Small Sample Size: My 2020 Year End Awards

If we are being honest, I’m not even sure where to start. 2020 has been such a messed up year and baseball isn’t excused from all the craziness. Whether it’s the shortened season, the expanded playoffs, or the universal DH, baseball looked way different than what we are used to this past calendar year.

With that said, some things were normal. There was still a World Series winner. There was also lots of bickering between the new & old school evaluations of the game. But where we are concerned today, awards were still voted on by the BBWAA and by a group I am part of, the IBWAA.

Now, the IBWAA has new ownership & has created a new atmosphere for baseball writers on the web, but voting felt at first like normal. That is if you count evaluating 60 games “normal”.

That was the strange part: trying to pick winners in the smallest of sample sizes. While there were some obvious choices, others felt a little more vague. While I normally enjoy going through & picking my winners, this year felt more like a chore than ever before. Parameters were moved & choices all the way around were chosen on a smaller scale.

But I did pick winners and it is time now to unveil them. Before I do, you can always go back & check out my previous IBWAA voting record: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015. With that out of the way, let’s start handing out awards.

American League Rookie of the Year: Kyle Lewis, Seattle   

If there was an obvious choice for an award this year, Kyle Lewis for AL Rookie of the Year might be it. Lewis went out and made a name for himself in the shortened campaign, leading rookies in fWAR (tied with Ke-Bryan Hayes of Pittsburgh), home runs (tied with Luis Robert of Chicago), runs, OBP and total bases.

He also showed some defensive prowess and could be the start of a fun, young outfield in Seattle. While Luis Robert, Cristian Javier and Brady Singer all had great rookie campaigns, it felt obvious that Lewis was head and shoulders above the rest in the American League this season.

My Top 3: 1. Lewis 2. Robert 3. Singer

IBWAA Winner: Kyle Lewis

BBWAA Winner: Kyle Lewis

AP Photo/Morry Gash

National League Rookie of the Year: Devin Williams, Milwaukee

While the American League winner felt simple, the National League was a bit tougher to pick. So many worthy candidates littered the Senior Circuit and with the 60 game season, it was a bit harder to weed out one single candidate.

But once you saw Devin Williams’ numbers, it was hard to argue with: 1.4 fWAR, 0.33 ERA, 53% K rate, 0.63 WHIP and 0.86 FIP. Williams allowed one earned run over 27 innings, which included a stretch of 24 2/3 scoreless innings, while allowing just eight hits all season. His changeup was a deal breaker in 2020 and led to a lot of love from Pitching Ninja himself:

So while a number of rookies had good seasons in the NL this past season, none were as dominant as Devin Williams. In fact one would think this is just the beginning for this 26 year old reliever.

My Top 3: 1. Williams 2. Ke’Bryan Hayes 3. Alec Bohm

IBWAA Winner: Jake Cronenworth

BBWAA Winner: Devin Williams

Credit: USATSI

American League Manager of the Year: Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay

Even before Cash led the Rays to the World Series, it was apparent that he would be the frontrunner for the AL Manager of the Year. Cash ran a squad that won the American League East for the first time since 1990 and squirmed through an injured list that felt insurmountable. Add in the fact they play in one of the strongest divisions in the game, and it felt like a great time to bestow Cash with this honor.

The Rays had one of the best pitching staffs in the game and was able to use that to hold off the Yankees and Blue Jays in their division. He guided the team through the new playoff format, as the team held off the Yankees and the Astros. Even in the World Series, the Rays held their own and a big part of that was Cash’s managing skills. 

I know some will still question taking Blake Snell out in Game 6 of the World Series, but one move doesn’t tarnish all the other work Cash did this past season. While that argument will rage on, there is no need to question the validity of Cash’s work in this organization.

My Top 3: 1. Cash 2. Bob Melvin 3. Sandy Alomar, Jr.

IBWAA Winner: Kevin Cash

BBWAA Winner: Kevin Cash

National League Manager of the Year: Brian Snitker, Atlanta

I’m going to come right out and take some responsibility: I completely forgot about Don Mattingly when I was working on my votes. I don’t know if I was breezing through everything, or just wasn’t paying close attention, but Mattingly didn’t even cross my mind during this process. 

Now, if I had thought of him, he definitely would have been in my top three and possibly even my winner. He did a great job with a young Marlins club and deserves all the accolades he has been receiving this season. I remembered him about three days after I voted and instantly kicked myself for it. My bad.

