MLB 2022: From Lockout to History
Who would have thought we'd get here back on December 2 when the MLB lockout began. Going into the beginning of 2022, the lockout dragged on and ultimately forced the start of the season to be pushed back. The 2022 season was supposed to begin on March 31 but did not start until April 7. Throughout the whole process of the owners and MLB Players Association going back and forth in negotiations, the status of the season was up in the air. Fans, players, coaches, and broadcasters were getting nervous the closer it got that a season may not happen. But the two sides finally came to an agreement, with several changes being made for the new collective bargaining agreement. One of the changes were an expanded playoffs, with 12 teams (six from each league) making it past Game 162. Those expanded playoffs, which start this Friday at 12 p.m. EDT, now feature a best-of-three Wild Card series rather than a do-or-die one game. Another rule change that was put into place for this season was the universal designated hitter, putting the DH in the National League for the first time. That has been something fans were clamoring for to happen for a while, and makes the American League and National League much more of an even playing field. More rule changes will move forward in 2023, including a pitch clock, larger bases, and a defensive shift ban. For now, let's talk about the 2022 regular season, which was very historic.
Let's get into some of the best statistics and moments from the season that almost didn't happen. There's no question about it that the postseason will provide us with even more history.
Miggy Collects Hit No. 3000
Coming into the season, Detroit Tigers' great Miguel Cabrera was sitting at 2,987 career hits. So it was inevitable that the two-time MVP would reach the milestone that is 3,000 hits. The only question was when he would do it and against what team. On April 23, the future Hall of Famer singled to right in his at-bat against the Colorado Rockies off right-hander Antonio Senzatela. Cabrera became the third player to record all 3,000 hits in the 21st century, joining Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols. The Venezuelan-born first baseman and DH was the 33rd player all-time to reach the milestone and first since Pujols reached it in 2018 with the Angels. Cabrera finished the 2022 season at 3,088 hits; the next player to pass on the list is Ichiro, who retired with 3,089 hits. No active player is really all that close to reaching the milestone, so it will be a while until we see another 3,000 hit player.
Order in the Court
During the offseason, the New York Yankees offered Aaron Judge a seven-year, $213.5 million contract extension. Pairing that with the $17 million they offered in arbitration and that would make the full package just over $230 million. The 6-foot-7 outfielder turned it down and Yankees and MLB fans thought he was crazy. In arbitration, the two sides ultimately agreed upon $19 million for 2022, which was between the team's number of $17 million and his asking price of $21 million. The man bet on himself, and won handily. Brian Cashman and the Yankees' front office probably wish they had given him the contract he wanted before the season. Now he will get a huge contract that could easily be a record for average annual value (AAV). Judge wound up having one of the most historic all-around seasons in MLB history. The headline is that he broke the 61-year-old American League record of home runs in a season held by Roger Maris, hitting 62 homers. Say what you want about how it's not the overall MLB record, but is still something not done often. On top of that, the 2017 AL Rookie of the Year led in almost every offensive category in the AL. He is the only player in MLB history to hit 60 or more home runs, steal 15 or more bases, and post a 1.110 OPS or better in a season. The FanGraphs WAR of 11.4 he posted is top 20 all-time, tied for 17th with Mickey Mantle's 1957 season. His 207 wRC+ ranks 20th all-time (best since Barry Bonds in 2004), his .375 isolated power ranks 18th, and his 60.9 percent hard-hit ranks second (since Statcast began tracking in 2015). Judge also set a new mark for barrel rate, at 26.2 percent, passing his previous record of 24.9 percent in 2017. Since Mantle's Triple Crown season in 1956, the only two players to top Judge's 11.4 fWAR were Bonds and Pedro Martinez. All of this while doing it clean and in a dead ball era with offense way down. He also carried the Yankees' offense for the second half, posting a second half OPS of 1.300, while the team's second half OPS was a mere .653. The Yankees finished with an appropriate 99 wins and won the AL East. They will face the winner of the Tampa Bay Rays versus Cleveland Guardians Wild Card Series in the Division Series beginning on Tuesday. After the season, the Yankees have no choice but to give him whatever he wants to keep him in the Bronx. The amount of eyes on him for this entire season and the money the Yankees made on him alone means they can't let him leave.
