Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Great Albert Pujols

He had his worst season in years, but he's still got something in the tank. 633 home runs to date, and 1,982 runs batted in. His days of being a triple crown threat are long past, but there are years still left on the contract. I'm hoping he does well. 

The Pujols Swing

Albert Pujols is a sure thing for the baseball Hall of Fame, but he's got several years left to play

Albert Pujols is going to be in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. He literally crossed the threshold of worthiness years ago. He has several years left to play. Albert could retire today, before the 2016 season even starts, and he'll be voted into the Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible.
There are a couple of other players who're still active, still playing ball who are also sure fire Hall of Fame guys. Miguel Cabrera is one, and Ichiro Suzuki should be another. David Ortiz is extremely likely to be a Hall of Fame guy. But out of all of those players, only the much younger Cabrera can compare to Albert Pujols in the statistical glory we associate with Major League Baseball, and the few players who make it to the Cooperstown shrine.
There is also the elephant in the room. Alex Rodriguez, the infamous A-Rod. A-Rod's stats are comparable to Pujols, but we all know about A-Rod and his factual use of performance enhancing drugs. But this page is not about that. Not really. This page is a celebration of the greatness that is Albert Pujols.
He's had seven years of 40 or more home runs. Twelve years of one hundred or more runs batted in, and he would have had thirteen straight were it not for a year when he had 'just' 99. He has also at times led his league in batting average and hits.
He is only now 36 years of age, and he owns 560 home runs, 2,666 hits, and 1698 runs batted in. It is very possible Albert Pujols breaks the 600 home run barrier this season. He could also crack 1800 runs batted in.

Albert Pujols poses for a photo in high school baseball

Albert Pujols was born in the Dominican Republic, but emigrated to the USA as a teenager

His full name is JosĂ© Alberto Pujols Alcántara, and he is a Dominican-American. He was born and raised in Santo Domingo, the most notable city in the Dominican Republic, and he was raised by one of his grandmothers, who's name was prophetic, America.
His father played softball there in Santo Domingo, but he was an alcoholic. Albert was that poor kid you picture in your mind, the one using a stick for a bat, and any damned thing he can find for a ball. He probably batted thousands upon thousands of rocks into the distance. Increasingly, the rocks traveled further and further, until you couldn't find that one ever again.
Albert was born in 1980, and when he was 16 years old he was fortunate to emigrate to New York City. His father and his grandmother were with him. But New York City has a big ugly underbelly. All large American cities do, and Albert saw part of that with his own two eyes. He witnessed a shooting inside of a grocery store. His family soon moved far from New York, and landed in Independence, Missouri. They had relatives there already, and families banding together progress more in this world, regardless of where it is you happen to live.
Albert was surely a big and strong teenager. I bet he was pressured to pursue football. Whether he did or not, I don't know, but what I do know is he pursued his first love, and that was baseball. Baseball would love him back. But coaches of opposing baseball teams had little love for twice over All state baseball player Pujols. The constantly walked him in protest because they believed he was older than 18 years of age.
Albert was batting balls that traveled 450 feet in high school. He got a scholarship to play baseball at a small college, but Albert wasn't yet very proficient in English, and would decide to enter the MLB draft.

Albert Pujols went professional quickly after playing some college baseball

Albert had been playing shortstop in college ball. He was clearly built too large to be a shortstop. Also, people still didn't believe him regarding his age. A Tampa Bay scout quit his job he was so angry the Devil Rays didn't draft Albert. But the Saint Louis Cardinals did draft him, but he was only the 402 pick in the 1999 MLB draft.
The Cardinals couldn't get Albert to sign right away. They'd offered him a measly ten thousand dollars. Albert knew he was worth more than that. He bid his time, played for some collegiate league teams, then the Cardinals came back at him with a fatter check, $60K, and Albert signed up.
Albert was persuaded to become a third baseman. Most players, if not all of them, start off in the lowest class A ball. Albert certainly did, and he performed too well for that level, and was advanced. But he won league MVP in his initial league of low A bass. Before his first year in minor league ball was over, he'd advanced all the way to triple A. He only played a few regular season games that year in the Cardinals AAA league, but he wound up in their post season, where he won post season MVP.
Albert Pujols as a rookie with the Saint Louis Cardinals in 2001.
Albert Pujols as a rookie with the Saint Louis Cardinals in 2001. | Source

Albert Pujols -unanimous National League Rookie of the Year in 2001

There are a few different stories floating around as to how Albert Pujols wound up starting the season with the Saint Louis Cardinals in 2001. The story you hear likely depends on who you happened to have asked. Regardless, Albert was too advanced a hitter to stay another year in the minor leagues. One season was plenty.
By the end of 2001, everyone who loved baseball then knew his name, and he was the unanimous National League Rookie of the Year award recipient. From there, he's just been more and more a legend. A Hall of famer, is what he is, and was from the very start. He made the All Star team as a rookie. His rookie season was more than good enough to win a league MVP some seasons. But in 2001 there were persons like Barry Bonds having career years.
Possibly the most memorable thing for Albert Pujols and for fans of baseball was what Albert did in the post-season of his rookie year. The Cardinals were in the play-offs, and in game 2 of the National League Division series Pujols hit a game winning home run off of none other than Randy Big Unit Johnson.

