Merry Christmas weekend, everyone. I know a lot of people are traveling home this time of year (I’m going to see both my mom and my mother-in-law this weekend, for example), and appetites for sitting down and reading baseball analysis are probably pretty low at the moment, so instead I thought I’d do a bit of light retrospective work. Earlier this offseason, I hatched a well-intentioned but poorly-followed-up-on plan with the VEB writing staff; what if we all wrote year-end pieces that highlighted our favorite writing on the site this year? Everyone would pick their favorite piece they wrote as well as their favorite piece someone else wrote, I’d do a little bit of editing to make sure that we didn’t just all pick the same article that Aaron wrote, and then we’d run it as a series intermittently throughout December. Well, yeah, that didn’t happen, due to the poorly-followed-up-on part from up above. Maybe that will be a tradition next year, but in the meantime, I’m enamored enough with the idea that I’m going to do it on my own.
What follows below is my favorite article I wrote this year, my favorite article that someone else on VEB wrote this year, and then my favorite non-VEB piece of writing about the Cardinals. I included descriptions of what I loved so much, but really I think all three pieces stand on their own merit. If you have some downtime and want to revisit some of the high points of the year, both in baseball and in baseball writing, here’s my attempt to help you out. If you wanted to read about who the Cardinals will use in the Andrew Miller role next year, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, literally Andrew Miller. The bad news is, no analysis of that today. So if you’re still here, sit back and enjoy a condensed best-of of the year in writing.
John Gant’s Descent Into Despair- Ben Clemens
There’s something oddly satisfying about watching baseball gifs when they depict failure. Every success story looks about the same. The pitcher strikes a batter out, or the batter hits the ball really hard. Sometimes I guess the defender makes a nice play, but generally speaking, success in baseball follows a set script. Failures come in all shapes and sizes. If you’re looking for failure, what better place to start than a pitcher who briefly held an all-time record for batting futility? This piece doesn’t do any useful basebally analysis. It contributes more or less nothing to my outlook on the Cardinals. It does, however, make the whole experience feel human to me. I find myself rooting for John Gant a lot more than I did before writing this article, and I had an absolute blast finding gifs and crafting a narrative to his long quixotic quest to safely reach base. The story had a happy ending, as Gant now boasts two major league home runs (his only two hits!), but in re-reading the story it still holds up to me. Baseball is great. Nothing drives that home more than the fact that I can find so much joy watching a tiny sample of people failing at baseball.
Michael Wacha’s Approach to 2018 Has Been Weird- Lance Brozdowski
If the article above was baseball whimsy, this is basically the exact opposite. Lance breaks down Wacha’s changing curveball usage, specifically how he has begun throwing it extensively in 0-0 counts to steal strikes. This is the kind of fundamental, watchful analysis that makes you watch baseball games differently. I watched some Michael Wacha starts before this article, and I watched some after this article. I never came close to noticing the trend Lance spotted in the before games, but in every single game afterwards it totally changed the way I watched. I was on alert for the first pitch of every at-bat. I felt like I knew some secret knowledge about the way the universe worked every time Wacha threw a curve. Given that Wacha used his curveball more frequently on 0-0 than any other count for the season as a whole, I got to feel that rush of secret knowledge pretty often. I’m a sucker for details, and this piece in particular added a detail to my life that I didn’t know I needed but really enjoyed.
Baseball’s Hardest Thrower Now Comes With Whiffs- Ben Lindbergh
This piece is the archetypical example of ‘this guy you haven’t heard of is great, and here’s why.’ It’s thorough. It’s specific. It manages to touch on some truly eye-popping changes in Hicks’ methods and performance while putting everything into useful context. This wasn’t a particularly hot topic at the time Lindbergh wrote it, and I’d guess it won’t be at the top of his own personal list of his favorite articles of the year (there’s a long list of great Ben Lindbergh articles), but I’ve referenced it several times this year when I’m trying to write an explanatory piece on why a player has achieved a new performance level. The integration of graphs and charts with the flow of the writing is seamless. This piece is absolutely information overload- it’s SO detailed- and yet it never drags. Jordan Hicks wasn’t the most memorable part of the Cardinals season, but I’ll probably continue to reference this article in the future. It’s just a pristine example of sportswriting, and it happens to be about a subject (the Cardinals) near and dear to my heart.
That, my friends, is the Cardinals writing I liked the most in 2018. My tastes are a little eclectic, but I think there’s something for everyone in these three articles. I’d be remiss not to mention some other great articles from the year, but I absolutely won’t get to everyone. John LaRue wrote an excellent piece for the Hardball Times that I consult frequently. Tyler Kinzy broke down Jack Flaherty’s success. You can barely take a step these days without tripping over a great piece A.E. Schafer wrote. I really enjoyed Andy Schrag’s farewell post as well as its top-notch url game. There are too many others to mention- I really do think this site has a tremendous stable of writers. Here’s to an enjoyable year of baseball reading, and to another one to come in 2019.