What Major League Baseball Was Like When: The Cubs Last Won the World Series

The 2016 World Series featured the two teams with the longest World Series drought in Major League Baseball at the time. The Cubs ended the longest championship drought in major sports history, giving the longest active World Series drought to the Cleveland Indians, who haven’t won a title since 1948. The 2016 season had more than just that going on, though, so let’s get into it. To view the last article on 2017 and the Houston Astros’ championship, click here. To read all the articles in this series, click here.

Awards

MVP

American League: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

Other finalists: Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox; José Altuve, Houston Astros

National League: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

Other finalists: Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals; Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

Trout cemented his place as the best player in baseball with his second MVP award in just his age-24 season. That he won MVP despite his Angels having just a 74-88 record is incredible. He also posted the lowest slugging average in his career (so far) but he led the league in walks, OBP, and runs and played pretty good defense in center field. To that point in his career, he had still yet to finish below second in MVP voting. Betts won the Wilson overall Defensive Player of the Year award while also leading the league in total bases, with 31 homers, 42 doubles, 122 runs and 113 RBI. Playing on a division-winning Red Sox team, Trout’s greatness is probably all that kept Betts from winning the MVP award. Altuve was named Major League Player of the Year by TSN thanks to winning a batting title hitting .338 and leading the league with 216 hits, getting 42 doubles and 24 home runs, but the BBWAA voters went in another direction.

Kris Bryant followed his 2015 Rookie of the Year campaign with NL MVP honors by hitting .292 with 39 home runs, 35 doubles, and an NL-leading 121 runs with good defense at third base and left field. Murphy signed with Washington that offseason after being with the Mets since they drafted him and he took off. At 31, he posted career highs in hits, doubles, triples, home runs, runs, RBI, batting average, OBP and slugging. His doubles (47), slugging (.595) and OPS (.985) all led the NL and were enough to keep him from letting Bryant unanimously win MVP, as he received one first-place vote. Seager went from the #1 prospect in baseball to third for the MVP in just 2016, winning Rookie of the Year while hitting .308 with 26 home runs, 40 doubles and winning the Silver Slugger for NL shortstops for what feels like the perennial NL West champion Dodgers.

Cy Young Award

American League: Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox

Other finalists: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers; Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians

National League: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

Other finalists: Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs; Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs

Porcello won the Cy Young award by posting a league-leading 22 wins in only his second career season with an ERA lower than 3.9, posting a 3.15 ERA in his second year with the Red Sox. He earned just 8 of 30 first-place votes and wasn’t even an All-Star but got just enough votes to edge out his former teammate, Justin Verlander, who got 14 first-place votes but was lower than Porcello on enough ballots to fall 5 vote points short despite a 3.04 ERA, 4 more innings pitched than Porcello, and an AL-best 254 strikeouts. His average run support of 4.05 (including 9 starts where the Tigers scored 0 or 1 run) compared to Porcello’s 6.83 (3 starts with 0 or 1 run) was the big difference between Porcello’s 22-4 record and Verlander’s 16-9 mark. Kluber went 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA for the World Series losing Indians to take home third place two years after he won a Cy Young award.

Scherzer won his second career Cy Young award, making him one of just 6 pitchers to win the award in both leagues, and only he and Roger Clemens of that group aren’t in the Hall of Fame (yet). He achieved this by leading the majors in strikeouts (284) and leading the NL in wins (20) and innings pitched (228 1/3) for the division-winning Nationals. Lester went 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA and teammate Hendricks went 16-8 with a 2.13 ERA but their lower innings (202 2/3 for Lester, 190 for Hendricks), far fewer strikeouts than Scherzer and the fact that they were teammates and probably would have split support from voters that would have wanted to vote for someone on the team with the league’s best record (103-58). Clayton Kershaw also might have stolen some votes from them because around a 2-month long injury he put up an otherworldly 1.69 ERA but only pitched 149 innings.