This is not to say Brian Snitker isn’t worthy. Snitker led the Braves to their third straight National League East Division title, in a division that is loaded with talent. The Braves got all the way to the NLCS before being ousted by the eventual champs, the Dodgers.

While Atlanta was an early favorite in the East, they did hit a few bumps in the road that Snitker had to guide them through. A good chunk of the season their rotation was being pieced together with any healthy arms they could find and they dealt with a number of injuries during the campaign, including star infielder Ozzie Albies. It wasn’t a smooth ride for the Braves and Snitker was able to steer the way.

So once again, sorry Donnie. I take the blame. Luckily, you still have some hardware to soothe over any hard feelings. Congrats on a job well done.

My Top 3: 1. Snitker 2. Ross 3. Tingler   

IBWAA Winner: Don Mattingly

BBWAA Winner: Don Mattingly

Credit: Getty Images

American League Cy Young Award: Shane Bieber, Cleveland

I should have known on Opening Day that Shane Bieber would be the runaway winner of the AL Cy Young Award. Back on July 24th, Bieber kicked off the 2020 season against my Kansas City Royals and proceeded to dominate. Bieber pitched six scoreless innings, striking out 14 Royals, giving up four hits while walking one. It was a performance that truly set the tone for the rest of Bieber’s award winning season.

Over 12 games, Bieber would lead the American League in ERA, strike outs, ERA+, FIP, Hits per 9 & strike outs per 9. Yes, it was only 12 games and only covered 77 1/3 innings, but it felt like Bieber punched the gas the entire time and never let off. It would have been interesting to see how it would have unfolded if he had an entire season under his belt. Would he have been able to keep this pace up? Would he have ran into a large rough patch? Or would he be a model of consistency and continue to rack up career high numbers?

Unfortunately, we won’t know for sure but might get a window into his development in 2021. This is definitely a season of growth and maturity and it does feel like Bieber has officially put himself into the discussion of top pitchers in the game today. The question will be how much of his dominance will we see next season? While on one hand I can’t wait to find out; on the other, as a Royals fan and having Cleveland in the same division, it would be nice if Kansas City missed him a lot whenever facing the Indians next year. Otherwise, they might be chalking up those games to Cleveland before the game even starts.

My Top 3: 1. Bieber 2. Hyun Jin Ryu 3. Liam Hendriks

IBWAA Winner: Shane Bieber

BBWAA Winner: Shane Bieber

Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

National League Cy Young Award: Trevor Bauer, Cincinnati

There might be no better timing in baseball than a player having a career year right as he is heading toward free agency. This normally means a big contract with a lot of zeros and a lot of years on it. If history holds true, that is what Trevor Bauer did in 2020, claiming his first Cy Young Award.

Bauer was a beast in 2020, leading the NL in ERA, complete games, shutouts, ERA+, WHIP and Hits per 9. In just 73 innings, Bauer posted 2.7 bWAR and set career highs in LOB%, K% and held the lowest BB% and Hard Hit % of his career. In his age 29 season, Bauer showed that he is a top pitcher in this game.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how his run in free agency goes. Trevor has always talked about sticking to signing one year deals, so he can control his situation. Here is Bauer to explain his reasoning more:

“I want to be able to be happy playing the game that I love. So I want to end up in situations that make me happy and make me fulfilled. That can be situations like the Reds have, where there’s just a really great group of people that just make me fulfilled as a person,” said Bauer.

“That can be situations like jumping into a team that’s going to go on a playoff run and hopefully win a World Series. That can be a team that would let me pitch every 4th day or treats me with respect in a way that no other team has. Or whatever the case is – there’s certain things that are more important to me than money. And I want to be able to control where I play and when and the situations I’m in so that as I change too, and things become more important to me, or less important to me as I evolve that I can tailor fit my situation to reflect that.”

“I want to be on a contender every year because I love competing at the highest level and the highest level is the World Series,” he said. “So I want to have a chance to go to the World Series every single year. And the way baseball is currently structured, there’s not many teams that go into spring training trying to win the World Series that year.”

So does Bauer stay true to his word and sign a one year deal this offseason? Or does he go against that, realizing he can strike while the iron is hot and receive a long-term deal from a team? This will definitely be an interesting story to follow during the offseason.

My Top 3: 1. Bauer 2. Jacob deGrom 3. Yu Darvish

IBWAA Winner: Trevor Bauer

BBWAA Winner: Trevor Bauer

Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images

American League MVP: Jose Ramirez, Cleveland

While names like Jose Abreu and Tim Anderson flooded the early discussion for AL MVP, Jose Ramirez sneaked up over the last month or so and made his argument to be at the top of the food chain in the AL.

