Things You Didn’t Realize About the 2011 MLB Season

Posted: July 12, 2011 by Keith Stone in baseball, MLB

I’m really just here to make fun of the Mets. Here’s my buddy Dinner Party Animal‘s take on the first half of the baseball season:

The best thing about a baseball season is that, like a small child, you can generally ignore it for months at a time, and yet feel like you have a sense for what’s happening just by looking at the standings and stats every so often. As I’ve grown older, spending an hour a day with the sports section looking over every box score seems less a quaint recapturing of my youth and more an exquisite form of torture. So here are some things that I didn’t realize about the 2011 baseball season until I started writing this review.

Players can’t hit. Well, they can, but at nowhere near the rate that they have been. Last year may have been the Year of the Pitcher, but this year seems to be the Year of the Crappy Hitter. For years, a .750 OPS was the mark of an averageish hitter. Right now, only four teams in baseball have a team OPS over that mark, with 11 under .700. Last year, 10 teams OPSed over .750, and only five were under .700. Jump back to 2004 (a year I picked at random), and every team was over .700 (19 were over .750). There are any number of possible explanations, ranging from increased PED testing to improved pitching to an increased emphasis on defense, but the facts are clear: offense is in a steep decline. It’s hard to imagine the decrease continuing, but it’s hard not to wonder if the powers that be are pitching Nike on a new “Chicks Dig the Sacrifice Fly” ad campaign.

Along those lines, several teams are making bids for the postseason on the strength of their run prevention. Long considered an offensive juggernaut, the Phillies and their “Four Aces” are on the short list for best team in baseball, and they’ve largely been matched by the Braves, who have overcome a mediocre offense and decent starting pitching by boasting the best bullpen in baseball. Until recently, the Mariners had been hanging in the AL West race despite an offense that is, in terms of sheer numbers, worse than last year’s.

Apparently, Andrew McCutchen is one of the best players in baseball. Last time I’d thought of him, it was as a hotshot young prospect on a terrible team. Now he’s right in the midst of a season that wouldn’t look out of line from the early part of Barry Bonds’ season, and he’s doing it for a team that is shockingly one game out of first place. The last time the Pirates finished over .500, he was six. An athletic marvel, he’s one of several players vying for the title of “Most Exciting Player” in baseball.

That short list includes Jose Reyes, who probably creates more conflicting emotions in Mets fans than the idea of a 1986 reunion being held in Atlantic City. On the one hand, he’s proven again that when healthy, he’s among the best players in the league. On the other, he’s a free agent after this year, the team has major financial issues, and there’s that whole “when he’s healthy” thing. While he could command quite a bit on the trade market, the team should be looking to make a long-term deal happen. Players of his caliber don’t come along often.

The first half of the 2011 season might also be remembered as the time when Jose Bautista established himself as the best player in baseball. With most people ready to call 2010 a fluke, all Joey Bats did was come out and hit 31 more first half home runs, while using an improved eye and ability to make contact to raise his batting average from .260 last year to .334 this year. If McCutchen is having a year out of Bonds’ early career, Bautista is having a year that wouldn’t look out of place in the early 2000’s. It’s even more impressive when you consider the point above, that offense in generally is down quite a bit this year. Gaudy RBI and BA totals (not to mention a much better team) might earn Adrian Gonzalez the AL MVP this year, but no one worth a damn as a baseball mind would tell you he’s a better player.

So with almost 55% of the baseball season in the books, what’s there to say? Well, the playoffs will look pretty familiar in the American League, with only the Central looking likely to provide a surprise.  The NL is the same story, meaning that we can look forward to impartial baseball fans nationwide being disappointed when the Pirates fold in August, leaving us with a thoroughly predictable bunch of playoff participants.  That being said, the quality of teams in each league should make for another great year of playoff baseball that I’ll only watch if the NFL is still locked out. Figure it out, boys!

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