If the MLB All-Star Game took place today, it would not be the National League vs. the American League. It would be the NL vs. the Kansas City Royals and Mike Trout. Or, as I’d prefer to call them: Mikey T and the KC Kids. Fans vote for the game’s starters, and the latest tally has eight Royals leading their position. There are still two weeks left of voting, but if the numbers hold, the Royals would field the starting catcher, first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, two of the outfielders, and the designated hitter.
Kansas City is 37-25, the best winning percentage in the American League. They didn’t just make the playoffs last year for the first time in 30 years; they came within a game of winning the World Series. Their fans are excited. They’re supporting their team at Kauffman Stadium and, apparently, online. MLB allows people to vote 35 times each until July 2. (For the record, American Idol only lets you vote 20 times.) The league says it monitors for any sketchy voting and so the numbers it releases are “clean,” but a process that allows 35 votes per email address is questionable.
This is the first year that All-Star Game voting is entirely online. While I always enjoyed punching the tiny holes in the paper ballots found in ballparks—only to usually forget to submit them—they were becoming insignificant as voters hit the interwebs. Royals fans have been anything but insignificant in the voting process. Based on Wins Above Replacement (WAR), the best single stat to quickly assess a player’s performance, the only Royal who should be starting is outfielder Lorenzo Cain. But others make good cases, like catcher Salvador Perez and outfielder Alex Gordon. Still others are having very productive seasons but are overshadowed at their position: Eric Hosmer at first and Mike Moustakas at third don’t measure up to Miguel Cabrera and Josh Donaldson, respectively.
If you were thinking about giving Royals backers the benefit of the doubt, consider Omar Infante. The second baseman has a negative WAR, meaning a minor league call-up could be expected to outperform him. Infante has needed a three-game hot streak to bring his batting average from .204 to .227 and still has a pathetic .234 on-base percentage. He has no power or speed (zero homers or stolen bases). The nicest thing the MLB.com story could say about him is that his 11 doubles tie him for sixth among AL second basemen. (He has since hit two more and is now tied for fifth!) Though he may start the All-Star Game, the Royals aren’t convinced he’s good enough to be their starting second baseman.
I don’t mean to pile on Infante. It is not his fault his poor start to the season has come under the microscope. The article linked above quotes him as saying, “I know I don’t have the numbers. But I don’t have control over that. The fans voted for me. I appreciate that.” So should we direct our disapproval towards Royals fans? You can’t fault them for their enthusiasm. The last Kansas City player voted by the fans to start the All-Star Game was Jermaine Dye in 2000. In each game from 2004 to 2012, the Royals had the one required representative and no more. This season the club is proving last year’s magical run was no fluke, and the fans are rewarding the players. But they’ve gone so far as to make a mockery of the voting process.
Earlier this week, first-year commissioner Rob Manfred said that with two weeks before the polls close, it’s too early to worry, though he would consider tweaking the system in the future. And if the numbers hold and the American League’s batting order includes eight Royals, you can bet he will.
That the St. Louis Cardinals computer hacking scandal made the news this week has been a nice coincidence. Some people are hoping the Cardinals can hack the vote to get more deserving players on the AL roster. Others joked that the Cards already have hacked the vote to give the National League the edge and their first-place team a better shot at home field advantage in the World Series. If that’s true, it still doesn’t explain how Nori Aoki, who played for the Royals last season and is now with the Giants, has the third-most votes among NL outfielders, ahead of Giancarlo Stanton.
It’s impossible to know exactly the cause of the voting patterns. Craig Brown of Royals Authority writes that he’s “kind of confused as to the motivations of Royals fans” and doesn’t think they’re making a statement about the way MLB collects votes. Instead, he believes, “Several Royals jumped out to leads due to their solid October and hot start to 2015, fans took notice and decided to run with it. It’s a fun takeover. And as the backlash began, it only made us vote with increasing frequency.”
Royals manager Ned Yost, who will manage the American League squad and therefore choose the reserves and pitching staff—the latter likely to include a Royal or two—has reminded fans that if they don’t like how the voting is going, they should click away.
I took Yost’s advice and voted, giving the nod to just two Royals, Perez and Cain. Then I entered the five-digit Captcha code to submit my ballot again. And then I did it one more time, for a total of three votes, before realizing I didn’t want to be on my deathbed regretting that I spent even five more seconds re-submitting a ballot for an exhibition game.
If I were a Royals fan, though, I’d see it as time well spent. And if I were a Reds fan who spent big money on a ticket for the All-Star Game in Cincinnati, I’d feel cheated. I’m sure tickets will be much cheaper when the Royals come to town in August.