In fact, from August 24 on, Ramirez lit up pitchers to a tune of .342/.430/.757 with 12 home runs, 28 RBIs, 22 extra base hits and a WPA of 1.579. It felt very obvious that Ramirez helped lead the charge for Cleveland as they made their case to reach the playoffs. 

While he only lead the league in runs scored, he did put up a total line of .292/.386/.607 with an OPS+ of 163 and 133 total bases, just 98 less than 2019 in 71 less games. His 3.4 fWAR lead the American League, with teammate Shane Bieber close behind at 3.2. Ramirez was also 2nd in wOBA at .415, behind only DJ LeMahieau.

While players like Abreu, Anderson or LeMahieau are all worthy of this honor, to me Ramirez felt like the true winner and someone who felt very valuable when it comes to his team’s success.

My Top 3: 1. Ramirez 2. Bieber 3. Abreu

IBWAA Winner: Jose Abreu

BBWAA Winner: Jose Abreu

National League MVP: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta

If there was a player this season that really defined the battle between baseball and COVID-19, it would be Freddie Freeman of the Braves. Freeman actually tested positive for coronavirus back at the beginning of Summer Camp and at one point even had a 104. 5 degree fever. It only feels appropriate that he would be the NL MVP in this shortened season.

Freeman pushed himself to an elite level this year, leading the league in runs, doubles, WPA and fWAR. If that wasn’t enough, he put up a slash line of .341/.462/.640 with 13 home runs, 53 RBIs, and an OPS+ of 186. It’s easy to see why he appeared to be the cream of the NL, but he was able to add more.

Freeman also led the league in line drive % (31.1), 8th in hard hit rate (42.9%), 7th lowest K % (14.1), 5th best walk % (17.2), 2nd in OPS (1.102), 6th in ISO, 7th in BABIP and 2nd in wOBA. While not always in the top five, it’s impressive that Freeman was able to finish in the top 10 of a variety of offensive statistics that shows off his all around game.

While there are very good arguments for both Fernando Tatis, Jr, Mookie Betts and Juan Soto, no one has the numbers all across the board the way Freeman does. Adding in his battle with COVID and the ability to lead his team deep into the playoffs, it only makes sense to name Freddie Freeman National League MVP.

My Top 3: 1. Freeman 2. Tatis, Jr 3. Betts

IBWAA Winner: Freddie Freeman

BBWAA Winner: Freddie Freeman

Credit: USA Today

So while the winners for these awards were worthy of being honored, I can honestly say I hope we never have to make judgements based off of a 60 game season. I’ve been voting for these awards for a number of years now and this felt like the hardest year to truly make a decision on who performed better in a shorter period of time.

While some might say they feel like a regular baseball season is too long, what it allows you to do is truly analyze what each player truly accomplishes over a stretch of 162 games. Doing that in slightly over a third of that number makes it hard to truly trust a lot of decisions that are made.

That being said, let’s hope for a couple things. First, that we get a full season of baseball in 2021. Second, that everyone stays safe and healthy and don’t have their career’s sidetracked by this deadly virus. And finally, that we see more positive than negative for baseball over the next calendar year. Baseball saw a lot of bumps in the road this past year and it might get even bumpier leading up to the players and owners discussing a new CBA. Here’s to more good than selfish decisions being made to help further the game. I’ll get off my soapbox now and get ready for Spring Training.  

A Golden Evaluation

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Last week I looked at the Gold Glove Awards and surmised that while in years past the award wasn’t always about defense, the voting was improving and worthy defenders were being honored for their use of the leather. One of the biggest hurdles for me to jump around was how reputation played a big part in how some of the picks were chosen.

At the time I figured I was done discussing this topic for at least another year, but then mere days after I wrote the piece I stumbled across some numbers to back up my claim:

Over a span of 25 years, the winners of a Gold Glove were handed out to one of the top two defenders of their position only 38% of the time. Since Rawlings began working with SABR and SDI (SABR Defensive Index) was created to help evaluate, that number has jumped all the way to 88%! So over the last six years, voters have done 50% better than they did from 1988-2012. That is a massive improvement that speaks volumes of how far defensive metrics have come in such a short span of time. In fact, looking back at previous winners and losers really paints a better picture.

Credit: MLB.com

Before we go any farther, a great job has been done by Chris Dial, who is on the Board of Directors for SABR and his creation of RED (Runs Effectively Defended) helped form SDI. My stumbling across Chris’s twitter account pretty much has led us to this point.