Rookie of the Year

American League: Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers

Other finalists: Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees; Tyler Naquin, Cleveland Indians

National League: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

Other finalists: Trea Turner, Washington Nationals; Kenta Maeda, Los Angeles Dodgers

For most of the season, it was a foregone conclusion that Fulmer was going to win the AL ROTY because he made 26 starts and his ERA never went much above 3 (ended the year at 3.06 after being at 2.69 at the end of August). Then Gary Sanchez happened. In just 53 games, he hit 20 homers for the Yankees (along with 12 doubles and 24 walks) and some voters considered that incredible short-stint achievement more impressive (he received 4 first-place votes) but ultimately Fulmer still won fairly easily. Naquin provided a nice bat for the Indians, playing 116 games and hitting .296 with 14 home runs, but his defense in center field wasn’t very good, holding him back from serious consideration for ROTY.

Seager was the unanimous winner for the NL ROTY while also being an MVP finalist for putting up as good of an offensive season as you could hope for from a rookie. While his offense hasn’t quite been at that level since, his defense at shortstop has improved to allow him to still be a very valuable player. Turner impressed with his speed, hitting .342 with 33 stolen bases and 8 triples in just 73 games, while also smacking 13 home runs. He has continued to use that great speed on the basepaths, as he has 128 stolen bases in the first 364 games of his career before he broke his right index finger in April 2019. Maeda came over from Japan at 28 (technically 27, he debuted 5 days before his 28th birthday) after being great in Nippon Professional Baseball for several years, and made 32 starts with the Dodgers posting a 3.48 ERA which earned him a 16-11 record on the year. He struck out 179 batters in 175 2/3 innings.

Manager of the Year

American League: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

Other finalists: Jeff Banister, Texas Rangers; Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles

National League: Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers

Other finalists: Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs; Dusty Baker, Washington Nationals

Francona won the AL Manager of the year for leading his team to a division win for the first time since 2007 with the Red Sox, when they won the World Series. It was his second postseason in his fourth season with the Indians, as they lost the Wild Card Game his first year there in 2013. Banister led the Rangers to their second consecutive division win in his second season at the helm (after winning Manager of the Year the year before for going last-to-first in their division) but got swept in the ALDS by the Blue Jays. Showalter turned 60 that year and led the O’s back to the playoffs after missing in 2015, but they were beaten by the Blue Jays in the Wild Card Game. Roberts was in his first year as a manager and they continued their dominance, winning their fourth straight NL West division title before eventually losing to Maddon’s Cubs in the NLCS. Maddon, who was 62 at the time, led the Cubs on their “curse-breaking” World Series run, their first in 108 years after losing in the NLCS the year before. It was a great year for older managers as Baker, who turned 67 in June of that year, won the NL East with the Nationals in his first year at the helm. He went to the playoffs at least once with all 4 teams he managed in his career (Giants, Cubs, Reds, Nationals).

Gold Gloves (career GG)

American League:

Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros (3). Catcher: Salvador Pérez, Kansas City Royals (4). First Base: Mitch Moreland, Texas Rangers (1). Second Base: Ian Kinsler, Detroit Tigers (1). Third Base: Adrián Beltré, Texas Rangers (5). Shortstop: Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians (1). Outfield: Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays (2); Brett Gardner, New York Yankees (1); Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox (1).

National League:

Pitcher: Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks (3). Catcher: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants (1). First Base: Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs (1). Second Base: Joe Panik, San Francisco Giants (1). Third Base: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies (4). Outfield: Starling Marté, Pittsburgh Pirates (2); Ender Inciarte, Atlanta Braves (1); Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs (4).

Some interesting notes for the Gold Glove winners included Kiermaier winning a Gold Glove despite playing just 105 games, but there’s little doubt he deserved it as, when healthy, he’s maybe one of the best defensive center fielders the game has ever seen, which is why he won the Platinum Glove the year before for best overall defender in the AL, an award that has only been given out since 2011. Another unusual Gold Glove story was Gardner winning his first career Gold Glove at age 32 as an outfielder, who usually need good speed to provide good defense which favors younger players. Anthony Rizzo won the Platinum Glove for the NL, the only time (so far) in that award’s history that it went to a player who didn’t play catcher, third base, shortstop or outfield. It’s odd that a player at a defensive position seen as less important and generally less impressive would receive the highest defensive honor in the league.

Silver Sluggers (career SS)

American League:

Catcher: Salvador Pérez, Kansas City Royals (1). First Base: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (7). Second Base: José Altuve, Houston Astros (3). Third Base: Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays (2). Shortstop: Xander Bogearts, Boston Red Sox (2). Outfield: Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles (1); Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (5); Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox (1). Designated Hitter: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox (7).

