Q and A With Daniel Norris

Daniel Norris was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft, after going 8-2 with a 2.24 ERA his senior year at Science Hill High School in Tennessee.

norrisSince the draft, Norris has posted some decent stats in the majors after making a unique progression through the minors. Following a couple of poor seasons in 2012 and 2013, Norris absolutely flew through the minors in 2014, jumping from High-A all the way to the big leagues, and going a combined 12-2 with a 2.53 ERA over the course of 25 minor leagues starts that season with three different teams.

After making his MLB debut in September of 2014, Norris spent quite a bit of time back in Triple-A in 2015, making just five more starts with Toronto before being traded to the Tigers at the trade deadline. Following that, Norris made eight starts for Detroit, in which he pitched some of the best baseball he had in his big league career to that point.

In 2016, Norris made just 13 big league starts due to some injuries, but continued to prove to the baseball world that he is in fact a major league quality pitcher, posting a 3.38 ERA over the course of his 69.1 innings. Moving into 2017, it should be exciting to see how Daniel Norris is able to make an even bigger name for himself as an impact pitcher.

Daniel Norris — pitcher for the Detroit Tigers — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

Honestly, for as long as I can remember baseball was my gig. It was and still is what I think about before falling asleep. Whether that be my next start or simply playing catch the next day — that passion has always been extremely strong. Growing up, my favorite player was Chipper jones. I loved watching him play the game with such a silky smooth essence about him. Truth be told, I could count Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez as an influence in ‘The Sandlot’. The kid just loved the game more than anyone. I can relate.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

I guess I answered that in question number one. But to reiterate, Chipper carried that old-school baseball approach into the later years of his career, even when the game was starting to change and get younger. I respected his desire to keep the game gritty rather than flashy.

3.) You were drafted by the Blue Jays in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. What was that process like for you? Initial thoughts?

I feel like that process for me was a little different than some, I suppose. All along, leading up to the draft, I was told by everyone that I was a sure-fire first rounder. I started to believe them. But when the draft came around I fell to the second [round] because of . . . well, it was just God’s plan. So through that time, disappointment was unavoidable. But shortly after, I realized how incredibly blessed I was to even have an opportunity to play at the next level. So God played a huge part in understanding the stepping stones of pro ball for me.

4.) You broke out in 2014 to have a very special season. That year, you went from High-A in April all the way up to the majors in September. Did you find the rapid ascension overwhelming at times, or was it just one of those seasons where everything came together?

It would be easy to say that everything just kinda came together, but it wouldn’t be entirely true. It was up to the Jays system to challenge me, and I just accepted the challenge each time. I work extremely hard. And I expect for it to pay off. That year my work off of the field started to translated to the mound.

5.) The following year, you were traded to the Tigers mid-season. Switching organizations halfway through the year, did you find the trade somewhat difficult to adjust to or did you quickly adapt to your new home?

The trade definitely came as a surprise to me, but I was welcomed with open arms by my new team. I was stoked on a new place to call home and kind of a start fresh. Sometimes that’s what you need in order to reset yourself and refocus on what is truly important to you and your career.

6.) Despite the success you had in 2015, you also spent a good portion of the season pitching with a secret. Unbeknownst to nearly everyone around baseball, you had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer but chose to finish out the season. How did your diagnosis affect you on the mound?

There’s no doubt that was a wicked curveball thrown my way, but I 100-percent believe that was God’s way of telling me to appreciate everyday I get to put on a uniform. At that time, when I found out, I was pressing on the mound. I had been sent to Triple-A, and I was trying to make my way back up to the big leagues, living and dying by every pitch. But those circumstances immediately made me remember what it was like to just have fun between the lines.

7.) On a lighter note — it’s one of the questions I’m sure you’re asked the most about, but it’s so intriguing to so many people that I would be remiss to not bring it up. Every year since 2011, you’ve spent portions of the offseason living out of a 1978 VW microbus nicknamed “Shaggy”. During those times, what does your typical day consist of?

