I have often said I am among the luckiest people in the world. I get to watch countless baseball games season after season. This year alone I believe I was in the press box for well over 90 games.
This year from spring training through the championship season, I saw every major league club. Watching closely I have reached some conclusions. What you will read below reflects my opinions after being deeply involved watching baseball games from late February through and including September.
Over the year I form opinions and draw conclusions about what I have seen. I’m not saying that every opinion is correct, but I do form some opinions. I know you have your own thoughts and ideas as well. That’s what makes baseball so great. We can agree to disagree.
Here are some of my observations from the recently concluded season:
The home run is king. While they are far, far from being alone, players like Cody Bellinger and Joey Gallo are totally fixated on hitting home runs. Their uppercut swings are designed for that purpose. They have no concerns about striking out. Strikeouts are acceptable in the front office and in the dugout. Like everything in life, that too may change one day.
It seems the only arguments remaining between umpires and managers (some players as well) regard the strike zone. “Was that a strike? It was way too low. It was out of the strike zone.” We are reduced to those beefs on a daily basis because replay has virtually eliminated the good, old-fashioned, dirt kicking, cap throwing dust ups on the field. I miss a good face-to-face, nose-to-nose beef.
The best multi-skilled, complete position players I have seen over the course of the entire year (not in any particular order) include:
The best pitchers I have seen over this entire year (not in any particular order)
The best overall, most balanced teams I have seen over the course of the entire year, in order:
-Boston Red Sox
The worst overall teams I have seen over the course of the entire year, in order:
-San Diego Padres
-San Francisco Giants
-New York Mets
The most promising teams I have seen as the season ended include, in order:
-Tampa Bay Rays
-Kansas City Royals
I sense a decline (in some cases marked with a #, a further decline) coming next season for:
-San Francisco Giants
-Los Angeles Angels
These things surprised me this past season. These are also some conclusions I reached.
Boston’s J.D. Martinez’ home run output picked up right where he left off with Arizona. I thought maybe a return to the American League and a new home park would have a slight impact. Man, the guy can hit the long ball anywhere he plays.
The Tampa Bay Rays invented a new, creative, and successful way to approach a starting rotation. Other teams may follow their lead. They were great to watch.
The loss of Aaron Judge to injury totally derailed and destroyed the Yankees regular season. His value is evident and obvious so far in the playoffs. Taking that big gun out of the lineup had a tremendous impact on the Yankees in the second half.
Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano were liabilities for the Minnesota Twins. The team is capable of further decline if those two key players can’t come back strong and deliver to their potential.
The Texas Rangers never fixed a horrible starting rotation and they are no longer in any conversations about quality baseball teams.
The Indians Jose Ramirez is in the midst of an almost two-month offensive slump. He has been a tale of two players this season. Teams adjusted to him by throwing breaking balls and off-speed pitches instead of fastballs. Ramirez has been slow to adjust in return.
An underrated Oakland Athletics club had a 2nd half that saw them almost win their division. Manager Bob Melvin brought out the best of his entire roster.
The Washington Nationals played uninspired, mediocre baseball almost all season. It seemed they took the postseason for granted and it came back to bite them. For three years now the Nationals have fallen short of expectations.
First baseman Greg Bird was a non-factor for the New York Yankees while 1B Luke Voit caught fire. It may mean Bird is a trade candidate for the offseason.
Speaking of non-factors, Gary Sanchez was a poster child for playing far below his perceived value. He fell short in home runs, he struck out way too much, he was an awful defensive catcher and he left tons of men on base. Yes, he was hurt for a good part of the season. However, up to the time of his injury he was hitting far below expectations. Can he return to what was expected of him in 2019?
The Braves Ronald Acuna and the Nationals Juan Soto are better than I thought they were. And believe me, I thought they were very, very good. They will be joined by Vlad Guerrerro, Jr. and Eloy Jimenez as players that will inject youth and charisma to a sport that can use those qualities now more than ever.
The Mets Jacob deGrom won only 10 games and could very well win the NL Cy Young.
The Rays Blake Snell gained such command and control of his repertoire that he’s a Cy Young candidate. As recently as last year and spring training I saw a Snell that had to struggle to find consistency. That has changed markedly.
The Indians Trevor Bauer’s quirky training and preparation antics aren’t so easily criticized any longer. The Diamondbacks couldn’t handle Bauer’s methods and personality and traded him as quickly as they could after drafting him in the first round. I said before the playoffs began that I would start Bauer in game 1 ahead of Corey Kluber. Bauer looked very healthy in his three build-up appearances in the last two weeks of the season.
The Rockies German Marquez’ slider, curveball, changeup and cutter are among the best secondary repertoire in the game.
The Giants got very old very quickly. What do they do with Buster Posey? He has lost a great deal of his home run power and catching continues to wear him out. Will he be a Joe Mauer type first baseman? That might happen. Good hitter, but not a fence buster. The Giants have to find a way to get younger, faster, more powerful and improve their pitching. That’s a tall order for a new general manager.
Having no true “ace” for the postseason, I clearly cannot fault Bob Melvin for using a “bullpen” game to try to beat the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
I have rarely seen an average baserunner try to score from second base on a passed ball or wild pitch. Ryan Braun tried to do it in the 1st inning against Colorado with two outs. It didn’t work and it ended a promising inning.
Clayton Kershaw is still a very, very good pitcher. I guess manager Dave Roberts learned his lesson. Instead of pulling him in the 5th inning this postseason, Roberts let him throw 8 innings in a shutout victory over Atlanta Friday night.
I wish Mike Trout could play on a championship caliber winning team. He’s such a great ballplayer.
I believe both Terry Francona and Joe Maddon are highly overrated as managers.
My Award Winners for 2018:
AL MVP=Mookie Betts (winner) Francisco Lindor, Mike Trout, J. D. Martinez
NL MVP= Christian Yelich (winner) Javier Baez, Ronald Acuna, Nick Markakis
AL Cy Young=Blake Snell (winner) Corey Kluber, Edwin Diaz, Trevor Bauer, Blake Treinen
NL Cy Young= Jacob deGrom (winner), Max Scherzer, Aaron Nola, Miles Miklos, Kyle Freeland
AL Rookie of the Year: Miguel Andujar (winner), Shoehei Ohtani
NL Rookie of the Year: Ronald Acuna (winner), Juan Soto, Walker Buehler
AL Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin (winner), Dave Cash, Alex Cora
NL Manager of the Year: Craig Counsell (winner), Bud Black, Brian Snitker
MY PREDICTIONS ABOUT THE FUTURE:
We will experience labor unrest leading to the next Basic Agreement that will become apparent in the free-agent player negotiations this offseason. Here are some issues to watch: Service Time, Roster Size, Qualifying offers, Owner collusion charges, etc.
Low player payrolls of teams such as Kansas City and Miami will be challenged by the Player’s Association going forward.
More players will try to beat the shift by taking pitches through the shifted infield. Some players have had success and more will try.
Tampa Bay and Oakland stadium issues will linger through the winter with new stadiums in each city still being discussed, but with no progress in beginning construction of either.
The new spring training stadium for the Brewers in Phoenix will spur a movement of teams to renovate existing facilities rather than move locations.
A salary adjustment for field managers may continue. New managers, especially those with no experience are not commanding the salaries that former managers could obtain. Teams are offering less money to their managers and using a “team approach” on creating rosters and game plans with some front office personnel deeply involved in every facet of the daily lineup.
Beginning Tuesday, October 9, I will be attending Arizona Fall League games at spring training sites in Arizona. I invite you to follow my in-game tweets and share your thoughts with me.
My Twitter address is @BerniePleskoff.