“On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again..” Ol’ Willie might be offering up the theme for this year’s (Toronto) Blue Jays. Since the last post, the Jays were offered shared facilities at Pittsburgh’s PNC park by the Pirates, reached some sort of agreement despite having a few conflicting dates scheduled for home games… and had that quashed by the state of Pennsylvania. The state doesn’t want more risk of Covid for their residents, which having Toronto and nine other clubs beyond the Pirates and their opponents visiting the park could represent.
I commend the Pirates club for making the offer. Even though I’m sure there would have been a financial incentive for them, it was a decent offer that really showed the meaning of sportsmanship. A rival – even if not a direct divisional one – was lacking a home park through no fault of their own, so they opened up their doors. It’s what good sports is about.
But, that said, it’s back to the drawing board for the Jays company, with three or four fewer days left to doodle out a plan. My bet is still on Buffalo being home this season.
All that covered, it’s time to give a little preview of the season ahead as I see it. It’s an abbreviated season & I’ll be giving an abbreviated forecast. Back in February, I was preparing in depth looks at every team and the season, but in 2020, turns out everything is out the window and besides… it’s hard to even remember all the roster changes that occurred last winter. But here are my predictions for 2020:
Yankees are the cream of the crop but pitching beyond newcomer Gerritt Cole might be spotty, given Luis Severino being out for year and JA Happ looking every bit his advanced age last year. Plus Stanton is good, yes, but is he really the nearly half-billion dollar man they thought they were getting from Miami ? Methinks not. And which is the real Gio Urshela- the expendable bench player Cleveland and Toronto knew or the seemingly Cooperstown-bound one NYC saw last year?
Toronto’s season would be more promising if they had a real “home” to work from. For about the last five years, I’ve always figured Tampa looks crappy on paper but seem to excel anyway. They still look crappy on paper but most pundits have them as a World Series contender this year. I think this year they’ll live up to my paper assessment of them. Baltimore might be a tad better than last year. But their schedule got infinitely harder, so they’re still going to stink.
New York 35-25
Tampa Bay 30-30
Minnesota’s hitting will win them quite a few, especially with Josh Donaldson in the mix. Indians are aging and shedding star power but still have pitching enough to contend. White Sox are improving but still a year or two away. Dallas Keuchel’s years of being in the Cy Young mix are as far gone as politicians speaking to each other civilly.
Kansas C. 22-38
Astros are still the Evil Empire to many thanks to their ’17 cheating scandal, and after Justin Verlander, their starting pitching might be a tad thin, especially if Zach Greinke ages a little more. Roberto Osuna is a no-show apparently for unknown reasons. But they still have the talent to win the division. Ask Alanis if it’s ironic the Rangers would tear down a very nice, fairly modern stadium to replace it with a billion dollar baby just in time for… no fans to see it. Jose Bautista’s laughing somewhere!
LA Anaheim 29-31
Marcus Stroman and Aubrey Huff will win as many games as each other and hit as many home runs. (That’s right, Huff retired about eight years ago). But will keep very active til the end of September throwing bombs at each other on Twitter. Bryce Harper will be OK. But when you’re a $300 million dollar man in a tough sports city, OK doesn’t cut it. No one’s built a statue for a .250 hitting, 14 homer (in 60 games) man in cheesesteak city. Ronald Acuna will post numbers that would make him the best player in the game, but scribes will still insist Mike Trout is the best of all-time.
NY Mets 27-33
Pirates have my respect and a nice view, but not the pitching they need. St. Louis isn’t the big red machine, western edition, it was a few years ago, but there’s not a lot to separate the other three. Reds will do very well with the introduction of the DH into the NL…no longer worries about Nick Castellanos lead glove negating his hitting prowess.
St. Louis 30-30
Dodgers fans (looking at you, Badfinger!) must be breathing a sigh of relief knowing they’ll have more than 60 games to appreciate Mookie Betts now. Not many holes on their roster, even without Cy Young contender Ryu (in Toronto), or Price (sitting out) around . San Diego will vie for most improved team, but not the big trophy. Anyone remember what seems like a lifetime ago when colorado wanted to trade Nolan Arrenado before spring? It’ll give people in Denver something to talk about in August when he dons a red hat on the banks of the Ohio or Big Apple pinstripes.
LA Dodgers 38-22
San Diego 32-28
San Francisco 28-32
We’ll look at playoff possibilities in a few days. But before that, a few more random predictions for the 2020 season:
1) thankfully Covid won’t run wild. I expect we’ll see a few more positive tests and some players, perhaps even a star or two shut down for a big chunk of the season due to the pandemic, but I think – and pray – there won’t be a huge epidemic in the clubhouses interfering with the season’s completion
2) there will be at least one breakout team and one unexpected bomb. I know, my predictions above seem like it should be pretty conventional and predictable, but I predict we’ll see some elements of the unpredictable. Some team will get unexpectedly hot for a few weeks and win 40 or more, some team will fall apart and struggle to win 20 out of 60 (not including Baltimore which would take that as a gift). The big question is which ones?
3) No .400 hitter. Not that it matters much anyway; no sports historian is going to put a player who ends up 70 for 170 next to Ted Williams. But many think there’ll be a .400 hitter for the first time in over seven decades. Not me. I figure the over/under for the best in the game will be around .355 this season. Forbes – Forbes of all people – looked at it and put Jose Altuve as the best bet of hitting .400. I agree with that and agree with their assessment his chance is 1 in 130. Cody Bellinger of L.A. hit .376 over a 60 game stretch last year, the best any player has in ten years. No player with over 100 at bats will hit the magic number this year.
