The 2020 season was undoubtedly the most unusual in MLB history. The regular season was played in empty stadiums. Several teams had games postponed due to positive Covid tests, forcing them to play numerous makeup doubleheaders. The sense that games could be postponed at any moment always lurked around the corner. Even the Dodgers celebrating their World Series victory was not seamless, as Justin Turner returned to the field despite a positive Covid test. Despite all of these hurdles, plus the usual injury issues, the 2020 season was a success.
Completing the season and entering the offseason means recognizing the season’s best players. The awards voters are not always right, however this season the best players won. The condensed season allowed the elite players, enjoying long hot streaks to rise to the top. These players have built solid careers and are reaching their peaks.
Manager of the Year
The Manager of the Year award often goes to the managers who make deep runs in October. Despite Dave Roberts leading the Dodgers to their first World Series title since 1988, he did not win his second Manager of the Year award (2016). Instead, Don Mattingly won the 2020 National League Manager of the Year award after guiding the Marlins to the National League Divisional Series. Coming off back to back 98+ lose seasons Mattingly guided Miami to a 31-29 record. The Marlins dealt with a Covid outbreak, which required them to play multiple double headers. Despite the challenges, Mattingly guided his young team through trials and tribulations no other team has faced before.
Kevin Cash led the Tampa Bay Rays to the American League pennant and the best record in the Junior Circuit, 40-20. Tampa easily won the American League East by seven games over the Yankees with baseball’s fourth lowest payroll. People will focus on Cash’s handling of Blake Snell in the World Series, but he pushed all the right buttons to set Tampa up for October success. The Rays responded to Cash and excelled throughout the shortened 2020 season.
Rookie of the Year
Devin Williams won the National League Rookie of the Year award. He is the first pitcher to win the award without making a start or recording a save. Williams appeared in 22 Games for the Brewers, 4-1 record, pitched 27 innings, allowed 8 Hits, 1 Earned Run (solo Home Run to Colin Moran), 9 Walks, 53 Strikeouts, 0.33 ERA, 0.630 WHIP, and 1,375 ERA+ (not a typo). He allowed more than one hit in an appearance once, his last appearance of the season. Williams pitched two innings and both hits were erased by double plays. Devin Williams was simply dominated.
Kyle Lewis was the unanimous American League Rookie of the Year. He hit .262, .364 OBP, .437 SLG, .801 OPS, and 126 OPS+. Lewis had 54 Hits, 3 Doubles, 11 Home Runs, 28 RBI, scored 37 Runs, 5 Stolen Bases, 34 Walks, and 71 Strikeouts. He skipped AAA going straight to Seattle in 2019, appearing in 18 Games for the Mariners. In 2020, Lewis saw 4.06 pitches per plate appearance, higher than the 3.94 league average. Lewis’ talent will show through at the plate as he sees more pitches and he solidifies Centerfield in Seattle for the foreseeable future.
Cy Young Award
Trevor Bauer is not afraid to operate outside the box. He only cares about being the best pitcher he can possibly be, as chronicled in The MVP Machine. Bauer enters free agency winning his first Cy Young Award (27 of 30 first place votes). He went 5-4 with a league leading 1.73 ERA. In 11 starts, Bauer threw 2 Complete Games, 2 Shutouts in 73 innings, allowing 41 Hits, 14 Earned Runs, 9 Home Runs, 17 Walks, 100 Strikeouts, 0.795 WHIP (led league), and 276 ERA+. Bauer helped propel the Reds back to the Postseason for the first time since 2013. Trevor Bauer was going to command a king’s ransom in free agency, winning the Cy Young Award only raises his price.
Shane Bieber was the unanimous American League Cy Young Award winner. No other American League pitcher could have won the award. Bieber led the league in Wins, Strikeouts, and ERA to win the pitching Triple Crown. Overall in 12 starts he went 8-1, throwing 77.1 innings, allowing 46 Hits, 14 Earned Runs, 7 Home Runs, 21 Walks, 122 Strikeouts, a 0.866 WHIP, and a 281 ERA+. He dominated opposing hitters, striking out at least 10 batters 8 times. Bieber pitched masterfully despite the constant uncertainty throughout the season.
Most Valuable Player
Freddie Freeman has been in the Most Valuable Player conversation for several seasons, finishing in the top 10 three times. He finished second to teammate Craig Kimbrel for the 2011 National League Rookie of the Year. Freeman is a two time Silver Slugger and has a Gold Glove on his resume. In 2020, Freeman collected 73 hits 23 Doubles (led league), 1 Triple, 13 Home Runs, 53 RBI, scored 51 Runs (led league), 45 Walks, 37 Strikeouts, hit .341, .462 OBP, .640 SLG, 1.102 OPS, and a 186 OPS+. He is the clear leader of the Braves. Freeman’s elite bat often overshadows his elite defense. He is arguably the best first baseman in baseball, a career .995 Fld%, making just one Error in 460 Chances in 2020. Freeman now has the hardware to prove he is among baseball’s elite.
Jose Abreu is a three time All Star, three time Silver Slugger, and 2014 American League Rookie of the Year. His talent was never questioned, as his rise to stardom has been long and steady. Abreu displayed his talents in 2020 winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Playing in all 60 games, Abreu was the clear choice. He collected 76 Hits (led league), 15 Doubles, 19 Home Runs, 60 RBI (led league), scored 43 Runs, 18 Walks, 59 Strikeouts, hit .317, .370 OBP, .617 SLG (led league), .987 OPS, and a 166 OPS+. He is the leader of the White Sox need to contend every season for the American League Pennant. Abreu is only 33 years old, he has several more peak seasons ahead.
The 2020 season was wild. Covid, no fans, divisional schedules. MLB managed to successfully navigate the season when many, including myself, thought they would fail. Recognizing the best in the game shines a light on the players and managers who rose to the top because of their skill and drive to be their best. Hopefully Covid is under control when baseball returns in the Spring and 2021 is closer to normal. Despite all the challenges, 2020 was a season to remember, especially for these winners.
Baseball teaches patience. One of the worst things a baseball player can do is hurry. The harder you try, the less success you find on the diamond. Larry Walker might be the most patient man in baseball. He was elected to Cooperstown in his final year on the ballot. Walker will finally have his moment in the sun as he joins the Hall of Fame. Now he must wait again as the Covid-19 Pandemic has delayed his induction until 2021. He waited 10 years to be elected, now he has to wait one more. Even the retirement of his #33 by the Rockies was postponed due to the delayed Major League season.
Larry Walker’s baseball resume is extensive. He is a 5 time All Star (1992, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001), 3 time Silver Slugger (1992, 1997, 1999), 7 time Gold Glove winner (1992, 1993, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002), 3 time Batting Champion (1998, 1999, 2001), and the 1997 National League Most Valuable Player. Walker won the Tip O’Neill award 9 times (1987, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002) as the Canadian baseball player “judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to the highest ideals of the game of baseball.”
Hall of Fame careers are built through season after season of consistency. In 17 Major League seasons Walker played for the Montreal Expos (1989-1994), Colorado Rockies (1995-2004), and St. Louis Cardinals (2004-2005). In 1,988 Games he collected 2,160 Hits, scored 1,355 Runs, 471 Doubles, 62 Triples, 383 Home Runs, 1,311 RBI, 230 Stolen Bases, 913 Walks (117 Intentional), 1,231 Strikeouts, 3,904 Total Bases, 138 Hit By Pitch, .313 BA, .400 OBP, .565 SLG, .965 OPS, and 141 OPS+.
Larry Walker was a pure hitter but never gets the credit he deserves because of playing in Colorado during the Steroid Era. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Larry Walker was an elite hitter, especially during his peak. He rarely receives the credit he deserves for two reasons. First, his peak was during the height of the Steroid Era. His excellence was often overshadowed by juiced sluggers. Second, critics often credit much of his success to playing at altitude in Colorado. Examining Walker’s career Home/Road Splits does show he hit better at home. In 986 career home Games, Walker collected 1,193 Hits, including 268 Doubles, 39 Triples, and 215 Home Runs, with a .348 BA, .431 OBP, .637 SLG, 1.068 OPS, and 121 OPS+. In 1,002 career road Games, he collected 967 Hits, including 203 Doubles, 23 Triples, and 168 Home Runs, with a .278 BA, .370 OBP, .495 SLG, .865 OPS, and 80 OPS+. There is no denying Walker benefited from hitting at Coors Field. However, why should he be penalized for playing in Colorado? If playing for the Rockies disqualifies a player from the Hall of Fame, MLB should never have placed a team in Denver. Also, Walker played 7 of his 17 seasons away from Colorado.
