Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Blake Snell Is Good, Not A Snub

First, I should disclose: I like Blake Snell. I think he’s good, man. He checks nearly all of the boxes for a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. Good fastball? Above average left-handed velocity of 96 MPH, check. Nasty off-speed pitches? Elite curveball and plus slider, check. Improving control? Check. Elite prospect pedigree and size? Former top 100 prospect and 6’4” and 200 pounds, check.

On a personal note, as a fantasy owner I’ve been a direct beneficiary of his excellent season to date. I feel invested—I noticed his 3.49/3.56 ERA/FIP in the second half of last season and penciled him in as a “get-at-all-costs” draft target. The feeling of vindication he’s provided so far is invigorating and sponge-worthy.

In fact, he’s one of the biggest success factors behind one of my most important fantasy teams, a team that’s currently in first place in a competitive high-stakes home league. He’s currently ranked 14th to 19th overall in standard 5x5 leagues, depending on the source, despite a preseason ADP of 196. That’s a borderline fantasy MVP and league-winning type selection. Bottom line: I’d love to see Snell as an all-star.

But is he really a snub? Whenever all-star teams are announced in any sport, we experience an outburst of endless debates across bars, television, and Twitter. Sometimes these debates are well-founded and justified. Other times, it’s mindless blabber. No, Lance Stephenson shouldn’t have been an all-star in 2014—cue the violins.

Following MLB’s release of this season’s all-star teams, this “snubs” conversation was inevitable. And so far, much of the discussion has been about the apparent snub of Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell. His teammate, Chris Archer, released a video on his personal Instagram account imploring players to perform better due diligence and stating that Snell’s omission from the all-star team “can’t happen.” Snell himself expressed frustration and disappointment, conceding that being selected as an alternate wouldn’t be satisfying.

He has a point! He’s been objectively quite good this season. Among all qualified AL pitchers, he’s 1st in ERA (13th in FIP), 8th in WHIP, and 8th in strikeouts. No one should be arguing that Snell doesn’t have the resume for a spot on the team.  

Even so, as with all debates, it’s one thing to point out a problem—in this case, a snub—but what about solutions? These all-star teams are stacked. To get one of these snubs onto the team, like Snell, you have to remove a similarly deserving and talented player. Major League Baseball’s rules of having at least one representative for each team further complicates the calculus, but that’s a conversation for a different day.

The question is, was Blake Snell truly a snub? Comparing Snell to the other American League all-star starting pitchers, the answer is … maybe?

Player fWAR bWAR AVG
Chris Sale 4.4 5.1 4.8
Luis Severino 4.2 5.1 4.7
Trevor Bauer 4.5 3.6 4.1
Justin Verlander 4.2 3.6 3.9
Corey Kluber 2.8 4.6 3.7
Blake Snell 2.3 4.3 3.3
Gerrit Cole 3.3 2.9 3.1
Jose Berrios 2.2 2.5 2.4
J.A. Happ 1.7 0.8 1.3

While he’s certainly deserving, it’s difficult to credibly make an argument for Snell to be in the game instead of any of the names ahead of him there. Berrios and Happ are the lone representatives for their teams—again, a conversation for a different day, but perhaps that’s the emerging theme as the real problem here, assuming we believe these snubs are a huge problem.

The Gerrit Cole versus Snell discussion is interesting based on WAR. Cole ranks ahead in fWAR (FanGraphs WAR) while Snell ranks ahead in bWAR (Baseball-Reference WAR). Cole bests Snell across many key indicators—FIP, SIERA, K-BB%, WHIP, and innings. The Astros have the best run differential and 3rd best winning percentage in baseball; it’s hard to cry too hard about choosing Cole over Snell, even if WAR suggests there could be an argument.

There is no question that Snell deserves an all-star bid. However, all the snubs lists currently polluting the Internet and radio airwaves fail to recognize that this is a conversation starter, not a mic drop. While it’s a fun conversation to have, all-star teams only have so many roster spots—exacerbated further by MLB’s move from 34 to 32 roster spots beginning in 2017.

The conversation instead needs to turn to, “who needs to be removed?” And upon further examination, the problem isn’t necessarily with the selections—nearly all of the pitchers selected ahead of Snell have just as strong a case to be there, if not stronger. The problem might be the system, artificially forcing participation trophies upon each team. Maybe Chris Archer should be targeting that instead.
Aaron Sauceda Web Developer

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