'The Sporting News' named Albert Pujols 'Player of the Decade'

Albert Pujols, player of the decade

Now in Albert's rookie year he didn't have a dedicated position. He played some 3rd base, he played some 1st base, and he played in the outfield some. The Cardinals only knew they needed his bat in their lineup. There wasn't a player on their team who was weak enough for Albert to just up and take over their dedicated position, or job.
Regular starting players in the Major Leagues like to know where they are going to be playing. Not only that, they want to have a set position in the batting order. Pujols hadn't had those things his rookie year. But starting in 2002 he became the number 3 hitter in the Cardinals lineup, and he would stay right there the rest of his years in Saint Louis. The number 3 hitter is generally speaking the single best hitter on the team. It is a position of honor, and a position where there are loads of expectations put on you. Albert could handle it, and he made that clearer and clearer.
He spent most of the season in left field. These days people forget Albert had been a 3rd baseman and an outfielder. Pujols has a better than average throwing arm, and always did. He was never fast, but he was a 4 tool player, and no doubt about it.
Pujols has an awkward batting stance. It is unorthodox, and you wouldn't teach it to someone as the way to go about hitting. Absolutely no one is able to argue with the results. Somehow Albert Pujols was left off the All Star team in 2002. The next seven years straight he would be an All Star. In 2005, 2008, and 2009 He would win National League Most Valuable Player awards. His lifetime stats list is so full of pronounced and bold letters there are few other players with whom we can compare Albert to.
Albert played ten years with the Saint Louis Cardinals, and in that time he led the National League in runs scored 5 times. He led the NL in hits once, highest batting average once, doubles once, home runs twice, runs batted in once, on base percentage once, and slugging percentage three times. His elite level of offensive production is a statisticians dream come true for analysis. Offensively, he spent a decade being every bit as outstanding with the bat as Roger Clemens had been in his best ten seasons as a dominating pitcher. It's little wonder The Sporting News named Albert the Player of the Decade.
He eventually settled in as a first baseman. But this wasn't until 2004. Albert's first 3 seasons either set or tied most major records for players with such short careers. He would be increasingly rewarded monetarily for his productivity by the Cardinals management. He was the finest Cardinals player since Stan Musial. No less good with a glove than a bat, Albert started winning Gold Glove awards and Fielding Bible awards for his defense at 1st base. One factoid folks will often forget is Albert Pujols set a single season record for assists by a 1st baseman. He threw out 185 runners from 1st base in 2009.
Albert Pujols on the cover of Muscle and Fitness.
Albert Pujols on the cover of Muscle and Fitness. | Source

Did Albert Pujols use steroids?

Albert Pujols will never be free of the suspicion that his fabulous statistics were aided by the use of steroids. There has yet to be conclusive proof that Albert used steroids. He certainly can't be using them now, as the steroid days are over due to persistent testing withing Major League Baseball.
But did Albert use steroids? That depends on who you ask, as there is no evidence available at this time to prove he ever did. But he will forever, guilty or not, be under the suspicion. Because everyone else save Jim Thome, and Ken Griffey Jr., who put up the kinds of numbers Albert did in St. Louis was a steroid user.
A former Cardinals slugging star from before Albert's days on the team, Jack Clark, accused Albert of having been a steroid user on a local radio show. We all know people make false accusations against great people all the time. We also know a lot of people we think of as great at something or another, are in reality cheats of some sort or another. We never truly know what did or did not happen or how someone truly is or isn't unless we've seen it ourselves. Albert sued Jack Clark, and specified the undisclosed amount would be donated to a charity. Albert Pujols is a charitable person, and runs some charities. Jack Clark sobered up and recanted his accusations.
This still does not mean Pujols didn't use steroids. There won't be any evidence, one way or another. I like to believe Albert was always clean. No one but Albert knows. The very style of the radio show where Jack Clark made his statements from seems to suggest nothing more than 'shock jock' style of content. Such things can drive ratings upwards, or they can backfire, and that is what happened to Jack Clark, he was fired.
Albert Pujols with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Albert Pujols with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Source

Albert Pujols signs with the Los Angeles Angels, operates a charitable non-profit foundation, and is a Christian

After helping to lead the Cardinals to two World Series, Pujols decided to change locations. His wife had said on a radio interview Albert had signed with the Angels because the Cardinals had initially only offered Albert a five year contract. The angels offered ten years, and over a quarter of a billion dollars.
In this world and in this nation, money appears to mean everything. Money is the god of the people here in the USA, or so it seems. But if you have more money, then you can also do more good, in a way, than can one with less money. Albert Pujols is a charitable man. So we should not rush into some sort of judgement on someone for the amount of wealth they either do or do not have. The Pujols Family Foundationcertainly sounds like a very worthy cause.
This is as good as spot as there will be to mention Albert's Christianity. Albert Pujols is apparently a very serious Christian, but not in the in your face preachy sort of way. Anyone asks him or his wife about it, and they will speak plainly concerning their faith. The Pujols Family Foundation is a non-profit and not evangelical, but Albert's professions of faith are found on the website for anyone interested.

Albert Pujols with the Angels

Albert Pujols had a very rough start in the American League. It isn't too surprising. There were loads of things, surely, for him to get used to. New team, new city, new league - lots of adjustments to be made. So he started the season in a slump, but after a while, he returned to be the player everyone knew.
He also had another new challenge. He was on a team where he wasn't thought to be the best player. Albert had always been the best player on the Cardinals, from the day he got there. But for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California - there was someone thought to be even better than the great Albert Pujols. His name was Mike Trout, and he was thought to be the second coming of Mickey Mantle, a true five tool player. But this Trout kid was just a guppy compared to Albert, surely. By the end of 2012 they'd become friends and enjoy challenging each other for supremacy.
2013, however, would be the worst year of Pujol's amazing career. Albert had always played nearly ever game in the 162 game season for his team, but he couldn't even make 100 games in 2013. He suffered a season ending knee injury. Every great player has a season like Albert had in 2013 at some point or another in their careers. Albert had always been very fortunate to have avoided major injuries. As he advanced into his 30s, he would have something to prove.
Albert's high batting averages have dropped off considerably in the American League. But the levels of production he had set were herculean to begin with. His 2014 production would be considered exemplary for anyone except Albert Pujols. He drove in 105 runners. He hit 28 home runs. But he was only getting about half the bases on balls he used to get with the Cardinals, and his batting average was sagging down to normal slugger levels.
Albert's 2015 campaign would re-establish him as a major home run threat. He seems to have learned the American League. He hit 40 home runs, and drove in a very healthy 95, but his batting average sunk to the lowest of his career, he hit just .244 for the season.
What will Albert Pujols be like in 2016? Well, Nelson Cruz, for instance, had his best season last year, and he's roughly the same age as Albert Pujols. Perhaps the great Albert Pujols will rejuvenate himself, or perhaps he'll go into a slow decline. He'd be dangerous even were he 56 years of age instead of just 36. He is also an absolute shoe-in for the Baseball hall of fame in Cooperstown, New York, even were he to retire tomorrow, and that is simply not going to happen. I'm predicting a huge season for Albert Pujols in 2016, and you should be rooting for him too. Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Expect a Big Year from Kris Bryant in 2019

So Kris is down from his first two years, where he started off by winning the Rookie of the Year award, and followed by winning the Most Valuable Player award. Well, he's 26 years old, he's about to enter his prime playing years. Last year he had a shoulder injury which prevented him from hitting for much power. He's going to fill out some, and he's going to be better than before. 

