Should Stephen Strasburg be an all-star?

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 23, 2010; D01

The reasons to include Stephen Strasburg in the 2010 All-Star Game are as powerful and obvious as one of his 100-mph fastballs. His presence will give television its best ratings, Major League Baseball its best showcase and the National League its best chance to win. Simply, fans want to see him and the league wants to show him off.

The reason against is subtle. It is the uneasy feeling among managers and players that hype and reputation will cost some deserving veteran an honor he has spent his career chasing, the chance to stand on a base line, hear his name called among baseball's elite and doff his cap to a packed stadium.

As Strasburg prepares for the fourth start of his career Wednesday against the Kansas City Royals, his transcendent pitching has stirred a unique debate: Should Strasburg, an utterly dominant rookie with just a handful of major league starts, be one of 13 pitchers chosen for the National League all-star team?

"I've been keeping up with him," Philadelphia Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel, who will manage the NL team, told reporters Sunday. "He has to earn it, so we will wait and see. If he keeps pitching like he has, I'm sure his name is going to come up. You want to get the best team out there to win, but you also don't want to leave anyone off that deserves it."

Although Strasburg is on a strict limit of 160 total major and minor league innings this year, the Nationals would welcome sacrificing one or two of them so he could pitch in the Midsummer Classic. "Of course," General Manager Mike Rizzo said. "If Charlie Manuel thought he was deserved of being an all-star, I would support it, certainly."

"If" being the operative word. Their backing aside, even the Nationals aren't sure of the proper side of the debate.

"I hope Stephen makes it," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "It'll be a very interesting call. I don't know what the right answer is."

On his current schedule, Strasburg will have made seven starts before the all-star break, but only six by July 4, when MLB announces rosters. "Is that enough?" Cincinnati Reds Manager Dusty Baker told reporters Monday in Oakland. "In my opinion, not yet."

Baker played a role in what is probably the nearest precedent. In 2003, Dontrelle Willis began the season in Class AA, made his major league debut for the Florida Marlins on May 9 and became an instant sensation, going 8-1 with a 1.98 ERA in 12 starts before all-star rosters were announced.

Baker, the NL manager that season, did not initially select Willis to the team. Willis made the All-Star Game, but only as an injury replacement for Kevin Brown, and he did not pitch in the game.

"I mean, you figure if a guy's been there 3 1/2 months as opposed to a month, you look at the guy who's been there 3 1/2 months," said Yankees Manager Joe Girardi, who will manage the American League. "I don't know what you do in that situation. But there is something about being here the whole time."

There is also something about winning the game. The winner, remember, earns home-field advantage in the World Series, and Strasburg would clearly provide the National League a competitive advantage. He has struck out 14.9 batters per nine innings and 41.3 percent of the swings against him have missed, both best among starters. After watching Strasburg in person for the first time Friday, White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillén called him "maybe the best pitcher in the National League."

A players' ballot determines five starting pitchers. Players on contending teams, if they believed Strasburg gave the NL the best chance to beat the AL for the first time since 1996, would have incentive to vote for Strasburg, even if it meant just one inning from him.

The debate would be less tricky if it could be decided in a vacuum. Strasburg's inclusion will mean another pitcher's exclusion, and this season the National League possesses a surplus of worthy pitchers.

Last year, eight of the 13 National League all-star pitchers were starters. Seven NL starters currently have an ERA of 2.43 or lower, which does not include Mike Pelfrey of the New York Mets, who is 9-2 with a 2.69 ERA. Fifteen NL starting pitchers -- including Strasburg's teammate Liván Hernández -- have ERAs under 3.00, which does not include reigning Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, who has a 3.11 ERA and a 7-2 record and leads the league with 106 strikeouts.

"You got to remember, it's not a right to go. It's a privilege," said Nationals starter Jason Marquis, a 10-year veteran who made his first all-star game last year. "You work your butt off. A lot of guys have strived year after year, and sometimes you don't make it and are deserving of it."

Marquis added, "If he's 7-0 with a low ERA, he should definitely be given consideration."

If Strasburg does not make the All-Star Game with the first announcement, the league could still provide an opportunity for him to land in the showcase. The league selects five players for a "Final Vote" ballot and fans vote one of them onto the roster. Strasburg's popularity would likely translate to enormous fan response, which makes him a likely choice to be placed on the ballot should he not make the team otherwise.

The debate will surely continue until July 13, the day of the game at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, Calif. There is little argument in what lies ahead afterward for Strasburg.

"Believe me," Marquis said. "If he stays healthy, he'll see a lot of all-star games in his career."

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