Season was mixed bag for Jewish ball players
The 2015 season was a mixed bag for the baker’s dozen that played under the proud label of “JML.”
The most pleasant surprise of the year had to be the development of Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays, the team that’s playing the Kansas City Royals as of this writing in the AL Championship Series. Pillar was a sparkplug for the Jays, combining speed (26 stolen bases) with some pop (31 doubles, 12 home runs) and turning into one of the best defensive outfielders in the game.
Perhaps no one symbolizes the ups and downs better than Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 23-year-old rookie from nearby Palo Alto had a monstrous first half, blasting 20 home runs by the All-Star break and playing highlight reel-worthy defense in centerfield. But Pederson hit just six homers in the second half and saw his other statistics plummet as well, endangering his starting role.
Veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler of the Detroit Tigers was also in an odd situation. On the one hand, he put together one of the best seasons in his 10-year career. On the other hand, the team — led by second-year manager and fellow MOT Brad Ausmus — finished in last place in the American League Central Division.
The Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun had a solid individual year with 24 home runs, 84 runs batted in, 24 stolen bases, and a .285 batting average — before shutting down late in the season because of a back injury that will require surgery. Like Kinsler, however, his team also foundered, finishing fourth in the NL Central.
Craig Breslow was his usual steady self, serving as a short-inning specialist for the Boston Red Sox who finished, you guessed it, last in their division, the AL East. He started two consecutive games at the end of the year after 522 consecutive appearances as a reliever. The 35-year-old Yale alumnus finished with a record of 0-4 in 45 games.
Fellow Yalie Ryan Lavarnway began the season with the Baltimore Orioles. After appearing in just 10 games, the 28-year-old catcher was claimed off waivers by the Atlanta Braves for whom he played 27 games.
Rookie starting pitcher Jon Moscot, 23, was a member of a another last-place team, the Cincinnati Reds. He dislocated his shoulder on a defensive play in his third game and was lost for the season. Perhaps in a sense of karma, he took the place of another Jewish pitcher, 37-year-old Jason Marquis, who himself was coming back from an injury that cost him all of the 2014 campaign. Marquis appeared in just nine games, finishing the year with a record of 3-4 and a 6.76 earned run average.
Another pitcher suffering through a Jekyll-and-Hyde season was Scott Feldman of the Houston Astros. Two stints on the disabled list doomed his season, although he pitched admirably when he was able, finished the year with a record of 8-8 and an ERA of 3.96, notable for an American Leaguer.
Like Feldman, Ike Davis of the Oakland Athletics saw his season interrupted by injury twice. Davis, 28, missed a month from mid-May to mid-June and was shut down altogether in mid-August, appearing in just 74 games.
Davis’ teammate, Sam Fuld, started 2015 as he had several previous seasons: playing over his head. Early offensive production gave way to mediocrity, and Fuld, 34, finished the year with a batting average below .200.
Infielder Danny Valencia also split the year between two ball clubs. He appeared in 58 games for the Toronto Blue Jays before being claimed off waivers at the end of July by the As, where he really shined: 11 home runs and 37 RBI in 47 games.
The latest to join the JML ranks was Cody Decker, 28, an infielder for the San Diego Padres. He was hitless in 11 at-bats.