So looking back, there were certain positions that voters actually did a fair job at when it came to picking a correct winner, most specifically catcher and third base. But there were some huge gaps in who won and who should have won at a couple of big positions. First base was a position that really showed a leaning toward reputation:

1B
Credit: SABR.org

While guys like Mark Grace, John Olerud and Rafael Palmeiro (yes, Palmeiro had a number of years he was worthy, dismissing 1999) were rewarded for the most part for their defensive excellence, it also shows how the perception of Don Mattingly, J.T. Snow and Eric Hosmer guided them to gold despite not being one of the top two defenders at their position.

SS
Credit: SABR.org

Shortstop also honored some greats, like Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken while Omar Vizquel apparently won a number of Gold Gloves that he probably shouldn’t have.

Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images

The two most notable miscues on this list are Derek Jeter and Barry Larkin, a current Hall of Famer matched in with a future one. Most have rallied against Jeter’s victories in the past, as it was very obvious his range (or lack thereof) was not of the top shelf variety. The fact these two won eight Gold Gloves while never finishing in the top two of their position speaks volumes of how the voting used to be handled.

There was one more position that I found to have a large gap between the should’s and should not’s, and that was the outfield:

OF
Credit: SABR.org

Just looking at this list about made my jaw drop. While Griffey, Hunter and Walker were always thought of as defensive studs, the fact is they were only in the top two of their positions five times. Even more shocking is that Luis Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa should have won a couple of Gold Gloves rather than the zero they compiled.

This would probably be a good time to point out that none of this is saying that all of these players were bad defensively if they won and didn’t finish in the top two. Mr. Dial actually did a good job of pointing that out:

So you can see where adding something like SDI has drastically changed the defensive landscape and showed who the real elite truly are when it comes to glovework. So with the awards handed out just last week, lets see how the voters did:

AL leaders
Credit: SABR.org

In the American League, outside of pitcher (Dallas Keuchel won despite being 8th in SDI among pitchers) and center field (Jackie Bradley, Jr. won and was 3rd in SDI at the position) the voters got it right. Both Royals that won (Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez) were in the top two at their position, with Salvy only behind Mike Zunino and Alex having the highest SDI among left fielders.

Meanwhile in the National League:

NL Leaders
Credit: SABR.org

Catcher and first base were the two positions voters missed on, as Yadier Molina was 6th in SDI behind the dish and Anthony Rizzo won while finishing 4th. Molina once again points out how reputation wins out over numbers some times and while he is still a good defender at the age of 36, he shouldn’t have even been one of the finalists.

So out of 18 awards, only four of the winners were not in the top two at their respective positions. That means that the voters were 78% correct, which is probably about as good as we should expect when there is a human element involved. It is definitely a big improvement over what we saw for years and Rawlings should be commended for wanting to make this whole process more accurate.

The big thing for me is that the stigma of ‘The winners aren’t being honored for their defense’ is starting to fade away. These awards have been looked at as almost a joke for so long that it’s been hard to do a 180 degree turn and applaud the work done to make the honor mean something.

While defensive metrics are still a work in progress, they are improving every day and painting a different picture than the one we sometimes see with our eyes. So while these awards aren’t quite the Fielding Bible Awards, they are getting a little bit closer every day.

Minnesota Love

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It’s a tough time to be a Minnesota Twins fan. After an unexpected second place finish in the American League Central in 2015(and competing for a playoff spot into the last week of the season), the belief was that the Twins would take another step forward in 2016. Minnesota was expected to grow from last year’s success, especially with the addition of some top-level prospects being around all year(Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton) and the addition of Korean slugger Byung Ho Park, so it appeared that second year manager Paul Molitor had a contender on his hands. I definitely had bought in, as I expected the Twins to garnish a playoff spot this year, with my belief being that they had a great mix of veterans, youngsters and a great leader in Molitor. Instead this year has felt like a horror show, as they are 14.5 games out of first in the Central, 13 games below .500. But this isn’t a brow beating on this year’s Twins team as much as it’s a look back at my fondness for a team that was a big part of my childhood.

