The winners of the 2001 AL and NL Rookie of the Year Awards, Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols, have had tremendous careers. Both are worthy of first-ballot nominations to the National Baseball Hall of Fame whenever they decide to hang up the cleats.
Ichiro, the 2001 AL MVP, 10-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger, 10-time Gold Glove Award winner and two-time batting champ is back in Seattle and is only 42 runs away from becoming the Mariners all-time leader in runs scored, passing Edgar Martinez. Pujols, a three-time MVP, 10-time All-Star, six-time Silver Slugger, two-time Gold Glove Award winner and former batting champ sits just 25 hits away from 3,000.
Below, we will examine some other possible milestones these two could reach in 2018, as well as what this means for their legacy, as all-time greats.
In 2016, Ichiro hit a triple off Colorado Rockies pitcher Chris Rusin, which marked his 3,000th career hit in the MLB. Currently, he sits just 27 hits away from 3,110, which would tie him for 21st all time with Dave Winfield. If Ichiro can string together 71 more hits, he would tie George Brett at 16th all time.
In 2004, Ichiro hit .372 with 262 hits and 36 steals, one of the best seasons we have ever seen. (Photo from SBNation)
If he was an everyday player, this would be like brushing his teeth. Unfortunately, Ichiro has not had more than 100 hits in a season since 2014. Because of injuries to Seattle’s outfield, Ichiro has gotten 16 at-bats in the team’s first five games. In all honesty, even with the lack of playing time, Ichiro’s chances at jumping Brett on the hits leaderboard look good.
3,987 is the amount of bases Ichiro has crossed during his 18-year career. If he crosses 12 more, and he will become the 90th man in MLB history to reach 4,000. He will accomplish that in the near future.
Although he had just one steal last season, Ichiro needs to swipe five more bags to tie Barry Bonds for 33rd all time. In 2016, he managed to steal 10 bases, so don’t sleep on the 44-year-old’s legs. He is also just four triples away from 100 on his career.
Barring a season-ending injury, Ichiro will most certainly reach 3,100 hits and 4,000 total bases. When Ichiro reaches these marks, he will join Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins and Paul Molitor as the only players in baseball history with 3,100 hits, 4,000 total bases, 500 or more steals and a career batting average above .305.
Even if he were to never play another game, Ichiro has already solidified himself as one of the best lead-off hitters this game has ever seen. He is one of four players to have won 10 Gold Glove Awards while compiling at least 3,000 hits. Joining him on this list is Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays and Al Kaline. In 2004, he became the only player in MLB history who posted a season with a batting average of at least .370 with 260 or more hits.
During his rookie season, in which he won the AL MVP, Ichiro joined Ty Cobb and George Sisler as the only three players with a season of at least 50 steals, .350 batting average and 240 hits. Below is a table to illustrate Ichiro’s greatness.
NO. OF SEASONS WITH AT LEAST 200 HITS, .300 BATTING AVERAGE and 30 STOLEN BASES
NO. OF SEASONS
As stated earlier, Pujols needs 25 more hits to reach the 3,000 milestone. Although he batted just .241 last year, “The Machine” compiled 143 hits. With that said, it is possible that he could reach the 3,115 mark, which would tie him for 20th all time with Alex Rodriguez. Pujols also needs just 15 home runs to tie Ken Griffey Jr. for sixth all time.
Three-time NL MVP, Albert Pujols (Photo from SBNation)
In three of the last four seasons, Pujols has driven in over 100 runs. Currently, he is just 79 RBIs shy from 2,000 for his career. The only players who have 2,000 RBIs under their belt are Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Alex Rodriguez and Cap Anson. That is quite the list.
The three-time MLB Player of the Year needs 23 more doubles to tie Honus Wagner for ninth all time. He is 57 runs shy of tying Paul Molitor for 20th on the all-time runs list. All of these milestones are easily reachable in 2018. Pujols could join Hank Aaron and Alex Rodriguez as the only players in baseball history with 3,000 career hits, 2,000 RBIs and 600 home runs.
Statistically, this is one of the best MLB players we have ever seen. In each of the first 10 years of his career, Pujols hit at least .300 with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. Hank Aaron is the only other player to hit at least 600 home runs with a career batting average of at least .300. Pujols, along with Lou Gehrig and Larry Walker, are the only players to post a season with at least 45 doubles, 45 home runs, .440 OBP, 1.100 OPS and 370 total bases.
Below are two tables which exemplify Pujols’ legacy and present a strong case for him as the best first baseman of all time.
NO. OF SEASONS WITH AT LEAST .300 BATTING AVERAGE, 30 HOME RUNS, 100 RBIS and 95 RUNS
NO. OF SEASONS
PLAYERS WITH AT LEAST 2,900 hits, 1,700 RUNS, 5,400 TOTAL BASES, 600 HOME RUNS, .370 OBP (IN ORDER OF HIGHEST OBP)
Featured image by MLB.com
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While “Pitchers and Catchers Report” is the warmest phrase in the English language to a chilled Midwesterner in February, the actual charm of exhibition games and training camp battles can quickly wear thin. There is the strange drama surrounding an unusually large crop of unsigned free agents that is definitely a total coincidence and not at all another step by the owners to further reduce the amount of the games gigantic piles of money that goes to the players.
But once you get past that, most lineups and rotations are pretty well set. Prospect mavens are patrolling the back fields for the next stars but there really isn’t a lot of Major League Baseball to cover until the games start counting in a month. I definitely can’t muster much excitement over the Reds decision between ex-prospect Phil Ervin or the punchless bat of Ben Revere, who may actually be the secret identity of a patriotic superhero from Earth 2.
So instead I thought I’d share some quick thoughts on baseball in general. How I think about This Great Game, where it stands and how I watch and follow the sport.
I admit that I might be a bit biased. A kid growing up in the city Longfellow coined “Queen of the West” in the 1970’s couldn’t help but think that the Great Eight were gods amongst men. Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, The Big Dog Tony Perez and manager Sparky Anderson are all in Cooperstown. Pete Rose would be there too if he weren’t such an idiot. And I’ll go to my grave believing Davey Concepcion should be there too.
For the better part of a decade, Cincinnati was the center of the baseball world. And it was glorious.
Second: Greatness is relative
Sure the Reds of the 70’s were awesome. But of course, there are other candidates. The Yankee’s of the Ruth and Gehrig era, or the Dimaggio and Mantle era, or the Jeter and Mariano Rivera era are all pretty good as well. The Dodgers of the 60’s, the Cubs of the right this minute might be in that discussion. But all these teams played in different eras and comparing them can be an apples to oranges to dragonfruit conundrum.
Ruth and Gehrig (Baseball Hall of Fame)
As a basic shorthand I try to compare teams by their peers, what the statheads call the run environment. Teams from the Dead Ball Era played a very different game than anything we would see today, or even the post Black Sox years after Babe Ruth showed you could consistently put the ball over the fence. Advanced stats like WAR can be normalized across time, but even they fall short of closing the gap time cruelly enforces.
The ‘27 Yankees had the Murderers Row, but their league was lily white and their best player was a big fat guy who may very well have been legally blind in one eye. The Machine would have destroyed them. The Reds of the 70’s were great, but they thought weight training was silly and rarely if ever saw a hundred mile an hour fastball, let alone the kind of heat brought by even lousy staffs in this day and age when fastball velocity averages 93 mph. Aroldis Chapman would mow them down like a machine gun.
Third: Greatness doesn’t always mean winning the last game of the year.
I’m happy for the Chicago Cubs and their fans, same for the Astros or the Royals. Winning the World Series is awesome. But it’s also a bit of a crapshoot. The best winning percentage in baseball history was the Tinker to Evers to Chance Cubs of 1904 who lost the Series to a White Sox team 23 wins behind them. The modern record holder for a 162 game season was the best Mariner team ever assembled in 2001. Ichiro and gang won 116 games but lost their lone playoff series to the Yankees.
