Photo courtesy of Jayne Kamin-Oncea – USA Today
Now that the first few weeks of the MLB season are complete, we can start to make some assumptions on teams and players. There is danger in doing that, as the season is merely 1/10 complete. Saying a team is going to win the World Series after such a small sample size is essentially the same thing as saying the Jacksonville Jaguars were Super Bowl bound after their 1-0 start to the 2020 NFL season. Yes, we can begin to gauge certain players and teams, but there is so much more baseball to be played. Because of this, I caution you to jump to conclusions on your favorite teams and players based on their performance through such a small part of the season.
Luckily, I’m here to settle things down and bring your thoughts back to Earth. Let’s dig into some early season takes and separate the Legit from the ones that just Won’t Hit.
Seattle Mariners (10-6)
The M’s are a team I had as one to look out for preseason. I stand by this statement, but Mariners fans shouldn’t get too excited by their division lead in the AL West just yet. 8 of their 10 wins are against teams currently below the .500 mark. Considering three of those teams are the White Sox, Twins and Astros, you can’t solely look at opposing team record, but the rest of the wins are against the lowly Giants and Orioles. Given their star in Kyle Lewis has yet to have an AB in the regular season, 10 wins is impressive.
The main reason I find this pace to be unsustainable is roster talent. Their starter with the lowest ERA is Chris Flexen with a 3.38 mark (I bet 90% of you don’t even know who that is). In the bullpen, Rafael Montero, Will Vest and Casey Sadler have been impressive, but I don’t think their record is sustainable with the lack of overall pitching talent available.
On the other side of the ball, they have 5 players over the 118 OPS+ mark, which is even more impressive when you consider Dylan Moore, Evan White, J.P. Crawford and Taylor Trammell aren’t any of those 5. Mitch Haniger has been especially impressive with 4 HR’s, 14 RBI and a .338/.357/.631 slashline.
My take: Won’t Hit. While the Mariners certainly can be a good team, I find the rate they’re traveling at unsustainable and they will run out of gas down the stretch.
Kansas City Royals (9-5)
Out of the current “surprising” division leaders, the Royals are the one I believe have the best shot at sustaining their early success. This team has been in rebuild since their World Series runs, as they have not posted a record above .500 since their title in 2015. Because of this, they have been able to focus on stockpiling young talent and developing those guys for another World Series run. While they are 2-2 in division play thus far, I’m impressed by them taking 2/3 from the Angels and 3/4 from the Blue Jays.
Team leaders Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield have gotten off to scorching starts, posting .291/.339/.619 and .321/.371/.547 slashes with a 165 and 157 OPS+ respectively. In the absence of Adalberto Mondesi, guys like Nicky Lopez, Michael A. Taylor and Kyle Isbel have picked up the slack.
On the other side of the ball, Brady Singer, Danny Duffy and Ervin Santana have impressed. Duffy leads the starters with a minuscule 0.75 ERA, while Singer and Santana have thrown their way to a 116 and 159 ERA+ respectively. The bullpen is the most impressive part of this team so far. out of 6 relievers with at least 5 IP, only 1 of them has an ERA eclipsing 2.84, and that is the aging Wade Davis. Flamethrower Josh Staumont has yet to allow a run in 7.2 IP. In short, I’m buying the pitching staff.
My take: Legit. I’m not saying I think the Royals will win the AL Central by any means, but they are more than capable of sustaining this pace if the bats can stay hot. They are more than capable of having their first season above .500 in the last five years.
Boston Red Sox (11-6)
The Sox are the most surprising of the three to be on this list. Yes, they have solid talent at the top of the roster with guys like Martinez, Devers, Bogaerts and Verdugo, but I’m shocked to see them in the driver’s seat of the AL East 17 games in. Consecutive sweeps of the O’s and Rays and taking 3/4 from the Twins led to them capturing the longest win streak in the MLB thus far at 9 games. When you remember they were swept in a 3-game series by the Orioles to start off the year in Fenway, their record is even more impressive.