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Now, I am a devoted Kansas City Royals fan and have been since I was 7 years old; that will never change. But in 1987 I couldn’t help but root for a fun Minnesota Twins team that would go on and win the World Series that year. What really started my ‘Minnesota Love’ was Kirby Puckett. Puckett was everything great about baseball; a cherubic center fielder who could hit, run and play defense and had elevated himself to be one of the great players in the game. I loved watching Puckett run around the outfield, then step to the plate and rack up hit after hit. He fit in perfectly in the 1980’s, an era of contact hitters like Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs and Don Mattingly. Puckett also seemed to have a child-like grin on his face at all times, leaving the impression that he was having as much fun playing the game as we did watching him. Puckett was a perennial All-Star, a guy who averaged 192 hits a season throughout his 12 year career, multiple time Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner and was voted in the top ten of the American League MVP ballots 7 of his 12 major league seasons. I know some have questioned whether or not he should have been a Hall of Famer, but in my eyes there was never a question. Puckett was one of the best throughout his career and one can only imagine what his final numbers would have been had glaucoma not taken his sight. There were some less than flattering moments for Puckett post-career but Puckett the ballplayer was a joy to watch play.

New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins
(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

Once you looked at the rest of the roster, there was a nice group of players who were easy to root for. Kent Hrbek was the lovable, goofy first baseman with power. Dan Gladden, current Twins radio broadcaster, played like his hair was on fire and was the spark plug at the top of the lineup. Frank Viola was the left-handed ace who had elevated himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Bert Blyleven was nearing the end of his career but still fun to watch. I also can’t forget Juan Berenguer, a guy who did not fit the normal physique of a major league ballplayer but was a pivotal part of the Minnesota bullpen. Even the 1991 World Series team was easy to root for, with Puckett, Hrbek, Gladden and pitchers like Scott Erickson and Kevin Tapani holding down the rotation and Rick Aguilera closing out of the pen. The Twins had players who were fun to watch and it always appeared as if Tom Kelly led teams played more as a team and weren’t as focused on individual numbers. As the Royals have shown these last few years, if you play as a team there is a good chance that winning is part of the formula.

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Speaking of Kansas City, there is a deep connection between those late 1980’s/early 1990’s Twins team and the Royals. Many of the Twins who helped Minnesota win those two World Series’ would eventually spend time in Kansas City. Gary Gaetti, the Twins third baseman for both championship teams, would eventually move onto the Royals and would even hit 35 home runs for Kansas City in 1995. Greg Gagne was a pivotal part of those Minnesota teams and he would go on to play three seasons in Kansas City at shortstop; his offense wasn’t anything to write home about, but his defense got him 4.8 dWAR during that period. Chuck Knoblauch would play his last major league season for the Royals, producing a -0.7 bWAR in just 80 games. Chili Davis would end up in Kansas City in 1997, hitting 30 home runs and posting 2.4 bWAR. As if that wasn’t enough, Berenguer pitched for the Royals earlier in his career, while backup catcher Sal Butera’s son, Drew, would later play for the Twins and is the current backup receiver in Kansas City. So in a roundabout way, I got to see a few of the bigger pieces of those championship Twins team’s contribute in a Royals uniform.

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But it wasn’t just the players or the style of baseball they played that made me intrigued by the Twins. As a kid, I was enamored with the Metrodome, warts and all. Here was this domed stadium that had character and didn’t have the feel of cookie cutter stadiums like Three Rivers or Veterans Stadium. Minnesota had the “baggie” out in right field(which is now a handbag), and a roof that looked spectacular but was easy for fielders to lose a pop fly in. The crowd always seemed raucous and during the playoffs the fans would wave their “Homer Hanky” to get the team going. There seemed to be a whole atmosphere to that stadium that I wanted to be a part of  and that lured me into wanting this team to succeed. Sure, I had heard stories about the stadium being broken down, cold, drab and being nothing but a big slab of concrete, but that didn’t seem to matter to me much. It just seemed like a fun place to watch a baseball game from. I still get goosebumps when I think back to Game 163 of the 2009 season, when the Twins and Tigers battled it out in the dome for the Central Division title. Here was a stadium that being replaced the next season but it was going to get one more thrilling, iconic moment before it was gone. The Metrodome might not have had the beauty of Kauffman Stadium(yes, biased), the legend of a Wrigley Field or the visual classicism of a Camden Yards, but it had its own nuances that would grow on you. I never got to attend a game at the Metrodome, which saddens me, but I was able to be at Target Field a few years back. While I liked Target Field and think it is a solid replacement for the Metrodome, I have a feeling it won’t match up when it comes to the character of that old dome.

