Was Tommy Edman Snubbed From the 2022 MLB All-Star Game?

MLB just released its finalists for the 2022 All-Star game. Somewhat surprisingly, Cardinals infielder, Tommy Edman, was nowhere to be found.

Edman’s All-Star Case

The case for Tommy Edman attending the midsummer classic is undeniable. A quick trip to Baseball Reference affirms that. Edman leads NL position players in overall WAR, defensive WAR, and runs scored. He’s also top-ten in almost every other major statistical category. Not only is his All-Star case ironclad, but you could argue that Edman is a dark-horse candidate for MVP.

How Did he Get Missed?

First of all, having fan voting be such a big part of determining All-Star rosters is just asinine. If a player isn’t a household name, like Edman, they’re essentially out of luck from the get-go. Fan voting is also a big reason why you typically see four or five players from the same team make it.

Another thing hurting Edman is the fact that he is overshadowed by two other Cardinals stars. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado are much more recognizable names and are both having MVP-caliber seasons in their own right. They have dominated most of the headlines despite Edman quietly playing just about as well.

Perhaps the biggest thing hurting Edman is that voters may not know what position to put him at. While traditionally a second baseman (won a gold glove there in 2021), Edman has spent almost half of this season at shortstop. This is due to both the struggles of Paul DeJong, and the emergence of rookie Nolan Gorman. Essentially, Edman is being punished for being able to play two positions at a very high level.

Still a Chance

Edman could still make the All-Star game as a reserve via the “player ballot.” You would think he would have the respect of his peers at this point, despite not getting it from the fans. Still, the fact that he has to hope he can backdoor his way into getting selected is criminal and a sign that this process is in dire need of change.

Is It Time The White Sox Move On From Eloy Jimenez?

Back in the summer of 2017, the White Sox made a trade with their cross-town rivals, the Chicago Cubs. The Sox would send starting pitcher Jose Quintana to the Cubs and they would receive a package of prospects that included Dylan Cease and Eloy Jimenez.

Within two years, Jimenez had made his way through the Sox minor league system and was rewarded with a six-year, $43 million contract before he had ever seen a pitch in the major leagues.

In his first season, he would play 122 games and record a .828 OPS with 31 home runs. While his defense was terrible, this was good enough for fourth in the rookie of the year voting. The Covid shortened 2020 season saw more of the same as he had an .891 OPS and fourteen homers.

Injuries Arise

With the explosive nature of his first two seasons, the excitement around Jimenez was at a fever pitch entering 2021. Unfortunately, he would tear his pectoral trying to rob a home run in a spring training game causing him to miss the first three months of the season.

Upon returning, the power was evident once again as had ten home runs in 55 games. However, somewhere along the way, the power dissipated. Never was this more evident than in 2021. Before being injured once again, he had a career high 66.7 ground ball percentage.

The Dilemma

Of course, the injuries are the biggest issue in Jimenez’s career right now. Alas, his overall skill set is perhaps more worrisome. When Eloy Jimenez is hitting home runs, he is one of the most impactful players in the entire Chicago lineup. Alas, his ground ball percentage makes his bat expendable. In fact, he has just one extra-base hit throughout his lengthy stay in Triple-A.

Another issue that Jimenez creates is redundancy. Both he and Andrew Vaughn profile as good, right-handed hitters who are terrible in the outfield. Alas, there is only one designated hitter spot which forces one of the two into the outfield and weakens the team’s defense.

When Jimenez finally returns to the White Sox, it is widely expected he will strictly be the DH as they do not want to risk further injury in the field. This creates all sorts of problems as now Vaughn, a natural first basemen, will take his spot in right field. It also prevents him and Abreu from taking days off from the field as Jimenez can only DH.

In totality, Jimenez is a fan favorite player who may not have a spot on the White Sox roster any longer. With four more years of team control, he may still have enough trade value based on his past to net the Sox a big fish at the deadline. It may be unlikely, but Chicago has proven in the past they can win without his bat.

Does Taijuan Walker have a fastball problem?

Taijuan Walker might have a fastball problem. Perhaps “problem” is too strong of a word. A predicament? A quandary? At the very least, he’s managed to confuse yours truly.

Walker threw 31 heaters on Sunday as he struck out 10 Los Angeles Angels. He was able to command it consistently at the top of the zone and earned a called strike or whiff a dozen times over his six innings of work. It’s the best his fastball has looked all season, and, not-so-coincidentally, the hardest, too.

Heading into his next start, Walker may be inclined to continue his season-long quest to elevate his fastball. I’m not so sure it’s the right call.

What is Taijuan Walker trying to do with his fastball?

Major League Baseball has fully entrenched itself in the era of the high four-seam fastball, Walker included. 

Walker’s game plan on Sunday, as it’s been for much of the season, was to litter the letters with strikes. It’s helped him earn early strikes and set up the secondaries that are crucial to his game; namely, his splitter. However, he’s not generating as many whiffs (20.5%) as the guys that throw as many high fastballs as him, such as Dylan Cease or Michael Kopech.

The art of throwing up in the zone is more than just location. Velocity and spin are important, too, and among other factors, help optimize one’s Vertical Approach Angle (VAA). This determines how “flat” a pitch is. Regarding fastballs, flatter is better due to the rising illusion it facilitates. Furthermore, VAA is best utilized when adjusted for pitch height, contextualizing the metric (Vertical Approach Angle Above Average, VA AA).

Essentially, good high fastballs work because hitters are swinging under them. They swing under them because they perceive the pitch to be lower than it actually is. 

At this point, we’ve established two things. One, Taijuan Walker really likes the high fastball. Two, he probably shouldn’t.

How concerned should we be?

So far, the 2022 season has been pretty kind to Walker. He’s pitched to a 3.08 ERA and his peripherals don’t suggest significant regression. Since returning from injury, he has gone five or more innings in eight of nine starts. 

What bothers me is the vulnerable state of his heater and a waning ability to generate strikeouts. 

Fastballs up in the zone are nice when they garner swings and misses, but they come with the built-in launch angle risk. If guys aren’t swinging and missing the barrels are bound to come eventually. Out of pure caution, it may be worthwhile to lower some of those four-seamers. 

As Mike Petriello pointed out, Walker’s seen a rather sharp decline in strikeouts recently. A lack of a quality fastball has dampened his ability to put guys away, and it shows. Likewise, he’s getting virtually zero production from his breaking pitches. 

Walker has featured a slider about 20% of the time during his two-year tenure as a New York Met. Last year, its 24.4% CSW% ranked 177th in the bigs. A year later and that mark has dropped to 22.1%. In 2022, it’s been barreled up twice as often as the league average and is garnering whiffs at an incredibly poor 8.4% clip.

Additionally, there is not a remarkable curveball to fall back on. It’s used almost entirely as a “get me over” pitch early in counts. While successful (35.5% CSW%), he is yet to record a strikeout with it in 2022.

Is Walker’s splitter a saving grace?

Subsequently, Walker relies on a splitter he’s throwing 30% of the time. To his credit, it’s been phenomenal. The only two pitchers with more negative run value on splitters this year are Tony Gonsolin and Kevin Gausman, a testament to Walker’s early effectiveness. 

Yet, I find myself hesitant to buy-in. Splitters are notoriously inconsistent, even for guys that truly feature their splitter (hi, Chasen Shreve). Walker has already had four starts this year with a swinging strike rate below 12% on his splitter. Gausman is yet to have one. Gonsolin has four but has two great breaking pitches to lean on.

Thus, we have a pitcher with an uninspiring fastball, a strong splitter, and no other out pitch. The dark clouds of a tough summer schedule are rolling in, and such a repertoire may not weather the storm.

Walker’s peculiar pitch mix decisions

Perhaps the most confusing aspect of Walker’s season is his choice to abandon his sinker. Now thrown a mere 6% of the time, Walker’s increased splitter usage came at a direct cost to his best pitch from 2021. 

Walker’s breakers likely pushed him towards this decision. If he could not count on them to generate whiffs, he had to double down on his splitter. But to break up with it for a fastball that I’ve spent 800 words criticizing? By CSW%, it was the 24th best sinker in baseball! He commanded it really well! At its best, it was the out pitch he needed! 

Yes, Walker’s sinker hasn’t performed as well this year in its small sample size. Still, it should see more usage than it is right now. Preferably, replacing some fastballs and sliders. There isn’t much from a spin direction standpoint to suggest it tunnels with his splitter any worse, especially to right-handed hitters. 

Filling up the inside and outside borders of the plate with sinkers feels like an easy way to mitigate some concerns. Allowing Walker to throw fewer fastballs and sliders might be the “do more good things, do less bad things” approach that rights the ship before the waters get too rocky. At the very least, we’d get the aesthetic value of a front-door sinker.

Does Taijuan Walker have a fastball problem? Probably. But it’s the choices that surround the pitch that will define his season.

The White Sox Have A Tony La Russa Problem

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Think back to the end of the 2020 season. Yes, the Dodgers would end up winning the World Series but as the off-season came there was one team firmly in the spotlight: the Chicago White Sox. One of the hottest young teams in the league, it seemed as if they could have any manager they wanted. Eventually, Jerry Reinsdorf and the White Sox settled upon Tony La Russa. To say that La Russa is accomplished would be putting it lightly. In fact, he was already a Hall of Famer when he was hired by the White Sox for the second time.

Under La Russa, the White Sox were promised a competitive advantage by having one of the game’s greatest managers in the dugout. So, despite the obvious concerns about how a 77-year-old would manage a team loaded with young talent, ownership promised results.

Ruining The Lineup

In 2021, the White Sox fielded one of their best teams in recent history. So while they dealt with the occasional La Russa blunder none of them were enough to slow Chicago. While the mistakes were plentiful, fans were convinced they could win in spite of their manager.

In 2022, La Russa has seemingly made it his mission to prove otherwise. Now his mistakes pop up in seemingly every avenue possible. Even the basic act of setting the lineup has become a spectacle for Southside fans.

In fact, over the last seven games, the White Sox have had the same lead-off hitter for back-to-back games just one time. In the absence of Tim Anderson, La Russa has often employed Leury Garcia as the lead-off man. While he is a fine utility man for any team, he does nothing at the plate. His .184 batting average and 29 OPS+ should make that clear, but not for La Russa who appears to only see that he is a switch hitter.

The constant reshuffling of the lineup this season has been curious, to say the least. Some days Andrew Vaughn will hit second, sometimes he will hit seventh. Perhaps Garcia will hit first tonight or maybe he will hit ninth. The only consistency in the lineup is no consistency.

Bullpen Management

It could be argued that, for the White Sox front office, nothing is more important than the bullpen. Between Joe Kelly, Liam Hendriks, and Kendall Graveman, Chicago will spend over 28 million dollars in 2022. This will be well worth it however as they are all highly valuable members of the team.

Despite having loads of bullpen talent, which also includes Reynaldo Lopez and Aaron Bummer, La Russa has preferred to use lesser players in huge spots. The most blatant instance came against the Yankees.

With a lefty up in Anthony Rizzo, La Russa appeared to be bringing in fellow lefty Tanner Banks to deal with him. After Kelly was clearly rattled, it only made sense. However, La Russa evidently planned to use Banks for the next hitter. Who was that hitter you may ask? None other than the red-hot Giancarlo Stanton with the bases loaded.

Stanton quickly smoked a single that scored and then fellow righty Josh Donaldson stepped up and hit a three-run homer. A manager’s job is to put his players in the best position to succeed. Alas, La Russa appears content giving the other team the advantage. 

The Final Straw?

After a litany of questionable decisions, the Tony La Russa madness reached a new level during Thursday’s White Sox versus Dodgers game. After allowing Freddie Freeman to get on, left-hander Bennett Sousa was slated to face Trea Turner. One of the league’s best players, this was always going to be difficult. However, Sousa got up in the count 1-2 before Freeman advanced to second on a passed ball.

It was then that La Russa decided that he was going to intentionally walk Turner in a 1-2 count with two outs already in the inning. This indefensible decision was immediately followed by a three-run home run by Max Muncy that turned a two-run lead into a five-run lead and effectively ended the game.

If there was ever an example of a manager costing his team games, La Russa is it. Of course, he is one of the game’s greatest managers there is little debate about that. However, the game has clearly passed him by. While the correct time fro the White Sox to fire La Russa has come and gone, Reinsdorf can not continue to hold their fans hostage.

