Saturday, October 22, 2016

Ranking The Former Red Sox Still Playing In The 2016 Playoffs

In an 11 year stretch from 2003-2013 the Boston Red Sox were the envy of the baseball world. During parts of this time frame they would employ several hall of famers, big game playoff pitchers, one of the best managers in baseball, and maybe the best General Manager of all time. It should come as no surprise that the last place finishes of 2014 and 2015 occurred without most the names on this list. The franchise redeemed themselves this past season by winning the AL East. However, the core of the team was built by the former GM. Let's take a look at who else Boston has let slip through their fingers over the past decade, and which losses have hurt the most:

*Honorable mention to Mike Napoli, Dave Roberts, Coco Crisp, Jed Hoyer

6. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers

Gonzalez is probably the easiest of the bunch for Boston fans to grasp with. All we heard when he first came over was  how perfect his swing was for Fenway and how he would use the short right field to hit 50 homers. He didn't meet those ridiculous expectations but that's not to say A-Gon was a disappointment in Boston, at least production wise. In his only full season with the Sox, 2011, he hit .338 with 27 homers and a MLB leading 213 hits. He was an all star, won a gold glove, a silver slugger, and finished seventh in the MVP voting. But 2011 was the season the Sox went 7-20 in September to choke away a playoff spot. 

Additionally Gonzalez complained about the Boston media and didn't seem to care whether the team won or loss, which is a big no no in this market. Finally, he was lumped in a trade with Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto to shed salary and give the Red Sox a reset. It worked out perfectly as the team won the World Series the very next year, which has led Sox fans to think we were better off without Gonzalez. While he was never a winner in Boston it's still somewhat bittersweet to see him still contributing as a 34-year-old in LA, especially when you consider what we had to give up to get him...

5. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs

We had him. We had him and gave him away. It's not even as if the Sox didn't realize what they had in Rizzo. They did. Jed Hoyer has proven that by trading for him when he was GM of the Padres and then again when he reunited with Theo in Chicago. Rizzo was the centerpiece of the Gonzalez deal. The thought process at the time was he was a great prospect but Gonzalez is a sure thing and we are signing him to a long term deal. Two years later trading Gonzalez away created the blueprint for the 2013 championship team. So in a weird way trading Rizzo gave the Sox a World Series. But man it's tough to not day dream about adding Rizzo to the current roster with Betts, Bradley, and Bogaerts.

Squarely in his prime at 27 years old Rizzo has become one of the best players in baseball. In 2016 he ranked fifth among NL position players with 5.7 WAR according to baseball-reference. Over the past three season he has hit at least 30 homers and ranked inside the top 10 in OBP in the National League. He has been an all star each of those seasons, finished 4th in the MVP voting last year, and should finish top three in 2016. Furthermore, unlike Gonzalez, Rizzo is a gamer who gets along with the fans and his teammates and loves playing for an iconic franchise. Sox fans didn't really get to know him but can only wonder what could have been.

4. Terry Francona, Indians

Wherever Tito goes he wins. Since becoming manager of the Red Sox in 2004 he has not had a losing season either in Boston or Cleveland. His wins by year since '04 go 98, 95, 86, 96, 95, 95, 89, 90, 92, 85, 81, and 94. Sure you could make the argument that he had great talent in Boston. But so did Bobby Valentine. So has John Farrell. And what about Cleveland? Not many were predicting them to win the World Series back in spring training. Francona has to be considered a major reason for their success.

Francona took over the Indians in 2013 and improved them by 24 games in his first year. Nobody has ever not loved playing for Tito. He incredibly handled the egos of Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, and many more during his Sox years. He is an old school players manager that isn't afraid to try new school ideas. His usage of Andrew Miller this postseason is changing the game and could bring Cleveland their first World Series title since 1948.

3. Andrew Miller, Indians

It's tough to rank Miller this high on the list because when the Red Sox dealt him away at the trade deadline of 2014 it was perceived as a genius move. Miller was having a second straight dominant season, but he did not have the track record to warrant the idea of having to re-sign him. The prospect they traded him for, Eduardo Rodriguez, looked great in his rookie season last year by going 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA, furthering the belief that dealing Miller was the right move. 

