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: Last year, I said Altuve was baseball’s finest second baseman. This year: maybe he’ll be the AL’s MVP? The rebuilt Astros hit their stride this season led by a man who spots Aaron Judge a foot in height and might still receive the award. Altuve was here before the other pieces of the puzzle were added. This year was his best yet. He set new personal highs in: RS, batting average (.346) –taking his third batting title in 4 years, each season filled with 200+ hits, OBP (.410), and SLG (.547). Respected by his team as well as opponents, continued excellence could put him in the Hall of Fame.
Ryan Zimmerman: (see above) It appeared he was on his way out the door after 3 years of injuries and a 2016 featuring a BA of .218, 15 homers, and 46 RBIs. But a move to first base eased his throwing difficulties and a new approach to hitting resulted in a .303 BA, with 36 homers (a career high), and 108 RBIs. Only Lazarus made a bigger comeback.
Mike Trout: He played 45 fewer games this year because of a thumb injury. His counting stats suffered (eg, fewer at bats, hits, RS). But he still hit .306 with 33 home runs. And he led the AL with career highs in OBP (.442), SLG (.629), and OPS+ (187). Opponents realized he was as good as ever. He led the league with 15 IBB. Plus he stole 22 bases in 26 attempts. When is Opening Day?
In 2017, MLB set a record for most home runs in a single season (6,105). Who stood out? Cody Bellinger (LAD) (see above) set a NL record for most homers by a rookie (39), plus 97 RBIs. He’s all of 21 years old. Aaron Judge (NYY) broke Mark McGwire’s record of 49 homers by a rookie in any league. He hit 52 home runs and also led the AL in RS (128), walks (127), and, eh, strikeouts (208). But his slash line was .284/.422/.627, so everyone (except opposing pitchers) was satisfied. And, lastly, Giancarlo Stanton (see his picture at top of page) played another full season (for the 3rd time in an 8 year career). The result? He broke his previous high for homers (37). He led the NL with 59, while also leading the league in RBIs (132) and SLG (.631). He also had career highs in: RS, hits, doubles, and OPS. It’s good to be healthy.
What about pitching? The Dodgers might have had the best starter and closer in the NL. Clayton Kershaw again had back problems which cost him six starts“. But he still had some high spots: most wins in the NL (18), best ERA in NL (2.31) and best strikeout to walk ratio (6.73). It might get him his 4th Cy Young award in his 1o years. The Dodger’s closer, Kenley Jansen, had a fine year, too. He led the NL in Saves (41 in 42 opportunities), while striking out 109 batters in 68.1 innings. He walked 7 men. Yes, that’s a strikeout to walk ratio of 15.57. (Almost matching Kershaw’s 15.64 rate of 2016.)
In the AL, Chris Sale moved from Chicago to Boston (from White Sox to Red Sox). He won 17 games, had a 2.90 ERA, and had AL highs in IP (214.1), strikeouts (308 –the most since Pedro Martinez), and a 12.9 strikeout to walk ratio. Cy Young might be calling.
Mr. Young must call the NL, too. Perhaps he’ll find Stephen Strasburg on the other end of the call. For the Nationals, he was 15 – 4, with an ERA of 2.52, and 204 strikeouts. Or maybe the phone call could go to Strasburg’s team mate Max Scherzer. He had a 16 – 6 record, with a 2.51 ERA plus he led the league in strikeouts (268) and WHIP (0.902).
Let’s not forget other good hitters. Like Joey Votto. (see above) Playing for Cincinnati, he may get lost among the big home run hitters. But he is one of the purist, finest hitters in the game today. In 8 of his 10 seasons before 2017, he hit .300 or better. Plus, in those 10 years, he had almost 1,000 walks. In the past season, he hit .320 with 36 homers, and 100 runs scored and driven in. He led the NL with 134 BB, OBP (.454), and an OPS of 1.032.
You can’t talk about offense without mentioning the Colorado Rockies. Another hidden star plays for them: Nolan Arenado. In the last 3 years, he’s hit 120 homers and driven in 393 runs. In 2017, he had 37 home runs, 87 EBH, 130 RBIs, and hit .309. Plus, he’s had 4 Gold Gloves at third base in the last 4 years. His team mate, Charlie Blackmon, a centerfielder, had a career year. He led the NL in BA (.331), hits (213), triples (14) RS (137), and 387 total bases. And he had 37 homers, 86 EBH, and 104 RBI.
In the AL, two fine hitters have emerged in recent years. Jose Abreu has had 4 big years for the White Sox. In 2017, he hit .304, with 33 home runs, 82 EBH, plus 103 RBIs and 95 RS. And Jose Ramirez came into his own in his last 2 seasons with the Indians. 2017 saw him hit .318 with 91 EBH (including a league-leading 56 doubles.
