1 Surprise Player for Each MLB Team Who Will Crash Back to Earth
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More often than not, the hottest starts in Major League Baseball tend to fizzle out by the second or third month of the season.
It’s fairly rare that a player, who hasn’t done much of anything worth noting in the past, all of the sudden is leading the league in a category in April. In some instances, players with great reputations have solid beginnings to their seasons, but are playing at a level higher than they really should be.
Each team in baseball has that one guy that even the fans know shouldn’t be playing this well. In the back of their minds, they know that eventually, he’s going to start hitting or pitching more towards how they have in the past.
For those who don’t know who these players are, ahead lies each team’s player that will come back to Earth in the coming weeks.
*All statistics in this article were obtained via FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted. All injury information was obtained via Baseball Prospectus. All contract information was obtained via Cot’s Contracts.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Gerardo Parra
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There are just too many outfielders worthy of starting and the Arizona Diamondbacks don’t have the ability to play them all. The starting outfield heading into the regular season was intended to include Adam Eaton, Cody Ross and Jason Kubel. Through the first handful of games, it’s been Gerardo Parra, A.J. Pollock and Kubel.
Ross is finally back from injury and Eaton will soon be as well, putting Arizona in a tough spot, having to determine who plays and who doesn’t. Parra has had a great year so far, leading Arizona position players in WAR, but he’s likely to be the odd man out. He’s never been that outstanding of a player and doesn’t have much potential.
Atlanta Braves: Chris Johnson
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Before the season started, it was still unclear as to whether Chris Johnson or Juan Francisco deserved to be the everyday third baseman for the Atlanta Braves. Both had played well during spring training and there was a good chance that they platooned in order to replace long-time leader Chipper Jones.
Both Johnson and Francisco have played better than expected to start the year, but Johnson will be the one to decline more rapidly. He’s hitting .409/.435/.545 with a home run, five RBI and six runs, but has not been able to draw many walks. Despite coming to the plate 46 times, he’s walked just once. There has to be a good balance between drawing walks and hitting consistently, and for now, Johnson doesn’t have that.
Baltimore Orioles: Chris Davis
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There’s no doubt that Chris Davis has been unbelievable to start 2013. Through 14 games, he’s hitting .340/.448/.809 with six home runs, 19 RBI and seven runs. He’s even walking 15.5 percent of the time, which is high for him compared to past seasons. But he’s already started to cool and will continue to get much colder.
A lot of the damage that Davis did was in the Baltimore Orioles’ first few games. In Davis’ last five games, he’s gone 4-for-20 with just one extra-base hit and it was a double, not a home run. He hasn’t scored once or driven anyone in. Davis has been a fair player in years past, but by the end of the season, he won’t have any MVP votes.
Boston Red Sox: Clay Buchholz
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The Boston Red Sox have started the season on the right foot and much of the credit should go to the starting pitching, mainly Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Both starters have been beyond good for Boston, winning five combined games in six starts already and both posting ridiculous ERAs. But while Lester seems like a Cy Young candidate, Buchholz looks to be much more shaky.
The problem with Buchholz is that although he isn’t allowing anyone to score, shown in his 0.41 ERA, he hasn’t had the best command. He’s averaging 4.09 walks per nine innings, which is about three times more than Lester. Eventually, he isn’t going to be able to strand the runners he allows on base. He could still win 15 games, but will likely finish with an ERA around 3.25.
Chicago Cubs: Nate Schierholtz
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The Chicago Cubs need help in all aspects of the game, but their offense has been led by an unlikely hero through the first chunk of action, Nate Schierholtz. Through 12 games, the outfielder is hitting .361/.425/.667 with a pair of home runs, eight RBI and eight runs. The 2013 season, however, won’t be the year he breaks out into a star.
In the last four seasons, which Schierholtz has played in at least 110 games, he’s never had this type of success. He’s a career .272/.322/.416 hitter with only 26 home runs to his credit. It makes much more sense to think he’d regress considering the large sample size. Playing well for 12 games doesn’t really mean much yet.
