Bests, worsts and more of the 2013 season to date
Over the next couple of days, the 2013 regular season will pass the one-quarter mark. While the performances we've seen are based on small samples and thus still include their share of statistical flukes, we thought it would be a good time to review some bests, worsts, mosts, leasts and other extremes regarding what we've seen from players and teams so far.
Best hitter: Miguel Cabrera. I'll go to my grave without conceding for a moment that Mike Trout deserved the AL MVP award last year, but the Tigers slugger is batting .375/.448/.612 this year, and that's hardly a fluke; he has .337/.422/.605 line since the beginning of the 2010 season.
Best pitcher: Clayton Kershaw or Justin Verlander. This is a total tossup between two hurlers who have dominated their leagues above all others over the past few years. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Kershaw has the higher strikeout rate in that span (9.3 per nine to 9.0) and the two are exactly even in ERA+ (154), while Verlander has the higher Wins Above Replacement total (22.7 to 21.0) thanks to a 35 1/3-inning advantage in the designated hitter league.
Best player age 21 or under: Bryce Harper. His .303/.400/.622 start with 10 homers underscores the notion that the 19-year-old we saw last year still has plenty of room to grow his game. He has outplayed Trout (.286/.352/.522 with seven homers), and while the latter is heating up, he's currently buried on an Angels team that's going nowhere. Also making a case to enter this discussion is 20-year-old Manny Machado, who's hitting an impressive .329/.367/.515 for a better-than-expected Orioles team thus far.
Best start to a free agent deal: Anibal Sanchez. He didn't change teams, but after re-signing with the Tigers via a five-year, $80 million deal, he's sparkled thus far, delivering seven quality starts out of eight with a 2.05 ERA, 11.3 strikeouts per nine and a 5.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The highlight so far has been his MLB-best 17-strikeout performance against the Braves on April 26.
Worst start to a free agent deal: Josh Hamilton. Signed to a five-year, $125 million contract that the Angels hoped would shift the balance of power in the AL West, Hamilton has looked utterly lost at the plate, hitting .214/.266/.364 with five home runs — four of them against the Astros — and a 44-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Best case for a long-term extension: Kershaw. The Dodgers' ace was rumored to be close to a record-setting $200 million extension just before Opening Day. That deal hasn't come to pass yet, and given the 25-year-old southpaw's stance on not negotiating during the season, it may not until the winter, but in the meantime, Kershaw appears to be on his way to a second Cy Young. After coming within one out of his second shutout of the season on Tuesday night, he has an NL-best 1.40 ERA while striking out 9.4 per nine and allowing just 5.5 hits per nine.
Best post-trade performance: Justin Upton, who's hitting .285/.398/.635 with an MLB-high 13 homers after being acquired by the Braves in January, and giving the Arizona fans a taste of what they've been missing. Honorable mentions to Shin-Soo Choo (.305/.456/.539 for the Reds, even with some rough defense) and the Royals' new 1-2 punch, James Shields and Ervin Santana (2.48 and 2.79 ERAs, respectively).
Worst post-trade performance: Joel Hanrahan. Acquired from the Pirates in December and almost immediately anointed the Red Sox closer, Hanrahan was touched for a 9.82 ERA in nine appearances, blew two of his first six save opportunities and hit the disabled list twice, first for a hamstring injury in mid-April and more recently for a flexor tendon tear that will require season-ending surgery.
Best desperation move: Trading for Vernon Wells. After batting just .222//.258/.409 for the Angels over the past two years, he's hitting .300/.353/.521 with nine homers for the Yankees, and helping them overcome a slew of injuries.
Most unlikely comeback from oblivion: Scott Kazmir. With two years remaining on his contract, Wells was likely to get at least some shot at reversing his slide. Not so for this 29-year-old lefty, who fell apart during the 2010 season, made just one major league start over the past two years and couldn't even put it together with the indie-league Sugar Land Skeeters last year. His overall 5.33 ERA is nothing to gloat about, but Kazmir has improved considerably since being rocked in his first start. He's notched 28 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings, including 10 in six innings versus the A's on May 9, when his fastball was clocked as high as 95-96 mph, velocity he hasn't touched since 2009.
Best comeback from injury: Troy Tulowitzki. Out after May 30 last year due to a groin injury, the 28-year-old shortstop has restaked his claim among the game's top players by hitting .324/.409/.622 with eight homers, including a .284/.359/.567 line on the road.
Unluckiest player alive: Brian Roberts. Limited to just 115 games and a .244/.308/.340 over the last three seasons due to a variety of injuries, the 35-year-old second baseman appeared to be on the rebound with a strong spring, but he ruptured a hamstring tendon after playing in just three games. He was supposed to miss "only" three or four weeks, but due to a slower-than-anticipated recovery, he underwent surgery last week and will be out until at least the end of June.
Best execution of an offseason blueprint: Red Sox. Not every player they've added has worked, but under new manager John Farrell, the Red Sox are 22-17 and emitting much more positive vibes than they did last year under Bobby Valentine. Jon Lester (2.73 ERA) and Clay Buchholz (1.69 ERA, 9.2 K/9) are pitching like the frontline pitchers they were when Farrell was their pitching coach, Ryan Dempster (3.75 ERA) has held up adequately in the AL East, and while the closer situation has been a hot mess, the rest of the bullpen has done enough to keep the team in the playoff hunt. Mike Napoli (.261/.319/.523) has provided punch, Shane Victorino (.297/.358/.378) has rebounded at least somewhat, Stephen Drew is coming around (.326/388/.512 in May) after missing almost half of April due to a concussion, and David Ross and Mike Carp have provided pop off the bench.
