15 Most Surprising Early MLB Stat Lines

Ely Sussman@@MrElyminatorCorrespondent IApril 18, 2013

15 Most Surprising Early MLB Stat Lines

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    Early in the MLB season, we observe many players posting stat lines that bear little resemblance to their past work. For better or worse, the following guys have gotten off to surprising starts and temporarily affected our perceptions of them.

    Understand that this isn't only about red-hot individuals and those mired in hideous slumps. Torii Hunter and Adrian Gonzalez, for instance, lead their respective leagues in hits. Granted, they weren't popular preseason picks to win batting titles, but both veterans have already established themselves as elite offensive contributors.

    The focus is on players who have dramatically defied expectations through the first several weeks. Read on as we delve into extreme examples like Paul Maholm and Matt Kemp.

    *Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, accurate as of April 18, 2013.

Honorable Mentions

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    It's difficult to stay hot when given irregular playing time, so kudos to first baseman Matt Adams (St. Louis Cardinals). His .524/.565/1.048 batting line seems all the more extraordinary when you consider that he has yet to start consecutive contests.

    Adam Dunn of the Chicago White Sox looks completely out of sync, but we've seen impotent stretches from him before. He consistently failed to make contact during the 2011 season too.

    Coming off Tommy John surgery, Carl Crawford (Los Angeles Dodgers) is back to being one of baseball's best leadoff men. Then again, an uptick in performance seemed inevitable once the outfielder left behind the brutal Boston media.

    The New York Yankees chose Francisco Cervelli as their internal replacement for departed catcher Russell Martin. The 27-year-old boasts a solid .310/.444/.448 batting line following a summer where he made only three major league appearances.

    Mike Minor's 0.84 WHIP is in the top 10 among MLB qualifiers, but he showed similar dominance for the Atlanta Braves following the 2012 All-Star break. Stellar, nonetheless.

    Jed Lowrie has already knocked in 13 runs for the Oakland Athletics. That just reinforces the perception that, behind Jose Reyes, he was the second-best shortstop to change uniforms over the winter.

Pedro Alvarez (Pittsburgh Pirates)

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    2013 stats: .089/.180/.089, 0 HR, 2 RBI (14 G)

    2012 stats: .244/.317/.467, 30 HR, 85 RBI (149 G)

    On this same date in 2012, Pedro Alvarez had an even lower batting average. He still finished as an NL Comeback Player of the Year candidate and competent, middle-of-the-order power source.

    The third baseman is on pace to strike out as often as ever, but he doesn't have any extra-base hits to show for his swing-for-the-fences approach.

    Until Alvarez's struggles end, he burdens Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen with carrying the Pittsburgh Pirates offense.

Aaron Hicks (Minnesota Twins)

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    2013 stats: .044 /.157/.044, 0 HR, 1 SB, 20 SO (12 G)

    2012 stats (Double-A): .286/.384/.460, 13 HR, 32 SB, 116 SO (129 G)

    Aaron Hicks was a spring training sensation. Despite zero Triple-A experience, he produced against major league competition (.370/.407/.644 batting line).

    From merely seeing him succeed in an exhibition setting, many experts dubbed Hicks the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year front-runner.

    Instead, the 23-year-old is hitless over the past week and a half. Mike Podhorzer of FanGraphs doesn't anticipate him getting significantly better if balls off his bat continue to take such terrible trajectories.

Coco Crisp (Oakland Athletics)

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    2013 stats: .333/.429/.704, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 4 SB (13 G)

    2012 stats: .259/.325/.418, 11 HR, 46 RBI, 39 SB (120 G)

    Beyond Alex Gordon of the Kansas City Royals, nobody rides a longer current hitting streak than Coco Crisp. He's at 11 straight games, which is already the best such run of his Oakland Athletics career.

    But Crisp's power surge has been equally remarkable. A slim outfielder who averaged barely seven home runs per season between 2006 and 2012, the 33-year-old is more than halfway to that number.

    The A's won't miss Yoenis Cespedes—who recently landed on the disabled list—if Crisp sustains his production.

Brett Wallace (Houston Astros)

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    2013 stats: .042/.115/.042, 0 HR, 17 SO (7 G)

    2012 stats: .253/.323/.424, 9 HR, 73 SO (66 G)

    It's difficult to lose a starting job on the lowly Houston Astros, but Brett Wallace suffered through an utterly pathetic opening week.

    Wallace whiffed at least twice in each of his first six games. Originally the No. 2 hitter, he now occupies a spot toward the bottom of the order (that is, when he actually gets the opportunity to play).

    The former first-round draft pick showed promise during his two stints with the 2012 Astros. Unfortunately, none of his current splits give reason for optimism.

Seth Smith (Oakland Athletics)

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    2013 stats: .447/.512/.684 (12 G)

    2012 stats: .240/.333/.420 (125 G)

    Left-handed pitchers embarrassed Seth Smith last season, as they have throughout his entire MLB career.

    Until now.

    He owns a 667/.692/1.000 batting line with zero strikeouts in 2013 when at a platoon disadvantage. Among all players with at least 25 total plate appearances so far, Smith's .447 batting average is easily the highest (via ESPN.com).

    However, let's not blow this out of proportion. The 30-year-old has been in the lineup against a southpaw starter only once.

B.J. Upton (Atlanta Braves)

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    2013 stats: .140/.232/.240, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 3 SB (13 G)

    2012 stats: .246/.298/.454, 28 HR, 78 RBI, 31 SB (146 G)

    On a positive note, B.J. Upton continues to be a pest on the basepaths.

    But the center fielder has otherwise been enigmatic in his debut season with the Atlanta Braves. The lone highlight of his 2013 campaign thus far was a ninth-inning, game-tying home run.

    He has driven home just one teammate since.

    Upton tied a career high with 60 extra-base hits in his walk year. As of April 18, he's barely on pace for half that total.

Buster Posey (San Francisco Giants)

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    2013 stats: .213/.315/.319, 0 HR, 5 RBI (14 G)

    2012 stats: .336/.408/.549, 24 HR, 103 RBI (148 G)

    Gregor Blanco, a defensive-minded outfielder, and Buster Posey, the reigning National League MVP, have been virtually interchangeable in 2013.

    Posey couldn't be stopped during the final months of his age-25 campaign. Though BABIP regression seemed inevitable, his season-opening homer-less streak is pretty perplexing.

    The catcher has performed at replacement level for the defending world champions.

Matt Kemp (Los Angeles Dodgers)

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    2013 stats: .182/.217/.255, 0 HR, 5 RBI (15 G)

    2012 stats: .303/.367/.538, 23 HR, 69 RBI (106 G)

    Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly believes Matt Kemp "needed a night off" on Wednesday, MLB.com's Barry M. Bloom reports.

    The numbers don't lie. Kemp has been stuck below the Mendoza line throughout April and unable to reach the bleachers with any of his swings.

    Making the NL All-Star squad in 2012 did not validate what many considered a disappointing season. He is still being held to lofty standards and grossly underachieving.

    Fantasy baseball owners, in particular, must be disgusted by his reluctance to even attempt to steal.

Clay Buchholz (Boston Red Sox)

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    2013 stats: 3 GS, 3-0, 0.41 ERA, 0.96 WHIP

    2012 stats: 29 GS, 11-8, 4.56 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

    If nothing else, Clay Buchholz's newfound effectiveness has been fueled by a 27.4 percent strikeout rate. Even as a fringe AL Cy Young contender in 2010, he didn't paint the corners after getting ahead in the count.

    On April 14, Buchholz carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning. Only a handful of his 2012 starts lasted that long.

    His brief deterioration from elite to ordinary coincided with John Farrell's move north of the border. Therefore, we shouldn't be totally flabbergasted to see Buchholz in a groove now that his former pitching coach manages the Boston Red Sox.

Kevin Slowey (Miami Marlins)

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    2013 stats: 3 GS, 0-2, 2.04 ERA, 1.36 WHIP

    2012 stats (Triple-A): 8 GS, 3-3, 5.14 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

    Kevin Slowey's tendency to surrender fly balls ensures that his tidy earned run average is unsustainable.

