Was 2011 eventful? Eh. One NL MVP. Two 30/30 seasons. Three rookie debuts. Eh, my tuchus!
Ryan Braun - What happens when a superstar enters his magical age-27 season? Ryan Braun in 2011 is what happens. This guy was in "beast mode" all season long. In 150 games, the NL MVP's line was .332/.397/.597 for an OPS of .994 (166 OPS+) in 629 PAs. He hit 33 HRs, 38 doubles, 6 triples, drove in 111 runs, scored 109 runs, and stole 33 bags (only 6 CS). Yeah, that's a 30/30 season, 33/33 if you want to get technical. Braun joined Shawn Green and Ian Kinsler as the only JMLs to ever have a 30/30 season. His 23-game hitting streak was also one of the longest streaks among JMLs, falling behind only Shawn Green (28 games in 1999), Gabe Kapler (28 games in 2000), Ian Kinsler (25 games in 2008), and Buddy Myer (24 games in 1929). The hitting streak tied 2 other such streaks by Myer (1928) and Kevin Youkilis (2007). Braun led the NL in extra base hits (77), slugging, and OPS. He ranked 2nd in runs scored, total bases (336), and batting average. He was 4th in RBIs and doubles. He was 5th in OBP and hits (187). He was 6th in HRs and 7th in SBs. Braun set career-bests in BA, OBP, OPS+, SBs, BBs (58), walk rate (9.2%), strikeout rate (14.8%), BB/K ratio (0.62), SB percentage (85%), and WAR (7.8). In each of his 5 seasons in The Show, his walk rate has gone up and his strikeout rate has gone down. In all of baseball, he was 5th in WAR (Wins Above Replacement), one spot ahead of Ian Kinsler. In the NL, he was 2nd in WAR behind only Matt Kemp. His .265 ISO was his best mark since 2008. He didn't have any noticeable splits. His 2nd half was slightly better than his 1st half. In the 1st half, he put up a line of .320/.402/.559 for an OPS of .961 in 351 PAs. In the 2nd half, he put up a line of .346/.392/.642 for an OPS of 1.034 in 278 PAs. Defensively, Braun was also impressive. In the NL among left fielders, he was 1st in fielding percentage (.996) and 3rd in range factor. Among all NL outfielders, he was 4th in fielding percentage. This was also his 3rd season with 8 or more assists. Braun was selected to his 4th consecutive All-Star Game and received his 4th consecutive Silver Slugger award. And, of course, he won the NL MVP, the first time a JML has won the prestigious award since Sandy Koufax in 1963. As far as winning an MVP is concerned, Braun is in elite company with Koufax, Al Rosen (1953), and Hank Greenberg (1935 and 1940). Braun is also the only JML to ever win Rookie of the Year and MVP. Braun was no slouch in the postseason, either. In 11 playoff games, he posted a line of .405/.468/.714 for an OPS of 1.182 in 47 PAs. He hit 2 HRs, 7 doubles, drove in 10 runs, scored 7 runs, and stole 1 base. With Prince Fielder likely on the move in the offseason, Braun will certainly miss the protection he provided. Even so, I wouldn't expect too much of a dropoff in his production. Obviously, he'll be pitched around more often, but Braun has demonstrated he's not the free swinger he was when he first entered the league.
Craig Breslow - Definitely a down year for Breslow. In 59 1/3 innings, he was 0-2 with 8 holds, a 3.79 ERA (107 ERA+), 1.52 WHIP, 10.5 H/9, 0.6 HR/9, 3.2 BB/9, and 6.7 K/9. Opponents hit .296 against him. That's not getting the job done. While his walk rate was a career-best, his strikeout rate was a career-worst. Coming into the season, his career K/9 had been 7.8. Oddly enough, he fared much better against righties (.261 BAA, .714 OPS) than lefties (.352 BAA, .866 OPS). He also pitched much better at night (2.57 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, .275 BAA, 35 innings) than during the day (5.55 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, .324 BAA, 24 1/3 innings), which has been a trend in his career, though not to this extreme. Breslow will be 31 next year. His best years may be behind him, but I would not be surprised to see him bounce back somewhat in 2012.