4) Houston aren’t forgiven yet in the eyes of their competitors. At least they won’t hear the boos of the crowds, but an exhbition this week in which KC managed to plunk three straight Astros batters shows their opponents haven’t forgotten. Theyll be hit by pitches routinely for the first two weeks of the year and end up in at least one bench clearing brawl, Rob Manfred’s rules be damned. How he’ll respond, nobody knows.
5) Mike Trout will be good – that’s a given – and his team won’t be. He’ll get MVP votes because, not that he’s supposed to be the “face” of the game but because voters feel sorry for him wasting his talent in a second-rate environment. Someone will make a 2009 Roy Halladay comparison.
6) For our Blue Jays...Hyun Jin Ryu won’t match his 2.32 ERA from last year, but will be good enough to win fans aplenty in the Great White North and perhaps a Cy Young vote or two. But Matt Shomaker will be the staff ace. Nate Pearson will make his debut in August and.. be Vladimir 2.0. Oh, he’ll pitch well and post impressive numbers for a rookie but, given fans expectations, will disappoint many. 5-3, 3.60, 55 strikeouts in 50 innings would be a nice entry to the big leagues… unless you were supposed to be Nolan Ryan crossed with 1972 Steve Carlton. VG2 and Bo Bichette will impress but Danny Jansen sill be the sophomore to get people talking. He was hitting up not just a storm, but a tornado,in spring, and look at his record. He came up with the rep of being a hot hitting, but defensively-challenged catcher. He decided to work hard on his catching… and got a Gold Glove nomination. This year he’s decided to work on his hitting. If he gets into a hot streak, he will be hands down the best hitting catcher in the league and arguably in the team’s history.
7) Things will be tight in several divisions and 60 games won’t finish it. It will be a year of tie-breakers and extra games to determine wild cards and division champs. Four NL Central teams winning 33 each, tying second-place teams in East and West doing the same anyone? Probably not, but the mind reels thinking about the “what if?”
Then again, the mind reels with the “what ifs” about almost everything in 2020. It’s a year we’re not soon going to forget. Let’s hope come November, we’ll say that about the baseball season too… and for only the best of reasons.
With MLB determined to try to put together a 2020 season and training camps – aka, “Spring training, the sequel” now beginning in most team’s home cities, it’s time to dust the old cap off and look at this truly bizarre season ahead, complete with 60-game schedule and cardboard cutout fans promised to fill the Oakland stadium.
Considering that normally, we’d be readying for the All Star Break right around now and would be half way through the season, there must be some winners and losers from this condensed, Readers Digest-version of a season. Some come to my mind:
Minnesota – most had them picked as the AL Central favorites when we first began talking 2020 baseball, back around Valentine’s Day. The Twins were the reigning division winners and had added Josh Donaldson to an already powerful hitting lineup. No one benefits more than Minny with the reduced sched that features only games again divisional rivals and the corresponding division in the other league. That is to say, they are slated to play 40 games against the AL Central and 20 against the NL’s, with no games against eastern or western teams. I grudgingly admit the Twins were good last year, I just don’t think they were that good. 101 wins? Come on! Well, Minnesota got fat last year playing their division with weaklings Detroit and KC, and a mediocre at very best Chicago. They went 50-26 against them in ’19. They went just 8-12 in interleague play, mostly against NL East teams. They were 1-2 against each of Philly, Atlanta and Washington. All things combined they went 52-28 against teams they will play this year – a .650 winning percentage – but 49-33 against teams they won’t see. A .597 percentage… good, but not nearly as good obviously. The White Sox are a bit better in the AL Central this year but the Tigers and Royals are not, and the Indians are looking more like ‘last year’s team’ by the year. And the NL Central opponents they’ll face this year aren’t terrible… but aren’t as good as the Braves and Nats they faced last year. Minnesota could win 40 games against this weak lineup of opponents and ensure a nice home advantage throughout the playoffs in so doing.
Houston – remember last winter? Seems a lifetime ago, I know, but back then the Astros were the super-villains, the Jokers in a game of Batmen, thanks to their cheating scandal. Well, about six months has passed, the Yankees now have a shadow of guilt hanging over them too and frankly, most people seem to have forgotten about the Houston hijinks of 2017. You can bet if it had been a normal year they would have faced a wall of jeers and boos every time they took an opponents field in April or May, and would have probably needed to duck out of the way of many a bean ball. By now, other teams are cooled off and there will be no fans in the stands to jeer anyway. Bonus for them, Justin Verlander was going to miss a month or so to open the year, but is now in mid-season form.