Rookie of the Year followed by the MVP

Kris Bryant, 2015 National League Rookie of the year, and Three True Outcomes

He stands six feet and five inches tall. He weighs in rather thin for that height, just 215 pounds, but he's a power hitting phenom in the Major Leagues at a young age. The predictions are that he'll win National League Rookie of the Year. So he does.
Do you happen to remember Ron Kittle? I remember Ron. He won a Rookie of the Year award, but he won it in the American League. He had two fine seasons of MLB play, then he slowly faded into obscurity. A footnote in power hitting Rookie of the Year award winning hitters. So we're all hoping Kris remembers Ron Kittle. Doesn't flash in the pan that way. We hope Kris sticks around for a long time. Hits lots of home runs. This is what we hope for.
How did Kris do in 2015? He hit a lot of home runs, 26, and he drove in a lot of runs, 99. He even stole 13 bases, and batted a respectable .275. The bad news is he led the National League in striking out. He struck out 199 times. He is a right handed Chris Davis. A 3 true outcomes player like his friend Joey Gallo. At least at this point he is. What are the 3 true outcomes? A walk, a strikeout, and a home run. Kris got 77 walks his rookie season. That is quite a lot, especially for a man who struck out as many times as he did. You can bet he learns to look for his pitch, the one he wants to swing at, and he'll get even more walks in 2016.

Kris Bryant is a big man with a big swing

Kris Bryant is predicted to join the 50 home run club

After just one season in MLB play, there are people already predicting Kris will win an MVP award at some point in the future. This is all based upon his offensive potential. As a defender, Bryant is kindly referred to as a work in progress.
Though he strikes out at a huge rate, he makes enough solid contact he may both lead the National League in strikeouts, and still hit above the .300 mark. It could happen in 2016. Or it could be the pitchers he hit last season make adjustments, and he suffers some growing pains this season.
Bryant isn't a dead pull hitter. He demonstrates loads of power to center field and even to the center-right power alley. Like Paul Goldschmidt does. He's that big and strong.
Kris is also getting compared to another tall and lanky power hitter, but this one is from days gone by. Dave Kingman was once a Chicago Cub too, but Dave Kingman was known not only for his big time Big League power, but also for being, well, an asshole. Kris is a nice guy though. He's also likely to do some Kingman like numbers. People predict 50 home runs from this guy. That is a tough load to carry, even when your shoulders are as broad as Kris Bryant's are.

Good guy Kris Bryant helps a fan get a date to the prom


Kris Bryant isn't just athletic, but book smart too

Kris Bryant became dedicated to baseball at an early age. But baseball never consumed his life to the point he slacked off in school Oh no, Bryant was his school's salutatorian, but gave it up for someone who's grades were slightly less awesome than his, because that person wanted it so dang much.
Nice guy, this Kris Bryant. Smart too. In college he was a biology major at first, but he switched to finance. Some sort of career ending injury happens to Kris, and he is going to be qualified for a good job. But we who love baseball are betting on such things not happening. Kris should have a long and terrific baseball career.
In this day and age where politicians come across so clearly as not being very nice people, and where most of the music celebrities clearly have no musical talent to speak of, and would likely be a horrible person to introduce to your family - American needs some good guys to provide the youth and others to admire. Kris Bryant, with his academic book smarts and willingness to actually care about random fans, he's that sort of guy. Someone you can look up to not just for his athleticism, but for his kindness.

Kris Bryant with the Daytona Cubs, the Chicago Cubs minor league team


Kris Bryant is from a good family, and he progressed quickly in college and the minor leagues

Kris Bryant won various and sundry awards for excellence in baseball before he became a professional baseball player. There was the Dick Howser Trophy. The Golden Spikes Award too. He grew up playing ball with Bryce Harper. Also like Bryce Harper, Bryant's father was closely involved with his development. His dad had saw early on his son had the chance to be the real thing, and he even sold a business so he could have the time to commit to his son's progress.
That's family values there. Bryant is a good guy from a good family. This is what America needs to see more and more of.
Kris went to high school in Las Vegas. He did as well as you can imagine. Amazing statistics, and you can find those sorts of details on his Wikipedia page, if you want to see them. USA Today named Kris to their All-USA baseball team. The Blue Jays attempted to sign Kris out of high school. He was drafted but he did not sign with the Blue Jays, he instead went to school and played college ball for the University of San Diego.
By his junior year in college Kris was leading all college ball players in the nation in home runs. Widely thought of as the best single college player available, the Houston Astros could have drafted Bryant, but instead chose someone else. The Chicago Cubs though, they chose Kris as the second pick in the first round of the 2013 MLB draft. He became a rich man right then and there, as he signed with the cubs for nearly seven million dollars.
He advanced through the minors quickly, winning all manner of honors and recognition along the way. The big controversy came in 2015. Bryant was invited to spring training with the Chicago Cubs, and he did very well, but wasn't selected to be with the club on the opening day roster. Everyone assumed the worst about the Cubs for this. They assumed they wanted to keep Kris under their control for the longest possible time without having to deal with things like salary arbitration and free agency. It was a big deal in the media. People were saying what the Cubs did was bad for baseball. But in any event, he'd be called up in 2015.

