins away from being proven correct.

The Astros’ front office, though, took advantage of its players at various times throughout the process. Their success is owed, in part, to exploiting its players. On Twitter, user @chicken__puppet chained a few tweets together exemplifying this:

At its core, analytics is about optimization: getting the most bang for your buck. If you read Moneyball, you know this. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) quickly became synonymous with the field and $/WAR was a natural next step. Sabermetrics defaulted to ownership’s perspective, so highly-paid players who performed poorly were scorned. Cheap players who performed well were lauded.

It is no mere coincidence that once most front offices installed analytics departments, teams stopped handing out so many outrageous contracts to free agent first baseman/DH types. Instead, teams focused on signing their young players to long-term contract extensions to buy out their arbitration years ahead of time, ostensibly saving ownership and the team boatloads of money. Teams began to pay close attention to service time as well. Service time determines when a player becomes eligible for arbitration and free agency, so teams that are able to finagle their players’ service time can potentially delay that player’s free agency by a year. The Cubs tried to do this with third baseman Kris Bryant in 2015, as Craig wrote about.

There is a very real ethical component to covering and being a fan of Major League Baseball, despite the common plea to separate sports from politics. The Astros and Cubs aren’t the only ones exploiting their players; the Angels, for example, made some odd personnel choices earlier this season that happened to allow them to avoid paying some players incentive bonuses. Every front office, in one way or another, games the system because the system is set up to benefit ownership first and players second. And if the likes of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa can be taken advantage of so freely and openly, what hope does anyone else have?

Fans have been conditioned to group players and owners together as one group of rich people. In reality, the player earning $30 million has more in common with the office worker making $35,000 a year than with team owners. When fans hear about Correa making $507,500 instead of $550,000, or about free agent who wants a nine-figure contract, they wonder why he had the nerve to ask for so much money in the first place. We praise players, like Cliff Lee, who “leave money on the table.” Both the player and that fan, by virtue of existing and participating in this system, are locked in an eternal battle with those who cut their paychecks. Regardless of salary differences, the player deserves to benefit from the fruits of his labor as much as the office worker. Part of being a baseball fan should also include rooting for the players’ financial success and not just the owners’.

Praising the Astros for being smart and savvy will only create more incentive for other front offices to mimic these unethical behaviors. The whole theme of the World Series shouldn’t be about smart, analytically-inclined teams reaching the summit; it should in part be about teams getting ahead with a multitude of exploitative practices against their players.