MLB's 50 Most Shocking Hot Starts: Will They Last?

Robert Knapel@@RobertKnapel_BRCorrespondent IApril 23, 2012

MLB's 50 Most Shocking Hot Starts: Will They Last?

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    During the first few weeks of every MLB season there are a number of players that get off to a hot start. Many of these performances are surprises as the players who are putting up outstanding early-season numbers were not expected to perform incredibly well.

    While it is easy to get excited about a good few weeks from a player, it is very easy to get overzealous about a player based on a very small sample size.

    About 10 percent of the season is done and there is a lot of time left. Many of these players may eventually fall back to Earth and have decent seasons, but for some players this could be the start of a great year.

    Each player will get a verdict of real or fake based on if they should be able to keep up a high level of performance this year.

Chase Headley

1 of 50

    The San Diego Padres have been waiting for Chase Headley to finally break out and have an outstanding season and it looks like this could be the year.

    Headley has gotten off to a quick start to the year and he has shown some good power. He will not be able to keep it up as his HR/FB percent is currently at 28.6 percent.

    Verdict: Fake

Josh Willingham

2 of 50

    After a 29-home run season in 2011, there are not many people that would question Josh Willingham's power. However, he has struggled to hit for a high average during his career.

    Fifteen games into the season Willingham has a .339 batting average. That number will fall as it is currently being propped up by Willingham's .378 BABIP.

    Verdict: Fake

Nolan Reimold

3 of 50

    Nolan Reimold has gotten a number of chances at the major league level, but he has never really been able to take advantage of his opportunities until now.

    To start the year, Reimold has hit .370 with five home runs through his first 11 games. Reimold's performance will certainly regress as he has a BABIP of .400, a walk rate of 2.1 percent and a HR/FB rate of 41.7 percent.

    Verdict: Fake

Carlos Pena

4 of 50

    It is known that Carlos Pena is not expected to hit for a high batting average. Since the 2009 season, he has not had a batting average higher than .227.

    This year, Pena is hitting over .300 through his first 15 games. He has a .389 BABIP and his line-drive rate of 21.6 percent is the highest of his career. Pena will see his average drop, but he gets a real grade because he looks like he could bat over .250 for the first time in five years.

    Verdict: Real

Alejandro De Aza

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    In 54 games for the Chicago White Sox last season Alejandro De Aza hit four home runs. Through the first 15 games of the 2012 season De Aza has hit three.

    De Aza's numbers seem to indicate that he will have a bit of a power surge this year. Since De Aza could slug 10 home runs this year, which would be a career high, his start is for real.

    Verdict: Real

J.D. Martinez

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    One of the biggest bright spots for the Houston Astros this season has been J.D. Martinez. He has gotten off to a torrid start to the year.

    Martinez has hit .340 with three home runs through his first 14 games of the season. A .412 BABIP is helping Martinez's average but his line-drive rate is significantly lower than it was last year. Time will tell if Martinez's start this year is for real.

    Verdict: Real

Omar Infante

7 of 50

    Throughout the first few weeks of the season, Omar Infante has proven to be an important part of the Miami Marlins' starting lineup.

    He has a .325 batting average and four home runs through his first 11 games. Infante should be able to keep his average up as his BABIP is currently .265. The power numbers should not be crazy for Infante this year, but he may break the 10-home run mark for the second time in his career.

    Verdict: Real

Adam Dunn

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    Following a 2011 season during which he batted below the Mendoza line and only hit 11 home runs, Adam Dunn looks to have turned things around a bit in 2012.

    Dunn is now batting .245 and has three home runs through his first 14 games. Unfortunately for the White Sox, Dunn's average is being driven by a .370 BABIP. He will have a higher home run total than 2011, but he will not return to being a 30-plus home run hitter.

    Verdict: Fake

Ruben Tejada

9 of 50

    Replacing Jose Reyes was not going to be an easy task for Ruben Tejada, but the New York Mets need to be pleased with his performance thus far.