Toronto – in most respects, the Jays chances seem far grimmer than they did in March. After all, the Yankees seem unstoppable in the East, and have the healthiest roster they’ve seen in a couple of years. Toronto had to hope for a stellar year from some of the sophomores propelling them into the Wild Card race. The way to do that would be to fatten up on wins against easy opponents like Detroit, KC and Seattle… all teams we no longer will see this year. Instead we get a heavier diet of games against the Yanks, Sox and Rays and more games against solid NL teams like Washington than ever before. Seems like a big loss. One silver lining though… the team’s best pitching prospect in several years, Nate Pearson seems ready to hit the big league lineup with his 102 MPH fastball. He dominated in a brief showing in spring but the team had serious reason to wonder where and how to use him this year, given that he’d never pitched more than 105 innings in a season and missed almost all of ’18 with injuries. He looked likely to begin in the minors and then maybe move to Toronto’s bullpen mid-season to limit his workload. Now, the potential is there for him to join an already much-improved starting rotation (with NL Cy Young runner-up Hyun Jin Ryu and a healthy Matt Shoemaker featured) and even if he’s used as a starter all year, probably end up with an arm-saving inning tally of under 100. He could shift the momentum in Toronto’s favor in a short run.
Philadelphia, New York Mets – much like the Blue Jays in that they’re decent teams in a strong division, but no match for Washington or Atlanta. They no doubt hoped for a solid year that could scratch out a Wild Card, but now their schedule too is much tougher against their divisional rivals and missing easy bets like Pittsburgh and Colorado.
Fans – yeah, there’s not much to like about all this. Some of it is absolutely unavoidable given that we’re living through a serious crisis the likes of which most of us have never experienced. I think one would have to be a bit daft to want to go out to sit in a crowd watching a game this year, even if we were allowed. so we can’t fault MLB on that, but a season that’s less than half the normal length, has no All Star Game, no fans in the stands to add excitement and no minor league games for the small city fans to go out and enjoy seems lacking at best. And with the spectre of doom hanging over the nation, we’ve already seen stars like Ian Desmond and Mike Leake announce they’re sitting out the year due to health concerns and Mike Trout is expressing doubts as to whether or not he’ll bother. The rosters will be bigger than before, but perhaps full of fewer stars.
Worse yet, it could get worse.Rob Manfred admitted this week he never intended to allow a season of more than 60 games take place, adding to the idea the owners were bargaining in bad faith, and as the Marlins’ Derek Jeter says, there’s no trust on either side in the game right now. We’re bound to see a hostile off-season this winter, with free agents largely being ignored and the union getting hot under the collar, which seems more than likely to result in a massive Players vs Owners war breaking out when it’s time for them to come to a new agreement in 2022. Turns out the virus isn’t the only thing making the game sick this year.
It’s getting tedious and it’s about to get nasty. Like many other large businesses in North America, Major League Baseball has been blindsided by the pandemic and has had to shut its doors, as we know. The league has tried its best to stay relevant to fans with things like re-runs of important games in each club’s history on its dedicated MLB.TV and running video game tournaments between young players fans can watch… in place of actual games involving young and older players fans wanted to watch. It’s hard to fault the league, or commissioner Rob Manfred for it. As recently as when the gates to Spring Training camps swung open, about ten weeks ago, no one saw the corona virus coming and altering almost every facet of our everyday life and making ordinary people afraid to go to a food store, let alone crowded stadium. Hard to have a contingency plan for something nobody considered a realistic threat only weeks earlier.
That said, it’s time for baseball to do something. Things are getting ugly, fast. Players and owners are rattling sabers at each other and fans are fed up with the “hurry up and wait” approach the league has been taking. Yesterday the first of what will probably be a number of lawsuits was launched against all 30 teams, from fans wanting a class action suit. Their claim is that they bought tickets for games which either have already been missed or will not be played, but are not getting refunds for the worthless product. It’s hard to argue against them. the teams are essentially telling them “wait around… maybe we can get the season in and you can use the tickets later,” which would be a logistical nightmare anyway. Already hundreds of games have been canceled and if they somehow do get played, they’ll have to be made up on different days. If you had planned to see the Dodgers on April 15 against, let’s say Colorado, seeing the game made up in late-September might not fit your schedule.It’s not what you paid for.
As noted here last time, ideas have been floated around (even by noted scientist Dr. Fauci, who’s reaching a bit beyond his area of expertise) that a season could be played in one, or a very few locations, likely Phoenix, in empty stadiums with no fans and the players and staff all quarantined to prevent getting or spreading the corona virus. As I pointed out, this seems impractical at very best, given the numbers of people involved that would have to agree beyond the players and managers… coaches, trainers, broadcast crews and publicists, hotel staff, bus drivers. and on and on. the ones who’d benefit most financially, the players, are wary. Already Sean Doolittle , a member of the reigning champion Nationals has panned it loudly and now Mike Trout – the man the league has trying to build into a brand to singly sell the game in a way Wayne Gretzky did hockey – has said there are many “red flags” about the idea which he doesn’t like. If the “face” of the game says he’s not into the concept, it’s hard to imagine ordinary rank-and-file players accepting it enthusiastically.
And if they were to accept it, there’s still a huge canyon to bridge, as it turns out. The players’ union has agreed to allow players to play for a pro-rated part of their salary, based on games played. Ergo, if the schedule was reduced to 108 games (which is 2/3 of the originally planned season), players would agree to play and receive 2/3 of their contract… a player “making” $3 million would play the 108 games for $2M. Seems fair, and union boss Tony Clark says “the negotiation is over.”
Not in the eyes of the owners though. They want players to accept far less per game than contracted if games go ahead in empty stadiums, since revenue will be down. That according to New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who spoke on behalf of the Mets which is sort of an indication of how messy the whole situation is becoming.