Ike Davis - Ike looked like he was going to have a breakout season in his sophomore campaign, but he ended up missing most of the year because of a severe ankle injury. In 36 games, his line was .302/.383/.543 for an OPS of .925 (155 OPS+) in 149 PAs. He hit 7 HRs, 8 doubles, 1 triple, drove in 25 runs, scored 20 runs, and drew 17 BBs. His walk rate was 11.4% and his strikeout rate went down from 23% to 20.8%. His ISO was .240, up from .176 the year before. Probably not sustainable, but it really did look like he was going to hit for more power this year. And with the forthcoming dimension changes to Citi Field, Ike should find his home park more conducive to the long ball. He'll turn 25 next year and won't require surgery in the offseason. In the Fantasy world, he's what you would call a sleeper. Look for big things from the big man in 2012.
Scott Feldman - Coming off a disappointing season and microfracture surgery on his right knee, it would have been easy to write Feldman off for 2011. Easy and premature. Feldman made 11 appearances (2 of them starts) and did an excellent job of saving the Rangers' taxed bullpen when starters couldn't go deep. In 32 innings, Feldman was 2-1 with a 3.94 ERA (114 ERA+), 1.09 WHIP, 7.0 H/9, 0.8 HR/9, 2.8 BB/9, 6.2 K/9, and 2.20 K/BB. Feldman set career-bests in WHIP, BAA (.216), and groundball rate (62.1%). That is an incredible amount of groundballs. His walk rate and strikeout rate were his best marks since 2006. One thing that seemed to account for Feldman's renewed success was his changeup; he went to the change 15.5% of the time, up from 6.5% last year. His 3.99 FIP and 3.72 xFIP suggest he was this good and didn't merely get lucky in a relatively small sample size. Feldman was lights out at night (1.04 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, .138 BAA, 17 1/3 innings) and at home (2.33 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, .182 BAA, 19 1/3 innings). In the regular season, Feldman tossed 10 consecutive scoreless innings at one point. In the postseason, he tossed 10 1/3 scoreless innings. Apart from Game 1, he was ineffective in the World Series, but overall in the postseason he was 1-0 in 13 2/3 innings with a 3.29 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 5.3 H/9, 0.0 HR/9, 4.0 BB/9, and 7.2 K/9.
Sam Fuld - Super Sam Fuld made quite an impression with the Rays early on in the season and quickly became a fan favorite. He was a human highlight reel, and now the baseball world knows what Cubs fans have known all along: Fuld is a terrific outfielder. In left field, Fuld had the 4th best UZR (8.5) in all of baseball. His overall outfield UZR was 9.5. Fuld wasn't too shabby at the plate, either. In 105 games, his line was .240/.313/.360 for an OPS of .673 (92 OPS+) in 346 PAs. He hit 3 HRs, 18 doubles, 5 triples, drove in 27 runs, scored 41 runs, drew 32 walks, and stole 20 bases. Fuld joins Braun, Ian Kinsler, Gabe Kapler, Elliott Maddox, and Buddy Myer as the only JMLs to ever steal 20 or more bags in a season. Fuld's walk rate was 9.2% while his strikeout rate was 14.2%. That's a pretty good ratio. Not known for his power, his ISO was .120, the 3rd highest total of his professional career (including the minors). Fuld hit much better against righties (.710) than lefties (.554 OPS) and also hit much better at home (.730 OPS) than on the road (.613 OPS). He got off to a fast start in April and swiped 10 of his 20 bags that month. He finished the season strong with a line of .246/.358/.391 for an OPS of .749 in 83 PAs in the 2nd half. In the postseason, Fuld was 0 for 3. He received significantly less playing time in the 2nd half because of Desmond Jennings being recalled. I would expect Fuld's playing time to take a dip next year as well. However, the 29-year-old Stanford graduate should still make significant contributions.
John Grabow - Not going to sugarcoat it. Grabow did not have a good season. In 62 1/3 innings, he was 3-1 with 5 holds, a 4.76 ERA (82 ERA+), 1.52 WHIP, 9.7 H/9, 1.3 HR/9, 4.0 BB/9, and 5.5 K/9. Coming into the season, his career K/9 had been 7.9. The fact that his strikeout rate went down so much is disconcerting. On the plus side, his walk rate was better than his career average and his 2nd half (3.33 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 24 1/3 innings) was significantly better than his 1st half (5.68 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 38 innings). He also pitched much better during the day (3.66 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, .250 BAA, 32 innings) than at night (5.93 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, .293 BAA, 30 1/3 innings). He held lefties to a .244 BAA, but righties destroyed him to the tune of an .865 OPS. Mike Quade clearly overused him against righties. Grabow will be 33 next year and is currently a free agent. In the future, he should probably be used exclusively as a lefty specialist.
Ian Kinsler - Who led the Majors in BB/K ratio this year? This guy. Kinsler drew a career-high 89 BBs against just 71 Ks, which comes out to a ratio of 1.25. His walk rate of 12.3% and his strikeout rate of 9.8% were each career-bests. In 155 games and 723 PAs (2 more career-highs), Kinsler had a line of .255/.355/.477 for an OPS of .832 (117 OPS+). Oh yeah, and he also had his second 30/30 season. He is the only JML to ever have two 30/30 seasons. Only 12 players in MLB history have ever had 2 or more 30/30 seasons; Kinsler is one of them. This was his third 20/20 season. Only Joe Morgan (who had four 20/20 seasons) has more 20/20 seasons among second basemen. He hit 32 HRs (a career-high), 34 doubles, 4 triples (tying a career-high), drove in 77 runs, scored 121 runs (a career-high), and stole 30 bases (only 4 CS). He was successful on the basepaths 88% of the time and at one point stole 28 consecutive bases without being caught, breaking his own club record from 2007-2008. Kinsler also had 70 extra-base hits and 296 total bases (2 more career-bests). In the AL, he was 2nd in runs scored, 5th in HRs and BBs, 8th in ABs per K (8.7), and 9th in extra base hits and SBs. Defensively at 2B in the AL, he was 4th in games played, putouts, assists, and range factor. His UZR at 2B was 15.0 (yes, yet another career-best), which ranked 3rd in all of baseball. He led all AL second basemen in double plays, with 103. Kinsler's .223 ISO was a nice bounceback from his career-low .125 ISO in 2010. The wrist healed. The power returned. Kinsler also had a 7.7 WAR (a career-high), which ranked 4th in the AL and 6th in all of baseball. He didn't have any noticeable splits, except for his slash lines at home and on the road. At home, his line was .296/.405/.528 for an OPS of .933 in 367 PAs. On the road, his line was .214/.302/.428 for an OPS of .730 in 356 PAs. That's actually pretty much in line with his career splits at home and on the road. In the 1st half, his line was .251/.367/.448 for an OPS of .815 in 401 PAs. In the 2nd half, he had a line of .260/.340/.512 for an OPS of .852 in 322 PAs. Kinsler also had an outstanding postseason. In 17 games and 80 PAs, he had a line of .308/.438/.431 for an OPS of .868. He hit 1 HR, 5 doubles, drove in 11 runs, scored 10 runs, and stole 3 bases. His BB/K ratio was 14/9. The only blemish was the 4 CS, due in large part to Yadier Molina. In the World Series, he had a line of .360/.500/.400 for an OPS of .900 in 32 PAs. Hard to believe, but Kinsler will turn 30 next June. He'll still be in his prime in a great lineup and hitter's park. He finished 11th in the AL MVP vote (another career-best). I see no reason why he can't finish higher than that in 2012.
Ryan Lavarnway - Lavarnway made his MLB debut with the Red Sox on August 18. He had 7 starts at DH and put the gear on in 8 games (2 starts). In 17 games, his line was .231/.302/.436 for an OPS of .738 (96 OPS+) in 43 PAs. He hit 2 HRs, 2 doubles, drove in 8 runs, and scored 5 runs. He also threw out the lone baserunner who attempted to steal on him. Red Sox fans got a glimpse of his potential when he went yard twice in the same game against the Orioles. Lavarnway is only 24 and an offensive-minded catcher. I don't think we've heard the last from this Yale product. Not by a long shot.
Jason Marquis - Marquis pitched decently for the Nationals. In 20 starts with them through 120 2/3 innings, he was 8-5 with a 3.95 ERA (98 ERA+), 1.42 WHIP, 9.8 H/9, 0.6 HR/9, 2.9 BB/9, 5.3 K/9, and 1.82 K/BB. When he was traded to the Diamondbacks, it got ugly. Real ugly. In 3 starts with them, he wasn't able to go beyond 4 innings. In his 3rd start with the D-Backs, it looked like he was about to buck that trend until he fractured his right fibula. Overall on the season, he was 8-6 with a 4.43 ERA (88 ERA+), 1.49 WHIP, 10.5 H/9, 0.8 HR/9, 2.9 BB/9, 5.2 K/9, and 1.77 K/BB in 132 innings. Definitely some positives to take away from 2011. Marquis' 2.9 BB/9 was a career-best walk rate. Likewise, his 4.05 FIP and 4.02 xFIP were also career-bests. His 5.2 K/9 was his best strikeout rate since 2007 and his 1.77 K/BB was the 2nd best strikeout to walk ratio of his career. His groundball rate (55.1%) was the 3rd best mark of his career. Marquis also recorded the 100th win of his career in 2011. He now has 104 wins against 98 losses. He pitched very well at home in Washington. In 8 starts there (49 2/3 innings), he was 4-2 with a 3.26 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and 2.78 K/BB. Of his 23 starts, 13 were quality starts. On April 29 against the Giants, he tossed the 4th complete game shutout of his career on 5 hits, 0 BBs, and 7 Ks. Marquis used to be known as an innings eater, but the last 2 years he has been hurt and hit fairly hard. He is currently a free agent and will be 33 in 2012.
