What baseball was like 365 days ago

Jonathan Daniel

There are people reading this who have never seen a Baseball Encyclopedia. Oh, you lucky fools. It was the book form of Baseball-Reference.com, but with five percent of the information. It was the size of an engine block, and it was outdated by the first pitch of the next season. And we loved every page, dagnabbit.

Which is to say, we're kind of spoiled these days. There are minor-league splits on Baseball-Reference.com now. They've had the row-summing feature for a while, so you can see what any given batter hit between June 1 and August 3, 1978 if that's the kind of thing that pokes a hole in your donut. Goodness, the information that's available to us.

But there's one thing that I look for every year, and it's a little trickier to find. Spoiled brat that I am, I want an at-a-glance page that shows me what we were all thinking a year ago. Last year around this time, we had opinions about baseball. Big, important opinions. There were debates and articles, responses to those articles, and responses to the responses. And it's hard to remember exactly what those all were.

So to the Wayback Machine we go. Literally. The Internet Archive tool is literally called the Wayback Machine. And while it doesn't have a snapshot of what Baseball Reference looked like exactly one year ago today, it has one that comes pretty close. So here's an incomplete list of what we were talking exactly about one year ago.

Bryan LaHair
Or, if you go by his business cards, "Bryan LaHair, All-Star." At this point last year (through May 11, when most teams had played 32 or 33 games), LaHair had the second-highest OPS in baseball -- 1.247. He was a 29-year-old career minor leaguer coming off a monster year, even by Pacific Coast League standards, and the middle of May is when we all start the what-ifs. As in, what if LaHair is really this good? He was a thing, a story, an intriguing sidebar to the young season.

Do you even know where he is now? He's not hurt, and he's active. And he's hitting the spittle out of the ball, accounting for six percent of his league's home runs. More clues: He's teammates with Wily Mo Pena and Vicente Padilla. Last year, LaHair was a May thing. This year, he's a Hawk.

Omar Infante
Infante is a career .275/.316/.398 hitter. Last season, he hit .274/.300/.419. Pretty typical season by Infante standards -- he was six points off his career OPS. Nothing to see here.

Except at this time last year, Infante was fifth in the NL in slugging percentage. Fifth in the NL in slugging percentage. Everyone figured that Marlins Park was going to be a hitter's graveyard, yet Infante was setting career marks. Through May 8 last year, Infante was hitting .309/.340/.638, with six home runs, two triples, and nine doubles -- seven fewer extra-base hits in 100 plate appearances than he had in 506 plate appearances with the Braves just two years earlier.

The way he finished the season was like an explanation of why Gambler's Fallacy is actually sound science. He got all those hits, see, so the odds were that he would make up for it with three months without any hits. Science! Or, rather, math!

Michael Young was hitting over .300 with limited power
Though I'm sure he'll keep hitting like this for you, Phillies.

Four of the eventual division winners were within a game of .500
The Tigers were 16-16, the A's were 17-16, the Reds were 16-15, and the Giants were 15-17. The Yankees were 18-14 and the Nationals were 20-12, so they spoiled the sequence, but two-thirds of the division winners had no idea just how good they were a year ago. Other teams hovering around .500: the Mets (18-14), Marlins (17-15), Astros (15-17) and Blue Jays (18-15).

The Astros were two games under .500
Even better: They had a positive run differential. While you can't expect any team to lose as many games as the Astros did after that (8-48 from the end of June through August!), it puts a stop to the "Maybe the Twins aren't as bad as I thought!" ideas rolling around in my head.

Ryan Dempster had an ERA under 1.00
Which didn't continue, obviously, but it brings up an interesting question: Is Dempster so underrated that he's the most underrated pitcher in baseball? The Red Sox got him with a two-year deal. The Rangers traded marginal prospects for him at the deadline last year. Yet since moving to the starting rotation in 2008, Dempster is 16th in WAR among pitchers. He isn't too far from Matt Cain and Cole Hamels.

The Marlins were 13th in attendance per game
That's kind of lackluster for a new-stadium bump, but it's still pretty impressive considering the unpleasantness that followed. It was the second time the Marlins were above the league average in attendance. I'm starting to think the whole "baseball in Miami" thing has been mismanaged.

The Orioles were good
Ha. That was amusing. But we knew it was just May, and that it wouldn't last long.

You know what else? The Marlins were disappointing. Josh Willingham was having a career year, as was Edwin Encarnacion. Jake Peavy looked like his old, pre-injury self. Tim Lincecum was awful, as was Ubaldo Jimenez, and Roy Halladay's velocity was down
Sometimes good and bad starts mean exactly what they look like. That is, all of those things turned out to be true, or consistent levels of performance throughout the year. You could have cried "sample size" or "It's still early!" for all of those. Yet they didn't get much better or worse all season.

So maybe Chris Davis really is Fred McGriff now, and maybe James Loney is John Olerud. Maybe David Price and Matt Cain are going to give up golf-ball home runs for the rest of the year, and maybe the Blue Jays are really this bad.

Or maybe there's some Bryan LaHair in all of those. It's only May, after all. It was May last year, too.

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