Chicago White Sox: Alexei Ramirez
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The Chicago White Sox have a nice collection of offensive talent on its roster, but Alexei Ramirez isn’t really considered to be a main threat. But early on in the year, Ramirez has arguably been the team’s top position player, hitting very well and also playing stellar defense. But will his hot start continue? Don’t be on it.
Ramirez is now in his sixth season in the big leagues and while he’s been able to hang on to his starting shortstop position, he’s not really considered to be one of the best at what he does. Sure, he has a little more power than most other shortstops, but has never been one to hit with much consistency. He hasn’t struck out nearly as often as in previous seasons, which is one area to watch going forward.
Cincinnati Reds: Jack Hannahan
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Jack Hannahan has been on fire to start 2013, which is good considering he’s probably made a strong first impression with his new team, the Cincinnati Reds. It seems rather clear, however, that Hannahan’s early season success won’t be continuing much longer. That is unless he actually is the next Babe Ruth.
Through nine games this year, Hannahan is hitting .545/.583/.545, but is without a home run. He’s only scored once and driven in a measly two runs. Hannahan appears to have a case of the small sample size syndrome, where due to a few plate appearances, it looks like he’s been hitting out of his mind. That’s clearly what’s happened here. With many more at-bats, look for Hannahan to come back to reality.
Cleveland Indians: Justin Masterson
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Before Justin Masterson’s most recent start against the Boston Red Sox, it appeared that he’d finally found his groove on the mound again. Masterson, who was thought to have a lot of potential, just hasn’t pitched well in his first couple of seasons with the Cleveland Indians. But he looked great in his first three starts of 2013.
Masterson’s fourth, though, wasn’t so great. Boston knocked him out after five innings as he allowed four earned runs on 11 hits. Previously, he’d allowed one earned run on 10 hits through 22 innings. His walks and strikeouts have fluctuated thus far, but are still statistics to watch. If he’s missing his spots, he’s either going to be walking more batters or be serving up many more hits.
Colorado Rockies: Jhoulys Chacin
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The Colorado Rockies have been baseball’s most surprising team through the early stages of the season, actually competing for the first time in a while. But there’s still no way that by the end of the season Colorado is in the playoff hunt. The other teams in the NL West are miles ahead of them in talent, with the San Diego Padres being the exception.
Jhoulys Chacin has been one of the most successful Rockies in the pitching staff, going 2-0 through a trio of starts with a 1.96 ERA across 18.1 innings of work. While he’s definitely off to a great start, both wins have come against the Padres. He earned a no decision against the Milwaukee Brewers, pitching decent. He won’t be beating up on bad teams all year long, though.
Detroit Tigers: Torii Hunter
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Don’t jump on the Torii Hunter bandwagon just yet. Sure, Hunter has been a great player over the course of his career, but he’s been unreal since joining the Detroit Tigers over the winter. Through 14 games, he’s hitting .413/.439/.587 with one home run, nine RBI and 11 runs. He’s also been playing well defensively, which shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Could it be a bad thing, though, that Hunter is making too much contact? It appears that nearly every time he swings he gets a hit. He’s rarely walked and hasn’t struck out much either. He’s just getting hit after hit after hit. Hunter isn’t going to win the batting title and will eventually start to decline back toward his career numbers.
Houston Astros: Marwin Gonzalez
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Before the season started, and probably still now, not many people knew who Marwin Gonzalez was. That’s likely because he’s on the Houston Astros and has never really played much in the big leagues. In 80 games with Houston last season, he hit .234/.280/.327 with a pair of home runs and 12 RBI.
Gonzalez this year, however, looks like a different player. Through 11 games, he’s hitting .313/.389/.563 and has already matched last season’s home run total. While it’s still possible, it’s extremely unlikely that any Astro finishes the season with solid numbers, especially a second-year player. The AL West will eventually eat him alive.