Ichiro (Seattle PI)
The Reds had one of the most successful runs in recent memory with the Votto, Phillips, Cueto teams led by Dusty Baker. But they never won a postseason series. Meanwhile down the river the hated St Louis Cardinals got to have a big dogpile on the TV in 2006 with an 83 win team that barely even made the playoffs. And the less said about the two flags flying over that monument to graft in Miami the better.
I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of the game’s increasing focus on October (and early November.) Baseball is supposed to be a marathon, not a sprint. The ever expanding post season tournament that apes the other Big Three sports feels ill-suited for a game with so much variance. It takes the big sample of 162 games, 500 plate appearances, 200 innings pitched to separate the signal from the noise and tell us who the best teams, the best hitters, the best players are. Too many great seasons are tossed down the memory hole once the playoffs start.
Well, that’s three… I’m out. April needs to hurry up and get here.
Rookies are an anomaly in fantasy baseball, as it is difficult to predict their value due to a lack of minor and major league experience. In order to qualify as a rookie, a player must not have conceded 130 at bats or fifty innings pitched in the majors, and also must have fewer than 45 days on the active roster. Rookies tend to be undervalued in redraft leagues and over valued in keeper and dynasty formats, although in either format, they can make or break your fantasy season.
One rookie, Michael Conforto, who looked to contribute as a starting outfielder for the New York Mets in 2016, and after battling through injuries and demotions, finished the year as the 121st outfielder in fantasy. Conforto’s average draft position of 211, was much too high compared to his performance, as you could have waited and selected top 50 outfielders Odubel Herrera, Nick Markakis or Carlos Beltran.
There is always risk involved when drafting rookies, but the rewards can be plentiful.
In 2016, rookie short stops Corey Seager, Trevor Story and Aledmys Diaz exploded onto the scene, all finishing as top 10 short stops, while commonly being drafted 60th or later, occasionally going undrafted, depending on the date and number of teams in the draft.
AL Rookie of the year Michael Fulmer was another undrafted contributor, as he finished as a top 28th starting pitcher in 2016, after winning 11 games in 26 starts.
After being called up in June, Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals played in only 73 games, but managed to finish as the 10th second basemen, after batting .342 with 13 home runs and 33 stolen bases.
Many owners believe rookies are too risky to take chances on, especially in re-draft leagues, Even though the 2016 rookie class shined, many owners will continue to shy away from drafting rookies over established talent. In order to persuade owners to take a few more chances on rookies in 2017, they must understand what rookies are truly capable of.
Below are the greatest fantasy baseball seasons by a rookie at each position since the year 2000.
Notable rookies to keep your eye out for in 2017 include: Andrew Benintendi (BOS), Yoan Moncada (CWS), Dansby Swanson (ATL), Hunter Renfroe (SD), Tyler Glasnow (PIT), Aaron Judge (NYY), Yulieski Gurriel (HOU), Willson Contreras (CHC), Lucas Giolito (CWS), Bradley Zimmer (CLE), and Ozzie Albies (ATL).
Catcher: Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs, 2008
2008 National League ROY, Geovany Soto, looks to break camp with the Los Angeles Angels in 2017. (Courtesy of Getty Images)
Honorable mentions include: Bengie Molina 2000 (ANA), Buster Posey 2010 (SFG), Wilson Ramos 2011 (WAS), Wilin Rosario 2012 (COL), and Gary Sanchez 2016 (NYY).
Geovany Soto, was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 11th round of the 2001 MLB draft. After totaling 25 home runs in six years of minor league baseball, Soto broke out, batting .353 with 26 home runs and 109 RBI’s for the Iowa Cubs of the Pacific Coast League in 2007.