The owner’s point is understandable. They expected to play their schedule in crowded – or at least somewhat inhabited – stadiums. According to Rob Manfred, 40% of all team revenue comes from gate tickets sales, program sales and in-park advertising. According to Statista, last year’s average ticket price was $32.99 for normal tickets, meaning that a “typical” team would potentially earn about $70M a year from tickets. Add in a few million more for box seats, concession stand shares and the like and you can easily see how teams with payrolls of $150M or so could come up $100M short on revenue. There’d still be TV revenue, and some merchandise sales but all in all, they’d be taking a hit. One can understand why they’d want some help from the players.
But likewise, the players too have a point. They signed in good faith expecting to be paid for playing. They probably presumed there’d be fans watching in the stands, but whether or not there are doesn’t effect that they would be providing the service they agreed to. It’s not hard to imagine they might want an added stipend since they would not be able to live in their normal homes and would have to forego a lot of their outside-work activities. The very last thing baseball needs is to come up with some “salvage the season” plan involving quarantine and empty stadiums and have the players promptly go on strike over wages.
Add in to the confused mix the fact that yesterday the league gave teams permission to lay off all non-player staff (including therefore all their coaches and training staff) as of May 1. Not something which will facilitate getting back to action any easier as these essential staff will be dispersed and doubtless in some cases, moved on to other employment.
The answer, as much as we fans hate it, is to A) shut down any idea of playing in empty stadiums and B) draw a line in the sand, of probably June 1. That would be the latest date to decide if there is to be a 2020 season. If it yes, and our fingers are crossed, things look good enough by then to think stadiums could reopen later in the summer, set a schedule beginning around July 4. A 100 game or so season could get fit in and still have the World Series played by mid-November. If alas, the pandemic is continuing to take its heavy toll and there are still significant numbers of new cases showing up, then folks, sad as it is, it’s time to say “we gave it the old college try” but we’ll pick this up again next year. Season over. And give fans back all their money… and maybe a cap or two to keep them thinking about the game til spring 2021, a time when hopefully covid19 will be just a bad memory.
We’re in the midst of something truly historic in baseball this year. We may be seeing the best crop of young players to come into the league ever. That’s not to say that someone new on the diamond this season is going to become the “best-ever”, but that the incredible volume of great rookies and sophomores collectively may never have been surpassed.
Almost every year, one or two kids come up and have great seasons. Many of them go onto bigger and better; some will find their way to Cooperstown a couple of decades or so down the road. This year however, the list that potentially fit that category is long, and spans at least half the teams in the Majors. It’s so amazing that players like outfielders Bryan Reynolds (with Pittsburgh) and Alex Verdugo (Dodgers) are going almost unnoticed. Reynolds is hitting .322 with 83 runs scored and 16 homers. Verdugo, .294 with a WAR of 3.1 before being shut down with a back injury last month. This week, MLB ranked him as the 10th best “young” (under 25) rookie so far this year. Makes it hard to imagine times like 2004 when Bobby Crosby of Oakland won the Rookie of the Year award with a .239 average and 70 runs scored, or 2009 NL winner Chris Coghlan from the Marlins whose career WAR was 0.2.
In a dismal season so far for Toronto, fans have been able to get excited about their rookie contingent including Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. MLB still rank Guerrero as the best rookie, although noting he likely won’t win the Rookie of the Year and suggest his “offensive upside ranks with any prospect in recent memory”, while Bichette is ranked 5th, they point out traling only Alex Rodriguez and rookie classmate Fernando Tatis Jr. of San Diego for best slugging percentage for a rookie shortstop under 22 years old – .592.
In between the two Jays are the aforementioned Tatis (.317 with 22 HR in 83 games), Astros OF Yordan Alvaraez , (.315, 25 HR, 75 RBI in 77 games, plus 48 walks resulting in an OPS an extraordinary 78% better than league average), and Eloy Jimenez of the White Sox (28 HR.) Somehow, Pete Alonso of the Mets, with his NL rookie record 47 homers, comes in only 8th on the MLB list! Fans in cities like Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Washington all have new faces putting in remarkable performances.
While the ranks of pitchers aren’t being filled with so many budding superstars, we can’t discard the importance of the likes of Chris Paddack of San Diego and Mike Soroka of Atlanta can’t be discarded. Soroka is considered the top rookie pitcher, a 21 year old who’s 14-5 with a 2.70 ERA and 190 innings logged for the Braves so far. His WAR is 5.6.
Compound all these players in with last year’s rookie stars – Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna, Washington’s Juan Soto and Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler and you have a remarkable class of newcomers who are dominating the game after only a few months on the field.
This may lead to problems for the league not too far down the road. The past couple of seasons have already seen a slower market for free agents, with fewer teams bidding and some veterans who were still capable of playing fairly decently (think Dallas Keuchel, Evan Gattis) missing out entirely by the start of the year. The union is quick to call “collusion”’ savvy owners have pointed out that more and more value is being added by young, low-paid players and too many long-term contracts to veterans have come back to bite them.
The end result of this is that the next labor negotiations after 2021’s season, could be quite nasty and contentious. The union is going to be bitter, young stars are going to want a bigger piece of the pie and veterans are going to be fighting for rules to protect their ground. But that’s in the future.
For now, MLB has a unique opportunity. Never have so many young players on so many teams given their fans cause to celebrate. To root on the home team, buy new jerseys and learn a whole roster full of new names.