But since the trade Miller has only gotten better. Already an elite strikeout artist with the Red Sox, Miller has greatly improved his command in New York and Cleveland. With the Sox in 2014 Miller had a 5.31 strikeout to walk ratio. In two months with Cleveland this year that number rose to 23. Lastly, Miller is changing how relievers are used before our very eyes. Not only is he able to come into the game in the fifth inning, he is willing to. So far in the playoffs he has thrown 11.2 shutout inning with 21 strikeouts. He was named ALCS MVP. 

2. Jon Lester, Cubs

Jon Lester could start his next playoff game, give up 40 runs without recording an out, and still have a better playoff ERA than David Price. The Sox offered Lester four years and $70 million. They offered Price seven years and $217 million. Now the circumstances were different. This past off-season we desperately needed an ace and did the right thing by getting Price no matter the cost. He was a big part of winning the AL East. But it may not have had to come to that had the front office not low balled Lester in the spring of 2014. 

The most infuriating part for Sox fans watching Lester in Chicago is that he wanted to stay here. If we had given him the money he deserved he never would've left. He's a smart guy though and saw what Epstein was building with the Cubs. He's a big game playoff pitcher and wanted to be a part of what's happening right now. The Cubs got him for six years and $155 million, which is a contract the Sox would happily give him now. Unless Price figures out his playoff woes we could be hearing about losing Lester for a long time in Boston. In 119 postseason innings he has a 2.50 ERA.

1. Theo Epstein, Cubs

Epstein is already one of the best front office executives of all time. He was a local kid who ended the most daunting sports curse of all time. He followed it up with another championship three years later. He drafted Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley. He signed Bogaerts. When the Red Sox stupidly let him go after 2011 he rebuilt the Cubs and has turned them into baseball's version of the Patriots and Warriors - a team built so insanely well to win both this year and for the next five seasons to come. 

Losing Epstein should hurt Boston fans so much more than losing Francona does. It was time for Tito to go. The players had tuned out. That happens with managers. Eventually you have to move on. He should've been treated better throughout his entire tenure here but at the end of the day it had to be done. It's much tougher for a GM to get burnt out. Now Epstein has said he think it was the right time to leave, but it's hard to believe he would have if the Sox had given him the keys to the franchise the way the Cubs did. 

Epstein and Larry Lucchino were basically in a power struggle that Lucchino won. That's fine except Lucchino is now gone. So Boston pretty much chose a few years of Larry over an eternity of Theo. He has already done his job with the Cubs and turned them into a perennial contender. If he ends their World Series drought, to go along with breaking the curse of the Bambino, he's the best baseball executive of all time and it's not close. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

2017 Free Agency Preview: The Pitchers

The starting pitching options in this year's free agent market are the weakest I have ever seen. It's true that not as many great players reach free agency anymore since teams have gotten smarter about signing their young studs long term. However, the extreme lack of star power in this class is an anomaly. While last year's free agency featured aces such as David Price, Zack Greinke, and Johnny Cueto, this year has nobody who can come close to resembling the production those three had put together before getting signed. This could mean pitching hungry teams will have to resort to the trade market or pay up for the two dominant closers that will be available. Let's take a look at who will be available:

Rich Hill, SP, Age: 36

Yup, you're reading this correctly. The best free agent starting pitcher this off-season might actually be 36-year-old journeyman Rich Hill. The journeyman label is a little unfair as Hill had a good season despite having it shortened due to injury. He had a remarkable September with the Red Sox in 2015 and that success carried over this year. In 20 starts between the Oakland Athletics and LA Dodgers Hill went 12-5 with a 2.12 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 110.1 innings pitched. Due to his age, recent injury history, and short track record of success it seems unlikely that any team would give him more than a two or three year deal. But with the options being as poor as they are a team that wants him might have to overpay.

