I wondered yesterday why manager Charlie Manuel would choose to start Andre Ethier in center field for tonight’s All-Star game despite his having zero experience there in the majors, particularly since NL right fielder Corey Hart has actually played several hundred innings as a big-league center fielder.
Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wondered the same thing and he actually asked both Ethier and Manuel about it. Turns out, neither of them really knows either.
First, here’s Ethier:
Wow. Center field? Am I playing center field? I heard rumors. I don’t even know the lineup. Last time I played center field would have to have been … in college, 2003. Hopefully, [Dodgers manager] Joe [Torre] doesn’t get any crazy ideas.
Now here’s Manuel (yes, Craig already highlighted this quote, but it’s clearly amazing enough to do twice)
The reason he’s playing center field is because when we did the fan voting and the player voting, we, uh, Hart had the … he was ahead of the outfielders. He has to start. He was supposed to start the game, and Ethier’s the one I chose to play center field because I remember he played there a lot. We do not have what they call a true center fielder right now. We have some on our roster … at the same time … that was the reason why he started in center field.
(Ethier’s teammate Rafael Furcal also had a great reaction to the news: “Oh, really? Oh my god.”)
I don’t want to be too hard on Manuel here, because he’s not the world’s most articulate public speaker and ultimately it doesn’t really matter, but as Hernandez pointed out that explanation makes zero sense. In fact, it’s backwards. Manuel says he chose Ethier to start in center field “because I remember he played there a lot.” In reality he’s never played there and Hart is the one who was a regular center fielder as recently as 2007.
Just something to remember the next time you assume the people involved put a lot of thought into these types of things.
In 2016, Red Sox starter Rick Porcello narrowly and controversially eked ahead of then-Tigers starter Justin Verlander in Cy Young Award balloting, winning on points 137 to 132. Verlander was not included at all in the top-five of two ballots, both coincidentally belonging to writers from the Tampa Bay chapter, MLB.com’s Bill Chastain and Fred Goodall of the Associated Press. Verlander had more first-place votes than Porcello, but being left out of the top-five on two ballots was the difference maker.
In the aftermath, Verlander’s then-fiancée Kate Upton fired off some angry tweets, as did Justin’s brother Ben.
Verlander was again in the running for the 2018 AL Cy Young Award. He again finished in second place, this time behind Blake Snell of the Rays. Snell had 17 first-place votes and 169 total points to Verlander’s 13 and 154. There weren’t any ballots that made a big difference like in 2016, but there were two odd ballots from the Tampa Bay chapter again.
If a chapter doesn’t have enough eligible voters, a voter from another chapter is chosen to represent that city. This year, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News was a replacement voter along with Mark Didtler, a freelancer for the Associated Press. Both writers voted for Snell in first place, reasonably. But neither writer put Verlander second, less reasonably, putting Corey Kluber there instead. Madden actually had Verlander fourth behind Athletics reliever Blake Treinen. Didtler had Treinen in fifth place. Two other writers had Verlander in third place: George A. King III of the New York Post and Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. The other 26 had Verlander in first or second place.
Voting Kluber ahead of Verlander doesn’t make any sense, especially we finally live in a world where a pitcher’s win-loss record isn’t valued highly. Kluber had 20 wins to Verlander’s 16 and pitched one more inning. In every other area, Verlander was better. ERA? Verlander led 2.52 to 2.89. Strikeouts? Verlander led 290 to 222. Strikeout rate? Verlander led 34.8% to 26.4%. Opponent batting average? Verlander led .198 to .222. FIP and xFIP? Verlander led both 2.78 and 3.03 to 3.12 and 3.08, respectively. And while Treinen had an excellent year, Verlander pitched 134 more innings, which is significant.
Upton had another tweet for the occasion: