Five Best & Worst All-Star Performances in Brewers’ History

Tuesday night’s All-Star Game was an experience to forget for Francisco Rodriguez.

The American League already led when K-Rod came on to pitch the seventh inning for the National League All-Stars, thanks to a two-run fifth inning conceded by Clayton Kershaw. But a 3-2 game, with three innings to play, is hardly a guaranteed victory. Had Rodriguez gotten through the inning without conceding any additional runs, the NL would have been in decent shape.

That wasn’t how it played out. Mike Trout drew a leadoff walk, and Brock Holt replaced him on the basepaths. Brought on to run, Holt did that rather expertly — pilfering second base and setting up Manny Machado with an run-scoring opportunity. Machado delivered with a drive into the power alley in right, driving in a run and trading places with Holt. K-Rod settled down and didn’t give up another hit, but the AL still managed to bring Machado in to score, too. The one-run deficit expanded to three, and the National League’s chances of a comeback had been cut almost to a third of where they stood a half-inning earlier.

Rodriguez avoided the ignominy of getting saddled with the loss, but most Brewers fans were thinking the exact same thing: this has got to be the worst All-Star performance a Brewer has ever turned in.

So we went through the history books, and as it turns out — no, it wasn’t the worst of all time. But it was certainly among the finalists. And on the flip side of that coin, a Milwaukee representative has swung the Midsummer Classic for his league on more than one occasion. Our own Andrew Salzman wrote a great piece on this topic on Tuesday; however, I wanted to add my own two cents and add a few more performances to the lists.

The Five Best Milwaukee All-Stars

5A. Fernando Vina, PH/2B, 1998. 1-1, 1B, BB. .137 WPA.

5B. Ryan Braun, LF, 2012. 2-2, 2B, 3B, R, RBI. .110 WPA.

Sure, the WPA numbers aren’t saying “tie.” The thing of it is, WPA is an imperfect metric — and this is a textbook example of why that is.

Keeping with the theme of that season, the 1998 All-Star Game was a supercharged display of offense. That was the season we saw Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa recalibrate what people thought realistic home run totals looked like — and, by a fun coincidence, the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game took place in home-run-happy Coors Field that year.

The end result was one of the craziest All-Star Games ever seen. The leagues seesawed back and forth, and the American League eventually emerged with a 13-8 victory. The Win Probability Chart of that game indicates that at eight different points the favored team changed.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, trailing 10-6, the NL managed to put together a mini-rally. They were only able to cut the gap to 10-8, but left the tying run on base. In doing so, the National League turned a 6 percent chance of victory into a 40 percent chance — which then evaporated back to 9 percent in just two plays. But a chunk of that 34 percent WPA from the failed rally was added by Vina, who walked to fill the bases before the two runs scored. In an earlier at-bat, Vina added a single to his resume and getting on base twice plus sparking that ill-fated rally were good enough to earn him .137 WPA for the game thanks to the fortuitous timing of the events in question.

That Ryan Braun’s 2012 All-Star performance measures up short of this is no fault of his own. The 2012 All-Star Game might have been the dullest event ever broadcast nationally. By contrast, The World Series of Concrete Setting would have made for must-see TV. The National League had five runs in the first inning, they had eight by the end of the fourth, and the game was basically over. Braun gets shafted in the WPA department because the American League decided to roll over and play dead — even though his two extra-base hits were far more impressive than either of Vina’s plate appearances fourteen years earlier.

My vote is with Braun, but you can feel free to disagree — and make sure to sound off in the comments with your reasoning if you do!

4. Lary Sorensen, RP, 1978. 3.0 IP, 1 H. .184 WPA

It’s easy to forget that before he became infamous for his association with the Pittsburgh Drug Trials of 1985, Sorensen was once a promising young pitcher with electric stuff. He was only 22 in 1978 and went 18-12 with a 3.21 ERA en route to his first and only All-Star appearance. That the Brewers threw him 280 innings as a 22-year-old, then 235 as a 23-year-old, should perhaps make it far less confusing as to why Sorensen quickly turned into the sort of ballplayer best known for his cocaine use.

The 1978 All-Star Game saw the AL jump to a 3-0 lead, and the NL answered with a three-run third inning to square it off. Sorensen started the fourth by surrendering a single to Larry Bowa, but after that initial baserunner, he retired the next nine batters he faced in order. Sorensen didn’t record a single strikeout — hardly out of the ordinary, as his career 2.9 K/9 would indicate — but he was coolly effective and the game remained tied. Though the American League pitching staff would blow it behind him, Sorensen still helped out with almost a fifth of a win.

3. Teddy Higuera, RP, 1986. 3.0 IP, H, BB, 2 K. 0-1, K. .189 WPA as pitcher, 1.78 total WPA.

We move eight-years later, but we’re still in the era when All-Star pitchers would get thrown more than two innings. Not only did Higuera go three, but he was inexplicably allowed to bat for himself! Roger Clemens batted for himself, too. Facing the best arms the National League had to offer, the two American League pitchers both struck out in terrible at-bats.

However, it wasn’t Higuera’s fault he got thrown to the wolves in the batter’s box. On the mound, he acquitted himself just fine. Nursing a 2-0 lead for his entire tenure, Higuera allowed just two baserunners — both in the fifth — and his scoreless, high-leverage three innings of work were instrumental in the American League’s 3-2 victory. Roger Clemens won the game’s MVP award, but Higuera actually posted a higher WPA than the Rocket for his work.

