After the first week of the season, we looked at some of the scintillating starts around baseball, trying to make sense of whether what we were watching was real or an illusion.
While some of those players have tapered off since then—take Seattle's Mike Morse, for example—others, like Atlanta's Justin Upton, have continued their torrid pace, making even the most skeptical among us begin to believe that these players can keep their level of production up for months at a time.
With that in mind, let's take a look at 25 players who are off to scorching starts to the season, and using their projected numbers and what we know about them individually, see if we can't figure out where those numbers will wind up when the regular season comes to an end.
*Unless otherwise noted, all stats courtesy of ESPN and are current through games of May 6.
2013 Stats: 7 GS, 6-0, 1.60 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 50.2 IP, 18 BB, 56 K
On Pace For: 35 GS, 30-0, 1.60 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 253.2 IP, 91 BB, 284 K
While Jack Morris and others debate whether Clay Buchholz is cheating when he's on the mound (I don't believe he is), Boston's 28-year-old right-hander has been dominating the opposition, finally pitching like the front-of-the-rotation arm we've been led to believe he was since he made his big league debut in 2007.
Buchholz has pitched at least six innings in every start this season and has recorded at least eight strikeouts in five of his seven starts, putting him among the league leaders in nearly every pitching category.
It should be noted that Boston has had one of the easier early-season schedules, and as the competition gets tougher, some regression in Buchholz's numbers is to be expected. At the same time, there's no denying that he seems to have taken the next step in his development.
Buchholz isn't going to finish the season undefeated, but he'll have outstanding numbers that make him a legitimate Cy Young Award candidate.
End-Year Projection: 18-5, 2.85 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 245 IP, 85 BB, 235 K
2013 Stats: .255/.292/.592, 10 HR, 29 RBI, 16 R
On Pace For: .255/.292/.592, 58 HR, 168 RBI, 93 R
John Buck is a catcher, and that means that he's not going to be on the field everyday. Not only that, but with the pounding that the position inflicts on the body, Buck is far more likely to have various aches, pains and bruises than if he played another position.
Those various ailments will slow him down at some point during the season.
There's also the fact that more than 25 percent of the Mets games from May 1 through the end of the season come against either the Atlanta Braves or Washington Nationals, teams that boast two of the best pitching staffs in baseball.
Put those things together and it doesn't spell positive results for Buck or the Mets. Buck will have solid power numbers but offer little else by the time the season comes to an end.
End-Year Projection: .245/.275/.525, 28 HR, 85 RBI, 80 R
2013 Stats: 7 GS, 3-1, 2.31 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 46.2 IP, 11 BB, 43 K
On Pace For: 35 GS, 15-5, 2.31 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 233.2 IP, 56 BB, 218 K
Having been a part of two World Series-winning teams in San Francisco, it's easy to forget that Madison Bumgarner is only 23 years old and remains one of the bright young pitchers in baseball.
Bumgarner's start is certainly no fluke, and while he's going to have rough patches as he did in his last start against Philadelphia on May 7, allowing five earned runs in six innings of work, he's giving Matt Cain a run for his money as the ace of the Giants pitching staff.
With that said, Bumgarner faded badly down the stretch for the Giants in 2012, pitching to a 5.47 ERA and 1.63 WHIP over his final five starts of the regular season, and there's some concern that he could repeat that ineffective play down the stretch again as he gets used to throwing more than 200 innings a year.
End-Year Projection: 16-7, 3.05 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 235 IP, 65 BB, 210 K
2013 Stats: .385/.465/.615, 6 HR, 36 RBI, 26 R
On Pace For: .385/.465/.615, 32 HR, 194 RBI, 140 R
After the season that Miguel Cabrera put together in 2012, doubting his ability to maintain his current pace would be the definition of insanity.
That said, Detroit simply has too many run producers in the lineup for Cabrera to challenge Hack Wilson's MLB-record 191 RBI for the Chicago Cubs in 1930.
But Cabrera doesn't need to set any records to pick up his second consecutive American League MVP award—simply doing what he does best, tormenting opposing pitchers, will be enough to get the job done.