Kris Bryant connects with the baseball


Kris Bryant in 2015 and beyond

Usually 3rd basemen aren't six foot five inches tall. Usually your 3rd baseman is a guy who is from five foot ten to six foot two, like Adrian Beltre. Kris may have too high a center of gravity to be a long term 3rd baseman. Third basemen are also required to have a rifle for an arm, and Kris does have that, so it could be that in the future Kris is moved to right field, a place where men with firearms for throwing arms typically play. Like Jose Bautista.
But Kris Bryant's claim to fame is not his fielding. He could turn into a great fielder, but what he is most likely to forever be recalled for is his big bat. He hits balls a long ways.
Early on Kris wasn't hitting home runs as expected. He was playing good defense at 3rd though. The joke, from the mouth of the manager was he'd been brought up for his glove. He was still an early favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year. He won Rookie of the Month in May. Giancarlo Stanton got injured, and so Bryant replaced him in the All Star game. He got to participate in the home run derby. Then he got to be the last out in Cole Hamels no hitter. Not exactly a highlight, but a bit of a historical footnote.
Who hit the longest home run in 2015? Not Stanton, not Harper, not Chris Davis, not Prince Fielder or any of those established big dog players, it was Kris Bryant. He hit a ball 495 feet from home plate. But maybe the biggest charm for Bryant's 2015 Rookie of the Year season was playing for the Cubs in the playoffs. He went hitless in the wild card game, but hit a home run in the National League Division series.
What can we expect from Kris Bryant in 2016? Well, most people are predicting around 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in. You'd also be wise to expect around 200 strikeouts, and maybe 100 walks, some intentional. I hope nothing but the best for nice guy Kris Bryant, and you should too. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Former MVP Josh Donaldson

He's not past his prime. I think he'll have a big rebound year this year. At least I hope he does. 

2015 American League Most Valuable Player, Josh Donaldson Brings His Game


Josh Donaldson didn't come out of nowhere. He was a front line player prior to 2015

When an athlete truly loves the sport he plays it shows. It shows in the hustle. It shows when the athlete puts his body on the line for the sake of the game. The fire and energy born of the joy of competition can't be faked. But it is forever admired.
There are an awfully lot of teams in Major League Baseball.There are so many Big League players it is hard to familiarize yourself, as a fan, with all of them. So for some it seems like this Josh Donaldson person came out of nowhere and won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2015. Josh Donaldson had already established himself as a front line player. Now he's raised his personal bar to elite player status.
Epic heads up hustle by Josh Donaldson.
Epic heads up hustle by Josh Donaldson. | Source

Josh Donaldson ranked very high in wins above replacement in 2015

Everything just clicked for the Blue Jays last year. Donaldson in a line up with Encarnacion and Bautista, that's a tough trio for any pitcher to have to deal with. As the 2015 season progressed the Blue Jays made some big deals, and acquired Troy Tulowitzki and David Price.
There is one thing certain to be said about the people of Toronto - they love baseball and their baseball players. The team and management didn't win the pennant, but they sure did their best for the fans. It will surprise no one should Toronto win the American League East again this coming season.
But in 2015, a season where everything clicked for the Blue Jays, nothing clicked more than Josh Donaldson. He led the Major Leagues in runs scored, and the American League in runs batted in. Donaldson's total wins above replacement value was only lower than those of persons like Mike Trout, Zack Greinke, Jake Arrieta, and Bryce Harper. The comparison to Trout came again and again last season. In 2016 Donaldson is going to seek to prove it wasn't a fluke. Whether he's more similar in style, and makes a more fair comparison to Trout or Harper is something debatable. Josh is older and more mature than either, and clearly in his prime now. He's certainly now thought to be one of the elite offensive and defensive players in Major League Baseball, and as he is now just 30 years of age, will be for some time to come.

Donaldson was already a potential MVP player - but Toronto brought out the best in him

A sturdy case could be made for the notion that Donaldson didn't up his level of play at all last year in Toronto. What happened was he got out of Oakland, where the massive Colosseum saps away at a hitter's numbers for all the foul balls caught for outs in the dual purpose stadium. The place is a haven for pitchers. A statistics killer for hitters.
Baseball is a team sport though. So the set of guys you interact with every day as teammates always makes a difference too. No doubt Donaldson, at least early last season, got more pitches to hit for who was batting behind him.
You can't argue with numbers. Numbers and statistics just are. All that is left is the rest of the world, and all the myriad possible explanations for statistical aberrations. Donaldson's batting average and on base percentage had been higher in previous seasons with Oakland. What happened in Toronto is he increased his home run and run scored outputs significantly. These things can be explained easily when you realize what a pitcher's park Oakland has, and what an improved batting order Josh was a part of in Toronto.

Josh Donaldson as a Florida high school baseball player


Josh Donaldson excelled in sports in high school, but especially in baseball

Probably nobody who grew up and went to school with Josh Donaldson is surprised at his success in baseball. Josh had been a fine athlete in high school. He was born in Pensacola but when to high school in Pace, Florida. Then he went on to Mobile, Alabama. Josh played football, basketball, and baseball. But baseball is where he excelled, but he was then a pitcher and a shortstop.
He literally batted over .500 his senior year in high school. Such things do happen in high school, but they aren't common statistics even for someone who goes on to become a professional. Don Mattingly comes to mind here, for his extreme batting averages in high school, and also for the way Josh led his team to a state championship in baseball.
I shouldn't omit here what a football player Josh had been in high school. We're lucky to have him in Major League Baseball, but Josh was also a fine football player. He had 11 interceptions in one year for Faith Academy in Mobile. He was also a wide receiver and a punter.

