Tuesday, June 17, 2014
When he went to San Diego State in the late 70's, Tony Gwynn dreamed of becoming a professional basketball player. It looks like he took the right choice when he chose baseball. Gwynn turned out to be one of the best hitters in baseball history. He won 8 batting titles in 20 seasons with the San Diego Padres after they drafted him in 1981. Unfortunately, he lost his battle with cancer on Monday. Gwynn was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and had part of his jaw removed in 2012. He blamed the cancer on his chewing tobacco habit.
Gwynn was a fan favorite and known as one of nicest guys in baseball. Like Ted Williams and Stan Musial, Gwynn spent his entire career with the Padres. He had chances to leave, but chose to stay. He even stayed during stretches when the Padres were terrible and selling off other players. Gwynn was also around for the good times, playing in both World Series the Padres have made. As a young player, he starred for the league champion 1984 Padres, and as a veteran played for the 1998 league champion Padres. He is as revered in San Diego as Musial is in St. Louis or Williams in Boston. During his career, Gwynn made 15 All Star teams.
Film study was a new concept when Gwynn entered the league. He had a scientific outlook on hitting and would watch tapes of himself for hours to look for any mechanical flaws. Today, many batting coaches and players do the same. He rarely struck out, and never struck out more than 40 times in a season. Gwynn would often try to get hits in the "5.5 hole" between shortstop and third base. He was thought of as one of the smartest players in the league.
Gwynn was a good all around player in the first half of his career. He won 5 Gold Gloves during his career, his last coming in 1991. Gwynn also had some speed, stealing 319 bases over his career. Gwynn's career high was 56 in 1987. Even when he got bigger, his bat never cooled off. In the strike shortened 1994 season, Gwynn made a run at hitting .400. When the strike took place, Gwynn was batting .394, the highest since Williams hit .401 in 1941. Gwynn had a lifetime .338 batting average and only hit under .300 once during his rookie season.
Hitting for power wasn't part of Gwynn's game, but he wasn't just a punch and judy hitter. He finished with 543 career doubles, which is 28th all time. Gwynn mostly was a leadoff and second place hitter, but finished with 1138 career RBI's. He had a career high 117 RBI's during the 1997 season. Gwynn never won a MVP, but finished in the top ten in voting seven different times.
There isn't really a player with Gwynn's skill set in today's MLB. In today's game, especially with the sabermetricians, batting average isn't valued as much, walks are more emphasized, and strikeouts aren't as frowned on. Gwynn still was a patient hitter, finishing in the top ten in on base percentage 10 times. Ichiro Suzuki is the most similar player to Gwynn playing today, and he is in a part time role at age 40 with the Yankees. During his career, Gwynn was often compared to Wade Boggs and Kirby Puckett. He was also compared to past greats such as Rod Carew, Musial, Williams, Honus Wagner, and Ty Cobb. Speaking of Cobb, he was the only player to win more batting titles than Gwynn. Cobb won 12, and Gwynn is tied with Wagner for second place with 8. Gwynn finished his career with 3,141 hits, which is 19th all time.
There were many memorable moments of Gwynn's career, especially towards the end. He hit a home run of the facade of old Yankee Stadium in the first game of the 1998 World Series. He held up Ted Williams when he threw the first pitch of the 1999 All Star Game in Fenway Park. Gwynn also got his 3000th hit against the Montreal Expos that season. In the exciting 1994 All Star Game, Gwynn scored the winning run in a extra innings win for the National League. Early on his career, Gwynn had some key hits during the 1984 NLCS when the Padres came back from a 0-2 deficit to beat the Cubs in 5 games.
During Gwynn's career, the Padres were constantly trading their best players, but they never parted with Gwynn. Gwynn played with several Hall of Fame teammates including Goose Gossage, Roberto Alomar, and Rickey Henderson. He also played with All Stars such as Steve Garvey, John Kruk, Mark Davis, Joe Carter, Andy Benes, Gary Sheffield, Fred McGriff, Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley, Trevor Hoffman, Andy Ashby, Greg Vaughn, and Kevin Brown during his career. He saw several different managers come and go, from Dick Williams to Jack McKeon to Bruce Bochy. Three different ownership groups controlled the Padres during Gwynn's career. zHe holds almost all of the Padres hitting records(besides home runs), and has almost 2,000 more hits than Garry Templeton, who is second on the Padres all time hits list. Gwynn is definitely the best player in Padres history by far.
