The oldest cliche in the book is you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
I feel the same way about this baseball season. The month of August felt like an eternity; the days were unbearably warm, and the sports media monster slowly began to catapult NFL training camp tidbits in my direction (hey, at least it isn’t NBA news). I was experiencing an odd sensation, one that I haven’t felt in quite some time: I began to look forward more to football than I did the completion of the eventful 2016 MLB season.
Maybe it’s because the Tigers weren’t really in the hunt until it was too late, maybe it’s because I work at a baseball stadium, maybe it’s because the first weekend of college football matchups had even the fair-weatheriest of fans salivating, but I really didn’t appreciate September baseball like I should have. Either way, it was a great finish, and a fitting end to a memorable season. Here are my highs and lows of 2016:
If chicks really dig the longball, then this was the season for them. The 2016 season had absurd numbers of home runs (which we reference briefly in our most recent podcast), which is great news for those that are worried about the on the field ‘product’ and are hoping for more offense to attract more fans. Players like Brad Miller forced their way into the 30-home run club, while other guys like Khris Davis and Brian Dozier shattered their career highs en route to 40+ season totals. Some more notes about the increased numbers of home runs:
- 12 teams hit 200 or more home runs, which is one fewer than the total number of teams that have done that since 2011 (4 in ’15, 1 in ’14, 1 in ’13, 5 in ’12, 3 in ’11).
- The three league leaders in homers (Mark Trumbo, 47, Nelson Cruz, 43, Khris Davis/Edwin Encarnacion/Brian Dozier, 42) hit more between the three of them (132) than the entire Atlanta Braves (122). And the Giants (128). And the Marlins (130).
- The MLB total 5,610 home runs is 2nd most all time in a single season, behind the steroid juiced 2000 total of 5,693. This year’s total was up by 14.3%.
- The Twins tied an MLB record for number of players with 10 or more home runs. And finished with 103 losses.
Year of the Rookie
The Rookie of the Year award is always up for grabs, except for when guys like Kris Bryant or Mike Trout come along and eye the MVP more than the ROY. This season, at least in my eyes, saw the thickest pack of rookie talent that I can think of in recent years. In both leagues, there will not be a clear-cut favorite for the Rookie of the Year award, though there are some stronger cases than others. Regardless of who wins the award, the future of baseball is in good hands.
- Tigers SP Michael Fulmer was the AL’s pace car in ERA for the majority of the season until some September starts pushed him behind eventual winner Aaron Sanchez. His 3.06 ERA was best among AL rookie starters, and best in MLB among rookies who threw over 150 innings (of which there were only four, but still).
- Yankees C Gary Sanchez almost single-handedly brought the Yankees back into the postseason conversation with his flurry of home runs. He is the fastest player to ever hit 11 home runs to start a career, the fastest player to ever hit 19 home runs to start a career, and his 20th home run made him the 104th player with 20 or more home runs in 2016, the most players with such a number ever in one season. All of his home runs made us completely forget about Trevor Story’s similar powerful start in Colorado, and adds to the impression of the dingerzzz category.
Gary Sanchez hits 20th home run. 104th player this season to reach 20 dingers, breaking the record held by 1999 (103).
— James Smyth (@JamesSmyth621) September 27, 2016
- Dodgers SS Corey Seager had the best all around rookie season, hitting .308/.365/.512 with 137 wRC+ in 157 games for the NL West champions. Offensively, he is right on par with Trea Turner, Tyler Naquin, and Aledmys Diaz, but Seager’s defense is what separates him from the rookie pack. Despite making a crucial error in the All-Star Game in San Diego, Seager finished 8th in MLB in UZR among shortstops (highest among rookies), and 6th among MLB shortstops in Defensive WAR. He will edge out Trea Turner for the NL ROY.
I was originally against adding the second Wild Card to the playoff picture, but if I could go back to 2011 and slap sophomore-year-Bill in the face for thinking so, I would. The second Wild Card has made the last two weeks of the regular season infinitely more exciting since it was added in 2012, and this season proved why. At season’s end, 4 teams were within 5 games of the 2nd Wild Card spot, and 2 were still in striking distance as they made the turn into the final weekend of September. The NL wasn’t so chaotic, but it wasn’t smooth sailing either; the Mets clinched the first spot and the Giants had no choice but to win on the final day to hold off the Cardinals. This made for dramatic matchups up and down the box scores to end the season, a perfect recipe to draw in casual fans without a specific rooting interest.
Adam Jones Really Made Me Think
Ever since Colin Kaepernick sat out the National Anthem during a preseason NFL game, lots has been said about the nature of race relations in America, especially from athletes. The protests haven’t reached baseball as much as they have football (and now, preseason basketball), but it’s still important (sidenote: protest doesn’t really seem to be the right word; perhaps ‘civil spotlight’ is more accurate?) to talk about, because it’s a lot bigger than sports.
In an interview with USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, Orioles CF Adam Jones brought the issue to the feet of Major League Baseball, saying no MLB players have protested yet because “it is a white man’s game.” I applaud Adam Jones for being honest and making baseball’s (let’s be honest) older, whiter fanbase analyze their attitude towards baseball and the race relations. It certainly made me think.
I like to believe that the best players will play, regardless of race or ethnicity, and I like to believe that there isn’t a systematic practice of exclusion. I like to believe that, but that doesn’t mean I can. I feel like I grew up a lot after taking what Jones said to heart, and honestly, it changed the way I think. That isn’t easy to do these days.
2016 was a season of goodbyes. Some of those we were expecting; legendary broadcaster Vin Scully and Red Sox DH David Ortiz announced before the season began that 2016 would be their last. Others we weren’t expecting so soon; Yankees 3B/DH Alex Rodriguez shocked baseball and retired in the middle of the season, four home runs shy of the beautifully exclusive 700-club. Shortly thereafter, Yankees 1B Mark Teixeira announced that he would finish out the season and then retire. Both were fighting Father Time and Uncle Injury (?), and we knew it was going to happen eventually.
But there was also one that no one was expecting. With about two weeks to go in the season, I woke up on a Sunday to a text from a friend saying “Dude, Jose Fernandez died.” In my head, I assumed (and hoped) hyperbole, and that Fernandez got hit with a line drive or something during batting practice. I opened Twitter to learn more and my worst fear had come true: Jose Fernandez had indeed died. I was shocked at first, and then genuine heartbreak set in. Fernandez always seemed like a tangibly accessible player compared to other “larger than life” athletes. Lighthearted, humble, proud, joyful, and above all, unbelievably talented; he was a unique package of personality, character, and skill-set that people only see a handful of their times in their life. Turning 24 not three months ago, Fernandez won the 2013 ROY and finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting, so it wasn’t just an untimely death, but it was an inexplicably unfair one, too. A young man who came from nothing, and who, if you followed his story at all, knew that he would do anything for his mother and grandmother, who rose to prominence while beating all the odds to be the face of an organization and a country.
And just like that, he was gone in the night.
There are so many things that are unfair about the death of Fernandez. One is that he was just so damn young, only 24-years old and had his whole career ahead of him. Another one is that the career ahead of him was promising and surely bound to be laden with accolades, awards, and trophies. Yet another is that he and his girlfriend were expecting a child. But what’s most unfair is that there isn’t a thing we can do to change what happened.
Please hug someone you love after you read this. Do it for Jose, the man who loved his family, who loved to play baseball, and more than anything else, just loved to live.
Rest in peace, Jose.
Header photo: Chris Carlson, AP