Originally, Josh Donaldson was a catcher

Josh Donaldson would go from high school to Auburn University where he'd play 3rd base and catcher. He's got a rifle for a throwing arm, so he was suited to both positions. As a catcher Josh was gunning out nearly half of the would be base stealers, and also picked off significant amounts of base-runners. He was drafted as a catcher as the 48th pick in the first round of the 2007 draft by the Chicago Cubs.
Josh played well for the Cubs minor league farm teams, but was traded in a package deal to the Oakland Athletics. In the first month of the 2010 season Josh was called up to play for Oakland. His first appearance was as a pinch hitter, and he struck out. The very next night he got his first hit, and the ball flew over the outfield wall, a home run. He would not spend the 2010 season in the Major Leagues though, he was given a taste and then sent down to triple A ball to develop some more.
Still a catcher, Josh would spend the entire 2011 season for Oakland's triple A club. He showed good power hitting skills, and improved his batting average. It was the 2012 campaign, however, that saw Josh's conversion to third base. He would start the season as the Athletics' starting 3rd baseman. This wouldn't last. Josh would struggle, and get sent back down to Sacramento, the triple A team. Late in the season Josh would be recalled to the Athletics, and he'd shine, helping the team to the post season as their 3rd baseman.

Josh Donaldson as starting 3rd baseman for the Oakland Athletics

2013-2014 Josh Donaldson establishes himself as a star third baseman for Oakland's Athletics

In 2013 Josh Donaldson was Oakland's starting 3rd baseman, and he would stay that way. He'd start strong, and stay strong. In September he won American League Player of the Month. He had an altogether fine season. He batted .301, had 24 home runs, and 93 runs batted in. He'd finish fourth place in the American League MVP voting. So Donaldson as a league most valuable player isn't a new idea. As good as he was in 2013, he was better still in 2014.
Despite how good Josh was in 2013, the news came out he'd still be paid the Major League minimum salary in 2014. Now, to be sure, a half a million dollars in salary is nothing to be too upset about. But the man had placed 4th in the AL MVP voting the previous season. Josh got off to a bit of a late start insofar as Big League stardom goes. No matter, he would give Oakland's Athletics his all in 2014.
Josh would be voted in as the starting third baseman in the American League for the All Star game. He'd win the Fielding Bible award for his defensive play at 3rd for the season. He had a fine year offensively too, but his batting average sank to .255, and he'd place 8th in the AL MVP voting.

2015 American League MVP Josh Donaldson has a ferocious swing


Toronto Blue Jays star 3rd baseman, Josh Donaldson

Just after the conclusion of the 2014 season, the Oakland Athletics traded Josh to the Toronto Blue Jays for four good players. Josh was by then an elite third baseman, the defensive and offensive equal of long time stars such as Adrian Beltre. Again Josh was seeking more in the realm of pay, and he knew he could get it. He was awarded over four million in salary arbitration for the 2015 season.
Josh started 2015 hot, and he stayed hot the entire season. He was awarded a Player of the Week award early, then voted in a landslide by Toronto's zealous fans as starting 3rd baseman for the mid-summer classic All Star game. Later in the season he won a second Player of the Week award. By the end of August Josh Donaldson was a shoe-in for the American League MVP award. He was also having one of the single finest offensive seasons in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays, rivaling teammate Jose Bautista. I personally remember listening to games on the radio, and hearing little of the play by play man's voice, for the Toronto fans shouting 'MVP! MVP! MVP!' whenever Donaldson was at the plate.
Josh's season would rival the great seasons former Blue Jays such as Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green had had, as he had both over 40 home runs, and 40 doubles. Something Bautista had not done. Besides winning American League MVP, Josh would win the Sporting News Player of the Year award. Following the season's end, and those prestigious awards, Donaldson would be awarded a nice two year deal of $17 million per season for the Blue Jays.

Josh Donaldson will get a part in season 4 of the History Channel's 'Vikings'

You know, like Bautista, Donaldson isn't a huge man. He's only six feet even in height, and just over 200 pounds. But he can hit, and he puts his all into his swings. Also like Bautista, he's got a cannon of an arm, but Josh has more range as a 3rd baseman. He's a true great at 3rd. He's just 30 years old now. He was somewhat a late bloomer, but he's sure bloomed now.
Don't be surprised if Josh and Trout are fighting it out over the MVP over the next several seasons. Josh Donaldson was mostly raised by his mother, as his father was in prison. It was long before Josh's father ever got to see his son play professional baseball. But this has since been remedied.
As a man who's now won an MVP award, and placed highly in the same award's voting in the two prior seasons to the one he won the thing in, Josh Donaldson is a vital member of Toronto's clubhouse. He provides counsel and inspiration to the younger players, the prospects. He understands their needs, as he was once one of those people.
Josh Donaldson isn't only famous for baseball. He's also somewhat of a pop culture icon now for his hair style. Yes, you read that correctly, a man mostly known for wearing ball caps and protective helmets is also famous for his hair. Josh is a huge fan of the wonderful History Channel series Vikings, and will actually get a bit of an appearance in season 4. Look for it, but mostly lets look forward to the 2016 Major League Baseball season. Lets root for Josh, except for when he's playing against our hometown teams. Thanks for reading.

King Felix Hernandez

Sad to see someone who's only 32 years old look more like he's 42. One wonders how many years he's got left. 

King Felix Hernandez celebrates another victory

Felix Hernandez as king?

There are very very few 'kings' in baseball. Everyone knows Nolan Ryan as the strikeout king and the no-hitter king. Barry Bonds is the disputed home run king, even though Hank Aaron says Barry is the home run king. Pete Rose is the hits king, and that can't be disputed even though Pete is banned from the Hall of Fame, and baseball itself without prior approval from MLB headquarters. Ricky Henderson is the stolen bases and runs scored king. How the heck did Felix Hernandez get to be called kingof anything?
The auspicious title of king was bestowed upon Felix Hernandez way too early in his career for it to have meant anything then at all. The truth of reality in baseball is more often than not that guy with the great arm and all the potential in the world winds up as yet another baseball pitching bust. The moniker came from one of two bloggers dedicated to the Seattle Mariners team, so the term wasn't ever meant to be a jinx, but it seemed to have more jinxing potential than anything else. It was discouraged and kept quite, until it wasn't any more.
Nicknames in baseball come and they go. Few of them ever really stick. Felix Hernandez got his nickname before he ever earned it. Maybe the nickname inspired him towards a greatness he'd otherwise have never achieved?

Freddy Garcia with the Seattle Mariners.