National League:

Catcher: Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals (1). First Base: Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs (1). Second Base: Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals (1). Third Base: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies (2). Shortstop: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers (1). Outfield: Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins (1); Yoenis Céspedes, New York Mets (1); Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies (1). Pitcher: Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs (1).

Mike Trout was the only outfielder to win a Silver Slugger that wasn’t his first that year, the first time that had happened since 2008, when Ryan Ludwick, Carlos Quentin, and Grady Sizemore won their first and only Silver Sluggers, Josh Hamilton won his first of three, and Ryan Braun won his first of 5 (Matt Holiday was the returning winner, winning his third of 4 in his career that year). Big Papi won a Silver Slugger award at 40 years old, and the second oldest Silver Slugger winner that year was Miguel Cabrera at just 33. Of course, David Ortiz was the first player to win a Silver Slugger at 40 or older since Edgar Martinez won DH Silver Slugger in 2003, and Ortiz put up the most home runs, doubles, extra-base hits, total bases, and RBI ever in an age-40 season or older. He had said that he would retire at the end of the year and he stuck to his word despite his success and his team’s state as being ready to compete for a championship. The NL saw just one player winning a Silver Slugger who had won one before, the first time since 2012 when Ryan Braun was the only returning Silver Slugger winner in the NL, but he was winning his 5th, while Arenado won just his second. Also, a good argument could have been made for NL MVP Kris Bryant to be in that spot instead of Arenado, which would have made it all first-timers which has never happened since the Silver Slugger award was first awarded in 1980.

Playoffs

Wild Card games

AL: Toronto Blue Jays over Baltimore Orioles, 5-2 (11 innings)

NL: San Francisco Giants over New York Mets, 3-0

The Blue Jays and Orioles game got the scoring started with a José Bautista home run in the bottom of the second, but a Mark Trumbo 2-run homer in the fourth put the O’s in the lead, 2-1. The Jays tied the game and chased out Orioles starting pitcher Chris Tillman with three consecutive hits in the bottom of the fifth, but with runners on the corners and one out Mychal Givens came on and got Devon Travis to ground into a double play, and the game stayed 2-2 until the bottom of the 11th, when the Orioles brought Ubaldo Jimenez on to face the top of Toronto’s order. He gave up singles to Travis and Josh Donaldson, then surrendered a 3-run walk-off shot to Edwin Encarnación, and Toronto moved on.

The Giants got a complete game shutout out of Madison Bumgarner, but the Mets had Noah Syndergaard who matched him for 7 innings but was pulled with 108 pitches. Addison Reed loaded the bases but got out of it in the eighth for New York, but Jeurys Familia wouldn’t be so lucky. Brandon Crawford got a leadoff double in the ninth, and after a strikeout and a walk Conor Gillaspie likely saved Bumgarner’s chance at finishing the game by crushing a 3-run home run, and that was all the run support he needed. The Mets went down in order in the ninth (with fly balls to all 3 outfielders) and San Francisco advanced to face the Cubs.

Divisional Round

AL: Cleveland Indians over Boston Red Sox, 3-0; Toronto Blue Jays over Texas Rangers, 3-0

NL: Chicago Cubs over San Francisco Giants, 3-1; Los Angeles Dodgers over Washington Nationals, 3-2

The Indians swept the Red Sox with a 5-4 win in game one that saw three solo homers for each team but the Indians were able to push across two runs outside of their long shots while the Red Sox only got one. In game two, Cleveland got 7 shutout innings from Corey Kluber, allowing just 3 hits, and then had two perfect innings out of the bullpen, winning 6-0. In game 3, they scored two runs each in the fourth and then in the sixth off of a two-run homer by Coco Crisp which was just enough to survive runs in the fifth, sixth and eighth innings by the Sox and Cody Allen shut down the ninth inning to complete the sweep.

The Blue Jays handled the Rangers in the ALDS for the second straight year with a 10-1 win in game 1 that featured a 4-4 game for Josh Donaldson with 2 doubles, then a 5-3 win in game 2 in which Toronto slugged 4 homers. They finished off Texas back in Toronto where two home runs in the bottom of the first helped them build a 5-2 lead after 3 innings, but the Rangers fought back and forced extra innings tied at 6, and when Russell Martin hit a grounder to short with 2 runners on and one out it looked like the game would go past the 10th but Rougned Odor threw away the double play chance and Donaldson scored to end it.

