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The 2018 Season in Review is Good Enough

This year’s regular season has been one of the most wild seasons in recent memory. Nine of the fifteen teams in the NL finished with records over .500 and the Phillies finished a game shy of joining the list. The AL had three teams win at least 100 games. The Rays missed the playoffs while still winning 90 games by only using two starting pitchers in their rotation and “bullpenning” or "The Opener" for well over half their games down the stretch. The Red Sox had their best win total in their history and the Orioles had the worst season by an MLB team since the disastrous ‘03 Tigers and finished 61 games back. The season came down to two games 163 to decide both teams in the Wild Card match up and to propel the Brewers and Dodgers into the NLDS.

Dodger Stadium. Picture by B. Kelhoffer, 2018.

This month in the Hall of Very Good we look as the 2018 season. A mixture of oddballs, underdogs, overachievers and stars, this was a season where the Giants had the highest opening day payroll and missed the playoffs and the A’s had the lowest and face the lauded Yankees in the AL Wildcard game.

We nearly had a the first NL Triple Crown winner since 1937 (Joe “Ducky” Medwick) with Brewers OF Christian Yelich. In his first season with the Brewers he had career highs in everything, leading the NL with a .326 AVG. He came an RBI shy of Javier Baez in game 163 against the Cubs and was swinging for one last solo home run for what would have been a momentary solo home run in his last AB (although he still would have fallen short of Arenado who homered one more time in the late game. Yelich finished with a .326 AVG, 36 home runs and 110 RBI.

Joe "Ducky" Medwick

Nolan Arenado from the hot corner for the Rockies led the NL in homers for the third time in four seasons and tied for second in RBI (110) while teammate Trevor Story was second in home runs with 37 and tied for fourth in RBI with 108. This Colorado dominance in triple crown categories harkens back to the days of Larry Walker and Andrés Galarraga.

Cubs super utility player Javier Baez could be the first player to win multiple gold gloves in the same season. the first player in MLB history to hit more than 30 home runs during a season in which he’s played at least 20 games at second base, third base and shortstop. Oh yeah, he led the league in RBI, too.

Baez wasn’t the only guy roving around the infield while hitting 30-plus homers. "The Mayor of Ding Dong City," Travis Shaw, moved from 3B to 2B when the Brewers acquired Mike Moustakas. Shaw ended up with 32 homers while playing 107 games at 3B, 39 at second and threw in 17 games at first base.

Only 13 times in MLB history have players ever struck out 200 times or more in a season and 2018 saw three players sink to those depths. Yoan Moncada, second baseman of the White Sox led the league with 217. That’s just the fourth most K’s by a hitter in a season all-time and only six from the most ever. Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton struck out 211 times to go with his 38 homers. Man on all the corners for the Rangers (seriously, the guy played 1B, 3B, RF and LF this year) Joey Gallo just barely poked his AVG over .200, striking out 207 times (10th most all-time) and finishing third in the bigs in homers with 40.

Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper’s season was marred as a big disappointment in his walk season hitting .249 on the season. He took walk year very literally, leading the league in bases on balls with 130 raising his OBP to .394.

Bryce Harper in the Arizona Fall League. Picture by Pete Talbot

First baseman Chris Davis, however, was fourth in the majors in striking out hitting only .168 with 16 home runs and made $23 million. He is hardly in his walk year for the last place Orioles as he will be collecting that same check in Baltimore for the next four seasons. What a nightmare.

The real Khris Davis, outfielder from Oakland, led the league with 48 homers for the low low price of $10.5 million. It was his third year in a row with 40+ homers and fourth in a row hitting exactly .247 because he is apparently obsessive about the number.

The A’s were loaded with power this year and second year first baseman Matt Olson raised his home run total from 24 to 29 and his doubles total from 2, yes TWO, to 33. He’s been going through the same OCD routine as teammate Davis and also hit .247 this year.

The strength of the A’s this year might have actually been their pen with closer Blake Treinen. He led the league in WPA, a stat that I had never heard before, but apparently has quite a value as it measures a players worth toward changing the win probability for their team throughout the game. Regardless of advanced statistics, Treinen had an ERA of 0.78, collected 38 saves, only 5 blown saves and even won 9 games as a closer. His numbers can only be compared to Zach Britton’s 2016 season with the Orioles where he had a 0.54 ERA and 47 saves yet didn’t even crack the top three of Cy Young voting that year.

While the save is a stat that is not measured with as much reverence as it once did, Seattle closer Edwin Diaz’s 2018 total of 57 should still be eyebrow raising. It is the second most in a season behind Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez’s 62 in 2008, and matches Bobby Thigpen’s total in 1990 that stood as the record for 28 years. Those 28 years overlapped with the careers of Dennis Eckersley, Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera and none of those closing greats were able to match 57 in a single season. Diaz didn’t luck into his saves, he had an ERA of 1.96, a WHIP of 0.791 and struck out 15.2 batters per 9 innings. Those WHIP and K/9 averages even dwarf Blake Treinen in his fantastic season.

