2018 Cleveland Indians preview

2018 MLB Preview: Cleveland Indians

2017: 102-60 (first in the AL Central)

Last postseason appearance: 2017

Last World Series title: 1948

2017 Recap

After falling one win shy of winning the 2016 World Series, the Indians were looking for revenge in 2017. Not only did they win 102 games, but Cleveland also won 22 games in a row, which is now the longest winning streak in American League history.

Unfortunately, their incredible regular season may have actually hurt them in the playoffs. After going up 2-0 in the ALDS against the underdog New York Yankees, Cleveland lost three straight games to end their season.

2018 Cleveland Indians preview

The Indians were feeling 22. (Photo from The Week)

Although the season did not end the way Cleveland had hoped it would, let’s not forget how good this team really was.

Let’s start with the pitching. As a staff, it finished first in ERA, strikeouts and walks. The rotation was led by Corey Kluber, who was the best pitcher in the MLB in 2017. He won the AL Cy Young and finished first in WAR for pitchers, ERA, wins, WHIP, complete games and shutouts. Kluber was unstoppable all year, but in the second half alone, the right hander posted a 1.79 ERA. His slider was the best pitch in baseball in terms of pitch value.

Not only did they have the best starter in baseball, but they also had a top-10 arm in Carlos Carrasco, who finished ninth in WAR for pitchers, eighth in WHIP and posted a 2.65 ERA on the road, which was top-10 in the MLB for starters. While Carrasco and Kluber tallied 18 wins apiece, the 27-year-old Trevor Bauer finished with 17.

While the rotation flourished all season, one could make a case that the Indians’ bullpen was even better than their starters. Zach McAllister, Dan Otero, Nick Goody, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen all had sub 3.00 ERA’s while appearing in 50 or more games. As a unit, Cleveland’s bullpen finished first in ERA with a 2.89.

Pitching, of course, was only part of the reason Cleveland was able to win 102 games. Their offense finished second in the AL in batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS and walks. The ringleader in the lineup was Jose Ramirez, who was one of the 10 best players in baseball. Ramirez finished tied for first in extra-base hits, fifth in total bases, sixth in offensive WAR, seventh in slugging and ninth in batting average and runs scored.

The Dominican-born star hit .329 against lefties and .312 against righties, proving to be almost impossible to deal with. On 0-1 counts, Ramirez batted .301, which was top-10 in the MLB. Think about that, when already down a strike, he was able to hit over .300.

2018: Around the Diamond

After spending his first eight seasons with Cleveland, Carlos Santana was signed as a free agent by the Philadelphia Phillies. Santana hit 23 home runs and finished ninth in walks in 2017. He has a career OBP of .365, so Cleveland will definitely miss the powerful switch hitter.

To replace him at first base, Cleveland signed Yonder Alonso, who was an All-Star last season. After not eclipsing nine home runs in his previous seven seasons, Alonso hit 28 home runs. If he can be anything close to what he was last season, the Indians will be happy.

2018 Cleveland Indians preview

Jose Ramirez was sensational in 2017. (Photo from NEO Sports Insiders)

Jason Kipnis looks to bounce back after he played in only 90 games because of injury in 2017. The two-time All-Star second baseman hit just .232 with an OBP of .291. Cleveland will need him to tear it up with his double-play partner, Francisco Lindor, one of the best shortstops in the game. Last year, playing in nearly every single game, Lindor finished sixth in extra-base hits and eighth in total bases. He also slugged a career high .505.

With a healthy Kipnis, Ramirez will be playing all his games at third base. Behind the dish will be Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes splitting some time. Michael Brantley, who was an All-Star in 2017 but missed a good chunk of the season due to injury, will be ready to go in left. In the first half, Brantley hit .304 with 17 doubles.

No more Austin Jackson means Bradley Zimmer will be the starting centerfielder. Zimmer stole 18 bases, but had an OBP of just .307. He fell apart in the second half, hitting just .196 with 56 strikeouts in 46 games. He is still only 25 years of age and could turn into something special.

Lonnie Chisenhall, who has been with Cleveland his whole career, will man right field. Guys like Brandon Guyer, Tyler Naquin and Abraham Almonte should also get some reps in the outfield. Keep in mind Cleveland also brought in Melvin Upton Jr. as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training.

Edwin Encarnacion, who hit 38 home runs last season, will remain at DH. Encarnacion finished fourth in walks and had the best walk rate of his career, while also posting his second-best OBP.

On the Bump

2018 Cleveland Indians preview

Klubot. (Photo from Cleveland.com)

Cleveland’s elite starting rotation will remain intact for 2018. Kluber, Carrasco and Bauer will be followed by Josh Tomlin and Danny Salazar. Salazar has had a tough time staying off the DL his whole career, but could be a sleeper in fantasy baseball. Mike Clevinger and Cody Anderson, who is coming off Tommy John, should also get some starts.

McAllister, Otero, Miller and Allen are all returning, which is unfortunate for opponents. No reason to think this pitching staff won’t dominate again, especially if they can get something out of Salazar.

 

The Future

According to MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospect’s list, the Indians have two of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball. At No. 11 is the No. 1 catching prospect, Francisco Mejia. Mejia is a switch-hitter, who has also spent the entire Arizona Fall League practicing at third base. In just 92 games at Double-A, Mejia hit 14 home runs and batted .297 in 2017. He also got 13 at-bats in the MLB. We will most likely see the 22-year-old at some point playing consistently for Cleveland in 2018.

Cleveland’s other top prospect is pitcher Triston McKenzie. McKenzie flourished in A-ball, going 12-6 with a 3.46 ERA and an opponent batting average of .203. He stands tall at 6-foot-5, and according to MLB.com, McKenzie has “all the ingredients to develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter.” He has great command and has posted a .99 WHIP over three professional seasons.

2018 Prediction: 95-67

No reason to think that the Indians won’t win the AL Central for the third year in a row. Chicago and Detroit are rebuilding, the Royals will lose Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to free agency and Minnesota is not nearly as talented as the Indians. This team will again be in the chase for their first World Series title since 1948.

 

Featured image by Bleacher Report

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Top MLB players

Top MLB players age 35 or older

Every year it seems that baseball is getting younger and younger. Prospects all over baseball are proving to be more than ready for the show.

But what about the guys that have put in their time and then some? Veterans seem to have never been more undervalued (e.g. the free agent market), but they are getting their due here. We will take a close look at the best players over 35 years old.

Nelson Cruz

The Spanish Conquistadors searched years for the the fountain of youth in Latin America. It seems it was in Seattle the whole time.

Nelson Cruz has mashed ever since arriving in the Pacific Northwest. In three seasons, he has hit 126 home runs, averaging 42 home runs per season. He has also driven in 317 RBIs with the Mariners, proving to be an elite run producer in his late 30s.

Cruz will be 38 years old in July and shows no signs of slowing down. With a deep Mariners roster around him, Cruz should continue to produce. He is still one of the elite power hitters in the game, proving that he can still be productive in the twilight of his career.