Hisashi Iwakuma, SP, Age: 35

A quick glance at Iwakuma's 2016 season would scare off any team considering investing in the 35-year-old. His ERA has risen ever year since 2013. His K/9 ratio has been on a steady decline. His walk rate has increased. The pitcher he resembled this past season is a far cry from the one who finished third in the AL Cy Young voting in 2013. However, there is one stat that suggests a rebound year could be in line for him as Iwakuma's .315 batting average on balls in play this year was much higher than his career average of .283. Now that could be a product of Iwakuma becoming more hittable as he ages, but could also make him a potential bargain in a weak crop of other options. 

Clay Buchholz, SP, Age: 32

It's important to note that the Red Sox have a $13.5 million club option on Buchholz that could prevent him from reaching free agency this off-season. Midway through the 2016 season it seemed extremely unlikely that they would be picking it up. Then, all of a sudden and out of nowhere, Buchholz did what he has done so many times before and pitched well for a stretch when everyone had given up on him. We know that Buchholz is inconsistent. That's not the problem anymore. It's now that his ceiling hasn't been reached in three and a half years. In the first half of 2013 Buchholz was as good as he has ever been. In 16 starts  that year he went 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA. Despite having ERAs of 5.34, 3.26, and 4.78 over the past three years, getting someone of his caliber at essentially a one year deal is worth doing. If they decide to part ways Buchholz will be in play as a high risk, high reward signing for a team looking to roll the dice on him. 

Bartolo Colon, SP, Age: 43

When you first hear Colon's age you figure he's likely to retire instead of entering free agency. But the guy just had his best season since 2013. In 2016 he was an all star and went 15-8 with a 3.43 ERA. Despite the impressive results from this past year it seems unlikely Colon can repeat them going forward. The likeliest outcome here is he re-signs with the Mets for a year since he has such a good relation with the team and is a fan favorite. The ability to mentor the Mets young pitching is an added factor with re-signing him. The Mets' priorities should be focused on Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker but Colon is important to re-sign as well.

Aroldis Chapman, RP, Age: 28

Chapman, along with Andrew Miller and Zach Britton, is one of the three best relief pitchers in baseball right now. He has been one of the best since he first take over as closer for the Reds in 2012. It's unclear if Theo Epstein would be willing to pay a closer what it would cost to re-sign him. Although he missed the first 25 games of the season Chapman had another dominant year saving 36 games with a 1.55 ERA and 90 strikeouts in just 58 innings. One red flag is that while his 14.0 K/9 rate in 2016 is still very good, it marked the lowest of his career. Regardless of what happens this postseason the Cubs will still be in win now mode next year and they gave up a ton to acquire him. The other likely suitor for his services are the LA Dodgers depending on what they do with the guy below. 

Kenley Jansen, RP, Age: 29

Jansen is right outside the top tier of closers and in most peoples' eyes considered the fourth best reliever in baseball right now. He doesn't have as good of strikeout numbers as Chapman, as low of an ERA as Britton, or the flexibility in usage of Miller. However, he has been really good for the past half decade. Since 2012 he has yet to save less than 25 games or have an ERA under 2.76. In 2016 he rode the lowest BB/9 rate of his career to post career bests in ERA (1.83) and WHIP (0.67). The Dodgers obviously have the money to re-sign him and without an in house replacement a return to LA is the likeliest outcome for Jansen. It's important to remember though that Chapman was almost traded to the Dodgers in the off-season. Expect LA to wind up with one of the two premier free agent closers.

Monday, October 17, 2016

2017 Free Agency Preview: The Hitters

The regular season is over and the playoffs are down to just four teams that still have a chance at a World Series title. Since most baseball fans are already looking ahead to next year this seems like as good of a time as any to preview the upcoming free agent class. Compared to last year's, and especially compared to 2018's, this class is pretty weak. Today we'll look at the bats, and while most the top options are past their primes they are a much better crop than the pitchers who will be available.

