Why I Stuck to the Outfield

So since nothing happened with the Giancarlo Stanton trade, I’m going to deliver on my promise and tell a story from my sophomore year of high school in JV Baseball. So at my high school, we had a random long weekend and our catcher was going home to Colorado for break. The problem was we still had a game that weekend but his flight plans were pretty final. I was getting bored playing left field every day and wanted to switch things up, so I volunteered to take his place behind the dish. That was a bad decision on my part.

So before we get into this story, I need to mention the kind of physical state I was/am in. I have AWFUL knees. I inherited them from my mom. My dad, of course, has incredible knees. In fact, he once went for a 6-mile run before learning he had a torn ACL from an accident when he was practicing Brazilian Jujitsu. But I get blessed with my mom’s awful knees. My brother also has the same issues, as it is insanely uncomfortable for us to crouch or stand up from a crouched position. He went to a doctor to get them checked out once, and the doctor told him he had the knees of a 60 year-old (my dad got a similar check-up and was told he had the knees of an 18 year-old. He was in his mid-40’s at the time). So I’m assuming my knee situation is similar to my brother’s.

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Now as I’m sure you can guess, playing catcher can take a HEAVY toll on your knees. That’s why so many catchers often move to first base or DH later in their careers (i.e. Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Mike Napoli). Knee savers do help immensely, it almost feels like you’re sitting on a chair, but I didn’t have my own catchers gear, I had to use the bare minimum that the school had to offer. They did not have knee savers. I sucked it up, though, I hadn’t played catcher since fifth grade, when I was the primary catcher on my little league team and I was excited for an opportunity to return behind the dish. This was a bad move. Now, during warmups for practice, things were going pretty smoothly. I had a much stronger throwing arm than our normal catcher, but that was due in large part to the fact he had a bum throwing shoulder, but he was the best we had behind the dish. I sent a ball sailing over our short second baseman’s head on one throw and the coach said it was fine, the second baseman was late getting his glove up there because he wasn’t used to the ball getting there so soon. Now that I’m done tooting my own horn, it’s time to get to the good stuff: the problems I had.

So finally we did a simulated game. I’m behind the dish and throw down the one finger for our pitcher. He gives the heat and the kid at bat hit a foul ball that caught me in the arm, which of course is unpadded. I got a huge bruise and I felt my throwing arm go numb for a moment. But I was able to walk it off and got back down in the crouch. I threw down the number 1 again. The pitcher nodded and the ball was delivered low and down the middle. The batter foul tipped it, right into my athletic cup. The pointed part of my cup split between my nads and I was down for the count. I tried getting up to walk it off as my teammates laughed their asses off at what happened. I had to go down on one knee and eventually, once the pain started to subside, I had a little chuckle about it, too (you thought the painful part was going to have something to do with my knees, didn’t you? Lesson number 1, expect the unexpected).

The game itself was fine. I only let up one passed ball and didn’t have any issues with foul tips going where they shouldn’t. Thanks to my bad knees, though, I had a hard time throwing out potential base stealers despite having a solid arm. Trying to pop up from the crouch was a disaster and I could almost feel my knees cave in beneath me. It was a weird sight for me because I was the team’s leadoff hitter despite my season batting average of .121 (I had an OBP of .380, I drew a shit ton of walks, at one point walking 7 times in 8 plate appearances). You never see catchers bat leadoff so that kind of screwed with my OCD some. I think I ended up drawing another walk that game and had one of the few times I hit the ball the other way, I was pretty shitty about being a pull hitter. It wasn’t on purpose, just how it worked out for me. It was a flyout right to the right fielder, prompting my coach to say “well that’s going to screw up the spray chart.”

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That wasn’t the last time that I tried a new position and it backfired. Towards the very end of that same season, I was having a rough day. I remember it was May 10, 2012, which was my youngest brother’s birthday (that’s how I remember the exact date so easily). My roommate and best friend had gotten kicked out for poor grades and my own grades were not where I wanted them to be with finals approaching. I wanted to try out a new position to try and take my mind off things. I hopped in to play third base during practice. It wasn’t totally unchartered waters for me, I had been a third baseman for much of my little league career and knew all the responsibilities I would need to take on. I fielded a few ground balls and was feeling pretty good about my abilities at the hot corner. We then started an intra-squad scrimmage that was always the highlight of any practice. One of our players hit an easy ground ball in my direction. That is, it was an easy grounder until it hit the lip of the infield grass. The ball hit the lip, bounced up, and clocked me right in the mouth, ricocheting off my face into the third base coach’s box. That was one of the rare times I heard the head coach swear, as he shouted “oh shit!” as he rushed to my aid. I was bleeding out my mouth and my upper lip had doubled in size. That was the kind of day I was having. After that, I never again complained about being stuck in left field all the time. It was for the best.

Well that ends a painful chapter of my athletic career. Let me know what you thought in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.

