Ryan Braun, Ian Kinsler, and Kevin Youkilis are who we thought they were, to quote Dennis Green.
Jason Marquis was voted to the All-Star Game for the 1st time in his career. Scott Feldman came out of nowhere and emerged as the Rangers' ace.
Gabe Kapler gave southpaws fits. Brad Ausmus hit .295 (that's not a typo) for the Dodgers.
Craig Breslow and John Grabow experienced a change of venue mid-season and flourished for their new teams.
Aaron Poreda showed the promise of a live arm. Sam Fuld can flat-out field. And Ryan Sadowski defied the odds.
Lots of things made this season special. Here's a rundown in alphabetical order of what each JML did in 2009.Brad Ausmus - At 40, Ausmus is at the twilight of his career, but don't tell him that. Not known for his offense, Ausmus actually had a decent year at the plate as the Dodgers' backup cacher. He put up a line of .295 / .343 / .368 for an OPS of .712 in 107 PAs. From an offensive standpoint, it was his best season since 2000 when he was on the Tigers. Ausmus threw out 30% of the base stealers who ran on him, which is a far cry from the years when he gunned down nearly half of the men on base who tested him, but it is still a respectable number when you consider his age. As far as career milestones are concerned, Ausmus hit his 80th home run and collected his 600th RBI. He also came within 1 game of tying Shawn Green's JML all-time mark of 1,951 games played. If this was his swan song, it was a pretty good one. And curiously enough, the Houston Astros now have a manager vacancy. One would assume the Dartmouth grad Ausmus would be on their short list.
Ryan Braun - In my opinion - and this is by no means a slam dunk - Braun had the best year of all the JMLs in 2009. He led the NL in hits with 203. Those 203 hits are tied with Hank Greenberg for 2nd most all-time in a season among JMLs after Buddy Myer's 215 in 1935. Incidentally, Greenberg's 203 hits were also in 1935. In addition, Braun set career-highs in games played (158), plate appearances (708), at bats (635), runs scored (113), RBIs (114), stolen
bases (20), walks (57), OBP (.386), HBP (13), and total bases (350). He tied a career-high in doubles with 39. As evidenced by his walks and OBP, his plate discipline was noticeably better this year than in '08 and '07. He even cut down on double plays he grounded into. He grounded into 13 in each of the previous 2 years and only 6 this year. Braun also became the 1st JML to hit 30 or more home runs in his first 3 seasons and only the 3rd to have a 20/20 season. He put up a line of .320 / .386 / .551 for a .937 OPS. With runners in scoring position, Braun had an OPS of .971. Braun was 1st in the NL in hits, 2nd in ABs and runs scored, 3rd in PAs, 4th in RBIs and total bases and extra base hits and HBP, 7th in batting average, 8th in OPS, 9th in doubles and SLG, and 10th in triples (6). Braun led all NL left fielders in fielding percentage (.994) and putouts (304) for the 2nd year in a row. He also led all NL left fielders in range factor (2.06) and was 3rd in assists (8). He turns 26 in November. After just 3 seasons under his belt, Braun has amassed 523 hits, 104 doubles, 103 home runs, and 317 RBIs. What will his counting stats look like 10 years from now?Craig Breslow - Start with 1 team at the outset and end with another. That has been the formula for Breslow the last 2 seasons. It's amazing that teams keep putting him on waivers. Breslow is only 29 years old, and he sports a career 2.79 ERA and 1.214 WHIP in 145 innings of work. I mean, it'd be one thing if he were just a lefty specialist, but Breslow was actually a little better against righties this year than lefties. Against lefties in 31 innings he had a 1.13 WHIP and a .204 BAA. Against righties in 38 2/3 innings he had a 1.09 WHIP and a .191 BAA. That's outstanding. Coming into 2009, Breslow didn't have any decisions; he had 15 this year. He was 8-7 with 15 holds, a 3.36 combined ERA (Twins and A's), a 1.105 WHIP, and a .197 BAA in 69 2/3 innings of work (a career-high). His 6.2 hits per 9 innings was also a career-best. He was 2nd in the AL in appearances (77) and held batters to a .154 BA with runners in scoring position. Last year, I would've said John Grabow had the better year out of the bullpen (mostly because he logged more innings). This year, my vote would go to Breslow.