Worst execution of an offseason blueprint: Blue Jays. It's not just the 16-24 record, which has all but buried their chances of making it back to the playoffs for the first time since 1993. It's the performances of all the players general manager Alex Anthopoulos brought north of the border to ramp up expectations. R.A. Dickey has been mediocre at best, with a 4.85 ERA through nine starts, and declining velocity that suggests he'll struggle to live up to his contract extension. Jose Reyes has proven all too fragile, lost after just 10 games for what may be half a season. Mark Buehrle (6.19 ERA) and Josh Johnson (6.86 ERA) have stunk to high heaven, with the latter hitting the disabled list after four starts, thus ensuring he again won't come close to a 30-start season. Emilio Bonifacio (.198/.229/.341), Maicer Izturis (.218/.244/.336) and Melky Cabrera (.278/.312/358) haven't exactly rewarded Anthopoulos' genius either.
Most surprising team (positive division): Yankees. At 25-14, they have the best record in the American League despite a lineup where more than half of the intended starters — Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis and Francisco Cervelli — remain on the disabled list due to injuries even after Curtis Granderson's activation. The offense's 4.31 runs per game is understandably a bit below the league average, but the pitching has been great, yielding 3.64 runs per game, the second-best mark in the AL.
Most surprising team (negative division): Angels. Admittedly, it was a mistake not to consider the volatility of the Blue Jays due to their potential for injuries, but few thought the Angels would be this bad. They are 15-24 — worse than any AL team besides the Astros — and have a −37 run differential, the third-worst in the league. Both the offense (4.10 runs per game) and pitching/defense (5.10 runs per game) have been among the league's worst, and aside from losing Jered Weaver to injury, they don't really have a good excuse.
Most surprising turnaround: Colorado Rockies. Losers of 98 games last year, with a very quiet offseason aside from hiring the untested Walt Weiss as manager, the Rockies are off to a 21-18 start, right in the thick of the NL West race. Dexter Fowler is showing that last year's breakout was no fluke, Tulowitzki has rebounded from injury in spectacular fashion, Carlos Gonzalez has been mashing and the starting pitching hasn't been an embarrassment, with Jorge de la Rosa (2.98 ERA) and Jhoulys Chacin (2.70 ERA) showing why they were missed so much last year.
Most likely to end their long streak of futility: Pirates. The Royals may be 19-17, but they've lost seven out of their last nine games, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer have yet to show signs of turning things around and they've yet to deal with the pressure of being on pace to stop a decades-long losing streak only to fall flat. The 22-17 Pirates have been there and done that, thank you very much. They're getting good pitching (3.77 runs per game, fourth in the league), they appear to have a budding star to play alongside Andrew McCutchen in Starling Marte (.314/ .382/.481) and the offseason acquisitions of Russell Martin, Mark Melancon and — having finally made his 2013 debut — Francisco Liriano have worked out thus far. They may not be playoff-bound, but they have a legitimate chance of posting their first winning season since 1992.
Best hot start that won't last: James Loney. Signed by the Rays to a modest $2 million deal after hitting a pathetic .249/.293/.336 last year split between the Dodgers and Red Sox — the culmination of a long slide into offensive inadequacy — Loney is currently hitting .381/.431/.566, leading the AL in batting average while ranking third in on-base percentage and seventh in slugging percentage. The foundation of his performance is a .408 batting average on balls in play, 100 points higher than his career mark, and his .186 isolated power is 40 points higher than it's been in any season since his 2007 rookie campaign; neither will hold up. He's teased us before, most recently by hitting .357/.416/.608 over the final two months of the 2011 season — and look how that turned out.
Best reason to check in on an otherwise terrible team every fifth day: Matt Harvey. The 24-year-old Mets phenom has allowed more than two runs in just one of his eight starts (seven quality starts) and has delivered a 1.44 ERA while striking out 9.9 per nine. The highlight thus far has been his near-perfect one-hit, 12-strikeout performance against the White Sox on May 7, though his offense's failure to score prevented him from notching a shutout or a win (they did win in 10 innings). The Mets are 8-20 on days he doesn't start, thanks in large part to the non-Harvey starters' 5.70 ERA.
Best rookie: Shelby Miller. Even before his 13-strikeout, one-hit shutout of the Rockies on May 10 — the best-pitched game of the year according to his Game Score of 98 — Miller was making a strong case, with an ERA below 2.00 and more than a strikeout per inning. Including that start, he has a 1.58 ERA, 10.1 strikeouts per nine, a 4.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and five quality starts out of seven.
Dumbest idea floating around the ether: A Mike Scioscia-for-Don Mattingly trade. The Angels and Dodgers (16-22) are off to lousy starts, but the idea that they should swap managers simply because of that is just silly. The early returns on the Farrell deal to the contrary, manager trades rarely work (see Ozzie Guillen and Lou Piniella), and there's nothing to suggest that either skipper would suddenly have a magic touch when handed a completely different roster from the one he spent the past several months preparing to handle, to say nothing of being dropped cold into a new front office dynamic (not that the one in Anaheim seems healthy). While Scioscia spent 13 years playing for the Dodgers, it's not as though he has any familiarity with their current infrastructure, and just because the team is made of money doesn't mean it's hungry to absorb the larger half of the 10-year, $50 million deal he signed that runs through 2018. This article has been updated to remove Russell Martin from the trades category; he signed with the Pirates as a free agent.