    Tejada is tied for the National League lead with seven doubles so far this year and he is hitting .265 through his first 13 games of the year. As a 22-year-old, Tejada should continue to improve as the year goes on.

    Verdict: Real

Matt Kemp

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    It is not surprising that Matt Kemp has gotten off to such a good start, but what is surprising is how well he has performed.

    Kemp already has nine home runs and 22 RBI through his first 15 games. Additionally, he is batting close to .500.

    While Kemp will not keep up at this torrid pace, he will certainly continue to produce at a high level and he could run away with the NL MVP award.

    Verdict: Real

Ryan Sweeney

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    Ryan Sweeney was acquired by the Boston Red Sox in a deal with the Oakland Athletics this winter and the Red Sox must like what they have seen from Sweeney early on.

    It seems as if Sweeney has been getting hit after hit as he has batted .390 through his first 12 games. This will not keep up as Sweeney currently boasts a .444 BABIP and a 33.3 percent line-drive rate.

    Verdict: Fake

Justin Morneau

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    Coming into spring training it was unknown how much Justin Morneau would be able to play in 2012 as he was dealing with post-concussion issues.

    So far they have not been a problem for Morneau and he has been tearing the cover off of the ball. Through 13 games Morneau has hit .271 with four home runs. While he is no longer an MVP-caliber player, Morneau should put up solid numbers this year.

    Verdict: Real

George Kottaras

13 of 50

    Throughout his career, George Kottaras has served mostly as a backup catcher. He is in that role once again as he is behind Jonathan Lucroy on the Milwaukee Brewers depth chart.

    Kottaras has only had 21 plate appearances through his first 10 games of the year, but he has been incredibly productive when he has been at the plate. He has three home runs and a .400 batting average so far this year.

    Verdict: Fake

Kirk Nieuwenhuis

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    When the New York Mets lost Andres Torres to a calf injury at the begging of the season, they called upon Kirk Nieuwenhuis to take his spot in center field.

    The results have been great for the Mets as Nieuwenhuis has hit .325 with two home runs in his first 13 games in the majors. Nieuwenhuis will see his batting average fall, but he could hit more than 15 home runs this year if he plays everyday.

    Verdict: Real

Bryan LaHair

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    Competition can serve as an outstanding motivator and it has pushed Bryan LaHair this year. He is fighting to hold down the first-base spot for the Chicago Cubs as Anthony Rizzo is dominating the minors.

    LaHair is batting .353 through his first 13 games of the year and he has two home runs. His absurd .526 BABIP indicates that his average will drop and he has struggled with strikeouts as he has gone down on strikes in over a third of his plate appearances.

    Verdict: Fake

Eduardo Nunez

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    Utility men are an important part of any Major League Baseball team and the New York Yankees' Eduardo Nunez looks like one of the better utility men in the league.

    Nunez has gotten off to an incredibly hot start as he has hit .455 through his first 26 at-bats of the season. It should be clear that he cannot keep up this level of production.

    Verdict: Fake

Luke Scott

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    The Baltimore Orioles non-tendered Luke Scott after a rough season in 2011 and the Tampa Bay Rays decided that it would be worth giving him a shot.

    Right now that appears to have been a good decision for Tampa Bay as Scott is batting .275 with three home runs in 12 games. Scott has actually been a bit unlucky this year with a .258 BABIP and he should see his average increase.

    Verdict: Real

Kyle Seager

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    Kyle Seager has done a great job for the Seattle Mariners after winning the team's starting third-base job.

    The 24-year-old has gotten off to a good start to begin the year as he is batting .275 and have driven in six through 13 games. A .289 BABIP and a lower strikeout rate makes it look like Seager could be in for a solid season.

    Verdict: Real

Steve Clevenger

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    It looked like Steve Clevenger would spend all of the season as Geovany Soto's backup for the Chicago Cubs. However, the rookie catcher has been on fire to begin the year and Soto has struggled. This has caused some to believe that Clevenger deserves more playing time.