Robinson Cano

Top MLB players

Robinson Cano will continue to produce for Seattle in 2018 and beyond. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images North America)

It seems that the Mariners are onto something. Even though Robinson Cano struggled in his first two seasons in Seattle (by his standards), his mid 30s have been plenty productive.

He has averaged 24 home runs and 90 RBIs in his four seasons in Seattle and boasts a .295 batting average. Cano has also earned three All-Star appearances in four seasons in Seattle, proving to be a force in the Mariners lineup.

Now at age 35, Cano is well on his way to cementing himself as one of the better second basemen in baseball history. He continues to hit for solid power and average, and has played a good second base since signing with the Mariners.

If he continues to drink from Seattle’s fountain of youth, there is no telling how much longer he can be productive.

Edwin Encarnacion

Many were weary of signing an aged slugger like Edwin Encarnacion last offseason. However, all the 35-year-old did last season was mash.

Top MLB Players

Edwin Encarnacion will prove to be a great signing for the Indians. (Photo from WKYC.com)

In his first season with the Indians, Encarnacion hit 38 home runs and drove in 107 RBIs. While he did only hit .258 (his lowest since 2010), he still proved to be an elite power hitter for the Tribe. But with Encarnacion’s track record, his power should remain well into his late 30s.

 

Encarnacion has been an elite power hitter since arriving in Toronto, but his 30s have been impressive. He has averaged 38 home runs and 109 RBIs since turning 30 in 2013.

Age certainly hasn’t been a factor for Encarnacion. He was a late bloomer, not finding consistency at the plate until his age-29 season. But with his elite power and proven track record, his age shouldn’t catch up to him anytime soon.

Albert Pujols

While Albert Pujols may have fallen a long way from being the best player in baseball, he is still a productive hitter. At 38 years old, that is almost as impressive as his younger achievements.

Last season, Pujols hit .241 while mashing 23 home runs and driving in 101 RBIs. Those are solid numbers for a player of Pujols’ age. He will look to improve on those numbers in 2018, although he will have Father Time to contend with, and Shohei Ohtani.

The 2017 season was the first in Pujols’ 17-year career that he was a below average hitter. His 81 OPS+ was well below average, as his lower half began to fail him last season.

Even so, Pujols still has a chance to be a productive player for the Angels. With a career .305 batting average and 614 home runs to his credit, “The Machine” could very well flip the switch in 2018.

Fernando Rodney

As the oldest player on our list, 40-year-old Fernando Rodney proved to be a solid reliever last season for the Minnesota Twins. He went 5-4 with a 4.23 ERA for a surprisingly good Twins team, helping them to a Wild Card berth. While his surface numbers may not be that impressive, a deeper look reveals much more.

While pitching 55.1 innings last season, Rodney struck out 65 total batters. That was his second highest total since the 2014 season. He also limited batters to a 1.19 WHIP last season, his best mark since 2012.

As Rodney has aged, he has seemed to get better and better. And his numbers prove that to be true. While his ERA may have increased this past season, his WHIP and total strikeouts still bear him as one of the better relievers in the game.

And with baseball moving ever closer to the super bullpen, Rodney could stick around for a while. Don’t be surprised to see Rodney still making the trot from the pen to the mound for the next several years.

 

Feature image by Jae C. Hong/ Associated Press 

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A trail of tears from Cleveland

Scott R. Galvin/USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland natives tend to feel the cold fronts coming off of Lake Erie this time of year. Unfortunately, what seems of late, they can settle for the bitter cold feeling of their once beloved football team. For at least a half a century, the city has been on the wrong side of history. Fortunately, recent success has come from the anchors of The Land, the Indians and the Cavaliers.

For the Indians, who haven’t had scent of a world title since the Truman administration, the tide is turning for the Wahoos. The past seasons have been pretty fortuitous to say the least. Coming off of a 100-win season in 2017 and World Series appearance the year prior, the Indians’ future looks brighter than ever. This upcoming season, the Indians are predicted to compete for a title as a top baseball club.

The Cavaliers have been through their own personal battles but still hold their position as Cleveland’s best export. The return of LeBron James has been filled with fortune and serendipity. The Cavs Captured a title in 2016 and ended the championship the fifty-year drought for the city. As long as King James and the Cavaliers are one of the heavyweights in the NBA, they will forever be the epicenter of Cleveland sports.

However, the Browns are at an all time low. Coming off a 2016 season that only amounted to a single win, 2017 couldn’t be any better. In fact, it wasn’t. The worst team of the past became the worst team of the present. And at this rate, they look to be the worst of all time.

On January 7, 2018, along Alfred Lerner Way, Brown fans celebrated their “perfect” season. Instead of cheers, cries for help were heard adjacent of the FirstEnergy Stadium. A parade that mirrored a funeral buried the 2017 Browns along with the NFL’s list of deplorable winless teams. With a platform built by greats including Ozzie Newsome, Lou Groza and Jim Brown, Cleveland has yet to return to such heights.

Enveloped in the lingering scent of their 1964 championship, which unfortunately now has only seen by a handful. The majority of the fan base still cringe over the most gut wrenching moments as the world recognizes them as miracles. The Fumble, The Drive, The Move, all still remain in many fans’ hearts as the lowest points in the franchise. Since the golden ages of the 80’s, the Browns haven’t been able to capitalize in the turn of the century.

Scott R. Galvin/USA TODAY Sports

Without a playoff birth in almost two decades, fans questions have turned to prayers. With a lack of a notable franchise star, a questionable and ever-changing coaching staff and poor management, the future looks pretty dim as of right now. Even at the franchise’s lowest point, it seems that it is going to get worse as the years go by. Only thing that is safe to say, is that the Browns are here to stay. The efforts of Art Modell in moving the team to Baltimore in 1995 was disastrous. Other than setting precedent for franchise relocations and expansions of the future, for Cleveland, it was futile.

With that being said, Cleveland will have to bare what is to come. In doing so, the seasons of the future might mimic the franchise’s lack accomplishments like the display this past year. For Cleveland to turn things around, this particular off-season will prove to be detrimental for the squad.

 

A star…?

In the past, Cleveland has harbored quite a few franchise cornerstones. Some of who were regarded as not only arguably the best in their respective position like Ozzie Newsome, Bernie Kosar and Lou Groza but also the best player in the league. From 1957 to 1965, Jim Brown reigned as the best player in all of football. Bringing home a rookie of the year trophy, three NFL most valuable awards, and garnishing the franchise’s last championship in 1964.

At the height of his career, Brown retired from professional football in 1965, leaving the franchise in search for a new star. Spurts from Hall of Famers like Bobby Mitchell, Greg Pruitt and Leroy Kelly proved to be promising. Unfortunately, the void left by Brown became too hard to fill. That void still plagues the franchise fifty-years later.

