Monday, October 29, 2012

Time to rethink the worst baseball contract ever?

Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants on being the 2012 World Series Champions. That team dominated the Detroit Tigers from start to finish in the series and should look forward to their parade. Joy is in the air, and that is why now might be the best time to review the 7 year/ $126 million dollar contract signed by Barry Zito back in 2007.

According to many metrics this has turned out to be a terrible deal for the Giants and likely has made a few teams hesitant to sign pitchers to expensive, long-term contracts. During the regular season his results have been less than encouraging posting a 58-69 record and 4.47 ERA. This was far from what the Giants expected to get from Zito whose Oakland numbers 102-63 and 3.55 ERA were more in line with the teams expectations. As a general rule pitchers transition from the AL to the NL well partly as a result of not having to face a DH in the lineup. Zito was the exception to the general rule and saw his ERA balloon more than a run above his Oakland years. Diminishing returns had many wondering if the Giants would dump his salary for the remaining two years of his contract. Anyway you look at his regular season numbers shows the same thing, he has vastly underperformed his contract value.

However, there are other ways to look at his value. I reviewed Cot's Baseball Contracts and found 36 contracts valued at $100,000,000.00 or more. Players under those contracts have made the world series 18 times. 12 of them have won the world series and 4 others lost to a team that also featured another 100 million dollar man. Keep in mind I limited my analysis to players results based only in years in which a player was under their 100 million contracts, not before or after. Of those players only 3 of them captured multiple world series rings, Albert Pujols (2006, 2011); Manny Ramirez (2004, 2007); and Barry Zito (2010, 2012). Winning the World Series is the ultimate goal of every team year in and year out. Teams shell out big money for players who will help lead the team not just into the postseason, but deep into the postseason. The desire is that their play justifies their contracts, but even if they just keep pressure off other players who are producing as long as they win, that should be enough. San Francisco would be right to have demanded more for their investment, but after 2 World Series victories and only 1 year left on Zito's contract, perhaps the fans should step back and appreciate what Zito helped bring to the Bay. $126 million for 2 rings sounds like a pretty fair trade, just ask Rockies fans how they feel about the Giambi and Helton contracts.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The 12 Plaque

Bleh. The 12-Pac had some fantastic games today, unfortunately how it panned out had to leave league followers looking for their Listerine. This season brought joyous potential not just to 12-Pac fans, but SEC haters nationwide. However, this season has not turned out well and today was a crushing blow to national recognition.

Oregon was the only team that did what is was supposed to. They demolished the farce of the league, Colorado, 70-14. However, the highly touted USC Trojans dropped their second in conference game, falling to Arizona 39-36. In the late game Oregon State fell victim to turnovers and the Washington Huskies 20-17. All conferences want to be good, top to bottom, but to be an elite conference the top schools should win week in and week out. Today the 12-Pac failed to do that and their national prestige took a big hit.

Parity is fantastic in every league, but when 2 of your top ranked schools fall to unranked teams in the same week the national consensus changes to parody. Stanford squeaked by Washington State 24-17 in a win that only looks good at the end of the season. Utah dominated California to ensure that Washington State remains the lone 12-Pac team without a conference win. Yippee. The Trojans are going to start feeling their sanctions starting next year and every injury will be amplified, hurting their chances to run the table in coming years. Oregon will have to wonder if the coach is going to jump to the NFL (no reason for him to laterally move in college). Unless Rich Rod, Mike Leach or another coach can get their team to step up, national respect will be tough going over the next few years. This is not to step on teams rising up, but when two of your top three teams fall flat in the same week the whole conference suffers. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Identifying the Top NL Catcher

 The talking heads of the postseason finally got to me. It happened in the NLCS whenever Buster Posey and Yadier Molina came up. Posey was referred to as the "NL MVP" as though the votes have been counted and Molina was referred to as an "MVP candidate." This very well could be how the voting plays out and I would not be upset or surprised. However, these talking heads laid the claim on Posey being a catcher and the more demanding defensive role that requires over say Ryan Braun in left field. So it was a combination of offensive power and defensive skill that led them to anoint Posey as the NL MVP (factors the talking heads ignored in the AL where they are behind Miguel Cabrera despite his defensive limitations).
 Rather than debate the MVP merits of the players, I decided to look at who is the better all around catcher in the National League. 2012 brought spectacular seasons from both Posey and Molina, but as a catcher specifically Yadier Molina deserves top billing.

