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 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

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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.