Basketball leaped forward in popularity with Michael Jordan; the NHL became popular in sunny Hollywood with Wayne Gretzky on ice and Tiger Woods made golf popular TV viewing for Gen X-ers. It’s been widely noted that baseball has failed to capitalize similarly on the great nature and outstanding performance of Mike Trout If it can’t sell one superstar, perhaps it can with eight or ten.
Job One for Rob Manfred this off-season should be getting together with PR consultants to figure out how to do just that. Because the MLB has a golden egg right now… they need to keep that goose healthy. If baseball can’t skyrocket in public interest by marketing Mike Trout, let’s hope it can with the combined effects of Guerrero, Tatis, Alonso, Bichette, Acuna and Alvaraez. The long-term well-being of the sport may rest on it being able to do so.
First note for today. Congrats to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Number 27 played game #100 of his career Tuesday, and had his 30th multi-hit game to celebrate. As of 100 games, Vlad has 104 hits, including 23 doubles, 15 HR and has driven in 58. Add 40 walks to his .280 average and you find a .353 on base percentage, and a .469 slugging percentage. All told, OPS of .822 and a WAR of 2.2 (actually a 2.5 offensively but a slight negative defensively.) Numbers a veteran would be proud of, let alone a rookie!
As a point of reference, another player who hit the 100 game mark seven years back. Mike Trout. Trout played his 100th game, appropriately enough on July 4, 2012. He had two hits against Cleveland that day, bringing his season average to .343. However, his first 40 games, in 2011, weren’t very remarkable, so all together after 100 games, Trout had 109 hits, with 20 doubles, 3 triples, 15 HR and 52 RBI. He was hitting an even .300, with fewer walks than Vlad, and a .355 on base, .494 slugging and .849 OPS.
A .300 average and .849 OPS top a .280 one with .822 OPS… but not by that much. Point is, Guerrero’s off to a remarkable start not that different than Mike Trout was a few years ago. And now I seem to be in the minority when I argue that Trout isn’t the best player ever.
So, if Vlad can continue to be just a little bit lesser than Trout throughout his career… I think we Jays fans have reason to rejoice! And that’s without even guessing at where Bo Bichette’s numbers will be by his 100th game, probably around May of next year.
A couple of random items before we get back to the final instalments of the Best Ever Blue Jays.
The first is reason for hope for Jays fans. A few of whom have been grumbling about a perceived lack of performance from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Which might be reasonable if viewed through the lens of media hype and the assumption that the majors are no different than the minors. However, the two are utterly different and there is a learning curve for even the best of players coming up. Last night, #27 played in his 49th big league game (and had 3 hits plus and RBI against the Yanks). To put his first two months in context, let’s compare him to another good player through their first 40 games. That other player is Mike Trout, who logged exactly 40 games in 2011, just few enough to keep him under the bar so he could come back and win the Rookie of the Year in 2012 – which he did. Guerrero’s 40th game was back on June 14th, so we’ve backdated his stats to that game:
Most of the stats are self-explanatory, but I point out that the decimal points are missing (software quirk) and the final column is the difference between the player’s OPS and the league average that year. Trout’s N11 is negative 11… 11% below average.
We can see that Guerrero’s numbers are better in every category. Does that mean he’ll continue to outpace Mike Trout and be an even bigger star than the Angel’s OF down the road? Not necessarily. But it does mean it’s time to shut up with the complaints about Vladimir’s hitting.
Give commissioner Rob Manfred one thing. He’s not afraid to tinker with time-honored traditions of the game. Among his many changes have been alterations to the All Star Game.
He’d already eliminated the (relatively recent) incentive of the winning team getting home field advantage in the World Series. This year he’s played around with the voting procedure.
For the first time, there are two separate votes to get to the starting lineups for the AL and NL team – the initial one which has wrapped up now and another round starting tomorrow with fans picking between the top 3 at every position. Fun! (Yawn) Excitement!
If memory serves, last year there was a cap on how many times a fan could vote -35. This year, no such limit has been in place. But a funny thing happened along the way to the All Star ballpark. Fans seemed to give up caring.
Although MLB quickly seemed to edit out the total number of votes received by players, the tallies were out there and they show that so far Cody Bellinger of LA leads with 3.68 million votes. Christian Yelich and Mike Trout are the only others to log 3 million ballots this year. Last year, Jose Altuve led all vote-getters… with 4.85 million. Flip backwards like a bat in time to 2011 and you’ll recall Jose Bautista became the first Blue Jay to lead in votes… with 7.4 million.
I don’t have the time to search out the entire vote results for year, if they are even archived and add them up. But the trend seems clear. Fans can vote more than ever this year. And they are in fact voting less than they have before this decade at least. Methinks paying the players to take part in the rusty Home Run Derby isn’t the way to bring excitement back to the Mid-summer Classic.
Perhaps if fans could vote on who they wanted for MLB Commissioner people would pay attention again.
A game for the ages tonight. It could be one to tell your kids about years down the road, as baseball’s present meets its future. Or at least, that’s the hope. Toronto make their way to southern California to take on the Angels thereby making a chance to see two of the most talked-about players in the game on one field. Vladimir Guerrerro Jr., meet Mike Trout!
