- It's time for every MLB team to give thanks.
Some MLB teams have more to be thankful for than others do. But every team has something. In honor of Thanksgiving, here’s a rundown of baseball’s biggest blessings.
Tampa Bay Rays: Blake Snell is coming off a campaign with a 1.89 ERA, a 219 ERA+, an 11.0 K/9—and, to top it all off, a Cy Young Award. Brought to you in large part by this curveball, which turned more than half of swings into misses.
New York Yankees: The 2018 Yankees’ 267 home runs were the most ever, trouncing the record set by the 1997 Seattle Mariners. However, the most impressive part of that wasn’t Giancarlo Stanton’s 38 dingers, which led the team. Nope, it was the club’s four-way tie for second: Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Didi Gregorius and Miguel Andujar each finished with exactly 27.
Baltimore Orioles: Well, it can’t possibly get worse. That’s something to be thankful for.
Toronto Blue Jays: The children are our future / Teach them well and let them lead the way / Show them all the beauty they possess inside / Give them a sense of pride
Yes, Vlad Jr. and Bo Bichette are on the way.
Boston Red Sox: C’mon. What else?
Cleveland Indians: It’s easy to be thankful for Francisco Lindor—slick glove, 25 stolen bases, 38 home runs. But don’t forget to appreciate his smile, too.
Minnesota Twins: Officially, Joe Mauer’s no longer here… but you can sneak him on the list of blessings just one more time. After all, it’s been just two weeks since he announced his retirement. After 15 years, a 124 OPS+, and 55.1 bWAR—all, of course, in Minnesota—he’s earned it.
Detroit Tigers: The 2018 Tigers had the league’s lowest groundball rate, at 39.6%. That made them just the second team in the last four years to post a groundball rate below 40%. (The other one? The 2017 Tigers.) That’s not necessarily good—the opposite, really—but, hey, it’s unique, and good things have been slim around here lately, so it’ll have to do.
Kansas City Royals: Whit Merrifield has become so much more than what was projected or promised. The second baseman improved on his breakout campaign from 2017: He increased his walk rate, made better contact, and quietly led baseball in both hits and stolen bases. He may not have much talent around him, but for now, be thankful for 2018 Hit King Whit Merrifield.
Chicago White Sox: Yoan Moncada has lost some of his prospect luster; in his first full season, the second baseman struggled to match the hype and finished as a slightly below average hitter. But have you seen his son, Robinson? The toddler has his own account on Twitter, and he offers a brand of cuteness that’s well worth saying thanks.
Houston Astros: This pitching staff was great last year. But do you know just how great? A 3.11 ERA, one of the five lowest in a quarter-century. A 130 ERA+, one of the twenty best in history. The most strikeouts of all time. The lowest WHIP in 99 years. Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton—together, they weren’t just the best in 2018. They were in the conversation for the best ever.
Seattle Mariners: GM Jerry Dipoto announced his interest in a teardown earlier this month, and he’s already begun acting on it. It’s hard to know, then, if reliever Edwin Diaz will still be with the club in 2019. If he is? Enjoy another year from a guy whose last season featured a 1.96 ERA, a 44% strikeout rate, and 57 saves. If he’s not? Well, he should bring back a pretty hefty return. And even if he ends up pitching elsewhere, you can appreciate this slider from anywhere.
Los Angeles Angels: The basic resting state of any baseball fan at any time should be, simply, “thankful for Mike Trout.” But if you need a framework to make that even easier, here’s one: Harmon Killebrew. Yogi Berra. Willie Stargell. Vlad Guerrero. These are just a few of the players whom Trout passed in bWAR this year. They’re all in the Hall of Fame. Trout is 27, and he’s passed them all. Trout’s career looks like this—a clear equal to slam-dunk cases for the HoF—just as he’s begun to hit his peak.
Texas Rangers: Adrian Beltre’s retirement is unquestionably a loss, but the fact that Texas got to enjoy eight full seasons of him sharing an infield with Elvis Andrus? With all of the included antics and comedy and head-touching? What more joyful baseball blessing could there be?
Oakland A’s: Matt Chapman’s 136 OPS+ was certainly nothing to sneeze at, but his prowess at the plate is far from the most exciting part of his game. Nope, that would be his glove—29.0 defensive runs saved gave him one of the ten best defensive seasons by a third baseman in the last half-century.
Atlanta Braves: There are plenty of choices here—the electrifying young duo of Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña, Jr., the consistent talent of Freddie Freeman, the breakout season of Mike Foltynewicz—but let’s go with one of the less obvious ones here. Jonny Venters was picked up in a deadline deal, in the middle of his first season in six years after dealing with surgery after surgery. The reliever finished with a solid second half, and he was rewarded as the NL Comeback Player of the Year.
