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Baseball Notes: 2016 Facts of the Year

In no particular order some of the most interesting facts of the year:

Joey Votto's OBP. Votto had a bad start to the season. His AVG's in April and May were .229 and .200 but he managed to win the NL OBP crown with a .434 OBP (.326 AVG) ahead of NL batting champ DJ LeMahieu's OBP of .416. For a guy who always has some kind of statistical freak of nature feats of strength he shows yet again that he can overcome a pretty lengthy slump to have an impressive season.

Paul Goldschmidt's SB's. America's First Baseman isn't known for his speed, in fact he's just about average for a baseball player (including catchers), but this year he stole 32 bags. That's a nice number of steals and ranks 9th in the MLB ahead of Altuve, Trout, Betts, Ellsbury, Lindor and McCutchen as a yardstick against some of the fastest guys in the league. He was 7th in the NL as Villar and Billy Hamilton had the two highest steal counts in the majors, but if he had played in the AL this year he would have been second in that's league's steal total behind Rajai Davis. A 1B who could have been second in the AL in SB's.

NL Stolen Base Dominance. Out of the top 9 in MLB stolen bases, only one player, Davis, finished the season with an AL team (Eduardo Nunez was traded around the deadline from the Twins to the Giants). There were two players in the top 10 (there was a five player tie for 10th) there were 2 players who played less than half a season both from the NL, Trea Turner with 33 in 73 games and Dee Gordon with 30 in 79 games. Villar, Hamilton and Sterling Marte were the top three in the majors in steals and they all came from the same NL Central Division.

Tightly wound balls and fast starts from rookies. There has been a spike in power this year and the baseballs have been to blame (possibly). The ERA king in the AL was Aaron Sanchez with a 3.00 mark. This season started with Trevor Story as the first player to start his career with four homers in three games and continued with Gary Sanchez later becoming the first MLBer to hit 11 homers in his first 23 games.

Brian Dozier's Homers as a 2B (and lead off man). With 42 dingers, Dozier set the AL record for home runs in a season for a second baseman. He did all of this while batting lead off for the Twins who ended their season with their worst record in franchise history.

Nolan Arenado's Two Thirds Crown. Nolan Arenado ties Chris Carter for the NL lead for HR with 41, and lead the MLB in RBI with 133. He had a nice AVG just under .300, but his teammate LeMahieu on the Rockies ran away with the batting crown at .348. This is Arenado's second year in a row winning the HR and RBI crowns for the NL. Dante Bichette pulled this fete for the Rockies in '95, Andres Galarraga did it in '96 (Ellis Burks won the batting crown), and in '97 Larry Walker won the HR race (second in AVG to Tony Gwynn) and Galarraga won the RBI crown.

Big Papi Strong After 40. David Ortiz's first half stats had him looking like he could chase down the single season doubles record (Earl Webb 37 2B's in 1931) when he had 34 doubles in the first half of the season. Ortiz's legs got a little tired and he only had 14 doubles to finish as the MLB leader with 48. He seemed to muscle up so that he didn't have to hustle from first to second and rather trot around the bases. He became the oldest player to hit over 30 homers in a season and hit the most homers in season at the age of 40 (or older) with 38 homers. Those age 40 homers broke the record set by Darrell Evans...

I learned Darrell Evans existed. Ortiz's age 40 record passed Darrell Evans's mark from 1987 when he hit 34 homers. Evans had a couple of seasons hitting 40 or more homers in a season over his career and he had 414 career dingers in a career spanning 1969-1989, for the Braves, Giants and Tigers. My awareness of baseball started in 1991 and Evans never played for any of the teams I follow closely. He had a pretty impressive career as far as home run numbers go but his career average was .248 and he didn't hit enough homers to slug his way into the Hall of Fame. He was only a two time All-Star and never cracked the top 10 in MVP voting. He was a good player with some great longevity and it's great that Ortiz's longevity makes his name pop up again. To cap it off I just now looked him up on wikipedia to find a Bill James quote calling him "the most underrated player in baseball history, absolutely number one on the list."

Zach Britton Closed the Door. Baltimore's Britton has had a great last three seasons with a 1.65 ERA in 2014, 1.92 ERA in 2015 and a rediculuous 0.54 ERA this year. He lead the AL with 47 saves and had a very low .0836 WHIP and 9.9 K/9. Dennis Eckersley's best statistical season (not the one he won the Cy Young, oddly) he had a 0.61 ERA, 48 SV's, 0.614 WHIP and 9.0 K/9 in 1990 for the A's.