The Numbers on Buster Posey

 Buster Posey had a banner year after coming back from a season ending leg injury on May 25, 2011. He recovered to make 143 starts this season for the San Francisco Giants. Overall his offensive numbers were excellent: 178 hits, 39 doubles, 24 home runs and 103 rbi with 96 strikeouts. This was good enough for a league high .336 batting average and with the help of 69 walks produced a .408 OBP. Helping his numbers was a career high .368 batting average on balls in play (babip), his previous babip high was .326 during his shortened 2011 season. Such a high babip is more an indication of good fortune than something sustainable year after year. His numbers benefited from his batting 4th most of the time, but probably helped contribute to his 19 ground into double-plays.
 In an effort to keep his bat in the lineup, the Giants moved Posey out from behind the plate often. As a result he caught in 112 games and a total of 973 innings. During that time he was charged with 8 errors and had a fielding percentage of .991 (the league average was .992) so he was slightly below average. His 30% caught sealing rate was just above the league average (27%) and he also picked off 2 players during the year. He started 29 games at 1st as well. So defensively Posey was average when looking at the raw numbers. However, the numbers hide some interesting facts. Of the regular 5 in the Giants rotation he did not catch Tim Lincecum or Barry Zito regularly during the season. While Zito could be explained as the starting catcher getting a rest day with the 5th starter on the mound, I can come to no similar conclusion for Lincecum. Lincecum did have the worst season of his career which could speak well for Posey, but we are still left wondering why 40% of the rotation does not use him as their primary catcher.

The Numbers on Yadier Molina

 Molina had a solid offensive year in 2011, but 2012 was a career season. Over 133 starts Molina notched 158 hits, with 28 doubles, 22 home runs and 76 rbi with an impressive 55 strike outs. Molina posted a .315 batting average and along with his 45 walks notched a .373 OBP. Molina also benefited from a career high babip of .316 which is more sustainable. Much of the numerical differences between Molina and Posey result from Molina batting 6th or 5th most of the season. Molina was more productive on the base paths with 12 stolen bases (15 attempts) and only 10 ground into double plays. While they may bat in different parts of their respective lineups, both are productive offensive catchers that their teams can and do rely on for success.
 Molina might be the most talented of the Molina brothers, but all of them were noted for their defensive skill. Molina caught 134 games and 1161.1 innings in 2012 while committing only 3 errors for a .997 fielding percentage. On top of that he caught 48% of would be base stealers and picked off 5 others. Molina caught every pitcher on his staff regularly while only playing 2 games at first. Molina was well above average in these defensive metrics and Cardinal fans are likely ecstatic that his new contract will keep him around for several seasons to come.

Baseball executives would gladly have either of these catchers on their teams, but if you are looking for the best overall catcher I have to go with Yadier. Their offensive numbers are comparable, while Yadier had a clear advantage in 2012 defensively.

Do you agree or disagree with my take? Have an explanation for Posey not catching certain pitchers? Any all comments are welcome.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

National League Recap

Congrats to the San Francisco Giants for fighting through a trio of must win games to advance to the World Series where they will take on the Detroit Tigers starting Wednesday. The National League post-season had a bit more drama surrounding it than their AL counterparts, but after the full complement of postseason games the Giants will represent the league and start the series at home. Here is my takeaway for the playoff teams this season and going forward.