End-Year Projection: .335/.420/.605, 30 HR, 145 RBI, 115 R
2013 Stats: .325/.376/.602, 8 HR, 19 RBI, 20 R
On Pace For: .325/.376/.602, 43 HR, 103 RBI, 108 R
Among the league leaders in a number of offensive categories, Robinson Cano continues to rake at the plate despite batting in a lineup that is missing most of its big bats.
Over his last 24 games (since 4/8), @robinsoncano is batting .370 with 8 HR, 19 RBI and 13 multi-hit contests.— New York Yankees (@Yankees) May 5, 2013
As the Yankees continue to get healthy, the best second baseman in baseball will only see his numbers go up, with more protection in the lineup and more runners on base when he steps to the plate.
Blessed with one of the sweetest swings in baseball, Cano has done nothing to make me question my preseason pick of Cano as the American League MVP in 2013—and his numbers at the end of the year will certainly be MVP-worthy.
End-Year Projection: .330/.385/.575, 38 HR, 115 RBI, 110 R
2013 Stats: 32 G, .331/.467/.545, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 25 R, 11 HBP
On Pace For: 157 G, .331/.467/.545, 25 HR, 64 RBI, 123 R, 55 HBP
While Shin-Soo Choo has been the defensive liability in center field that most expected him to be this season, the 30-year-old free agent to be has exceeded even the most lofty expectations at the plate.
His walk rate is up, his strikeout rate is down, and Choo is comfortable in his role as leadoff hitter for an explosive Reds offense, so it's no surprise that the 30-year-old is on pace to shatter his career highs in batting average, on-base percentage and runs scored.
His .393 BABIP may not be sustainable over a full season, Choo has posted a BABIP of at least .347 in five of his last six major league seasons—so while there may be some regression, it isn't likely to be anywhere near as big a drop as some expect.
It's far more likely that Choo will fall short in his quest to break Hughie Jennings' single-season record for being hit by a pitch in a single season (51), set more than 100 years ago in 1896.
End-Year Projection: .320/.402/.495, 21 HR, 60 RBI, 115 R, 35 HBP
2013 Stats: .333/.400/.613, 7 HR, 24 RBI, 18 R
On Pace For: .333/.400/.613, 37 HR, 125 RBI, 94 R
Playing half of your games in Coors Field is never a bad thing when it comes to a batter's numbers, something Michael Cuddyer has taken full advantage of in 2013:
Yet his numbers on the road are respectable, and with the way Cuddyer is swinging the bat, putting solid wood on nearly everything that he makes contact with, a strong 2013 campaign is certainly an attainable goal for the 34 year old who spent much of 2012 as one of the scapegoats in Colorado.
End-Year Projection: .295/.400/.505, 28 HR, 95 RBI, 100 R
2013 Stats: 7 GS, 5-1, 2.56 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 45.2 IP, 15 BB, 72 K
On Pace For: 35 GS, 25-5, 2.56 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 228.2 IP, 75 BB, 365 K
There's a new strikeout king in baseball, and his name is Yu Darvish.
Yu Darvish's dominant season continues... 7 IP, 3 ER, 14 K.He has 4 double-digit strikeout games in 7 starts.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 5, 2013
Arguably the best pitcher in the American League this season, Darvish has put any concerns of a sophomore slump to rest with his scintillating start.
On pace to become the first pitcher to crack the 300-strikeout plateau since Randy Johnson (334) and Curt Schilling (316) both accomplished the feat for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2002, chances are that Darvish will be halfway to that mark by the time the All-Star break rolls around.
His early-season numbers are for real, and they will remain consistently low throughout the season, putting Darvish in position to win the first major award of his major league career.
End-Year Projection: 22-6, 2.45 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 220 IP, 65 BB, 355 K
2013 Stats: 31 G, .327/.425/.673, 9 HR, 30 RBI, 20 R
On Pace For: 157 G, .327/.425/.673, 46 HR, 152 RBI, 101 R
Chris Davis has become a far more complete batter than I ever expected he would be in 2013, with a new-found dedication to drawing walks resulting in improved numbers across the board for the 27-year-old first baseman.