(For trivia purposes, it’s worth noting that Teddy Higuera pitched in the Major Leagues for nine seasons, starting over two hundred games. Because all of this happened in the pre-Interleague era, he recorded exactly one plate appearance — which came during the All-Star Game.)

2. Prince Fielder, 1B, 2011. 1-2, HR, R, 3 RBI. .230 WPA.

Ah, sweet memories of 2011. The American League took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth on an Adrian Gonzalez home run — but C.J. Wilson gave up singles to the first two batters in the bottom of the inning. Then, Fielder stepped up, just as Joe Buck noted on the telecast how Gonzalez’s home run had been the first All-Star home run since 2008.

Less than a minute after the words were out of Buck’s mouth, Fielder crushed a tailing line drive to the opposite field, just high enough to clear the fence. The three-run home run completely negated Fielder’s first at-bat — a two-out lineout to strand a runner — and won him the All-Star Game MVP, even though that would be his final All-Star at-bat as a Brewer.

1. Jonathan Lucroy, C, 2014. 2-2, 2 2B, 2 RBI. .247 WPA.

Lucroy’s 2014 All-Star Game definitely goes down as one of the best ever from a player on a losing team.

The National League suffered a 5-3 defeat, but Lucroy arguably acquitted himself better than any other player on the roster. That year, he set the Major League record for doubles, and in the All-Star Game, he came up with a runner on base in both the second and fourth innings, doubling them home both times.

Lucroy didn’t hit one out of the park — nor did he spur his team’s winning rally — but he drove in runs, set the table for further offense, and didn’t hurt the team in any imaginable way. His major contribution in such a close game is enough to get him the highest All-Star WPA of any Brewer to represent the team.

The Five Worst Milwaukee All-Stars

(Dis)Honorable Mention: The 1980 Delegation. -.240 WPA. 

In 1980, the Brewers sent a total of three players to the All-Star Game, including starting left fielder Ben Oglive. Neither Oglive, Robin Yount, nor Cecil Cooper performed obnoxiously bad as an individual, but the group combined to go 0-for-5 with a single walk.

In total, the three Brewers in question cost the American League almost a quarter of a win that year.

5. Jose Hernandez, SS, 2002. 0-3, 2 K, -.144 WPA.

Hernandez entered the game in the top of the sixth inning, and proceeded to strike out swinging in his first two at-bats. Then, he extinguished the tenth inning with a runner on base by grounding out.

A more positive contribution, and maybe that year’s game ends with a real resolution. Yes, Jose Hernandez can arguably be held responsible for the controversial tie. But then again, can you really expect much from Hernandez? He had a career year in 2002 though, slashsing .288/.356/.478 en route to his first and only All-Star berth. But even then, Hernandez struck out over 30 percent of the time. Generally speaking, expecting anything of him at the plate against the best pitchers in the league was a recipe for disappointment.

4. Carlos Lee, LF, 2006. 0-1. -.147 WPA.

El Caballo got the one chance that little kids dream of, only he didn’t get the happy sports-movie ending.

He entered the game as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning. In the bottom of the ninth, with the American League leading by one run, Lee came up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. A home run would have won the game in the most dramatic way possible.

Instead, Lee skied a lazy popup to second, and the game ended without any heroics. The abruptness, combined with the situation (one-run game, man on base, two out) resulted in that one unfortunate play costing Lee more WPA than Hernandez’s entire string of oh-fer escapades four years earlier.

3. Francisco Rodriguez, RP, 2015. IP, H, BB, 2 ER. -.183 WPA. 

The details on this one can be found back in the introduction. The fact that it was the seventh inning, and a one-run game at the start of the inning, really made things look worse than they were. K-Rod walked one, gave up a hard hit ball, then settled in and retired the side. It was a brief, two-batter hiccup, but that was all it took to get two runs across.

If the Brewers’ are looking to trade K-Rod, though, Tuesday’s game should matter very little in the grand scheme of things. Minor hiccups are a part of the territory, and Rodriguez has never let the occasional bad outing get in his head before. This one even has the benefit of not affecting season stats in any way!

2. Corey Hart, RF, 2008. 0-3, 1 K. -.229 WPA. 

After the debacle of 2002, Major League Baseball took steps to ensure that they would never again be caught with their pants down in the event of extra innings for the All-Star Game. When the 2008 All-Star Game went into the tenth inning with a score of 3-3, these preparations were put to the test.

History tends to repeat itself, and just like in 2002, there was a Brewer going 0-for-3 through the extra innings. But as the gap in their WPA totals might indicate, Hart missed on some much better opportunities. Each time he came up, the National League had a runner on base for him. And yet, he was unable to capitalize.

It was an unfortunate moment in Hart’s career, but it paled in comparison to the list-topper.

1. Rollie Fingers, RP, 1981. 0.1 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 2 ER. -.545 WPA.

Twenty-four years before Francisco Rodriguez gave up two All-Star runs in a Brewer uniform, Rollie Fingers himself did the same thing — in a much more catastrophic turn of events. First, he walked Ozzie Smith. Smith stole second and went for third on a bad throw, but managed to bail Fingers out momentarily with a TOOTBLAN. Undeterred, Fingers walked the next batter. Then, Mike Schmidt reversed the one-run lead with a home run to deep center.

That play, alone, swung the expected win percentages of each side by a full 50 percent. After giving up another hit, Fingers was mercifully lifted — the losing pitcher, with just a third of an inning completed and over half a loss contributed to the effort.

But Fingers would have the last laugh that season. He may have blown the mid-season exhibition contest, but he would go on to win both the Cy Young Award and American League MVP, an unprecedented feat for a relief pitcher.

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