Felix Hernandez was scouted and signed early in life, his potential notable at a young age

Born in the town of Valencia in Venezuela in 1986, Felix was already being scouted by the Seattle Mariners at the age of fourteen years. Young Felix at that early teen age could already hit ninety miles per hour on the scout's radar gun. Following the rules of Major League Baseball, Felix wasn't approached with an offer to become a professional in Seattle's minor league system until he was sixteen years old.
Seattle wasn't the only team after Felix Hernandez, and they weren't the team offering the most money either. Felix signed with the Mariners because the Mariners had his chosen role model already, Freddy Garcia. Garcia was an apt role model for Felix, both were Venezuelan and both were of comparable size. Garcia would go on to have a nice long career with some very impressive seasons for a few different teams before retiring in 2013.

Seattle ace, Felix Hernandez


King Felix Hernandez, from thrower to pitcher

In Major League Baseball the scouts look for pitchers who can throw with great velocity, and they look at the pitcher's build. The body size and build of the body are used as a metric because throwing a baseball over and over and over again is a really violent sort of thing. Humans didn't evolve over millions of years to throw baseballs one hundred miles per hour, and so the men with the big frames that appear to be capable of sustaining themselves while throwing a ball violently again and again are the prospects most highly sought after. Felix Hernandez fit the bill. Tall and broad shouldered at six foot and three inches, Felix Hernandez grew into that rare sort of man who could throw a baseball from a pitching mound at around one hundred miles per hour.
One hundred miles per hour fastballs are neat tricks, they elicit all sorts of awe from crowds and television or radio analysts, but the truth of the matter is a Major League Baseball hitter is a person who, after seeing that pitch a few times, can often time it, and if the pitch has no wrinkles on it, hit it very hard. Felix Hernandez realized early on that airing out the fastball at top speed wasn't going to turn him into the next Nolan Ryan. Felix learned that an out is an out, and if you can get an out with less exertion on your arm, then it is a better out for you and for your team.
Felix proved himself a quick study. He realized his arm got him to the Major Leagues, but it wasn't going to keep him there unless he learned to pitch, and not throw. King Felix is now one of Major League Baseball's master craftsmen of pitching, and he owns a wide array of pitches he can place with great accuracy and cunning just about anywhere he so chooses.

King Felix Hernandez with thousands of adoring admirers in the background


King Felix Hernandez and the perfect game

For the most part, the barbarity of the Roman era gladiatorial games died with the Roman empire. We're more civilized now, at least a little. We've still got our modern gladiators though, and how else can you describe an icon such as King Felix on a hill facing down his opponent from sixty feet and six inches away in single combat, except as a modern gladiator of sorts? His fans adore him, and rightly so. They feed their energy into him, and he feeds it towards the batter in the form of a wide variety of wickedly thrown and dancing balls, darting and diving in various and sundry directions.
When a pitcher faces down twenty seven straight batters with none at all reaching first base, this is called a perfect game. It is a very rare feat, a no-hitter with no runners at all either. There have been over 200 thousand games played in Major League Baseball, and there have only ever been twenty three perfect games. King Felix owns one of those twenty three. It was a blistering hot day in August in 2012. Felix, as always, was wearing one of those long sleeved shirts under his jersey. Felix does this to prevent sweat from running down his arm and interfering with his grip on the baseball. Somehow or another, he knew early in the second inning a perfect masterpiece was possible on that day, and he then delivered it. Felix recorded the twenty third perfect game in MLB history. There is always a possibility it is the last one to be thrown.

Felix Hernandez delivers a pitch


Felix Hernandez is an innings eating pitching workhorse

Felix Hernandez is a workhorse of a pitcher in the modern sense of the term. These days are the days of the highly specialized bullpens. Long ago pitchers were expected to finish the games they started, but these days are different. There is a seventh inning guy, an eighth inning guy, and a closer in today's Major League bullpen. Two hundred innings pitched in a year makes you a workhorse starter now. We may or may not ever see a three hundred inning season again.
Going into the 2016 season, Felix will turn 30 just as the season begins, but probably after his first start. There is little doubt Felix will start opening day for Seattle. He has already recorded eight full major league seasons at over two hundred innings. Two other seasons Felix just missed the mark, and surely not by his choice, at around one hundred and ninety innings pitched. In ten years of Major League Baseball, Felix the king has recorded two thousand two hundred and sixty two, and one third innings. He has thrown twenty five complete games, and eleven of those were shutouts. There is little doubt Felix could have done more, but again, in this day and age the starters aren't even hardly considered for complete games. There is often a lot of money invested into not just the starting pitchers, but the arms in the bullpen too.

An intimidating presence on the pitching mound, Felix has much more going on than just power pitches

What kind of stuff does the king throw?

Some big league scouts think that were the game in question the must win game, as in a deciding World Series game, that Felix Hernandez would be the person most desirable to have starting that game. He's known to be a big game pitcher, a clutch player who performs at his very best when it matters the most. Felix is an alpha male competitor who lives to pitch and pitches to win.
Felix got to the big leagues as a flame thrower. He can still bring some heat, but nowadays thinks about what is best for the team instead of dazzling folks who watch the radar guns. There are still plenty of fans out there with the 'K' signs to rack up and count the strikeouts though. Felix Hernandez is actually more of a ground ball pitcher than a strikeout pitcher. He can't throw a pitch that goes straight, everything he throws dances around or dives somewhere. His four seam fastball is averaging between 91 to 93 miles per hour. The two seam fastball is a couple miles per hour slower, and helps the game move quickly by inducing ground balls to the infield. This also helps Felix and his Mariners by keeping the infielders engaged in the game, and very active.
If there is a drawback to former Cy Young winner king Felix's style, it is only that there are so few fly balls hit. His three Mariner team-mates in the outfield could possibly get a little bored out there. The fans, however, love to see those double plays and those strikeouts. While he's not on the same power pitching plane as Clayton Kershaw, insofar as strikeouts go; Felix Hernandez is more comparable to Cole Hamels. How is Felix anything at all like Cole Hamels? The change-up. Felix gets most of his strikeouts not from his curve ball or his slider, oh sure, he throws those pitches, and he throws them well. Regardless, Felix is a change-up and sinker ball specialist. It is a toss up with the scouts as to whether Cole Hamels, or Felix Hernandez has the best change-up among American League starters.
What stands out the most in Felix Hernandez, even above his superlative pitching, is his pure and true love of the game of Baseball. Baseball is better for people like Felix Hernandez being a part of it. Thank God or the god of your own choosing, or the gods of Major League Baseball for making our national game an international one now too. We expect to see more greatness from Felix the king in 2016. Thanks for reading.

