“What impressed me about Brock Holt is his versatility,” Ned Yost said on ESPN’s All-Star selection show. “I think that super utility guys should be celebrated. He’s played seven positions for the Boston Red Sox this year. He’s put up really good offensive numbers (while) moving around the field… When you’re putting together a team, versatility is important. You can put Brock Holt at any position and feel comfortable in the middle of the game. I just felt like he was very deserving of making the All-Star team.”
Versatility is the generous term we apply to players who are capable of much but elite at little. This sounds like the antithesis of an all-star to me.
The All-Star Game is among the most watched single baseball games the entire season. It stands to reason, then, that Major League Baseball has an incentive for its most watchable and memorable players to participate. I am nearly always in favor of having the league’s biggest stars and names in the game, almost ignoring their performance in the preceding 80 games. Factoring in the half-season of performance, I also enjoy young and emerging stars. If Michael Wacha is going to be a many-time all-star, then we may as well start increasing his exposure now. The third and least desirable type of all-star is the small sample champion – the player whose performance in this random half-season happens to masquerade as “all-star worthy.” So be it.
But from one of baseball’s most visible, successful, and popular franchises, should their only all-star be a 27-year-old journeyman? That’s a hard sell for me, Mr. Yost.
Versatility has some value, especially in an era of twelve-man bullpens and such. However, in a single game where you start with 21 position players, I’m hard-pressed to find such necessity.
If you prefer the young and improving all-star, you needn’t look further than Mookie Betts. Betts was my choice for the Red Sox all-star representative. Leading the team in offensive, defensive, and total WAR – numbers that are not entirely meaningful independently, though the margin here is substantial – he has been the Red Sox best player by almost all advanced and simple metrics. Betts leads the team in games and plate appearances, and he is on the verge of becoming one of just a few players in baseball with double-digit home runs and stolen bases. Betts is the most deserving Red Sox player, and he has some modicum of versatility of his own. He’s a plus center fielder now, but he’s surely capable of playing either corner outfield spot. He also came up through the minor leagues as a second baseman. He can play four positions defensively better than Brock Holt can play any single one.
If you prefer an all-star with a sizable pedigree, look no further than Xander Bogaerts. After the 2013 season, his last full-season in the minor leagues, Bogaerts was ranked the second best prospect in all of baseball. Bogaerts is a 22-year-old with a strong bat and a plus glove at shortstop. He profiles as the Red Sox most likely all-star in the coming five years, and I like using that as a barometer. If not for the representation rule – where every team has to have an all-star – the Red Sox likely have no truly deserving players. In that event, I love to think about who will likely become deserving in the coming years. That is certainly Bogaerts.
If you prefer past success and name recognition, that is certainly Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia is on the disabled list now, but that’s actually even better in my opinion. The Red Sox may not have any players deserving of actually playing in the game, so name Pedroia an all-star and then replace him. Pedroia has played 69 games, ranking fourth on the team in plate appearances. He leads the Red Sox in OPS. He is a four-time all-star. He is a four-time gold glover. He is a former rookie of the year. He was the 2008 AL MVP. Alongside David Ortiz, Pedroia is the most prominent and recognizable Red Sox player in this recent era. He’s a two-time World Series Champion, and he would not have been a poor choice for the all-star.
Brock Holt is fine. I don’t dislike him as a player, and he certainly has value to this flawed Red Sox outfit. With that said, he’s not a deserving or logical all-star selection by any reasonable criteria. I don’t think a lot of Ned Yost as a manager, and humorously I think some of his flawed logic was exposed here. Versatility is an output rather than an input. It is how a player ends up when his skillset does not lend him to being dominant or certain in any one area. Whether needing a pinch-hitter or defensive replacement, Yost will be looking at a sub-optimal Red Sox alternative on his all-star bench this coming week.
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