The main reason for their current lead in the AL East is the scorching start they’ve had with the bats. They have a jaw dropping 7 guys with an OPS+ above league average currently. This lineup has been led by the aforementioned Martinez and Devers, who have each contributed 5 HR’s with 18 and 14 RBI’s respectively. Martinez has an absolutely bonkers slash line of .364/.426/.764 and when you throw in Bogaerts who comes to the table with a .386/.435/.491 slash, you start to understand why the Sox are in this position.
The pitching hasn’t been excellent by any means, but definitely better than what I expected. Nathan Eovaldi leads the staff with a 2.08 ERA and 14/4 K/BB ratio in 17.1 IP. Nick Pivetta and Eduardo Rodriguez both hold a sub 4.00 ERA and over 118 ERA+. Outside those three starters, the combination of Martin Perez, Garrett Richards and Tanner Houck has been sub-par, but the bullpen has picked up the slack. Of 7 relief pitchers who have thrown at least 5 innings so far, only one of them has posted an ERA over 2.45. While these numbers are impressive, they will not be sustainable in an AL East that has gotten off to a very cold start.
My take: Won’t Hit. It’s certainly impressive the start the Sox have had thus far, but they will come back down to Earth once the Yankees, Rays and Jays get hot. I see the ceiling of this team being a .500 season.
2021 Is the Year Byron Buxton Breaks Out
As I mentioned in my last article ranking my Top 10 Most Electric Players in the MLB, Byron Buxton is a guy that’s had a lot of hype for many years, but never has seemed to put it together. You could argue he “broke out” in 2020 when he posted 13 HR and 27 RBI with a .254/.267/.844 slash and a 127 OPS+, but I personally think he’s capable of much more than that at the plate. He also only managed to steal 2 bases all season, which I believe he can easily eclipse, as he’s already half way there in only 9 games this season compared to the 39 he played in last year.
This season, he’s gotten off to a red hot start, posting 5 HR and 9 RBI with a .469/.528/1.094 slash and a 362 OPS+ in his first 36 plate appearances. The biggest question with Buxton have always been health. In his 6 previous seasons, he never managed to play more than 140 games (2017), with his next closest total being 92 in the 2016 campaign. He’s already managed to miss 5 games this year, so I’m not ready to say this is the year he decides to be healthy, but he certainly has a shot.
My take: Legit. If he can play at least 120 games this year, I would consider that a huge win for the Twins. While he certainly will not continue at the same pace he’s on right now, I believe he will reward Twins fans with a very good season.
Shohei Ohtani Will Be a Face of the MLB
There was plenty of fanfare when Shohei Ohtani joined the Angels and made the move to the MLB in the 2018 season. He was touted as the next Babe Ruth, as we hadn’t seen a two-way player of his caliber since the early 1900’s. While he has flashed in his previous three seasons, he’s struggled mightily with injuries and hasn’t been able to consistently be that two-way player we all thought we were getting. While he has been an above average hitter, he struggled at the plate in 2020 and has largely been limited to a DH role. As far as his pitching goes, he was solid in 2018, throwing his way to a 4-2 record with a 3.31 ERA and 63 K’s in 51.2 IP. A UCL sprain that season prevented him from pitching at all until the 2020 campaign, where he has a brutal 37.80 ERA in two starts.
Once 2021 rolled around and the Angels brought in their new manager Joe Maddon, it seemed like things would change. He was adamant in saying Shohei would be a two-way player and they weren’t going easy on him. Given this opportunity, Shohei has obliged thus far. In his singular start so far this year, he went 4.2 IP allowing only 1 ER on 2 hits and tacking on 7 K’s. The blemish on this start was the 5 free passes he gave out. This is something he’s always struggled with, and I need to see him fix that before I’m higher on him as a pitcher. At the plate, he’s slugged 5 HR and has raked a mind blowing .552/.576/1.069. These numbers won’t be sustainable, but the dude is a beast with a bat in his hand.
