These five hitters have gotten off to strong starts in 2019. Their big numbers are here to stay.
Let’s go back to April of last season. Didi Gregorius was leading the league in home runs and WAR. Matt Carpenter and Anthony Rizzo had a lower batting average than Chris Davis. The Mets were in first place and the A’s were in fourth.
It’s easy to get carried away when players and teams get off to unexpectedly hot starts. The hard part is determining which of them can last until October. Nobody is immune to the Curse of Small Sample Sizes. As the second full week of the season begins, here are five strong starts that will continue throughout the 2019 season.
Gary Sanchez, Yankees
Sanchez had a dreadful 2018 campaign, filled with injuries, poor defense and a .186 batting average. Almost anything he does this season will be better than last year. But after hitting three home runs in the Yankees’ 15-3 win over the Orioles, Sanchez looks like the hitter we expected him to be after belting 20 homers in 53 games as a rookie followed by an All-Star nod in 2017. He still has too many mental lapses, such as getting picked off twice in the Baltimore series this weekend—but the best way not to get thrown out on the bases is by crushing dingers. El Gary can do that with the best of them. He already has six homers this season, four of which have come in the last three games.
Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
Bellinger is off to the best offensive start of anyone not named Mike Trout. Through his first 10 games, the 23-year-old is slashing .455/.489/1.023. He leads the majors with seven home runs, 17 runs scored and 18 RBIs. Most of us expected a strong season from Bellinger after hitting 39 homers and winning the Rookie of the Year in 2017. He had a solid sophomore campaign in 2018 (though he was a victim of regression), but so far he looks better than almost everyone anticipated. His average exit velocity thus far is 96.2 mph, per Statcast, more than six miles per hour better than his 2017 and 2018 marks. Combine that harder contact with his 12.8% strikeout rate, a drastic improvement from the 23.9% and 26.6% marks in his first two seasons, and you have all the makings of a productive slugger.
Kolten Wong, Cardinals
Wong has showed flashes of brilliance since finishing third in the 2014 Rookie of the Year voting. He just hasn’t been able to do it for a full season. Wong’s hot start to the 2019 campaign looks different, though. Of course, his .433/.486/.867 slash line isn’t sustainable, but it’s reasonable to expect Wong to put up similar numbers to what he did in the second half of last year (.317/.384/.439). What changed? One of the few tangible events is the Cardinals' managerial switch last season. Since Mike Matheny's ouster last July, Mike Shildt has boosted the morale of the team, and the Cardinals were so impressed with Shildt that they removed his interim tag just 45 days after he took over. Could Wong’s improvement be the result of a fresh start? It sure looks that way.
Tim Beckham, Mariners
The Mariners’ unexpected hot start is probably not sustainable, but what we’re seeing from shortstop Tim Beckham is legitimate. The Rays selected Beckham with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft, and although his time in Tampa didn’t work out, the Mariners are getting what the Rays originally saw in him. Beckham is on fire through the first 11 games. He’s slashing .400/.489/.825 and is a major reason why Seattle is off to a 9-2 start despite its inconsistent pitching and downright awful defense.
Lorenzo Cain, Brewers
Cain is an analytical darling thanks to his elite defense in center field, baserunning and consistent bat. At the top of the Brewers’ lineup, he is the ideal catalyst for a team featuring NL MVP Christian Yelich, Ryan Braun and his former Royals’ teammate Mike Moustakas. He posted a 5.7 fWAR in his first season with Milwaukee, and he could be poised for even better 2019. Through 10 games, Cain is slashing .368/.432/.553. More of the same from one of the game's most well-rounded outfielders.