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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #22: Trevor Story and Gary Sanchez make big rookie splashes

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Neither Trevor Story nor Gary Sanchez won their league’s Rookie of the Year Award, but each of them probably got more ink than the respective winners, Corey Seager and Michael Fulmer, did. Dingers will do that.

Story, the Colorado Rockies’ shortstop, made his major league debut on April 4. He hit two homers that day. The next day he hit another. The day after that, another. The Rockies were off the next day, but in his fourth game he hit two more. He hit another in his sixth game to give him seven in the season’s first week. After that he slowed down, but finished April with 10 bombs and a slugging percentage of .696. The historical comparisons placed him in pretty lofty company, with his seven homers in his first six games putting him past Larry Walker, Mike Schmidt, and Willie Mays who had held the record with six each.

Story seemed to be on his way to the National League Rookie of the Year Award until a thumb injury ended his season in late July. When he went under the knife to fix it, he led the NL with 27 home runs, had posted 72 RBI and had a batting line of .272/.341/.567 in 415 plate appearances. The Rockies were at .500 at the time and were arguably in contention for a Wild Card birth. They’d finish the season by going 23-35 for a final record of 75-87.

Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez saw action in two big league games in a 2015 cup-of-coffee, and a single game in early May of this year, but didn’t make it to the majors for good until the Yankees’ 107th game of the season on August 3. He didn’t hit as many homers as Story did in either his first six games or in his entire rookie season, but he hit a ton in a shorter time overall. Indeed, by the time he played his 45th career game he had hit 19 homers, which set a major league record for the fastest to that total in history. Before that Wally Berger held the record with 17 homers in 45 games.

Not all fast-starting sluggers went on to great careers — famous flashes in the pan Sam Horn had 14 in his first 45 games and fellow Yankee Kevin Mass had 15 — but Sanchez did not appear to merely be taking advantage of pitcher mistakes or guessing luckily. He finished the 2016 season with a line of .299/.376/.657 with 20 homers in all and 42 driven in. He walked a good deal as well, suggesting that he’s no fluke by any stretch of the imagination.

As year-end honors tend to favor players who played full seasons, it makes sense that Michael Fulmer of the Tigers beat out Sanchez for the AL Rookie of the Year Award. And as Corey Seager had a better overall season, it was not surprising that he walked away with the NL Award, despite Story’s fast start. Heck, Seager had a good argument for the MVP Award, not just rookie honors.

But Sanchez and certainly got people talking. And that places them in our top-25 stories of 2016.

Giants remove pitching coach Dave Righetti

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After 18 years, 12 winning seasons, seven postseason runs and three World Championships, Dave Righetti is no longer a pitching coach for the Giants. He was removed from his post on Saturday, when the team announced a few reassignments as they shake up their coaching staff. Heading into the 2018 season, Righetti will serve as special assistant to general manager Bobby Evans, former bullpen coach Mark Gardner will step into a similar special assistant role to “assist in pitching evaluations,” and former assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will take a special assistant role in baseball operations.

According to MLB.com’s Chris Haft, Righetti was the longest-tenured pitching coach in the big leagues. He helped shape the careers of notable Giants’ aces like Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain — all Cy Young contenders (and, in Lincecum’s case, a two-time winner) at various points in their careers. He was there to assist Ryan Vogelsong during his stunning mid-career comeback in San Francisco. He helped newcomers like Chris Stratton and Ty Blach flourish even as the team stumbled to the bottom of the division. He was there to take the credit when a sterling rotation clinched the Giants’ 56-year, drought-snapping championship title in 2010 — and, when things went so horribly south in 2017, he took the blame as well.

Hardly anything went right for the Giants’ pitching staff in 2017. Madison Bumgarner was shelved after sustaining a serious shoulder injury in a dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto couldn’t shake a cluster of blisters on his right hand and Mark Melancon found it difficult to justify a $62 million paycheck after pitching through an arm injury to four blown losses/saves and a 4.50 ERA. It would be a lot for any pitching coach to stay on top of, and given the team’s rapid descent from 2016 postseason contenders to last-place finishers in 2017, it’s not surprising that Evans felt the need to switch things up.

Successors have yet to be named for Righetti, Gardner or Decker, though Murray hears that the Giants could have interest in former major league pitching coach Jim Hickey. NBC Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic adds that Evans is searching for someone to “put a new voice” on the pitching staff and will likely target someone who, like Righetti, brings considerable experience to the role.