    But let's give credit where credit is due. The right-hander has kept respectable offenses in check, including the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals.

    Two years ago, the Minnesota Twins demoted Slowey to a relief role, and he spent 2012 as a shaky contributor for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers. Now he's an integral part of the Miami Marlins starting rotation.

    Perhaps the biggest shock is that the Fish haven't produced a single run with him on the mound.

Chris Davis (Baltimore Orioles)

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    2013 stats: .340/.448/.809, 6 HR, 19 RBI (14 G)

    2012 stats: .270/.326/.501, 33 HR, 85 RBI (139 G)

    Chris Davis shattered a major league record with 16 RBI in his first four games of the season.

    Such individual excellence understandably surprised coming from this 27-year-old. Though it happened on the heels of a breakout performance for the 93-win Baltimore Orioles, inconsistency characterized his previous tenure with the Texas Rangers.

    He is vulnerable to striking out, so continuing at this pace will depend on how often he drives pitches between opposing fielders (or over their heads).

Matt Harvey (New York Mets)

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    2013 stats: 3 GS, 3-0, 0.82 ERA, 0.55 WHIP, 4.17 SO/BB

    2012 stats: 10 GS, 3-5, 2.73 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 2.69 SO/BB

    Despite low preseason expectations, the New York Mets find themselves above .500.

    Matt Harvey has undoubtedly been their early-season MVP.

    The right-hander impressed everybody as a rookie with his mid-90s velocity and filthy offspeed options. The Mets lost in seven of his 10 starts, however, due to their anemic offense.

    At age 24, Harvey looks untouchable. He has allowed three hits or fewer in each of his outings thus far. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the hot streak puts him in the company of only Jim Rooker and Nolan Ryan (h/t Adam Rubin, ESPNNewYork.com).

Jarrod Parker (Oakland Athletics)

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    2013 stats: 3 GS, 0-2, 10.80 ERA, 2.66 WHIP, 0.50 SO/BB

    2012 stats: 29 GS, 13-8, 3.47 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 2.22 SO/BB

    We interrupt this sequence of feel-good stories to bring you Jarrod Parker, who hasn't survived more than five innings in any start.

    He consciously pitched to contact last summer, as evidenced by his ordinary 18.6 percent strikeout rate.

    But many of those same balls in play have found gaps in 2013. Opponents collectively own a .426/.516/.611 batting line against the Indiana native.

    Many predicted the Oakland Athletics to compete for another AL West title. Therefore, their early-season division lead hasn't raised many eyebrows.

    However, most of us expected Parker to lead them into the pole position, not Coco Crisp and Seth Smith.

Kurt Suzuki (Washington Nationals)

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    2013 stats: .360/.485/.800, 6 XBH (10 G)

    2012 stats: .235/.276/.328, 26 XBH (118 G)

    Kurt Suzuki's total of extra-base hits is impressive relative to his personal history, but it's also significant around the majors. No other position player with so few starts in 2013 has as many (via MLB.com).

    To acquire him last August, the Washington Nationals only traded away one late-blooming prospect. Neither of the general managers involved—Billy Beane or Mike Rizzo—imagined that Suzuki's bat would make a sizable impact.

    The 29-year-old is bound to squat behind the plate regularly with Wilson Ramos on the disabled list.

Paul Maholm (Atlanta Braves)

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    2013 stats: 3 GS, 3-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 4.00 SO/BB

    2012 stats: 31 GS, 13-11, 3.67 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 2.64 SO/BB

    As an impending free agent, southpaw Paul Maholm ought to be motivated to replicate his 2012 campaign, which was one of his best ever.

    Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors writes that the southpaw is on pace to do much, much more than that:

    He's begun the season with 20 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out 20 and walking five. ... If Maholm keeps rolling while Josh Johnson, Roy Halladay, and Tim Lincecum remain inconsistent, the Braves lefty is a dark horse candidate for the title of best free agent starter.

    Back in 2010, Maholm was the hittable leader of a laughable Pittsburgh Pirates rotation. Other than biased friends and family members, it's unlikely that any close observer thought he might someday be in line for long-term security with an eight-figure annual salary.