It seems like not too long ago, baseball fans were worried about when exactly players and team owners would agree to continue playing the game.
The three-month lockout delayed Opening Day by a week. Once the games got going, it was like it had never left. So much happened this year, including rule changes and all of the major moves made in the previous offseason, many of which were either rushed to get done before or after the lockout.
Now that the 2022 Major League Baseball season is over, it’s a good time to take inventory of what we learned.
The top four prospects all saw significant time in the big leagues this year, and three of them were on Opening Day rosters.
Bobby Witt Jr. started off slowly but made adjustments and turned in a strong rookie campaign. Julio Rodriguez and Adley Rutschman were the top two rookies in WAR.
Spencer Torkelson was the only underachiever among the top four prospects.
But they were hardly the only headliners from this year’s group of rookies.
Atlanta pitcher Spencer Strider and center fielder Michael Harris II were two of the favorites for NL Rookie of the Year. Strider led all rookie pitchers in WAR (4.9) and strikeouts per nine innings (13.81). Harris trailed only Rodriguez and Rutschman in WAR among position players.
And of course, there is Jeremy Peña, the Astros’ rookie shortstop who replaced Carlos Correa.
Peña did not just fill his shoes. Instead, by becoming the ALCS and World Series MVP, he far exceeded what most players achieve in a lifetime.
It’s quieter now, but there is a certain segment of baseball fans who were not in favor of the universal designated hitter. Call it nostalgia or an affinity for convention, but there’s a reason it took this long to get the universal DH.
The logic in doing it was overwhelming. No one wants to see Zack Wheeler hit, especially if you can insert Bryce Harper into the lineup instead.
Harper’s case is the strongest and most definitive in favor of the universal DH.
An elbow injury has prevented him from playing in the field, but his bat remains in the middle of the order. There’s a solid argument that the Phillies don’t make it to the World Series without this change. Otherwise, Harper, while injured but still able to hit, would’ve been wasted.
If a team signs a player to a 13-year, $330 million deal, as the Phillies did with Harper, it only makes sense to maximize the return.
A year ago, Arizona and Baltimore tied for the worst record in baseball. Both lost 110 games and were considered far away from contention.
Baltimore picked first (SS Jackson Holliday), and Arizona picked second (OF Druw Jones) in last year’s draft. Based on how both look so far, it should be comforting to those respective fanbases.
They also just put out two of the younger teams in baseball while significantly improving their records.
The Orioles were just three games out of a wild-card spot in the hyper-competitive AL East. The Diamondbacks were not quite as competitive, but they still made a 22-game turnaround in their overall record.
Then there’s the White Sox, one of baseball’s most disappointing teams in 2022 after back-to-back postseason appearances.
They were supposed to be the class of the AL Central, even if some believed it to be an improved division from the previous year. But injuries, poor management and roster redundancy proved fatal.
Bringing in Tony La Russa after the 2020 season always felt like more of an experiment than a solid move for an up-and-coming ballclub. The Hall of Fame manager had not managed in a decade since winning his last World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011.
The White Sox went backward this year. Now under Pedro Grifol, they have to try to maximize this current window or decide if it’s better to start over.
Last year, it seemed unfair how a team with 106 wins was relegated to a Wild Card Game, and could you imagine the angst if the Los Angeles Dodgers lost that game to the St. Louis Cardinals?
To leave no doubt in 2022, the Dodgers won 111 games on their way to the best regular-season record this season.
They didn’t have to bother with the Wild Card Round this time, but the 89-win wild-card team from their own division turned out to be a tough matchup for the Dodgers.
The Padres won the NLDS 3-1, handing the Dodgers yet another disappointing postseason exit.
Through May, the Yankees were 34-15. Through June, they were 56-21. They had the best record and highest run differential in baseball through the first three months.
It seemed like they had their best chance to win it all since 2009.
Then they fell flat in August and unraveled in September. This is the point where the Yankees’ warts become clearer.
They were really good when they hit home runs. When the ball stayed in the park, not as much. Consider the Yankees led baseball in home runs, but they were 23rd in singles and 27th in doubles.
They depended on the long ball far too often. Health did them no favors, with DJ LeMahieu and Andrew Benintendi unavailable for the playoffs. But even with those two, the Yankees would have been underdogs against the Astros, who proved to be the AL’s best team whenever they played each other.
It was just two years ago when Fernando Tatis Jr. was arguably the most marketable player in baseball.
He had the cool Gatorade commercial. He had deals with Adidas, BMW, T-Mobile and DICK’S Sporting Goods and was on the cover of MLB The Show 21.
This was in part because of his personality, style and charisma. But mostly because Tatis was an incredible baseball player. He had the power and athleticism only a few in the game could match.
The Padres rewarded his early success and long-term upside with a 14-year, $340 million contract in February 2021. And all of this seems so long ago.
Since then, Tatis has broken his wrist in a motorcycle accident and has been suspended 80 games for violating the PED policy.
San Diego did not fold just because its star player was out of pocket. Instead, the Padres upped the ante, trading for Juan Soto, Josh Bell, Brandon Drury and Josh Hader.
Those moves, along with having one of the game’s best pitching staffs, helped them to the No. 2 wild-card spot. In the NLDS, they upset the division-rival Dodgers in a comfortable 3-1 series route.
Atlanta was coming off a World Series title but looked quite different entering the 2022 season. Freddie Freeman’s departure hung over Atlanta’s head early in the season, but it’s Matt Olson’s first base to occupy now.
Yet no additions were more noteworthy than those of rookie pitcher Spencer Strider and center fielder Michael Harris II, both top candidates for NL Rookie of the Year.
Atlanta fielded a better squad than the 88-win team that won the World Series last year, following it up with a 101-win season in 2022.
Those 88 wins were good enough to win the NL East a year ago. But with the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies both making blockbuster offseason moves, things got real in the East.
Both Atlanta and the Mets won 101 games. The Phillies (87-75) won the pennant.
Three of the NL’s top five in OPS and wRC+ came from the East, and each of those teams had high-performing pitching staffs as well.
Let this be the end of any minimizing of the Houston Astros’ accomplishments over the last number of years after they followed up their 2017 World Series triumph with another in 2022.
For many baseball fans not in Houston, the Astros’ championship from 2017 was tainted by a sign-stealing scandal. But all they have done since then is continue to win.
They’ve appeared in the ALCS six straight seasons, the World Series in four of those seasons and just captured their second title.
The Astros won this year with the best and deepest pitching staff in baseball.
In the regular season, their pitching staff led the AL in ERA (2.90), strikeouts (1,524), opponent average (.212), WHIP (1.09) and opponent OPS (.613). The starters had the lowest ERA (2.95) among all AL rotations, and their bullpen ERA (2.80) was the lowest in the majors.
They continued that dominance into the postseason, where they swept the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees before winning the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies in six games.
When you think about the pitchers they’ve lost over time—Dallas Keuchel, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Joe Musgrove and Zack Greinke most recently—it’s a testament to the Astros’ consistency.
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