Kansas City Royals: Chris Getz
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The Kansas City Royals have played relatively well to start the season, but their stars haven’t even gotten going yet. It’s been the little role players that have carried the team thus far; guys likes Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Chris Getz. Yes, Chris Getz, who has failed to make much of a difference on Kansas City since 2010.
Through 13 games this season, Getz is hitting .279/.279/.488 with a home run, six RBI and team-high 10 runs. It’s worth mentioning that his last home run came back in 2009. He hasn’t walked once this year and has struck out more often than he usually does. He’s just another player exceeding small sample size expectations. Just ignore his numbers for now. They’ll be back to normal in no time.
Los Angeles Angels: Erick Aybar
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Who would’ve thought that through the Los Angeles Angels first 14 games of the season that Erick Aybar would be outplaying Josh Hamilton? I certainly didn’t, but it’s been true so far. Hamilton has been terrible offensively while Aybar has been one of the team’s better overall players.
Aybar’s job is to get on base. Although he hasn’t walked once this year, he’s still gotten on base a fair amount due to his .321 average through seven games. Aybar’s average is definitely going to go down if he doesn’t start to walk soon. He isn’t striking out very often at all, but in order to be an effective on-base player, he has to walk too, not just get base hits.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Carl Crawford
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Don’t let the first 15 games in a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform for Carl Crawford convince you that he’s been back to his old self. This is a guy that was horrible and injury-plagued for two years with the Boston Red Sox and to give him a bunch of credit this early in the year would be a poor decision.
Crawford is hitting .375/.426/.536 with one home run, two RBI and 13 runs. He’s been walking a lot compared to his career average while keeping his strikeout rate the same. He’s doing everything that the Dodgers could have asked him to do, but it’s still much too early. He’s only played in 15 games. That’s not even 10 percent of the full season. Let’s revisit this issue in a month or so.
Miami Marlins: None
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The problem with the Miami Marlins is that they’re finally starting to realize that they don’t have any sort of talent on the roster. Sure, there’s Giancarlo Stanton and a couple of promising young players, but no one has played well at all this year so far. Well, rookie starter Jose Fernandez has, but he’s a special case.
This article is about players off to hot starts that will decline very soon. Fernandez is the only hot player on the team and to be honest, I think he’s the real deal. For someone with such little prior experience, he’s certainly turned some heads already. There’s no reason to doubt his early season success and will likely be in the running for NL Rookie of the Year by the time the season comes to a close.
Milwaukee Brewers: Norichika Aoki
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It’s always a little weird when evaluating a player and you realize that they’re walking much more often than they’re striking out. That’s been the case for Norichika Aoki this season through 13 games. He’s walked 11.3 percent of the time while struck out just 4.8 percent. That’s impressive, but will change fairly soon.
Aoki put together an impressive rookie campaign last season with the Milwaukee Brewers and has looked to continue making an impact in the lineup this season. Through 13 games, he’s hitting .321/.410/.509 with a pair of home runs, five RBI and eight runs. While those aren’t outrageous numbers, expect his batting average to stay around the same, but his on-base and slugging percentage to dip.
Minnesota Twins: Pedro Florimon
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The Minnesota Twins have a strange assortment of players on their roster and random players have been succeeding early on in the season. Pedro Florimon just happens to be one of them. He made his major league debut with the Baltimore Orioles in 2011, but only played in four games. He played in 43 for the Twins last year.
In 150 plate appearances, Florimon hit .219/.272/.307with a home run, 10 RBI and 16 runs. For a guy that hit rather poorly in a fair amount of plate appearances last season, it’s surprising that through 10 games this season he’s hitting .348/.484/.435. It just doesn’t make much sense unless he’s the game’s next breakout star. But even that seems very unlikely.
New York Mets: John Buck
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It’s somewhat tough to explain what John Buck has done this season. Here are his numbers and then we’ll try to make something of them. Through 13 games, he’s hitting .326/.327/.739 with six home runs, 19 RBI and 10 runs. He’s slaughtering basically every career average he has.