Edwin Encarnacian, 1B, Age: 33
Jose Bautista, OF, Age: 35

Encarnacian should be the highest paid free agent this off-season. Him and Bautista are the top two bats on the market but Edwin's age will get him a longer contract with more guaranteed money. 2016 could be the end of Toronto's win now window, which will have lasted just two years if that's the case. They are in danger of losing David Price, Edwin, and Bautista all to free agency in just a two year span. They still have Josh Donaldson and good starting pitchers but there is no doubt this team will be worse off without their middle of the order bats. Nevermind the passion and energy these two bring to the team's identity. Anyways, Edwin had another great season in 2016 while Bautista showed some signs of decline. Edwin hit 42 homers with a MLB leading 127 RBIs while Bautista hit 22 homers in just 116 games. Although he batted just .234 he was still able to get on base with a .366 OBP. 

While Edwin can still play a respectable first base he figures to need to move to a full time DH role by the end of this next contract. That should limit him to AL teams unless a National League one is looking to make a splash. Bautista, meanwhile, may already be a full time DH. His defensive WAR has declined every year since 2013 according to baseball reference. He has also proven to be the more injury prone of the two by playing in at least 120 games just twice in the past five season. Back in Spring Training he said he wanted five years and $150 million. That feels like a stretch. Regardless of what happens to Toronto the rest of this postseason they seem destined to lose at least one of these two.

Ian Desmond, OF/SS, Age: 31
Carlos Beltran, OF/DH, Age: 39

The Texas Rangers were the American League's number one seed entering the playoffs in 2016. A major reason for this was the offseason signing of former shortstop Ian Desmond and the decision to convert him to an outfielder. Back in 2015 Desmond turned down a seven year, $107 million deal and decided to bet on himself. In the short term it seemed to be a bad decision and after a poor 2015 he received just a one year deal from Texas that would require him to switch positions. A year later he is looking like the smart one as he could now get a deal even bigger than the one he  already turned down. With Texas this season Desmond hit .285/.335/.446 with 22 homers and 21 steals. There is also the possibility he could return to shortstop, which would only increase his value.

Although he cooled off following a mid summer trade from New York to Texas Carlos Beltran will be one of the best one year rentals this coming offseason. In 99 games with the Yankees the 39-year-old Beltran showed he still had power by belting 22 homers to go along with a .546 slugging percentage, which was his highest since 2006. His cumulative 2016 numbers come out 29 home runs, 93 RBIs, and .295/.337/.513 triple slash line. He should be used strictly as a DH next year, which limits his potential suitors to AL teams. A return to either the Yankees or Rangers should not be ruled out. Still chasing a World Series ring expect Beltran and his .323 career postseason batting average to sign with a contender this winter.

Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Age: 30
Neil Walker, 2B, Age: 31

The Mets are in trouble. A year ago at this time they were headed for the World Series with the best young pitching staff in all of baseball. They looked destined to remain competitive for the next half decade. Man how times have changed. The window isn't completely shut. Noah Syndergaard is one of the five best pitchers in the league. Jacob DeGrom and Steven Matz should return healthy. Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler are question marks, although both have upside. But man does that offense need help. Even at full health the Mets could be considered to have a below average lineup. By the end of 2016 it was a joke. Now they face the real prospect of losing their two best hitters from this past season.

Last winter Cespedes signed a three year, $75 million deal with New York that included an opt out after 2016. He could still technically decide not to opt out, but that seems unlikely after the season he had. There's too much money to be had after a year that saw him 31 homers with triple slash numbers all above his career averages. Re-signing him, if he chooses to opt out, should be the Mets' top priority. Walker, meanwhile, came out of nowhere to post career highs in OBP and slugging percentage. His 23 homers matched a career high and he did it in just 113 games. Any middle infielder with 25-30 homer upside is going to be attractive on the free agent market. 

