Brad Brach is an All-Star. Let that sink in. A pitcher with three career saves will dare to enter Petco Park while more deserving starting pitchers watch from home. Or something like that. Never mind that Brach, along with fellow All-Star and Baltimore Oriole Zach Britton both have ERAs below 1.00. The Orioles setup man ranks in the top five in the league in relief innings pitched with 45.2.
Brach has been extremely valuable to an Orioles team that struggles to get more than five innings out of its starting rotation. The right-hander with the cross-body delivery is effective against hitters from both sides of the plate and can get more than three outs at a time. His fastball at 96 and slider and changeup, both at 87, are equally impossible to square up.
While Britton was a mortal lock to make the All-Star Game, Brach was far from a certainty. The only distinction between the two is the inning in which they pitch. Given the precarious nature of many Orioles’ victories this year (and the lengthy absence of Darren O’Day), a case could be made that Brach is the most valuable member of the ‘pen for the first-place Orioles.
That’s not good enough for many members of the media, especially ESPN’s Keith Law.
What the hell is Brad Brach doing on an All-Star roster? He was replacement-level until last year and barely better than that in 2015, and he has had a fluke performance of 1.01 ERA in 44 innings this year, so he gets to go to San Diego while many better, more valuable, more deserving pitchers, such as Quintana and Kluber, are left off the roster. Brach is emblematic of the worst tendencies of the All-Star decision-making process — I don’t mean fans here, as Brach was a manager selection — with both the emphasis on current-year performance and the overrating of middle relievers, the most fungible class of players in baseball.
Law shows a clear disdain for middle relievers, and later goes on to argue that Brach should not have made the team because the Orioles already have enough representation in the game (an interesting opinion given that later in the post Law ripped the Twins’ lone selection). He would have rather seen Jose Quintana or Corey Kluber (never mind that Brach has 2.5 WAR to Kluber’s 2.1). It’s also noteworthy that Law wants to label Kluber’s poor results as a fluke while writing off Brach’s good results. At some point, you have to stop looking at FIP and BABIP and accept that the numbers are what they are.
Law misses several key points in his reasoning, however. Brach has gradually improved over each of his three seasons with the Orioles, and had a 2.27 ERA in the second half last season. This has been sustained excellence by Brach as he gradually improves his command. He has also allowed a .114 average with runners in scoring position this year. The 2016 game is also not a lifetime achievement award.
The inclusion of middle relievers will likely remain controversial so long as the All-Star Game continues to count for home-field advantage in the World Series, but it makes sense. Would a manager prefer to bring in a starter like Quintana in a sticky situation in the seventh inning or a reliever like Brach who is used to coming in when the heat is turned all the way up? Since we’re talking about Ned Yost, I would imagine he’s taking Brach all the way. This is an unintended consequence of making an exhibition game count for something for than fan entertainment.
In the end, Brad Brach is a deserving All-Star, but it probably doesn’t matter much anyway. The American League will turn to Britton, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller before it turns to Brach, Kluber, or Quintana. The All-Star Game is a reward for players who have excelled in the first half and in their career. Brach is doing both, but his role has been traditionally unappreciated — until now.