Atlanta Braves

Season Result: Lost in the NL Wild Card to the St. Louis Cardinals
Meet the first victims of the new wild card format. Fans of the Braves will bemoan the judgment of the umpires in calling the vague infield fly rule on a ball no where near the infield. Debate away, the rule is vague and relates to infielders not field location and as a judgement rule is likely something that would not be open to replay review. Of bigger concern for the Braves should be their inability to score multiple times in the game despite getting runners in scoring position. It was an unfortunate end to Chipper Jones career, but this team showed a lot of character in recovering from last seasons late collapse and making the postseason. The Braves made few offseason changes following that collapse, trusting in the players and managers to recover, and that faith was rewarded. The Braves have a solid core of young players and seem to keep finding a viable arm every time they turn around. The Braves should take pride in making the postseason this year and use it as a stepping stone for future postseason runs.

Cincinnati Reds

Season Result: Lost the NLDS 2-3 to the San Francisco Giants
The Reds ran away with the NL Central despite long injuries to Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto. Votto was able to come back and be on the field, but his injuries sapped his power and made him a non-threat in the postseason. The Reds real result stems from Dusty Baker being Dusty Baker. Dusty loves veteran players and defined lineups and roles. In the NLDS this had him play Scott Rolen over Todd Frazier at third despite Rolen just coming back from injuries and Frazier having a solid second half of the season. He also kept Votto batting in the heart of the order when it was clear he was not a threat. It also led him to keep Chapman in the bullpen for 9th inning save opportunities instead of when games 3-5 were still in the balance. He is a solid manager, but he has come up short with the Cubs, Giants, and now the Reds. In the postseason he gets out-coached and there is no reason to expect that to change. The team looks destined to compete for not just the Central but perhaps for the best record in the NL next season. Rolen is likely to retire giving Frazier more playing time and Votto will have time to heal and get his power back. The biggest question they have going forward is what to do with Chapman, do they have their closer of the future or do they plug him into the rotation? How they answer this question will go a long way to seeing if next season they can't play a little deeper into October.

San Francisco Giants

 Season Result: TBD, beat St. Louis Cardinals in NLCS 4-3
The Giants fought back for the second straight series to force a winner take all game, and they won both of them. They took advantage of poor Cardinal defense to win 3 of the 4 games off of unearned runs. The series against Detroit should be an interesting series, but unless they want to face Justin Verlander in three times they should try and avoid a third winner take all series. Looking forward they are still a limited offensive team and will be looking for an outfielder and possibly a shortstop for next season. A bigger question mark is the pitching staff. Brian Wilson should be back, but will he be dominant or will he have lost something? If he is back to dominating they will be among the favorites to get back to the world series in 2013. Their starting rotation is a little more worrying. Barry Zito outperformed Tim Lincecum this season. Zito is entering the last guaranteed year of his contract (an option for '14 exists) and so does Timmy. Are they both on the way out, can Zito maintain his current level, was Timmy's season an aberration or a warning? It will be interesting to see what happens for them next season, but they can put those thoughts on hold as they still have games to play this season.

St. Louis Cardinals 

Season Result: Lost NLCS to San Francisco Giants  3-4
The song says hearts get left in San Francisco, but that leaves the Cardinals wondering where their gloves and their bats went. Game 7 was the first game where the Cardinals lost without giving up an unearned run. They gave up 10 unearned runs, the most for a NL team in a playoff series ever. For such a fundamentally sound team throughout the season they collapsed at the wrong time. Compounding the situation was the bats stopping their production. This team thumped the Nationals, they thumped their way to a 3-1 lead and then managed just 1 run in San Francisco. This team will likely spend a few days just digesting this collapse. When they are ready to move beyond the doom and gloom of this season they should have plenty of optimism for the future. They came within one win of back-to-back World Series appearances despite losing an iconic coach, the face of their franchise, and their superstar first basemen. Not many teams could overcome the loss of pitching coach Dave Duncan (personal reasons), Tony LaRussa (retirement), and Albert Pujols (free agency) and still expect to make the postseason let alone get as far as they did. It is a credit to the front office that their farm system continues to churn out as much talent as it does. They also found a rookie coach in Mike Matheny capable of guiding this team through the departures and injuries who should continue to make the Cardinals a major force next season when Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright hope to both be back, healthy, and ready for a full season.

