As you all know, we are currently in the deepest malaise of the baseball offseason right now. The last baseball signing big enough to reach the front pages of ESPN for more than a half hour was nearly two weeks ago when Edwin Encarnacion signed with Cleveland. It’s the time of the year when Ben and Sam– sorry, Ben and Jeff turn to topics such as whether a blind fan running on the field would curry more favor than the typical drunk 20-year-old trespasser. Of course, those topics are often the most entertaining topics that EW tackles, but the point still remains – there’s not much baseballing to do these days.
However, as you also know, baseball isn’t that far around the corner. The first pitchers and catchers report on February 12 (Cleveland), with other teams showing up the next two days. Given today’s date (January 18), that means there are just 25 days, including today, until a day with actual baseball activity on the calendar. Twenty-five is such a round number that it would be a shame to let it pass by without a nice listicle in honor of the days remaining until 2017 baseball.
With that said, here are the first seven of the 25 greatest things about baseball to get you through the first week of those 25 remaining days. Think of these like those At-A-Glance Calendars that you receive every year at the holidays but forget to use, even by January 1. Feel free to print these out, and flip through one a day at a time until baseball finally arrives.
The young hitting talent in the league right now
We’ll start with a big one. Here’s a list of players under the age of 25 to post seasons of 5.0 WAR or better, just in the past three seasons: Mike Trout (three times), Mookie Betts (two times), Manny Machado (two times), Kris Bryant (two times), Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Giancarlo Stanton, Jason Heyward, Corey Seager, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Nolan Arenado, Francisco Lindor, Christian Yelich, Ender Inciarte, Yasiel Puig, and Anthony Rizzo.
That’s 17 different players who were worth five wins to their team during a season in which they couldn’t legally rent a car (at least without all the absurd extra fees). These guys are facing massive discrimination in the auto industry, and yet they’re able to brush that aside and put together monster seasons for their respective clubs.
For some perspective, for the entire decade of the 1950s, only 12 players were able to post seasons in which they were worth at least 5.0 WAR before turning 25. Remember, our 17 players have come in just the past three seasons. (That stat, and many like it, available via the Baseball-Reference Play Index, coupon code TBD). We’re in a Golden Era for young talent in Major League Baseball, and not a day should go by without us giving thanks for that.
Guys who have a higher OBP than SLG
This is a personal favorite of mine, as there is just something so satisfying about seeing the second number come in higher than the third in a player’s triple slash. Some examples from 2016: Carlos Ruiz, Travis Jankowski, and Rob Refsnyder. Keep gettin’ them walks, big (OBP) fellas.
Andrew McCutchen staying in Pittsburgh (for now)
One of the biggest stories of the Winter Meetings was whether the lovable Pirates center fielder would be plying his trade in a different city in 2017. Pittsburgh was not shy about letting it be known that their debonair leading man could be had if the price was right, but no such offer came around, meaning McCutchen will almost certainly end up starting, if not finishing, his 2017 season with the Pirates.
This upcoming season will be McCutchen’s ninth season in Pittsburgh, a city and team with which the 30-year-old has built an excellent relationship. McCutchen made it well known this offseason that he did not want to be traded, and seeing as he is still one of the most popular players league-wide, his happiness is our happiness. Here’s to hoping McCutchen can bounce back in 2017, and that he and the city of Pittsburgh can maintain their mutually beneficial relationship long into the baseball future.
Oh so pretty.
Baseball’s history is so lengthy and impressive that it’s rare to know in the moment when, as a fan, you are watching an all-time legend. Kershaw makes it easy.
Through nine seasons, Kershaw has won 126 games and lost just 60. He has 1,918 strikeouts and a career ERA of 2.37. He has won three Cy Young Awards and an MVP. Prefer your stats a bit more modern? His 54.4 career WAR already top Sandy Koufax. His 159 ERA+ is the best all time among starting pitchers. Best! All time!
And it’s not exactly like he’s hiding it, either.
The man can make the most elite hitters on the planet look like middle schoolers, and he does it night-in and night-out. He may not have Vin Scully calling his games anymore, but he’s still Must-See TV when he toes the rubber.
Absurd early-baseball statistical records
Most triples in a career? Wahoo Sam Crawford with 309.
Most sacrifice hits in a career? Eddie Collins with 512!
Most innings pitched in a career? Cy Young with 7,356!!
Most games managed in a career? Connie Mack with 7,755!!??!!
I think Sam might be on to something with the whole “baseball didn’t really start before 1988” thing. Those numbers are unbelievable.
Are you a Fangraphs WAR woman? Or maybe a bWAR kind of guy? Hell, maybe you support the crew over at Baseball Prospectus and pay a few bucks each month to check out their WARP model.
(Maybe you’re even the type who thinks this whole WAR phenomenon is a whole lot of hot air. Maybe you believe that in 15 years we’ll have a different “superstat” we quote as regularly as we quote WAR today while looking back at how simplistic WAR actually was.)
Regardless, WAR is the most all-inclusive stat we have at the moment, and it certainly helps with age-old questions like: Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio? Was Dante Bichette’s 1995 season actually any good? And just how truly soul-sucking was Derek Jeter by the end of his career?
It also acts as the straw man in so many old-school baseball articles that we all love to hate-read, as the author complains about the stat-obsessed baseball fans who can’t do anything but chant “WAR, WAR, WAR” on repeat. Stay golden Rick Reilly, we’ll be over here taking the Dayn Perry approach to the symbiosis of stats and scouting: “My answer is the same as it would be if someone asked me: ‘Beer or tacos?’ Both, you fool.”
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All right, that’s a wrap on the first seven days in our quest to keep this baseball-loving crew entertained until the real players take over. Next Wednesday will supply you with another week of the best baseball has to offer.
Next post: Team Career WAR: Finding the Greatest Teams Ever Assembled
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