The Cubs earned a trip to the NLCS with a pitchers duel in game one that favored Jon Lester over Johnny Cueto thanks to a Javy Báez solo homer in the eighth, then got a 5-2 win by getting 4 early runs off Jeff Samardzija before the series turned to San Francisco. Game 3 was wild, featuring a pitcher (Jake Arrieta) hitting a 3-run home run to give the Cubs an early lead, but a 3-run bottom of the eighth inning centered around a Conor Gillaspie triple had the Giants looking at game 4 until Kris Bryant hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth to tie it. It stayed tied at 5 until the 13th inning, when back-to-back doubles plated Brandon Crawford to extend the series. They wouldn’t be so lucky in game 4, where the Cubs got 4 runs in the top of the ninth to turn a 5-2 deficit into a 6-5 series-clinching win.

The Dodgers won game one in Washington, 4-3, thanks in large part to home runs by Corey Seager and Justin Turner and 4 scoreless innings from the bullpen. The Nationals got them back in game two as a three-run homer by Jose Lobaton powered them to a 5-2 win. They put LA on the brink of elimination in game 3, with 4 runs each in the third and ninth for an 8-3 win. The Dodgers forced the series back to the capital by surviving a 3-run top of the seventh by Washinton for a 6-5 win. In the rubber match, a two-run triple by Turner capped off a 4-run top of the seventh for LA en route to a 4-2 win to move on to the NLCS.

Championship Series

AL: Cleveland Indians over Toronto Blue Jays, 4-1

NL: Chicago Cubs over Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-2

The Blue Jays would score more than 2 runs in a game just once (their game 4 win) in the ALCS against the Indians, as Cleveland’s pitching staff powered their team to their first World Series appearance in 19 years. The Indians got 6 1/3 shutout innings from Corey Kluber in game one, Andrew Miller got 5 outs all on strikeouts and Cody Allen shut down the ninth in a 2-0 game 1 win. In game 2, they did give up a run but Miller had another dominant relief appearance, striking out 5 in 2 perfect innings. Game 3 in Canada saw Cleveland put up their highest run total (4) of the series, including home runs by Jason Kipnis and Mike Napoli, and featured Allen and Miller switching roles for Miller to get the save. Toronto got their lone win in game 4, a 5-1 victory in a good start by Aaron Sanchez, but another dominant performance from Indians pitching, including 2 2/3 innings out of the pen from Miller, who was named ALCS MVP, put together a series-clinching 3-0 win.

The Cubs got a thrilling game one win where, after the Dodgers tied the game at 3 in the top of the eighth, Miguel Montero hit a pinch-hit grand slam in the bottom of the eighth and the Cubs went up 1-0 on the 8-4 win. Clayton Kershaw allowed just 2 hits through 7 shutout innings before Kenley Jansen delivered 2 perfect innings in a 1-0 win thanks to an Adrián González home run. In LA, the Dodgers got a 6-0 win with Rich Hill shutting Chicago down to take a 2-1 series lead. But the Cubs jumped on Dodger pitching for 10 runs in game 4, including Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell both getting 3 hits including a home run in the game. The eventual co-MVPs of the NLCS Javy Báez and Jon Lester both were big in an 8-4 game 5 win, with Báez hitting two doubles and driving in 3 runs, and Lester throwing 7 innings and allowing just one run. Kyle Hendricks shut down LA in game 6, allowing just 2 hits over 7 1/3 innings before handing it over to Aroldis Chapman for the final 5 outs in a 5-0 shutout to send the Cubs to their first World Series appearance since 1945.