Washington Nationals

Season Result: Lost NLDS to St. Louis Cardinals 2-3
One positive for the Nationals going forward is that their rotation next postseason should be much improved with Stephen Strasburg hoping to get a taste of the postseason. That is assuming good health for the rest of the rotation and that this team will be good enough to get back to the postseason next year. Despite the horrendous 9th inning collapse in game 5 to the Cardinals they look like a solid bet to make the postseason for years to come. The bullpen has some questions, but so do most bullpens every year. Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper will only improve on this season, Jayson Werth hopes to have a healthy full season and the restrictions should be off of their rotation. When your biggest decision is keeping both Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche or letting one go and getting an available center fielder your problems are pretty small. A Washington based team made the post season for the first time since 1933, the area should not have to wait nearly that long to get back.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

American League Recap

Congratulations to the Detroit Tigers on sweeping the New York Yankees to win the ALCS and will represent the American League in the 2012 World Series. Now that the American League has been whittled down to one, what can we take away from the post-season? Plenty, here are my takeaways on the teams this season and going forward along with some miscellaneous thoughts.

Baltimore Orioles

Season Result: Lost the ALDS to the NY Yankees 2-3.
The Orioles shocked everyone by not only reaching their first winning season in 15 years, but by competing for the AL East title until the final series.They shocked Texas in the wild card play-in game, but the magic was smothered by a dominant CC Sabathia in game 5 of the ALDS. This was a great result for the Orioles, but a lack of top end starting pitching leaves me skeptical that they will repeat this seasons success. Still, breaking the spell of a losing culture may help lure in a few key free agents and a consecutive winning season could be on tap for 2013.

Detroit Tigers

Season Result: TBD, Beat the NY Yankees 4-0 in ALCS
Detroit did not play up to their hype and waited until the end of the season to claim the AL Central. Winning the Central worked in their favor as they survived a spirited series from Oakland before sweeping away the ghosts of New York. Lost behind the luster of Triple Crown Winner Miguel Cabrera and Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander were the overlooked contributions of Prince Fielder, Delmon Young and the emerging success of Max Scherzer. The rest of the team has done a masterful job playing second fiddle to their super-two and now their desired result is just four wins away.

New York Yankees

Season Result: Lost ALCS to the Detroit Tigers 0-4
This aging team was exposed this postseason and their lack of offense does not bear well for this team going forward. The key blow struck early in the season with Mariano Rivera going down to ACL surgery. They were able to win the AL East without him, but his presence in the postseason was sorely missed. As the post-season goes the crushing blow had to be losing Derek Jeter to a broken ankle in the 12th inning of game 1 of the ALCS. That blow seemed to suck the heart out of the team as they faded quietly into the offseason after that. Looking forward New York cannot like what they see. Assuming a 37-year old Jeter will return healthy and productive by opening day is a pipe dream. Just look at how long it took the much younger Stephen Drew and David Freese to come back from similar injuries. If he struggles to come back where can he go? Alex Rodriguez will still be over at third, Cano at second, Texiara at first. I do not believe the Captain will go quietly to the DH or LF. This team may still win, but don't be surprised if they make like the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies.

Oakland Athletics

Season Result: Lost ALDS to the Detroit Tigers 2-3
If you can feel bad about the result of the Athletics season you better be Billy Beane. This team had the lowest payroll in the AL (and second lowest overall) to start the season. They traded their top 2 pitchers before the season began and still had a dominant pitching staff. The entire infield was replaced in season and they still won the AL West over the big spending Anaheim Angels (4th overall) and Texas Rangers (6th). Similar to the Orioles they fell short in game 5 of the ALDS, but that should not take away from the run this team had and the key pieces they have going forward. Winning the AL West is a reachable goal, but they should contend next season for at least a wildcard spot.  

