Sunday, December 3, 2023

Uncustomed Heroes of 2023: Athletics


We knew it was going to be bad. By definition, a completely gutted A's team, without even the people like Frankie Montas, Sean Murphy or even Cole Irvin, would be a disappointment, and while nothing in-game hurt as much as the confirmation that the A's would be headed to Vegas in a year or so, it still wasn't great. The A's lost 112 games this year, a feat that hasn't been accomplished since an 117-loss season in 1916. Connie Mack was still managing the team then. IN PHILADELPHIA. That's two locations ago for the A's, going on three.

The closest thing this A's team has to a trusted veteran is Tony Kemp, who had one excellent season for the A's in 2021, the year they came just short of the postseason, and had his worst season to date this year. Kemp hit .209, with 75 hits in 124 games, and if you can believe it he was worse defensively. The A's have kept him around because of what he does in the clubhouse, but as the team begins to develop more and more great young players, it's clear how little use he has left there.
2024 Prediction: A minor league deal somewhere. Not sure if he'll be starting at all though.

With Kemp gone, the longest-contracted player on the A's might be Aledmys Diaz. And for your biggest contract to go to a middle infielder owed 14 million over the next season or so, that's not terrible. The Yankees have hundreds of millions pinned down. 14.5 million for Aledmys Diaz is manageable. And it's a contract the A's may not even see to the end, considering that Diaz has been mediocre since leaving Houston. This season, the first of the new contract, Diaz hit .229 with 72 hits in 109 games, and was phased into a utility role as the season went on.
2024 Prediction: Zach Gelof is gonna ensure he never starts consistently in Oakland again. So he might be a backup elsewhere next fall. Houston reunion?

Jordan Diaz hit .444 against the New York Yankees, with 4 hits, 4 RBIs and 3 home runs. Forget for a moment that he hit .221 against the whole league; Jordan Diaz, of all people, has become one of the 'pissants' for the Yankees, like Ellis Burks and Carlos Pena before him. Not really one I would have called. Diaz is a decent depth piece, and did hit 10 homers this year, but he hasn't shown consistent staying power yet, even with 3rd base relatively open.
2024 Prediction: I'd say he breaks out and takes third, but I'm not sure how confident the A's will be that he'll keep the position.

The most unsung of this bunch of A's unsung heroes is Austin Pruitt, who was a former Rays farmhand who bopped around for a while, found Oakland last year and played a relief role, and was a multi-faceted guy for this A's team this year. He started 6 games, mostly as an opener for a few innings, and closed out 8, mostly mopping up a loss. In 38 games he ran a 2.98 ERA and was one of the most reliable A's pitchers prior to going down with an injury late in the year. He was one of the many players needlessly non-tendered this year to create cap space for an A's move that probably won't happen.
2024 Prediction: Somebody picks him up, but I'm not sure if he'll deliver anything as good as this year.

As it should be, the takeaway heading into 2024 should be the number of strong rookies the A's are working with. If it weren't for injuries, there'd be a ton more eyes on Mason Miller this year, as he was excellent when healthy. The West Virginian posted a 3.78 ERA this year, striking out 38 in 10 games. Even with the number of suitable starting options higher in the depth chart, Miller is a rare homegrown weapon that could be a big piece going forward.
2024 Prediction: Along with one other person on this post, Miller will have a breakout year next year [Logan Gilbert style], and rise above the mediocre A's play.

Tyler Soderstrom was the bigger name of the two called-up A's prospects midyear, but Zach Gelof had the better season. Soderstrom was no slouch, but he was way more one-dimensional this year, hitting .160 with 7 RBIs and 3 home runs in 45 games.
2024 Prediction: If there is room for him, he'll come into his own. If not, expect decent bench numbers.

The eyebrow-raiser for me going forward is Joe Boyle, a pitching prospect I saw good things from in the minors who took to the majors easily. In 3 starts he went 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA and 15 Ks, very impressive numbers. This may only be the beginning of his career, but Boyle could lead to a lot of growth for this A's team.
2024 Prediction: Will be the last WAR leader the A's will have in Oakland. I am seeing big things next year from Joe Boyle.

Coming Tomorrow- Once again the first round was their enemy, but they had plenty to celebrate this year.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Uncustomed Heroes of 2023: Astros


The Houston Astros have been in all of the past 7 ALCS matchups. Perhaps solely by inertia at this point. 