World Series: Chicago Cubs over Cleveland Indians, 4-3

MVP: Ben Zobrist

Game one of the World Series between two teams that had gone a combined 176 years without a title was decided by great pitching by Corey Kluber and 2 home runs by Roberto Pérez in a 6-0 win for the Indians. The Cubs would even the series before going back to Chicago with a 5-1 win including a 3-run fifth inning centered around a Ben Zobrist triple. A pinch hitter (Coco Crisp) hitting in a pinch runner (Michael Martínez) in the seventh inning as the lone run in game 3 as the Indians shut out the Cubs for the second time in the series. Jason Kipnis was a triple away from the cycle for the Indians in game 4, a 7-2 win that put Cleveland a game away from winning their first title since 1948 and moved Kipnis into the front seat for World Series MVP consideration. A Kris Bryant homer sparked a 3-run fourth inning for the Cubs in game 5 and Aroldis Chapman got an 8-out save to send the series back to Cleveland with a 3-2 win. Bryant homered again in the first inning of game 6, and a grand slam by Addison Russell made it a 7-0 game that the Cubs would eventually win 9-3, with Anthony Rizzo adding a late homer as the rest of Chicago’s offense to send this series to game 7, and that game ensured this series would be remembered as a classic. Dexter Fowler led off the game with a home run, and Cleveland struck back in the bottom of the third with a run of their own before the Cubs got two runs each in the fourth and fifth innings before a throwing error and wild pitch resulted in the Tribe getting two runs back in the bottom of the fifth. David Ross smacked a solo homer in the sixth to stretch the lead back to three at 6-3 before we made it into the eighth with no more scoring. That’s when Rajai Davis, a speedster who stole 3 bases in game 5, nearly became best known for a 3-run game tying home run in the bottom of the eighth inning of game 7 of the World Series. Kipnis would’ve won MVP if the Indians won, but Davis would’ve been the hero. Unfortunately, they couldn’t push across another run and we went to the tenth inning tied at 6. Ben Zobrist doubled with two on and one out to give the Cubs the lead, and after an intentional walk to give Cleveland a double play chance Miguel Montero singled to make it 8-6. Davis again got a huge hit, a single that scored a run with two outs to make it 8-7 and keep hope alive, but Michael Martínez grounded out to third, and the longest championship drought in major sports history of 108 years for the Cubs was over.

Unusual Notes

Here, we’ll get into the things that didn’t really matter for history but are fun things for fans to remember.

One-time All-Stars

There were 25 first-time All-Stars in 2016 who, as of 2019, haven’t been back in an All-Star game. There are always a few relievers that are All-Stars just once, and in 2016 those were guys like AJ Ramos, then the closer for the Marlins whose ERA ballooned to 6.41 in 2018 with the Mets and wasn’t offered a contract for 2019, Jeurys Familia, who led the league with 51 saves for the Mets that year but struggled a lot over the coming years and it doesn’t look like he’ll be returning to that level any time soon, and Brad Brach, who posted a 2.05 ERA in 2016 with Baltimore but hasn’t had an ERA lower than 3 since, still providing some value in middle relief but not being at the level of an All-Star relief pitcher. The more interesting one-timers are the ones who would have been expected to return, like Jake Arrieta, José Quintana, Wil Myers, Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, or Eric Hosmer, a bunch of guys who are still recognizable names to baseball fans but haven’t made it back to the mid-summer classic, or guys who fell apart after being an All-Star. That’s where we talk about guys like Eduardo Núñez, who was hitting .321 with 12 homers and 22 stolen bases at the break in 2016, but faded down the stretch, was decent in 2017 before regressing further in 2018 and 2019 to the point where he no longer looks like a starter, let alone an All-Star. Marco Estrada was great in 2015 and still doing well in 2016 when he was rewarded with an AL All-Star roster spot. Then his ERA went from 3.48 in ’16 to 4.98, then 5.64, and then Toronto got rid of him and he went to Oakland, posting a 6.85 ERA in 5 starts before getting hurt at the end of April. Drew Pomeranz has regressed from posting a 2.47 ERA with San Diego before the trade deadline in ’16 to have an ERA of 8.08 somehow without the Giants letting him go. Michael Saunders collapsed even worse. He was hitting .298 with 16 homers, 25 doubles and a .923 OPS for Toronto at the All-Star break, but struggled down the stretch by hitting just .178 with 16 total extra-base hits the rest of the way, was awful in 2017 with the Phillies and Blue Jays, then was struggling in AAA in 2018 before being released.

