As the 2016 calendar year comes to an end, the LWOS MC50 series captures the 50 most captivating athletes from 2016 in each sport. LWOB takes a look at the 50 MLB players who drew headlines this past year, whether it be for on-field accomplishments, off-season drama, or happenings away from the ballpark.
Most Captivating MLB Players of 2016: Part 5
10. Noah Syndergaard
The New York Mets rotation in 2016 began splintering apart almost from the beginning of the season. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz all missed significant time due to injury. Zack Wheeler didn’t appear for a second consecutive season, as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. The rotation, heralded as the best in baseball just a season ago, deteriorated as the summer months went by.
Yet, deep in their supply of pitching riches, the Mets had support from a 24-year-old thunderous Texan who wields a hammer in his right arm.
In his first full professional season, Syndergaard took his rightful place at the top of the Mets staff. In 183.2 innings pitched, he struck out 218 batters, produced a 2.60 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, and a MLB-leading 2.29 FIP. He would later pitch admirably in the 2016 NL Wild Card game, tossing seven innings while allowing only two hits with ten strikeouts. While most of the staff fell apart, the Mets faithful could rely on their golden flame-thrower whenever they needed him. Syndergaard now seems like the true Mets ace for seasons to come.
The story started writing itself during the 2016 season and will now keep running for the next four seasons: Cespedes is the new face of the Mets.
Since arriving in the Apple in July 2015, Cespedes has been nothing short of brilliant for the Mets. In his first full season with New York, La Potencia cracked 31 homers and 86 RBI, while hitting .280 with a .883 OPS and a 133 OPS+. He was an All-Star and a Silver Slugger, and finished top-10 in MVP voting.
Now that New York has locked up Cespedes for the next four years, Mets fans will crank up the Yo-Love for 2017. A fun, charismatic slugger with a flair for the dramatic, Cespedes fits smoothly with this young group in Queens, as he tries to make a return to the World Series.
Bumgarner stayed on his continuous path to successful pitching: 226.2 innings, 251 strikeouts against 54 walks, four complete games, ERA under 3.00, WHIP under 1.10, leading baseball in games started… the list goes on.
The principles of Bumgarner’s legacy have already been cast in stone. He’s a workhorse to the truest sense, a dying breed in baseball. He’s probably the greatest postseason pitcher in history, and improved on that this season when he pitched a four-hit shutout against the Mets in the 2016 NL Wild Card game. Most of all, he’s the stable thrower for a franchise that has won three championships in seven seasons.
Kershaw’s 2016 season was two different stories.
From the beginning of the season until July 1, Kershaw was the best pitcher in baseball. He led the majors in ERA, complete games, shutouts, strikeouts, and innings pitched. Then, he was placed on the disabled list with a mild disc herniation. He wouldn’t pitch again for the next 75 days. Kershaw still posted a remarkable, yet shortened season. He produced 172 strikeouts against only 11 walks in 149 innings, finishing with a 1.69 ERA, a 0.73 WHIP, and a 1.80 FIP.
The most captivating storyline for Kershaw was his performance in the NLDS against the Washington Nationals. The Los Angeles Dodgers won all three games that he appeared in. In Game Five, he came in with one out in the ninth inning, only two days after throwing 110 pitches in Game Four. Kershaw forced Daniel Murphy to pop out and stuck out pinch-hitter Wilmer Difo to clinch the series.
6. Mookie Betts
David Ortiz‘s last season in baseball resulted in the passing of the torch to the next Boston Red Sox legend. They may have already found their hero in the 24-year-old Betts.
Betts is a five-tool player and proved it in 2016. He collected 214 hits, resulting in a .318 batting average. He smacked 31 homers, 42 doubles, and five triples, and knocked in 113 runs, totaling an .897 OPS, a 131 OPS+, and a MLB-leading 359 total bases. Betts also stole 21 bases, accumulated a 9.6 WAR, won a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove in right field, and received the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award. Betts was runner-up in the MVP vote to Mike Trout.
5. Corey Seager
When the 2016 season started, Seager was seen as one of the top prospects in baseball and a top candidate to win Rookie of the Year in the National League. Instead, he was a finalist for NL MVP and his unflappable play carried the Dodgers to an NL West crown.
Seager burst onto the baseball scene early, leading all offensive rookie categories for the majority of the season. He finished hitting .308 with 26 homers, 72 RBI, an .877 OPS, and a 137 OPS+. The 22-year-old shortstop scarily resembles a young Hanley Ramirez. Expect him to lead the class of elite shortstops for years to come.
4. Kris Bryant
Bryant went from top-five draft pick, to top-five prospect, to Rookie of the Year in just three seasons. In 2016, he further complemented his budding career, winning NL MVP and guiding the Chicago Cubs to their first World Championship in 108 years.
Bryant led baseball with 121 runs scored, hit .291 with a .939 OPS, smacked 39 homers, drove in 102 runners, and posted a 149 OPS+. He also drastically cut his strikeout total, amassing 45 fewer strikeouts in 44 more at-bats than the previous season.
Bryant has been a darling of baseball since he was breaking home run records at the University of San Diego. Now, he’s one of the many young faces that are creating baseball’s new era of talent.
3. Vin Scully
Though not a player, Scully was indeed one of the most captivating figures in baseball last season and for a very long time prior. In 1954, Vincent Edward Scully became the principal announcer for the then-Brooklyn Dodgers.
He chartered with them when they made the move to Los Angeles in 1957 and has broadcast every season since. Scully was behind the microphone for some of baseball’s most legendary moments:
- Don Larsen‘s perfect game in Game Five of the 1956 World Series.
- Sandy Koufax‘s perfect game at Dodger Stadium in 1965.
- Hank Aaron‘s mythic 715th career home run in 1974.
- Bill Buckner‘s historic error in Game Six of the 1986 World Series.
- Kirk Gibson‘s miraculous pinch-hit home run in Game One of the 1988 World Series.
It’s a never-ending list of accomplishments by Scully in the game of baseball. He was the Mark Twain of baseball and his legend will always live on.
2. David Ortiz
Baseball had to say good-bye to Ortiz in 2016. In return for our sorrow, he accomplished arguably the greatest final season a player could ever showcase.
Big Papi led baseball with 48 doubles, 127 RBI, a .620 slugging percentage, and a 1.021 OPS. He was selected to his tenth All-Star game and won his seventh Silver Slugger award at designated hitter. Most noteworthy, however, was witnessing the last season of one of baseball’s greatest sluggers.
Nobody had more fun in 2016 than David Ortiz, and all of baseball was along for the ride.
1. Mike Trout
Trout is the best player in baseball. He has been the best player in baseball since he joined the league, and he will control that mantle as long as he wants. It’s that simple.
There’s no need to drool over his stats. All is understood just in watching him play. Trout is Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, and Ken Griffey Jr. all rolled into one. He gets on-base, scores runs, runs bases, and steals hits in the outfield better than any player in the league.
Mike Trout will stay on top of this list for many years to come.
If you missed previous installments, find them here: