Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hey now, Tim Wakefield's not an All-Star

Will Tim Wakefield bag the All-Star appearance that eluded Mike Timlin? Photo from this site

I’m quite sure Terry Francona wishes the Red Sox had managed to win Game Seven of the ALCS last year, a victory which would have made him the manager of this year’s American League All-Star team. But with every win Tim Wakefield earns, I’m betting you that somewhere deep inside, Francona is glad he’s not the guy who has to decide whether or not Wakefield deserves a spot on the AL roster.

Actually, the two managers are part of a committee that determines the All-Star reserves and pitchers. But when players who aren’t selected despite worthy resumes are looking for someone to blame, they never blame the committee, only the managers. And Major League Baseball pretty much condones this: Check out how those fine folks not-so-subtly pass the buck to the managers in this press release announcing last year’s All-Star teams.

It’s especially uncomfortable when an All-Star manager has to tell qualified players on his own team that they’re not going to the Midsummer Classic, as Francona learned in 2005, when Mike Timlin and Matt Clement were none too pleased to miss out. Clement ended up going as an injury replacement, but Timlin was right: His best chance at an All-Star Game berth came and went with, well, no berth. (But here’s a consolation prize, Mike: An appearance in this weekend’s Hall of Fame Classic)

And if Francona thought Timlin’s case made for an awkward situation, imagine the ordeal that could come out of having to leave Wakefield—the very definition of a sentimental favorite—off the team.

At 42, Wakefield would likely be the oldest first-time All-Star since Satchel Paige, the Negro Leagues veteran who wasn’t allowed to reach the majors until he was 42 and who made the All-Star Game for the first time at 45.

At an age when most pitchers are winding down or retiring, Wakefield has turned into one of the game’s most consistent pitchers: He averaged 12 wins and 187 innings per season while compiling a WHIP of 1.29 from 2003 through 2008.

Wakefield is also on the verge of becoming perhaps the most decorated Sox pitcher ever. He’s made 380 starts for the Sox, two shy of Roger Clemens’ team record. He’s 112 1/3 innings away from toppling Clemens and becoming the club’s all-time leader in that category. And with 173 wins in a Sox uniform, he’s just 20 away from breaking the record shared by Clemens and Cy Young.

That’s not to say Wakefield is better than Clemens or Young, of course. But he has produced one of the most impressive careers in the history of a franchise rich with tradition, and he hasn’t been racking up meaningless wins and innings: He’s been a vital contributor to the Sox’ finest era in almost a century.

Add into the equation Wakefield’s reputation as one of the most selfless players, on and off the field, in the game and how warmly received his inclusion on the team would be by fellow players and the fans alike and what better way is there to reward Wakefield than with a well-deserved trip to the All-Star Game?

Except…he’s not among the most deserving candidates.

Wakefield is certainly having a fine season. With nine wins in 13 starts, he’s tied for second in the AL in wins with Kevin Slowey and more than halfway to setting a career high in wins. He’s thrown 82 innings, one-third of an inning less than Sox leader Josh Beckett. He’s recorded nine quality starts and has lasted at least six innings 10 times in 13 starts.

And Wakefield was the Sox’ best pitcher when the team needed him the most: He posted a 1.86 ERA and threw seven innings three times in four starts in April, during which Beckett, Jon Lester, Brad Penny and Daisuke Matsuzaka combined to post a 7.29 ERA and barely averaged five innings per outing.

But Wakefield’s peripheral statistics indicate his gaudy win total is at least partially a result of good fortune and better run support. He is 7-2 in nine starts since May 1, yet has posted a 5.77 ERA and a 1.66 WHIP while allowing opposing batters to hit .306 against him.

He ranks fourth in the AL in run support (9.66), and he’ll move up two spots after today’s games, when both the Rays’ Jeff Niemann and the Rangers’ Brandon McCarthy will no longer average an inning pitched per team game.

Overall, Wakefield is tied for 23rd in the AL in opponents’ batting average (.256), 28th in ERA (4.39) and 33rd in WHIP (1.41). There are 19 pitchers who rank ahead of Wakefield in all three categories. In addition, Wakefield’s strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.34 (47 whiffs/35 walks) is fourth-worst among AL qualifiers.

None of this is intended to minimize the season Wakefield is having, or the contributions he continues to make to the Sox. And Wakefield is not the type to raise a ruckus if he’s not selected to the All-Star Team, which Joe Maddon should learn if he and the rest of the committee remove sentiment from the selection process next month.

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