As we near the final weeks of voting for the Esurance MLB All-Star Game Ballot, and then the inevitable discussion of "snubs" in the wake of the announcement of the full roster, I find myself remembering, once again, Bryan LaHair.
You remember Bryan LaHair, don't you? It wasn't that long ago, only 2012, that LaHair, a first baseman for the Chicago Cubs, somehow reached the All-Star Game. LaHair spent five years rattling around the Mariners organization before sneaking onto the big league roster for 45 games in 2008, then went right back the Minor Leagues for three years, ending up in the Cubs organization. He made it back to the bigs in 2011 for a Cubs team in the midst of a massive overhaul that would end up serving as the basis of a World Series championship team. Then, in 2012, for a team that would lose 101 games, LaHair earned the starting first baseman's role, but only until Anthony Rizzo, recently acquired from the Padres in a trade, was ready to make the bigs. LaHair then, inexplicably, got off to an amazing start. In April, he batted .390, with five homers and an OPS of 1.251. He quickly became the story of the Cubs' season, the only thing about the Cubs that there really was to talk about.
And that start got LaHair into the 2012 All-Star Game. He grounded out in the ninth against Fernando Rodney in the Midsummer Classic. About two weeks later, LaHair lost his starting job. In the final game of the season, he hit a walk-off single.
It was his last at-bat as a big leaguer. He played in the Japanese league in 2013, came back to the U.S. to rattle around the Minors in '14 and '16 and he was last seen playing for the Somerset Patriots of the Independent Atlantic League. He's currently batting .228. Meanwhile, Rizzo helped lead the Cubs to a World Series title, you might have heard. (Here's a great piece about LaHair.)
Whenever I think of unlikely, random All-Star Game participants, I always think of LaHair, a guy who barely made it to the Majors at all but got hot at the right time to get him to an All-Star Game. There will be a couple of those guys this year. There were likely a couple of those guys last year. Eduardo Nunez? Drew Pomeranz? Will Harris? Aledmys Diaz? There will always be those guys.
It got me thinking about the flipside of this. What about the players who put together perfectly respectable, lengthy, even near-star-level Major League careers but never get to sniff an All-Star Game? Who are the players who have been doing this the longest without getting that opportunity? Which players were light years better than LaHair but never got that little star next to their name on their Baseball Reference page?
Using Baseball Reference's Play Index, let's look at the 11 active hitters who have had the most plate appearances without ever making an All-Star Game … and whether they're ever gonna get the chance to sneak in, LaHair-style.
(Note: I'm only focusing on hitters because pitchers have such quixotic careers -- and have too many varying roles -- to have any reasonable measure by which to rank them. If you went by career innings pitched, the active pitcher who has thrown the most innings without reaching an All-Star Game is Ricky Nolasco. Any list that is led by Nolasco is inherently not that interesting.)
(Another note: I've decided to start using 11 on all lists rather than 10. That 11th guy is always getting a bum rap by being omitted, and besides: )
11. Rajai Davis, Oakland A's (4,194 plate appearances). Davis' best season was probably 2009, when he hit .305 and stole 41 bases, numbers that certainly are All-Star level. He's 36 now and has fallen out of the lineup in Oakland. He will still always have this.
10. Kendrys Morales, Toronto Blue Jays (4,328 plate appearance). Morales actually finished fifth in American League MVP Award voting in 2009, his career year, when he had an OPS of .924. The broken-ankle-after-the-grand-slam incident happened that next May, and he hasn't quite ever been the same since. Still, usually a guy that hits 30 homers twice can sneak onto an All-Star roster at some point, and he reminded us of that clutch power just a few days ago.
9. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians (4,390 plate appearances). Santana has always been a little bit unappreciated as a hitter -- he lead the AL in walks in 2014, and he was clearly the best leadoff hitter the Indians had in the World Series last year -- though he's off to the worst start of his career in 2017.
8. Adam Lind, Washington Nationals (4,827 plate appearances). He won an AL Silver Slugger Award in 2009 but has become mostly a platoon player because of his struggles against lefties. He's part of an excellent Nationals bench now, which is great for them but not for any hopes he'll break through to an All-Star Game.
7. Stephen Drew, Washington Nationals (4,852 plate appearances). Drew has always struck out too much and not walked enough to quite be truly valuable, though he had a nice rebound year in 2016. He's got the same bench role for the Nationals as Lind.
6. Denard Span, San Francisco Giants (5,095 plate appearances). Span has led the league in triples twice and hits once, but he doesn't steal quite as many bases as you think he does. He definitely plays the wrong position to sneak into an All-Star Game.
5. Shin-Soo Choo, Texas Rangers (5,315 plate appearances). Choo has been in the top 14 in AL MVP Award voting twice and he's been an above-average hitter essentially every year of his career. Injuries haven't helped, but he's off to a great start. Choo is the first person on this list who has at least a slight chance in 2017.
4. Chase Headley, New York Yankees (5,315 plate appearances). Headley was fifth in NL MVP Award voting back in 2012, when he had 115 RBIs. How did he not make the All-Star Game that year? Headley's excellent start to this season has come to a screeching halt, and there are about seven guys on the Yankees you'd put on the team before him this year.
3. Mark Reynolds, Colorado Rockies (5,515 plate appearances). We might have ourselves a winner here, folks. Reynolds has been at the center of everything the Rockies have done this season, and he is even striking out (slightly) less than he used to. It'd be a shock if this streak doesn't end this year. And good for him.
2. Yunel Escobar, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (5,796 plate appearances). Escobar has always been just good enough to be useful but never exciting enough to stand out. He's hitting .276 this year, which I think makes him the second-best bat in the Angels' lineup right now.
1. Nick Markakis, Atlanta Braves. (7,617 plate appearances). Seriously, Markakis has never made an All-Star team. He has nearly 2,000 more plate appearances than the second-place player on this list. Markakis has been an above-average hitter every year of his 12-year career, he plays a solid right field and he rarely misses a game. But he's never been spectacular enough -- or at least spectacular enough in the first half of a season -- to make an All-Star Game. Markakis has actually been solid for the Braves this year, albeit it with only two homers, and all told, somebody has to make the All-Star Game from Atlanta.
Markakis is actually sixth among players since 1960 in plate appearances without reaching an All-Star Game. The top 10:
- Tony Phillips (9,110)
- Todd Zeile (8.649)
- Juan Pierre (8,280)
- Orlando Cabrera (8,255)
- Jose Cardenal (7,698)
- Nick Markakis (7,617)
- Mark McLemore (7,239)
- Mark Kotsay (7,110)
- Eric Karros (7,100)
- Aurelio Rodriguez (7,085)
With Freddie Freeman out, this might be Markakis' last chance. Let's get him in there. Do it for the memory of Bryan LaHair, Somerset Patriot.
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