Happ and Porcello Had Career Years. We had two 20 game winners this year and they came from two players who went from average or underwhelming pitchers to the top of the league. Porcello joined the Red Sox last year and given a large extension then had a pretty miserable season. This year he came out hot leading the league in wins with 22 and 5th in the AL with a 3.15 ERA. Happ came to the Blue Jays after having a stellar post-trade deadline run with the Pirates in 2015. This season he had 20 wins and he was 6th in the AL with a 3.18 ERA. Happ managed to lower his career ERA just under 4.00 and Porcello lowered his to 4.20.

It was a nice year to be in the AL East. Both AL wild cards came from the East, Toronto and Baltimore, and Boston led the division with one of the best records in a few year. The Yankees finished strong and picked up a lot of top prospects after two top relievers (Miller and Chapman) and kept their winning season streak intact. The AL very possibly could carry the CY Young winner from the great crop of Aaron Sanchez, Happ, Porcello and Britton, the Rookie of the Year from Gary Sanchez, and the MVP with Mookie Betts. That would make the AL East the Cubs of the American League. (Update: they're all losers with the exception of Rick Porcello)

The Overall #1 Pick Was Traded. This was the first time in MLB history the overall #1 pick in the draft was traded less than a year after being drafted. The Diamondbacks wanted to upgrade their rotation last offseason so they traded away SS prospect Dansby Swanson, fourth outfielder Ender Inciarte, and prospect SP Aaron Blair for SP Shelby Miller. Miller had a nice ERA the previous season at 3.02 with the Braves but he also lead the league in losses with 17. Things didn't get much better in '16 for the outlook of this trade as Miller's ERA more than doubled to be over 6.00 (hopefully a result of some sort of injury and not forgetting how to pitch) , Inciarte won a gold glove award, and Swanson was very quick to the majors hitting .302 with 3 homers a 7 doubles in 38 games. Very quickly this trade is trying to find itself as one of the worst trades of all time... it certainly didn't help keeping DBacks GM Dave Stewart around to 2017 in Phoenix.

Mookie Betts Emerges. A couple of years ago the Red Sox decided to move a 2B prospect to the outfield so he wouldn't get stuck in a logjam behind Dustin Pedroia. This year, that player was an All-Star, Silver Slugger, Gold Glover, Best Defender Award, and second place (robbed) finisher in the AL MVP voting while playing right field. In the AL he was 2nd in AVG at .318, 6th in SB (26), 4th in RBI (113), third in 2B's (42), and led the league in total bases. Trout, who won the AL MVP was only better in OBP (which he led the league) and SB's. Betts outslugged Trout with 31 homers.

Kershaw's K/BB. This season former MVP and three time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw's season halted to a stop with injury after just 21 starts. That number of starts and his lower than qualifying innings pitched kept him from MLB leader boards for categories like ERA, WHIP, K/9 and K/BB. He might have been off of the leader boards in those categories but his accomplishments garnered enough attention to place him 5th in Cy Young voting this year. One category where he blew the rest of the league out of the water was strikeouts per walk. Porcello led the majors for those who qualified with a 5.91 K/BB, but that mark was far behind Kershaw's season mark of 15.64 in 149 innings. Note that the minimum of innings Kershaw would have needed to pitch to qualify was only 162. He was two healthy stars away from solidifying his dominance.

Rougned Odor doesn't walk. Rougned Odor was best noted this season for landing a punch on Jose Batista early in the year then being bounced from the playoffs by those same Blue Jays to end 2016, but he also found himself setting a bittersweet record in 2016. Rougned hit 33 homers this season while only walking 19 times. This low of walks while hitting over 30 homers set the MLB record as the only 30 homer hitter with less than 20 walks in a non-strike shortened season. It wasn't that it was a factor of striking out much more than anyone else, he finished only 50th most to strike out this season, he just seems to enjoy walking a fine line of bittersweetness.

Honus Wagner Statue outside PNC Park.  Photo by PS Talbot, 2010.

And I'm sure I'll get more facts from this season up soon enough, including facts based on the Cubs, so stay tuned.

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