Every baseball season contains hundreds of wonderful stories. To review them all, a book would be necessary. Since I’m writing a blog, I’ll take a different approach. I’ll comment upon approximately two dozen players, combinations of players, and other stories that were among the ones I remember from this year. Unfortunately, I may not mention your favorite story. But you can create your own list and include people I don’t mention.
Jose Altuve. Everything written about Altuve mentions his height: 5’5”or 5’6”. OK, that’s out of the way. He’s the best second baseman playing today. In 2015, he won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, and was 10th in MVP voting. In 2016, he was better. He won his 2nd BA title in 3 years (.338). He led the AL in hits for the third consecutive season. He scored 108 runs and drove in 96. His OBP was .396 and he had 71 EBH, including 24 homers. Admired by his team mates and respected by opponents, he is baseball’s finest second baseman –did I mention that?
Clayton Kershaw. Did he have the best first two-thirds of a season ever? Take a breath: 11-2 record, 1.79 ERA, 3 shutouts, in 121 innings he had 145 strikeouts and 9 –yes, 9—walks, and a WHIP of 0.727. And when he returned, he lowered his ERA to 1.69 and in 28 innings had 27 strikeouts and 2 more walks. I bet he’s well paid.
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Quick: which of these mid-20s infielders hit .292, had an OBP of .385, slugged around .550, hit 30+ HRs, drove in 100+ runs, had EBH in the high 70s, and had 170+ hits. You’re right. Whoever you picked, you are right. As a 1-2 offensive punch, they’re not Ruth and Gehrig, but Bonds and Kent circa 2000? They could be.
Joey Votto. After a painfully slow start, he hit over .400 during 2016’s second half. His BA (.326) coupled with a NL-leading OBP (.434) and 29 HRs completed a decade of fine hitting. He is more than 50% better than an average batter (OPS+).
Nolan Arenado. Third basemen whose names you know: Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Kris Bryant. Add Arenado to the list. In his first 3 years, he won GGs and found his stroke. In 2016, he proved 2015 was not an aberration. Once again, he led the NL in HRs (41), RBIs (133), and total bases (352). He improved his BA, doubled his walks, his RS went over 100, and his hits surpassed 180. This is a player around which to build a team –after all, he is 25.
Corey and Kyle Seager. Brothers, infielders (Corey – SS; Kyle – 3B), and good ballplayers. Corey (22), ROY candidate, played for a Division winner (LAD). Kyle (28) played for a winning team, too (SEA). Corey hit for a better average (.308 vs. .278) and scored more runs (105 to 89), while Kyle had more RBIs (99 to 72) and struck out less (108 vs. 133). Both had good power (71 and 69 EBH). Youth and location (LA) have gotten Corey more pub, but will they play well enough and long enough to be spoken of in the same breath as the DiMaggio or Waner boys. Either way, how does the left side of your family’s infield compare?
Albert Pujols. His BA (.268) has been low for 5 years and they don’t walk him much any more. But he still plays every day (152 games), hits homers (31) and drives in runs (119). His lifetime totals (.309 BA, 591 HRs, 2,825 hits, 3 times MVP) point to a HOF plaque. Who’s been a better first baseman? It’s a short list: Lou Gehrig.
Justin Verlander. Remember 2011 when he won the Cy Young AND the MVP? He’s not that good again yet, but 2016 was his best year since then. 16-9, 3.04 ERA (2nd in AL), and first in strikeouts (254) and WHIP (1.001). He and Mike Fulmer (ROY?) are your team’s 1-2 pitching punch.
Freddie Freeman. A fine young hitter’s best year yet. His 34 HRs led career highs in RS, H, EBH (NL leader), OBP, and Slg. If he were on the Cubs, he would be an MVP candidate. But his Braves won 68 games and his name will not be mentioned.
J. A. Haap and Aaron Sanchez. They were a combined 35-6 with an ERA just over 3.00 and each pitched over 190 innings. Haap had career bests in strikeouts and WHIP, and Sanchez is 23 years old. Toronto has more than HR hitters now.