An addition of a prominent all-pro player or an emergence of a young star may speak vibes for the team going forward. After an impressive season by the Buffalo Bills that ended in a playoff berth, the Browns now have the longest current playoff drought in the NFL. In other words, the way the organization is going, the Browns won’t be seen in the winter anytime soon. Great confidence, effort and camaraderie comes from leadership, something the Browns lack. A star could be the epitome of these components and their focus and pursuit in becoming a contender.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

A bright spot in the tumultuous past has been the career of all-pro left tackle Joe Thomas. Thomas, who holds the NFL record for most consecutive snaps played, has proven to be remarkable with nine all-pro selections and ten Pro Bowl appearances. But questions mount as the organization looks to move on from arguably the best lineman in football. According to Cleveland.com, reports show that the 33 year old might consider retirement after a ten year career with the Browns. On a laundry list of problems, this holds as the highest priority for the franchise.

Let’s be honest, Cleveland isn’t the most attractive destination for a free agent or even a draft pick. It does not have the appeal of Los Angeles, Miami, New York or even Texas. The golden age of the city is long gone so a potential of a star wanting to play in Cleveland is slim.

When asked about Cleveland, New York Knicks center Joakim Noah said during an interview with TNT in 2009, “I don’t know about this place, man. I just stayed in my hotel room, man. Every time I look out my window, it’s pretty depressing out here, man.” He reiterated his position in a later press conference season after facing the Cavaliers. He was asked if he had regretted his comments, he replied, “Not at all. You like it? Do you think Cleveland’s cool? I mean, I’ve never heard anybody say ‘I’m going to Cleveland on vacation.’ What’s so good about  Cleveland?” The franchise has to offer more than just Cleveland to reel in targets.

 

A move in Free Agency

The Browns’ organization has been in a rebuild mode since the beginning of their playoff drought. Though certain components of the franchise might seem unattractive, it can be a valuable home for player looking to revitalize their career. A quarterback is  probably the most inconsistent position for the franchise since the departure of Bernie Kosar… literally. Since Tim Couch, the last quarterback for the Browns to start an entire season in 2001, the Browns have started 25 different quarterbacks in 16 seasons, the league’s highest.

This one seems a bit far fetched, but any big name potential targets in this years free agency wouldn’t be any different.  Drew Brees, who has plagued the NFC South Division with four division titles and a Super Bowl in 2009 might look for a change in scenery. After an astounding season with 4,208 passing yards with 23 touchdowns on 73% completion, an NFL record, Brees looks better than ever. The only ones looking forward to Brees departure are the Buccaneers, the Panthers and the Falcons. More than likely, if Brees is to leave, he would want to play for a contender. As tough as the AFC North is, contending for a title isn’t in the team’s imminent future. Brees would be the best case scenario. His pedigree would add appeal for free agents to come to Cleveland.

Patrick Smith/Getty

Kirk Cousins at the moment, is having a difficult time with management of the Redskins. During an interview on the Pritchard and Cecil Hour Podcast, former Redskins GM Scot McCloughan told the tandem when questioned about Cousins, “He’s a good player. Is he special? I don’t see special”. McCloughan was responsible for putting the two franchise tags on Cousins. For that, Cousins has something to prove, something he won’t get from a contender. Cousins has to prove he is a legitimate franchise player.

A career in Washington may not be the answer. With franchise tags it seems that Washington is not 100 percent sold on Cousins. NFL analysts expect the ‘Skins to take a quarterback in this upcoming draft. The only downfall is that Cousins has dealt with a shifting front office. His trust of Cleveland management might not be enough to sign and he’s not wrong for thinking so. To counter that, Cousins play has reflected the ‘Skins success. But it seems a contending team’s management may not think so. Cousins might have to settle with a rebuilding franchise.

Cleveland as a destination could be in consideration. Not only for the money, but a list of players who also have a chip on their shoulder. Browns receiver Josh Gordon is looking to prove the critics wrong and have his named edged in consideration as one of the league’s top wideouts. Also free agent pick ups like Marquise Lee or Terrelle Pryor could be a good addition to the core. Pryor/Lee and Gordon could be wonderful targets for Cousins or Brees or even a younger quarterback.

The Draft

Luckily for the Browns, bad seasons return great draft picks. The team gets an A+ for drafting Myles Garrett last year. After tallying seven sacks in only ten games, the rookie out of Texas A&M might break the chain of poor draft picks for the Browns. This year, they have a chance to do the same as they have the first and fourth pick (via Houston) of the first round in the draft.

Free agent targets like Kirk Cousins and Drew Brees might be out of reach for the Browns. Because so, the organization might have to settle for drafting a quarterback. Luckily, a whole slate of quarterbacks can fit the bill. Wyoming’s Josh Allen, USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Heisman trophy winners, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson all look promising for any team. The only problem is the fourth pick, which is a good problem to have. A perfect execution can be the foundation for the future and help pull the Browns out of this hole.

As a prediction, in the first round, the Browns are getting a quarterback and a running back. If the Browns are sold and solely want a particular quarterback, they should pick him first.

Jeff Roberson/AP

As the mock boards have it, the Giants have their eyes on Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold. If the Browns want Josh Rosen, they should draft him. However, that leaves a home run hitter like Penn State’s Saquon Barkley on the board. If Josh Rosen is taken first by the Browns, the Giants or the Colts could take Barkley for the second and third picks respectively. If that’s the case, the Browns should draft Barkley first. The Giants will probably take Rosen, but the Colts won’t draft a quarterback. This leaves Darnold, Mayfield and others on the board for the fourth pick which should be suitable.

Injuries make most players question their futures but ultimately the doubt will fade. More than likely, Joe Thomas will stay with the Browns. He has a lot more football to play and like the Browns, he has something to prove. With that being said, the Browns should look to fortify their defensive line or secondary instead. Best bet is defensive tackle, Trenton Thompson from Georgia at the 33rd pick and Mike Hughes, defensive back from UCF with the 35th pick to replace the released Joe Haden. If the future of Joe Thomas fears the organization, Offensive tackle Connor Williams from Texas looks valuable at the 63rd pick. In the end, Spencer Drango looks promising after filling in for the injured Thomas this year if Thomas decides to hang it up.

 

The fan base

As the transportation hub of the Great Lakes, Cleveland rose to prominence in the mid nineteenth century. By the 1920’s, it became the nation’s fifth largest city. The progressive era brought on businesses and businesses brought a booming economy that welcomed an influx of people. This economy aided the birth of sports as Cleveland was dubbed, City of Champions.

Matthew Emmons- US Presswire

Because of these roots, the love for sports have seeped into the culture. There is no discussion, no fan base is more loyal than Cleveland fans. When most of our country’s industries of energy, automobile manufacturing, and agriculture slowly left the region, the residents of the 216 embraced sports. As the surrounding area seemed to deteriorate, Baseball, Football, Basketball, were seen as beacons of hope for natives of northeast Ohio. Camaraderie means everything to a team. A mystery lies whether if there is enough among the players. However, the fans show to not disappoint.

Over the last seven seasons from the ball club, the team’s record has only amounted to an abysmal 89 loses and 23 wins. However, the Browns fans have been able to keep up almost a full attendance at FirstEnergy Stadium over those years. That can be music to a free agent’s ears. There is nothing like home, but a place where you are wanted can move mountains. A free agent like Kirk Cousins, who has been doubted by  his own ball club’s fan base would instantly be accepted among the dawg pound.