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You would think that with the Twins being in the same division as my Royals I would loathe them and wish for them to just go away, but I don’t. I have very fond memories of the Twins and most years wish them the best. Well, I always hope they don’t do as good as Kansas City, but otherwise I want them to have success. It blows my mind sometimes when I think back and remember there was a period where baseball considered contracting the Twins. This is an organization with rich history and the idea of a baseball team not being up in Minnesota is unfathomable. When I go back and think about baseball highlights in my life that I will play over and over in my head, there are a number of Twins highlights that will live on forever. Puckett’s catch, Larkin’s single, Morris’s pitching and Casilla’s single; all are memories etched in my head forever. For that, I thank Minnesota. Thank you for making my childhood brighter and my adulthood memorable. I still kinda love ya.

 

Guesstimate: My 2016 MLB Predictions

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Here we are: we are in the section of Spring Training where you can see the upcoming regular season on the horizon, but it is still far enough away that you just wish you could fast forward to games that actually count. Luckily, this also means we are close enough to camps heading north that we have a decent idea of how most team’s rosters will look. Every year I take my stab at how I think the season unfold, mostly with comical results. Here is my 2014 and 2015 predictions if you are looking for a good laugh(although I did guess fairly well on the playoff teams in 2014). I do want to reiterate one nugget of information that I’ve been preaching about the last few years: predictions are just guesses. This is just simply a fun little exercise I do before the season starts for me to look back on in October and see how far off I was. It is purely fun and that is how it should be taken. So here we go; my guesstimation of the 2016 season!

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American League East

  1. Toronto Blue Jays
  2. Boston Red Sox
  3. New York Yankees
  4. Tampa Bay Rays
  5. Baltimore Orioles

Last year I felt like no one AL East team stood out from the rest and any one of those teams could step up and win the division. There is still a feeling of an openness, but with a little more division in the way of talent. The Blue Jays look to be the team to beat, as they are returning a large portion of their division winning team and have a top-notch offense to carry their team. While Boston returns most of their roster that struggled in 2015, there is a belief that there is no way they are as bad this year…especially now that Hanley Ramirez is not in the outfield and they have David Price anchoring the rotation. The Yankees could make a run again, as they have one of the deepest bullpens in baseball. My main issue with them is the aging stars(Beltran, Sabathia, A-Rod, etc.) holding back the rest of the team. Tampa has some great pitching but what will they be able to do offensively? Then there is Baltimore. I want to root for the Orioles to surprise everyone this year, but I’m not for sure it will happen. Sure, Chris Davis is back(which I think is good) but not much has been added to the roster. Pedro Alvarez and Mark Trumbo might add some needed pop, but what will Baltimore lose if/when either plays on defense? Yovanni Gallardo will give the team innings, but how efficient will he be? As you can see, there seems to be more questions than answers with Baltimore, and that scares me.

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American League Central

  1. Kansas City Royals
  2. Minnesota Twins
  3. Cleveland Indians
  4. Detroit Tigers
  5. Chicago White Sox

This is always my hardest division to pick, as I am a lifelong Royals fan. Saying that, the last two years I have not picked the Royals to get to the playoffs and both years they made it to the World Series. So why pick them now? In all honesty, I really believe they have the most talent of any team in the division, thus my pick to sit on top of the AL Central. Behind them I see a cat fight for second between the Twins and Indians. I’ve gone back and forth on who should be where, but alas I went with Minny in second and Cleveland third, as I really like(fear?) the talent accumulated in the ‘Twin Cities’. Detroit and Chicago bring up the back of this division in my mind, as Detroit still feels really old to me(even with the acquisitions of  Upton and Zimmermann) and despite Chicago overhauling their offense, they still don’t feel like a playoff caliber team. The interesting part here is that I could easily see a scenario where this division could be a dog fight, with five teams within 5-8 games of each other. Right now though, until someone knocks off the Royals, they have to be the favorites.

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American League West

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Los Angeles Angels
  5. Oakland A’s

The West should be a fun division this year, if for no other reason than to see if it is competitive or if the Astros and Rangers dominate the division. Houston has to be the favorite this year, as they not only will try to build off their playoff run in ’15, but also will have Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers(once he returns from injury) from day one of the season. I really like what the Rangers management has done with this team and tend to believe they will be a serious contender this year, especially if Yu Darvish is able to return to his old form. Jerry DiPoto has done an admirable job trying to fix the Mariners roster, but it feels like an uphill battle for the team this year, with success more likely in the future. What can you say about the Angels and A’s? I would probably have the Angels in last if not for Mike Trout and his ability to carry this team on his back. But Angel’s management is a mess  and only slightly worse than their farm system. The A’s seem to just be biding time until their next wave of prospects can start infiltrating the major league roster. Oakland might not be as bad as they were last year, but I can’t see them being serious contenders in 2016.