Some other 2016 first-time All-Stars that haven’t been back are Danny Salazar, who still has yet to play since 2017 due to a shoulder injury that has required surgery and has had several setbacks. Adam Duvall’s hitting slowly regressed and he’s currently playing in AAA after hitting over .240 with 30+ homers and doubles back-to-back years in ’16 and ’17. Jackie Bradley Jr. hasn’t hit as well as he did in 2016 since then so despite his stellar defense in center field he hasn’t been at the top of the game’s stage. Brandon Belt has been a victim of having bigger stars at his position in the NL, where he has to compete with guys like Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Freddie Freeman, Joey Votto, and others. Aledmys Díaz went from an All-Star as a rookie to more of a utility role, which doesn’t help when a large part of All-Star voting is position based.

How things change in a year

The Cardinals and Royals had the two best records in the league in 2015, and KC won the World Series. Neither of them made the playoffs in 2016. In 2016, the Tigers, Mets, and Giants all had a better record than the Astros. The next year, the Astros won the World Series and the other three all lost at least 90 games and the Tigers and Giants tied for the worst record in baseball. Rick Porcello won the Cy Young award in 2016, and in 2017 he went 11-17 with a 4.65 ERA and Baseball-Reference had him worth -0.2 WAR. Daniel Murphy went from being good, not great, to leading the NL in doubles, slugging, and OPS and was the runner-up for MVP. One year has little to no impact on the results of the following year in baseball or sports in general very often.

An amazing exit

David Ortiz never won MVP. But it’s hard to compare his career to other people without mentioning people with multiple MVP awards. From 2003-07, his first 5 years in Boston and the best 5-year stretch of his career, he finished in the top 5 in MVP voting all 5 years and produced more batting runs (the main offensive component of WAR without taking in positional factors that hurt a DH) than anyone other than Alex Rodriguez (3 MVP’s in that span), Barry Bonds (2 MVP’s in that span) and Albert Pujols (1 MVP in that span). In a wider view, from 2003-2016, his entire Red Sox career, he was one of only 11 players to produce 50+ oWAR according to Baseball-Reference, along with Pujols, Miguel Cabrera (the only two to produce more batting runs in that span, both won multiple MVP’s), A-Rod, David Wright, Robinson Canó, Carlos Beltrán, Adrián Beltré, Hanley Ramírez, Derek Jeter, and Chase Utley. But about his final season specifically, he had the most batting runs ever by someone age 40 or older at 46.2, with second place being Ted Williams, who had 38.0 in his age-41 season in 1960, he had the most doubles by someone 40 or older (48, second place 35), the most home runs (38, second place 34), slugging (min 400 PA, .620, second place .565), RBI (127, second place 108), and his 1.021 OPS and 164 OPS+ are second only to Barry Bonds’ 2007 campaign in which he was 42, also his last year as a pro. He finished sixth in MVP voting and won his seventh Silver Slugger award at DH.

Small debuts for future stars

This is a bit of forecasting good players who debuted in 2016 because someone with a small debut just 3 years ago probably hasn’t had time to establish themselves as a true star. To set limits on what qualifies a “small start” we’ll put it into this context, where batters can have no more than 60 games played, 250 plate appearances (roughly half of what’s required to qualify for the batting title), and no more than 2.0 WAR (Baseball-Reference version) to make sure they didn’t impress too much, and for pitchers, no more than 12 starts or 40 relief appearances, no more than 70 innings pitched, and also no more than 2.0 WAR. That said, here are the top small debut players from 2016.

