Yesterday, we covered the good and the bad of the league’s rotations. Today, we turn our attention to the relievers.
Between the piggybacking, the Opener, and whatever other new strategies managers decide to test out, the 2020 version of the bullpen likely won’t be quite the same as in years past. But it will probably still feature a lot of good comeback stories, a fair number of injuries (and disappointments), and pitchers you’ve never heard of who can throw the baseball very, very hard. One of the things that makes baseball so interesting is that new talents and triumphs emerge every year, especially in a place as volatile as the bullpen.
You should take that into account, then, when assessing these rankings. Every bullpen can be good; every bullpen can be bad. And the gaps this year are sometimes rather narrow — the Reds (a contending team) and the Orioles (a… not contending team) are projected for basically the same WAR from their relievers. Things widen out at the extremes, with the Rays and Yankees both forecast to be worth about 2.0 WAR, while the Royals are due for just 0.3, but it isn’t hard to imagine some bad injury luck or a hot run shaking things up before the season’s done. Of course, some teams need a lot more things to go right than others, and those teams tend to reside here. If a squad finds itself wistfully hoping for an oft-injured closer to stay healthy, or a rookie’s surprisingly good season to repeat, or for a few too many guys to take a step forward, or pitch like they did when they were young, then it’s probably a bullpen ranked in the bottom half of the league. Unless, somehow, it proves not to be. Read the rest of this entry »
In the decade that began shortly after the historic home run chase many believe saved the game of baseball, it’s no surprise that only one National League player with fewer than 30 homers placed in the top three of MVP voting. In 2009, Hanley Ramirez only had 24 home runs but also had a league-leading .342 batting average to go along with 42 doubles and 27 stolen bases, which pushed him into the mix for NL MVP. He finished in second place, although he didn’t receive a single first place vote.
But as much as home runs were a primary driver in measuring the decade’s hitting success, it would understate the talent of the two players who accounted for seven of the MVP awards between 2001-2009 to define them by that one statistic. They were simply two of the greatest all-around hitters to ever play the game. Here’s a look back at how those two, along with the three other NL MVPs of the 2000s, were acquired.
In a span of just over four years, Jeff Kent was traded three times in exchange for an All-Star. In each case, it seems unlikely that the team trading him away believed he would finish his career as a borderline Hall of Famer with 377 career homers, 560 doubles (tied for 30th all-time), and an NL MVP award. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, I explored how each of the National League Cy Young winners of the 1980s were acquired. Six came to their teams in trade, while two were acquired through the amateur draft and one had his contract purchased from the Mexican League. Highlighting the American League list is a 19th overall draft pick, a 19th round draft pick, and two players who are probably better known for their post-playing careers than they were for their time as big league pitchers. Here’s a look back at how the AL Cy Young winners of the 1980s were acquired.
Eight years into his big league career, Steve Stone had played on just two winning teams. As a rookie in 1971, he made 19 starts for a first place Giants team with four future Hall of Famers on the roster. Six years later, he was a 15-game winner for a third place White Sox team that came won 90 games. The following season, they lost 90. A 31-year-old free agent entering the 1978-79 offseason, Stone had plenty of suitors. Playing for a winning ball club was certainly a top priority, which made his decision to sign a four-year, $760,000 contract with the Baltimore Orioles an unsurprising one. Read the rest of this entry »
If you want to get an idea of how high the bar is to become a Hall of Fame pitcher, consider that only two of the 17 Cy Young winners from the 1980s have been inducted. One, Steve Carlton, is a four-time winner whose career spanned three decades. The other, Rollie Fingers, was one of the better relievers in the game throughout his 16-year career.
Those not in the Hall of Fame had a shorter span of greatness, even if only one year. Temporarily unlocking that Cy Young ability can come down to a change of scenery, a strong supporting cast, or working with a new pitching instructor. In other words, being in the right place at the right time. Here’s a look back at how the NL Cy Young winners of the 1980s were acquired.
At the time, St. Louis Cardinals lefty Steve Carlton and Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Rick Wise were in very similar situations. Both were All-Stars in their mid-20s who wanted to be paid a higher salary than their respective teams were offering for the 1972 season. Players didn’t yet enjoy a right to free agency. If a player held out for his preferred salary, he might find himself sitting out part of the season, or on the trading block; very rarely did teams submit to a player’s salary demands. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, I explored how the NL MVPs of the 1980s were acquired. Two homegrown players, Dale Murphy, and Mike Schmidt won half of the awards. While the AL list primarily consists of homegrown talent, there are still some interesting story lines. A pair of veteran relievers, the 493rd player drafted in 1979, and a former Rule 5 draft pick are among the AL highlights. Here’s a look back at how each was acquired.
As mentioned in last week’s How They Got There: The 1980-1989 NL MVPs, George Brett was taken one pick before Mike Schmidt early in the second round of the 1971 amateur draft. Although Brett was selected out of high school (El Segundo High School in California) at age 17 and Schmidt was a 21-year-old from Ohio University, their careers took similar paths that ended with near unanimous inductions into the Hall of Fame. Both converted shortstops, they would each win MVP awards nine years later as third basemen. While Schmidt’s Phillies defeated the Royals to win the World Series that year, Brett would get his World Series ring five years after. Read the rest of this entry »
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, the game of baseball was much different than the three-true-outcomes style of play that has become prominent in this era. Back in the 1980s, there were a lot of contact hitters, stolen bases, sacrifice bunts by non-pitchers, middle infielders who couldn’t hit for average or power, complete games, astroturf, double-headers, This Week In Baseball, and the San Diego Chicken. There weren’t a lot of hitters willing to sacrifice batting average for home runs, five relief pitchers in every team’s bullpen who could throw 99 mph, or players changing teams much in free agency.