The Chicago Cubs finished first in the National League Central in 2007, unfortunately getting swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Division Series. The Cubs backstop remained a question mark heading into 2008, as veterans Michael Barrett and Jason Kendall departed. This was Soto’s chance.
His transition from the minors to the majors went smoothly, as he batted .285 with 23 home runs, 66 runs, and 86 RBI’s. Soto was named the NL’s starting catcher in the All-Star game, and was also awarded the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year while finishing 13th in NL MVP voting.
Unfortunately for Soto, injuries derailed his career. He has failed to surpass his career high of 141 games, which occurred in 2008.
The 12-year veteran has gone on to bounce around the American League, having brief stints with the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, Chicago White Sox, and currently the Los Angeles Angels.
We could see a rookie season similar to Soto’s soon, as young catchers Gary Sanchez and Willson Contreras begin to emerge.
First Base: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox, 2014
Jose Abreu continues to torment pitchers in the AL Central. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Honorable mentions include: Mark Teixeira 2003 (TEX), Ryan Howard 2005 (PHI), Prince Fielder 2006 (MIL), Joey Votto 2008 (CIN), Gaby Sanchez 2010 (FLA), Eric Hosmer 2011 (KC), and Freddie Freeman 2011 (ATL).
The Cuban first basemen signed a six-year deal with the Chicago White Sox worth $68 million, in 2013, which was the largest deal in club history.
In a Cuban professional league, Abreu batted .316 with 19 home runs and 60 RBI’s over an 83-game span. The White Sox took a risk, believing that his numbers in Cuba would translate to production in the American League.
The 27-year-old took over at first base for Chicago legend Paul Konerko in 2014, becoming a new corner stone of the White Sox lineup. Abreu didn’t disappoint, batting .317 with 36 home runs and 107 RBI’s. The 2014 All-Star managed to also win the AL Rookie of the Year and Silver Slugger awards, while finishing fourth in the AL MVP voting.
Abreu has remained an elite first basemen throughout his three-year career, having a 162-game average of .299, 32 home runs, and 109 RBI’s. His rookie season remains nearly unrepeatable.
Second Base: Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins, 2006
Dan Uggla looks to make an MLB comeback in 2017. (Courtesy of Onlineathens.com)
Honorable mentions include: Robinson Cano 2005 (NYY), Dustin Pedroia 2007 (BOS), Danny Espinosa 2011 (WAS), and Trea Turner 2016 (WAS).
Dan Uggla remains one my favorite players to this day. He mashed 21 home runs in 2005 at the AA level for the Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies. Fortunately for Uggla, he failed to make the Diamondbacks 40-man roster in 2005, and was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the rule-5 draft, forcing the Marlins to keep him on the 40-man roster.
The 5-foot-11, 210-pound second basemen took this opportunity and ran with it, hitting 27 home runs with 90 RBI’s while batting a very respectable .287. The 26-year-old made his first of three All-Star appearances in 2006, while finishing third in NL Rookie of the Year.
Uggla’s career remained explosive, as he managed to hit 30 or more home runs in his following five seasons, finishing 17th in NL MVP voting in 2010.
After two and half inconsistent seasons with the Atlanta Braves from 2011-2013, he has bounced around the minor leagues. The 35-year old is coming off of stints with the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals, as he continues to try to make an impact for a big-league club in 2017.
Third Base: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers, 2007
Ryan Braun’s rookie season remains unmatched. (Courtesy of Youtube.com)
Honorable mentions include: Eric Hinske 2002 (TOR), Garrett Atkins 2005 (COL), Ryan Zimmerman 2006 (WAS), Evan Longoria 2008 (TB), Kris Bryant 2015 (CHC), and Matt Duffy 2015 (SFG).
Ryan Braun was the 5th overall pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005. From 2005-2007, he batted .313, while hitting 32 home runs in 165 minor league games. The highly touted prospect had matching expectations when he was called up to take over for veteran Jeff Cirillo in May of 2007.
