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.