Trevor Hoffman's entrance at Petco Park. Public Domain.

At 36 years old, he has played 16 seasons for 8 teams. Indians reliever Oliver Perez started his career as a fireballing starter and transitioned into a lefty specialist out of the bullpen. In his worst seasons he had ERA in the 6.80’s, yet he has adapted and survived to have his greatest season of his career at his advanced age. In 51 games for Cleveland, Perez had a tiny 1.39 ERA, a WHIP of 0.742, 12.0 K/9. His splits were odd where righties hit only .104 against him vs. .194 against lefties. He only gave up one walk against a lefty hitter all year compared to 22 strikeouts over 65 plate appearances.

Jacob deGrom had a real hard luck season as the ace of the Mets. He led the MLB in ERA at 1.70, in the range of the great ERA seasons of Greg Maddux in the ‘90’s, yet he almost had a losing record. The Mets struggled to score runs while he was on the mound and he was lucky that the squeezed out enough support to bring him to a 10-9 record at the end of the season. deGrom’s also led the league in Home Runs per 9 innings with 0.4 and had career bests in WHIP (0.912) and K/9 (11.2).

Jacob deGrom, 2016. Public Domain.

Blake Snell of the Rays had nearly as impressive of a year by leading the AL in ERA (1.89), wins (posting a 21-5 record) and hits per 9 innings (5.6). Snell’s WHIP wasn’t as low as deGrom’s but it was close (0.974) and his K/9 rate was comparable but his race to a Cy Young Award may be more difficult having pitched in the much smaller Tampa Bay market.

While deGrom and Snell had fantastic full seasons, Trevor Williams of the Pirates had an incredible second half of the season compared to a mediocre start to the season. His 1.38 ERA was nearly 3 runs better than his first half (4.36) in a second half. This has echos of Jake Arrieta’s Cy Young second half of 2015 where he nearly dropped 2 runs in his second half ERA from 2.66 to 0.75. Williams’ bounceback might be more akin to the second half bounceback by Lyman Bostock who might have had the best turnaround in baseball history in 1978 for the Angels. In his first 82 plate appearances Bostock hit only .147 in April/March, and his May was better but not good at .261. He tried to refuse payment from the Angels because he felt he let down his team and wasn’t living up to his contract. His June was much better, hitting .404 for the month. He brought his batting average back up to .296 in the closing weeks of the season but was tragically murdered before the end of the year. He only played four seasons with the Twins and Angels but posted 624 hits and a .311 batting average over 526 games. In his four seasons in the majors Bostock posted batting averages of .282, .323, .336, and .296. While his story is one of a man who died far too soon, his memory should more be of a man of great character who would not give up and would work his way back to excellence.

Lyman Bostock as perplexed as I was so see his baseball-reference nickname as "Abdul Jibber-Jabber"

Chris Sale had one of the best seasons of his career this year to lead the Red Sox… He nearly cloned his other best season of his career. In both 2014 and 2018 he had the same record, 12-4, over 26 games in ‘14 and 27 in ‘18. In 2014 he had an ERA of 2.17 over 174 innings while striking out 208 and a WHIP of 0.966 compared to this years’ 2.10 over 158 innings, 237 K’s and 0.861 WHIP. This season was slowed by injury in the last handful of weeks and Sale finished only four innings shy of qualifying for the ERA leaderboard.

This was the year of the Opener. This is when teams have a reliever start a game and pitch only an inning or two before the first pitching change of the day. Sometimes this would mean long relievers would come in for a big chunk of the game or it would be a more traditional bullpen game of 8 or so pitchers. This year was the death of the Complete Game statistic. The league leader only had TWO complete games and that statistical crown was shared by eight pitchers in the majors. Seven of those pitchers threw a single shutout. No one in Major League Baseball threw two shutouts in the 2018 season. There were a total of 18 complete game shutouts in the big leagues this season.

Miles Mikolas last pitched in the Major Leagues in 2014 when he had a 6.44 ERA over ten starts for the Rangers. He then spent the next three seasons in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants where he posted ERAs of 1.92, 2.45 and 2.25. This offseason the Cardinals signed Mikolas to join their rotation and he turned around to lead the NL in wins with 18 (more than any single season total he posted in Japan) and an ERA of 2.83. This successful repatriation is reminicent of Eric Thames of the Brewers who spent three seasons in Korea of 37, 47 and 40 home runs to come back to the MLB to hit 30 home runs with an OBP of .359 in 2017.

David “Freight Train” Peralta was in Independent League Baseball in 2013 before he signed as an outfielder with the Diamondbacks. He was a competent bench player hitting .286 his rookie year in the bigs in 2014 and led the league in triples the next year with 10. Although he is a large muscular man, he was much more a guy who could hit for average and maybe log a good number of doubles, but couldn’t get out of the teens for home runs even while playing a full season (his career best was 17 before this year). This season Paul Goldschmidt had a slow start and Peralta took up some of the slack in the power department. He broke out with 30 homers to go with 25 doubles while maintaining the exact same AVG and OBP in 2018 as he had in 2017, .293 and .352 respectively.

