The first key to a successful New Year’s Resolution is … to not make one. But we want the best for ourselves and, yes, for our sports. And with that in mind, here are five key resolutions for Major League Baseball in 2018.
1. All hitters must resolve to follow Votto.
The cost of baseball’s homer hike (in case you missed it, the 2017 season, postseason and World Series all featured the most home runs in history) is the continued surge in strikeouts. For a great many, one element is inextricably tied to the other. You can’t swing for the fences without swinging through your fair share of pitches.
But Joey Votto is the exceptional exception. He hit 36 home runs in 2017, one shy of his career-best mark set in his MVP season in 2010. But his strikeout rate of 11.7 percent of plate appearances was by far the lowest of his career, a full six percentage points lower than his 2016 mark. The guy drew 1.6 walks for every strikeout. There’s no delicate way to put this and no easy way for a Major League hitter to respond to it, but, basically: Be more like Joey Votto, OK?
2. The Hall of Fame must resolve to make room for a potentially huge 2018 class.
We know Jack Morris and Alan Trammell are in via the Modern Era ballot. We know that Trevor Hoffman (74.0 percent) and Vladimir Guerrero (71.7) came extremely close to induction last year, and Jim Bunning is the only player in history to appear on at least 70 percent of ballots in a given year without eventually getting voted in by the BBWAA (he made it in via the Veterans Committee). And as I write this, first-timers Chipper Jones and Jim Thome are on north of 90-percent of the more than 110 publicly available ballots (out of an estimated 416 total ballots that will be cast in this process), which bodes well for them. Also, Edgar Martinez is north of 75 percent in his penultimate year on the BBWAA ballot.
All of the above points to the possibility of the largest Hall of Fame class since the 2006 Special Committee on the Negro Leagues resulted in an 18-person class. Aside from 2006, the only time in the past 45 years that seven or more people were inducted in the same year was 1999 (George Brett, Orlando Cepeda, Nestor Chylak, Nolan Ryan, Frank Selee, Smokey Joe Williams and Robin Yount). No guarantees, of course, but seven does appear possible with this group.
3. The Yankees and Angels must resolve to avoid the Plague of Winter Winners Past.
With so many free agents still on the board, this winter is especially incomplete. But we can safely declare it a particularly successful winter for these two clubs, and we all know how fleeting such “success” can be.
The Halos have likely closed the 21-game gap on the Astros in the American League West in some measure. But how much will depend on Shohei Ohtani’s transition to the States, the relevance of a rotation loaded with both upside and injury risk, an offense potentially buoyed by the additions of Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler and, of course, the health of Mike Trout. The Angels have an almost entirely right-handed-hitting regular lineup, which could lead to some exploitation, and it’s hard to know how or if the bullpen will hold up. But their winter work has them projected by FanGraphs to be a Wild Card club, which is a nice start.
For the Yankees, it’s obviously a different equation, having reached Game 7 of the ALCS in 2017. Incremental steps be damned, the Yanks went out and nabbed the premier piece of the Hot Stove market with the trade for reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton, and they still have plenty more in the system to go out and make another impact acquisition such as Gerrit Cole. If you’re a Yankee hater (and specifically a Red Sox fan), it’s worth reminding you here that Aaron Judge is going to see roughly 98.92 percent breaking balls in his sophomore year and that Stanton has averaged 123 games played in his eight years in the bigs. Maybe the enormous expectations will get the better of this club in Aaron Boone’s rookie season as skipper. But yeah, you’d take their problems over those of most other clubs.
4. The Nationals must resolve to win it all.
The Indians are a small-market club in a win-now window with, for the second straight season, the longest active championship drought in the sport. The Mariners still have the game’s longest active postseason drought, frustration extended by a step back in the standings in ’17.
But the 2018 Urgency Award goes to the Nats, who have never advanced out of the Division Series and have both Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy approaching free agency. Aside from replacing Dusty Baker with Dave Martinez, the urgency has not extended to the offseason so far, because Mike Rizzo had a roster largely ready to roll. But it will be interesting in the coming weeks to see if the Nats become more serious players for Jake Arrieta or possibly even J.D. Martinez — two clients of Scott Boras, who has had a strong working relationship with the Nats in the past.
5. Everybody should resolve to embrace the pitch clock.
It’s been a fact of life at the Double-A and Triple-A levels for three seasons now, and, at last check, nobody has perished from heightened hustle.
Spare me the romanticism about baseball’s timelessness. The game is always changing, and a 20-second limit between pitches with no runners on base is, at this point, a necessary change in a sport in which the average time between pitches for a qualified pitcher, per FanGraphs, was 23.5 seconds this past year. Hitters contribute to this with their obsessive-compulsive adjustments of batting gloves and constant stepping out of the box.
It bears repeating that baseball’s pace of play measures are about dead time more than game time. A generation of players are coming up in a Minor League system that encourages a quicker tempo between pitches, and it’s time we make established Major Leaguers adjust accordingly.
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.