    In seven games this year Clevenger has hit .588. While it is a nice start, Clevenger's success may not be long lasting, the Cubs are going to enjoy it while they can.

    Verdict: Fake

Juan Francisco

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    Juan Francisco had shown a lot of promise when he was in the Cincinnati Reds' farm system, but he never really got a shot with the team.

    The Atlanta Braves acquired Francisco and he did a great job filing in when Chipper Jones was out. Francisco is batting .292 with two home runs in 25 plate appearances and he could eventually become the Braves starting third baseman next season.

    Verdict: Real

David Wright

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    Moving the fences in at Citi Field has certainly helped David Wright, who is once again looking like a high-caliber run producer in the middle of their lineup.

    Wright has begun the year on a tear as he is batting .439 with two home runs through his first 11 games. While his batting average is obviously unsustainable, it looks like Wright may be an All-Star-caliber third baseman this year.

    Verdict: Real

Travis Hafner

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    Travis Hafner looked like he would be a staple in the middle of the Cleveland Indians lineup for years following the production that he had in the mid-2000s.

    Injuries hit Hafner and he has struggled since 2008. This season has gotten off to a pretty good start for Hafner as he has batted .350 with two home runs through 11 games. If he stays healthy, Hafner can finally get back over the 20-home run mark.

    Verdict: Real

Emilio Bonifacio

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    There was some reason to believe that Emilio Bonifacio's good year in 2011 was a fluke, but his start to 2012 is making it look like it was the start of something.

    Bonifacio leads the MLB with nine stolen bases through his first 15 games and he is batting at just a shade under .300. Bonifacio may see his average drop a little bit, but he has shown that he is for real.

    Verdict: Real

A.J. Pierzynski

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    A.J. Pierzynski has had a number of good seasons in the past and he has come out firing on all cylinders this year.

    Four home runs through 12 games are half of Pierzynski's total from 129 games last year. He is batting .357 and a .306 BABIP seems to indicate that Pierzynski could hit for a high average this year.

    Verdict: Real

Matt Joyce

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    The 2011 season was a breakout year for Matt Joyce. It was uncertain if he would be able to repeat his success this season.

    Through the early part of the year Joyce has looked great. He is batting .308 with four home runs in 15 games. Joyce will see his batting average fall, but he should eclipse the 20-home run mark.

    Verdict: Real

Neftali Feliz

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    The Texas Rangers made the decision to move Neftali Feliz from the closer's role to their starting rotation and it has paid off so far.

    Feliz has gone 1-1 on the year with a 2.70 ERA through his first three starts. While he has been a bit lucky according to his 3.65 FIP, Feliz should be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter this year.

    Verdict: Real

Bartolo Colon

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    At one point in time Bartolo Colon was a Cy Young winner, but that was more than five years ago. Now, at age 38, Colon has looked like a potential Cy Young contender.

    Through his first four starts of the year for the Oakland Athletics, Colon has gone 3-1 with a 2.63 ERA. A FIP of 2.25 indicates that Colon could keep up his success, but he has been able to take advantage of a very low HR/FB rate and a .229 BABIP.

    Verdict: Fake

Kyle Lohse

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    Throughout his career Kyle Lohse has gone up and down between success and struggles. This season looks like it could be a good year for Lohse.

    In his first three starts, Lohse has a 0.89 ERA and he has won two games. Lohse is due to see his ERA rise, but this year could be another good season.

    Verdict: Real

Chad Billingsley

29 of 50

    One of the reasons why the Los Angeles Dodgers have been able to get off to such a good start in 2012 is because Chad Billingsley has been able to rebound after a tough 2011 season.

    Billingsley has gotten off to a great 2-0 start with a 1.33 ERA in three games, but he has been pretty lucky. He has left 98.4 percent of runners on base and has held hitters to a .212 BABIP. If Billingsley's success lasts throughout the year then so will the Dodgers' success.