MLB: New York Mets at Cincinnati Reds
(Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY)

National League East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets
  3. Miami Marlins
  4. Atlanta Braves
  5. Philadelphia Phillies

Last year was supposed to be the Nationals’ year, as many(myself included) figured they would end up in the World Series. Instead, a late season collapse left them on the outside looking in and costing Matt Williams his job. Now Washington has retooled their roster while adding known players’ manager Dusty Baker to the fold. While Baker is about as old school as they come, players love him and I tend to think he will make a big difference in that locker room this year while losing some of the team’s tension. The Mets will be right on their tail and look to repeat as National League Champions this year. The Mets pitching will take them far, but the offense will be the real deciding factor in New York. Miami has added a new manager(Don Mattingly) and a new hitting coach(Barry Bonds) to shake up a young and talented Miami team. One has to be curious as to how lethal the Marlins could be if they can get a full season out of Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton. Atlanta stocked up on prospects this winter and are left with Freddie Freeman and a cast of other players for the Braves this year. They might not make much noise this season, but the Braves are looking good in the next couple of years. The Phillies? Well, they won’t be very good but a few steps were taken to improve on a dreadful 2015. So there is that.

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National League Central

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates
  3. St. Louis Cardinals
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Cincinnati Reds

2015 saw the NL Central send three teams to the playoffs. I have to believe that won’t happen two years in a row, which might leave the Cardinals missing the playoffs this year. The Cubs are the early on favorites not only to win the Central, but also to win the World Series. One has to think Chicago will grow on their stellar 2015 and are looking to win their first world championships since 1908. The Pirates will look to be hot on the Cubs heels and it’s hard to argue with the success this team has had the last couple of seasons. My guess is that Pittsburgh will join Chicago in the playoffs comes October. That would leave the Cardinals on the outside looking in, as they lost more than they gained this past offseason and are betting on a number of veterans like Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina to bounce back this year and stay healthy for the Cardinals to be real contenders. That being said, I find it hard to count St. Louis out. The Brewers won’t be horrible but they won’t be great and the Reds from the outside look to have a few good pieces but are multiple players away from being contenders.

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National League West

  1. San Francisco Giants
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Colorado Rockies

The West could be a lot of fun this summer and I could envision a scenario where the top three teams in the league could be shuffled in any order. My pick is for the Giants to come out on top, as they bolstered their starting pitching with the acquisitions of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija and adding Denard Span to help the defense. Throw in their main nucleus of Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt and Madison Bumgarner, and give them a future Hall of Fame manager(Bruce Bochy), and you have the makings of a division title. Oh, and the Giants win in even years; there is that too. The Dodgers look to be in the discussion as they have Kenta Maeda replace Zack Greinke in the rotation while their best pick up this winter being manager Dave Roberts. The Dodgers will be in the running but chemistry is a big part of their story yet again this year. Arizona went out this offseason and made some good transactions(Greinke) and some head-scratchers(Jean Segura??). How far the Diamondbacks go this year will be determined by how the younger talents like AJ Pollock and Patrick Corbin perform. At this point San Diego and Colorado are afterthoughts. Neither seem to have much direction nor a captain to steer them away from rocky weather. It could be a long season for fans of both.

Awards 

MLB: New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles
(Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY)

American League

MVP: Manny Machado

Cy Young: Chris Archer

Rookie of the Year: Byron Buxton

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National League

MVP: Giancarlo Stanton

Cy Young: Jacob deGrom

Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager

Playoff Teams

Luke Gregerson
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

American League

Toronto, Kansas City, Houston, Texas, Minnesota

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National League

Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, New York

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So there are my guesses on the upcoming 2016 campaign. I look forward to revisiting this come October and laughing about how far off I was. One of the great things about baseball is every spring we make our predictions on how we think things will evolve, yet we rarely guess correctly. I love the fact that they play six months of games to determine who plays in the final month and what happens in April doesn’t always dictate what occurs in October. The season is a grind and much like a good book it will have a ton of twists and turns to question just where your team ends up. There is a reason they play the games; what would be the fun of the season being decided by guesses? The drama of baseball is what keeps bringing us back and keeps us on our toes. I love this damn game and can’t wait to see how this season unfolds. I can promise you this; you won’t see it coming. Play ball!

The Pine Tar Game

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Today marks the 32nd Anniversary of the infamous ‘Pine Tar Game’ between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees. To celebrate this memorable game, I decided to watch the entire game. I realized once I started, that watching a game from 1983 was amusing to say the least. So with that said, here is a thoughts column on a game that will forever live in baseball lore.