The 23-yaer-old impressed, batted an astounding .324, with 34 home runs, and 97 RBI’s. Braun went on to win NL Rookie of the Year, while finishing top 25 in NL MVP voting. The fact that Braun only played in 113 games goes completely overlooked, as he was on pace to hit 41 home runs and 118 RBI’s over a 600-plate appearance season. Although there have been some stellar rookie seasons by third basemen in the last two decades, Braun’s stands alone.
Short Stop: Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins, 2006
Hanley Ramirez may be back in Boston, but no one forgets his MVP caliber days in Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Honorable mentions include: Jimmy Rollins 2001 (PHI), Angel Berroa 2003 (KAN), Troy Tulowitzki 2007 (COL), Alexie Ramirez 2008 (CWS), Carlos Correa 2015 (HOU), Francisco Lindor 2015 (CLE), Corey Seager 2016 (LAD), Trevor Story 2016 (COL), and Aledmys Diaz 2016 (STL).
The former and current Boston Red Sox, Hanley Ramirez, signed with the team in 2000 as an amateur free agent. He began to soar up the ranks, making his way from low-A minor league ball to the majors in only three years. Ramirez was traded to the Florida Marlins in November of 2005, in a deal involving World Series champs Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell.
As a 22-year old, Ramirez won the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year, batting .292 with 17 home runs, 119 runs, 59 RBI’s, and 51 stolen bases. Hanley’s production goes unmatched, as the only other rookie to score over 115 runs in the modern era is Ichiro Suzuki.
Hanley’s career has been an interesting ride so far, as he has battled through some serious injuries that has caused him to lose his MVP form. He has transformed from a perennial .300 hitter with 20 plus steals to a .270 hitter with single-digit steals, which, along with his improved power stroke, is still a very productive player.
Left Field: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2001
Albert Pujols is the greatest player of his generation. (Courtesy of Lehighvalleylive.com)
Honorable mentions include: Hideki Matsui 2003 (NYY), Jason Bay 2004 (PIT), Chris Coghlan 2009 (FLA), Yoenis Cespedes 2012 (OAK).
Arguably the greatest player of his generation, Albert Pujols was drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. He accelerated up the minor-league ladder, batting .314 with 19 home runs and 96 RBI’s in 133 games at three different levels in 2000.
The Machine exploded onto the scene in 2001, batting .329 with 37 home runs, 112 runs, and 130 RBI’s. Pujols went on to become an All-Star, win Rookie of the Year and Silver Slugger awards, and finish top five in NL MVP voting. Prince Albert’s 2001 campaign sparked a hall of fame career which included three MVP’s and two World Series rings.
Center Field: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2012
Mike Trout or Micky Mantle? (Courtesy of the Huffington Post)
Honorable mentions include: Terrance Long 2000 (OAK), Rocco Baldelli 2003 (TB), Scott Podsednik 2003 (MIL), Willy Tavares 2005 (HOU), Jacoby Ellsbury 2008 (BOS), Austin Jackson 2010 (DET), and Billy Hamilton 2014 (CIN).
This generations Mikey Mantle began as a first-round selection by the Los Angles Angels in 2009. In three minor league season Trout batted well over .300, but lacked the power that we are all used to seeing today, as he hit only 23 home runs in 291 games.
Trout started his rookie season after being called up in April of 2012. He went on to play 139 games, batting .326, while mashing 30 home runs, scoring 129 runs, driving in 83 RBI’s, and stealing 49 bases in 56 attempts.
The two-time MVP had the highest WAR ever by a rookie, with 10.0. It may be a long time until we see another 30/40 season by a rookie.
Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners, 2001
Ichiro refuses to quit as he enters his 17th Major League season. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
The 27-year old rookie was purchased from the Orix BlueWave for $13 million in 2000. In nine seasons in Japan, Ichiro batted .313, with 658 runs, 118 home runs, and 508 stolen bases. After winning seven batting titles and three MVP awards in Japan, Ichiro decided to make the transition to the MLB.