The hype for Shohei this year is coming from the night he started on the mound. Not only was he mostly lights out on the mound, but he slugged a 451-foot moonshot to give himself some run support. His highest velo on the mound of 101.1 MPH and home run exit velo of 115 MPH were both the fastest pitch and hardest hit ball of the season by any player to that point. This game had guys such as the recently retired great CC Sabathia saying he was the best they’d ever seen. While his two-way capability and prowess are certainly impressive, I’m not sure his success in both facets is sustainable over an entire career, as he’s only 26 years old in 2021 and has already struggled mightily with injuries. I don’t think he’ll be one of the best players ever, but he’ll absolutely be a very exciting player to watch for years to come.
My Take: Legit. I don’t think he will be one of the best in the game on either side of the ball, but his insane God given talent and fan favorite status will make him a face of the game. He arguably already is.
Yermin Mercedes Is One of the Best Hitters in the AL
The Yerminator; one of the best stories of this young season. A former Rule 5 draft pick by the White Sox has gotten his first chance at regular playing time in the big leagues and he has not disappointed one bit. The 28 year old Minor League journey man has slugged his way to 4 HR, 12 RBI 22 hits, a .415/.456/.717 slash, the batting average and hit tally being tops in the AL thus far. A 485-foot bomb had fans losing their minds, and rightfully so. The man has serious pop and a very good hit tool. My favorite Yermin highlight of the year was his first appearance on a Major League field defensively being on the mound. His mix of a mid-80’s fastball and low 70’s breaking ball limited the Red Sox to a single run in their blowout loss.
I love this story just as much as the next guy, as everyone loves to see a Minor League journeyman not only finally make it to the Bigs, but have success at that level. The thing is I just don’t think the Yerminator will ever be in the running for one of the best hitters in the AL. He will be a surprisingly good replacement in that spot after the Sox lost Eloy Jiminez, but I expect his stats to come back down to earth by the end of the season. His odds to claim the AL ROTY award have recently climbed as high as +800 (3rd highest in the AL), which I think is a bit generous. Not that I don’t want the guy to prove me wrong, I just don’t think it’s very likely he will unfortunately.
My Take: Won’t Hit. I hate to slap that word on my guy Yermin, but he’s not going to continue at this rate. If you’re reading this, Yermin, please prove me wrong.
The Yankees Will Miss the Playoffs
The Bronx Bombers have recently made headlines for the opposite of what I and almost any other baseball fan would expect; having the worst record in the AL at 5-10 as of 4/19. This abysmal start can be chalked up to a lot of things, but I’m putting the blame on everyone except Gerrit Cole and the majority of the bullpen. The only player on the roster with a batting average above .300 is the backup catcher, Kyle Higashioka. While Lemahieu and Judge haven’t been awful, neither of them are playing up to their capabilities yet. Torres, Stanton, Hicks and Frazier are all hitting below the Mendoza line. Brett Gardner has been getting most of the starts in LF recently. The offense is so bad that it pushed Jay Bruce into retirement.
On the other side of the ball, the starting pitching outside Cole has been abysmal. Jordan Montgomery had one good start, but recently has run his ERA all the way up to 4.24, which is amazing when you compare it to Kluber’s of 6.10, Taillon at 7.56 and German at 9.00. The only way the Yanks have managed to pull 5 wins out of their asses has been the performance of the bullpen. Michael King, Chapman, Green, Jonathan Loaisiga, Luis Cessa and O’Day all have sub 2.00 ERA’s and Justin Wilson is just behind them at the 2.25 mark. Nearly every part of this team has been awful.
I’m most surprised that the 5-10 record isn’t even due to injuries, as none of the regular starters have missed more than 2 games yet. If that can be sustained, the Yanks will figure out how to get into the playoffs in the remaining 90% of the season. I think the starting pitching can be figured out eventually, whether or not that means giving guys like Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt and Michael King opportunities in that department, something needs to be done with the pitching.
My Take: Won’t Hit: The Yankees always find a way to make things work, and I don’t expect 2021 to be any different. I don’t think they’ll reach the 100-win mark as many people, myself included, expected, but they will make the playoffs. That’s a fact.