Consider this: In 2012, Davis walked 37 times in 562 plate appearances, a career-high for him.
This season? He's drawn 18 walks in only 127 plate appearances, putting him on pace to walk 91 times.
That's impressive—just as his numbers at the end of the season will be.
End-Year Projection: .285/.415/.585, 40 HR, 110 RBI, 95 R
2013 Stats: 30 G, .304/.429/.571, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 18 R
On Pace For: 162 G, .327/.425/.673, 43 HR, 173 RBI, 97 R
Among the league leaders in nearly every offensive category, Prince Fielder finds himself sitting pretty in one of baseball's most explosive lineups.
With Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera hitting ahead of him, Fielder is coming to the plate with runners on base more often than not, resulting in his gaudy RBI totals and putting him on track to shatter his previous career high of 141, set back in 2009.
Of course, Cabrera will have something to say about that, and his ability to clear the bases with one swing will assuredly rob Fielder of RBI opportunities as the season progresses.
That said, Fielder remains one of the most dangerous hitters in the game today, and big numbers await hi at the end of the season.
End-Year Projection: .325/.435/.595, 35 HR, 125 RBI, 105 R
2013 Stats: 29 G, .368/.417/.642, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 21 R, 7 SB
On Pace For: 157 G, .368/.417/.642, 32 HR, 65 RBI, 113 R, 38 SB
It's taken awhile, but Carlos Gomez is finally swinging the bat like many expected he would when he was a highly-touted prospect with the New York Mets back in 2006.
Make no mistake about it: Gomez is not going to hit .368 for the season, and I have serious doubts as to whether he can hit .300 over the course of 162 game schedule.
But, as one front office executive told Joel Sherman of the New York Post, Gomez is a legitimate talent:
We still need to see if he can get on base over a large sample because he doesn’t walk much. But he is a dynamic player — great defense and baserunning, and he brings energy everyday. If his hitting levels off, he still is incredibly valuable.
In the prime of his career, we should get used to solid numbers from Gomez, as he'll be producing 20/20 seasons for the foreseeable future.
End-Year Projection: .285/.355/.540, 24 HR, 70 RBI, 110 R, 40 SB
2013 Stats: 14 G, 0-0, 0.69 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 13 IP, 4 BB, 21 K, 12-of-12 SV
On Pace For: 73 G, 0-0, 0.69 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 68 IP, 21 BB, 110 K, 68-of-68 SV
At the end of January, I wrote that Jason Grilli would be the biggest surprise in Pittsburgh this season and one of the best closers in the National League.
So far, the 36-year-old is making me look pretty good.
Grilli's 12 saves lead all of baseball and he's off to a start that is very similar to what Tampa Bay's Fernando Rodney did last season, when he put together one of the most dominant seasons by a reliever in recent memory.
We shouldn't necessarily be surprised by Grilli's success: from 2011 through 2012, he posted a 2.76 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 127 Ks in 91.1 innings of relief for the Pirates. That said, expecting him to break Francisco Rodriguez's single-season save record of 62, set in 2008, is expecting too much.
End-Year Projection: 3-1, 1.75 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 57 IP, 18 BB, 95 K, 48-of-50 SV
2013 Stats: .312/.400/.633, 9 HR, 18 RBI, 20 R
On Pace For: .312/.400/.633, 46 HR, 91 RBI, 101 R
He wont legally be able to buy a beer until October, but his youth and inexperience isn't proving to be a detriment to the reigning National League Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper.
Harper has cooled off after a torrid start to the season, going 6-for-32 (.188) with one home run and two RBI over his last 10 games, but high peaks and low valleys are to be expected from a 20-year-old throughout the season.
Yet his ability to make adjustments, coupled with his tremendous natural abilities ensure that his sophomore campaign is going to be a wildly successful one, and the first of what figures to be a decade or more of Top 10 finishes in the voting for the National League MVP award.