Shohei the Unicorn
If not for the unbelievable season from Judge, Shohei Ohtani would be winning back-to-back MVP awards. Saying that Judge is the runaway winner is in no way discounting how outstanding a player that Ohtani is. He became the first player ever to qualify as both a hitter and pitcher in the modern era. The Japanese-born superstar finished the year with 219 strikeouts as a pitcher (6th in MLB) and 34 homers as a batter (tied 11th in MLB). That makes him the first player to finish top-15 in the majors in both those categories in a season since the mound moved to the current distance in 1893. He also ranked top five in the AL in triples (4), OPS (.875), slugging (.519), ERA (2.33), and WHIP (1.01). He may not be the most valuable player in the league, but you can certainly say he is most fascinating and best overall. That is why there should be two separate awards, similar to how the NFL has an MVP award and offensive and defensive players of the year. In this case, it should be MVP and best overall player in the league. Also since the AL and NL play under the same rules, there really shouldn't be a separation of the awards anymore. Ohtani is deserving of recognition and is certainly an insane sight to see. He and Judge were two of the biggest stories of the season and put eyes on the sport as they both did things never seen before.
Outside Judge and Ohtani, another big story this season was Albert Pujols and his quest for 700 career home runs. Going into the season, the 42-year-old was sitting at 679 homers. Knowing that this was going to be his final season upon returning to St. Louis, many people weren't sure he would get enough playing time to smash 21 homers and reach the magic number. Then he had a first half that further backed up that sentiment, as he slashed .215/.301/.376 with six homers and 20 RBI. But after receiving a special All-Star invitation along with Miguel Cabrera, Pujols completely took off in the second half. His second half surge can be credited to an adjustment he made just days before the All-Star break to his plate approach. It was a small change and not too noticeable, starting his hands slightly lower and holding the bat more upright to shorten his swing path. In the second half, Pujols slashed .323/.388/.715 with 18 homers and 48 RBI. On September 23, he smashed two homers against who else but the Los Angeles Dodgers, who he played with last year, for career homers 699 and 700. The Cardinals legend is just the fourth player all-time to reach the mark, joining Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), and Babe Ruth (714). Pujols finished with 703 homers, hitting his 702nd in his final regular season home game and his 703rd at PNC Park against the Pirates in Game 161. The 703rd bomb put him ahead of Ruth on the all-time RBI list and in second place behind Aaron. It was a storybook season and will continue into the postseason as he helped the Cardinals take the NL Central. St. Louis got the third seed in the NL playoffs and will face the six-seeded Philadelphia Phillies starting on Friday.
For the first time since their 116 win season in 2001, the Mariners have made the playoffs. Their 21-year playoff drought - the longest in all four major North American sports - ended as they clinched a Wild Card spot on September 30 with a walk-off homer off the bat of Cal Raleigh. The Mariners' catcher pinch hit with two outs in the ninth and the game tied at one. On a 3-2 count, Raleigh blasted a slider to the right field seats and sent Seattle into oblivion. Seattle wound up with a 90-72 record and the second wild card. They will face the Toronto Blue Jays in the Wild Card round. The last time they made the postseason, they were took out by the Yankees in the ALCS. That team had guys like Ichiro, Ken Griffey Jr., and Edgar Martinez. This year, they were led by the youth movement with the lock for Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez, George Kirby, and Logan Gilbert. They also had veteran guys like J.P. Crawford and Mitch Haniger, as well as trade pieces in Jesse Winker (offseason) and Luis Castillo (trade deadline) and free agent acquisition Robbie Ray. Ty France may have been the biggest acquisition and was a steal, as they sent catcher Austin Nola to the San Diego Padres for him. The last time Seattle made the playoffs, Ichiro was a rookie, J-Rod was just eight months old, Pujols took home NL Rookie of the Year honors, Tom Brady wasn't a starter for the Patriots yet, and the first version of the iPod was released. Now how far do they go in the 2022 postseason. Time will tell, but they are an exciting team and no matter what are happy to be in the big dance.
MVP - Aaron Judge
Cy Young - Justin Verlander
Rookie of the Year - Julio Rodriguez
Manager of the Year - Brandon Hyde
Comeback Player of the Year - Justin Verlander
Mariano Rivera Award (Top Reliever) -Emmanuel Clase
MVP - Paul Goldschmidt
Cy Young - Sandy Alcantara
Rookie of the Year - Michael Harris II
Manager of the Year - Rob Thomson
Comeback Player of the Year - Albert Pujols
Trevor Hoffman Award (Top Reliever) - Edwin Diaz
World Series Prediction: Yankees over Cardinals
AL Hitting Leaders
AL Pitching Leaders
NL Hitting Leaders
Mookie Betts/Freddie Freeman
NL Pitching Leaders