Mark Trumbo, 1B/OF/DH, Age: 30

In each of the past three seasons MLB's home run leader has come from the Baltimore Orioles and has been somebody different each year. Two years ago it was Nelson Cruz. Last year was Chris Davis. This year was Mark Trumbo. The Orioles also have an ability to acquire these power hitters on the cheap, as Cruz was signed to a one year deal in 2014 and Trumbo was acquired for peanuts this past offseason. Saved from spacious Safeco field in Seattle Trumbo went on to hit 47 homers in 2016 to go along with 107 RBIs and a .256/.316/.533 triple slash line. With the Orioles signing Davis long term last year to go along with the upcoming free agency of Manny Machado it seems unlikely that Baltimore will be willing to overpay for Trumbo the way some power starved teams might. Like many power hitters on the wrong side of 30 Trumbo is best suited to play for an AL team.

Justin Turner, 3B, Age: 31

One of the more underrated players in baseball Turner accumulated 4.9 WAR this year according to baseball reference. He posted career highs in home runs (27), RBIs (90), and slugging (.493). While his batting average and OBP dropped a tad below his career norms teams will surely take the increased power for an infielder. Formerly a bench player with the Mets Turner has now put up multiple productive seasons in LA. Between Adrian Gonzalez getting a year older and not knowing what to expect from Yasiel Puig next year the Dodgers will probably do what they can to re-sign Turner. He could improve his free agency value if he becomes a big part of the Dodgers making it to the World Series this year.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Ranking The Best Baseball Playoffs Moments From This Century

6. Josh Beckett, 2003 World Series

Before there was Madison Bumgarner there was Josh Beckett. As a 23-year-old pitching for a franchise just 10 years old Beckett announced himself to the baseball world by pitching a series clinching, complete game shutout over the Evil Empire in Yankee Stadium. It was the Fall Classic's first shutout since Jack Morris in 1991. 

2003 was an important year in baseball history. It was the year we were supposed to have a Red Sox vs Cubs World Series. Instead the Yankees had just come off Aaron Boone's incredible walk off home run in game seven of the ALCS while many thought the Marlins were just happy to still be playing. The Marlins were led by Beckett, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Pierre, and a 20-year-old Miguel Cabrera. 

The Yankees were still the most hated franchise in sports at the time but their World Series loss would forever alter the franchise. The pitching staff would lose Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and David Wells the following season. Instead of replacing them New York tried to strengthen their offense by trading for Alex Rodriguez and signing Gary Sheffield. What happened next everybody knows.

5. Curt Schilling, 2004 ALCS

What's most forgotten about Curt Schilling's 2004 season is that he was absolute money during the regular season that year. In 32 starts Schilling went 21-6 with a 3.26 ERA and 203 strikeouts while leading baseball in strikeout to walk ratio. He finished second in the Cy Young voting that year although many think he should have won. He cruised to a game one victory in the ALDS against the Angels but hurt his ankle. His status was not in doubt for game one of the ALCS in New York but when the game started it was clear there was a problem. 

Schilling got shelled for six runs in three innings. He returned in game six to pitch seven innings of one run ball. That game the Red Sox became the first team to ever force a game seven while trailing three games to none. Schilling's seven innings took on an added importance after the Sox pitching staff had pitched a combined 26 innings the two games prior. The bloody sock made a return in game two of the World Series that year where Schilling pitched six innings to earn the win.

4. David Freese, 2011 World Series

2011 is one of just two World Series since 2003 to go all seven games, which puts it in consideration of being an instant classic. The matchup between the Cardinals and Rangers didn't have the historical significance that a Cubs-Indians matchup this year would have, but that didn't mean it wasn't wildly entertaining. In game three of this series Albert Pujols became just the third player to ever hit three home runs in a World Series game yet he wasn't even the hero of this Fall Classic. 

Game 6, which was delayed a night due to rain, is the most memorable playoff baseball game of the past 15 years. The Rangers, fresh off their World Series loss a year prior, were ready to redeem themselves with a series clinching win for their first ever franchise championship. Rangers closer Neftali Feliz was trying to protect a two run lead, with two on, two outs, and two strikes on David Freese. In his second biggest hit of the night Freese hit a game tying triple to right field. The Rangers scored two in the tenth, but the Cardinals came back to tie it again. In the bottom of the 11th Freese, who had grown up a Cardinals fan, stepped up to the plate again and hit one of the most dramatic walk off homers in recent memory. The Cardinals became the only team in World Series history to come back from defects in both the ninth and tenth innings.

