I'll start with the answer - because no one can stand Chipper Jones. That's the only real explanation. Let's get to the reasoning.
So yes, it's not news - Placido Polanco is the NL starter at third base. As a Phillies fan, I like that. As a baseball fan, it's horrifying. Without looking through the complete history of the All-Star game, Polanco has to be one of the worst starters at third-base ever.
But that's not what this column is about. This column is searching to answer why. Why did he get enough votes to be the starter on the NL team? Even more so, why did he get the sixth-highest vote total among all NL hitters? Let's look at several factors:
Philadelphia Voters - One theory is that the Phillies had thirty home games in which to vote for all-stars. With the team "selling out" every game, Philadelphia voters stuffed the ballot for Polanco. While this certainly played a role, that doesn't explain why Polanco got this treatment and other Phillies did not. Polanco is popular, but far from the most popular player on the team. He was healthier than Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, and Carlos Ruiz, and faced weaker competition at his position than Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard, but I think that type of analysis gives the average voter much more credit than is deserved.
Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Detroit Voters - Polanco has played for three different franchises. Although he hasn't played for the Cardinals in almost a decade, he's still liked there. Before returning to the Phillies, he was an All-Star with the Tigers, winning two gold gloves, and twice appearing in MVP voting. He certainly was helped by that type of name recognition and support in AL parks, along with his support in Philadelphia and St. Louis.
His April Start - Polanco had a great April, batting .398/.447/.524 with 19 RBI and 18 runs scored. But aside from the gaudy batting average, his numbers were hardly so singularly phenomenal among NL third basemen for the month. Casey Blake almost equaled Polanco's OBP at .446. Ryan Roberts outslugged him (.594) and out-OPS'ed him (1.007). Several had more home runs (three at 5 and 2 at 3). Chipper Jones had more RBI (21). David Wright scored as many runs. Getting into advanced stats, Ryan Roberts had a higher April wOBA (.436 to .433), though Polanco's greater number of plate appearances gave him the highest WAR for the month (1.8).
His Defense - Polanco is having a really nice defensive year at third base, though by some measures, Pablo Sandoval is having a better year. But there's no way voters vote based on defense.
His Career - Polanco has made a nice career for himself, something most every person who has played professional baseball would envy. But Chipper Jones is one of the best third baseman to ever play the game. Polanco isn't anywhere near being in the same conversation as Jones.
His Stats - For the stats that most people voting for the All-Star game care about, Polanco has no reason to be an All-Star. He's hitting .274, has 4 home runs, and 34 RBI. Each of those is easily eclipsed by other third basemen - Aramis Ramirez has 14 home runs, Roberts has 44 RBI, and Sandoval, Chase Headley, and Aaron Miles are hitting over .300. In more advanced stats, Polanco has a 1.9 WAR on the season (same as Roberts), with Headley (2.1), Ramirez (2.1), and Sandoval (2.4) ahead of him. And almost everyone who plays the position in the NL has a higher wOBA than Polanco.
On these objective factors, there's really no reason for Polanco to have gotten the votes he did. His April was strong, but so were others'. He's played in multiple places over his career, which definitely gives him an advantage, but his career is nothing compared to other NL third basemen, particularly Chipper Jones (not to mention David Wright, Scott Rolen, and Ryan Zimmerman). His defense is good, but so is others', and voters don't vote based on defense anyway. His overall performance at the plate this year has been pretty unremarkable . . . at best.
So what gives? What explains this absurd vote total for a player who is simply not worthy of being an All-Star? It all comes down to people hating Chipper Jones and liking Placido Polanco. Polanco's year this year isn't worthy of being an All-Star, but he's put up a fine-enough career.
But if career totals were what mattered, then Jones would blow away the competition. However, no one wants to vote for him. It's kinda sad, but he's gone his entire career without many people outside of Altanta feeling any love for him. This year, when his team's been playing great, he's putting up numbers that for the most part are better than Polanco's (OBP, SLG, wOBA), he's probably playing the last year of his phenomenal career, and the big name competition at his position has been injured or not performing that well, you'd think voters would give him some career credits and vote him onto the team as a starter.
That didn't happen though. Rather than voting for Jones, an all-time great and sure Hall of Famer, the voters would prefer Polanco, a nice guy who doesn't ruffle feathers but is not at all worthy of being an All-Star starter. That's how much fans across the league dislike Chipper Jones.
And that's why Polanco is a starter who got the sixth highest total of votes in the NL.