Faithful readers of IPL have no doubt noticed that things have been a little, well, slow around here in the past couple of weeks. Part of that can be attributed to the lull which takes place after every baseball season ends, but there’s no denying that part of it is also attributable to the letdown we IPL writers felt after the Indians lost the Series to the Cubs. By all means, it was a remarkable ride, even though the Indians didn’t win it all, and I’m sure we’ll spend some time during the off-season paying tribute to the 2016 team. But I’d be lying if I told you that my first thought upon waking each morning has been “Gee, what can I write for IPL today?” I was ready to take a break from baseball. I bet you were too.
But lately there have been some things worth writing about, and it’s high time we wrote about them. So here we go.
First, the bad news. Although he was one of the three finalists for the American League Rookie of the Year award, Tribe outfielder Tyler Naquin did not win. The award went instead to pitcher Michael Fulmer of the Detroit Tigers. Fulmer, 23, received 26 of 30 first-place votes from the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Naquin finished third behind New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. As good as Naquin was for the Indians in 2016, I’d have voted for Fulmer myself. His ERA of 3.06 was third-best among AL starters, which is pretty impressive for a rookie.
Now on to the good news: Tribe shortstop Francisco Lindor won two awards for his defense. Lindor received the Gold Glove award as the best defensive shortstop in the American League, making him the first Indians player to win a Gold Glove since outfielder Grady Sizemore in 2008. Lindor is the first Indians shortstop to win the award since the legendary Omar Vizquel, who won a Gold Glove each season from 1994 to 2001. The award is voted on by MLB coaches and managers, none of whom can vote for a player on their own team. SABR stats are also used in deciding who wins.
Days later, Lindor was awarded the Platinum Glove award as the best defensive player in the American League. Like the Gold Glove award, this award is presented by the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company. A combination of fan votes via social media and SABR stats determine the winner. The Platinum Glove has been awarded since 2011. Lindor is the first member of the Indians to receive the award.
And finally, in a move which surprised exactly no one, Terry Francona was selected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America as the American League Manager of the Year. Francona received 22 first-place votes out of 30 and was named on every ballot. Jeff Banister of the Texas Rangers finished second. Francona also won the award in 2013, his first season as manager of the Indians.
Any observant baseball fan, not just an Indians fan, could see that Francona did a masterful job of getting the most out of the players on the roster, expertly juggling the lineup to ensure that non-starters got plenty of playing time, and coming up with ways to compensate for positions without ideal players to man them. No club is immune to injured players, but it seems that the 2016 Tribe had more than its share, with Michael Brantley missing nearly the entire season, and with two-fifths of the starting rotation not being able to suit up in the final weeks of play.
Francona also had to deal with the PED suspensions of outfielders Marlon Byrd and Abraham Almonte. A lesser man might have lost his temper and his composure at several times throughout the season, but Francona remained calm and unflappable, as evidenced by the fact that the Indians never lost as many as four consecutive games in 2016, which is something that only a handful of major league teams throughout the history of the sport have been able to do.
Francona also did a fine job of managing the Tribe bullpen, a job which admittedly got much easier with the mid-season signing of Andrew Miller. But even that move opened the door for a potential “closer controversy,” wherein both Miller and Cody Allen could lay claim to the job. Francona used both men, as well as Bryan Shaw, to full advantage. If the Indians had the lead after six innings, you could be sure, almost 100% sure, that the bullpen would get the job done. And although the award does not take the postseason into account, Francona shone then, too, with the possible exception of Game 7. But let’s not talk about that just yet.