MLB Hall of Fame Ballot Released

Yes, I know, they don’t announce the MLB Hall of Fame class of 2018 until January, but the finalists were announced and I couldn’t help myself. Plus, I wanted material to write about. Here is the list of candidates:

Barry Bonds

Roger Clemens

Vladimir Guerrero

Trevor Hoffman

Jeff Kent

Edgar Martinez

Fred McGriff

Mike Mussina

Manny Ramirez

Curt Schilling

Gary Sheffield

Sammy Sosa

Billy Wagner

Larry Walker

Chris Carpenter

Johnny Damon

Livan Hernandez

Oliver Hudson

Aubrey Huff

Jason Isringhausen

Andruw Jones

Chipper Jones

Carlos Lee

Brad Lidge

Hideki Matsui

Kevin Millwood

Jamie Moyer

Scott Rolen

Johan Santana

Jim Thome

Omar Vizquel

Kerry Wood

Carlos Zambrano

I’m going to discuss which guys I think should get in. I’m really hesitant to pick guys who were linked to PED’s. I know that Ivan Rodriguez was named in the Mitchell Report and still got in last year, so it’s only a matter of time before guys like Bonds and Clemens get in. But I really don’t want to vote for one. I get the argument in favor of putting known PED users in, I really do, but I’m still uncomfortable with voting for one. If they get in, fine, the rest of baseball feels differently than I do (which could probably be an entire blog on its own. Maybe around election time), but I won’t vote them in. So sorry Barry and Roger, but you don’t have my vote. Here’s a tissue.

My other rules for who gets in are pretty simple: be one of the greats. I don’t care which ballot you’re on, if you’re a Hall of Famer, you’re a Hall of Famer in my book. There are some voters who are of the belief of “well Joe DiMaggio only got in on the third ballot, this guy can’t be first ballot because DiMaggio wasn’t.” That’s a load of shit. First of all, Joltin’ Joe should’ve been first ballot. Secondly, as I mentioned just seconds ago, if you’re a Hall of Famer, you’re a Hall of Famer. Plain as that. Nobody usually remembers which ballot you got in on anyway, just that you got in. So with that, let’s look at who I would vote for, with holdovers going first and newcomers going second.

Vladimir Guerrero

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photo credit: Sports Illustrated

Postion: Right Field

Teams: Montreal Expos, Anaheim Angels, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles

Accomplishments: 2004 AL MVP, 9-time All Star, 449 Home Runs, Career .318 hitter, Career WAR: 59.3

Vladdy was one of the greatest pure hitters of his generation. It’s a shame he never won a World Series, though he at least got to play in one in 2010 with the Texas Rangers. Guerrero was unique in that it didn’t matter where the pitch was, he could get a hit off of it. The song “Head-Shoulders-Knees-And-Toes” is perfectly applicable to Vlad’s personal strike zone. Most guys who swung the way Guerrero did would be out of the Majors faster than they could blink, but he hit .318 for 16 years. In fact, he never hit below .290 at any point in his career (and that was his final season). His 2002 season, despite not winning the MVP, was one of the greatest seasons of the Steroid Era and he didn’t need PED’s to do it. He hit 39 home runs, stole 40 bases, hit .336, drove in 111 runs, collected 206 hits, and played in 161 games. Yet somehow he only finished fourth for MVP that year. Maybe it was because he played for the Expos. His son, Vlad Jr, is one of the top prospects in all of baseball in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

Trevor Hoffman

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photo credit: The Mighty 1090

Position: Closing Pitcher

Teams: Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres, Milwaukee Brewers

Accomplishments: 601 Saves (was the all-time leader when he retired, has since been passed by Mariano Rivera), career 2.87 ERA, 7-time All Star, Career WAR: 28.0

Trevor Hoffman is amongst the greatest closers of all time, as evidenced by being the first man to ever reach 600 saves. A big reason why Rivera got a lot of the fame and Hoffman didn’t was Hoffman spent nearly all of his career with the lowly Padres while Rivera was dominating with the Yankees. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hoffman doesn’t get in on this ballot, as a lot of voters are hesitant to vote in a guy whose job was to pitch one inning every other game or so. But Hoffman was the best to ever do it in the National League and that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Edgar Martinez

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photo credit: Seattle Times

Position: Designated Hitter

Team: Seattle Mariners

Accomplishments: Career .312 hitter, 309 home runs, 1261 RBI, 7-time All Star, drove in 145 RBI during the 2000 season at the age of 37, made the DH position what it is today, Career WAR: 68.3

This is one of the most controversial members of the ballot because Martinez was a career DH, he never played the field. I think Martinez should get in based simply on the fact that he was a revolutionary. He made the DH position what it is today. There is no David Ortiz, no Victor Martinez, no Nelson Cruz without the contributions of Edgar Martinez. Also look at that career WAR. Martinez’s career was only two years longer than Guerrero’s and he was worth almost 10 wins more than the stud outfielder and that’s for a guy who never had any defense contribute to that. That’s how good a hitter he was.

Mike Mussina

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photo credit: Baltimore Sun

Position: Starting Pitcher

Teams: Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees

Accomplishments: 270 wins (that stat is outdated today, but it means a little bit more during his era), 3.68 ERA (worth mentioning that for the bulk of his career, he had to face guys who were juiced on steroids, which likely inflated his ERA some), 2813 strikeouts, 5-time All Star, Career WAR: 82.7

The knock against Mike Mussina was that he was never truly dominant. He was just consistently good for 18 years. Mussina never won a title either, but damn was he close. He joined the Yankees in 2001, the year they lost to Arizona and just after their three-peat, and retired after 2008, the year before they beat the Phillies. Just shit luck for Moose. But consistency is a big part of what makes a great pitcher and you always knew what you were going to get with Mussina and he had a knack for staying healthy and pitching deep into games, as he had 11 seasons where he pitched 200 innings, including 9 in a row from 1995-2003. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Mussina doesn’t get in this year because of the fact that he never dominated, which is the baseline for a lot of voters (myself included, but I like to reward being able to trust guys. That’s why I’m leaning towards voting for Mark Buehrle when he becomes eligible)

Curt Schilling

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photo credit: The Daily Beast

Position: Starting Pitcher

Teams: Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox

Accomplishments: 216 wins (see Mussina about my thoughts on pitching wins), 3116 strikeouts, 3-time World Series Champion, 2001 World Series Co-MVP with Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, Career ERA of 3.46, Career Playoff ERA of 2.23, 6-time All Star, Career WAR: 80.7

Quite frankly, with a resume like that, the only reason Curt Schilling isn’t in the Hall of Fame is because of his political beliefs. He is extremely right-winged and is very open about it and some of what he says can come off as hate speech (for example, his views on transgendered bathrooms and Islam got him fired from ESPN). But to keep him out of the Hall of Fame for that? That’s bullshit. You can’t keep a guy out of the Hall of Fame for what kind of person they are, no matter what your beliefs are. Ty Cobb was one of the biggest racists in the game and he was the first man ever inducted, so don’t give me that shit about his beliefs keeping him out. He was lights out in the playoffs and was one of the toughest pitchers on the planet. I will forever respect the Hell out of him for his performance in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, also known as the Bloody Sock game. If you don’t know what that is, shame on you. Schill gets my vote every time.

Chipper Jones

Chipper Jones

photo credit: Kansas.com

Position: Third Base

Team: Atlanta Braves

Accomplishments: 1999 NL MVP, 1995 World Series champion, 8-time All Star, 468 Home Runs, 1623 RBI, Career .303 hitter, 2008 batting champ by hitting .364 in 2008 at the age of 36, Career WAR: 85.0

Out of all the newcomers, Jones is my one lock to get in. The guy was the face of the Atlanta Braves for 18 years and was the key catalyst behind the Braves teams that won a division championship 13 years in a row. An average WAR in the Majors is 2.0. Chipper’s WAR never at any point in his career dipped below 2.3. In my opinion, he’s one of the ten best third basemen of all time.

Jim Thome

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photo credit: NPR

Position: First Baseman/Designated Hitter

Teams: Cleveland Indians, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles

Accomplishments: 612 home runs, 1699 RBI, 5-time All Star, career .276 hitter, Career WAR: 72.9

Jim Thome was one of my favorites growing up. Now granted, it was mainly because we had the same first name and I pronounced his last name as how it’s spelled, not “toe-mee,” which is how it’s actually pronounced, but I still really liked the guy. It helped that he was also considered one of the nicest guys in the game (now yes, the Schilling argument works both ways, it shouldn’t matter what type of dude you are to be in the Hall of Fame unless you were a serial killer, but it’s part of his reputation). Being one of the greatest power hitters of your generation also helps. 612 home runs ranks 8th all time, though his 2548 strikeouts is the second most all time. What does bode well for him in that aspect is the man in first place is in the Hall of Fame (Reggie Jackson).

Just Missed: Jeff Kent, Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner

Honorable Mention: Pete Rose

The fact that Pete Rose still can’t get in as a player is just idiotic. All records show that he bet on his team to win, which I have no problem with because you’re not out there to sabotage your own team. Had he bet against his guys, I’d be totally cool with keeping him out. But you can’t have the all-time hits king not in the Hall when a guy who was named in the Mitchell Report got in. Those are my picks for the Hall of Fame, though I think only Vladimir Guerrero and Chipper Jones will get in this year. I think Bonds and Clemens will eventually get in, but like I said before, I wouldn’t vote for them. Do you like my picks? Do you disagree with my stance on steroids? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

 

A Tale from my Baseball Career

So I literally have no idea what to write about for today’s blog, so I decided to try out a new segment where I recount some stories from my athletic career, some good, some bad. How well this blog does will determine whether or not I do more of these. I’ve always liked hearing peoples’ crazy stories from when they were athletes, no matter the level or sport, whether it be someone scoring a goal in soccer on the wrong field or when they got lit up by a future pro. So I hope you enjoy this one from my mediocre athletic career.

I was fourteen years old and playing in a Babe Ruth baseball game. If you follow my blog, you know I’m very passionate about baseball and I carried an even greater passion on the field when I actually played. I was in a lower level of Babe Ruth because, let’s face it, I wasn’t a great athlete, but I was good for that level. There have been several instances where I probably should have gotten ejected due to my on-field intensity. I’ve trucked the catcher in a league where that’s supposed to be an ejection, I’ve gotten in a war of words with an umpire over balls and strikes, and then this particular moment that I’m about to tell. Had the umpire known my intentions for this particular at bat in question, I most certainly would have been tossed and possibly even suspended, but since this was seven years ago, I’m sure the statute of limitations has passed for my suspension from Babe Ruth baseball, so I have no problem publishing it on the web.

My team from Sterling, Massachusetts was taking on a team from a nearby town called Fitchburg. Fitchburg was a much poorer town than Sterling was and tended to produce some nasty kids. I don’t remember how this game ended, or if we even won or not. I just remember that I was pitching and this one kid on the Fitchburg bench was taunting us pretty loudly and his teammates were hollering at what he was saying. I paid him no mind initially because earlier that season we had another kid get in our heads from taunting to the point where his antics literally cost us a run. This kid was probably the biggest dude in our league, he kind of looked like a 14 year-old version of Kane from WWE. I remember he was batting sixth for his team and came up to face me in the second inning. Well when he came up to bat, he tried to get another rise out of his teammates. He stood in the batter’s box, made the biggest grin as he bit down on his lower lip, widened his eyes like a mad man and started flailing the bat all over the place as his batting stance. His teammates were laughing their heads off from the dugout and, being the joyless shit that I was on a baseball diamond, I got furious. I didn’t show it on my face, but I was keeping down a lot of anger from this kid not taking the game as seriously as I did. Definitely an overreaction considering this wasn’t exactly the Major Leagues, or even AAU for that matter. But I made up my mind that I was going to throw at his head.

Now to get a sense of how physically imposing I was on the mound, here’s a picture of me from that season:

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Regular Roger Clemens on the hill, I know. I definitely struck fear in the heart of this kid that looked like he was pushing 200 pounds as a 14 year-old. And in truth, I didn’t even throw that hard, the hardest my fastball had ever been clocked at was 70 mph, which is slower than most Major Leaguers’ curveballs. But I felt like I owed it to myself to drill this kid in his stupid fucking face.

First pitch I hit the inside corner for a strike. I silently cursed myself for completely missing this behemoth of a kid and throwing a strike, though in my concussion-laden memory, that pitch looked like it was off the plate. I think the umpire may have expanded the zone for me to spite this kid at the dish. The next pitch, I missed again. And I missed so bad, I threw another strike! So now I was ahead of this kid 0-2 and I thought to myself: “shit! I’ve got him 0-2, I can’t drill him now!” As much as it pained me to do it, I decided to actually pitch to this kid. The next pitch missed on the outside part of the plate for a ball putting the count to 1-2. But now I saw that the kid wasn’t doing his stupid stance anymore, so I didn’t feel as bad about the next pitch. I gave him the high cheese and he bit and swung and missed on a pitch that was around neck-level and over the heart of the plate. He had struck out and nobody was laughing or cheering now and he kind of walked back looking dejected. So I go into an at bat intending to drill the batter, but my aim is so bad I accidentally strike him out. I like to think the baseball gods knew what I was trying to do and interfered, because let’s face it, throwing at a guy’s head is a dick move, which is where I was aiming. It’s one thing to drill him in the back, but I had every intention of head-hunting. But the baseball gods found a middle ground and I struck him out, which admittedly probably was more satisfying a victory for me than drilling him would’ve been. I learned something interesting about this dude when I told the story to a friend a couple weeks later. My friend knew the batter in question and apparently this kid had some violent tendencies. So perhaps I had dodged an ass-whooping by striking him out! Baseball gods came through for me again.

So that’s a tale from my athletic career. Do you want me to do this more often? Or did you not give a shit about my stupid unimportant days as a mediocre athlete? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

MLB Top 10 Players by Position for 2017

This is the next segment in my MLB postseason series. Here, I will be ranking the top players by position for this baseball season. 2017 performance won’t be the sole deciding factor, however it will be the biggest. Guys that missed significant time due to injury will not be considered, so guys like Noah Syndergaard, Michael Brantley, and Yoenis Cespedes will not be considered for these rankings even though they would rank highly when healthy. Also, if a player played at multiple positions throughout the year, I may have taken a little liberties by either putting them where I thought they were at their best or where they played the most. I also considered defense more heavily for some positions (shortstop, catcher) than others (first base).

