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Putting a stop to start

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff July 9, 2009 08:48 AM

Tim Wakefield, All-Star starter?

At least that was the conversation earlier today on ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike in the Morning. Fresh off the Red Sox’ 5-4 win over the A’s last night, Wakefield now has 11 wins on the season, though his latest wasn’t exactly all that impressive, allowing 10 hits and a walk over six innings. It’s the second-straight game in which the 42-year-old first-time All-Star has allowed double-digit hits.

Wakefield leads the league in wins and run support (which, you know, isn’t exactly his fault), and absolutely nothing else. Thus, when Joe Maddon tabbed Wakefield for the team last weekend, it got a lot of people up in arms, pointing out his high ERA and WHIP. “Isn't Maddon supposed to represent a new generation of stats-savvy managers who can see past the antediluvian notion of won-loss record?” asked ESPN.com’s Christopher Harris. “On Maddon's part this is a bald-faced play to lull Boston into a happy slumber shoehorned into a Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Those sort of arguments go on and on and on, and from the standpoint of hardcore baseball geek, a lot of the complaint is warranted. But it’s not like Wakefield should expect the Cy Young at his doorstep just because he’s a heck of a guy.

The All-Star Game? Why not? It’s not like we’re talking Scott Cooper here. The man still has 11 wins, which, all things being equal, certainly doesn’t equate to baseball greatness. But it’s still 11 wins. Hard to ignore. Besides, Maddon has enough baseball intelligence beyond the VORP to understand what this means for a veteran like Wakefield, and the narrative he brings with him to St. Louis. Shouldn’t that sometimes be what the Midsummer Classic is about rather than steroid freaks pounding an undersized baseball into submission in the Home Run Derby, all narrated by Chris Berman?

But – and we love Tim Wakefield – the argument as to whether or not he should start next week’s game is downright ludicrous.

Oh, but he’ll be well-rested, you say? Perhaps you missed the fact that Zack Greinke pitched last night too. Roy Halladay pitches tonight for the Blue Jays. If one of those two doesn’t start for the American League, then Maddon should be tried and convicted for pandering to Red Sox Nation. The selection of Wakefield is one thing, and it’s warranted. To have him in the conversation to start the game solely on his 11 wins and time served is just, well…I can’t believe we’re actually discussing this.

So instead, let’s put it aside and debate which one of the two legitimate options should get the nod.

Greinke: 10-5, 2.12 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 129 strikeouts

The Royals ace (whom the Red Sox will miss in this weekend’s series at Fenway) has cooled down since his Pedro-esque start to the season, but he has still only allowed more than three runs in a game twice this season. In exactly half his starts, Greinke has allowed one run or fewer and has three complete game shutouts. Since May 26, when he was 8-1 with a 0.84 ERA, Greinke has gone just 2-4, and has watched his ERA “soar” to 2.12. He lost last night to Detroit, allowing three runs over six innings. Nobody in the AL has pitched as many innings (127 1/3) and only Edwin Jackson’s WHIP (1.07) is better.

Halladay: 10-2, 2.79 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 98 strikeouts

The subject of much trade discussion (had you heard?), the Blue Jays (for now) ace is having a typical Doc Halladay season. He too is coming off a rough start, hammered for five runs, including three home runs, in the Bronx last weekend. But the man is a dominant force and he’s one in the AL East, which counts for something. In nine of his 16 starts, the man has allowed two runs or fewer. He’s third in league ERA and WHIP, but hasn’t won since coming off the disabled list on June 29.

Tough call. But as good as Halladay’s 2009 resume is, is there really any way that Maddon doesn’t start Greinke? As Royals teammate Gil Meche told Foxsports.com: "It'd be ridiculous if he doesn't. I know it's his first All-Star Game, but his numbers are better than anybody's in the league — in both leagues. If anybody deserves a start, it's him. I'd have to imagine that he's anticipating starting, just from the talks, and hopefully he does. You have the best numbers, you start. ... I think it's a no-brainer. If he doesn't, I'll be shocked. If they're going off stats this season, he starts, period."

Now add in the fact that most of the country has probably not even seen the kid pitch for never-on-ESPN Kansas City, and his own tale of personal triumph over social anxiety disorder that Ed Goren and company can milk for all its worth. Greinke would be the Royals’ first All-Star starting pitcher since Bret Saberhagen in 1987, when Greinke was four years old. Oh, and yes, he’ll be well-rested.

So too will be Wakefield, which will be nice for when he gets into the game. It might even be early enough so that Joe Mauer (who catches Twins knuckleballer RA Dickey) is still behind the dish. But just because the man has 11 wins does not mean he’s an All-Star starter.

Frankly, the best thing to happen would be to see Halladay win No. 11 tonight so that everyone who looks at wins as the end-all stat for determining greatness will have something to argue about until a guy with “only” 10 wins gets the nod. And before anyone kicks it off, Josh Beckett is pitching Sunday so he's not an option.

It's gotta be Greinke.

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