The amazing 2021 MLB regular season ended on October 3rd.  Many young players had big impacts and some older players defied their advancing age.  Several teams pleasantly surprised in the return to a full 162-game schedule.  Yet the many amazing performances should not surprise us, because baseball is an amazing game.  This is true at whatever level or league we want to look, but I’ll confine this article to the major leagues.

A Race for the Ages

The National League West in 2021 may have been the most hotly contested division of all time.  Both the Dodgers and the Giants won more than 105 games.  Both the 19-game season series between the teams and the resulting margin in the standings turned on a single pitch called a ball when it appeared to have passed through the strike zone. These teams now face each other in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Youth was Served, and It Served Admirably

Very young players made very large impacts during the 2021 season.  They brought great value to their teams and showed up atop the statistical leaderboards.  For the first time, home run champions in both the American (Vladimir Guerrero Jr.) and National League (Fernando Tatis) were under the age of 23.  Twenty-year old Wander Franco made his debut with the Rays at mid-season.  After taking a few weeks to settle in, Franco went on a tear in late August and September.  He ended the season with his hitting rated 20% better than league average,  and tied the record for most consecutive games on base by a someone so young. 

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These young players were known to be talented, but this season was far and away above anything they had done previously.   Baseball is a difficult game to master so it’s surprising that some players are ready after very little time in the minor leagues.  The continued unpredictability of breakout seasons could further incentivize teams to bring up and coming prospects onto their rosters and keeping fewer older players.

An impressive 46 home run season was posted by Shohei Ohtani, the Angels’ two-way player.  He became the first ever to hit more than thirty home runs in a season while also pitching more than 100 innings.  In fact, no other pitcher since Babe Ruth in 1921 had started a game while also holding the league lead in homers.

Experience Still Plays

Not only was youth served, but some very seasoned players also did great things.  40-year old Adam Wainwright pitched well enough to be considered a contender for the Cy Young award.  He started the Wild Card game for the Cardinals and pitched better than the Dodgers’ 37-year old Max Scherzer, who might win the award.  On the offensive side of the diamond, 31-year old Salvador Perez hit the most home runs ever by a regular catcher, tying for the American League lead.  And Nelson Cruz became the second oldest player to hit a post-season home run.

Pandemic Baseball Tests Depth

Some teams used record numbers of players.  The combination of last year’s season being cut by 60% and the ongoing COVID pandemic meant a lot of injuries and frequent effects of illness.  The Cubs used 69 different players to get through the 2021 season.  This meant a lot of air miles between Des Moines and Chicago!  It also broke the previous major league record set by the 2019 Mariners.

Savor the Season Until Spring

For fans of the twenty teams left out of the playoffs it may already be feeling like a long off-season.  Nine of the ten teams that made the post-season will spend winter longing and preparing for a happier ending in 2022.  Even after playoff baseball and the World Series there will be four months to look back on all the great moments of 2021.  The MLB Film Room is a great place to do just that online.  The search feature enables you to find any game, and all your favorite moments from the 2021 season.