Heading into tonight’s announcement of the All-Star rosters, it was a foregone conclusion that Andrew McCutchen was going to make the NL roster, almost certainly as a starter. It sort of figured that the Pirates would have at least one or two other selections on the team since they made the playoffs last year, are contenders this year, and since Clint Hurdle is helping Mike Matheny manage the team and presumably had a bit of input on roster selection, but the injuries to Gerrit Cole and Neil Walker made it a little difficult to figure out who those extra selections to the team might be. The selection show just ended and so now we have our answer: McCutchen is, in fact, a starter, and he’ll be joined by Tony Watson and Josh Harrison (!!!) in Minneapolis.
Let’s start with ‘Cutch for just a second: this is his fourth straight All-Star selection and despite all of the great outfielders that the Pirates have had in their history, four straight All-Star Games puts him in rare company. He’s just the second All-Star Game starter from Pittsburgh since the early 1990s — Jason Bay was “elected” in the Great Ballot Box Manipulation of 2006 to try and get a Pirate starter at PNC Park. The All-Star Game and the fan voting process can be frustrating things sometimes, but I won’t pretend that it’s not gratifying to see someone as deserving of Andrew McCutchen to get the recognition from the general public that he so obviously deserves.
I was a little surprised to see Watson make the team — not because he doesn’t deserve it, but because Mark Melancon is having another excellent year for the Bucs and Melancon’s the closer and the closer tends to get these sorts of nods. Watson’s been the Pirates’ best reliever for a little while, now, though, and so if a reliever was going to make it, I’m happy it’s him. He ended 2013 on a 21-appearance regular season scoreless streak (20 1/3 innings, 13 strikeouts, 0 walks, 12 hits, .361 OPS against) and then he went out and put together another 21-appearance scoreless streak this year between April 24th and June 12th (21 1/3 innings, 27 strikeouts, 8 walks, 14 hits, .503 OPS against). In fact, that scoreless streak only ended on two unearned runs against the Marlins. If you count Watson’s stats from April 24th until the present, he’s appeared in 31 games, thrown 31 1/3 innings, struck out 37, walked nine, and only allowed one earned run on 21 hits. That’s a 0.29 ERA for Watson since mid-April. Between May 26th and June 12th, he didn’t even allow a hit. The guy is ridiculous. He’s an All-Star.
The Harrison selection has proven to be a bit controversial among non-Pirate fans, since he’s on the team and both Anthony Rendon and Anthony Rizzo have been relegated to the Final Vote. I’m honestly not sure that Harrison is an indefensible choice out of that trio, though. Rizzo is probably the best hitter in the group this year, but then he’s also the only one that really plays an offensive position. If you go strictly by WAR, Rendon is quite a bit ahead of Harrison (3.1 to 2.0 at Baseball Reference), but a huge chunk of that is due to the positional adjustment for Harrison spending most of his time as a corner outfielder, which is an “easier” defensive position than second base. Offensively, Rendon isn’t that far ahead of Harrison (wRC+ is 129 to 121 in Rendon’s favor) and you can argue that Harrison’s usefulness at a bunch of positions in the field gives him some unique value. If you take into account Harrison’s numbers since becoming a starter (since he basically didn’t play in April), I think that makes the case for him even stronger.
In any case, I don’t need to defend Harrison’s selection to Pirate fans. Since becoming a regular in the starting lineup on May 3rd (Harrison has started 47 times in 58 team games since then, remember that when someone tells you he doesn’t start for the Pirates) Harrison’s hit .310/.348/.457 while making starts in right field, left field, second base, and third base. Since early May, the Pirates survived a month without a right fielder, plus injuries of varying severity to Starling Marte and Neil Walker without a hitch because of Harrison. Simply put: he’s a big contributor to the Pirates this year, his presence has kept some bad injury situations from going critical, and if Clint Hurdle’s presence on the coaching staff got him put on the roster, well, so what? He’s had a great first half, he’s an important part of a contender, and now he’s an All-Star. It doesn’t matter if you can’t think of a more unlikely All-Star in the NL. Maybe that’s the best part about it.