While a lot has obviously changed, the game was just as glorious back then, with many memorable performances by players who each had their own unique journey to the major leagues. Here’s a look back at how the NL MVPs of the 1980s were acquired.
A pair of shortstops selected in the 1971 amateur draft with the 29th and 30th picks would each win an MVP award nine years later as third basemen. Both players, George Brett of the Kansas City Royals (class of ’99) and Mike Schmidt of the Philadelphia Phillies (class of ’95), would spend their entire careers with their respective teams and enter the Hall of Fame by the end of the century. Read the rest of this entry »
As baseball players continued to get bigger and stronger throughout the 1990s — by various legal and illegal means — the game was changing rapidly. Starting pitchers began throwing with ever increasing velocity. Meanwhile, a decrease in a typical starting pitcher’s innings per game, a heavier reliance on the bullpen, and a greater likelihood of injury — all trends that continue in today’s game — were all becoming part of this new era of baseball.
While the game became more favorable towards hitters, many of the best pitching performances during this era are legendary. Here’s a look back at how the AL Cy Young winners of the 1990s were acquired.
After a successful 10 year stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team that drafted him in the first round (20th pick overall) of the 1977 amateur draft, Bob Welch was traded to the Oakland Athletics following the 1986 season in a three-team, eight-player deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets. The A’s, believing they were a team on the rise and close to playoff contention, fulfilled an offseason goal of adding a veteran starting pitcher to pair with Dave Stewart, who had just had his first of what would end up being four consecutive 20-win seasons.
In his debut season with the A’s, Welch won a career-high 17 games, helping his team capture a division title and a World Series appearance. This was followed by another 17-win season that ended with a World Series championship in 1989. While he would spend another five seasons in the majors, 1990 would be one for the ages.
With assistance from one of the best bullpens in the game and, arguably, the best offense, the 33-year-old Welch won an astounding 27 games in 35 starts. But he also had a sub-3.00 ERA and allowed two earned runs or fewer in 60% of his starts, making it easy for his teammates to finish the game with a lead.
Sure, it was clear to most observers that Roger Clemens was the best pitcher in baseball. But that was no longer a huge story. He had already won two Cy Young awards and wasn’t slowing down a bit. As can happen, even today, voters will focus on the shiny new thing. In this case, that would be the “27 wins,” which hadn’t been achieved since Steve Carlton did it in 1972 and hasn’t been accomplished since. Read the rest of this entry »
Whether you’re assembling a fantasy baseball team or a real-life one, my number one rule is to never trust pitchers. Don’t trust that a pitcher will stay healthy. And even if they can avoid an extended stint on the Injured List, don’t trust a pitcher to put up numbers that resemble any previous season.
But even in the wildly unpredictable game of baseball, there is a very small group of starting pitchers who stand above the rest due to a rare combination of command, stuff, consistency, and durability. The winners of the Cy Young Award often come from this group of aces. Several have won the award multiple times. Twenty-one pitchers have accounted for more than half of the 118 Cy Young awards handed out since the honor was created in 1956 (Don Newcombe was the first recipient).
Back in 1981, a 19-year-old rookie named Fernando Valenzuela won the hearts of Cy Young voters after “Fernandomania” ran wild through the baseball world. But he’s the rare exception, an overnight sensation who won the award. The Cy Young typically goes to well-established stars with track records of success. Where they differ is the beginning of their paths and how it led them to their respective team.
Here’s a look back at how the NL Cy Young winners of the 1990s were acquired. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, I revisited how the National League MVPs of the 1990s were acquired. Six were either signed as free agents or acquired via trade, which is in stark contrast to the American League list. Of the eight different AL MVPs, six were homegrown and one of the other two had been re-acquired by his original team at the time he won. Only one of those six homegrown players, however, remained with their respective team throughout their entire career, as Chipper Jones and Barry Larkin did on the NL side.
Here’s a look back at how the AL MVPs of the 1990s were acquired.
Rickey Henderson won his lone MVP award during his second of four stints with the A’s; the team originally drafted him out of Oakland Technical High School in the fourth Round of the 1976 amateur draft. Traded to the New York Yankees in December 1984 after six stellar seasons to begin his big league career, the A’s brought their former leadoff man back home four-and-a-half-years later. Read the rest of this entry »
Where in the player ranks do MVPs come from? As unpredictable as baseball can be, this particular question has a very simple answer for the most part. If we go back through the years, there aren’t too many award winners whose origins deviate too much from a few common paths. MVPs largely are who we thought they were: established superstars, former top prospects, former first round draft picks. In some cases, all of the above are true.
But the stories of how those MVPs ended up with their particular teams can still be intriguing. Some were drafted by the team with which they won the award, including a few, like Bryce Harper and Joe Mauer, who were drafted first overall. Others were traded away only to find success (and some shiny hardware) on another squad.
Here’s a look back at how the NL MVPs of the 1990s were acquired.
Barry Bonds was just one several college baseball stars being considered for the first overall pick in the 1985 draft. Despite his obvious talent, there were some questions about his makeup — his reputation for being cantankerous didn’t begin when he arrived in the major leagues — which may have contributed to him slipping to the Pirates, who held the sixth pick in the draft. Read the rest of this entry »