Touring the Museum of April Statistical Oddities: Hitters
Welcome to the Museum of April Statistical Oddities, where we get a look at such priceless gems as the veteran lefty slugger batting .100 and the young lefty slugger hitting over .500, or the outfielder who is on pace for an 81-home-run season.
With just three weeks in the books thus far, every statistic relevant to the 2013 season is the product of a small sample size, one almost certainly inadequate for drawing any conclusion about a player's performance, for better or worse. Josh Hamilton's .222/.284/.361 line is not evidence that the Angels made a mistake in signing him to a five-year, $125 million deal. Ervin Santana's 2.48 ERA doesn't prove that the Royals were smart to absorb his $12 million salary and consider him a frontline pitcher. Brandon Crawford's .303/.387/.500 showing doesn't mean he's suddenly a two-way threat at shortstop.
Even so, it's impossible not to gawk at the extreme statistics that have been generated thus far while imagining that we're seeing Hitter X turn into a videogame version of Barry Bonds or Pitcher Z giving off telltale signs that he's ready for the glue factory. So what follows here are some eye-popping numbers from the young season — the good, the bad and the ugly alike — with a bit of explanation as to why they stand out, at least from this vantage. The players are listed alphabetically, individually or by first in a multi-player group. First, we'll explore the hitters' wing of this museum; later we'll tour the pitcher's gallery.
Jesus Montero, Mariners: .224/.250/.306
Justin Smoak, Mariners: .208/.305/.236
Dial M for Man, That's Awful. Moving the fences in at Safeco Field was supposed to jumpstart Seattle's offense, particularly when it came to the team's youngish core. Instead, the Mariners are dead last at 3.24 runs per game (3.10 at home), and Ackley, Montero and Smoak — all of whom are facing make-or-break years, developmentally — have combined to hit .208/.266/.251 with one home run and five extra base hits between them. One positive for Seattle: Kyle Seager has a league-high 10 doubles in 20 games.
The Cardinals have more good hitters than they have lineup spots. Manager Mike Matheny is already shoehorning Matt Carpenter into the lineup at second base, and he's trying to find more playing time for Adams, a solid 24-year-old first base prospect who's blocked in the lineup by Allen Craig, who's no slouch himself and who knows all about bashing his way off the bench. In eight games — two of them just pinch-hitting appearances — Adams has five multi-hit games and has collected six extra-base hits (three doubles and three homers), and has put up absurd slash stats.
So much talk this spring centered on these young centerfielders, and whether their strong Grapefruit League showings were evidence not only that they were ready for the majors despite relatively little upper level minor league experience (129 games of Double-A for Hicks, 61 for Bradley), but that their service clocks were worth starting as of Opening Day. Thus far, the answer appears to be no. Bradley has already been sent to Triple-A after going just 3-for-31 with six walks in 12 games, in part due to the return of David Ortiz from the disabled list. Hicks is still up, but he's been as frigid as the Twins' Target Field home, going just 3-for-51 with nine walks even after getting a hit on Sunday.
John Buck, Mets: 7 HR, 22 RBI
Lucas Duda, Mets: .273/.475/.659
A throw-in in not one but two winter blockbusters (the Marlins' firesale and the R.A. Dickey trade), Buck was merely supposed to hold down the fort behind the plate while prospect Travis d'Arnaud reestablished himself after missing more than half of last season with a knee injury. d'Arnaud is suddenly back on the DL with a broken metatarsal — an injury that could cost him eight weeks — while Buck has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Mets. Coming off a dismal .192/.297/.347 line with the Marlins last year, he's hit .290/.303/.661 thus far, while leading the league in RBIs and ranking tied for second in homers, more than halfway to last season's total of 12 and he's helped the Mets lead the league in scoring at 5.82 runs per game.
Duda has been a big part of that as well, not only via his five homers (four of which have come in two multi-homer games) but his 15 walks, which ranks second only to Joey Votto. He's shown impressive selectivity, averaging 4.6 pitches per plate appearance, up from 4.1 last year; his 24.6 percent walk rate is around two and a half times his previous career mark of 10.0 percent.
Joey Votto, Reds: .304/.500/.478, 26 BB, 7 RBI
Choo has looked absolutely brutal in centerfield, but he's been getting on base at an insane clip, thanks in part to 10 hit-by-pitches, a pace for 81 (the single-season record — ouch — is 50). That's put him on a blistering pace to score 138 runs, and more importantly, it's marked a vast improvement for the Reds' out of the leadoff spot, where their hitters combined for a .208/.254/.327 showing last year. While that's sparked Cincinnati to an impressive 5.55 runs per game, it hasn't translated to additional ribbies for Votto, because pitchers are avoiding him like the plague. He's walking in 33 percent of his plate appearances with men on base, and 30 percent with men in scoring position, while his three homers and five extra base hits have all come with the bases empty.