The 2023 incarnation of the Astros was a different iteration of the team. For half the year they didn't have Justin Verlander, or many sure bets in terms of starting pitching in general. They also had Jose Abreu at 1st rather than Yuli Gurriel, which was honestly a step down, as well as more inexperienced options in the outfield as well as, for half the year, at 2nd. Yes, there were rookie successes abound, like Hunter Brown, Yanier Diaz and J.P. Sears, but it couldn't distract from the fact that the core of the 2017 keeps getting further and further away from the modern crew. Despite being the only team not to be stymied by the first-round bye, they were on borrowed time to begin with, and fell to their cross-state rivals.

Jake Meyers, though overshadowed by fellow young outfield piece Chas McCormick, was still responsible for some nice, dominant stuff this year. He only hit .227, but he had 10 home runs and 33 RBIs, while also being an impressive defensive outfield piece. With Brantley gone, he could be in the running for a more permanent outfield role.
2024 Prediction: If the Astros really think they have something with Meyers, he'll be a strong starter next year. If not, he'll be backing up somebody they traded for, and perhaps not lasting very long in Houston.
Ryan Pressly has been the closer in Houston for 4 years now, approximately 3 more than I figured he would. I genuinely thought they'd go for a surefire veteran closer after the 2020 season, but they knew something I didn't and trusted Pressly, and he's racked up 107 saves overall as an Astro. 31 of them came in 2023, despite turning in his least dominant year to date. The 34-year old struck out 74 while finishing with a 3.58 ERA. 
2024 Prediction: I am thinking that midway through this year, his last guaranteed, the Astros will begin to figure out whether they need to push someone younger [France? Maton?] into the ninth. I do expect a similar number of saves, though.

One of the Astros' more potent middle relief options, aside from Hector Neris, who'll be pitching elsewhere next year, was homegrown Bryan Abreu, who held a 1.75 ERA all year, and was the Astros' only reliever to strike out 100 batters this year. Abreu is young, durable, and has a season like this under his belt, so the Astros have to be overjoyed.
2024 Prediction: If he doesn't throw out his arm after a season like that, something similar, perhaps with a slightly higher ERA.

The Astros' feel good story of the year was Jon Singleton, who debuted in 2014, not long after George Springer did, but failed to produce at the MLB level and was out of baseball for several years. He wound up with the Brewers on a minor league deal, and once that failed, was back in Houston. The biggest exclamation point of Singleton's season was hitting 2 home runs in his first game back in Minute Maid Park. He never really matched that moment, despite some time on the Astros' postseason roster, but it was nice for him to finally earn his redemption.
2024 Prediction: I mean, does he have anything left to prove?

Coming Tomorrow: A whole bunch of A's rookies. 

Friday, December 1, 2023

Uncustomed Heroes of 2023: Angels


It is that time of year once again. All of the players I didn't get to posting customs of during 2023, wrapped up by team as an end of the year package, to full put a bow on 2023 as a season. As usual, I will go in alphabetical order, and as usual, that means I get to start with the Los Angeles Angels. 

And look, I really thought this season would be different for the Angels. Things started a bit better, a lot more seemed to be working. But, alas, once Trout got injured there was really no point, and once Ohtani got injured it got really sad. They'll always have that month or so where they thought they were invincible, with that 25-1 victory over Colorado, and that sweep of the Yankees where they thought they could compete.

Taylor Ward, injuries aside, picked up where his 2022 left off, and hit .253 with 14 home runs and 47 RBIs in 97 games, along with a 1.7 WAR boosted by his above-average hitting habits. The midyear injury did take a lot away from his appeal as a trusted member of the team, and the search for a full-year campaign worthy of his May 2022 numbers continues.
2024 Prediction: If he does deliver an excellent campaign, he'll be traded by August. If he gets hurt again, he'll be cut before 2025. 

Tyler Anderson, on the heels of an excellent season in LA, was a candidate for an Angels fixture upon his multi-year contract he signed prior to the season. Despite only missing 7 or so games, Anderson struggled this year, going 6-6 with a 5.43 ERA. Like fellow starters Patrick Sandoval and Griffin Canning, he did provide consistency, but he wasn't there in terms of quality.
2024 Prediction: This will be a fuller, more impressive season from Anderson. There's still the worry that an injury could upend things, but I think 2024 will consist of Anderson holding up his end of the bargain. 