  • Ooooooo, 80’s graphics! My son couldn’t grasp why the graphics were so bad. I told him that was the best we had at the time. He said that was sad.
  • Bert Campaneris was still playing in 1983?
  • The Yankees announcers are horrid. Yes, it was a different period, and I realize that. But it’s amazing to listen to just how bad the commentary was back in this era. There is literally no statistical analysis at all. In fact, Phil Rizzuto has discussed so far moustaches, buttons on the jersey and the tobacco in Leon Roberts mouth. The sad part is they are probably on par with Steve Physioc. Yes, Phys is that bad.
  • I realized this when I watched the 1985 World Series recently, but I have really gotten used to having all the information on the screen during the game. The only part that drives me crazy is not being able to see the score and outs at all times! We sometimes tease that there can be too much information on the screen but at the same time it has become a vital part of our baseball watching experience.
  • Steve Balboni without a moustache is blasphemous. Although without the lip hair he has a passing resemblance to John Belushi.
  • U.L. Washington still has his toothpick in his mouth. The. Entire. Time.
  • I almost forgot Don Slaught spent some time in Kansas City. I keep picturing Slaught with that guard covering his face after he had gotten hit in the face later in his career.
  • Since I didn’t see Dave Winfield until later in his career, I think I forgot just how crazy athletic he was. He is playing center field in this game and a few innings in it makes total sense.
  • Trash talking on Municipal Stadium in Cleveland…beautiful!
  • John Wathan should be in the Royals Hall of Fame. Yes, Wathan wasn’t a great player, but he was a solid part of these Royals teams in the 80’s and has stayed in the organization throughout the years, whether he was managing or scouting. To me, Wathan is a guy transcends any numbers he compiled in his career.
  • Frank White was pretty damn graceful on defense. I don’t think I am saying anything you didn’t already know.
  • There is a lot more discussion in the broadcast about strategy and I like that. Part of the beauty of baseball is the mental back and forth that goes on between the two teams as they decide what is their best move in a close game.
  • Skoal Bandit tote bag day at Yankee Stadium? Pretty sure you wouldn’t get a tobacco company to sponsor any giveaway at the stadium in this day and age.
  • Lou Piniella(seriously, I thought he had retired yyyyyyyyyears before this) made a catch that was very reminiscent of Nori Aoki. In fact the route Piniella took was straight out of Aoki’s playbook.
  • There has been some talk about the Royals needing pitching. Within a year of this game, the Royals would have Bret Saberhagen and Mark Gubicza, two young pitchers in their farm system, in the majors. By 1985 you can add Danny Jackson to that list. Pitching was a big part of that 1985 championship team.
  • There aren’t enough pitchers who throw sidearm in the majors these days. Take note, youngsters.
  • Don Baylor scares me. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley in the 80’s. I’m pretty sure I still wouldn’t want to today.
  • Let’s go to replay…oh yeah, they don’t have that yet…
  • Every generic 80’s song used for these games used a synthesizer. People loved their moog’s back in the 80’s.
  • Amos Otis might be one of the most underrated players in Royals history. He wouldn’t quite be on the Royals ‘Mount Rushmore’, but he would be pretty damn close.
  • Don Mattingly as a defensive replacement? Wonder if Balboni was higher on their depth chart in 1983.
  • I know it’s Rizzuto, but do you need to ask whether or not Willie Mays Aikens was named after Willie Mays?
  • Brett vs. Gossage is such a classic matchup. Is the modern day equivalent Aroldis Chapman vs. Bryce Harper or Mike Trout?
  • Brett just seemed so locked in there against Goose. It seemed like no matter what Brett was going to drive a pitch during that at bat.
  • If you are a lip reader, don’t watch George’s mouth after he runs out. I noticed a plethora of four letter words spewing from his mouth.

 

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The funny thing about this game is that this situation will never happen again. The whole reason the pine tar rule was even in the rulebook was so the tar wouldn’t muck up the baseballs. Having pine tar on the bat does absolutely nothing to the ball if hit. This game is now one of the most famous games in history and will probably be discussed for hundreds of years to come. If you want to know more about the game, there is a new book out this week called “The Pine Tar Game: The Kansas City Royals, The New York Yankees and Baseball’s Most Absurd and Entertaining Controversy” by Filip Bondy. You can get it on Amazon by clicking here. You can also watch this game in its entirety down below. Trust me, it is worth your time.

 

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