Cleveland’s downfall has come by its own merit. Poor management, lack of a stable roster, and a questionable coaching staff have prevented the franchise from reliving those glory days of the past and give what their respected fan base deserves. To no surprise, the Cleveland Browns’ organization is moving toward being the worst franchise, not only in the NFL but in professional sports. Not only because of its dysfunctional team’s performance, but the potential the team should have based upon the foundation it lays upon.

Despite all of this and what their record was this past season, there should optimism in Cleveland. It literally cannot get any worse than this. Anything is better than current situation of the franchise. And there’s hope. The region was built on determination and grit. The energy and commitment of the fans exhibit those roots. As grim as it may seem, light is always at the end of tunnel. But there aren’t any miracles in northeast Ohio, at least not in favor of Browns. No magical superstar is going to fall out of the sky and it’s unlikely LeBron James will take his talents to the Cleveland backfield.

With that being said the Browns are all they got. There are going to be desperate changes. Maybe a couple drifter-like free agents ever now and then, a couple of hiring and firing of coaches and questions of leadership will still linger. But maybe some advice from it’s parallel sport franchises in the Indians and Cavaliers might be of some help. As they’ve been able to pluck themselves out of their downfalls. It is well known the teams are built around stakeholders and the community. If any motivation the Browns are going to get, it lies within the roots of the fight that the city of Cleveland is willing to put up.

 

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New York Mets team profile

New York Mets team profile

The New York Mets finished in fourth place in the NL East with a 72-90 record. They were a team that dealt with a plethora of injuries, and it ended up costing them its season. David Wright has not been able to get over the injury bug, and the team’s two best hitters, Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto, saw extended time on the disabled list.

It was not only at the plate, but on the mound the Mets saw its fair share of issues. Matt Harvey has not been able to break out of his rut, and Noah Syndergaard was only able to start seven times. Jacob deGrom was the only one that was able to cross the 25-start threshold in 2017, so the Mets have a fair amount to deal with before being able to compete in the near future.

Offseason moves

New York Mets team profile

Jay Bruce will reunite with the Mets in 2018 (Photo from FanRag Sports)

The New York Mets have taken strides to improve in the near future. It was reported on Wednesday that Jay Bruce would be returning to the Queens with a three-year contract. This is a solid signing that is lighting a mini spark into the hot stove. Since not many other moves have been made, the Mets look serious about improving in 2018.

So far, the only loss for them has been Jose Reyes, who did not have a great 2017 season. It was also reported that the Mets were very close to a deal with the Cleveland Indians for second baseman, Jason Kipnis. While he may not have provided the impact that the Mets need, it would have been a step in the right direction to show they are serious about improvements.

The three-year contract that Bruce signed also shows that the Mets are nowhere near thinking about a rebuilding phase despite its current place in the division. The rest of the NL East is in for some trouble with how successful the Nationals have been during the regular season. This move shows that the Mets want to try their hand though, and they may not be that far off.

The pitching

The New York Mets ranked 28th in pitching in 2017. This is nowhere near the expectations for the players they have on the team at the moment. New York has some of the best young pitching in the league, but due to injuries and underperforming, they took a step in the wrong direction.

The Mets have built a very good base in the rotation with Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler. As mentioned, due to injuries and poor performance, it does not look as solid as it once did. The top two in the rotation still look like they have a promising future, but Harvey, Matz and Wheeler will have a pivotal year in 2018. If they don’t show signs of improvement, the Mets will know it will be time to move on.

Anthony Swarzak had the best year of his career in 2017. He may have been one of the better middle relievers in all of baseball. He, along with A.J. Ramos and Addison Reed, should provide a reliable core to the bullpen.

2018 outlook

New York Mets team profile

Matt Harvey needs to get back on track in 2018 (Photo from USA Today)

As stated previously, the Nationals are still at the forefront of the NL East, and the National League as a whole. No team from the East will most likely compete with them for the division.

This is a year for the Mets to build up and see if they are ready to compete by 2019 perhaps. Washington is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, and even the Wild Card is going to be tough to come by as it will take more than 87 wins most likely.

This is a big year for Matt Harvey as well. After stellar seasons between 2012-15, Harvey looks like he has lost his touch. This especially looked to be the case last year after finishing with a -1.1 WAR and 6.70 ERA. Something has to change in order for him to stick around the team. Whether it is mechanical or mental, the Mets can not afford to let him throw games away much longer.

With Noah Syndergaard coming off injury and deGrom looking to improve, there is a lot of room to improve. Their health is key too, as we may see a much better team in 2018 if the Mets are able to keep guys on the field.

 

Featured image by Al Bello/Getty Images

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Manny Ramirez Hall of Fame

Manny Ramirez by the numbers

The year is 2004, a year Boston Red Sox fans will never forget.

In July, at the MLB All-Star Game, Boston Red Sox star Manny Ramirez hit a two-run home run off of Roger Clemens in the top of the first inning. By the end of the regular season, Ramirez was first in the AL in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS. He finished third in RBIs, fourth in doubles and total bases, sixth in on-base percentage, eighth in walks and tenth in runs. Manny wound up finishing third in AL MVP voting.

Manny Ramirez Hall of Fame

2004 World Series MVP (Photo from MassLive.com)

A year after the infamous Aaron Boone walk-off home run sent Boston home for good, the Red Sox were back in the postseason. Eager to end the Curse of the Bambino, Boston came out with a bang in the ALDS. They swept the Anaheim Angels, and Ramirez hit .385 with seven RBIs in the three games. This win set up a rematch with the New York Yankees in the ALCS. We all know how that one went.

In the most unforgettable ALCS in baseball history, Ramirez hit .300 and had an OBP of .400. Boston was just four games away from breaking the 86-year-old curse and had to go up against the St. Louis Cardinals, who won 105 games in the regular season. Manny and the Red Sox were not fazed by St. Louis’ success and swept the Red Birds in four games. In the 2004 World Series, Ramirez hit .412 with four RBIs and an OBP of .500. He was named World Series MVP.

Ramirez finished his MLB career with 2,574 hits, 555 home runs, and a batting average of .312. He was a 12-time All-Star, two-time World Series Champion, nine-time Silver Slugger and even won the AL Batting Title in 2002. He is one of five retired players to be a member of the .300/500HR/5002B club, an elite list of players that includes Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.

PLAYERS WHO HIT AT LEAST: .310, 550 HOME RUNS, 2,500 HITS, .410 OBP
BABE RUTH
MANNY RAMIREZ

Controversy

His career WAR of 69.2 ranks 106th all-time, ahead of Ivan Rodriguez, Tony Gwynn, Al Simmons, Tim Raines, Carlton Fisk, Eddie Murray and Ernie Banks to name a few. Arguably the best right-handed hitter the game has ever seen, Ramirez, because of multiple failed steroid tests, will most likely not be voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

If you can’t talk about the history of stars in baseball without mentioning Manny Ramirez, then he belongs in the Hall of Fame. With guys like Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell, three stars who already have been elected into the Hall of Fame despite possible steroid use, how could Ramirez not be a member? It would make sense if nobody from the steroid era was voted in, but they have already crossed the line. Ramirez put up numbers that we have only seen from Babe Ruth, and he belongs in the Hall of Fame if Piazza, Rodriguez and Bagwell are in.

