If St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny decides to give Adam Wainwright the starting assignment for the National League in Tuesday's All-Star Game, he has no reason to apologize.
Sure, there are several worthy choices for the honor.
The Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw is a great pitcher who can start for my team anytime. He's 10-2 with a 1.85 ERA and is averaging 11.85 strikeouts per 9 IP this season. Unfortunately, Kershaw missed time on the DL earlier this season. As a result, his innings-pitched total (87 IP) is down compared to many other NL starting pitchers.
The Reds' Johnny Cueto is having a terrific season; I don't even look at his won-lost record because it's distorted by an unhelpful lack of run support. Cueto's 2014 resume includes: leading the NL in innings pitched (137.2), quality starts (17), and fewest walks-hits per inning (0.88). He's also second among qualified NL starters with a 2.03 ERA.
And without going into the statistics, guys like Zack Greinke (Dodgers), Jordan Zimmermann (Nationals), or Julio Teheran (Braves) would each qualify as a sensible pick to start the game.
But I see no reason why Matheny would have to defend his decision to go with Wainwright.
First of all, managing an All-Star Game doesn't include a lot of perks, but he does have the privilege to choose a starter. And if the starter is one of his own guys, then it's totally fine to go with him. Besides, it's just an honorary assignment. It's not as if the starter is going to go six, seven innings. He'll be out of the game early.
I'd growl about a manager selecting his own pitcher under one circumstance: a blatant homer job that ignores a substantial gap in performance.
I wouldn't endorse the idea of Matheny starting a Cardinal if the Cardinal was clearly inferior to other viable choices; that would be weak. But that isn't the case with Wainwright.
- If you want to count pitcher wins (not my thing), Wainwright is tied for the league lead with 11.
_Among qualifying NL starters, Wainwright has the lowest standard ERA (1.79) and fielding independent ERA (2.47).
_Wainwright is second in innings pitched (131, just six behind Cueto), tied for third in quality starts (15), and is ninth in strikeout-walk ratio.
_Wainwright ranks a close second to Cueto in fewest walks/hits per inning, 0.92.
_Wainwright has allowed an opponents' combined onbase-slugging percentage of .530, which is tied with Cueto for the league best among qualifying NL starters.
_Wainwright leads NL starters with 3.2 WAR (wins above replacement).
_Wainwright has made 18 starts this season. He hasn't allowed a run in nine of the 18 ... and he's allowed only one run in three other starts. That means he hasn't given up more than a single run in 12 of 18 starts.
I write this because I'm already annoyed by some grumbling out there about how this is a no-brainer, because Kershaw is the best, and the best should start, and Matheny is being overly loyal to his guy, etc.
I'm sure Reds fans have strong pro-Cueto sentiments. As they should.
I think Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet. He's phenomenal. But to this point he's made 13 starts to Wainwright's 18 ... and Kershaw has thrown 44 innings fewer than Wainwright. This should be considered, no? Or as we parse the stats among the best of the best, do we just throw out all considerations and simply give the start to Kershaw by acclamation?
I don't know if Wainwright will win the Cy Young this year. I'm a voter and it's way too soon to know. And if at the end of the season I think Kershaw deserves another Cy Young, I won't hesitate to vote for him over Wainwright or anyone else.
It's too soon to dive into all of that. If they stay healthy, the presumptive top contenders all have 12, 13 starts left in the season. That will be decided later. Let's talk about right now, and the All-Star Game that's less than a week away. I don't hesitate to say that Wainwright deserves the ball to start Tuesday's All-Star Game.