Mental Health in Sports

As May comes to a close, so does Mental Health Awareness month. But, the work doesn’t stop here. After two years of a pandemic, this year’s mental health awareness month was more important than ever, and we saw that demonstrated numerous times in professional sports.

Resources, support, and education are becoming more widespread each and every day. Whether it is your brother, neighbor, or your favorite professional athlete, everyone is finally starting to share the importance of taking care of your mental health. As May concludes, let’s look at mental health in sports.

Mental Health in the NBA

The NBA was one of the first major sports to be transparent about the mental health of its athletes. Mental health in basketball has been talked about since 2018, thanks to Kevin Love’s vulnerability.

Love bravely shared about his struggles with anxiety and depression after he suffered a panic attack during a game four years ago.

“For 29 years, I thought about mental health as someone else’s problem. Sure, I knew on some level that some people benefited from asking for help or opening up. I just never thought it was for me. To me, it was a form of weakness that could derail my success in sports or make me seem weird or different,” Love wrote in a letter for the Player’s Tribune.

He continued on in his letter to share how this mindset was incredibly toxic. It hindered his ability to truly be at peace with his success until he turned for help. For Love, “help” came in the form of talk therapy. Therapy helped him work through his thoughts and emotions and gave him the tools he needed to be his best self. His letter touched fans, coaches, and players alike. He gave others the outside validation they hoped for to seek help, and even inspired other professional athletes to share their stories as well.

In 2020, Jaylen Brown followed in Kevin Love’s footsteps and spoke out in support of mental health awareness. He expressed the importance of being open and honest about how you are feeling.

Love and Brown inspired athletes of many other sports to share their mental health struggles, reminding everyone they’re not alone, no matter how it may feel.

Changing the Way the NFL Approaches Mental Health

In 2019, the NFLPA and NFL created a Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee intended to encourage players to look after their mental well-being. These support systems have already benefited so many players, encouraging them to find the help they deserve.

In the last year, numerous “big name” players have opened up about their mental health. Last season, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver, Calvin Ridley, pulled himself out of the remainder of the season in order to seek treatment for his mental health. Ridley’s courageous acts impacted so many as people saw their favorite player take time to focus on himself.

Ridley’s bravery is complemented by many other star players. Athletes like AJ Brown, DJ Chark, Solomon Thomas, Dak Prescott, and Hayden Hurst are among the NFL players sharing their stories. We would be remiss to not acknowledge the impact this has on destigmatizing mental health in America. When children, teenagers, and young adults see their role models advocating for themselves, it inspires the next generation to do the same.

Well-Being Awareness in Other Athletics

Perhaps the biggest demonstration of mental health in sports over the last year came during the summer Olympics. Gymnastics powerhouse, Simone Biles, forfeited her place in the competition for her mental well-being. She was projected to bring home another gold medal, or many more gold medals, but her mind wasn’t in it. When she decided to withdraw from the competition for her mental well-being, it changed the way people look at the Olympics forever. They’re not just athletes, they’re people too. And they have bad days just like everyone else. The support she received stood tall above any criticism.

Many other athletes from many other sports have begun to stand tall in the face of mental health. Swimmer Michael Phelps, NHL goaltender Corey Hirsch, MLB pitcher Ryan Sherriff, and numerous other athletes have stepped away from their respective sports to get mental health assistance.

When professional athletes speak out about their mental health, it humanizes them in a way that many people often stray far from. Some get caught in a rhythm of picturing them as “figures” and “celebrities” instead of humans with lives that ebb and flow just like yours.  

Looking back a few years, it’s important to note the progress that we have made toward destigmatizing mental health, but there is still a long way to go. We must continue to support those going through tough times and encourage them to seek help. No job, no exam, and no game are as important as your mental well-being. Everyone deserves to feel like they are the best version of themselves. As Mental Health Awareness month comes to a close, check in on your mental health. How are you doing, truly? If you find yourself needing a listening ear or a little more help, there is no shame in reaching out.

Resources for Mental Health Assistance:

National Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-8255

Veterans: 1-800-273-8255

The Trevor Project: (866) 488-7386

Substance Abuse Hotline: 1-800-662-4357

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233