MLB’s Anonymous Players
Before MLB.com made it fashionable, who were the faceless baseball players?
In his almost seven years as MLB’s Commissioner, Rob Manfred has done some pretty petty stuff. You, dear baseball fan, don’t need me to list those things as you probably have a list of your own. However, his recent letter to baseball fans is nearly unreadable as he addresses the current lockout and somehow blames the wrong party in just about every instance.
As a result of said lockout, Major League Baseball has erased any trace of active players on MLB.com, instead replacing their roster photos with the same anonymous silhouettes. Talk about petty. Many players have responded on social media, particularly Twitter, by replacing their avatar or profile picture with the same faceless headshot.
It got me thinking: this just shows that Manfred finds the players replaceable, in a way. We, as baseball fans, love the players . I’m not watching the Angels because I care about the Angels —I’m watching Shohei Ohtani.
But Rob and the owners love the money.
So, who are the guys who were already anonymous, but shouldn’t be? Who are the guys whose faces we don’t know, but are putting in the work every day? Who are the guys Manfred could give a spider tack about?
Look for these faces when baseball returns. They might not be the flashiest players, but we wouldn’t have our beloved sport with them.
Alex Vesia (LAD) RP
41 games: 3–1, 40.0 IP, 2.25 ERA, 0.975 WHIP, 2.45 SO/BB
Left-handed relievers who can be lock-down are a real dime a dozen. When you have one, you have to use him wisely — especially with the new three-batter minimum.
In his first full season in the bigs, Alex Vesia proved that he’s going to be a guy to rely on in Los Angeles. He only gave up seven runs in his 41 outings during the regular season and he pitched in five of the six games of the 2021 NLCS — where he gave up zero runs in five appearances.
Although one season is a small sample size, this doesn’t seem like a fluke: he pitched to a 1.57 ERA in 61 games in the minors including nine appearances for nine innings where he only surrendered one run in ’21 before his time in The Show. Manager Dave Roberts is excellent when it comes to handling the bullpen, so expect more success from Vesia next year.
Cole Sulser (BAL) RP
60 games: 5–4, 63.1 IP, 2.70 ERA, 1.121 WHIP, 3.17 SO/BB
The O’s had few things to celebrate this season. Cedric Mullins’ breakout season, of course. John Means’ no-hitter. That’s about it.
There were a few more minor bright spots in the midst of a 110-loss season and Cole Sulser was one of them. He was the closest thing that the organization had to a closer in 2021, collecting 8 saves in 11 chances — both of those stats were the most for any player in Birdland.
Do I think that Sulser will be the closer of the future in Baltimore? No. I’ve written before about my thoughts on their rebuild (In Defense of the 2021 Orioles) and I’ve made it clear that I can see the trajectory of said rebuild and it looks promising— so don’t expect Sulser to be that guy anymore as the team improves. However, not every reliever needs to be a closer. Sometimes you need guys to come in and get the job done for the 7th inning or face more than three batters to give other guys rest. You need someone to rely on and I think Sulser can be that guy.
Lane Thomas (STL/WSN) CF
WSN stats(45 games): .270/.364/.489/.853, 7 HR, 27 RBI, 133 OPS+
Thomas’ stats in his 32 games as a Cardinal were truly nightmarish and abysmal: .104/.259/.125/.384. However, those 32 games only included 10 starts as Harrison Bader has been the primary centerfielder in St. Louis for a few seasons now.
However, after being traded to Washington in exchange for 97-year-old Jon Lester, Thomas was given the opportunity to play every day and make regular starts. During his time with the Nats, he played in 45 games with 42 starts and caught fire with 7 bombs during that time.
As Washington gives more playing time to younger players as they approach their own rebuild, look for Thomas to make an impact thanks to that regular playing time next year.
Ty France (SEA) 1B
152 games: .291/.368/.445/.813, 18 HR, 73 RBI, 128 OPS+
Ty France is arguably the most well-known name on this list. In his first full season in the majors, he broke out with very respectable stats last year. After spending most of his time pre-2021 at second and third, France took over 1B for a Seattle team that competed for a Wild Card spot.
His performance was so strong that he was awarded the Mariners’ MVP by the Seattle chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
And there’s no reason to think that this productivity is any one-season thing: in his last season in the minors (2019), he slashed .399/.477/.770/1.247 with 27 HR and 89 RBI in 76 games. He’s no stranger to mashing a baseball and with longtime Mariner Kyle Seager leaving third base — the M’s will look to France and the similarly aged CF Kyle Lewis as they continue to chase what has evaded them for so long: the playoffs. They have the longest active playoff drought at 20 seasons.
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Stats, as always, are from Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and MLB.com