Texas Rangers

 Season Result: Lost AL Wildcard game to Orioles
Arguably the most disappointing team in the AL Postseason. A team that was almost penciled in for the World Series suffered a late season collapse that forced them into the wildcard game instead of ALDS*. (*as the Rangers and Orioles finished with identical records they would have had an extra game with either last seasons format or this seasons) Getting beat, at home, to Joe Saunders probably feels like a little salt in the wound, but their problems were greater than one game. They truly felt the loss of CJ Wilson and with a few key injuries to their pitching staff they lacked the ace they needed to work deep into the postseason. Going forward they need to look at the pitchers on their roster and see if they don't need to go after a front line starter or gamble on what they have. I like Yu Darvish, but I think he is better off as a #2 at best on this team. They also have a decision on Josh Hamilton, but keep him or kick him, I think their offense will be more than enough going forward. Texas fell victim to a wildcard game, but they should be back competing for the AL West and a deep run into the 2013 postseason.


  • Replay is coming. Technology is at the point where quick and decisive calls can be made during the postseason on safe/out force plays as well as fair/foul/homerun calls. I only hope they look more to tennis and its quick responses to challenges and less to the NFL and the 2 minute review and 3 minute explanation. 
  • Zombie Bud Selig wins again. The wildcard pitted a great story David (Orioles) against the expectant Goliath (Texas). On top of that for the first time ever all four ALDS series when to five games. Cash grab though it was this season, in the AL it worked to perfection.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Yahoo! Fantasy Analysts in Review

I play fantasy baseball. I started doing it to reconnect with the game and get to know the new players coming in. In that regard I have succeeded. I play over at Yahoo! since they have a solid set-up and give you some options when joining a public league. I also prefer rotisserie formats for baseball over weekly head to head, as the season is long and you can usually recover from injuries/ineffectiveness with a mixture of patience and diligence.

Any fantasy sports player interested in winning championships does their own research, but seeks other opinions knowing they do not have time to do all the necessary research throughout the season. The key is finding out which opinions, and my focus is on "expert" opinions, are worth reading for assistance and which are only worth a read, if that. As I use Yahoo! and have for many years I wanted to do a season ending review of their fantasy baseball experts: Brad Evans, Brandon Funston, Andy Behrens, Scott Pianowski, and Michael Salfino. I am using topics covered, relevant information, dedication to the season, and adaptation to the season as criteria. Keep in mind these writers work as a team and necessarily focus on different areas and that they are trying to give a broad analysis to help as many as possible, not just help you win.

Brad Evans

Articles: Pickups of the Week-Pitchers; All Wiener Team

Brad Evans often mistakes volume over substance both in his writing and when he is miked up. He knows his stuff, as every expert does, but he often comes across more as the guy at the bar than the fantasy expert you should respect. The All-Wiener Team is a mid-season report where he calls out some of the biggest flops in the season. If these players are on your team, you know they are slumping, but you take a bitter pleasure in seeing someone else call them out as well. I always find it a fun read mid-season. The pitcher pickups of the week is designed to highlight several rising pitchers who might be available on the waiver wire. He keeps it up until around September when most the staff switches over to fantasy football exclusively and the feature stops being all that relevant*. The information tries to blend player trends with upcoming opponents to sell the move. This is where his "guy at the bar" persona comes in and rather than delve below the surface he recommends players who have either recently struggled or about to take on a team on the rise. This is worth a read and maybe follow a pitcher or two, but I did not find it worth immediate action. If he modifies his approach to look at teams on the rise it could prove more useful

* if you think fantasy baseball is a bigger cash cow than fantasy football I really can't help you

Brandon Funston

Articles: Pickups of the Week; Pickups of the Week-Hitters; Early Season All-Waiver Team; Big Board