Alex Bregman qualifies for the list, albeit only slightly, after debuting in late July and staying just below our qualification line. He had a slash line of .264/.313/.478 with 8 homers in 49 games before posting a .827 OPS with 19 homers in 2017 and exploding onto the scene in 2018 with a .926 OPS, 31 home runs and a league-leading 51 doubles, his first All-Star appearance and a fifth-place finish for MVP. He looks like a rising superstar. Andrew Benintendi is another young player who now has a World Series ring, and after a small debut in 2016 that started in August, he got to a very high level in 2018 hitting .290 with 63 extra base hits. He was a big-time prospect and will likely be a quality player for years to come. Hunter Renfroe didn’t debut until September 21st of 2016, playing just 11 games for the Padres that year. Now, he’s had back-to-back seasons of 26 home runs and looks like a good bet to get over 30 in 2019, with 17 homers as of June 4 with a .933 OPS and good defensive metrics, and at 27 he’s blossoming into a possibly great player. Mike Clevinger made 10 starts for Cleveland, as well as 7 relief appearances, in 2016 and struggled, posting a 5.26 ERA in 53 innings, then posted ERAs lower than 3.25 in each of the next two seasons before going down with an injury in his second start in 2019. Assuming the injury, a severe muscle strain in his upper back, doesn’t have lingering effects, he should continue to be a weapon in the Indians pitching staff. German Márquez made an even smaller debut in 2016, appearing in just 6 games (3 starts) and giving up 12 earned runs in 20 2/3 innings (5.23 ERA) before steadily lowering his ERA from 2017 to 2019, from 4.39 to 3.77 to 3.48 through his first 13 starts of 2019. He’s also provided positive value at the plate, winning the Silver Slugger award for pitchers in 2018.

Everything’s… weirder in Texas?

The Texas Rangers won the AL West for the second straight year in 2016. The thing is, they had one of the most unlikely great seasons in the MLB. They went 35-36 against teams with a losing record, but 60-31 against teams that were above .500. That was the best record in the league against winning teams, but a worse record against below .500 teams than the 68-94 Reds, who were 44-40 against teams with a losing record. The weirdness didn’t stop there. They went 36-11 in 1-run games, with the second best record in such games belonged to the New York Yankees, who went 24-12 in games decided by a single run. This meant their run differential wasn’t nearly as good as you would expect for a 95-67 team. Their Pythagorean expected win-loss record, based on run differential, was just 82-80, meaning they had a “luck factor” of 13, again easily the best in the league, with the Philadelphia Phillies being second with 9, but they were 71-91, so it didn’t really matter. The only other team to have a real benefit from positive Pythagorean luck was the Orioles, who had a Pythagorean expectation of 84-78, which would have left them out of the playoffs, but their actual record of 89-73, meaning they had a “luck factor” of 5, was good enough to earn a Wild Card spot.

Cups of coffee

There were three true cup of coffee players in 2016 who played just one game, all of which played in a blowout loss for their team. Mike Miller, a middle infielder in the Boston Red Sox organization, was up in the majors for the first time in late June. He entered their game on June 27th against the Rays in the eighth inning for Dustin Pedroia as the Sox also took out Mookie Betts and David Ortiz just to make sure they didn’t hurt themselves in a game they were down 12-4 going into the eighth inning. He had no putouts, assists or errors in the field and went 0-1 at the plate. He was subsequently sent back to AAA, where he still is in 2019. After being traded from the Yankees organization to the Diamondbacks for Tyler Clippard at the trading deadline, Vicente Campos found himself in the majors with Arizona on August 27th when D-backs starter Zack Godley gave up 9 runs in two innings to the Reds, and he got the call from the ‘pen. He would pitch 5 2/3 innings, give up 4 hits, 2 walks, 2 home runs, and 3 runs (2 earned) in what ended up being a 13-0 loss for Arizona. He was sent back down shortly thereafter and is in AA in the Pittsburgh organization as of 2019. Dustin Antolin had been in the Blue Jays system since being drafted in the 11th round out of high school in Hawaii and was having good success out of the bullpen in AAA when he got called up in mid-May. On May 16th, they were hosting the Rays and starter JA Happ allowed 5 runs in the first two innings, then the first three hitters of the third inning reached base pushing across another run, and manager John Gibbons had seen enough. He went to Antolin for his debut, and it didn’t get too much better. The two inherited runners both scored, and he allowed 3 more runs in the third and fourth innings before being sat down for them to try someone else. He would never appear in the majors again, struggling in AAA in 2017 and only finding employment in independent leagues in 2018.

 

We’re getting closer to being at a point where we can kind of zoom out our lens and look at a few years in one article, as we’ll start seeing old champions whose franchise has won another World Series since then (the 2013 Red Sox being the most recent), and have more odd stories to look at from 2 or three years to talk about. We’ll get there, but until then we’ll dig up weird stories from each individual year, because baseball really does give us plenty. To the 2016 Chicago Cubs, congratulations on winning the World Series. To the MLB in 2016, thanks for being weird.

Stats and info courtesy of Baseball Reference and ESPN.

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