Starting Pitcher

MLB: MAY 10 Dodgers at Rockies

Despite injury, Clayton Kershaw was still as dominant as ever (photo credit: Scout.com)

1.Clayton Kershaw-Los Angeles Dodgers

2.Max Scherzer-Washington Nationals

3.Corey Kluber-Cleveland Indians

4.Chris Sale-Boston Red Sox

5.Stephen Strasburg-Washington Nationals

6.Zack Greinke-Arizona Diamondbacks

7.Luis Severino-New York Yankees

8.Robbie Ray-Arizona Diamondbacks

9.Marcus Stroman-Toronto Blue Jays

10.Jimmy Nelson-Milwaukee Brewers

While he did miss a good chunk of time due to injury, Clayton Kershaw nevertheless dominated when he was on the mound and he pitched enough (175 innings) for me to keep him in the rankings. His 2.31 ERA was second in the majors and tops in the NL. Robbie Ray was a guy I had high hopes for going into the season. He did have an ERA of 4.90 in 2016, but his FIP was more than a full run lower (3.76) which suggested he was in for an uptick in production. He did not disappoint, posting an ERA of 2.89 in 2017. Jimmy Nelson was a guy who was under the radar for the entire season. Despite his performance, he was overshadowed by Milwaukee’s prolific offense. Nevertheless, Nelson finished with the 5th best FIP (3.05) in the Majors, even better than Kershaw’s (3.07).

Non-Closing Relief Pitchers

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Andrew Miller continues to thrive in a unique role with the Indians (photo credit: USA Today)

1.Andrew Miller-Cleveland Indians

2.Archie Bradley-Arizona Diamondbacks

3.Pat Neshek-Colorado Rockies

4.Chad Green-New York Yankees

5.Tommy Kahnle-New York Yankees

6.Anthony Swarzak-Milwaukee Brewers

7.Alex Claudio-Texas Rangers

8.Matt Albers-Washington Nationals

9.Ryan Madson-Washington Nationals

10.Dellin Betances-New York Yankees

This is a position that’s always in flux, as you never know what you’re going to get out of your relievers in any given year. For example, Matt Albers makes this list despite the fact that he had an ERA of 6.31 in 2016, his age-33 season. Dellin Betances surely would’ve topped this list at the start of the season had this blog been around at that time. His stuff was as good as ever but he seemed to have lost a bit of his command. But the Yankees don’t need him this season like they have in years’ past, as they have a plethora of reliable bullpen options, such as Chad Green and midseason acquisition Tommy Kahnle and the return of David Robertson.

Closing Pitchers

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Kenley Jansen has locked down the 9th inning for the Dodgers all season (photo credit: DodgerBlue.com)

1.Kenley Jansen-Los Angeles Dodgers

2.Craig Kimbrel-Boston Red Sox

3.Roberto Osuna-Toronto Blue Jays

4.Wade Davis-Chicago Cubs

5.Corey Knebel-Milwaukee Brewers

6.Ken Giles-Houston Astros

7.Raisel Iglesias-Cincinnati Reds

8.Alex Colome-Tampa Bay Rays

9.Brad Hand-San Diego Padres

10.Felipe Rivero-Pittsburgh Pirates

Closer is hard to predict as well as relievers, but I find that typically the top few spots tend to remain roughly the same. I said this before in yesterday’s blog, but the difference between Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel this season is razor-thin, however I give a slight edge to Jansen mainly for the far lower walk rate.  Roberto Osuna ranks at #3 despite an ERA of 3.38 (relatively high for a good closer) in large part due to the fact that the majority of that damage was done in April and he didn’t get a lot of help from his defense (his FIP was 1.74)

Catchers

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Despite the Giants’ struggles, Buster Posey continued to put up big numbers (photo credit: Sportsnaut.com)

1.Buster Posey-San Francisco Giants

2.Gary Sanchez-New York Yankees

3.Salvador Perez-Kansas City Royals

4.Willson Contreras-Chicago Cubs

5.JT Realmuto-Miami Marlins

6.Yadier Molina-St. Louis Cardinals

7.Yasmani Grandal-Los Angeles Dodgers

8.Mike Zunino-Seattle Mariners

9.Tucker Barnhart-Cincinnati Reds

10.Christian Vazquez-Boston Red Sox

Catcher is a hard position to rank right now because it’s so top-heavy. There are only 3 catchers I consider to be elite at the position while the rest have a lot of flaws (in Yadi’s case, it’s just simply aging). I tend to value defense more at this position, which is why you see guys like Tucker Barnhart and Christian Vazquez on this list. If you go by Defensive Runs Saved, which I do, Barnhart was #1 by a large margin at 21. The next closest catcher was Martin Maldonado of the Angels at 10.

First Basemen

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Joey Votto may be the most under-appreciated player in the history of the game (photo credit: Sports Illustrated)

1.Joey Votto-Cincinnati Reds

2.Paul Goldschmidt-Arizona Diamondbacks

3.Freddie Freeman-Atlanta Braves

4.Anthony Rizzo-Chicago Cubs

5.Cody Bellinger-Los Angeles Dodgers

6.Jose Abreu-Chicago White Sox

7.Eric Hosmer-Kansas City Royals

8.Ryan Zimmerman-Washington Nationals

9.Edwin Encarnacion-Cleveland Indians

10.Justin Smoak-Toronto Blue Jays

To be honest, you could probably rearrange the top 3 or 4 guys on this list in any order and I probably wouldn’t fight you too much over it. But I have to give the nod to Joey Votto this season just because of how absurd some of the numbers he puts up are. For example, his infield fly percentage, or basically how frequently he hits a lazy popup, was 0.5%, second only to Freddie Freeman, who didn’t hit a single one. But Votto’s been doing things like this for a long time now and that’s without getting into how patient he is at the plate. But I’ll delve more into Votto tomorrow for the top 100 overall players list. Spoiler alert, he’s on it.

Second Basemen

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Jose Altuve may be the smallest MVP since Bobby Shantz at 5’6 (photo credit: Sports Illustrated)

1.Jose Altuve-Houston Astros

2.Daniel Murphy-Washington Nationals

3.Robinson Cano-Seattle Mariners

4.Dustin Pedroia-Boston Red Sox

5.Jonathan Schoop-Baltimore Orioles

6.Javy Baez-Chicago Cubs

7.Brian Dozier-Minnesota Twins

8.DJ LeMahieu-Colorado Rockies

9.Jason Kipnis-Cleveland Indians

10.Starlin Castro-New York Yankees

I had a hard time with this one, mainly because second base was a lot deeper than I thought going in. I ended up having to leave guys like Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips off this list just because I simply couldn’t find a place for them. It was obvious to put Jose Altuve at the top of this one, given the year he’s had that I’ve talked about ad nauseam during this postseason MLB series of blogs about. In fact, I’d probably say the top 7 or 8 guys was pretty easy. It was rounding out this list that was difficult. In the end, I went with Kipnis and Castro over the other guys based simply on the idea of who I’d rather have at the plate with the game on the line this year, or in the field in the bottom of the 9th inning in Game 7 of the world Series.

Third Basemen

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Kris Bryant has been one of the faces of the new Chicago Cubs dynasty (photo credit: Sports Illustrated)

1.Kris Bryant-Chicago Cubs

2.Nolan Arenado-Colorado Rockies

3.Josh Donaldson-Toronto Blue Jays

4.Jose Ramirez-Cleveland Indians

5.Anthony Rendon-Washington Nationals

6.Justin Turner-Los Angeles Dodgers

7.Manny Machado-Baltimore Orioles

8.Travis Shaw-Milwaukee Brewers

9.Kyle Seager-Seattle Mariners

10.Alex Bregman-Houston Astros

Third base is absolutely loaded, especially when a guy like Manny Machado finds himself at number 7. Machado would normally be higher, but he had a down year, hitting only .259 and being worth 2.8 WAR. He was heating up by the end of the season, though, as he was hitting .334 in July and August. The Milwaukee Brewers committed highway robbery of the Red Sox by acquiring Travis Shaw in exchange for Tyler Thornburg. Shaw hit cleanup in a dangerous lineup, batting .273 with 31 homers and 101 RBI while Thornburg did not appear in a game this season due to injury and the Red Sox struggled mightily at third base until calling up Rafael Devers and trading for Eduardo Nunez in July.

Shortstop

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Francisco Lindor has been one of the most exciting players in the game since debuting in 2015 (photo credit: USA Today)

1.Francisco Lindor-Cleveland Indians

2.Carlos Correa-Houston Astros

3.Corey Seager-Los Angeles Dodgers

4.Andrelton Simmons-Anaheim Angels

5.Didi Gregorius-New York Yankees

6.Xander Bogaerts-Boston Red Sox

7.Elvis Andrus-Texas Rangers

8.Zack Cozart-Cincinnati Reds

9.Trea Turner-Washington Nationals

10.Jean Segura-Seattle Mariners

Like first base, you could rearrange the top 3 in any order you want and I wouldn’t argue with your decision. Lindor, Correa, and Seager are superstars in this league and will be for at least the next decade. Xander Bogaerts was a tricky one to place. When he’s hot, you can’t get him out. When he’s not, he couldn’t get on base if you threw at him. His below average defense didn’t help either, which was a big factor for shortstop, which I consider to be the most important defensive position. But he seemed to be picking it up after a move to the leadoff spot, batting .284 in the month of September. Zack Cozart has struggled with injuries the last few years but when he’s been healthy he’s quietly been one of the better offensive shortstops in the game.

Left Fielders

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Marcell Ozuna has been one of the more under-the-radar stars thanks to teammates he shares an outfield with (photo credit: Sun Sentinel)

1.Marcell Ozuna-Miami Marlins

2.Justin Upton-Anaheim Angels

3.Michael Conforto-New York Mets

4.Tommy Pham-St. Louis Cardinals

5.Andrew Benintendi-Boston Red Sox

6.Chris Taylor-Los Angeles Dodgers

7.Brett Gardner-New York Yankees

8.Eddie Rosario-Minnesota Twins

9.Marwin Gonzalez-Houston Astros

10.David Peralta-Arizona Diamondbacks

This is probably the thinnest position in baseball right now. While I am a big fan of Ozuna’s, he’s probably the third best outfielder on his own team and would be in the middle of these other outfield top 10s. But getting back on track, there were a lot of breakout players at left field so we could see this position grow more prominent in the next couple of years. Michael Conforto, Tommy Pham, Andrew Benintendi, and Chris Taylor all had big breakout years after either underwhelming in the last couple seasons (Conforto), being primarily a utility guy (Pham and Taylor) or just simply being a prospect (Benintendi).