3. Luis Gonzalez, 2001 World Series

The 2001 World Series is not just one of the best from this century, it's one of the best of all time. That entire season was insane. Barry Bonds hit 73 homers. Ichiro won Rookie of the Year and the MVP. Derek Jeter made "The Flip" play. Not only was the World Series was being played in New York just over a month since 9/11 but it turned out to be one of the most entertaining fall classics in the game's history. 

Trailing 2-1 in the Series the three time defending champion Yankees walked off in both games four and five. In each game they trailed 3-1 in the ninth, only to hit game tying homers off Byung-Hyun Kim and walk off later in each game. Game four is when Derek Jeter became "Mr. Novemeber" as his walkoff happened the first time baseball was ever played in that month (since the season was delayed a week after 9/11). After the Yankees lost game six the Series matched Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling in a win or take all game seven. 

Tied at 1 in the top of the eighth Alfonso Soriano hit a solo home run off Schilling, which gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. In came Mariano Rivera for the six out save. He cruised through the eighth, which lowered his postseason ERA to a record 0.70. However, Rivera blew the save in the ninth on a Tony Womack double, which set up a bases loaded at bat for Luis Gonzalez in a tie game. With just one out the Yankees decided to bring the infield in and Gonzalez hit a weak single over the head of Derek Jeter that landed right where he would have been in normal positioning. The Yankees would not win the World Series for the first time since 1997.

2. Madison Bumgarner, 2014 World Series

The three most clutch professional athletes I've seen in my lifetime are Tom Brady, David Ortiz, and Madison Bumgarner. The way I see it is if my life was on the line and I had to choose one pitcher to start and win a game it would be Bumgarner and it's not particularly close. While he has dominated October all four seasons his even year Giants have made it his performance in 2014 was his best. He began those playoffs on the road in a one game playoff and pitched nine shutout innings. In the World Series that year he gave up just one run in 21 innings (0.43 ERA), winning both his starts and pitching five innings of relief in game seven to earn the save on just two days rest. His overall postseason numbers are a 2.11 ERA in over 100 innings pitched. His 2014 playoff performance, which included a record breaking 52.2 innings pitched, is the best we have ever seen from a pitcher in the postseason.

1. David Ortiz, 2004 ALCS, 2013 ALCS

In the 2013 ALCS the Red Sox were trailing 5-1 in game two and in danger of losing the first two at home in a best of seven series, which no team has ever come back from. In stepped Ortiz who hit a first pitch grand slam to tie the game. It's the hit that propelled Boston to the World Series where Ortiz would go on to hit .688 and win MVP. It's remarkable that this is only his second biggest hit in the playoff as a member of the Red Sox. No playoff moment, even going back to the beginning of the World Series, could ever top what Ortiz did in games four and five of the 2004 ALCS. Those two hits not only helped the Sox win their first World Series in 86 years, but were the reasons they became the first team to ever win a best of seven series while trailing three games to none. And they did it against their arch rival, who the year prior had come back to win despite being down three runs in the eighth inning of game seven of the 2003 ALCS. In seven games in the '04 ALCS Ortiz hit .387 with three home runs and 11 RBI. He's the greatest clutch hitter in baseball history.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Remembering The Major Story Lines From A Wild 2016 Regular Season

Absolute insanity that we've already reached the end of the regular season. This season flew by and a lot of craziness took place. Players retired, records were broken, and we saw events never before seen - both for the good and bad of the game. While the division races were all but wrapped up entering this final week, the controversial two wild card format came into play in a huge way this year. Both leagues had the chance of a three way tie, or in the case of the American League a four way tie, entering the final weekend. If the playoffs are anything like this regular season was we're in for a treat. Lets take a look back at the top storylines from 2016:

1. The Cubs Won 103 Games

We thought the Cubs would be good entering the year. This good? I'm not sure if we realized that. They're assembled as perfectly as a baseball team can reasonably be assembled. Power? Check. Pitching? Check. Lockdown closer? Check. Veteran leadership? Check. Young studs? Check. Playoff experience? Check. The list goes on and on. The Cubbies made it to the NLCS last year and the experience Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and company took from that is invaluable. The pitching rotation is led by a tough as nails ace in Jake Arrieta, two veterans in Jon Lester and John Lackey who have won World Series clinching games, and 2016's MLB Era leader in Kyle Hendricks. On top of all that they have the best manager in baseball. 

The biggest blow to the team came back in April when Kyle Schwarber went down with a torn ACL. This is where the team's depth shined, however, and free agent pickups Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist picked up the slack. Any Cubs fan will tell you this team isn't actually perfect and the baseball playoffs are a more or less a crapshoot so nothing can be taken for granted. The even year Giants are lurking. Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. Bryce Harper and the Nationals. The Mets beat them last year, although they were a little more healthy in 2015. There's challenges but all signs point to the Cubs at least making it to the Fall Classic for the first time since 1945.

2. Clayon Kershaw Strengthened His Case As The Best Pitcher In Baseball

One of the most under reported stories of 2016 was the absolute dominance of Clayton Kershaw. The 28-year-old, three time Cy Young award winner would have hands down won his fourth in six years had it not been for a lengthy mid summer back injury. Earlier this month there was even chatter that he should win the award despite the missed time. While that's somewhat far fetched the theory was that he still ranked high among the league leaders in WAR despite how few of innings he pitched. 

But while he managed fewer innings the quality of those were so high he accumulated similar WAR totals to those that were healthy all season. Had Kershaw qualified in innings totals he would have ranked first in the National League in ERA, first in WHIP, first in hits per nine, first in walks per nine, fifth in strikeouts per nine, third in complete games, and first in shutouts. His WHIP and strikeout to walk ratio would have set major league records. You know what, give the man the Cy Young he deserves!

3. Mike Trout Remained Even Better Than Kershaw

In every season from 2012 through 2016 Mike Trout has led the American League in WAR. This year he accumulated more WAR through an age 24 season than any baseball player has ever accumulated through that age. Basically, he's off to the best start to a career in the entire fucking history of the game. He now has more WAR than 48 active hall of famers. He deserves to win MVP despite playing for a fourth place team. Look, there's a real case to be made for Mookie Betts. He was the best all around player on baseballs best offense. But by every objective standard Trout was the better offensive player in 2016 and it wasn't close enough to rob him of the MVP. He's that good. It seems like the worst case scenario is a second place finish for him, which would mean he will have finished first or second in the AL MVP voting all five years he has been in the league. 

4. The Even Year Giants Had A Historic Second Half Collapse

It was so long ago that it feels like an after thought but at the all star break the San Francisco Giants were the best team in baseball. Yes, they even had a better record than the Cubs. What happened next nobody saw coming. The Giants finished out the season 30-43, which is the third worst mark ever for a team that had the best record in baseball at the all star break. Despite the near collapse they once again find themselves in the playoffs in an even year. There isn't a pitcher better suited to start a one game playoff than Madison Bumgarner. In his last postseason in 2014 he threw 52.2 innings with a 1.03 ERA. Statistical probability would say the even year madness comes to an end in 2016, but until we see them actually lose they can't be counted out.

5. The Sudden Death Of Jose Fernandez

Undoubtedly the saddest moment of 2016 was the way to soon, unexpected death of 24-year-old Jose Fernandez. He was not only one of the most fun pitchers to watch, he was becoming one of baseballs best. A full year removed from Tommy John surgery Fernandez was having a dominant year. Through 29 starts he was 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA and an eye pooping 253 strikeouts through just 182.1 innings pitched. Things were only going to get better as he grew with Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and this young Marlins team. Despite losing baseballs most passionate player the game will remember him fondly. The image below is my all time favorite baseball GIF and will never be topped.