Funston was given the task of keeping up on rising/overlooked talent and filtering it out for us all season long. The Pickups of the Week covered hitters and pitchers usually on Mondays. This can be a useful source for where to look for injury replacements as the season goes on. He attempts to focus on players available in less than half of Yahoo! leagues so there is a great chance that who he recommends is available in your league. However, since his focus is on lesser owned players you need to pay attention and know who is on a fluke streak and who might be worth the gamble. I recommend using this to flesh out your watch list. He attempts to do the same thing with the Pickups of the Week-Hitters which usually came out on Fridays. This was less successful as it seemed he was identifying no-brainer players to pick-up who were probably scooped up in a competitive league. Not bad to check out, but likely a day late on value. The Early Season All-Waiver Team is something he puts together about a month into the season that looks at stars who were likely undrafted in your league. I like this even though at least half the team is already taken. These are the surprise players of the year and many will likely perform above average for the season. If I can add one or two I do, if I have to add some to my watch list and wait I will. Your team needs some assistance throughout the season and this is a list of potential helpers. Finally, the Big-Board, is a staple he brought over from his Fantasy Football posts. He attempts to rank the top fifty players along with the rest of the staff. These lists are interesting but not all that useful. If you want to have a mock debate on relative value go ahead, but this list isn't even that useful for ranking trade potential.

Andy Beherns

Closer Reports, 2-Start Pitcher of the Week, Video: Starting Pitcher Pick-ups

Closer Reports is an attempt to give you a list of teams closer committees and the relative security the closers have. This is well meaning, but I do not find it all that helpful. To begin with closers on the hot seat are usually quickly identified and replacements picked up before a post like this surfaces weekly. It also just ranks the teams 1-30 with no divide between secure closers, bubble closers, and drop worthy closers which could make it more useful. His next segment the 2-Start Pitcher of the Week is geared toward those who play head-to-head fantasy baseball. As a rotisserie player this is mere reading filler and you can move on. I am trying to focus just on the written articles as their videos segments are sporadic throughout the season at best. However, Beherns attempts to suggest some pitcher pickups throughout the season and this segment is a surefire bomb for your team. The analysis he provides appears to focus more on season records and ballparks than exploding offenses  and in-season trends. During San Diego's red-hot August-September he twice recommended questionable pitchers because "everyone likes Petco Park," you can do better analysis and should if you plan on winning your league.

Scott Pianowski

Shuffle-Ups, Closing/Opening Time, Daily Streamers

Scott Pianowski has been the most active blogger for Yahoo! fantasy baseball and sticks it out through the end of the season. He gets kudos for sticking it out and trying to help the dwindling masses still looking for advice. A few weeks into the season he starts his Shuffle-Up columns which chose a position and gives an auction valued tiered rank of where he values those players if a draft started that day. He rotates through all positions and gets around 3 shuffle ups per position throughout the year. This is a great read because he puts players in tiers with his explanation as to why, he also lets readers comment and challenge his ranks to cover missed players and over/under valued players and may adjust his ranks accordingly. Also, he ignores players on the DL, they are not playing so he removes their distraction. You can use this to argue player rankings or to evaluate possible trades in your league. However you chose to use this, these articles are informative reads and should be sought out. The Closing/Opening Time is his read on the days action. It provides some quick analysis and takeaways from the night in case you were out. This is a good source to identify injury replacements or rising players to watch. It can be a little too pitcher heavy, but he tries to balance and provide justification for his beliefs. Early in September he begins a Daily Streamers post to replace the Closing/Opening Time articles. His object is to let you know pitchers coming up who should be available and ranks them into tiers from solid gambles to don't waste your time. If you have innings to burn and stats to collect for a late season run this is a useful last check before selecting who to add/avoid. Pianowski is not perfect, but he does try to provide statistical justification for his recommendations. He also admits when he is wrong and tries to help. If you read only one fantasy expert on Yahoo! I recommend Pianowski or...

Michael Salfino

By the Numbers

Michael Salfino does not write specifically to the add/drop mindset of fantasy baseball. Rather his By the Numbers articles look at pitching with a sabermetric analysis. These are fantastic articles that point out some unique ways to look at pitchers and identify value. He looks at both starters and relievers, but generally divides the two. His articles outline his approach, his goal, and any limits he puts into the data. If you grasp the basics of advanced analysis these are great reads that can really take your pitching moves to the next level.