Center Fielders

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No surprise here, Mike Trout has been among the all-time greats since 2012 (photo credit: Sports Illustrated)

1.Mike Trout-Anaheim Angels

2.Charlie Blackmon-Colorado Rockies

3.George Springer-Houston Astros

4.Christian Yelich-Miami Marlins

5.Lorenzo Cain-Kansas City Royals

6.Byron Buxton-Minnesota Twins

7.Andrew McCutchen-Pittsburgh Pirates

8.Ender Inciarte-Atlanta Braves

9.Jackie Bradley Jr-Boston Red Sox

10.Odubel Herrera-Philadelphia Phillies

Mike Trout is the Khal until he can no longer sit his horse and he’s been sitting the crap out of that horse. Despite missing a month and a half due to injury, Trout still belted 33 home runs , stole 22 bases, and hit .306 while exhibiting his usual great defense in center field. Byron Buxton FINALLY exhibited his potential late this season as his bat finally caught up to his stellar defense and base running. He hit .387 in July and .324 in August and if this kid can put it all together for an entire season, Mike Trout’s going to have to start looking over his shoulder.

Right Fielders

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Since debuting at age 19, Bryce Harper has been well worth the hype for the Nationals (photo credit: Sporting News)

1.Bryce Harper-Washington Nationals

2.Giancarlo Stanton-Miami Marlins

3.Aaron Judge-New York Yankees

4.Mookie Betts-Boston Red Sox

5.JD Martinez-Arizona Diamondbacks

6.Josh Reddick-Houston Astros

7.Avisail Garcia-Chicago White Sox

8.Yasiel Puig-Los Angeles Dodgers

9.Domingo Santana-Milwaukee Brewers

10.Jay Bruce-Cleveland Indians

This was REALLY hard. As much as I wanted to put Judge or Stanton at the top of this list, I just have to give it to Harper, who likely would have coasted to NL MVP had he not stepped on a wet base wrong and missed the last month of the year. But Harper was back to his usual phenom self this season after a rough 2016, batting .319 with 29 home runs and 87 RBI with an OPS of 1.008. While I do think Judge is lurking, that July-August stretch he went through where he couldn’t even hit air is still too fresh in my mind. And 59 home runs is nice, but Stanton’s defense is nowhere near Harper’s. Yasiel Puig finds himself back into relevance after a quietly solid year after disappointing the last couple seasons. He hit .263 with 28 homers, 74 RBI, 15 stolen bases, and ranking first among NL right fielders in DRS.

Those are my top 10s. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

 

Chris Sale vs Corey Kluber: The enigma that is the 2017 American League Cy Young race

Following the 2016 American League Cy Young Award race was like following the presidential election: nobody deserved to win, but somebody had to, and the controversy surrounding the results was the big story. Rick Porcello of the Boston Red Sox won the award over Justin Verlander, then of the Detroit Tigers, by 5 points. However it was revealed afterwards that two Tampa Bay writers completely left Verlander off of their ballots, omissions that, quite frankly, are inexcusable given the strong showing Verlander put forth. Not that Porcello wasn’t deserving of the award (compared to the rest of the American League, that is), but Verlander simply had a better season by most standard and advanced metrics. This year, however, the AL Cy Young Award race has been made far more intriguing by a teammate of Porcello’s and the guy who finished in third place for this very award last season.

Corey Kluber (left) and Chris Sale (right) are the top 2 contenders for the 2017 AL Cy Young Award (photo credit: Sports Illustrated)

Chris Sale of the Red Sox and Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians have been in a battle the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Jurassic World ending. I gathered together a bunch of statistics to try and get a glimpse at who has truly been the best pitcher in the AL. I kid you not, Sale and Kluber are number 1 and number 2 in the AL in the following categories: ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, K/9, BB/9, K%, Opponent Batting Average, FIP, and WAR (all stats acquired are according to FanGraphs). Both guys are the aces of strong pitching staffs on division leaders (in Cleveland’s case, champs) and have two of the filthiest sliders in the game. Here’s an example of Sale’s and Kluber’s.  To have to face either of these guys at any point in the year makes every Major Leaguer worthy of their 8-figure salaries.