Max Muncy is another comeback player to excel with a new team after time away from the bigs. Muncy couldn’t crack the majors last year after two unsatisfying seasons as a utility player with the A’s. This year as a star corner infielder he led the Dodgers in home runs as a with 35. Muncy cracked the big league roster to spell Justin Turner at 3B as he missed a good chunk of the season with an injury and only hit 14 home runs in 103 games. It was the rest of the Dodgers that made up for lost power with SEVEN players hitting 20 or more homers. Muncy had the team lead, another 17 came from Chris Taylor and Manny Machado contributed 13 in 66 games after his trade from Baltimore for a total of ten players hitting ten or more homers.

New Yankee Stadium. Public Domain.

The Yankees, however set a record for the number of players on their team to hit ten or more home runs in a season with 12 players reaching that mark in pinstripes this season. Giancarlo Stanton led the way with 38, although the Dodgers number of 20+ dinger dongers is one more than the Yanks’ six players. The Yankees finished the season setting the single season record for home runs by a team besting the ‘97 Mariners 267 to 264.

Who led the league in stolen bases in the AL last year? Who led the majors in steals this year? Who led the majors in hits? The answer to all three questions is Whit Merrifield of the Royals. Let’s get to know Whitley. This season he played 2B, CF, DH, RF, 1B and LF. He’s 29 years old, has played three seasons and joined the Royals the year after their first trip to the World Series. This year he hit .304, collected 192 hits, 43 doubles and stole 45 bags. He has led the league in steals in his first two full seasons and has the nickname “Whit Bird.”

I can never resist Frankenstein Sal Perez.

Salvador “El Nino,” "Frankenstein," or "El Nino Frankenstein" Perez has one odd quirk to his statistics. Although his batting average fluctuates, his doubles numbers stick around the mid-20’s, he’s managed to either equal or surpass his previous season’s home run total. Going back to 2011 his home run totals have been 3, 11, 13, 17, 21, 22, 27 and this year 27 again. He has actually been playing in fewer games every year since 2014 so these trends don’t seem as though they’ll continue forever.

Alex Bregman of the Astros is only the second player in MLB history to have a season with 100 runs scored, 100 RBI, 50 doubles, 30 homers, 90 walks and 10 steals. The other guy to do it all? Lou Gehrig. Oh yeah, he's only 24 years old is the Astros third baseman but played shortstop for Team USA in the WBC.

Rookies Quick Hits

Yankees third baseman Miguel Andujar tied the NL record for doubles by a rookie at 47. He tied the record set by Fred Lynn in 1975.

Outfielder Ronald Acuna’s 8 lead off home runs set the record for a Braves player in a season and was one short of the rookie record set by Chris Young. Acuna had a streak of three straight games leading off with a home run, a streak that was broken by a hit by pitch to start the fourth game.

The Nationals' young outfielder Juan Soto was the first teenager with three steals in a game, three games with multiple home runs as well as his 166 OBP+ were all bests for a teenager. His 22 home runs were only second to a teenaged Tony Conigliaro.

Teenage Heartthrob Tony C.

Shohei Ohtani of the Angels set the Japanese-born rookie home run record with 22 dingers. He was the first player since Babe Ruth in 1919 with at least 50 innings pitched and 250 plate appearances in the same season. His .361 OBP as a hitter and 3.31 ERA, 1.161 WHIP and 63 K’s in 51.2 innings as a pitcher were nothing to sneeze at either.

AL MVP Canidates

The runs scored statistic seems to primitive in this time of advanced statistics but it is the simple “R” that Boston OF Mookie Betts and Angels OF Mike Trout both believe is the most important measure for a player. This season Mookie and Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor tied for the MLB lead with 129. Mike Trout was not in the top ten in this category this year but was the MLB leader in OBP with a career high .460, his third straight season leading the AL. Mookie probably leads the AL MVP race for leading the MLB in runs, AVG and SLG, although his 32 home runs and 30 stolen bases may be the most impressive of his statistical oddities. He was just the second 30-30 player in Red Sox history (Jacoby Ellsbury in 2011) and his speed and power along with his superior fielding in the outfield make him perhaps the most complete player in the league this year. Jose Ramirez was the first player of the year to reach the 30-30 plateau as he finished with 39 home runs and 34 homers. The 25 year old Ramirez was chiefly a third baseman this season but moved to second base for 16 games when the Indians traded for Josh Donaldson for the final month.For the wins-above-replacement-mongers out there, Mookie’s 10.9 WAR edges out Mike Trout’s 10.2, and the pair of Cleveland players’ WARs were in the 7’s.

The season that a player is 31 years old is considered the age that player can expect to reach their peak. This is regardless of whether a baseball player is a pitcher or hitter. In the 2018 regular season, the AL was dominated by a class of four hitters ranging between the ages of 24 and 26 years old. It can be expected that we still have half a decade before we see the best from Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. This was a great season and the future of baseball promises to be incredible.

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