Madison Bumgarner. A 6th consecutive fine year: 15-9; 2.74 ERA; 226.2 IP; 251 strikeouts; WHIP 1.024. At 26, is he peaking yet? He’s OK in post-season, too.
Theo Epstein. In 2002, at age 28, he became the youngest GM in MLB. By 2004, the Red Sox had been built into the first Championship team in 86 years. In 2007, they were Champions again. In 2011, he left to become the Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations. According to the Chicago Tribune, he rebuilt the team by 37 trades, 80 Free Agent signings, and causing 85 “departures.” Coming through trades were: Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Addison Russell, Aroldis Chapman, and Miguel Montero; by the Draft were: Kris Bryant and Javier Baez; by Free Agent signings: Jon Lester, Dexter Fowler, Ben Zobrist, John Lackey…and Joe Maddon. Which brings us to 2016 and a 103 win season.
Bartolo Colon. He has pitched MLB for 19 years. He has aged well. In 2005, at age 32, he was the AL Cy Young winner. His stats that year: GS: 33; IP 222.2; 21-8 W-L record; 3.48 ERA; 3.65 strikeouts per walk. By 2016, his height was unchanged and his weight had increased …slightly. At age 43, his stats were: GS: 33; IP 192.2; 15-8 W-L record; 3.43 ERA; 4.00 strikeouts per walk. On a Mets team known for pitching, he won the most games, pitched the most innings, and walked the fewest batters per 9 innings. He hit his first home run, and circled the bases, slowly, while he laughed and the crowd laughed with him …and cheered. He was Roy Hobbs, plus 100 pounds.
Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, and Giancarlo Stanton. Three MVP winners who have fallen on hard times. No one is sure why. Harper = 2015: 42 HR, 99 RBI, .330 BA, 1.109 OPS; 2016: 24 HR, 86 RBI, .243 BA, .814 OPS. Stanton = 2014: 37 HR, 105 RBI, .288 BA, 13 SB; 2016: 27 HR, 74 RBI, .240 BA, 0 SB. McCutchen = 2013: .317 BA, OPS .911, Strikeouts 101, 27 SB; 2016: .256 BA, OPS .766, Strikeouts 143, 6 SB. What will their futures hold, as well as their teams’ futures?
Kenta Maeda and Julio Urias. The Dodgers missed Clayton Kershaw for a third of 2016. Who picked up some slack? These 2 rookies: age 28 and 20, respectively. Maeda had 32 starts, won 16 games, had a 3.48 ERA, and pitched 175.2 innings getting more than a strikeout an inning. Urias, a mid-year addition, had 15 starts, a 5-2 record, an ERA of 3.39, and averaged more than a strikeout an inning. Is that a prerequisite for Dodger pitchers –not just Kershaw?
Rick Porcello. Red Sox bats were not the only thing that exploded in 2016. Rick had career highs everywhere: Games 33 (with only 32 walks!); IP 223; W-L 22-4; ERA 3.15; WHIP 1.009; Strikeout to walk ratio 5.9 to 1. Even Big Papi was impressed.
Corey Kluber. Is it 2014 again? Maybe. Do you like: 18-9; 3.14 ERA; 2 shutouts; 227 strikeouts in 215 innings; a 1.056 WHIP. Watch out Porcello and Verlander, this man wants another Cy Young award.
Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon. Are these 2 NL relievers trying to imitate ALer Zach Britton? Jansen: 47 saves in 53 attempts; 1.83 ERA; 0.670 WHIP; 104 Ks in 68.2 innings. Melancon: 47 saves in 51 attempts; 1.64 ERA; 0.897 WHIP; 65Ks in 71.1 innings. Fantastic pitching! And for Mr. Britton: 47 saves in 47 attempts, etc. Perfect is perfect.