The Case for Sale:

Chris Sale came to the Red Sox in a trade with the Chicago White Sox during the 2016-17 offseason for prized prospects Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others. To say that the trade has been an early success for the Red Sox is about as big an understatement as saying The Godfather is a good movie. Right out of the gate, Sale tied a Major League record with 8 consecutive starts with double-digit strikeouts and he hasn’t let up since. Because, seriously, how does anyone expect to hit this? During Wednesday night’s start against the Orioles, he became the second pitcher in Red Sox history to reach 300 strikeouts and is 13 away from tying Pedro Martinez’s franchise record set during his historic 1999 season. Sale has the kind of stuff to achieve that in his next start. With one or two starts remaining in the regular season, Sale has a line of 17-7 with a 2.75 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 300 K, 12.90 K/9, and 8.2 WAR. In fact, Sale’s WAR not only tops all pitchers in Major League Baseball, it tops all players. But the stat that really amazes me about Sale is his FIP. For those who aren’t familiar with sabermetrics, FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching is a stat that takes out all plays that are outside of a pitcher’s control, such as singles, doubles, triples, and fielding outs and only takes into account plays that are within the pitcher’s control: strikeouts, walks, and home runs. It is meant to try and predict what a pitcher’s ERA would be if he were given a neutral defense, one that doesn’t really help him, nor hurt him. The difference in ERA and FIP can often be used to measure exactly how much a pitcher is helped or hurt by his defense. Sale’s FIP is 2.22, half a run lower than his 2.75 ERA, meaning that the Red Sox defense behind him is actually hurting his production. And considering how dominant he has been this year, that’s a scary thought for the rest of the AL. And for those who were wondering, Sale’s FIP is the best in the majors (Kluber happens to be number 2 at 2.49, but I’ll get into that later).  Not to mention, the guy is completely psychotic. I don’t have video evidence of this and I don’t even remember who the opponent was, but earlier this season I was watching a Red Sox game when Chris Sale walked the leadoff batter in the 7th inning. Sale never allowed that runner to reach second base, yet when he recorded the final out of the inning, he was screaming at himself into his glove for walking that leadoff batter. I remind you that the baserunner did no damage and he had no issue with the next three batters, yet he was screaming at himself like he just gave up an 0-2 grand slam. And when Sale gives you “that look,” you bend your will to him. Seriously. Look him in the eye and tell me you aren’t freaked out by this dude.

Chris Sale

I do not envy Red Sox Manager John Farrell having to tell this guy his night is done. Lucky for him, he hasn’t had to do that too often: Sale leads the Major Leagues in innings pitched at 209.1.

The Case for Kluber

Corey Kluber’s last start of the 2016 season came in Game 7 of the World Series against the Chicago Cubs. He had dominated all postseason and had continued his run against the Cubbies in each of his first 2 starts in the Fall Classic. However, he didn’t make it out of the 5th inning, surrendering 4 runs and 2 home runs and the Indians lost the World Series to the Cubs, a franchise that hadn’t won in 108 years. It seemed that he hadn’t gotten over that defeat to start 2017, as his ERA after the first month was 5.06. That was when he hit the Disabled List and missed all but one start in the month of May due to a lower back strain. That DL stint seemed to fix him, however, as he has been absolutely lights out ever since. He has gone 17-2 since coming off the DL with a minuscule ERA of 1.69, including 0.87 in the month of September. Despite missing almost an entire month, Kluber still ranks 6th in the AL in innings pitched. He ranks 2nd in WAR at 6.9 (nice), trailing only Sale and he leads the AL in ERA (2.35), WHIP (0.85), BB/9 (1.60), and opponent batting average (.187). The one real knock I can think of against Kluber is his FIP, which is 2.49, which when compared to his 2.35 ERA, suggests that the Indians’ defense has actually aided Kluber’s numbers. Regardless, that FIP still ranks second in the AL and would still lead the league if it were his actual ERA. Kluber’s performance also helped spark the Indians’ 22-game winning streak, the longest in AL history (longest ever if you don’t count the 1916 New York Giants 26-game winning streak, which had a tie mixed in). During that historic run, Kluber won all 4 of his starts and had an ERA of 1.41, striking out 45 batters in the process. Where Kluber goes, the Indians seem to go as well. When Kluber hit the DL, the Indians were 15-12 and appeared to be having a World Series hangover. They went 13-13 in his absence and were struggling to fend off the pesky Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals. Since his return, though, the Tribe have gone 68-32, clinching their division and stealing the top record in the AL from the Houston Astros, who held that honor from the beginning of the season, up until midway through the Indians’ streak a couple weeks ago. It’s hard to argue there’s a pitcher more important to his team than Kluber.

Conclusion: It’s insanely difficult to pick one of these guys to win the Cy Young Award over the other, yet come November, one of these two guys will be taking home the hardware. I’m just thankful that I don’t have a vote, because writing this article and trying to take a side was damn near impossible. Though, if you were to force me into a Ramsay Bolton- Theon Greyjoy Reek-type situation, I’d have to say I would give the Cy Young Award to Chris Sale, but I’d rather have Corey Kluber in a must-win playoff game, as Sale has never appeared in the postseason, having pitched for the White Sox the first 7 years of his career. See? No cop outs here.