As the All-Star Game approaches and potential rosters begin to take shape, one question predominates: How is baseball going to find room for all those worthy pitching candidates? It’s hard enough to choose when almost 30 starters have sub-3.50 ERAs and unheralded closers are putting up staggering numbers (Edwin Diaz and Blake Treinen are two who come to mind). MLB teams are also using a record 4.23 pitchers per game, which means starters are being pulled earlier and more heavy lifting is required of pitchers in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have made a combined six All-Star teams since 2014 while posting dominant numbers in setup roles. But they’re not alone. David Robertson, Kelvin Herrera, Darren O’Day and Brad Brach are among the other established names in that club. And Tyler Clippard and Pat Neshek each made two All-Star teams while someone else was pocketing the bulk of the saves.
Sometimes the one-representative-per-roster rule or a strong three months helps a surprise non-closer make an All-Star Game. Jesse Crain, Aaron Crow, Evan Meek and Jonny Venters (pre-Tommy John surgeries) all fall under this umbrella.
So which factors should the players and the commissioner’s office take into account this year when they assess All-Star pitchers — and more specifically, relievers?
“The one thing I would say is, we shouldn’t look at relievers and say the guy with the most saves belongs in the All-Star Game,” said Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell. “I do think it’s important that the relievers you consider are pitching in leverage spots in the game. They just don’t have to have the ‘S’ behind their name.”
Josh Hader, who is averaging almost 18 strikeouts per nine innings for the Brewers, has been so dominant in a multi-inning shutdown role that he’s immune from the debate. If Hader’s fellow players don’t designate him an All-Star, they should be stripped of the vote and required to stand in the box against him one-by-one as punishment.
The reliever listed below — whom pitches for the National League — generally has great peripherals and lots of holds. He produces in high-leverage situations, strands a large percentage of inherited runners and rank high in relief pitcher WAR. He doesn’t stand a great chance of making it to Washington, D.C., for the All-Star Game on July 17. But at least merit a place in the conversation.
Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks
Key stats: Other than Hader, Bradley has pitched more high-leverage innings (18 2/3) than any setup man in baseball. Opponents are batting .197 against him. That’s second-best among MLB relievers to Carl Edwards Jr. of the Cubs. Bradley and Hirano have combined with Andrew Chafin and T.J. McFarland to give the Diamondbacks the best bullpen ERA in the majors.
Bradley isn’t quite as dominant as last year, when he was tied for second among relievers with a 3.6 WAR. One possible explanation: He suffered a cracked nail on his right forefinger during the offseason, and he has had to resort to visiting the nail spa regularly to get fake fingernails that make the pain tolerable enough for him to throw his curveball. He remains a workhorse, nevertheless.