     Verdict: Real

Lance Lynn

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    When the St. Louis Cardinals found out that they would be without Chris Carpenter to start the year they knew that they were going to need some of their other pitchers to step up.

    Lance Lynn has done exactly that through his first three starts. He has gone 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA. Lynn's success has been a bit of an early surprise and his 3.16 FIP, 98.2 LOB percentage and his .182 BABIP indicate that he will regress during the year.

    Verdict: Fake

Brandon Beachy

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    Few pitchers in the major leagues have gotten off to a better start this year than Brandon Beachy has. The Atlanta Braves starter has allowed just one run in 19.2 innings.

    This gives the youngster a 0.47 ERA to go along with his 2-1 record. Beachy was expected to take a big step forward this year and it looks like it is happening.

    Verdict: Real

Ryan Dempster

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    Ryan Dempster is a pitcher that underachieved during the 2011 season. He looked like he turned things around for the Chicago Cubs in 2012.

    Dempster has a 1.33 ERA through his first three starts but he is 0-1. A 2.51 FIP and a 2.94 xFIP seem to indicate that Dempster can pitch well this season. He is currently on the DL with a quad injury.

    Verdict: Real

Matt Harrison

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    For the second offseason in a row the Texas Rangers lost their top starting pitcher. This means that the players that were already in their rotation have needed to step things up.

    Matt Harrison has done that so far this year, going 3-0 with a 1.66 ERA through his first three starts. It appears as if Harrison is building on last year and that he will have another good season.

    Verdict: Real

Philip Humber

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    Philip Humber has already had the most shocking moment of the baseball season when he threw a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners.

    That was Humber's second start of the year and it gave him his first win while also lowering his ERA to 0.63. Humber could be turning the corner in his career, but he will need more success this year to prove that he is for real.

    Verdict: Fake

Jake Peavy

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    Back when he was pitching with the San Diego Padres, Jake Peavy was a star. Since being traded to the Chicago White Sox he has struggled on the mound and with injuries.

    Peavy has gotten off to a hot start to begin the year as he is 2-0 with a 2.75 ERA during his first three games on the mound. He has a 1.93 FIP and he could finally be able to return to his previous form.

    Verdict: Real

Ross Detwiler

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    The Washington Nationals have a chance to surprise a lot of people and make the playoffs this year and they are banking on the strength of their starting rotation.

    Ross Detwiler has had a great start to the year of the Nationals. He has won two of his first three starts and has a 0.56 ERA. The peripherals indicate that Detwiler should have a very solid season.

    Verdict: Real

Jake Westbrook

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    Jake Westbrook was a member of the world champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 and he is hoping to help lead the team to another title in 2012.

    Westbrook has had a great start to the season, allowing just three earned runs in his first three starts. This has allowed him to have a 1.31 ERA and a 2-1 record. Westbrook has held hitters to a .219 BABIP and he has yet to allow any home runs on the year. 

    Verdict: Fake

Barry Zito

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    At this point in his contract the San Francisco Giants are just hoping for any positive production from Barry Zito.

    He has done surprisingly well to start the year. Zito is 1-0 with a 1.71 ERA, but he does have a 4.65 xFIP. That xFIP is identical to his one from 2011 when he had a 5.87 ERA.

    Verdict: Fake

Jason Hammel

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    A change of scenery has been very helpful for Jason Hammel especially since he has moved away from the hitter-friendly Coors Field.

    Hammel has gotten off to a good start for the Baltimore Orioles. He has gone 2-0 with a 2.37 ERA in three starts. Once Hammel has a few more starts against the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays his production will not be as good.

    Verdict: Fake

Luis Perez

40 of 50

    Luis Perez was a rookie in the Toronto Blue Jays' bullpen in 2011 when he posted a 5.12 ERA in 37 appearances.

    This season, Perez has started off on the right food as he has not allowed a run through his first 10 innings pitched. Perez has a 2.05 FIP and he could be a decent reliever this year.