Scott Feldman - Inserting Feldman into the rotation last year ended with underwhelming results, so much so that Feldman didn't even start 2009 in the Rangers' rotation. But there was nothing underwhelming about what Feldman did this year, particularly his dominant performance against the Rays where he had 11 Ks in 7 shutout innings. Feldman was 17-8 with a 4.08 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP, and a .250 BAA in 189 2/3 innings. As a starter, Feldman had a 3.79 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP in 183 innings. His 17 wins ranked 4th in the AL. His .680 winning percentage ranked 7th. And his 0.854 HRs per 9 innings ranked 8th. His 12 wins on the road set a franchise record. Needless to say, he set career-highs in just about every pitching category. Before the All-Star break, Feldman was 8-2 with a 3.86 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP, and a .233 BAA. After the All-Star Break, he was 9-6 with a 4.34 ERA, a 1.38 WHIP, and a .266 BAA. I suspect fatigue had a lot to do with the dropoff. In MiLB, the most innings Feldman ever threw was 70; that was in 2005. Last year, Feldman tossed 151 innings in 25 starts. This year, he tossed almost 40 more innings than that total in 31 starts. Now that his arm has been stretched out, I would expect him to have more endurance in 2010. Feldman will turn 27 in February, so he could be one of the top AL pitchers for many years to come.
Sam Fuld - For awhile, it looked like Fuld was going to be remembered solely for this dazzling catch he made in his brief stint with the Cubs in 2007. Fuld didn't get a whiff of The Show last year, and he was all but forgotten. But injuries to Alfonso Soriano and Reed Johnson paved the way for the 27-year old Fuld to finally get his shot. Fuld, like Johnson, is the type of hard-nosed player you'd think Lou Piniella would readily endorse, especially after seeing Soriano and Milton Bradley dog it on a daily basis in the outfield. Whether that's the case or not, Fuld didn't get a whole lot of playing time. Still, he made the most of it. He put up a line of .299 / .409 / .412 for an OPS of .821 in 115 PAs. In addition, he stole 2 bases (both off Ausmus) and drew more walks than he had strikeouts. But it was Fuld's play in the outfield that really won Cubs fans over this year. Fuld is an excellent outfielder, and compared to Soriano and Bradley he looks like Willie Mays. He covers a lot of ground, lays out for everything, and has a better arm than advertised. At the plate, he's a grinder. But most importantly, this guy shows up to play every day. I love
how he plays the game.
Gabe Kapler - Kapler didn't have the season he had last year with the Brewers, but he was still a force coming off the bench for the Rays. He put up a line of .239 / .329 / .439 in 238 PAs for a .768 OPS in the toughest division in all of baseball. All 8 of his HRs and 14 of his 15 doubles were off lefties; he had a .931 OPS against southpaws in 174 PAs. In addition, Kapler drew 29 BBs, the most he's had since 2001 when he was a full-time player with the Rangers. Also swiped 5 bags, the most he's had since 2004. Career-wise, he hit his 80th home run and scored his 400th run. Kapler also provided the Rays with excellent defense in the outfield, particularly in right field where his UZR was 8.3. In the AL, only Ryan Sweeney, Nelson Cruz, Clete Thomas, Ben Zobrist, J.D. Drew, and Ichiro Suzuki had higher UZR ratings in right field. Kapler is 34 years old now and will be a free agent in the offseason, and I think it's safe to say he still brings a lot to the table.
John Grabow - Grabow followed up a career-year in 2008 with a pretty decent 2009 campaign. After 5+ years with the lowly Pirates, Grabow was traded to the Cubs and unlike other additions to the bullpen (I'm talking to you, Kevin Gregg) Grabow didn't disappoint. He was 3-0 with 23 holds, a 3.36 ERA, a 1.41 WHIP, and a .233 BAA in 72 1/3 innings of work. His 75 appearances and 0.6 HR per 9 innings were both career-bests. Lefties hit .222 against him while righties hit .238 against him.
Ian Kinsler - Despite losing his All-Star bid to Brandon Inge's .720 OPS, Kinsler had another year worthy of All-Star consideration. Sure, his average and OBP were down, but just about everything else was up. Kinsler set career highs in games played (144), plate appearances (640), at bats (566), home runs (31), RBIs (86), stolen bases (31), and total bases (276). He joined Shawn Green as the only other JML to have a 30/30 season and became only the third 2nd basemen to have a 30/30 season. He put up a line of .253 / .327 / .488 for an OPS of .814. He finished 7th in the AL in stolen bases and 10th in runs scored (101). With runners in scoring position, his OPS was .976. His 31 stolen bases are 2nd best all-time in a season among JMLs behind Shawn Green's 35 in 1998. And he was only caught stealing 5 times. He became the 2nd JML to hit for the cycle and go 6 for 6 in a game. He is the only player in the modern era to go 6 for 6 and hit for the cycle. He had 13 total bases in that game and scored 5 runs. That's one of the greatest single game performances of all time. Kinsler's fielding also improved. His range factor was a little down from previous years, but he made less errors and he finished with an UZR rating of 7.5. Only Placido Polanco, Chase Utley, Dustin Pedroia, and Felipe Lopez had higher UZR ratings at 2nd base. And at 27 years of age, you have to think that the best is yet to come.