Here is an excerpt from Jeff Pearlman’s book about Roger Clemens, The Rocket that Fell to Earth:

“There was nothing more obvious than Mike on steroids,” says another major league veteran who played against Piazza for years. “Everyone talked about it, everyone knew it. Guys on my team, guys on the Mets. A lot of us came up playing against Mike, so we knew what he looked like back in the day. Frankly, he sucked on the field. Just sucked. After his body changed, he was entirely different. ‘Power from nowhere,’ we called it.”  When asked, on a scale of 1 to 10, to grade the odds that Piazza had used performance enhancers, the player doesn’t pause.  “A 12,” he says. “Maybe a 13.”

In an interview with 60 Minutes, Jose “The Godfather of Steroids” Canseco, talks about his own experience with anabolic steroids and human growth hormones, as well as other players in the MLB:

“Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez,” says Canseco. “I injected them. Absolutely.”

Whether or not the BBWAA figures out how to properly vote or not, numbers never lie.

Manny being Manny

Manny Ramirez was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, but moved to New York City at 13 years old. He went on to attend George Washington High School and was a star on their baseball team. In the 1991 MLB Draft, Ramirez was selected 13th overall by the Cleveland Indians. He went on to play for the Indians, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox.

Some of his best seasons came as a member of the Indians. In 1999, he became one of five players (first since 1938), to hit at least 44 home runs, 160 RBIs, .330 batting average and a .440 OBP. Joining Ramirez on this list is Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Hack Wilson and Jimmie Foxx.

Manny Ramirez Hall of Fame

In 2008, Ramirez hit .396 in 53 games with the Dodgers (Photo from Zimbio.com)

In 2000, Ramirez became one of 10 players to have a season of at least a .350 batting average, 38 home runs, OPS of 1.150 and 85 walks. The nine others who accomplished this were Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, Hack Wilson, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Todd Helton.

In 2008, at 36 years-old, Ramirez was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-team deal. The Red Sox acquired Jason Bay and Josh Wilson, and the Pittsburgh Pirates received Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris, Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss. In his 53 games as a Dodger in the 2008 season, Ramirez hit .396 with 17 home runs. His totals from that year were .332, 37 HR, 183 hits and a .430 OBP.

Ramirez joined Babe Ruth as the only players to bat at least .330 with 35 home runs, an OBP of .430, and 180 hits at age 36 or older. During the 2008 postseason, the Dodgers made it all the way to the NLCS before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies. Ramirez, in the eight playoff games, hit .520, with four home runs and 10 RBIs. His .667 OBP in the 2008 postseason ranks fifth all-time, while his 1.080 SLG is 10th all-time.

For his career, Ramirez ranks fifth in postseason games played, and is arguably one of the best October players we have ever seen. He ranks first in home runs with 29, first in walks, second in RBIs and total bases, third in runs and hits and fifth in doubles.

Here are three more tables that show just how great this man was at hitting a baseball.

PLAYERS WHO HIT AT LEAST: .410 OBP, .580 SLG, 500 DOUBLES
BARRY BONDS
BABE RUTH
MANNY RAMIREZ
TED WILLIAMS
LOU GEHRIG

 

SEASONS WITH AT LEAST: .290 BATTING AVERAGE, 30 HR, .950 OPS

PLAYER NUMBER OF SEASONS
BARRY BONDS 13
BABE RUTH 13
MANNY RAMIREZ 12
JIMMIE FOXX 10
ALBERT PUJOLS 10
LOU GEHRIG 10
HANK AARON 9
WILLIE MAYS 9

 

SEASONS WITH AT LEAST: .320 BATTING AVERAGE, 30 HR, .425 OBP

PLAYER NUMBER OF SEASONS
BABE RUTH 11
JIMMIE FOXX 9
LOU GEHRIG 8
TED WILLIAMS 7
MANNY RAMIREZ 6
ALBERT PUJOLS 6
BARRY BONDS 5
STAN MUSIAL 5

Featured image by The Boston Globe

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Jim Thome

Jim Thome by the numbers

Along with Chipper Jones, the former Cleveland Indians star, Jim Thome, will most likely be voted in as a first ballot Hall of Famer in January. Thome, who played on six different teams during his 22-year career, is one of the greatest power hitters of all time. His 612 home runs are the eighth most all-time. Unlike the majority of sluggers during his time, Thome was never linked to PED use.

When God created Jim Thome, he constructed someone who comes across as a lumberjack, but hits mammoth home runs with a crazy uppercut swing. If you remember watching him get ready for a pitch, you would recall that he held his bat out with his right hand and would point it towards the outfield. When asked about this, Thome claimed that he acquired this approach from The Natural.

During his career, Thome led his league in home runs eight times. He had 12 seasons with at least 90 walks, which is good for fifth all-time behind Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Thome also had 10 seasons with at least 25 home runs and a .400 on-base percentage, which is sixth all-time behind Bonds, Williams, Ruth, Gehrig and Mel Ott.

PLAYERS WITH AT LEAST 600 HR, 2,300 HITS, .400 OBP
BABE RUTH
BARRY BONDS
JIM THOME

 

Career

James Howard Thome grew up in Peoria, Illinois. As a high school athlete, Thome was all-state in basketball and as a shortstop in baseball.

To say he was born to be an athlete would be an understatement. Thome’s grandmother was hired at a Caterpillar plant merely to play for the company’s softball team. Thome’s dad played slow-pitch softball, and his aunt is a member of the Women’s Softball Hall of Fame. His two older brothers played baseball at the local high school. Apparently, Thome learned how to play baseball from his father on a tennis court.

Jim Thome

One of the best power hitters of all time (Photo from Cleveland.com)

Weighing only 175 pounds, at 6-foot-2, Thome got very little looks from MLB teams as a high schooler. In 1988, he enrolled at Illinois Central College, where he played both baseball and basketball. After just one season, Thome was drafted in the 13th round in the 1989 MLB June Amateur Draft. Clearly, he was heavily slept on.

Thome started out as a third baseman before converting to first. In his first minor-league season, he managed to hit just .237 with no home runs. After this rough season, Thome met Charlie Manuel, who would eventually become his head coach and mentor. Manuel helped fix his swing, and in the next season, Thome hit .340 with 16 home runs.

In 1994, Thome was finally a full-time big-league player. In the abbreviated season, Thome batted .268 with 20 home runs. Little did anyone know this would be the first of 17 seasons in which Thome eclipsed 20 home runs, which is tied for fourth all-time with Willie Mays and behind Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds and Frank Robinson. In 1995, Thome hit .314 with 25 home runs and was a major contributor to the Indians winning the American League pennant. In the fourteen playoff games, Thome hit four home runs and drove in 10 runs.

