A’s manager Bob Melvin made a fairly straightforward argument for the All-Star candidacy of his catcher, Stephen Vogt, before the A’s beat the Los Angeles Angels 4-1 on Saturday.
“As far as production from the catcher’s spot, there isn’t anybody that has better production,” Melvin said. “So there’s no question that he should be considered.”
Entering Saturday, Vogt ranked among the American League leaders in several major offensive categories, including RBIs (second) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (seventh). Among A.L. catchers, Vogt ranked first in home runs (13), RBIs (50), walks (36) and OPS (.918).
Yet, All-Star selection is hardly that simple. Starting lineups for the All-Star Game, which will be held July 14 in Cincinnati, are determined by fan voting, and as of last week Vogt was a distant second at catcher – nearly 4 million votes behind A.L. leader Salvador Perez of the Kansas City Royals.
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In fact, the latest round of voting released by Major League Baseball had Royals players leading at eight of nine A.L. starting spots, with Angels outfielder Mike Trout the only exception. Although Perez – who leads A.L. catchers in hits – and several others are valid candidates, the fact Omar Infante (batting .229 through Friday) was the leading vote-getter at second base has caused some to question the current system. On Friday, baseball announced it was canceling from 60 million to 65 million potentially fraudulent votes.
During a visit to O.co Coliseum on Friday, Commissioner Rob Manfred was asked to address those concerns and said it is “not uncommon” for the early vote totals to reflect some irregularities. Manfred said he thinks selecting the starters for the All-Star Game is “an important form of fan engagement,” and that zealous voting by one team’s fan base – such as the Royals’ – often leads other teams’ fans to become more active.
“Fans have a way of correcting those things by the end of the voting,” Manfred said. “We have seen already markets outside Kansas City where they’re saying, ‘Gee, it ought to be my guy.’”
Manfred also argued there are “protections built into the system” to ensure deserving players make the All-Star Game. Although fans pick the starters, the pitchers and reserves are determined by player ballots and selections made by the managers – the Giants’ Bruce Bochy and the Royals’ Ned Yost this year.
Should Vogt, 30, become a first-time All-Star, it probably won’t be by fan vote. Melvin said he believes the A’s have several candidates – including pitcher Sonny Gray and right fielder Josh Reddick – and in those cases, “I think the numbers speak for themselves.” But Melvin added that in the past he has contacted the A.L. manager to lobby for specific players – and with the A’s hosting the Royals next weekend, Melvin will have the chance to lobby Yost in person.
Among Yost’s duties will be choosing the starting pitcher, and Melvin argued Saturday there’s “no question” Gray should at least be “in the conversation” for that honor.
Despite allowing five earned runs to the Angels on Friday, Gray going into Saturday led A.L. starters with a 1.95 ERA and 1012/3 innings and was holding opponents to a .196 batting average, second only to Houston’s Dallas Keuchel (.193). Keuchel and Gray were tied for second with a 0.95 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched), behind Chris Sale of the White Sox (0.94).
All three are strong candidates to start in Cincinnati, and Vogt said he fully expects Gray to be there in some capacity.
“Doesn’t matter what he does between now and the All-Star Game,” Vogt said. “The first half Sonny’s had and the way our team’s been playing, with our record … Sonny Gray is 100 percent an All-Star, if not the starting pitcher of the All-Star Game, in my opinion.”
On his own candidacy, Vogt was less effusive.
“Obviously, I feel like I’m having a good year and right up there with other catchers,” he said. “It’d be fun, and it’d be great, but I don’t really have a strong feeling about it.”
Melvin said he thinks the current system for selecting All-Star rosters mostly gets it right.
“The fans are going to vote for a certain amount, then you have to supplement with who the manager’s call is,” Melvin said. “I think here recently it’s been good in the way it’s been handled, and most of the guys that deserve to be there are there.”
Vogt said he has rarely thought about the selection process but would support players having more say in the starting lineups.
“It’s great that the fans have a say; maybe it’s a 50-50 vote for the starters,” Vogt said. “But I think the peers are always going to give what they feel like is the best indication of who should be there and in the starting lineup.”
As of right now, the A.L. lineup looks conspicuously Royal blue. That may change before fan voting closes July 2, but if not, Manfred said he is open to re-examining the system.
“If after that game we look at things and decide the fan voting needs an adjustment, that will be an adjustment we make for next year,” the commissioner said Friday. “And I’m not closed to the idea that there should be adjustments.”