6. Bartolo Colon Hit A Home Run

On a brighter note 2016 was a hell of a year for Bartolo "Big Sexy" Colon. He came out firing early in the season, pitching to a 2.87 ERA through the beginning of July and being named an all star. Before that hell froze after and Colon hit a home run. In an actual major league game. The fact that this happened all the way back in April means it may have been forgotten. But the new "shot heard round the world" will live on thanks to YouTube, Vine, and GIFs. It's strange and hilarious moments like this that make baseball the best sport in the world. It was one of the best moments of the season without a doubt.

7. Bryce Harper's Struggles

Following the youngest unanimous MVP season in the history of baseball it felt as if Bryce Harper had broken out for good in 2015. He came out guns blazing in 2016, declaring it his mission to make baseball fun again, and by the end of April had people believing he was better than Trout. Things were downhill from there, however, as Harper finished his season with just 24 homers and a .243/.373/.441 triple slash line. Those numbers are a fry cry off from 2015's 42 homers and .330/.460/.649 triple slash. 

Still just 23 years old there is plenty of reason to believe the best of Harper is still to come. For one there have been multiple reports throughout the season that he has been dealing with a nagging shoulder injury. While both he and the Nationals have denied this it would make sense as to what happened to his power. As for the batting average? Well Harper was simply unlucky this year. His 2016 batting average of balls in play was .264, which is well below his career average of .317. Set for a record breaking free agent contract after the 2018 season expect Harper to rebound strongly over the next two years.

8. Ichiro Reaching 3,000 Hits

Ichiro has quietly become the Tom Brady of baseball, claiming he wants to play until he's 50 years old. While that's obviously unlikely the consensus is that, similar to Brady, if anybody can do it it's Ichiro. He got some love this summer when he was closing in on 3,000 hits but not as much as he deserved. Part of the issue was he was chasing the milestone as a part time player, which he has been for a few years now. He had his most productive season in a half decade though, batting .291 with a .354 OBP.

When taking a closer looks at his all time stats it's a wonder he isn't discussed more among the all time greats. The guy didn't come over to America until he was 27 and still reached 3,000 hits. In all 10 seasons from 2001-2010 he hit AT LEAST .310 with 200 hits. He stole 30 bases in all but one of those years. That type of consistent dominance is the stuff legends are made of. When he ultimatelty decides to hang up the spikes he will become the first Japanese player inducted into Cooperstown. 

9. Superstars Retiring

While Ichiro is still plugging along we still said goodbye to some former stars in 2016. The most noteworthy of which was David Ortiz who as you probably know had the best farewell season of the games history. As a 40-year-old Ortiz hit an absurd 38 homers with a .315 batting average. He led the AL in doubles, RBIs, slugging, and OPS. It will be interesting to see if he has one more big October in him.

While Papi got to leave on his own terms Alex Rodriguez wasn't awarded that same luxury. Despite having one and a half years left on his contract the Yankees decided to pay A-Rod to just go away. There was a lot of thought that he would return to play this year, probably for the Miami Marlins, but that never materialized. Just four homers shy of 700 it still wouldn't be a complete surprise to see A-Rod in uniform next year. Similar to Ichiro we often forget just how great Alex was in his prime. In the all time leader boards he ranks fourth in homers, third in RBIs, 19th in hits, eighth in runs, and 24th in slugging. 

In addition to these two Hall of Fame worthy talents we witnessed the retirements of Vin Scully, Prince Fielder, and Mark Teixeira. Scully left as only he could by broadcasting a walk off Dodgers win in his final game. Teixeira hit a walk off grand slam against the Red Sox during his final week. Things weren't as fortunate for Prince Fielder. He was forced into early retirement due to a neck injury. It's sad because you could tell the neck injury prevented him from being himself the past couple of seasons but at the same time he is still being awarded the entirety of the $106 million left on his contract that was scheduled to run through 2020.