Super Clutch Madison Bumgarner

After two injury plagued years in a row, expect a big year in 2019 for Bumgarner

Madison Bumgarner, one of the best left handed starting pitchers in Major League Baseball.

Legendary Lefty, Madison Bumgarner

Some athletes shine the brightest when it isn't such a big deal. The pressure is off, and the game is on, and production and contributions to the team matters in these situations too. Then, there is Madison Bumgarner, a guy who is consistently good, then is great when it matters the most. Madison is a big game pitcher. He's a great pitcher at all times though, he's just greater when the pressure is on, and the lights are shining the brightest.
Born in a town full of German immigrants, where so many people share the otherwise rare surname that Madison Bumgarner has that the place was called 'Bumtown,' Bumgarner took things even further by dating a woman with the name, Madison Bumgarner. So at one point, Madison Bumgarner was dating Madison Bumgarner. They may have both been from the same town even, who knows.
So far as this article and my respect and appreciation of Madison Bumgarner the great left handed pitcher for the San Francisco Giants goes, I don't care if he's dating Mike Tyson, or Bruce Jenner. I'm here for the baseball, and that's what I'm here for exclusively. Madison Bumgarner delivers on the diamond, that's what matters here, and there.

6 feet and 5 inches tall, weighing 235 pounds. Madison Bumgarner has the body to pitch a lot of innings


Madison Bumgarner is a workhorse pitcher, who performs at the highest level when it counts the most

He was a very big body, does Mr. Bumgarner. he's six feet and five inches tall, and is filled out nicely at around 235 pounds. His body is the type that would allow a pitcher to throw 300 innings in a season, were the pitching staff and management to allow such a thing in these modern times. He's built to be a workhorse, and he is one. While Madison Bumgarner does strikeout a lot of batters, he is not a power pitcher in the traditional sense of the term. He doesn't reach the high 90s with his fastball so much, but then again, he doesn't much need to, either.
Baseball is a team sport, but it is also a game chock full of individual statistics so as to gauge an individual's contributions to the team. But the statistics also serve to judge an individual against other individuals on other teams, to see who is truly best. Madison Bumgarner puts up some terrific individual statistics for his team, and for the fans, but he's not quite as sexy, so to speak, in the realm of statistics as someone like Clayton Kershaw, or Chris Sale.
But ask Major League scouts who they would rather have pitching in the biggest and most important games. Would they pick Chris Sale over Madison Bumgarner? Clayton Kershaw, maybe? I doubt it. You put Madison in for the important games over the more statistically sexy guys every time.
Madison Bumgarner hasn't yet entered into his athletic prime. Athletes are typically thought to be in their prime between the ages of 27 and 32. Bumgarner has already achieved a big long spanking list of accolades, and some of them outside the purview of Major League Baseball.
Major League Baseball, of course, is the sport where Madison performs so well, but it may be more impressive still when you win something like Male Athlete of the Year from the associated press, because they picked him over all male athletes in all sports on the planet. Another all encompassing big award Madison has somewhere or another in his home, is the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year award.

Madison Bumgarner could hit 40 home runs in a season if he was in the batting order every day

With National League pitchers you always have to consider their hitting. Most of them can't hit much, and if they can hit for a .200 average you consider them to be outstanding hitters for being primarily a pitcher in the first place. People like Zack Greinke come to mind, and there are others too. Noah Syndergaard can hit a little, but then there is Madison Bumgarner.
Greinke or Syndergaard could have probably made it to the big leagues in positions other than pitching. With Madison Bumgarner though, you're taking things to a much higher level. Bumgarner could be a full time hitter. He'd be a power hitter, even. He's a very large man, and he's honed his physique for pitching, but were he a hitter, he'd be Giancarlo Stanton, and I've no doubt about this.
In 2015 Bumgarner hit five home runs in just 77 official Major League at bats. You ramp those numbers up to 600 at bats, and you've got someone who's competing for the league leadership in home runs every season. Bumgarner's 2015 batting stats weren't a fluke either, in 2014 he hit 4 home runs in 66 at bats. When we talk about Mad Bum's hitting, we're talking about a guy who could hit 40 home runs, per his projections, were he only given the at bats to do so. He could literally retire from pitching and be a designated hitter in the American League. God, I love Prince Fielder, but I'd probably prefer Madison Bumgarner batting DH for the Texas Rangers.

Big Madison Bumgarner's home run swing

Madison Bumgarner is the pitcher who helps himself while at bat, perhaps more than any other now in Major League Baseball.
Madison Bumgarner is the pitcher who helps himself while at bat, perhaps more than any other now in Major League Baseball. | Source

