Koji Uehara Deserves to Win All-Star Game Final Vote, As His Importance to Red Sox Can’t Be Overstated

Koji UeharaKoji Uehara’s All-Star candidacy took a hit Saturday. But there’s still no reason why he shouldn’t be dishing out high fives when MLB.com’s Final Vote concludes Thursday.

Uehara not only has history on his side, but he’s also the American League Final Vote finalist who most deserves to be an All-Star, regardless of Saturday’s blown save against the Angels.

AL All-Star manager Jim Leyland took a unique approach to this year’s Final Vote. All five AL finalists are relievers, as Uehara is joined by Detroit’s Joaquin Benoit, Toronto’s Steve Delabar, New York’s David Robertson and Texas’ Tanner Scheppers. One could argue that it’ll be the most boring Final Vote of all time, as it lacks star power in the AL and Dodgers rookie phenom Yasiel Puig figures to run away with things in the NL. But there’s nothing boring about Uehara and his importance to the Red Sox.

Uehara’s numbers stack up well against the Final Vote competition. His 1.93 ERA is fourth among the five candidates, but his 0.83 WHIP is far and away the best — Roberston owns the next-best WHIP at 0.99. Uehara’s 5.5 hits allowed per nine innings ranks first, his 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings (53 K’s in 37 1/3 innings) matches Delabar’s mark (57 K’s in 40 innings), and his 6.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio blows the other four hurlers out of the water.

Most of the numbers are relatively close when it comes to the five finalists, though, so perhaps we shouldn’t put too much stock into them. Besides, who gets to determine what statistical categories are weighed more heavily than others?

Uehara’s All-Star candidacy instead boils down to this: He has been the best reliever in a very good bullpen for the best team in the American League, perhaps all of baseball. That has to count for something.

Uehara suffered a bit of a setback Saturday when he entered the game with a four-run lead and the bases loaded with two outs in the ninth inning but failed to nail down a Red Sox victory. It was a difficult situation and we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the game would have been over if Brandon Snyder didn’t overthrow Dustin Pedroia at second base, but Uehara still didn’t get the job done. There’s no way around that. After looking at each candidate’s overall resume, though, there’s still no reason why Uehara shouldn’t be the guy who gets in.

The Red Sox’ bullpen has been strong for the most part, and Uehara is the biggest reason why. Andrew Bailey’s struggles in the closer role would have been crippling to most other teams, but John Farrell had the luxury of being able to turn to Uehara, who he knows is capable of succeeding in any role. The most ideal place for Uehara is the eighth inning, where he is a perfect, strike-throwing setup man, yet he has been forced to pitch outside of his comfort zone out of necessity. He has done an admirable job despite Saturday’s ninth-inning implosion, and that has saved the Red Sox a great deal of hassle for the time being.

It’s hard to believe that this is Uehara’s first season in Boston. The amount of respect that his teammates have for him and his overall comfort level make it seem like he has been hanging around the Red Sox’ clubhouse for years. It speaks to the engaging, interesting and entertaining personality that Uehara possesses. We need that in the All-Star Game.

Fortunately for Uehara — who said he’d probably “explode with excitement” if he makes the All-Star Game — he has a lot working in his favor. The Red Sox have a great track record when it comes to MLB.com’s Final Vote — with Johnny Damon (2002), Jason Varitek (2003) and Hideki Okajima (2007) having earned an All-Star berth based on the Final Vote in years past — and Uehara figures to garner a lot of support from voters in Japan.

“It might be somewhat reminiscent of ’07 when Hideki was on that list of five and he probably had an entire country backing him in the voting, and hopefully it takes place again for Koji,” Farrell said Saturday.

Even if Uehara doesn’t win this year’s Final Vote, the right-hander still has an open invitation to hit up Citi Field for the Midsummer Classic.

“I’m taking him with me no matter what,” Red Sox All-Star David Ortiz said before Saturday’s game. “That’s my boy.”

Uehara shouldn’t need to be Ortiz’s plus-one, though. He deserves his own invitation more than any of the other Final Vote candidates.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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