Breaking down the Stats

From 1997-2004, Thome hit 330 home runs, which was the most by any first baseman during that span. The only players to hit more than him were Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds, who were all heavily linked to PED usage. During this same time period, Thome led all first basemen in offensive WAR. In 1996, Thome finished sixth in the AL in WAR, and in 2002, he finished second.

2002 was also the year in which Thome had one of the best offensive seasons we have seen. He hit 52 home runs, batted .304 and led the league in walks, slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+. Thome became one of four players to have a season at least a .300 batting average, 52 home runs, 120 walks and an OPS+ north of 197. That list includes Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds and Mickey Mantle.

Throughout his career, Jim Thome had 12 seasons of at least 30 home runs and an OBP of .360. The only players with more than 12 seasons are Barry Bonds, Mike Schmidt, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. Thome had eight seasons of at least 25 home runs, a .280 batting average, .410 OBP and a .995 OPS. He is tied for sixth all-time behind Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx.

PLAYERS WITH SEASONS OF AT LEAST 40 HR, .385 OBP, .570 SLG # OF SEASONS
BABE RUTH 11
BARRY BONDS 8
ALBERT PUJOLS 6
ALEX RODRIGUEZ 6
JIM THOME 6
MARK MCGWIRE 5
HANK AARON 5
JIMMIE FOXX 5
LOU GEHRIG 5
WILLIE MAYS 4

 

Later years/ off the field

At age 35 as a member of the Chicago White Sox, Thome had one of his best seasons as a professional. He hit .288, 42 home runs and had an OPS of 1.014. He joined Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth as the only players, 35 or older who comprised a season of 42 home runs, an OPS over 1, an OBP above .415 and a batting average of at least .285. Thome is currently ranked 10th all-time in home runs after turning 35. Simply put, the guy had power throughout his entire career.

Jim Thome

A true professional on and off the diamond. (Photo from MLB.com)

For the entirety of his career, Thome was known as someone with a positive attitude and a gregarious personality. He received two Marvin Miller Man of the Year Awards and a Lou Gehrig Memorial Award for his involvement within the community. In a 2007 poll, he tied with Mike Sweeney for second-friendliest player in baseball.

As a child, Thome snuck into the Cubs clubhouse in hopes of getting an autograph from his favorite player, Dave Kingman. Although he received a handful of autographs from several Cubs, he was unable to retrieve Kingman’s. Because of this, Thome was extremely openhanded with signing autographs for fans during his career.

Thome has two children, and by 2012, had already established funds to put his 10 nieces and nephews through college. Jim and his family, who spoke in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, try “to stay connected with at least one or two organizations in each of the cities” that Thome has played in.

Not only is he a member of the 600 home run club, a five-time All-Star and a Silver Slugger Award winner, Thome is one of the most respected and humble players to ever step on the diamond. Thome is a lock for the Baseball Hall of Fame, and if there were a Hall of Fame for professional athletes based off personality and friendliness, Thome would be a first-ballot selection.

 

Featured image from YouTube

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Nolan Ryan record 108 mph fastball

Nolan Ryan’s record 108 mph fastball

Big league pitchers have heard the phrase “Throw him the heat!” perhaps more than any other phrase. Baseball fans have long had an infatuation with the game’s signature pitch, the fastball. There’s no doubt that for many who’ve played baseball, the pitchers that stand out the most are the ones who threw the hardest.

One of the burning questions at any one snapshot in baseball history is the question of who throws the hardest. At this snapshot in time, Aroldis Chapman is the game’s preeminent fireballer. When Chapman blistered the radar gun at 105 mph a few years back, many were calling him the fastest thrower of all time.

But this isn’t correct. Thanks to the scientific and mathematical analysis done in the documentary Fastball, we know it’s not correct. The distinction of fastest fastball belongs to Nolan Ryan’s record 108 mph fastball.

Why we love the fastball

Nolan Ryan record 108 mph fastball

Bob Feller showcasing his iconic high leg kick. (Photo from baseballheritagemuseum.org)

It’s the element of confrontation that the fastball brings to the game. The struggle between hitter and pitcher is one of the ultimate showdowns in sports, especially in those many instances where the hitters know what’s coming, and the pitcher knows exactly what he’s throwing. There’s nothing more primal in baseball than the predator-prey aspect of facing a hard fastball. It tests the very limits of what’s humanly possible.

The science of the fastball has been well studied, and Fastball does a wonderful job of putting it all together. One of the most striking comparisons made is the difference between a 92 mph fastball and 100 mph fastball. By the time a pitch thrown at 100 mph crosses home, a pitch thrown at 92 mph would still have 4.5 feet of travel left if thrown at the same time. At 100 mph, the batter has 0.396 seconds to process the pitch and make his decision to swing. Putting that in perspective, it takes a human being longer to blink.

This puts the hitter in a unique position that sets him in a situation where he must confront a cognitive dilemma of what’s humanly possible. For the pitcher, the dilemma is the same extreme, but it puts him in a unique position where it sets him at his limits of what is physically possible.

It’s even better when it’s late in the game and there are runners on the bases. Going beyond the science, there’s just something about watching a flame-throwing pitcher put the clamps down on the opposing lineup.

Debating the fastest

Discussing which pitcher is the hardest thrower in the modern game has long been settled by the radar gun. All MLB radar guns are set to record pitch speed at the 50-foot mark between the mound and the plate.

Until Nolan Ryan ushered in the “radar” age in 1974, there were only two other pitchers in history that were clocked using various devices. These pitchers are Walter “Big Train” Johnson, and Bob “The heater from Van Meter” Feller, or Rapid Robert for short. These are two of the best pitchers to ever take the mound, and arguably the best pitcher of their respective era. What’s unique about these three pitchers, however, is they were the first to have their pitches “clocked.”

Johnson’s pitch speed was calculated on a gun range, because where else would you test it? The Remington Arms Co. used a device that was normally used to measure the speed of a bullet. In summation, the calculation they arrived at, 83.2 mph, was flawed. Based on the design of the apparatus used, 83.2 mph is a calculation of how fast his pitch was travelling at 7.5 feet behind home plate. Adjusting pitch speed to meet modern standards, Johnson’s pitch was much closer to 93.8 mph.

Feller also threw a pitch through a device as did Johnson. However, this time the speed was measured right at home plate. Feller clocked in at an astonishing 98.6 mph on his fastest pitch of the test. Adjusting Feller’s pitch to align with today’s standard, he was closer to 107.6 mph. That’s 2.5 mph faster than Chapman’s officially recorded fastest pitch of 105.1 mph. Neither of these two pitchers have anything on Nolan Ryan though.

Nolan Ryan’s record 108 mph fastball

Nolan Ryan record 108 mph fastball

Nolan Ryan’s seventh no-hitter. (Photo from star-telegram.com)

The year 1974 was a watershed year of sorts for how we have come to measure the speed of a pitch. This was the year that the concept of the radar gun was established. A bunch of smart people decided that if you use an infrared beam, you can quickly get an accurate reading of how fast a pitch is moving. It can also be set to read the same point of measurement repeatedly, giving a fair assessment of the speed. Nolan Ryan became baseball’s first pitcher to ‘light up” the radar at a major league park.