Trout is of course, in many people’s opinion, far and away the best player in the game right now. A seven time All Star whom we suspect might have put up better than his rather excellent .307 average and 246 home runs since he first showed up in the Majors in 2011, had he been backed by a slightly better team than his Angels have been most of this decade.
Guerrero, is of course, the Blue Jays blue chip prospect, finally promoted to the Majors last week after being ranked the #1 prospect in the sport for the last two years. He’s played just 3 games thus far and tonight will be the first for him outside the friendly confines of the home crowd in Toronto.
The two seem to have a lot in common. Both are about the same size – 6’2”, around 240 pounds give or take. Both are right-handed. Both wear #27 for their team. And both entered the league young, with lots of hype and attention.
In Trout’s case, he hit “the show” at just 19, mid-season 2011, a mere two years after being drafted. Guerrero just turned 20 (meaning that technically, if he wanted to he could legally have a beer to celebrate after the game at Rogers’ Centre but not on the road!) after a fairly quick ascension through the minor league ranks, culminating in a .381 average, 75 RBI in an injury-shortened 98 games last year between levels of the minors.
So far, Guerrero’s looked fine, but not “superstar”. He’s surprisingly 1-4 in each of his first three games, making for a .250 average. He’s had one double, an important one in the 9th on Friday (his debut) when the score was tied. Brandon Drury homered later to make Guerrero’s hit the winning run. People worried about his defence but so far he’s looked at home at Third Base, making a few smooth grabs and throws and notching 6 assists so far.
Lest Toronto fans worry, should we look back at Trout’s debut almost 8 years ago? He debuted against Seattle, hitting 9th, playing Center field and wearing retro-California Angels gear. He flew out in his first at bat. He ended up going 0-3 in his first game, although like Guerrero in his first game, he hit one right to the wall that was so close to his first homer. That in fact, came 16 days later against Baltimore’s Mark Worrell.
Trout actually looked entirely ordinary that first season. He hit just .220 with a .671 OPS (which was about 11% below league average!) and 5 home runs through the 40 games the Angels ran him out to the field. Hardly the numbers of someone compared to Babe Ruth or Willie Mays. However, by the next season, 2012, his first full one, he hit .326, with 30 homers and 49 stolen bases, and hasn’t looked back to date. This year, in 26 games, he’s hitting .305 but has a phenomenal 28 walks, making for an unearthly .496 on base. He’ll be going up against veteran Clay Bucholz tonight, a pitcher he’s 5 for 10 with one home run vs. in his career.
Guerrero will be facing Griffin Canning, who’ll probably be having some butterflies in his stomach. It’s Canning’s major league debut. He’s a righty, and so far in the very limited sample, all of Vlad’s hits have been off righties, although he’s only had 2 at bats against southpaws.
So watch and enjoy. At our end, we’re hoping for some fireworks from Guerrero’s bat, but even if that doesn’t happen, it’ll be a game to remember… and worth remembering that even someone as good as Mike Trout had a learning curve at one time.
Well, the season is moving along at breakneck speed, so I’ll try to get some more previews in a bit quicker. starting with the AL West…
Houston – anyone actually remember when the Astros were losing over 110 a year and were so unpopular the Nielsen’s showed them having a statistical TV rating of 0? Nah, me neither. Well, not true but it sure seems like more than 6 years ago. The Astros have been the runaway winner in the division for a few years and that should carry right on this year. Great core of team still present and young enough to still get a bit better while old Michael Brantley is a great and cheap free agent acquisition. So too catcher Robinson Chirinos, one of the better-hitting catchers around. Yes, they lost (over-rated) Dallas Keuchel… unless they re-sign the still unsigned pitcher, but Wade Miley is an adequate replacement and they have one of the best pitching prospects in the game, Forrest Whitley bubbling under and maybe being in the rotation by the All Star Game. As long as roberto Osuna can keep his temper with his girlfriend at home, their bullpen is good enough with a rotation featuring Verlander and Cole.
Los Angeles Anaheim – yep, they have the guy many consider the best player in the game, Mike Trout, and now for another dozen seasons. Now they have about 420 million reasons to build a solid team around him, but they’ve yet to do that. The not-so-good just got worse for the Angels, with their second-best outfielder, Justin Upton now out for minimum 2 months after injuring his foot in yesterday’s game. Yes, Albert Pujols was looking like the old Pujols in spring, and Jonathan Lucroy is a good catcher they added, but this is still a rather mediocre beige lineup with one shining star. Two, if we count Shohei Ohtani, who should be able to hit for them by June, but won’t be on the mound until next year. Pitching isn’t terrible… but isn’t very good by any measure. It’ll be a big test for Brad Ausmus, the first new manager there in two decades.
Oakland – the Cinderella team last year with an unexpected 97 wins, but do they get asked to the ball for a second year? Khris Davis is one of baseball’s best power hitters, averaging 44 dingers and over 110 RBI over the past three years and already clipping a trio more longballs this season and opening weekend isn’t over yet! Mike Chapman is the unsung hero, a Gold Glover at third and an .864 OPS last year, his first full season. Ex-Blue Jay Marco Estrada is poised for a comeback and should benefit from not pitching in the bandbox parks of the East as much. Big question will be if former super-stud prospect Jurickson Profar can resurrect a flagging career now that he’s got a regular position and is removed from an unconducive Dallas environment. All in all, the team has a lot of the same pluses as last year but hard to think ’18 wasn’t a bit of a mirage.