These analysts are trying to help each of us succeed and hopefully this article helps you decide which analysts are most helpful to you. Do you have a different take on these players, someone else to recommend, or just want to add your two-cents go ahead and let me know.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Season In Review

The baseball season is a grind of 162 games (at least) over six months and every year seems to show us something new and amazing. With that in mind here are some highlights I have picked out from this season:

  • Mike Trout being the best overall player in the game. The writers will let us know if he was the MVP in November, but whether or not he wins should not undermine the WOW factor he brought this season. At 20/21 he is on the verge of joining Erik Davis and Barry Bonds as the only members of the 30 home run / 50 stolen base club, not bad company for a rookie. Add into that his spectacular defense in center field and he was non-stop entertainment all season.
  • Miguel Cabrera capturing the Triple Crown for the first time since 1967. Sabermatricians may devalue the stats required to win the award, but the ability to post a .331/44/137 line that is tops in the league is an amazing feat for the best pure hitter this season. 
  • Dominant Pitching was again a strong theme this season. A record tying 7 no-hitters, including 3 perfect games is amazing. If you think the number takes anything off the luster of those performances, you just do not appreciate the combination of skill, effort, and luck required by the pitchers and their defenses.
  • Parity is alive and well. Three of the top four payrolls at the start  of the season will not be in the postseason. Instead of the Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, and Los Angeles Angels playing October ball we are seeing the upstart Washington Nationals (20th in payroll), the Baltimore Orioles (19th) and the Oakland Athletics (29th) getting a chance. Of the expected three only the Angels put together a successful but ultimately fruitless 89 win season. The Orioles snapped a streak of 15 consecutive losing seasons to mark another successful turn around for coach Buck Showalter. Despite the second lowest payroll in baseball and trading away their top 2 starters in the offseason, the Athletics might be even more of a post season shocker than the Orioles. One of those trades was Gio Gonzales to the Washington Nationals who many figured to improve but almost no one pegged to win the NL East. 
  • First year managers shocked us as much for those who succeeded as failed. Dave Sveum (ChC) gets a pass as the Cubs were not expected to do much and trades and injuries in their starting rotation made the final record worse than the team was playing. Bobby Valentine was brought back after a decade away from the majors and it showed. He was completely out of touch with the modern game and failed to motivate players to do more than complain. If he comes back to the Red Sox next season I cannot name anyone who will be on a hotter seat. Ozzie Guillen changed from the AL to the  NL and most expected to see a competitive team in Miami. However, after Ozzie opened his mouth and said the one thing everyone knows not to say in Miami, the team seemed unravel around him. Injuries and bullpen struggles did not help, but he never seemed to connect with his players his first season. Robin Ventura and Mike Matheny both stepped into big managerial holes. Ventura replacing Guillen and Matheny replacing the legendary Tony La Russa who left after winning the World Series. Neither had previous managerial experience and yet both were able to coax winning seasons out of their players and were in contention for the playoffs until the final week of the season. I expect there will be plenty of teams who will take a chance on less experienced managers over the next several years. 
  • Rookies meeting absurd expectations. Coming into the season big spotlights were cast on Yu Darvish, Yoennis Cespedes, and Bryce Harper and all three met their lofty expectations. Yu Darvish not only made the all-star team in his first season, but has continued to pitch well all season and his numbers (16-9 with 221 K's and a 3.90 ERA over 191.1 innings) should improve as he adjusts to the MLB game. Cespedes generated plenty of chatter with his showcase video in the offseason, but as his numbers show he has produced at a very high level (.291/69 runs/23 HR/82 RBI/16 SB)and if it were not for Mike Trout he would likely be the AL Rookie of the Year. Bryce Harper might have been the most hyped prospect ever and though his final numbers don't jump off the page, the (.270/97 runs/22 HR/59 RBI/ 18 SB) puts him in elite company among teenage ballplayers.  Watching the way he hustles, hits and throws is a joy and he has already mastered handling the media. All three were major contributors to their teams and instrumental in their teams making the postseason.
I will review and update this later, but let me know in the comments what caught your attention this season that I may have overlooked.