    Verdict: Real

Kyle Drabek

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    It was always known that Kyle Drabek has had a ton of potential, but he had yet to be able to make good on his abilities in the majors.

    The 2012 season has had a great start for Drabek. He has gone 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA in his first three starts and he is starting to look like a potential ace. While Drabek does have a 4.39 FIP, he should have the best season of his young career this season.

    Verdict: Real

Ted Lilly

42 of 50

    While he has not pitched poorly in each of the past two seasons, the last time that Ted Lilly had a winning season was three years ago with the Chicago Cubs.

    It appears as if Lilly is on his way to his first winning season since 2009. He has gotten off to a 2-0 start with a 0.69 ERA this year. His FIP is 3.41 which is slightly lower than his ERA has been for the past two years.

    Verdict: Real

Duane Below

43 of 50

    World Series contenders need to have a strong bullpen, so the Detroit Tigers must be very happy by Duane Below's early season performances.

    He has yet to allow a run through 10 innings. Below has a 1.55 FIP and he has shown very good control throughout the early part of the year.

    Verdict: Real

Carlos Zambrano

44 of 50

    Carlos Zambrano needed to find a way out of Chicago if he was ever going to be an effective starter again.

    Since joining the Miami Marlins, Zambrano has posted a 2.84 ERA in three starts. A 2.90 FIP seems to indicate that Zambrano can keep up his success, but a .170 BABIP seems to point in the other direct.

    Verdict: Fake

Wandy Rodriguez

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    The Houston Astros were unable to deal Wandy Rodriguez last season and now they are benefiting from having him in their rotation for the 2012 season.

    Rodriguez has gotten off to a great start and he now has a 1.96 ERA. Despite his good performances in three starts, Rodriguez is 0-2. Based on his FIP and his past track record, Rodriguez should have another pretty decent season.

    Verdict: Real

Danny Duffy

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    The Kansas City Royals have done a great job of developing prospects over the years and having them contribute at the major league level.

    One of the latest prospects to do impress in the majors is Danny Duffy. After a rough year in 2011, Duffy is showing why he was considered to have the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter through his first three starts of the year.

    Duffy has gone 1-1 with a 2.13 ERA so far this year. His 3.82 FIP and his .240 BABIP indicate that his ERA will go up, but Duffy should have a breakout year.

    Verdict: Real

Mike Pelfrey

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    Mike Pelfrey is a former first-round pick of the New York Mets, but he has not been able to pitch like one on a consistent basis.

    The 2012 season could be a make-or-break year for Pelfrey. He has done well so far as he has posted a 2.29 ERA in his first three starts. Pelfrey has a 2.24 FIP and a .353 BABIP so it may look like this could be the year for Pelfrey. However, he still has a lot of things that he needs to work out if he will be successful this year.

    Verdict: Fake

Marco Estrada

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    Marco Estrada began the year in the Milwaukee Brewers' bullpen but after an injury to starter Chris Narveson he moved to the starting rotation.

    Estrada has pitched well in both roles and he has a 2.45 ERA on the year in six appearances. The success that Estrada has had is a nice surprise for the Brewers but they are likely not counting on it to last.

    Verdict: Fake

Jeanmar Gomez

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    Jeanmar Gomez is one of the young arms that the Cleveland Indians have used in their starting rotation this season.

    He has made two starts as well as one appearance out of the Indians' bullpen. Gomez has a 1.93 ERA and a 2.30 FIP. Opposing hitters have only had a .154 BABIP against Gomez and that number will certainly increase which should lead to Gomez allowing more runs.

    Verdict: Fake

Wei-Yin Chen

50 of 50

    Wei-Yin Chen was nowhere close to as hyped up as Yu Darvish was, but the Baltimore Orioles pitcher has done better so far this year.

    Chen has a 1-0 record in two starts and he has posted a 3.27 ERA. He has a 3.40 FIP and hitters have a .333 BABIP against him. While it is too early to tell anything from two starts, Chen looks good.

    Verdict: Real