There’s a bit of a misconception with that. Some people seem to think I spend the entire offseason living out of the van, skipping workouts, and just running around on the beach [laughs]. I have home base in Tennessee where I spend a lot of time working out twice a day. I’m extremely focused on my career and development of my body. That being said, I frequently take camping trips that can range up to a few weeks at a time (still working out everyday on the road). Then, when it’s time to go down to Florida for spring training, I pack up the van in the middle of January and live in it until pitchers and catchers report toward the end of February.

8.) Playing alongside some great pitchers in your career to this point, such as Justin Verlander this past season, what kind of things have you been able to pick up from them that has helped you on the mound?

I honestly don’t have enough space to put in here what Ver[lander] has taught me. I like to watch and learn, and he is one of the best to watch every fifth day. He also goes out of his way to sit down and talk to me about pitching, which obviously helps a ton.

9.) Despite starting in only thirteen games, what do you feel went well in 2016? What are your goals for 2017?

I think I finally started to come into my own toward the end of 2016; starting to understand my mechanics and what it takes to be more consistent. I think it was the best I’ve thrown a baseball in a long time, and I’m excited to continue that work in 2017.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

For me, I gave it all to God and let Him clear my path. All along the way I told myself to work harder than anyone ever has; to keep my head down; go about my business the right way; and respect the game as well as my teammates. But more so than anything, like I said, I always thank God for what I am able to do.

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Big thanks to Daniel Norris for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @DanielNorris18

Porcello and Scherzer Win Cy Young Award

The Cy Young award — named after the Hall of Fame pitcher who died in 1955 — was first handed out in 1956 to Don Newcombe, with the goal of recognizing the “most valuable pitcher” from each season. The first eleven years of the award saw one pitcher per year receiving the honor, but in 1967 the Cy Young began being handed out to a pitcher from each league who was voted on as the best from the season.

Voting for the award is fairly straightforward.

Two writers from each city of both the American League and National League make up the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) voters for the Cy Young award, making a total of thirty voters for each league (fifteen teams, with two voters per city). A first place vote earns a player seven points, a second place vote gets four points, a third place vote receives three points, a fourth place vote is worth two points, with a fifth place vote earning a single point. Once added up, the player with the highest overall total wins.

The 2016 Major League Baseball Cy Young award winners for both the American League and National League were announced Wednesday night on MLB Network. Here are the winners, along with my thoughts on each:

AMERICAN LEAGUE CY YOUNG

Original Pick: Justin Verlander

Finalists: Corey Kluber, Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander

Winner: Rick Porcello

Thoughts On Rick Porcello Winning

The stats of the top pitchers in the American League from 2016 were so close that it was a challenge to choose the player who was the very best. Their ERA’s were within mere decimals of each other, with many other statistics also standing very close to even. XSTU6113.JPG

But Rick Porcello and his 22 wins wound up proving to be the most worthy of the Cy Young, as far as the voters were concerned, barely beating out Justin Verlander and his 3.04 ERA, who finished just five votes back of Porcello — the second closest margin since 1970. This also marked the second time in voting history that the player not receiving the most first place votes won the award.

The close race between the two caused a bit of controversy around the baseball world, as despite the closeness of the final tally, Verlander winning 6 more first place votes wasn’t able to do it for him in the end (due in great part to him not being named at all on two ballots).

Corey Kluber finished in third with his 3.14 ERA, with 3 first place votes and 98 overall points, with the favorite by many to win the entire award, Zach Britton, getting the other 5 first place votes and coming in fourth.

Porcello went 22-4 on the season, recording a 3.15 ERA along that time. For that reason alone, he is definitely deserving. However, there are still a lot of people who don’t feel that way. A lot of people felt that Verlander was far more dominant that Porcello throughout the year, and I find myself agreeing with them.