On Aug. 20, 1974, in a game against the Detroit Tigers, then Angels pitcher Nolan Ryan pitched an 11-inning complete game 1-0 loss. As a quick note, Nolan Ryan’s career is marked by playing on teams that weren’t all that good offensively. He truly is a case study in why wins aren’t the best judge of a pitcher’s worth in every instance. Not wanting to stray to far off topic though, in the game against Detroit, Ryan was clocked at 100.9 mph, in the ninth inning. That means that he was getting stronger as the game wore on!

But like Feller and Johnson before him, Ryan’s measurement needs to be adjusted too. Ryan’s pitch was measured at 10 feet in front of home plate. When the proper adjustments are made, his 100.9 mph fastball becomes closer to 108.5 mph. If you are keeping score, that is about 3.5 mph faster than Chapman’s fastest pitch on record. All hail the Ryan Express!

 

 

Feature image from baseballhall.org

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Deja Vu for RunAway in Game 7 of the Apex Final

Game 7. One game away from realizing a dream or living a nightmare. In RunAway’s case, it’s more like reliving a nightmare. The second heartbreaking Apex finals loss in the last three seasons comes at the hands of a team who had a similar uprising to the story of RunAway’s initial Apex run: GC Busan.

GC Busan after winning Game 7 over RunAway. Photo courtesy of twitch.tv/ogn

GC Busan completes the royal road

GC Busan is the first team to run the gauntlet, or as they say in Korea, complete the “royal road,” to win their first Apex title. What that means is GC Busan entered the season as a brand new team that qualified through OGN’s challenger series and took the berth all the way to a championship. It’s remarkable what GC Busan and the City of Busan were able to accomplish in their first season. However, the success of the upstart GC Busan left one of the biggest Overwatch fan bases in disarray. RunAway started as a team of ringers back in season one. They also qualified through the challenger league. In a similar fashion to GC Busan, they seemingly came out of nowhere to be considered one of the best teams in Overwatch.

Now flashback to season two, a RunAway team still consisting of Stitch, Haksol and Kaiser, who at the time was one of the best Reindhart mains in Korea, took it to the established number one team in the world: Lunatic-Hai. In the finals, RunAway grabbed a 3-1 lead over Lunatic-Hai, a team they’d beaten in group stage two, only to drop the next three and lose on Eichenwald.

Photo courtesy of twitch.tv/ogn

Sound familiar? That’s because it is. It’s deja vu for the talented Korean squad, and it’s going to be a hard pill to swallow moving forward. A dominating 3-1 lead over Lunatic-Hai and a 3-2 lead over GC Busan. Both end in complete heartbreak. Two game 7 losses on Eichenwald is the only thing separating RunAway from being considered the worlds best.

RunAway’s Game 7 losses match up to history’s great choke jobs

So, is this the new version of the Buffalo Bills of the early 90’s? Or the Cleveland Indians surrendering seemingly insurmountable leads to lose in the most depressing way imaginable? It’s similar, but this is a team that’s story is just beginning. If anything, these two losses felt like flukes, but it’s something RunAway will have to focus on moving forward: closing matches.

Photo courtesy of twitch.tv/ogn

Nevertheless, I’m not here to diminish the accomplishments of both GC Busan or Lunatic-Hai, as both are well respected and talented teams, but something has to be said about RunAway squandering leads. Is it a lack of discipline when nearing the finish line? In my eyes, it’s their opponents finding another gear or a strategy that counter-acts everything RunAway is trying to accomplish.

In the case of GC Busan, that’s exactly what happened. The moment Hooreg and Profit switched over to the Tracer and Genji, RunAway had no answer. A team known for its strength in those two characters was surprisingly outplayed in every aspect. It was a complete 180-degree turn and something completely unexpected.

The main focus should be on the excellent team play of GC Busan and they’re decision making. It might feel like a fluke considering where this team started the season, but it was made clear early on that they were a serious contender.

Lastly, the future of Apex is uncertain. The Overwatch League is guaranteed to steal most of the talent, and the world of Overwatch’s focus will shift to North America. As for RunAway, it just a blip in the road. For RunAway players, two losses at the brink of a championship can change a person psychologically. It shakes a players confidence to the core and puts doubt in their minds, but the players on this team will continue to make an impact on the scene and over time the pain of these losses will fade.


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featured image courtesy of twitch.tv/ogn

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

Axe Bat leading hitting technology into the future

There’s a new bat poised to take Major League Baseball by storm. The Axe Bat, developed by Baden Sports, is proof that what’s old can become new again. If you aren’t familiar, the latest development in hitting technology is the Axe-handled baseball bat.

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

A lineup of Victus’ Axe-handle bats before being shipped to Miami Marlins slugger, Giancarlo Stanton.
(Photo courtesy of: whatproswear.com)

The early results by those that have swung them competitively at the game’s top level are remarkable. Axe Bat’s Director of Communications, Matt Peterson, spoke about this revolutionary new bat design in greater detail.

In 2017, at least 35 different big-leaguers swung the Axe-handled bat. Peterson said that together, those players totaled nearly 4,800 plate appearances and more than 1,100 hits.

All time, at least 57 players have used an Axe-handled bat during an official MLB game. It’s this type of growth that is turning more and more hitters onto this innovative design.

It also doesn’t hurt when you compare the hitting lines of those using it, to those still using traditional round-knobbed bats. Over the past two seasons, players swinging the Axe-handled bat design hit a collective slash line of (.273/.463/.805). In comparison, hitters using the traditional round-knobbed bat design put together a collective (.255/.422/.745).

Rookie Hitters

The early returns on performance seem to be paying huge dividends for players who decide to incorporate this new tool into their game. Take San Diego Padres rookie center fielder Manny Margot for instance. He converted to the Axe-handled bat for the majority of the season’s second half in 2017.

“The week he switched, he won the NL

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

San Diego rookie, Manny Margot, before he started realizing the benefits of the Axe-handled bat. (Photo courtesy of: Sporting News)

Player of the Week award,” Peterson said.

What a week it was for the young rookie with stars in his eyes too. Margot slapped Mets and Pirates pitching around the park all week (July 30), going 12-24 at the dish. But wait, there’s more to it than that.

In the first half of 2017 from Opening Day to July 23, before Margot switched bats, he hit (.258/.373/.677) with five homers and nine doubles in 281 plate appearances. After the switch to an Axe-handled bat, however, the difference is amazing.

From July 24 through the final game of the season, the young Margot posted a much improved (.269/.449/.772) over 248 plate appearances. During the final few months of the season, Margot matched his first half output in doubles with nine and hit eight home runs. If you’re keeping score, that’s three more homers in 33 fewer plate appearances. Margot loves hitting with the Axe-handled design it would appear.

Margot isn’t the only Padres youngster swinging an Axe-handled bat though.

“His teammate, Allen Cordoba, another rookie, also swung the bat most of this season,” Peterson said.