Baseball is about more than what a player can do with the bat, they must use their glove too. Walker played 1,718 Games in Right Field. In 15,678.2 Innings he had 4,246 Chances, made 3,976 Putouts, with 213 Assists, turned 92 Double Plays, and committed 57 Errors for a .987 Fielding %. Gold Gloves are rarely given to undeserving players, and winning 7 of them is proof Walker was more than a hitter.
1997 was Larry Walker’s best season. He won the National League Most Valuable Player award, becoming the first and so far only Rockies player to do so. Walker won in a landslide, beating second place Mike Piazza by almost 100 points and received 22 of 28 first place votes. In 153 Games Walker collected 208 Hits, including 46 Doubles, 4 Triples, 49 Home Runs, scored 143 Runs, 130 RBI, 33 Stolen Bases, 78 Walks (14 Intentional), 90 Strikeouts, 409 Total Bases, 14 Hit By Pitch, a .366 BA, .452 OBP, .720 SLG, 1.172 OPS, and 178 OPS+. He led the Senior Circuit in Home Runs, Total Bases, OBP, SLG, OPS, and finished second in BA only .006 behind Tony Gwynn.
Dispelling the naysayers, Walker’s road numbers in 1997 were elite. In 75 Road Games, he collected 92 Hits, 16 Doubles, 29 Home Runs, scored 61 Runs, 62 RBI, 16 Stolen Bases, 42 Walks (7 Intentional), 56 Strikeouts, 5 Hit By Pitch, 195 Total Bases, .346 BA, .443 OBP, .733 SLG, 1.176 OPS, and 213 OPS+. While he hit 9 more Home Runs on the Road than at Home, in 3 fewer games, Walker’s numbers were even better at home. MVP’s have stats that jump out at you. Larry Walker played out of his mind on the road in 1997. He was on another planet at Coors Field.
Hall of Fame players are not always successful in the Postseason. Larry Walker reached the Postseason three times, in 1995 with Colorado and 2004 and 2005 at the end of his career with St. Louis. The Cardinals were swept by the Red Sox in Walker’s only World Series in 2004. In 28 career Postseason games, Walker hit .230, with 5 Doubles, 1 Triple, 7 Home Runs, 15 RBI, scored 18 Runs, 2 Stolen Bases, 16 Walks, 28 Strikeouts, with a .350 OBP. While he did not play his best in October, the majority of his Postseason play was at the end of his career as a part time player.
Larry Walker was a Hall of Fame player and heard the news of his election to Cooperstown while wearing a legendary shirt. (@Rockies)
After retiring following the 2005 season Larry Walker began waiting the five years to be on the Hall of Fame ballot. The Maple Ridge, British Columbia native was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009. He first appeared on the ballot for Cooperstown in 2011, receiving just 20.3% of the vote. Walker floated between 22.9% in 2012 and 10.2% in 2014 until 2017. The Hall of Fame looked just out of reach. In his final three years of eligibility, Walker’s fortunes changed. In 2018, his 8th year on the ballot, he received 34.1% of the vote. In 2019 he was up to 54.6%. 2020 was Walker’s 10th and final year on the ballot. If he was not elected his enshrinement would be determined by a future Veterans Committee, a long shot process at best. Derek Jeter was one vote shy of unanimous, receiving 396 of 397 votes. Walker needed 298 votes to make it to Cooperstown. When the results were revealed, Walker received 304 votes, 6 more than he needed. His place among the games legends was secure. He joins Ferguson Jenkins as the only Canadians elected to the Hall of Fame. Walker is also the first Rockies player enshrined.
Patience is key in baseball. Wait for your pitch, stay down on a ground ball, camp under a fly ball. Baseball is about waiting and no one understands this better than Larry Walker. He used every possible moment of the Hall of Fame election process to secure his place in Cooperstown. He cleared the bar by 6 votes. Now he has to wait a little longer due to the Covid-19 Pandemic for his day in the sun as he is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Every generation has a hand full of pitchers who are intimidating when they are on the mound. Names like Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, Juan Marichal…the list goes on. These pitchers were intimidating because they were nearly impossible to hit. However, one pitcher on this list combined the two types of intimidation, unhittable stuff and a willingness to throw a brushback pitch whenever necessary, to perfection. That pitcher is Bob Gibson.
Today, in honor of Bob Gibson’s 80th Birthday, let’s take a look at his brilliance on the diamond.