Sunday, June 1, 2014
Angel Pagan, Giants
Pagan started his career as a part-time player with the Cubs in 2006, and didn't become a starter until 2010 with the Mets. Pagan was traded to the Giants after the 2011 season and played a big role in their championship season in 2012. Last season, Pagan was limited to 77 games, which was a major reason for their disappointing 2013. Healthy this season, Pagan is off to the best start of his career. The Giants leadoff hitter is third in the National League with a .325 average this year. Pagan has also stole 11 bases and played terrific defense for the team that leads the majors in wins.
Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
Before Jose Abreu, the White Sox imported Ramirez from Cuba in 2008. Since joining the team, he has been one of the American League's better shortstops. Ramirez has won a Silver Slugger and is a good defensive player. Despite all of this, he has never made a All Star team. This season, his .329 average, 7 home runs, 36 RBI's, and 11 stolen bases should put him on the team.
Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers
Choo has been one of baseball's best kept secrets. Last season, Choo had an on base percentage of .423 and perennially among the league leaders in that category. Choo isn't great at any one aspect of baseball, but is good at every aspect. The Rangers gave Choo a 7-year deal this past offseason.
Johnny Cueto, Reds
This pitcher earned the wrath of Cardinals fans after he kicked Cardinals backup catcher Jason LaRue in the back of the head during a 2010 brawl. However, Cueto has been one of the best pitchers in baseball the past few years. Cueto finished fourth in the 2012 National League Cy Young Award voting. Injuries limited Cueto to only 60 innings in 2013, but was still selected by then Reds manager Dusty Baker to start in Cincinnati's wild card playoff game. This year, Cueto leads the NL in
WHIP, innings pitched, and strikeouts.
Kyle Lohse, Brewers
Early in his career, Lohse was a very inconsistent pitcher. He would have moments of brilliance, but didn't know how to pitch. After signing with the Cardinals in 2008, Dave Duncan turned Lohse's career around. He won 15 games that year, and was given a four year deal with the Cardinals. The first two seasons were mired by injury. Since 2011, Lohse has became a way better pitcher. Lohse has a career 4.30 ERA, but hasn't had a ERA higher than 3.39 since 2011. In his second season with Milwaukee, Lohse is 7-1 with a sub-3.00 ERA.
Josh Donaldson, Athletics
The Athletics had no idea that Donaldson would become the player he is today when they acquired him from the Cubs in 2008 in the Rich Harden trade. Last season, Donaldson finished 4th in American League MVP voting. Donaldson is the best hitter on the American League's best offense. The Athletics have had only 3 All Stars the last two seasons despite winning the division both years. This year, they should have several players on the team, and Donaldson is currently ahead in the All Star voting.
Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
Puig plays with a lot of flair, but he has been one of the league's best players this season. Puig is second in the National League with a .344 average, has a .436 OBP, 11 home runs, and 40 RBI's. He has shown no signs of having a sophomore slump.
Michael Wacha, Cardinals
It is hard to believe that Wacha was drafted only 2 years ago. Since debuting with the Cardinals a year ago, Wacha had a brilliant postseason in 2013. Wacha won 4 games in the playoffs and the NLCS MVP. This season, he ranks 8th in ERA, 7th in WHIP, and 7th in strikeouts. It looks like the Cardinals hit it big on one of their compensation picks for losing Albert Pujols.
Koji Uehara, Red Sox
During 2013, Joel Hanrahan started the year as Boston's closer before he got injured. Andrew Bailey replaced Hanrahan, then got injured himself shortly thereafter. Uehara was the third closer and he went on a historic run after taking over the role. Uehara closed 21 games, posted a 1.09 ERA and a miniscule 0.56 WHIP. He went on to save 7 games in the postseason. Uehara has been just as dominant in 2014.
Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
Tanaka has lived up to the hype so far this season. Tanaka dominated Japan last year, going 24-0 with a sub-1.00 ERA. He hasn't had a perfect record in the American League, but is 8-1. Tanaka also leads the AL in ERA and WHIP. The Yankees spent a lot of money to get Tanaka, but where would they be without him? He has solidified a rotation that's dealt with injuries to CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova.
Jonathon Lucroy, Brewers
Sonny Gray, Athletics
Brian Dozier, Twins
Michael Brantley, Indians
Brett Gardner, Yankees
Neil Walker, Pirates