Established Professional Hitters

The rookies, however, aren’t the only players in MLB that have had their head turned by the Axe Bat. Established pro hitters are also getting in on the action as well.

Several of this year’s hitters in MLB’s postseason are among those switching from the classic round-knobbed handle to the Axe-handle. In 2017’s playoff field, George Springer, Jake Lamb, David Peralta, Chris Owings, Lonnie Chisenhall, Greg Allen and Mookie Betts all swung the Axe Bat 100 percent of the time in 2017 Peterson said.

Axe Bat leading hitting technology

Dustin Pedrioa steps into the batter’s box brandishing his Axe-handle bat. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

There were also several other players on the rosters of playoff teams who used the Axe-handled bat in 2017.

“Other players on playoff teams who used it in a significant number of at-bats included Dustin Pedroia, Joc Pederson and Matt Wieters,” Peterson said.

Growth within the game is happening rapidly as more players are encountering the Axe Bat.

“Several others experimented with it for a handful of at-bats this year and might be candidates for Spring Training 2018,” Peterson said.

“We anticipate the growth trend to continue as Axe-handled bats become more available, as more performance benefits of the handle are confirmed,” Peterson said. “And we begin showing players some of the new designs and customization options that will soon be available to them.”

One significant performance benefit of an Axe-handled bat is an increase in bat speed. It has been studied by Baseball Prospectus. They confirmed that Axe Bat’s claim to improve bat speed does, in fact, hold water.

Read Baseball Prospectus’ study on the Axe Bat here.

Licensing Axe-handle technology

There’s a good reason many fans haven’t realized this bat has found its way into several big leaguer’s hands. That reason is licensing.

Axe Bat’s patented Axe-handle technology has been licensed to Major League Baseball’s approved wood bat makers. The first of these companies to purchase the right to use the Axe-handled design is Victus Sports.

“That’s why you see Victus’ logo on the barrel of Axe-handled bats.” Peterson said. “Victus Sports was our first licensee. They make a great bat and were instrumental in getting the Axe-handle in players’ hands around the league.”

As more players realize the benefits of this revolutionary bat handle design, more bat makers are sure to be purchasing the rights to make this bat for their customers. Couple this with high profile players like Dustin Pedrioa and Mookie Betts, and swinging an Axe-handled bat and it is sure to find its way into other players’ hands too.

Baseball players are some of the most superstitious people in the universe. One solid hit during a slump and a player can get hooked forever. As more research is done (like the study by Baseball Prospectus) on the Axe Bat, more players are sure to start incorporating it into their game.

Final Thoughts

Since the moment it was created, Axe-handle design has seen significant growth in MLB. The idea for the Axe Bat was conceptualized in 2009 by Bruce Leinert. As a result, by 2017 there were already 35 players who tested it in live competition. Some, like Mookie Betts, have even made it their primary bat. That’s darn impressive growth in the span of eight years.

From a fan’s perspective, is will be interesting to see what impact this bat will have on the game. It’ll be interesting to see the statistical comparison between both Axe and traditional bat designs going forward, especially as more players incorporate the Axe-handle bat into their game.

This should make for some fascinating conversations in the future, no doubts about it!

 

(Feature image: Sports Illustrated)

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2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

The Yankees fought to be here

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Didi Gregorius smacked two dingers to lift the Yankees to the ALCS on Wednesday (WKYC)

Didi Gregorius and the New York Yankees stormed back against the Indians to move on to the ALCS on Wednesday. They found themselves in a 2-0 hole without any hope. Joe Girardi’s job even seemed to be on the line. After some questionable decisions early in the series, many were expecting him to have one foot out the door.

Just like they did in the Wild Card game, New York fought its way back to find themselves in the ALCS for the first time since 2012. While there were some offensive heroes such as Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner, the Yankees won in large part thanks to outstanding pitching.

With their backs up against the wall, their starting pitchers in the last three games of the series turned in 18.1 innings with just five earned runs and 25 strikeouts. They made the Cleveland offense look foolish. On top of that, Aroldis Chapman shut down the Indians’ season for the second year in a row.

What already seems to be forgotten is how the Yankees battled their way in the Wild Card game. They were down quick to the Cinderella Twins, giving up three runs in the first 1/3 innings. They quickly responded though and Joe Girardi played a bullpen game for the ages.

Houston has New York’s number

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Altuve has proven why he was the best hitter in baseball in 2017 (Yahoo Sports)

The Astros managed to go an impressive 5-2 against the Yankees during the regular season. What was especially impressive was that they managed to average 6.14 runs per game this season against the Bronx Bombers.

Houston played a great series against Boston and clicked on all cylinders. Their offense looked as good as ever and will be a challenge for New York to slow down. The Yankees’ pitching staff has had to work much harder than Houston’s, so something to look for in the series is fatigue.

Justin Verlander’s presence on the Astros pitching staff makes a significant difference this time of year. This Yankees team does not have a whole lot of experience against Verlander despite him pitching in the American League. This will be the first time that Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez will ever see him.

The only starter that the Yankees seem to have success against is Charlie Morton. The team as a collective have a career .327 batting average against him with seven home runs. It will be interesting to see if A.J. Hinch will give Morton the nod this series. Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. do have more success against the Yankees, but it is still in limited appearances. Look for the Astors’ starters to have some success in this series.

The main reason Houston is here, however, is their offense, something that went missing for the Indians in the ALDS. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa especially have good resumes against New York. Altuve is also swinging a hot bat after hitting three home runs in the first game of the ALDS.

How the series will play out

2017 ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

Heroics from Gregorius and Gardner have led to some postseason magic for New York (ABC News)

Despite the Yankees recent success in clutch moments, the Astros are favored to win the ALCS and move on to the World Series according to Vegas odds. It won’t be a cake walk for Houston though.

A large part of the series is going to depend on the Yankees starters keeping up what they were doing against Cleveland. New York had some impressive times at the plate whether it be the two bombs from Gregorius in game five, or the 12-pitch at-bat by Brett Gardner in the ninth that led to insurance runs for the Yankees.

However, the offense as a whole was nothing to write home about.

It is hard to determine whether or not the success of the New York staff came from an Indians offense going cold or an overpowering performance by their starters. They will not be running into a cold Houston offense however. Houston has not been shutout since Aug. 17 and has scored two runs or more in all but four games since that date. Seeing that Houston had the best overall offense in all of baseball in the regular season, it will be tough for Yankees pitching to slow them down.

The postseason is unpredictable of course. Many thought it was all but a lock when the Indians went up 2-0 in the ALDS. New York wasn’t even a favorite coming out of their own division, so anything can happen this time of year.

What has been especially fun to watch with the Yankees is their ability to fight back. Brett Gardner has been a catalyst for New York. His final at-bat on Wednesday was evidence of how badly he wants that second ring. Despite the advantage the Astros have on the offensive side of the ball, the Yankees seem to have that postseason magic that every team is desperate to have.

If the Yankees pitching staff keeps it up then things could get very interesting this series. Nothing will be given in this series because each team knows what is at stake.

ALCS Prediction: Yankees in 7

 

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