Seattle – getting rid of your top starter, your all star closer and a superstar second baseman is hardly a recipe for winning. But it’s the Mariner way this year. Although to be fair they did try to do a bit to balance the scales. Japanese import Yusei Kikuchi, a rare Asian lefty, had been one of Nippon’s best and, based on the prior experiences of the likes of Darvish, Ohtani and their predecessors, should do well on this side of the Pacific but not as well as they did in the other league. Expect him to be a solid, middle-of-rotation guy. Unfortunately he’ll probably be expected to be an instant-ace, given the decline of Felix Hernandez, who according to one magazine preview”still sells tickets” but last year had become one of the worst starting pitchers in the game, statistically. A few years ago, a lineup boasting Edwin Encarnacion, Kyle Seager, Dee Gordon and Jay Bruce would have inspired a lot of fear in opposing pitchers. Nowadays one might think of them more as an ad for the AARP in the making. Just as Profar has a fresh start in Oakland, former-Phils super-prospect JP Crawford is there trying to salvage a career that’s quickly gone downhill.
Texas– I watched this aft’s game against the Cubs, which ended in an 11-10 win , winning run coming in on a wild pitch, and it showed a lot of what Rangers fans can expect this year… home runs, bad fielding and worse pitching. Yet, if new manager Chris Woodward, a great student of the game and hard worker in his playing days with Toronto and seattle , can keep his players motivated and alert, they just might win a few… even without their heart and soul, the recently-retired Adrian Beltre. Asdubral Cabrera has the unenviable job of replacing that future Hall of Famer. Joey Gallo is a challenger for the home run title (being 4th in the majors over the past couple of years) but needs to cut down on bad swings to become an elite hitter. Roughened Odor , as SI notes is hard-headed and doesn’t take instruction well, which isn’t a great way to live up to one’s potential for anything other than starting brawls on the field. Jeff Mathis is a great defensive catcher, but not much of a hitter (although he did notch a home run today on his 36th birthday) , but that may still be an upgrade given the Rangers-trademarked poor pitching staff. Mike Minor’s returned alright but is far from the staff ace he’s billed as and Lance Lynn may be well beyond his prime now. Jason Hammelwas penciled in for the staff but retired during the Cactus League. Jose Leclerc is the new closer and seems to be among the best of those already; last year he had a 1.56 ERA and about 13 strikeouts per 9 innings in his first year at the role. He very quickly could overtake Derek Holland as the best active pitcher to come through the Texas organization.
HOUSTON – 106 – 56
L.A. ANAHEIM- 82 – 80
OAKLAND – 80 – 82
SEATTLE – 79 – 83
TEXAS – 70 – 92
Well, no Shohei Otani in Toronto blue and no surprise. After all, while I’m sure Ross Atkins et al made a pitch to the Japanese phenom, I doubt anyone really expected him to pick the Jays for his North American landing spot. After all, Ohtani, arguably the most in-demand player on this year’s free agent market, had his choice of team to play with. Given the current rules and limits to initial salaries for international free agents such as himself, it’s likely all 30 teams (or at least 29 if MLB’s punishment of the Braves for John Coppolella’s violations prevented them from making an offer) made a pitch for the young pitcher/left-handed DH. It wasn’t realistic to expect he’d opt for Toronto.
After all, the blue Jays had less money to offer than several other teams including the Yankees and Rangers, so if money was going to be a determining factor, Toronto was at a disadvantage. Although all signs pointed to the idea that Shohei was motivated by proving himself here and looking at the long-range rather than by high money in 2018 anyway. Which also would lead him elsewhere.
Toronto could boast of the Rogers Centre and artificial turf which perhaps might remind him a bit of the Sapporo Dome he was used to calling home in Japan, but that’s about it. Like it or not, people growing up in Asia fascinated by America and baseball are probably drawn to New York, the biggest city, home to the biggest names in the game’s history- Ruth, Dimaggio, “Mr. October”. Not to Canada; although neither would they gravitate towards places like San Diego or Tampa either if that’s a consolation.
Or, they are of Otani’s age and probably grew up idolizing Ichiro and watching games from Seattle streamed across the sea. Given that team’s popularity in Japan, and the success Ichiro (and to a lesser extent Hisashi Iwakuma) had there, I fully expected the Puget Sound area to be his preferred site. Right coast, wrong end of it.
Toronto fans shouldn’t feel bad about not signing him. I look at it as a positive. First and foremost, I’m a baseball fan. I love the game and want it to prosper. And while I was disappointed at Toronto’s 2017, it was still enjoyable to watch the playoffs and see players like Jose Altuve go for the glory. I’m excited to see what this kid can do. He may not be Cy Young material, or batting title material, but how cool will it be to see how good a hitter a pitcher can be ? Even if he goes , say 13-9 with a 3.60 ERA and then hits .275 with 15 or so homers, that’s a story. That’s a game-changer, literally! If he can do better than that, for a few years, comparisons to Babe Ruth may not be far off.
And this is good for baseball. Ohtani will bring new interest to the game at home and overseas. Old fans will be more interested and new fans will be made. No less important, he adds a new spark to a relatively moribund franchise. The Angels will demand watching again and may be more competitive after spending this decade without a post-season win so far. This too helps baseball, even Toronto. One can only imagine that it will be much easier for Rogers to sell tickets to games with LA-Anaheim coming in than it was before. Attendance will rise and one can predict that, coupled with Mike Trout there, the Angels will be one of the better draws on the road . All teams benefit from that.