Madison Bumgarner's assortment of pitches

So in addition to being a great pitcher, Mad Bum has won Babe Ruth awards, and Silver Slugger awards for pitchers. He's won the Silver Slugger twice, each of the past two seasons. For all intents and practical purposes he appears to be progressing as a hitter. One could easily see him going as a .300 hitter in a season, and were you to predict such a thing, you may make for a prophet of sorts.
But Madison Bumgarner is forever going to be thought of and recalled, in the annals of baseball history as a winning left handed pitcher, a dominate dude from the pitching rubber. So what does he throw, what does he got, what's his stuff?
Bumgarner is most similar in pitching style to Cole Hamels, who's moved now to the American League. Both are renowned for being very consistent left handed pitchers with similar stuff. Bumgarner has been more successful, but success on a team sport is somewhat more relevant in view from a team's success. Bumgarner has played for some terrific teams.
The biggest difference between Mad Bum and Hollywood Hamels is that Bumgarner has the superior cut fastball, and Hamels has the superior change of pace, or change-up. Bumgarner's cut fastball is fantastic, and he throws the pitch very very often, and the pitch moves sharply inward to right handed batters, much the same as a great slider will do, but without so much of the vertical dive. The Bumgarner cut fastball moves a great deal on the horizontal plane, and will literally saw into two pieces many a right handed hitter's batting wood. For the left handed batter, the pitch appears to be in the strike zone, and then it just isn't, and the hitter is left looking foolish for having swung at a pitch that lands outside the strike zone away from them.
Like Clayton Kershaw, and a huge number of other lesser pitchers, Bumgarner throws two different curve balls. One of these is faster than the other, and moves more downward, the other is much slower, and has a bigger vertical breaking action. He also throws a change-up, but one of his greatest strengths is his pitching motion itself, he's rather deceptive, or sufficiently unique with the pitching motion to confuse the eyes of Big League batters who're used to generic sorts of wind ups and deliveries.

A younger and shorter haired Madison Bumgarner


Madison Bumgarner makes his Major League debut at the young age of 20. He was born to be a pitcher

Mad Bum was born in North Carolina in 1989. He was quite good in High School, and this likely surprises no one. He helped the team to a state championship in 2007. He was good enough, and big enough to be drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the first round. It often doesn't matter how good your numbers are when you're a high school guy, what matters to scouts is how big you are, and how big they think you may become. Bumgarner has the physique that Major League scouts dream of finding and signing to a contract.
The did sign Madison, the scouts did, and right out of high school. He directly went to the minors and wasted no time in being an impressive athlete. He won the triple crown of pitching in his first year as a professional. After one season in the minors, he'd be in the Major Leagues with the San Francisco Giants, pitching in one of the most beautiful locations on the planet Earth.
Madison seemed to be born to be a pitcher, and if that was God's intent, then God is surely pleased with his Madison Bumgarner. God isn't the only entity pleased, us lowly humans are rather impressed too. From the start Madison shined, and he's not yet 27 years old.
In Major League Baseball the rosters expand in September, and in 2009 Madison was a very young man getting a taste of the Big League career that was to come. He was just 20 years old, and few of that young age get to participate on the biggest stage, facing the toughest competition, but Madison did. He exuded maturity, not just as a player, but as a man. His late season performance at 20 years of age was spectacular. He only pitched ten innings, but he struck out ten batters, and had a sparkling earned run average of 1.80.

Madison Bumgarner in the 2010 World Series against the Texas Rangers


Dominating the post season, Madison Bumgarner

Though the 2010 season didn't start so well for Mad Bum, he wound up pitching in the World Series. Before any of that happened though, he became the youngest Giant's pitcher to pitch in a post season game, and also to win a post-season game. He was so good they brought him into an unusual position for him in the National League Championship Series, they brought him in as a reliever, but to Madison, it was just another opportunity, and he aced it.
I was on pins and needles over here for the 2010 World Series. My Texas Rangers had never gone anywhere near that far in baseball before, but there they were, against all odds, facing off against the Giants in the World Series. Madison Bumgarner shut my team down that year in the stiffest contest in the MLB. He became the 4th youngest guy to start and win a World Series game. Baseball is an old sport, in relation to the age of the nation, and to other major sports like football and basketball. Bumgarner is one for the ages. I hated seeing that guy, the one they call Mad Bum, looking all stoic, and still smiling, smothering my favorite team, but I admire him for it too, in the grudging sort of way you have to admire athletes who beat your favorites.
Life in Major League Baseball isn't all awards and accolades and winning, not even for someone like Mad Bum Bumgarner. He has struggled at times, as he is a man, a human being, not some android built to pitch baseballs at people trying to swat them with sticks. He struggled in 2011. The Giants weren't nearly so good as they'd been the previous season. Baseball is a team sport, so you can never give the pitcher all the glory when he wins, neither can you blame him all the time when he loses. Madison had a 500 winning percentage in 2011. The number means he lost as many times as he won. The truth of the matter was the team wasn't so good, Bumgarner would have won a lot more games had he been pitching for the Cardinals that year, but he's always been loyal to the Giants.
Who wouldn't be loyal to the Giants? They made Madison a rich man in 2012, but Bumgarner is still a very young man, yet to enter into his physical and athletic prime. While he's wealthy now, he will likely become significantly more so in the future. Madison would soldier on throughout the 2012 season, becoming ever the more established as the staff ace, and a Big League workhorse pitcher, someone to be counted upon.

Madison Bumgarner - consistently great

Madison Bumgarner appears to be improving with age. This isn't so unexpected. He started his Big League career very young. It won't last forever, the improving with aging thing. But he had his best earned run average ever, at the time, in 2013. He'd also improve in one of the newfangled ways they measure a pitcher in baseball - the WHIP. What is WHIP? Simple, it is walks plus hits per innings pitched. Basically, it is a measure of how many base-runners you allow per inning. This is important for all the obvious reasons, if someone never reaches base that someone can never score.
While not the typical sort of pitcher to be called a power pitcher, you may as well consider Mad Bum one, he strikes out a lot of batters, and continued to do so in 2013. He finished the year with 13 wins and 9 loses. This will give you a satisfying winning percentage, but it won't get you far into the National League Cy Young contest rankings. He'd pitched 200 innings for the 3rd straight year, and that is something to be admired in this day and age.
In 2014 and 2015 Madison Bumgarner improved to his highest win totals, and he recorded 18 wins in each of those two seasons. He increased his career highs in strikeouts in 2014, then did so again in 2015. While his earned run average has not been so great as it was in 2013, any starter posting an earned run average of less than 3 runs per game is competing for the Cy Young award. Alas for Mad Bum, the National League has terrific starting pitching.
Madison has pitched 5 straight seasons of more than 200 innings, and two straight of more than 200 strikeouts. The arc of his career is on the up and up, and who would dare to bet against Madison Bumgarner in 2016? Definitely not I, my friends, and you shouldn't either. Thanks for reading.