The Cubs dynamic due, Bryzzo (AKA Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo) had another fine year. Bryant again cut down his strikeouts (from 154 to 128), added 95 walks to his .295 BA, and scored 111 runs. Rizzo hit 32 home runs (again) and had 109 RBIs.
2017 saw the Arizona Diamondbacks win 93 games and make the playoffs. Two of their stars deserve mentioning. Paul Goldschmidt (see above) has twice come in second in the MVP voting. He had another fine season this year. He had a slash line of .297/.404/.563 with 36 home runs, 73 EBH, 120 RBI and 117 RS. Plus he stole 18 bases (as a first baseman). And he’s won 2 Gold Gloves. Pitcher Zack Greinke had a fine year, too. He went 17 – 7, with a 3.20 ERA, plus 215 strikeouts in 202.1 IP. And a WHIP of 1.072.
In addition to the individuals mentioned, I want to discuss some teams who had fine seasons. All will be in the playoffs.
Cleveland Indians. In 2016, the Indians finished one game short of a championship. In 2017, they won 102 games. How? Their pitching was the AL’s finest. The staff led the AL with the lowest ERA (3.30), the most strikeouts and fewest walks. Corey Kluber was their ace (18 wins, ERA 2.25). Carlos Carrasco (18 wins) and Trevor Bauer (17 wins) were close behind in effectiveness. Relief pitching was deep. Cody Allen had 30 saves and a 2.94 ERA. Brian Shaw, Dan Otero, and the amazing Andrew Miller (1.14 ERA) helped. Their offense gave them the runs they needed. Stars were: Edwin Encarnacion, 24 year old Jose Ramirez, and the electric Francisco Lindor. The Indians future looks bright.
Houston Astros. They won 101 games –2nd highest in team history. Their rebuild was complete. Their offense was the AL’s finest: most runs, 2nd in homers. They were led by Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa (22 years old; see above), George Springer, and Marwin Gonzalez. Their pitching lacked big stars but was effective: Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Brad Peacock, and reliever Ken Giles. Plus, Justin Verlander was a late season addition. The team is ready for further success.
New York Yankees. They won 91 games for the first time since 2012 –a long drought by their standards. Veterans like Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Todd Frazier complimented a youth movement (eg, Gary Sanchez, Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, and Aaron Judge) to bring success. Pitching was provided by Luis Severino, C C Sabathia, and Masahiro Tanaka with, in relief, Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Chad Green (5 – 0, 1.83 ERA). While no juggernaut yet, there is promise for the Yankees future.
Chicago Cubs. Last year, they won 103 games and a championship after a 108 year wait. The last time a NL team won back-to-back titles was the Cincinnati Reds’ “Big Red Machine” in 1975-76. Remember them? (Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose) In 2017, the Cubs got off to a poor start: 43 – 45 at the All-Star break. Then, a successful team sprint (49 – 25) led to 92 wins and a division title. Their offense scored the 2nd most runs and had the top OBP. Joining Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo were youngsters Willson Contreras, Javier Baez (see above), Ian Happ, and Kyle Schwarber (30 homers, but a .211 BA with 150 strikeouts). Their starters from 2016, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks had a combined record of 46 – 35. Not scary. Closer Wade Davis replaced Aroldis Chapman and had 32 saves in 33 opportunities. The future of the Cubs is in doubt. They have a young (most under 30) lineup that can produce, but their pitchers are aging badly. Their future = ?
Los Angeles Dodgers. They have 5 consecutive division titles. The best of them? This season’s 104 game winner. Early in the year, they had a 43 – 7 spurt. Later, they lost 11 in a row and 16 of 17. Which Dodgers will show up for the playoffs –and beyond? Their offense did not dominate (6th in RS). Some (primarily) youngsters showed promise: Cody Bellinger (the assumed rookie of the year), Corey Seager (last year’s ROY), Austin Barnes, Justin Turner, Chris Taylor, and Yasiel Puig (in his 5th (?!) season brings 28 homers, a big outfield arm, and marches to the beat of an unknown drummer). BUT the Dodgers pitching staff was wonderful. Clayton Kershaw had his usual shortened (back problems), but top notch year: 18 – 4, 2.31 ERA. Other effective starters: Alex Wood, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, and late season arrival Yu Darvish combined for a 45 – 20 record. The relief core was long and strong: Kenley Jansen (best closer in MLB), Brandon Morrow (a surprising 6 – 0), Ross Stripling, Pedro Baez, Josh Fields. As with some previous Dodger teams, their 2017 edition will probably go as far as their pitching takes them.
Next time, I’ll mention players who could contend for post-season awards.