One of the most exciting aspects of the early part of the season for the Angels was Logan O'Hoppe, a breath of fresh air behind the plate, one who came over from Philly in exchange for Brandon Marsh. O'Hoppe, in his first 16 games, hit .286 with 15 hits, 4 home runs and 14 RBIs. For a season where the Angels knew they'd be without Max Stassi behind the plate, O'Hoppe was a refreshing, confident replacement. Then he got hurt. By the time he returned in August, the Angels had given up on competing. O'Hoppe finished the season with a .236 average, 14 home runs and 29 RBIs.
2024 Prediction: I think O'Hoppe's gonna build on his initial numbers and produce a solid season that makes the Angels realize they don't need Stassi anymore. 

An early season success for the Halos was picking up Matt Moore in relief, who had struggled the previous year in Philly. A refreshing market was all Moore needed, with a 2.66 ERA in 44 innings. Through the first half, Moore was the Angels' strongest relief option, and reclaimed his Arlington dominance, despite giving up Bryce Harper's 300th home run. Once the team threw in the towel, he wound up pitching for Cleveland and, eventually, Miami. 
2024 Prediction: A contender signs him and has some level of success with him, though maybe not quite Anaheim levels.

I think I've said this every year, but the emergence of Luis Rengifo as a starting highlight for the Angels typically means that something has gone terribly wrong for the Angels this season, much like how Jose Suarez starting games used to be an indication that the injuries to the rotation had reached the 'we don't know what to do now' threshold. 2023 is the nth degree of this. Rengifo was brought in to start after David Fletcher, Gio Urshela and Anthony Rendon all got injured, and had a very nice run for himself, hitting .264 with 104 hits and 51 RBIs...and then right at the end of the season, he gets injured. So now the Angels need a replacement for their usual replacement player. What else can you do but laugh?
2024 Prediction: I don't know how many times the Angels can keep using Rengifo in the same exact way. Either they actually start the guy or they just cut him loose midyear given all the young talent they've brought up.
Around June, the Angels, with injuries piling up, got two smart bench options. One was Mike Moustakas, who was having a decent year in Denver, and comically left the Rockies for the Angels right after the 25-1 game. Moose is clearly not who he was in 2015, but he was still good for some power moments, with 8 home runs and 36 RBIs in 65 games.
2024 Prediction: It'd be very funny if Moose plays in 2024 and his old battery partner Eric Hosmer doesn't, but that's honestly the way things might be going. Maybe Pittsburgh picks him up or something. 

Actually participating in the 25-1 game on the Anaheim side was Eduardo Escobar, who was flipped from the Mets, convinced they would be find with Brett Baty [they weren't]. Escobar responded with a .219 average and 39 hits in 59 games, essentially proving why the Mets had given up.
2024 Prediction: Maybe someone picks him up for the spring, but I don't see Escobar playing a substantial role in the story of 2024, which sucks considering it was only 7 years ago that he was such a fun young infield guy in Minneapolis. 

After the Angels became buyers at the deadline due to their post-Yankees bravado, they went for several high-profile weapons. The highest profile was Lucas Giolito, who was having a strong year in Chicago. And then, of course, Giolito arrives in Anaheim, goes 1-5 in six starts with a 6.89 ERA, and all of the sudden the Angels aren't competitors anymore for some reason. And now the White Sox have Edgar Quero, who will be a big part of their rebuild. 
I have one more Giolito custom in this series, at which point I'll divulge my 2024 prediction.

One big indication that things may begin to look up in 2024? The number of prospects willing to launch themselves onto the team so soon after being drafted. This year featured playing time from Zach Neto, a prominent 2022 draftee, and Nolan Schanuel, a man named after an Angels legend, a prominent 2023 draftee. Schanuel had literally no photo for baseball reference to choose from, so the whole season went by with Schanuel as the Unknown Player while starting at 1st for the Angels. And that's a wild bit of this season; by the end, the Angels were so starved for options at first after Cron's injury that they were turning to a guy they'd drafted two months earlier to play first. And to his credit, Schanuel did pretty well, hitting .275 with 30 hits in 29 games. Not sure how Anthony Rendon felt about a 21-year old playing better than he did this year with what he was being paid.
2024 Prediction: A lot like Nico Hoerner in 2020, I don't think Schanuel's going to start the season in the majors, in order to give him a more traditional growth period. But once he's up, expect more of what we saw this year.

Coming Tomorrow- The Angels were a team that thought to base their entire future on one series with the Yankees. Tomorrow's team, meanwhile, should have seen their series with the Yankees as an omen.

Friday, November 17, 2023

This Trade Makes No Sense: Massive Bummer Edition


First trade of the offseason is a head-scratcher. Like no time has passed.

