Monday, October 4, 2010
MLB season wrap and playoff preview
The 2010 MLB season zigged and zagged through different story lines from April all the way through October. The season started out as the year of the pitcher, with no-hitter after no-hitter being chucked and perfect games thrown in. The second half, however, was about the chases for the triple crown, as four players, one from the AL and three from the NL, flirted with notching the first crown in over 40 years. And the regular season culminated with the possibility of a double playoff resulting in game 163 and 164 to determine the NL West and NL Wild Card champions. Of course the reality was a little less exciting as the standings fell smoothly, yet the intrigue remained.
To tell us what will happen in the playoffs we must look back and figure out what happened during the season to get us to this point. My favorite way of doing this is to look at the numbers. Statistics often lie, as the saying goes, yet they always spin an exciting tale.
We had one team that ended the year with 46 more home runs than any other team. They also had the only player to notch 50 home runs, and he hit a dozen more than any other player in the league. This team, the Toronto Bluejays and their player Jose Bautista, missed the playoffs of course, because pitching wins.
The top pitching team in either league was the San Francisco Giants. Carried by their un-hittable September rotation, the Giants passed the Padres to lead the league in ERA. Good thing they did too, otherwise this whole conversation wouldn't make sense as the top pitching team would have also missed the playoffs along with the Bluejays. I told you stats lie.
Well, let's get to the individual awards. This is where the picture really starts to take shape. The AL MVP favorite is Josh Hamilton. He missed almost the entire month of September. Uh, hmm. The AL Cy Young favorite, Felix Hernandez, was on the worst team in the American League and finished a single game over .500. Ehhhh. Well maybe post season awards don't tell the whole story either. Forget this. Who cares about "telling the whole story" anyway? Let's get to the fun stuff.
Three pitchers won at least 20 games in 2010 after no one winning 20 last year. Cliff Lee was not one of those 20 game winners and yet he finished with the second best strikeout/walk ratio in major league history. Felix Hernandez, as I mentioned, is the favorite to win the AL Cy Young even though he won only 13 games. Or, at least he was the favorite a couple days ago, and hasn't pitched since. However, he no longer has the "pitching triple crown" by leading the league in innings, ERA, and strikeouts, as Jered Weaver finished a single K ahead of Hernandez. Since so much of the argument for Felix winning was based on the numbers, it would be funny to see a single K be the difference.
One of the NL players up for league MVP, Albert Pujols, actually had what could be considered his worst season in years. Pujols' batting average of .312 was the worst of his career. His OBP ended as the lowest it has been since he was 22 years old. And his slugging percentage fell below .600 for the only the third time in his 10 year career. Okay, I can't see your face but I have a feeling you aren't buying the down year for Pujols. Yet everything I just listed in completely true. Well someone that everyone agrees had a down year in 2010 is Alex Rodriguez.
A-rod, as I call him, finished the year batting .270: the lowest mark of any full season he has played. He also posted his lowest OPS since he's been of legal drinking age. Yet Rodriguez, at age 34, hit 30 home runs and drove in 100+ RBIs for the 13th consecutive season. Babe Ruth only had 12 such seasons in his career, let alone consecutively.
Another player making history in 2010 was Mark Reynolds. Reynolds struck out over 200 times for the third straight season. Not only has he led the league in such futility all three seasons, but Reynolds is the only player EVER to strike out 200 times in one year, and he's done it three straight.
Meanwhile, Ichiro struck out fewer than 90 times for the 10th straight season. He also collected over 200 hits for the 10th straight season. In addition, he stole more than 25 bases and hit at least 20 doubles for the 10th straight year all while batting over .300 for the 10th consecutive season. Oh, also, he's only been in the league for 10 years.
Even with all that speed, Ichiro has never led the league in triples. However, as we know, speed and the ability to steal bases does not transfer to hitting triples and vice versa. Logan Morrison hit seven triples and did not steal a single base. In fact, he only attempted a steal once all year. Gerardo Parra ended with six triples and also only attempted one steal all year; he happened to be safe in his attempt though. There were two players who ended 2010 with more triples than steals yet hit at least 10 triples. Dexter Fowler hit 14 triples while only stealing 13 bags. Stephen Drew hit 12 triples and finished with 10 steals. The only conclusion I can draw is that these individuals are terrible base runners and have little confidence to even attempt many steals. With Fowler it is probably too early to tell but this seems to check out with Drew. He has played five seasons and four of those resulted in him finishing with more triples than steals. 2010 was actually his career high in steals, with the 10.
So what have we learned from all the stats to help us know whose going to win come playoff time? Well, nothing really. We know that the Yankees have a suspect rotation but so do the Rays. Meanwhile, the Twins never beat the Yankees in the playoffs, no matter how exciting and overwhelming their regular season was. And Texas has little to no playoff experience. The AL has no clear favorite. If there was a gun to my head and I had to choose one team to make the World Series, I'd probably pee myself because that seems like a nerve racking situation.
As for the NL, the Phillies are the clear favorite. They have the best rotation and they have the best offense. The only team with a chance to beat them is the Giants with their pitching staff. San Francisco's offense is putrid but trotting out Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez and Zito in a series is enough to squash any momentum. It still seems foolish to pick against the Phillies though. This team was the favorite coming into the season and is the favorite at the end.
2010 will be a World Series rematch pitting the Phillies against that very same AL East opponent they faced in 2009...or 2008. It'll be one of those. Or maybe the Reds will face the Twins and the TV ratings will be the lowest ever for a World Series. Game One! Arroyo vs. Pavano! Let's Play Ball!
(Image taken from dailyphiladelphian.com)