Miguel Cabrera. Wind him up and he hits .300, with 30 HRs and 100 RBIs. 2016 was his average .316, 38 homers, 108 RBI year. (He had 4 batting titles in the 5 previous years.) In MLB at age 20, in 13 full seasons he has hit under .300 two times (.294 and .292), had less than 100 RBIs once (76 –he was hurt), had under 30 homers three times (26, 25, 18 –he was hurt, remember). Who else has beat Mike Trout for MVP –twice?
Ryan Howard and Alex Rodriguez. Two formerly fine players who stayed in the game too long and saw their exits become painful to watch. Howard, at his best, was an MVP (2006: 58 HRs, 149 RBIs, .313BA). And hit 198 HRs in 4 years. But in 2016, he could no longer field, run, hit for average, or hit lefties at all. His 2016 totals included 25 homers, but his BA was .196 and he struck out 34% of the time. A-Rod won 3 MVPs and hit 40 HRs 8 times. But his 2015 season was his last gasp. In 2016, he hit .200 with 9 HRs in 225 ABs and had 5 strikeouts per walk. Walking away should have been earlier and easier for both.
Dustin Pedroia. Hustle is spelled: P-E-D-R-O-I-A. Team mate David Ortiz: “He plays the game like nobody I’ve ever seen.” High praise. Injuries limited his effectiveness from late in the 2012 season until 2016. And this year, he returned to his 2008 MVP form producing a .300 BA, 200 hit, 100 RS year. By “coincidence”, the Red Sox had MLB’s finest offense.
Chris Carter and Khris Davis. Two players who epitomize 2016’s offensive strategy: swing hard in case you hit something. The results = Carter: 41 HRs, 206 strikeouts, .222 BA; Davis: 42 HRs, 166 strikeouts, .247 BA. It reminds fans of vintage Adam Dunn (2012: 41 HRs, 222 strikeouts, .204 BA). At his swing-and-miss worst, Babe Ruth was = 1923: 41 HRs, 93 strikeouts, .393. Hank Aaron was = 1967: 39 HRs, 97 strikeouts, .307. Are today’s all-or-nothing hackers paid fairly?
Jose Fernandez. As a teenager, he escaped Cuba on his fourth attempt. In high school, his pitching ability became obvious. He was compared to Pedro Martinez and Dwight Gooden. In 2013, playing for the Miami Marlins, he was the NL’s Rookie of the Year. Then, arm trouble required surgery. This season, recovered, he was among leaders in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. His love for baseball was obvious. A team mate said: “His joy lit up the stadium more than lights did.” Florida’s Cuban-American community adored him and a Latin pitching opponent said: “Rest in Peace my beautiful friend.” Baseball lost a young star, and Southern Florida lost a son.
Home Runs. Why so many home runs? There are many theories. Maybe it IS the ball’s construction. But I’ll stick with a simpler explanation –until a better one arrives. 1) Hitters are paid big bucks to hit as many home runs as possible –as long as their BA stays above the Mendoza Line (.200). Their bats are constructed (big sweet spot, narrow handle) to generate power, not bat control. Ever see a picture of a bat from Wee Willie Keeler’s era? Very different. 2) Power pitchers are the desired commodity –not Greg Maddux’s control or Phil Niekro’s knuckle ball. But no matter how fast a pitch is thrown, no pitcher is immune to a gopher ball. Even Aroldis Chapman gave up 2 this year. The conditions create the situation we have: 12 teams hit 200+ home runs in 2016, and 8 players hit 40+ home runs (including Chris Carter with his 41 – 206 – .222 season). But it could be better, or worse, depending upon your desire for home runs. James Shields led MLB giving up 40 home runs this year. In 1986, Bert Blyleven gave up 50.
I’ll be writing about more players in future articles (eg, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, David Ortiz, Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and Kyle Hendricks) Even so, I will probably not mention everyone that is of interest to you. But you can make up your own list of players and memories from the 2016 season.
End of Part one. Second, and final, part next time.