It’s also not often you find player that in nearly 1,000 career games has struck out around 24 percent of the time and then this season he’s only striking out around 10 percent. I understand that it’s only been 13 games, but Buck’s played at a very high level. I just don’t think that after nine years in the big leagues that he’s finally found his stroke.
New York Yankees: Vernon Wells
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There are two players on this year’s New York Yankees team that shouldn’t be playing as well as they have been: Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells. While Hafner’s success could continue because he’s a power-hitting lefty that gets to play at Yankee Stadium often, Wells is an old righty that is well past his prime.
The Los Angeles Angels are basically paying the Yankees to play Wells. What the Angels probably didn’t think was how well he was going to play there so far. Through 12 games, Wells is hitting .295/.380/.591 with three home runs and five RBI. The Angels, though, knew what they were doing and know that Wells won’t be able to produce like this all season long.
Oakland Athletics: Coco Crisp
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We should all know by now that crazy stuff happens with the Oakland Athletics. Just being on the team can turn you into a star. But while Coco Crisp was once a good player for a variety of teams, I find it hard to believe that he’s a legitimate MVP candidate this season. He’s playing at a level he never has in the past.
Through 13 games, Crisp is hitting .333/.429/.704 with four home runs, eight RBI and 16 runs. Since when did the little speedy outfielder turn into the slugger who could hit around 20 home runs this season? The answer is that he hasn’t yet and probably won’t anytime soon. While he’s played much better than he has in the past, he isn’t going to finish 2013 with numbers much different than he’s had over the course of his career.
Philadelphia Phillies: John Lannan
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Before a recent start against the Cincinnati Reds, John Lannan looked like he could be one of the best pitchers the Philadelphia Phillies had. Cliff Lee has still been good, but Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay have been atrocious early this season. Lannan allowed four earned runs in 13 innings through two starts while striking out seven.
But then the left-hander got shelled against the Reds, allowing six earned runs in 1.2 innings of work. Lannan isn’t going to be a top-of-the-rotation guy again, but he can still contribute. He’s capable of posting an ERA around 4.00 and winning maybe 10 games, but he probably won’t be pitching like he did in his first pair of starts.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Wandy Rodriguez
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Wandy Rodriguez has always been a good pitcher, but he’s never really gotten to pitch for competitive teams. He pitched for the Houston Astros until midway through last season when he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He has the potential to turn his career around there and has looked good this season.
In a pair of starts, Rodriguez has allowed one run in nine innings while walking one and striking out six. While the Pirates should be able to provide more run support than the Astros did, it’s questionable to as to how well he’ll actually pitch. He’s had command issues in the past and needs to overcome them now more than ever.
San Diego Padres: Chris Denorfia
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With Chase Headley injured to start the season, someone was going to have to step up on the San Diego Padres. I just didn’t really think it was going to be Chris Denorfia, who has arguably been the team’s top player so far. In 14 games, he’s hitting .364/.429/.523 with one home run, five RBI and eight runs.
Denorfia has played sporadically over the course of his career, but seems to have found a good home with the Padres. However, it’s unlikely that his success continues once the regular season is in full swing. His strikeout rate is already higher than it usually is and it’s reasonable to think that as time goes on it’ll increase even more.
Seattle Mariners: Joe Saunders
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Signing Joe Saunders was a smart, low-risk move for the Seattle Mariners this season. So far, the investment has somewhat paid off, but the Mariners would like to see a little more success than he’s already had. Through a trio of starts, he’s 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA across 17.1 innings of work.
But while Saunders has been able to keep runners from scoring off him, he has been letting a fair amount of them get on base easily. Saunders has a career walks-per-nine rate of 2.76 and this season, that rate has jumped to 3.63. He knows how difficult it is to succeed in the AL West and it’s even tougher to pitch there now compared to a couple of years back when he was with the Los Angeles Angels.