Jason Marquis - Pretty nice bounce-back year for Marquis. Not that he was bad with the Cubs, but this was certainly his best season since 2005. Marquis was 15-13 with a 4.04 ERA, a 1.38 WHIP, and a .267 BAA in 216 innings pitched for the Rockies. His 15 wins tied a career-high set back in 2004 with the Cardinals and ranked 4th in the NL. His 216 innings set a career-high and ranked 8th in the NL. His 0.625 HR per 9 innings was a career-best and ranked 8th in the NL. Marquis threw 2 complete games (including his 3rd career complete game shutout). This marked Marquis' 6th consecutive season with 11 or more wins. Still, it was slightly disappointing that he didn't surpass 15 wins when he already had 11 at the All-Star Break. Before the All-Star Break, he was 11-6 with a 3.65 ERA, a 1.31 WHIP, and a .254 BAA. After the All-Star Break, he was 4-7 with a 4.56 ERA, a 1.48 WHIP, and a .284 BAA. But anyone who can post a 3.92 ERA at Coors Field deserves some respect. And with a little more luck, Marquis could have definitely come close to 20 wins. He had 5 no decisions this year where he posted a 2.91 ERA and a 1.324 WHIP. He averaged nearly 7 innings in those 5 no decisions, so it's not as if he left those games early. Marquis won't win his 2nd Silver Sluggers this year, but he had a respectable year at the plate; he hit .172 with 3 doubles, 8 RBIs, and 7 runs scored. He has 28 career doubles in 505 ABs. This marked his 6th consecutive season with 10 or more hits. If Marquis stays healthy next year, and his track record says that he will, he will win his 100th game at the age of 31. The question is: what team will he be playing for? The Rockies? The Mets? Should be an interesting offseason.
Aaron Poreda - Touted as the 2nd best prospect in the White Sox farm system behind Gordon Beckham, 23-year old Poreda got a taste of The Show in 2009 and was pretty good. With the Sox and the Padres, he pitched 13 1/3 combined innings and had an ERA of 2.70 while striking out 12. He only gave up 10 hits and didn't surrender a home run. The only knock against him is the 13 free passes.
Ryan Sadowski - Sadowski began is MLB career with 13 scoreless innings and 7 hits allowed. Not bad for a guy who only pitched 6 2/3 innings in college. Sadowski followed up his first 2 outings with 2 so-so outings and 2 bad outings. He ended up being 2-4 with a 4.45 ERA, a 1.588 WHIP, and a .264 BAA in 28 1/3 innings (6 starts). Lefties hit .291 against him while righties only hit .235 against him. What does the future hold for the 27-year old Sadowski? Don't know, but for a guy who wasn't highly regarded in college or the minors, he's already accomplished quite a bit.
Scott Schoeneweis - Not much to say here. Schoeneweis was coming off one of his better seasons. As of May 16, his ERA was 2.53 in 11 innings of work. Schoeneweis lost his wife on May 20, and the rest is history. A lost season. At 36, perhaps his last season.
Josh Whitesell - After putting up a line of .328 / .425 / .568 for an OPS of .993 in 560 PAs, Whitesell was voted the Diamondbacks' 2008 Minor League Player of the Year. He hit 26 HRs, 36 doubles, scored 86 runs, and drove in 110 runs in Tucson. Baseball America also ranked him the best power hitter in the organization. With credentials like that and with first base manned by two has-beens in Chad Tracy and Tony Clark, you'd think Whitesell would have been given every opportunity to come in and win the job. Whitesell was given a grand total of 133 PAs. And unlike Fuld, this 27-year old did not make the most of his playing time. He put up a line of .194 / .346 / .287 for an OPS of .633. I'll say this: given his average, that .346 OBP is impressive.
Kevin Youkilis - Youk proved in 2009 that he is no fluke. He put up a line of .305 / .413 / .548 for an OPS of .961 in 588 PAs. He set career-highs in OBP, OPS, stolen bases (7), and HBP (16). He ranked 2nd in the AL in OBP and OPS, 4th in HBP, and 5th in SLG. He is the 1st JML since Mike Epstein in 1969 to have an OBP of .400 or above in at least 500 PAs. His 16 HBP is a single-season record among JMLs. With runners in scoring position, his OPS was 1.075. That's not an anomaly; his career OPS with runners in scoring position is 1.001. This was his 4th consecutive season with 35 or more doubles. In the field, he split time between 1st base and 3rd base. Because of Mike Lowell's fragile hip, Youk played 63 games at 3rd, the most since his rookie year in 2004. He even played 2 games in left field for the 1st time since 2006. He was once again a serviceable 3rd baseman and a sure-handed 1st baseman. He missed 26 games because of various back injuries and the 5-game suspension he was given for charging the mound. Say what you will about the incident with Rick Porcello, but it was memorable. Despite playing in only 136 games, Youk still managed to hit 27 home runs, 36 doubles, score 99 runs, and drive in 94 runs. At 30, he's still in his prime and should be for another 2 years or so.