Bob Gibson pitched 17 seasons in the Majors, all with the St. Louis Cardinals. He started 482 games, winning 251 and losing 174. He pitched 255 Complete Games. Gibson had 13 consecutive seasons with at least 10 Complete games, 7 of those 13 seasons he pitched at least 20 Complete Games. He pitched 56 career shutouts and won 20 or more games five times. Gibson pitched 3,884.1 innings with a career 2.91 ERA, 1.188 WHIP, striking out 3,117, and walking 1,336.
Bob Gibson’s intimidation was not limited to the pitcher’s mound. He was a serviceable Major League hitter, sometimes used to pinch-hit for the Cardinals. Gibson holds a career .206 BA, .243 OBP, .301 SLG, .545 OPS, with 274 Hits, 44 Doubles, 5 Triples, 24 HR, 144 RBI, 132 R, 13 SB, 63 BB, and 415 SO. His ability with the bat meant added depth for the Cardinals lineup.
Gibson pitched in three World Series (1964, 1967, and 1968). He helped to bring the Commissioner’s Trophy back to St. Louis twice (1964 and 1967). In nine career World Series games, Gibson holds a record of 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA, and 0.889 WHIP. He pitched eight Complete Games in the World Series. Game 2 of the 1964 World Series was the only non-Complete Game Gibson pitched; he went eight innings. Gibson made up for this short outing by pitching a 10 inning Complete Game in Game 5 of the 1964 World Series. In total, Gibson pitched 81 innings in the World Series (27 innings in each), allowed 55 hits, 19 R, 17 ER, 6 HR, 17 BB, with 92 SO. He won at least two games in each World Series in which he pitched, while never losing more than one game.
Gibson achieved nearly everything possible during his career. He was selected to nine All Star Teams. He helped the Cardinals win the World Series in 1964 and 1967, winning the Most Valuable Player Award both times. Gibson won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1968. He won the National League Cy Young Award twice, in 1968 (unanimous) and 1970. Gibson won nine consecutive Gold Gloves from 1965 to 1973. He also pitched a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 14, 1971.
The St. Louis Cardinals have retired Gibson’s #45 and have inducted him into the Cardinals Hall of Fame. In 1981, Gibson was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
1968: The Year of the Pitcher
1968 was a terrible season to be a hitter in the Major Leagues, so much so that the pitcher’s mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10 inches before the start of the 1969 season. Seven pitchers finished the season with an ERA below 2.00 and nine pitchers had a WHIP below 1.000. Tom Seaver finished 10th in Major League Baseball with 205 SO. The top five pitchers had a minimum 260 SO.
Leading the charge for all of baseball during the Year of the Pitcher was Bob Gibson. He made 34 starts, with a 22-9 record. Gibson posted a 1.12 ERA, 0.853 WHIP, while pitching 304.2 innings, allowing 198 Hits, 49 R, 38 ER, 11 HR, 62 BB, and 268 SO. Opponents hit .184 off Gibson for the entire season. He pitched 28 Complete Games, including 13 Shutouts. Gibson was the unanimous National League Cy Young Award winner, and easily won National League Most Valuable Player award.
The dominance of Gibson in 1968 is shown in how his single season ERA and WHIP rank all-time. Gibson’s 1.12 ERA remains the fourth lowest single season ERA in baseball history. Gibson’s ERA during the 1968 season was 0.41 lower than Dwight Gooden’s 1.53 ERA in 1985, and 0.44 lower than Greg Maddux’s 1.56 ERA in 1994. Gibson, Gooden, and Maddux are the only three pitchers in the live ball era (since 1920) to break the top 50 for best single season ERA’s. At the time, Gibson’s 1968 WHIP was the second lowest since 1913. Gibson still has the 17th best single season WHIP ever.
Bob Gibson was a dominant and intimidating pitcher. Dominant pitchers like Sandy Koufax too often burn brightly for just a few years before they flare out. Baseball was lucky to have Bob Gibson burn as brightly as a Sandy Koufax and remain healthy enough to have a long, successful career. Bob Gibson was the perfect combination of intimidation on the mound. His accomplishments on the field have withstood the test of time. Few players have ever dominated baseball in any manner like Gibson. Comparing players across eras is difficult, as the game evolves over time. However, players as dominant as Gibson are elite regardless of the era in which they played. Legends are not contained by the era in which they play.
Happy 80th Birthday Bob Gibson.