San Francisco Giants: Brandon Crawford
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I go back and forth with Brandon Crawford more than anyone else in baseball I think. One day I’ll think that he’s going to have a great year. The next day, I’ll think he’s going to decline despite a hot start. Today, I don’t think he’s going to be able to sustain his early season success. But I’m always waiting for him to prove me wrong.
Through 15 games this year, Crawford has been great offensively. He’s hitting .320/.414/.500 with two home runs, six RBI and 10 runs. For someone who’s primarily known for his defense, his offense has been taken to the next level. But while he’s now taking bad pitches instead of swinging at them, it’s still a little too early to tell if he’s for real or not.
St. Louis Cardinals: Matt Carpenter
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As of now, Matt Carpenter has been the most valuable position player on the St. Louis Cardinals. Not Carlos Beltran or Matt Holliday or Yadier Molina, but Matt Carpenter. Through 14 games, he’s hitting .296/.367/.463 with one home run, six RBI and 14 runs. He’s taking advantage of the playing time he’s been getting.
While it appears that Carpenter is going to hit close to how he did last season in 114 games, I’m not completely sold on him yet. He only has 135 games of big league experience on his resume and still has a lot to prove. He was fine last season, but I want to see him stay consistent for a bit longer. He’s playing at a level higher than he should be right now and there’s a good chance he starts to decline soon.
Tampa Bay Rays: Desmond Jennings
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Desmond Jennings has a ton of potential and should be a major factor in the future of the Tampa Bay Rays. But for the time being, I think he’s somewhat overrated. He’s valuable because of his speed and defense, and not really for how he plays offensively. Last season, he hit .246/.314/.388 with 13 home runs and 47 RBI.
It’s unlikely that he even comes close to those numbers this season. Sure, it’s still early, but through 14 games, Jennings is hitting .218/.382/.382 with one home run and two RBI. That’s not going to get the job done if the Rays are planning on making the postseason. He has to start hitting much better in order to earn the credit he’s been getting.
Texas Rangers: Lance Berkman
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After missing majority of the season last year, it’s somewhat surprising how well Lance Berkman has played this year with the Texas Rangers. Through 11 games with his new team, he’s hitting .389/.500/.611 with one home run and eight RBI. Texas signed him to help make up for lost production, but couldn’t have expected this.
Berkman can play as well as he wants early in the season, but he’s old and banged up and it’s unlikely that he lasts the entire season. His body is definitely starting to take a toll on him and his production later in the year, if healthy at all, is going to show that for sure. Expect his high walk rate to decrease and his moderately low strikeout rate to jump significantly.
Toronto Blue Jays: J.A. Happ
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When Ricky Romero couldn’t handle pitching in spring training, J.A. Happ got the opportunity to turn his career around. Happ has yet to capitalize on the potential many thought he had in the past, but has pitched relatively well this season so far. Although his ERA is at 5.06, he’s shown fair command and just hasn’t been lucky.
Happ will be a big piece of the puzzle for the Toronto Blue Jays and even though he’s already shown signs of life, he’s bound to struggle at some point during the season. The problem for him, though, is that if Romero finds whatever he lost, Happ could easily lose his spot on the team. And that could end up meaning the end of his big league career.
Washington Nationals: Kurt Suzuki
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For someone who was expected to be the backup catcher for most of the season, Kurt Suzuki is now making a case to be the Washington Nationals’ starter. Through 10 games, he’s hitting .360/.485/.800 a pair of home runs and five RBI. He’s been walking at an absurd rate of 17.6 percent through 34 plate appearances.
But anyone that’s watched Suzuki play knows that this won’t continue. It’s not that he can’t hit, because he can, but he just doesn’t have that great of an eye. He’s probably seen some really bad pitches that he wouldn’t dare to swing at because in the past, he’s never walked much at all. Once the walks start to decrease, everything else is sure to follow.