So. The White Sox really wanted to get rid of Aaron Bummer. I get that. I think we all get that. I think it's what the Braves gave up that nobody really gets.

The Bummer part of the deal is understandable. Through two full seasons with the White Sox, Bummer posted some excellent relief numbers, including a 2.8 WAR and a 2.13 ERA in 2019. Giving Bummer a deal is a wise idea in 2019, but overpaying to keep him in Chicago, including giving him a FIVE YEAR DEAL for SIXTEEN MILLION...I kinda wouldn't have done that. This is why Kenny Williams is out of a job, because he was doing things like that and not procuring the finer points of this Sox team. Bummer is all well and good, but after 2019 his stock drops. He barely pitches in 2020, struggles in '21, has a rebound year amid injuries in '22, and has his worst season to date in 2023. I can see why the Sox want to get rid of him, especially as they're trying to start over for 2024. They're already letting Tim Anderson go, they might be trading more of their stars, the rebuild is upon us.

That being said, pretty much everything the Braves gave the White Sox is something they need. The issue is that I don't think the Braves should have been so quick to part with all of them.

Jared Shuster I get. He wasn't working in Atlanta. Tucker Davidson, Bryse Wilson, Kyle Muller and Sean Newcomb can tell you that's not all that uncommon. The Sox needed starting options, Shuster will do. Mike Soroka...that I'm still not sold on. The Braves were convinced he was cooked, but honestly I think he needed more opportunities in 2023. The team was struggling for starting innings, Soroka was healthy, he didn't do all that badly this year, even if he did finish with a 6.40 ERA. I kinda think he just needed a full year, the Braves didn't share that sentiment. So they parted with him. Fantastic. Maybe Chicago will work for Soroka like it worked for Lucas Giolito.

Then the infielders. In a skewed, squinty-eyed perspective, I can see why the Braves would feel it would be alright to trade Braden Shewmake. He's behind Vaughn Grissom in the depth chart, shortstop was won by Orlando Arcia this year, he might stay there for a while. Fine, give him to a rebuilder. But the fact that they're already dealing Nicky Lopez not only makes me wonder why they're throwing him in at all, but it makes me wonder why they even traded for Lopez in the first place.

If you'll recall, the Braves dealt for Lopez because they needed a versatile, young, contact-hitting 2nd-base type to back up Arcia and Albies. And then both Grissom and Shewmake both went 'AHEM, EXCUSE ME?'. Why do you farm these depth options if you're not gonna use them? And yes, it is nice that Lopez had some awesome contact moments late in the season, and in the postseason, but after he outdid expectations, now by trading him you are saying you no longer had any use for him, when it's arguable that you had any use for him to begin with. 

There is also the chance that Lopez was a throw-in because Chris Getz really wanted a surefire shortstop type to hop right in next year, and the Braves relented. If that's the case, fine. But I really don't think the Braves should be in the position to be fleeced in a trade for an overpaid, overrated middle reliever. That doesn't set a great precedent for the following year, even if they're probably gonna do well anyway.

I dunno, maybe they're onto something, but this feels like a win for the White Sox and a setback for a team that may well be going for a division title next year. Maybe it'll make sense in time, but I'm just not seeing it now.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

MVPs: The Faces of the 2020s



Ohtani and Ronnie. Why not?

No matter how things got sliced this year, this is a good pair of MVPs for 2023. There's no surprise villain, no flash in the pan flukey guy stealing the spotlight, no reparation a degree. Genuinely two of the best hitters in baseball right now, they're the MVPs. Fantastic. It claims the moment without talking over it with one's own narrative. 

If somebody other than Acuña won in the NL I would have rioted. Nobody had ever done what he did this year, with his 73 steals and 41 homers, in addition to 100 RBIs and a .337 average. From almost the beginning of the year, it was clear that Ronald Acuña Jr. was working on a completely different level. I was very worried that the September narrative of 'yeah that's nice and all, but look at what Mookie Betts is doing' would kill this, but thankfully it did not. Acuna's deserved an MVP for the past few years, and I'm glad he's finally gotten one. May he get many more.

As for Shohei Ohtani...I feel like when September didn't kill Acuna, it should have killed Ohtani. He only played 135 games this year, got hurt in late August and missed several starts due to that, along with the last month of the season. Meanwhile, Corey Seager used September to jump into high gear and tie his excellent, mega-WAR season with a nice bow. It also was followed by an equally impressive October run, something Ohtani hasn't exactly mastered yet. To me, Seager had the fuller, and more MVP-worthy season, but the sportswriters are so blinded by Ohtani, and honestly rightfully, that they turned Ohtani's shortened season into 'LOOK AT WHAT HE COULD DO IN THIS FEW GAMES', and that still managed to work.

I think it's still a good move, as it's also a capper on Ohtani's legendary Angels run, and his last accolade before the uncertainty of his next stage of MLB work. I just think that injury should have cost him the gold. But alas, here we are.

May both players prosper and build on this season. Hopefully I'll talk about them again next November.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Cy Youngs: An Ironic Reparation


Blake Snell won 20 games in 2018 and got a Cy Young. Gerrit Cole won 20 games in 2019 and got nothing. Both of them won Cy Youngs tonight. Confidentially, the wrong pitcher got his second.

I think about some of the pitchers that have gotten two Cy Youngs in the last 20 years, and not all have had the career legs that said accomplishment would normally denote. Johan Santana, Tim Lincecum, Corey Kluber..they all have 2 each, and they were unable to perform equally impressive second acts. Snell got his second Cy Young during his age-30 season, and he's a free agent. Sounds a lot like Robbie Ray after getting his first. Someone is gonna overpay for Snell this offseason and probably have to deal with some injuries. 

This isn't meant to diminish Snell's season. In a year where Darvish, Musgrove and Wacha were expected to perform, Snell just pitched steadily all year, setting a career mark in strikeouts with 234, and leading the league in ERA with 2.25. This was a season that was serviceable in the first half and became even more impressive in the second, as frontrunners like Zac Gallen and Logan Webb suffered inflated ERAs after choice starts. Snell is personally not the guy I would have gone with, as like in the AL last year, my pick for the top pitcher in the NL wasn't even in the top 3. Justin Steele was the top dog for me, but perhaps he'll prove himself in the coming years.

Snell had his most consistent, most healthy and most dominant season in 2023. I really hope he can recreate this somehow, though I'm not sure if he will.

As for the AL pick...we all knew. I knew in March when I saw Gerrit Cole in a Spring start. I knew when I saw him in June. I just knew he had the stuff, and if he kept rolling, no one would catch him. And that's exactly what happened. Gerrit Cole, surprisingly I might add, didn't have to out-strikeout everybody, with only 222 Ks [LESS THAN SNELL]. He didn't even need a 20-win year, he only finished with 15, thanks mainly to the Yankees' rough final 2 months. All Cole needed to do was cruise, and he absolutely did; he had league marks in innings pitched, starts made, ERA and WHIP. He also set a new career WAR mark, which, after his Astros years, is pretty satisfying.

This is the exact kind of season the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole for. He's delivered virtually every year of the contract, and this was the next logical step in it. This season also put him on the right track for both 200 wins and 3000 strikeouts. I sincerely hope Cole continues to deliver for us, and continues to be relied upon, even as he enters his mid-30s.

MVPs tomorrow. One is simple. The other...should be simple, but I'm kinda hoping isn't.

Monday, November 13, 2023

ROYs: Predictable Doesn't Mean Wrong

It's not everyday that the two rookies you could have predicted in April would take the Rookie of the Year actually do it. Y'know, the trades used to guess randomly, 'ahhh idk, Dalton Pompey takes it', and the season would happen and it wouldn't correspond to that. And you also have to think that they could have guessed Jordan Walker or Anthony Volpe might have epic full-season campaigns., pretty cut-and-dry Rookies of the Year. Not that this is a problem. Gunnar Henderson and Corbin Carroll had the two best rookie performances of the year. I'm glad we can all agree on that.

Corbin Carroll, I think, was a lock for this around April, he was already making waves for the D-Backs and making them an early story. By October he was still one of the most powerful forces in the game, had some amazing game-saving moments, and got his team to the World Series. Carroll was the exclamation point on this D-Backs team, and the poster boy for this new, young team. If he has more seasons like 2023, he could have an iconic career and launch the D-Backs back into legitimacy.

Gunnar Henderson slumped for a couple months, which I don't think people were expecting, but he kicked into high gear around June and started hitting up a storm. We all knew that Henderson was this complex, multi-faceted player, but this season confirmed it, and we got to see him crack 82 RBIs and 28 homers, and take home a silver slugger to boot. Henderson was a key piece in an Orioles team that won 100 games, and it's a great sign for the future, especially with Jackson Holliday possibly up in the next year or so.

No issues whatsoever with these picks. It's the Cy Youngs that may get a little hairy.