It has been a long season and the playoff races have swung into full force. September has arrived and half of the teams in MLB are still seeking a spot in the 2014 postseason. This year's version of the race to October has produced a number of surprise players and teams, as well as the usual assortment of poor performances and unfortunate declines. Scroll down to read about the studs and duds of the 2014 MLB season.
Alex Gordon: MVP?
How about a baseball card that reads: Alex Gordon, 2014 American League MVP?
Sounds far-fetched, right? Well, think again. The once top prospect of the Kansas City Royals organization has soared up the ranks of the best all-around players in MLB over the last few seasons. 2014 has finally seen Gordon explode as a premier player and the top left fielder in baseball.
What has led Gordon to breaking into a real MVP candidate has been a combination of productive offense (.280/.356/.456, 18 HR, 129 wRC+) and elite defense (22.9 UZR, 22 DRS) leading to an all-encompassing 6.1 WAR, which is #2 in the league behind probable AL MVP frontrunner, Mike Trout. Currently seen as the primary piece driving the current AL Central-leading Royals, Gordon's stellar season may lead to the award being put in his hands in November.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs
Hey, Red Sox, what happened?
2013 was a magical year in Boston, culminating in yet another World Series championship for the Red Sox. A team that was built with solid average and above average players that proved that you do not have to have a roster full of star players to win titles these days.
Shift to 2014 and things have reverted back to 2012, when the Sox were amongst the worst in all of baseball. The pitching staff that helped deliver this team a title has been ripped apart at the seams.
Jon Lester ---> traded to Oakland
Jake Peavy ---> traded to San Francisco
John Lackey ---> traded to St. Louis
Felix Doubront ---> traded to Chicago (Cubs)
Andrew Miller ---> traded to Baltimore
Sure, the team has seen it's share of injuries, but what was a stellar 2013 has only produced an horrid 2014. The moves made at the trade deadline by the front office, though, has led some to expect the team to be right back in contention in 2015.
The Best Division in Baseball, Here's Looking at You, AL West
Checking out the American League standings (as of 9/2), the top six teams are exactly like what was predicted in March, right? The top six:
Angels, Orioles, Athletics, Royals, Tigers, Mariners
Just like it was thought to be.
Okay, so it is usually never what was predicted, and that's fine, right? It is why the games are played. Notice how teams 1, 3, and 6 all play in the AL West. It seemed like a stretch to believe that the Mariners and Angels would be able to play this well the entire season, yet here there are. The Angels have the best record in the league and the A's and Mariners might just meet in the AL Wild Card game. Dominance has been established out west. Well done, pacific coast.
Emergence of Players You Might Have Not Expected
If you have had what some would call a breakout campaign in 2014, raise your hand?
Ok, hang on, let's count them all...
Forget it, there's a lot of them, so to highlight a few (links to Fangraphs page):
The great thing about these guys is that they either were on the cusp of breaking out or have completely come from nowhere, making it that much more exciting to see if they can finish strong and carry it over to 2015. It seemed too unfair and would be way too lengthy to point out each individual breakout star, but the common thread amongst each guy is that they are in the top 30 in all of MLB in WAR. Yes, Wins Above Replacement, the tell-all stat that encompasses an individual's entire body of work (hitting, fielding, and baserunning) into one number. Even if you dislike WAR, one simple glance of each of these players' offensive stats will be enough to prove that each guy is having an astounding year.
The Stars Have Fallen from the Sky
Some can keep it up and some can't. For some, it's usually just a blip on the radar. For others, it is the beginning of a decline. Those players that were raved about entering the year and have fallen off are a list that one cannot be proud with which to be grouped. Just to name a few:
Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers; Jay Bruce, Reds; Eric Hosmer, Royals; Allen Craig, Red Sox; Jean Segura, Brewers; Chris Davis, Orioles; Pedro Alvarez, Pirates
Each player ranks in the bottom 30 of qualified position players in WAR. From the top power hitters in the game last year (e.g. Bruce, Davis, Alvarez) to the guys who could not carry over a breakout 2013 (e.g. Segura, Choo), each has been quite the letdown for their respective teams in 2014.
Pitching, Once Again, Rules All
Strikeouts continue to grow at an alarming rate and the question that gets asked is simple: are pitchers getting better or are hitters getting worse?
The answer to that is somewhere in between, but the increase in K% is no joke among pitchers around MLB. Most pitchers who have breakout seasons can usually attribute it to making hitters swing and miss more. Pitchers in 2014 include guys such as:
Corey Kluber, Indians (now one of the elites in baseball, check tweet); Jake Odorizzi, Rays; Johnny Cueto, Reds; Garrett Richards, Angels (before his season-ending injury); Tyson Ross, Padres; and Drew Hutchison, Blue Jays
Then, there are guys who are producing without merely help of the strikeout. These are guys that can be grouped together using their FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) as a way to determine how each individual is performing on their own. This is done by factoring in what the pitcher, himself, controls, things such as walks, strikeouts, and home runs. Each of these individuals have low FIPs (good thing), despite their lower strikeout totals:
Phil Hughes, Twins; Jose Quintana, White Sox; Dallas Keuchel, Astros; Lance Lynn, Cardinals; Rick Porcello, Tigers; and Nathan Eovaldi, Marlins
Only Hughes and Quintana have FIPs under 3.00, but each of those names have FIPs that still considered to be good (around 3.60 and lower). The normal curve trends suggest that it is hard to repeat success each year like this, so these names are ones to watch as the season closes and the calendar turns to 2015.