In 2001, he set the record for the most hits ever by a rookie with 242. The Rookie of the Year finished the season batting .350, while scoring 127 runs, driving in 69 RBI’s, and stealing 56 bases. He was subsequently rewarded the AL MVP.
Suzuki’s career is well known as he has surpassed the 3000-hit plateau and has a career average of .313. Ichiro will remain with the Miami Marlins in 2017, where he will continue to add to his historical career.
Starting Pitcher: Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins, 2013
Jose Fernandez, what could have been?(Findagrave.com)
Honorable mentions include: Rick Ankiel 2000 (STL), Roy Oswalt 2001 (HOU), Dontrelle Willis 2003 (FLA), Francisco Liriano 2006 (MIN), Daisuke Matsuzaka 2007 (BOS), Edinson Volquez 2008 (CIN), J.A. Happ 2009 (PHI), Jaime Garcia 2010 (STL), Jeremy Hellickson 2011 (TB), Yu Darvish 2012 (TEX), Wade Miley 2012 (ARI), Shelby Miller 2013 (ATL), Hyun-Jin Ryo 2013 (LAD), Julio Teheran 2013 (ATL), Matt Shoemaker 2014 (LAA), Jacob deGrom 2014 (NYM), Noah Syndergaard 2015 (NYM), Michael Fulmer 2016 (DET), Kenta Maeda 2016 (LAD), and Jon Gray 2016 (COL).
In 2013, the late, great, Jose Fernandez, managed to out-perform all other rookie starters since the year 2000. After being selected as the 14th pick of the 2011 MLB draft, Fernandez pitched one full season in the minors, going 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA, while striking out 158 batters in 134 innings pitched.
The young hurler started 28 games in his rookie season, going 12-6 with a 2.19, while striking out 187 batters in 172.2 innings. The 20-year old lead the league in hits per nine in 2013, which helped him earn the NL Rookie of the Year award, his first All-Star appearance, and a 3rd place finish in NL Cy Young.
In 2016, Fernandez lead the league in K/9, with 12.5, as he had 253 strikeouts in only 182.1 innings. Unfortunately, Fernandez’ life was cut short in boating accident, so we can only speculate to what could have been. Rest in peace.
Releif Pitcher: Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves, 2011
Craig Kimbrel may be in a new uniform, but his antics remain as they did in Atlanta. (Courtesy of Jeffschultz.blog.myajc.com)
Honorable mentions include: Kazuhiro Sasaki 2000 (SEA), Huston Street 2005 (OAK), Jonathan Papelbon 2006 (BOS), Andrew Bailey 2009 (OAK), and Neftali Feliz 2010 (TEX), Jordan Walden 2010 (LAA), Dellin Betances 2014 (NYY), Roberto Osuna 2015 (TOR), Edwin Diaz 2016 (SEA), and Seung-hwan Oh 2016 (STL).
After being drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 33rd round of the 2007 MLB draft, Craig Kimbrel decided to forgo the MLB, and attend Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Alabama. He finished the 2007-2008 collegiate season with a 2.89 ERA, while striking out 123 batters in 81 innings.
Kimbrel went on the be re-drafted by the Braves in the third round of the 2008 MLB draft. He had some slight struggles in the minors, sporting a 3.97 ERA in 70.1 innings pitched at four different levels in 2009, but recovered in 2010, where he had a 1.62 ERA at the AAA level.
Kimbrel received the official call up in 2010, where he recorded 46 saves, struck out 127 batters, and lead the league in games finished with 64. The 23-year old went on to win NL Rookie of the Year, make his first All-Star appearance, all while receiving votes for the Cy Young and MVP.
The flamethrower has managed to improve on his rookie season, as he has had an illustrious seven-year career with a career ERA of 1.86 and over 250 career saves.
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