Tony La Russa, the honorary manager of this year’s National League All-Star team, got to hand-select only nine of the players for his roster. And he had to be sure that every organization was represented.
He went with left-hander Wade Miley (as the Diamondbacks’ only rep), outfielder Giancarlo Stanton (as the Marlins’ only rep), Huston Street (as the Padres’ only rep), then grabbed Jonathan Papelbon, Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz from the Phillies, Clayton Kershaw from the Dodgers, Ian Desmond from the Nationals and Jay Bruce from the Reds.
All fine choices (and zero Cardinals). But Cincy apparently believes the fix was in.
According to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Reds manager Dusty Baker indicated Sunday that he thinks La Russa intentionally skipped over Johnny Cueto and Brandon Phillips because of their involvement in a number of altercations over the years with the team that Tony used to manage:
“I don’t understand that one,” said Baker. “A snub like that looks bad. Johnny and Brandon were at the center of skirmish between us and the Cardinals. Some of the Cardinals who aren’t there anymore are making some of the selections.”
Cueto, who ended Jason LaRue’s career with repeated kicks to the head during a benches-clearing incident between the Cards and Reds in August 2010, had his own interpretation of the All-Star snub. More from Fay:
“I see that I have great numbers,” said Cueto. “I thought the way I pitched this year, I’d have a chance to go to the All-Star Game. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if the manager of All-Star Game is pissed at me because I went out with one of his girlfriends.
I don’t know if they base their selection on the brawl. That’s not the way it should be. … They should pick and choose players by their numbers.”
Cueto has a 2.26 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 107 2/3 innings this year. Phillips declined to talk to the media.
Last week, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reported that Astros starter and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander changed his mechanics in order to prolong his career. Specifically, Verlander lowered his release point from 7’2″ to 6’5″.
As Brooks Baseball shows, Verlander drastically altered his release point after being traded to the Astros from the Tigers on August 31, 2017. The change resulted in a huge bump in his strikeout rate. Verlander’s strikeout rate ranged between 16% and 27.4% with the Tigers, mostly settling in the 23-25% range. With The Tigers through the first five months of 2017, Verlander struck out 24.1% of batters. In the final month with the Astros, he struck out 35.8% of batters. He then maintained that rate over the entire 2018 and ’19 seasons with respective rates of 34.8% and 35.4%. Just as impressively, the release point also resulted in fewer walks. His walk rate ranged from 5.9% to 9.9% with the Tigers but was 4.4% and 5.0% the last two seasons with the Astros.
Verlander finished a runner-up in 2018 AL Cy Young Award balloting to Blake Snell before edging out teammate Gerrit Cole for the award last season. Despite the immense success, Verlander described his mechanics as unsustainable. Per The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan, Verlander said, “I changed a lot of stuff that some people would think was unnecessary. But I thought it was necessary, especially if I want to play eight, 10 more years.”
Verlander is 37 years old, so 10 more seasons would put him into Jamie Moyer territory. Moyer, who consistently ranked among baseball’s softest-tossing pitchers, pitched 25 seasons in the majors from 1986-2012. He threw 111 2/3 innings with the Phillies in 2010 at the age of 47 and 53 2/3 innings with the Rockies in 2012 at 49. But aside from Moyer and, more recently, Bartolo Colon, it’s exceedingly rare for pitchers to extend their careers into their 40’s, let alone their mid- and late-40’s.
The Astros have Verlander under contract through 2021. The right-hander will have earned close to $300 million. He’s won a World Series, a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP Award, two Cy Youngs, and has been an eight-time All-Star. Verlander could retire after 2021 and would almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2027. That he continues to tweak his mechanics in order to pitch for another decade speaks to his highly competitive nature.