Miami Marlins: In terms of who’ll be on the roster in 2019? There’s…. not much. But J.T. Realmuto is the best catcher available, and he can bring back an awful nice prospect package, and that’s worth being thankful for.
New York Mets: Jacob deGrom’s brilliant season was acknowledged just as it should have been by Cy Young voters, so that’s one thing. Elsewhere on the diamond, though, don’t forget Brandon Nimmo. The outfielder improved in just about every way in his first full major-league season: He began getting on base more often, showing some pop, and lifting the ball more. His 150 OPS+ ended up second in the National League, behind only MVP Christian Yelich.
Philadelphia Phillies: May we interest you this holiday season in an Aaron Nola curveball? 2545 revolutions per minute, with a 41% whiff rate!
Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper’s future hangs in the balance, sure. But if he leaves behind an outfield of Juan Soto (a time-bending, dinger-crushing, historically great teenager) Victor Robles (a toolsy top prospect), and Adam Eaton (among the best leadoff hitters in baseball)? My goodness.
Chicago Cubs: Javier Baez’s nickname of El Mago is well-earned—he has so many tricks up his sleeve that it’s tough to choose the most impressive. His newfound power? (34 home runs in 2018, up from a previous high of 23.) His positional versatility? (In 2018, he played every position on the infield—again.) His slick glove? His speed? All strong choices! But they don’t quite measure up to that time that he stole home… from first.
Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto has led Cincinnati in OPS+ almost every year since he debuted. Almost. The few exceptions: 2008, when he was just a rookie; 2014, when he missed more than half of the season with injury; and 2018, when Eugenio Suarez broke out and took the title from him, if only by a little bit (135 OPS+ to 125). The third baseman built on the adjustments he made in 2017, adding some serious power (34 home runs) and hitting the ball harder than ever.
St. Louis Cardinals: Among the many amazing tidbits about Matt Carpenter’s 2018—49% of his contact was classified as hard. Almost exactly half! No other player in the last decade has posted such a high rate of hard hits (or such a high rate of tasty salsa production).
Milwaukee Brewers: There’s a strong case to be made for Christian Yelich (MVP!) or Josh Hader (46.7% strikeout rate!) but let’s go with Lorenzo Cain. At 32, he played centerfield as well as he ever has.
Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates had a disappointing second half, kicking them out of contention after they’d flirted with going for it. But there was a bright spot in there: Jameson Taillon, who’d been solid in the first half and blossomed in the second. Finally healthy after battling Tommy John surgery and cancer, he looked like the pitcher he’d originally been promised as. In the second half, he posted a 2.33 ERA and 4.75 K/BB. And there’s good reason to believe that his improvement could be lasting, as it seemed to stem from an overhaul of his pitch mix, throwing his slider more and his changeup less.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Andrew Chafin appeared in 77 games this year, and he didn’t allow a single home run. Every other reliever with 40 IP or more gave up at least one. But Chafin? Nah. And this isn’t even the most impressive thing about him! Have you seen that mustache?
Los Angeles Dodgers: Take just about everything that helped send last year’s team all the way to the World Series, and add one healthy Corey Seager, who should be fully refreshed and rehabbed from Tommy John. Remember him? 2016 Rookie of the Year, with a career 131 OPS+? This guy?
San Diego Padres: The Padres sent two of their top relievers, Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, out on a deadline deal in exchange for top catching prospect Francisco Mejia. And their bullpen still has Robbie Erlin (2.05 ERA, 11.0 K/BB), Kirby Yates (2.14 ERA, 5.29 K/BB) and Craig Stammen (2.73 ERA, 5.18 K/BB). If those strikeout-to-walk numbers seem insane, they are—they rank 1st, 7th and 8th, respectively, among all relievers.
San Francisco Giants: It was a tough year to be a rookie in the National League. With names like Acuña and Soto and Buehler leading the pack, it was hard for anyone else to get much attention. But San Francisco’s Dereck Rodriguez deserved a little attention! The starting pitcher finished with a 2.81 ERA (138 ERA+) in 118 IP, a bright spot to be thankful for on a team that didn’t have too many of those.
Colorado Rockies: Nolan Arenado only has one year remaining before free agency, so count this blessing now. But this might finally be the third baseman’s year for MVP. He finished fifth in 2016, fourth in 2017, and third in 2018—maybe that steady upward trajectory will skip over second and land him in the top spot in 2019.
And, c’mon, is there a better bullpen name out there than Brooks Pounders?