As is the case with every Major League Baseball regular season, the final week serves as an odd liminal space. You'll always find half-and-half coverage, split between reviewing the year that was and previewing the October to come. This piece, dear reader, can safely be filed away into the "season review" folder.
We here at CBS Sports decided that we would give the regular season the send-off it deserves by highlighting 10 impressions we'll take away from the year. These range from observations about rules and statistical trends to thoughts about players and teams. Basically, if it happened this season in the world of organized professional baseball, we considered it fair game to note or otherwise include in this space.
Obviously 10 is a fairly limiting number of anything, but particularly thoughts about a six-month-long season that takes few days off. We apologize in advance, then, if we left out a story or an observation that you felt was important. That's the beauty of the regular season: everyone walks away with different memories.
Now, let's get to it.
1. The pitch clock works
Coming into the regular season, one of the biggest questions facing the game was how different it would look and feel after the installation of the pitch clock.
The answer, at least in our opinion, was that the pace of play improved without feeling rushed. It's impossible to quantify such a thing -- besides, everyone is entitled to their own ideal tempo -- but we can confidently state that MLB's decision to implement the pitch clock caused games to be shorter overall.
|Season||Average||Shorter than 2:30||Longer than 3:30|
Through Sunday's contests, the average game this season had lasted two hours and 39 minutes, according to Baseball-Reference. That was 24 minutes quicker than last season's average game, and more than a half hour quicker than the 2021 season's average game. Additionally, this season had the "quickest" average game since before the last round of expansion, back in 1998.
Predictably, given that baseball is known as a game of adjustments, the players proved able to get into the groove of the pitch clock as the season progressed. Whereas April contained 289 pitch-clock violations, August (the last full month played as of this writing) held just 118. Our expectation is that number will continue to drop as the rhythm of the pitch clock becomes ingrained.
2. The stolen base is back
Speaking of rule changes achieving the desired effect, the stolen base again became prominent after two notable tweaks. First, MLB capped the number of times pitchers could disengage without penalty. Second, MLB installed wider bases that shortened, if only slightly, the distance between bags.
That combination inspired teams to attempt far more stolen bases than they had in recent years, and empowered them to succeed more often, too. Here's a look at the pertinent statistics, again through this past weekend's games:
The stolen base is one of the most exciting parts of baseball, in our opinion, so this was a welcomed, if artificial shift in gameplay.
3. Injuries robbed Ohtani of something historic
Before Shohei Ohtani suffered the double-whammy injury combination (torn UCL and strained oblique) , he was well on his way to recording one of the greatest single-season performances in the sport's history.
Indeed, Ohtani had amassed 10.1 Wins Above Replacement in 135 games, putting him on pace to threaten the 12-WAR mark.
How difficult is it to amass that many WAR in a single season? Barry Bonds fell just short of the threshold during his 73-homer onslaught in 2001. (And we do mean just short since Bonds ended up at 11.9 WAR.) Only three players since integration have toppled 12 WAR in a single year: Carl Yastrzemski (1967), Steve Carlton (1972), and Dwight Gooden (1985).
Even if Ohtani couldn't clear 12-WAR, he would've recorded the first 11-WAR season in more than two decades. Unfortunately, we'll never know for sure.
4. Maybe Aaron Judge, too
You might remember that Aaron Judge set both the American League and New York Yankees single-season home-run records last year with 62. Had Judge not missed nearly two months because of injuries, he might've slugged his way into another inner circle of all-time home-run-hitting accomplishments.
There've been nine 60-homer seasons in MLB history. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa are not only responsible for five of those, but they're the only players in history to ever post consecutive 60-homer efforts. A hearty and hale Judge may have -- emphasis on may have -- joined them.
Entering Monday, Judge had launched 35 home runs over the course of 101 games. That prorates to 52 home runs over 150 games, or 55 home runs in 160 games. So, not quite a 60-homer pace, but close enough that a red-hot stretch or two would've left Judge knocking on the door of another 60-homer season.
Alas, as with Ohtani, we'll never know for sure what would've happened.
5. There's no loser in the NL MVP race
One philosophical question that pops up on occasion with MVP voting is how you go about rewarding an historical statistical achievement. It came up last year, when voters selected Judge as the winner over Ohtani, and it's going to come up again this year as it pertains to the National League MVP vote.
Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. has already notched the fifth 40/40 season in history. He could soon capture the first ever 40/70 season. Is that enough to earn him the award? It might be, but there's no guarantee. For one, only one of the previous four 40/40 seasons culminated in a top-three finish in MVP voting, let alone a win. (Jose Canseco won in 1988.)
For another, Acuña is facing stiff competition from Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts, a home run away from his own 40-homer effort, as well as a pair of first baseman he's played with, in Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson, whose 50-plus-homer season has been overshadowed in part by Acuña's trailblazing efforts.
In other words, we don't know who will win the NL MVP Award, but we know they'll have earned it.
6. It's been a most unpredictable year
If you're reading this, you're probably familiar with projection systems. If not, there are a slew of public-facing forecast models that attempt to project what will happen, both on individual and team levels, using a combination of historical data and regression principles. In our experience, PECOTA and ZiPs are two of the best available. They tend to get things mostly right. For whatever reason -- and we haven't heard a theory that passes the smell test or will make us reconsider leaning on them in the future -- that wasn't the case this year.
You can check out ZiPS' preseason projections by clicking here or here. For those who would rather abstain, just know that ZiPS had the New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, and Cleveland Guardians either winning or tying for first in their divisions. ZiPS also had the Houston Astros winning the AL West, meaning that there's a real chance it goes 0-for this season in terms of pegging the division races.
Again, we don't view this as an indictment on ZiPS (or PECOTA, or any other forecast model). We think it's more of a testament to the wildness and unpredictability of this particular season. It's not often that a handful of perceived powerhouses fall short like they did this year.
As such, we'll gladly take the coward's way out next spring and consult with the best forecast models as we fill out our preseason predictions -- even if they end up making us look silly in six months' time.
7. Holliday is the next big thing
Back in June, we ranked Orioles shortstop Jackson Holliday as the best prospect in the minors. We noted at the time that a veteran talent evaluator thought Holliday was so far ahead of the rest of the prospect pack that they would've gladly traded their team's two best young players for him.
Holliday won't celebrate his 20th birthday until early December, but he's continued to make an impression on scouts around the league. To wit, he finished his first full professional level by reaching Triple-A, and by hitting a combined .323/.442/.499 with 12 home runs, 24 stolen bases, and nearly as many walks (101) as strikeouts (118). That's fantastic work for anyone, let alone someone who was still in high school 16 months ago.
The Orioles have graduated an embarrassing amount of blue-chip prospects in recent seasons. Holliday is going to be the next, and he might even end up being the best of the bunch based on how his professional career has played out to date.
8. The top of this draft was special
Speaking of talented young players, you shouldn't lose sight of the possibility that three of the top four picks in this last summer's draft have positioned themselves to debut at some point early next season. (Nolan Schanuel, the 11th pick, made his big-league debut as part of the Angels' failed playoff push.)
Allow us to recap in a bullet list format:
- Pirates' No. 1 pick Paul Skenes made a pair of appearances in Double-A before being shut down over workload purposes. Some scouts told CBS Sports prior to the draft that Skenes could have pitched in the majors this season if needed.
- Nationals' No. 2 pick Dylan Crews played in 20 games at Double-A, albeit without the great results he had posted at previous stops.
- Rangers' No. 4 pick Wyatt Langford made it all the way to Triple-A, hitting a combined .360/.480/.677 in the process.
Generally, it takes years and years for draft picks to pay big-league dividends. This draft very much looks like an outlier so far.
9. Oakland deserves better
A regular season is akin to a life, and a life isn't always pretty.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of this season was the increasing likelihood that the Athletics leave Oakland behind in the coming years. At minimum, the A's made enough progress on their desired relocation to Las Vegas to clear the pathway to an offseason vote by the other franchise owners.
Whatever ends up happening to the A's, it should be known that Oakland's fans deserved better than what they received here. Their emotional attachment and memories were soured by an ownership that couldn't care less. Jim Bouton once wrote that "the fiercest competition in sports these days is not between teams or leagues, but between governments and their own citizens."
In the case of the A's, the hardest they tried all season was against their own fans. That's a shame, and a blemish on both the season and the industry as a whole.
10. The rest of the way will be fun
Hey, just because the regular season is almost over doesn't mean we're finished for the year with exciting baseball happenings.and postseason series to enjoy. Strap in because the next month-plus should be a blast.