Six players off to the best and worst starts so far for new teams
It’s always important to make a good first impression, or so they say. In baseball, that applies most to established players joining new teams. They want to win over not only the fans, but also their manager, front office and teammates (and, whether they admit it or not, the media, which can influence the opinions of all of the above) by making a big contribution early. Of course, things don’t always go as planned. With that in mind, here’s a quick look at the players who are off to the best and worst starts with their new teams this season.
Best First Impressions
I don't know exactly what the Tigers were expecting from the 26-year-old Greene when they acquired him from the Yankees, but it’s clear that he has thus far wildly exceeded those expectations. Occupying the third spot in the Tigers’ rotation with Justin Verlander opening the season on the disabled list, Greene held the Twins to one unearned run over eight innings in his Tigers debut. He was even better in his second turn Tuesday night against a far better Pirates team. In that game, Greene went another eight innings and held Pittsburgh scoreless, facing just two over the minimum and giving up only three singles, one of which was erased by a double play.
There have been eight starts of eight innings or more in the majors thus far this season; Greene has two of them, and he didn’t throw more than 85 pitches in either one. In his major league-leading 16 innings, he has allowed all of eight hits, only one for extra bases, and walked one batter. Having struck out just eight men, he has obviously been hit-lucky, but Greene is missing bats at an above-league-average rate, all of which suggests that his showing as a rookie last year (102 ERA+) was no fluke.
The big question regarding Morales this offseason was whether or not to disregard his 2014 performance. Burdened by the draft pick compensation attached to his free-agent price after a strong '13 with the Mariners, Morales went unsigned until after the draft last year. The Twins finally inked him on June 8, but having missed spring training and two months of the regular season, Morales struggled at the plate for the remainder of the season, finishing with a dismal .218/.274/.338 line. The Royals, opting not to reinvest in free-agent designated hitter Billy Butler, opted to look past Morales’s '14 and signed the Cuban native to a two-year, $17 million contract with a mutual option for '17 in the belief that the 31-year-old Morales had something left in the tank.
Thus far, Kansas City has been proven right. The Royals have opened the season 7–0, while Morales has a hit in every game (with an extra-base hit in five of them) as well as five walks (one intentional) against six strikeouts to produce a .414/.500/.724 line through the season’s first seven games. That gives him a 245 OPS+, the fifth-best mark in baseball to this point. In the last four games, Morales has gone 9-for-18 with two home runs and a double, picking up multiple hits in all four games. With all that time on base, he is tied for third in the majors with nine runs scored. Odds are he’ll eventually settle down to his 2012–13 level (.275/.329/.457, 121 OPS+), but even that would better either of Butler’s last two seasons.
Acquiring two years of Lind from the Blue Jays for Marco Estrada’s walk year this winter could very quickly prove a steal for the Brewers. While Estrada languishes in the Toronto bullpen, Lind is emerging as the best first baseman Milwaukee has had since Corey Hart in 2012. Lind has reached base in all seven of the Brewers’ games thus far this season, drawing five walks against just two strikeouts and hitting .417/.517/.708 to rank just a tick behind Morales among the major league leaders with a 244 OPS+. Worried about Milwaukee’s failure to supply the lefty-swinging Lind with a platoon partner? So far, Lind is 3-for-6 with a double, a walk and no strikeouts against lefthanded pitching this season. That may be a fluke, but Lind’s overall production, while certainly spiked, has not come out of nowhere: He hit .301/.366/.490 (135 OPS+) over the last two years with the Blue Jays.
All of that said, Lind was available for little return because of his struggles against lefties (which six at-bats don’t disprove), his fragility (he has averaged just 114 games per season over the last four years) and because of the collective .246/.296/.428 line he posted between 2010 and '12. This hot start may be enough to make one believe in his bat, but his back, which has sent him to the disabled list in three of the last four seasons, is another story.
Worst First Impressions
The Astros gave up three players for Gattis and 28-year-old minor league righty reliever James Hoyt in January, but all they have to show for it thus far are a pair of measly singles. Acquired as a man without a position, Gattis has settled in as Houston's designated hitter thanks to the team’s decision to return Jon Singleton to the minors to start the season, freeing up first base for Chris Carter. That raises the question: Does a designated hitter without any hits really exist? Gattis went 0-for-23 to start his Astros career, extending a hitless streak dating back to last year to 0-for-37, before singling to lead off the ninth inning of Houston’s 8–1 loss to the Athletics on Monday night. He added another single on Tuesday night, but not before making three outs in his first two at-bats thanks to a rally-killing double play in the first.
Gattis has been on base all of three times this season (adding an earlier walk to his two singles), tying him with Diamondbacks second baseman Chris Owings for the least among qualified batters, and even Owings has a higher on-base percentage than Gattis’s major league worst .103. Gattis’s 13 strikeouts, meanwhile, lead the American League (tied with two others, including teammate George Springer).
It’s still early, but Gattis’s horrendous start has raised questions about his health. He missed a close to a month last season due to a bulging disc in his neck, then lost a week in spring training due to a sore right wrist. That all ignores the fact that Gattis posted a 1.097 OPS this spring, hitting both of his spring homers after returning from the wrist injury. Still, such talk is a reminder of why first impressions can be so important for players joining new teams.
Acquiring Detwiler this winter to flesh out a rotation depleted by injuries wasn’t a terrible idea on the Rangers’ part. Detwiler had pitched well in the Nationals’ rotation in parts of 2011, '12, and '13 before spending all of '14 in the bullpen, and with injuries to Yu Darvish (Tommy John surgery) and Derek Holland (strained shoulder), the Rangers certainly had the need for a healthy arm. Detwiler wound up starting the third game of the season, but it didn’t go well, as the A’s touched him up for eight runs (five earned) in 4 1/3 innings. Detwiler did manage to lower his ERA in his next start, but only by giving up another five runs in 5 2/3 innings, four of those coming on fifth-inning home runs by Collin Cowgill and David Freese.
On the season, Detwiler is now 0–2 with a 9.00 ERA, the latter figure dead last among qualified AL pitchers. Behind that is an ugly 5:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio, tying Chris Tillman for an AL-worst 0.83 K/BB, and a 2.40 WHIP, which is third-worst in the majors. Perhaps most tellingly, Detwiller has pitched six fewer innings than Greene in his two starts yet has thrown 18 more pitches. The ability of Texas' opponents to match up righties against Detwiler, meanwhile, could ultimately send the lefty back to the bullpen. Righties hit .312/.383/.465 against Detwiler in 2014, and through his first two starts, 51 of the 54 batters he has faced have been righthanded; the lone lefty, the Angels' Matt Joyce, went 1-for-3 with a double.
3. Russell Martin, C, Blue Jays
Gattis’s .175 OPS might be the worst in the majors right now, but Martin ranks last in two of the three slash stats, having gone 1-for-23 this season. As a result, he has a matching .043 batting average and slugging percentage and an 0-for-21 streak of his own that will match Gattis’s 2015 0-fer if Martin doesn’t get a hit in his next two at-bats. Unlike Gattis, however, Martin hasn’t been completely useless during that slump. In the Blue Jays’ 10-7 win over the Orioles on Sunday, Martin walked twice in three trips, stole a base and scored a run, and plated a run with a sac fly in the second game of the season. He’s also still contributing behind the plate both with his pitch framing and by throwing out three runners thus far. Then again, it was Martin’s throwing error on a stolen base attempt Tuesday night that led to the winning run for the Rays in a 3–2 Toronto loss.