A rising tide lifts all ships. Baseball’s latest high tide just rolled in from Nippon. Welcome to the bigtime, Shohei!
Watching the Blue Jays play their first post-season game since 1993…what better time to look back at the regular season and make my picks for the awards before playoff heroics (or zeroics!) taint our opinions per baseball rules. I for one always rather thought the voting should take place after the playoffs since a spectacular October would certainly add to a players value. Case in point, Madison Bumgardner was not the best pitcher in the NL last season, but after seeing him go through opponents like a hot knife through butter in October makes him seem like perhaps the better pitcher than Clayton Kershaw.
That point made, without further ado, my picks for the American League Awards would be–
MVP: Josh Donaldson (Toronto) when you lead the league in runs scored, runs batted in you’re doing something right. Add in top-5 placings in hits, doubles and homers plus Gold Glove caliber defence at a tough position and it’s hard to argue against him. Most seem to concede that it’s a tossup between him and Mike Trout; though Trout did have a slightly higher OPS and matched Josh’s 41 home runs, it goes to Donaldson because 1)123 RBI runs circles around Trout’s 90. Fish fans say, “yeah, but look at Donaldson’s team” but ignore that Donaldson hit second all year, in front of Bautista and Encarnacion. Put him hitting behind them and he’d have set a Blue Jays team record. 2) finally after two decades, we can turn the old baseball adage around to our advantage- an MVP has to be from a playoff team, or so most would have us believe. We saw Carlos Delgado and Jose Bautista overlooked in the past because the team were middling; this year it’s Trout’s team that failed to live up to potential, ergo “how important can he be?”
Donaldson wins, my runners-up: #2: Mike Trout (LAA), #3: Jose Altuve (Hou), led league in hits and steals and his team to an unexpected playoff berth; #4: Wade Davis (KC), doing whatever was asked of him out of bullpen with second year in a row of ERA at 1 or less; #5: Chris Davis (Bal)- 47 HR, 117 RBI, did all he could to help his Orioles fly back up in the standings.
Cy Young: David Price (Det./Tor.) today’s game might not seem like it, but he’s been the best in the league this year, by a nose. 18-5, league best 2.45 ERA, 225K, only 42 walks. Wins it in a photo-finish by reason of his slightly better ERA than runner-up and exceptional performance down the line for Toronto (9-1, 2.30 after being traded, whereas Keuchel let up a little going 6-2, 3.34 as his Astros faded in last two months)
#2: Dallas Keuchel (Hou), only 20 game winner in AL; #3: Sonny Gray (Oak), numbers slid a bit in second half but still excellent 14-7 for a last place club with 2.73 ERA.
Rookie of Year: a tough call. The best actual position players played only double digit numbers of games, but does that still allow them to trump all-season regulars who played not quite so well? Winner-Roberto Osuna (Tor): OK, a bit of homerism here, but there’s no clear winner so why not Toronto’s closer? He came out of nowhere to win a roster spot barely turned his 20th birthday and by mid-season had taken over the closer’s role that no one else had managed to do adequately for the Jays. 68 games, 20 saves, solid 2.58 ERA helped the team have confidence with a 9th inning lead and have the best record in baseball after July.
#2: Carlos Correa (Hou), certainly the media fave, nothing wrong with his glove or his .279 avg, 22 HR, 68 RBI, 14 for 18 in stolen bases. But missed first two months of year, #3: Delino Deshields Jr. (Tex), .261, 25 stolen bases, 83 runs. Great speed won him the regular CF spot and had him hitting lead-off in a much improved Rangers lineup.
Comeback of the Year: Prince Fielder (Texas). the iron man came back from a weak and injury-shortened season last year to hit .305, 23 HR, 98 RBI and increase his slugging percentage by over a hundred points, hitting a career best 187 hits along the way. #2: Alex Rodriguez, (NY)- maybe an even more surprising comeback but, remembering why he missed all of 2014 makes me squeamish about voting for him for anything.
Manager of Year: yes, Joe Girardi, Ned Yost and Paul Molitor all got way more out of their roster than anyone expected and deserve kudos. But the award comes down to a matchup of the two skips who battled today at Rogers’. Winner- reluctantly, Jeff Banister (Texas). Journeyman Pirate employee with no big league managing experience took over the team that was league’s worst last year, lost his staff ace in first week of spring training and somehow turned them into division champs. Team showed impressive determination in contrast to last year’s. #2: John Gibbons (Tor)- Gibby showed critics wrong in their belief he didn’t deserve a return to the jays bench and had to manage with a bullpen that was terrible at start of year, cajole them into giving their best and figure out a way to use them properly.
As for other Jays and awards, Kevin Pillar should be a shoe-in for an outfield Gold Glove and Jose Bautista and Russell Martin would be decent choices for ones as well. There may not be an award for “break out player of year”, but there should be and Marco Estrada should be it! 13-8, AL fifth-best 3.13 ERA over 181 innings highlighted a year that saw him go from journeyman to star.
I’ll be happy if baseball writers agree with me … but of course, the one player award I’d really like to see go to a Blue Jay this year awaits- World Series MVP!