But it is what it is, and the focus here isn’t on Verlander’s extremely close loss (the second such of his career, with a 149-153 loss coming to David Price in 2013) but instead Rick Porcello’s deserving win.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CY YOUNG

Original Pick: Max Scherzer

Finalists: Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Max Scherzer

Winner: Max Scherzer

Thoughts On Max Scherzer Winning

As hard as picking the winner was from the candidates in the American League, the National League was just as difficult. With Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Max Scherzer all having very different cases for winning, choosing the one who stood above the rest wasn’t an easy task.

Hendricks led all of baseball in ERA with a mere 2.13; Lester posted a great ERA of his own, at 2.44, to go along withscherzer 19 wins; and Scherzer struck out a stellar 284 batters, despite his 2.96 ERA being the highest of the group.

But in the end, the voters went with Max Scherzer, and it wasn’t even close. Scherzer tallied up a total of 192 points, earning 25 first place votes, with Lester finishing runner up with just one first place vote and 102 points, leaving Hendricks coming in third with 2 first place votes and 85 points collectively. (The other two first place votes surprisingly went to Clayton Kershaw, who finished fifth in the voting).

The deciding factor for Scherzer’s Cy Young win likely came down to his utter dominance. Although he had the highest ERA of the finalists, Scherzer posted an 11.2 K/9 rate this season over the course of 220.1 innings, including a 20-strikeout performance against his former team, the Tigers, this year.

This marks Max Scherzer’s second career Cy Young award, joining him with Roy Halladay, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Gaylord Perry as the only other pitchers to win a Cy Young in both leagues.

But if 2016 was any indication, Scherzer may not be done setting records.

BBWAA Award Finalists Announced

It’s that time of year again. After months spent grinding things out throughout the baseball season, all leading up to the first World Series title for the Cubs in 108 years, award season is finally here.

Although the winners of the major awards won’t be officially announced until next week, the top three vote-getters were unveiled on Monday evening. For the mot part, I agree with the finalists for the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP awards, but there were a few I was surprised about.

Here are the top three players still in the running for the major MLB awards:

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR FINALISTS

American League: Tyler Naquin, Gary Sanchez and Michael Fulmer

National League: Kenta Maeda, Trea Turner and Corey Seager

I have Gary Sanchez and Corey Seager winning the Rookie of the Year award.

CY YOUNG FINALISTS

American League: Corey Kluber, Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander

National League: Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Max Scherzer

I have Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer winning the Cy Young award.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER FINALISTS

American League: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve

National League: Kris Bryant, Daniel Murphy and Corey Seager

I had David Ortiz and Kris Bryant winning the Most Valuable Player award. However, with Ortiz not being a finalist, I am thinking Mookie Betts will likely take home the award.

The winner of each award will begin being announced next week on MLB Network.

Here’s the schedule:

AL & NL Rookie of the Year: November 14th

AL & NL Cy Young: November 16th

AL & NL Most Valuable Player: November 17th

I plan on posting a recap of each winner, along with a look at how well I did with my predictions, in a blog entry after each award is officially announced. So be sure to check back for that at some point next week.

Recap of My Votes for the 2016 MLB Major Awards

Over the past week, or so, I’ve been typing up individual posts on who I feel most deserves the awards of American votingLeague and National League Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player. I decided to post them in pairs, with Rookie of the Year coming back-to-back (A.L. then N.L.), followed by the same for Cy Young and MVP.

Some of the choices were easy, while others took a great deal of debate. But in the end, I went with my gut of who I feel deserves each award the most.

In case you missed a few (or all) of my Major League Baseball award posts, I wanted to do a brief recap of each of my picks. Although there are a couple of selections that people will likely disagree with, this is just the way I would vote if my vote had any say.

Here are my picks that I made for each category:

American League Rookie of the Year: Gary Sanchez

National League Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager

American League Cy Young: Justin Verlander

National League Cy Young: Max Scherzer

American League MVP: David Ortiz

National League MVP: Kris Bryant

Feel free to click the links associated with each award to be taken to my post on it, giving the full reasoning behind my picks. I’m planning to post a blog entry covering the winners of each award when they’re announced towards the middle of next month, comparing my original picks to the winners and giving my overall thoughts, so be sure to check back for that when the time arrives.

My Vote for 2016 A.L. Cy Young Award

Each year there are usually several pitchers from each league who have incredible seasons, making it difficult to choose between them for who most deserves the Cy Young award. This year is no different. The American League saw Rick Porcello, Zach Britton, Corey Kluber, Masahiro Tanaka, Aaron Sanchez and Justin Verlander all having great seasons.verlander However, in the end, only one player can take home the Cy Young award.

Although Rick Porcello had a great season that helped carry the Red Sox into the postseason, I don’t feel he’s one of the top few candidates for the Cy Young award. His 3.15 ERA on the year is really good, and his 22 wins — given, wins aren’t as big of a deal as they used to be — stand out, but Porcello didn’t quite do enough all around to earn my vote.

Holding the same fate, Masahiro Tanaka also had a fantastic year, posting a 3.07 ERA over the course of nearly 200 innings pitched for the Yankees. However, his all around stats don’t really hold up when compared to the others in the running. Even so, Tanaka looks to be the ace of the staff moving forward.

Aaron Sanchez’s season was also something special, recording an American League best 3.00 ERA, and virtually taking the Blue Jays to the postseason. With that said, he still didn’t do enough to win the award, as he made a handful of starts fewer than the frontrunners, leading to his strikeouts being lower.

Finishing third on my list is Corey Kluber, who had an amazing year despite it not being on the level we have seen before from Kluber in the year he won the Cy Young. Kluber struck out 227 batters over 215 innings pitched, and held opponents to a .216 average on the year, but likely won’t win the award when all is said and done.

Happening only a handful of times in baseball history, I’m not completely against a reliever winning the Cy Young award, but they have to have posted an unbelievably historic year. Zach Britton certainly fits that category, recording a 0.54 ERA on the season while notching 47 saves, but I don’t see him as more worthy than a certain Tigers’ ace.

The deserving winner of the American League Cy Young — even if he doesn’t wind up being the one to win it — is undoubtedly Justin Verlander. Having a bounce back season, Verlander lead all of the American League in strikeouts, with 254 on the season, and recorded a mere 3.04 ERA while holding opponents to a .207 average. All combined, Verlander is the rightful winner of the top honor for pitcher in the American League.

Justin Verlander Shines in First Start of 2016

A quick glance at the box score of Tuesday night’s Tigers game versus the Marlins wouldn’t necessarily leave you to believe it, but Justin Verlander was terrific on the evening. Yes, he gave up three earned runs; and no, he didn’t strike out a ton, or receive the win for that matter. But he showed flashes of the old Verlander that the baseball world has come to miss. Verlander

Following a 67 start stretch over the course of 2011 and 2012, in which Verlander went 41-13 with a combined 2.52 ERA, winning a Cy Young and MVP award, he has recorded a 3.84 ERA ever since. Heading into this season, you truly didn’t know what to expect from the six-time All-Star, but he hit the ground running right out of the gate in game one of the year for his 2016 campaign.

Verlander carried a no-hitter all the way into the sixth inning on Tuesday night. But, unfortunately, that’s when things began to fall apart. After surrendering hit number one, in the form of a double to Dee Gordon, Verlander proceeded to give up an RBI-single to Marcell Ozuna and a two-run homer to Giancarlo Stanton, which brought the score up to 5-3, Tigers. However, despite the poor inning, it was just that — one inning. Verlander had already proven in the previous five that he still has a ton of talent remaining.

It’s been quite some time since Justin Verlander performed anywhere near the caliber of pitcher he was just a few seasons ago. However, if his first start of the year is any indication, the old Verlander could be on the verge of breaking out once again. For the Tigers’ sake, they better hope so. Detroit’s lineup is more than good enough to produce a very special season, but their starting rotation has a few question mark; the biggest of which being Verlander heading into this season.

Even so, if Justin Verlander can continue to build upon his outing on Tuesday night, the Tigers could end up surprising quite a few people around the baseball world when all is said and done.

Ten Players Who Need to Have A Good 2015 Season

Each and every season, there are always players with something to prove. Whether they’re looking to show that they can play at a competitive level that they’ve never lived up to; looking to show that they can be the dominant player they once were; or simply are looking for a good year for their team to have a good year — there are numerous players that you could categorize as having very important seasons coming up.

With that said, not every player that needs a good season is on the list I put together below. I can think of a few dozen players that arguably need to post solid numbers in 2015, but I couldn’t include them all, and had to make some difficult exclusions. Just the opposite, there could be a few players on my list that you don’t think need a good season. Either way, this is just a list of ten players — not necessarily the “top ten” — that I feel need a good 2015 season for one reason or another:

1.) Justin Verlander

For the majority of his career, Justin Verlander has been an unbelievable pitcher. But for the 2011, 2012 seasons, he was on an entirely different planet. Going 41-13 with a 2.52 ERA over those years, and racking up a Cy Young award and MVP for his efforts in 2011, Verlander was arguably the best pitcher in baseball. Lately, however, he hasn’t been the same player. Since 2013, Verlander has posted a combined 3.99 ERA over the course of 66 starts. Given, some of that may have been due to some injuries — injuries that Verlander claims are completely healed now. Now that Max Scherzer is gone, if the Tigers stand any shot at making the World Series like they play for every year, they need a dominant Justin Verlander each and every start throughout the coming regular season.

2.) Ryan Howard

HowardInjuries have not been kind to Ryan Howard over the past three years or so. The once feared slugger, with MVP caliber numbers year after year after year, hasn’t put up very much production for the Phillies in quite awhile. After hitting 58 home runs in 2006, and putting up 45+ home runs and 136+ RBI’s in the three years following that historic season, Howard has failed to hit more than 23 home runs in a season since. Battling aforementioned injuries, Howard played in less than half the Phillies games in 2012 and 2013, but had a decent season last year, with 23 homers and 95 RBI’s over 153 games played. But those numbers aren’t good enough for the Phillies or their historically verbal fans. If he wants to regain both his stardom and the support of the fans, Ryan Howard needs a healthy, productive 2015.

3.) Jackie Bradley Jr.

Unlike the previous two players on my list, Jackie Bradley Jr. doesn’t make the top ten for me because he has fallen from previously good seasons. Bradley still has something to prove — both to the Red Sox and their fans. Once one of the top prospects in all of baseball, Bradley’s Gold Glove caliber defense has been shown off at the big league level, however, his ability to hit hasn’t yet arrived. It needs to do so in 2015. With so much outfield depth for the Red Sox — including Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo — it may already be too far gone for Bradley to make his all around game appear for the Red Sox. However, if he does in fact get the chance this season, he needs to show the Red Sox that he isn’t just a good outfielder but an all around good baseball player.

4.) Bryce Harper

As with Jackie Bradley Jr., the 2015 season is a crucial one for Bryce Harper. While Harper hasn’t underperformed, he hasn’t lived up the unbelievable hype either. Cranking out just 13 home runs last season, all while battling injuries, Harper needs to have a healthy, breakout year this season. If Harper can stay healthy, and can fully tap into his power, he truly has 40 home run potential. And remember, despite the fact that he’s been in the big leagues for three seasons, Harper is still just 22 years old. There’s still plenty of time for him to develop into the superstar player he was coined when he was drafted first overall in 2010. If the Nationals can perform well as a whole, along with their pitching staff staying healthy, and with Bryce Harper thrown into the mix, the World Series is theirs to lose.

Rodriguez5.) Alex Rodriguez

What can I say? Alex Rodriguez could hit 80 home runs this season and people still wouldn’t like him. But while Rodriguez can’t win back the majority of the fans around baseball, he still needs to have a good season, for his sake at least. Coming back from a 162-game suspension in 2014 for further performance enhancing drug use, A-Rod is heading into the season having not produced for the Yankees since 2010, when his streak of thirteen straight seasons with 30+ homers and 100+ RBI’s ended. No one expects him to return to that form this year, but the Yankees need him — even if they don’t want him. Their team is still a big question mark, with all the talent in the world but no guarantee things will go as planned. Alex Rodriguez needs to perform for the Yankees season to have a shot at a great one.

6.) Curtis Granderson

Curtis Granderson has never been a superstar player, but he has been a consistent outfielder over the course of his eleven year career. For six straight seasons (2007-2012), Granderson was able to post upwards of 20 home runs a season, with 2011 and 2012 being his best years by far, with 40+ homers and 100+ RBI’s. Since then, however, Granderson hasn’t been the same. While he hit 20 home runs last season for the Mets, he only batted .227. Though he’s never been a guy that hits for a high average — an all or nothing type hitter — Granderson still needs to hone things in a bit in the coming season. The Mets are getting Matt Harvey back, and if Curtis Granderson can produce along with the rest of the team, the Mets could end up shocking some people.

7.) Melvin Upton Jr.

Formerly known as B.J. Upton, Melvin Upton Jr. definitely needs to have a good season. After losing Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, and Melvin’s brother, Justin Upton, in trades this offseason, the Braves are widely regarded as a much weaker team than they have been recently. While they could still be a playoff team, it will take production from every single player — and that includes Upton Jr. Since leaving the Rays following a 28 homer, 78 RBI 2012 season, Upton Jr. hasn’t been the same, batting a combined .198 over the past two years. He needs to step up his game and bring his totals back to the former standout player he used to be. However, with reports that Melvin Upton Jr. will miss the first month or so with a foot injury, things aren’t starting off too well for his 2015.

8.) Tim LincecumTim Lincecum

Tim Lincecum has picked up two World Series rings over the past three years (he has three rings overall), but he did little in those two seasons to produce for the Giants. After back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009, when Lincecum went a combined 33-12 with a 2.55 ERA, Lincecum hasn’t been anywhere close to that level over the past few seasons. Since 2012, Lincecum is a combined 32-38, with a staggering 4.76 ERA. Those are certainly subpar numbers for ‘The Freak’. For a guy who has gone from a dominant starter to a part time reliever, it truly is unfathomable what has gone wrong with Lincecum and his performance. With so much uncertainty, this is a make or break season in my mind for Tim Lincecum. I’ll certainly be rooting for him.

9.) Joc Pederson

The only rookie on my list, and the second youngest player (Bryce Harper is six months younger than Pederson), Joc Pederson is the player that you don’t really know what to expect, but needs to have a good year anyway. It’s a lot of pressure on Pederson, but with the Dodgers trading away Matt Kemp to the Padres this offseason, they’ve now cleared the spot for phenom prospect Pederson to take over moving forward. After having the first 30 homer, 30 stolen base season in the Pacific Coast League since 1934, Pederson made his major league debut in 2014, but didn’t really live up to the hype, batting just .143 and striking out 11 times in 28 at-bats (admittedly, a small sample size). Even so, there are a lot of people who still believe Joc Pederson will be able to fill Matt Kemp’s shoes.

10.) Ichiro Suzuki

This is an interesting case. Ichiro Suzuki could quit right now and have Hall of Fame worthy numbers. But with him stating that he wants to continue playing for several more years, and not getting a lot of offers this past offseason, he needs to play well. Unlike last year with the Yankees, he should see more playing time with the Marlins in 2015, which should allow his always consistent numbers to be there. But with the Marlins only willing to offer him a one-year contract, he needs to prove that he is worth taking a chance on in the future. Sitting just 156 hits shy of 3,000 for his major league baseball career, Ichiro may not get there in 2015. So if he wants to reach the amazing milestone, it’ll take at least one more season, which will likely come from a good season this year.

*Originally, I had Josh Hamilton on this list, but in light of his current off the field battle, I decided to replace him with Curtis Granderson. I certainly wish Josh Hamilton the best.