Brandon Crawford, Giants: .303/.387/.500
When Crawford improved from .205/.288/.296 in 2011 to .248/.304/.349 last year, it was hailed as a breakthrough that made the slick-fielding shortstop playable as a regular. Nobody expected his offensive advancement to continue much further, but within the wee sample of this season, he's suddenly hitting for power (three homers, one shy of last year's total) and showing decent patience (9.2 percent unintentional walk rate, up from 5.7 percent last year). It's possible some of the 26-year-old's improvement sticks, but don't hold your breath.
After a 33-homer breakout season last year, Davis has gotten off to a blistering start. He came into Monday in position to win the Triple Crown — he only has to hold on for another five and a half months! — with a .403 batting average, seven homers and 22 RBIs, though he surrendered both the batting and RBI leads on a hitless Monday night. Most impressive has been his home run rampage; after hitting seven in his final seven games in 2012 (though not one in every game), he homered in each of his first four games of this year, giving him 11 in 11 games.
Jeff Keppinger, White Sox: .171/.167/.184
A contact-centric player who doesn't have a ton of power or patience, Keppinger is only as good as his batting average, and right now, he stinks. He has just one extra base hit in 78 plate appearances, and because he has no walks but two sacrifice flies, his on-base percentage is actually lower than his batting average. Dunn is Keppinger's polar opposite, a Three True Outcomes player who is likely to strike out, homer or walk in around half of his plate appearances. Thus far, he's walked as many times as he's homered (three), and has struck out in a whopping 37 percent of his PAs, producing a line that looks even worse than his infamous 2011 bellyflop (.159/.292/.277).
Mike Trout, Angels: .291/.337/.481
Well, there's the early answer to one burning question asked of the SI staff experts for our season preview. Trout has been decent, but Harper, who homered in his first two plate appearances of the season, has been sensational, tied for second in the league in homers, and third in OPS.
Overshadowed by the acquisition of the Brothers Upton — one of whom is tearing the cover off the ball, the other of whom is not (B.J., .167/.247/.303) — Heyward is still the youngest of the Braves' three starting outfielders by almost a full two years. He hasn't come anywhere near the .277/.393/.456 he hit as a rookie in 2010, but of course he's never been anywhere near this awful; though Sunday, his batting average was the lowest among NL qualifiers. The root of the problem is a .114 batting average on balls in play, which is nearly 200 points below his previous career mark, but it'll be at least a couple of weeks before he gets to improve it, as he underwent an emergency appendectomy on Monday night.
Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies: .667 SLG
Dexter Fowler, Rockies: .633 SLG
Michael Cuddyer, Rockies: .617 SLG
Last year, the Rockies lost 98 games and finished last in the NL West, and while their park-aided .436 slugging percentage ranked second in the league, they had just two players above .500. This year's team is off to a 13-5 start, good enough to top the division, and they're slugging .502, with no fewer than four regulars above .600. Aside from the 2000 Astros, no team has ever finished the year with more than two batting title-qualified players slugging .600. It's good to see Tulowitzki back in the lineup after missing four months of last season due to a groin injury.
Justin Upton, Braves: 9 HR, .761 slugging percentage
The trade that sent Upton from Arizona to Atlanta was one of the winter's big blockbusters, and to many (myself included) it looked like a particularly bad idea because the Diamondbacks sold low on a premium talent. In part because of an early season thumb injury, Upton hit just 17 homers all of last season while slugging .430, his lowest mark since his 43-game rookie stint in 2007. At the very least, it looks as though his power is back; in 2012, he didn't hit his ninth home run until Aug. 3. He's currently on pace for 81 home runs, which would smash Bonds' record of 73 and, of course, won't happen.
Travis Hafner, Yankees: .319/.418/.702 The banged-up Yankees are a respectable 10-8 and third in the league in scoring at 4.94 runs per game despite the fact that Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixiera are all on the disabled list. They've stayed afloat in part because of the resurgences of Wells and Hafner, who are tied for second on the team in homers with five apiece after combining for just 23 last year in part-time duty (11 for Wells, 12 for Hafner). Wells, acquired via trade during spring training, hit just .222/.258/.409 over the past two seasons with the Angels and walked just 36 times in 791 PA (4.5 percent). Thus far he's walked eight times in 75 PA (10.7 percent) and is halfway to last season's total of 16, (compiled in 262 PA). Hafner, signed as a bargain basement free agent — a move that was lauded because his pull-heavy approach fits with Yankee Stadium's short rightfield porch — is slugging .857 with three homers in 24 PA at home. Yeah, that'll hold up.