Josh Satin - Satin made his MLB debut with the Mets on September 4. He only had 27 PAs in 15 games. He played 8 games at 1st base and 1 game at 3rd base. Satin will be 27 next year and while he didn't exactly take the league by storm with his line of .200/.259/.240, he could still figure into the Mets' plans for 2012 as a bench utility player. He recently learned how to play in the outfield in winter ball, so that should give him even more versatility.
Michael Schwimer - Hard to evaluate a pitcher's performance when he only logged 14 1/3 innings, but I'd say Schwimer held his own out there as a rookie. Schwimer made his MLB debut with the Phillies on August 21 and did not disappoint, tossing 3 innings of 1-run ball on 4 Ks. I don't think you can read too much into his splits because of the sample size, but he did pitch much better on the road (1.93 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 9 1/3 innings) than at home. Schwimer had 16 Ks, which translates to a K/9 of 10.0, and he had a high strikeout rate in the minors as well, so that's probably not an anomaly. His 3.87 xFIP indicates that he pitched better than his 5.02 ERA and 1.54 WHIP showed.
Danny Valencia - Valencia probably falls into the "sophomore slump" category. In 154 games, his line was .246/.294/.383 for an OPS of .677 (86 OPS+) in 608 PAs. He hit 15 HRs, 28 doubles, 2 triples, drove in 72 runs, scored 63 runs, and had 216 total bases. He did manage to raise his average in the 2nd half, at least. In the 1st half, he hit .236. In the 2nd half, he hit .260. His best months, by far, were July and August, where he hit .303 and .283. All the splits are pretty ugly, except his line against lefties (.309/.352/.470 for an OPS of .822 in 159 PAs). His ISO remained the same as last year at .137 and his strikeout rate went up some (14.3% to 16.8%), but his walk rate went up a little as well (6.2% to 6.6%). Valencia led the Twins in RBIs and games played and was 2nd on the team in runs scored, HRs, doubles, and extra base hits behind Michael Cuddyer. Valencia will be 27 next year, and that's supposed to be a magic number for ballplayers, so hopefully he'll have a career year, as Braun did in 2011 in his age-27 season.
Kevin Youkilis - Much has been made of the Red Sox late season collapse. Youk's health in the 2nd half was probably the biggest and most overlooked reason for the collapse. Youk played in 83 games in the 1st half and put up a line of .285/.399/.512 for an OPS of .912 in 358 PAs. In the 2nd half, he played in 37 games and put up a line of .199/.314/.346 for an OPS of .660 in 159 PAs. Overall in 120 games, his line was .258/.373/.459 for an OPS of .833 (123 OPS+) in 517 PAs. He hit 17 HRs, 32 doubles, 2 triples, drove in 80 runs, scored 68 runs, and drew 68 BBs. In atypical fashion, Youk also had some alarming splits, struggling on the road (.667 OPS) and against righties (.764 OPS). He also posted his lowest ISO (.202) and WAR (3.7) since 2007. His .258 BA was a career-low. It's not all bad, though. He played a career-high 112 games at 3B and made his 3rd All-Star appearance. In the AL, he ranked 3rd in HBP (14) and his walk rate of 13.2% was stellar. As an AL third baseman, he finished 3rd in fielding percentage (.967) and 4th in putouts (87). He has 927 career hits, so he should reach 1,000 in 2012. He's been bit by the injury bug the last 2 years and will be 33 next season. With Theo Epstein now with the Cubs and Aramis Ramirez testing the market, Youk could find himself wearing Cubbie blue in the near future. Hey, stranger things have happened.