End-Year Projection: .320/.410/.575, 35 HR, 105 RBI, 100 R
2013 Stats: 6 GS, 4-0, 1.56 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 40.1 IP, 12 BB, 46 K
On Pace For: 35 GS, 23-0, 1.56 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 231.1 IP, 69 BB, 266 K
As noted by ESPN New York's Mark Simon, Matt Harvey's start to the season is rivaled in New York Mets history by only a few pitchers, including Hall of Famer Tom Seaver:
|Harvey (2013)||Seaver (1971)|
Unlike Seaver, however, Harvey has two things working against him when it comes to replicating Seaver's 1971 season, one that saw him go 20-10 with a league-leading 1.76 ERA and 289 strikeouts.
Seaver was in his fifth full major league season and pitched in an era where pitch counts were a foreign concept. Harvey, the current and future ace of the Mets rotation in his first full major league season, doesn't have that luxury
Should the Mets find themselves out of contention down the stretch, it's entirely feasible to expect the team to shut Harvey down early, limiting his innings and saving his arm for future seasons.
That will negatively impact his numbers at the end of the year, though they will still be spectacular.
End-Year Projection: 16-5, 2.75 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 175 IP, 75 BB, 215 K
2013 Stats: 7 GS, 4-2, 1.60 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 50.2 IP, 7 BB, 51 K
On Pace For: 34 GS, 20-10, 1.60 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 245.2 IP, 34 BB, 250 K
How good has Felix Hernandez been so far in 2013?
According to the Elias Sports Bureau (via Mike Axisa of CBS Sports), Hernandez is just the second pitcher in AL history to strike out at least 50 batters through his first seven starts while allowing no more than 40 hits (he's at 39) and seven walks, joining Johan Santana who accomplished the feat for Minnesota in 2005.
None of this is really surprising, as Hernandez has been one of baseball's elite starting pitchers for years. The thing is that in his age-27 season, Felix might actually just be hitting his prime—terrible news for opposing batters, who have mustered a paltry .212/.238/.342 slash line against the King this year.
It goes without saying but I'll say it anyway: King Felix's start to the 2013 season is legit.
End-Year Projection: 19-11, 2.45 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 225 IP, 45 BB, 265 K
2013 Stats: 7 GS, 3-1, 1.61 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 44.2 IP, 8 BB, 42 K
On Pace For: 34 GS, 15-5, 1.61 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 216.2 IP, 39 BB, 206 K
Hisashi Iwakuma hasn't pitched like a solid No. 2 starter this season—he's pitching like an ace, something that wasn't lost on the folks at MLB.com:
The 32-year-old has befuddled batters throughout baseball, mixing and matching his four-pitch arsenal while utilizing his split-fingered fastball, one of the best in the game, to make batters swing and miss.
Iwakuma was one of the most successful pitchers in Japan over the past decade, and his performance down the stretch for Seattle in 2012 proves that he's more than capable of being an excellent major league pitcher.
Seattle has found its No. 2 starter in Iwakuma, but his current ERA and WHIP are simply unsustainable, as is his .191 BABIP. Sooner or later, the balls that are being hit directly at defenders are going to find the holes and gaps. They always do.
That said, Iwakuma doesn't walk many batters, which shouldn't result in a massive increase of runners on base throughout the season, which will allow him to keep his ERA and WHIP low—low enough to demand attention from the voters in the AL Cy Young race.
End-Year Projection: 16-7, 3.05 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 205 IP, 45 BB, 185 K
2013 Stats: 31 G, .323/.390/.528, 6 HR, 19 RBI, 19 R
On Pace For: 157 G, .323/.390/.528, 30 HR, 96 RBI, 96 R
Remember the talk heading into the season that Ian Kinsler's skills were in decline?
Neither does Kinsler, who has silenced his critics with a scorching start to the 2013 season that finds him among the league leaders in batting average and OPS.
He's walking as often as he strikes out and swinging the bat as well as he ever has over his eight-year career, failing to reach base safely in only three of his 31 games on the season so far.
End-Year Projection: .305/.375/.475, 25 HR, 85 RBI, 105 R
2013 Stats: .325/.390/.528, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 10 SB, 24 R
On Pace For: .325/.390/.528, 26 HR, 84 RBI, 52 SB, 125 R
One of the few bright spots in a lineup that features two regulars (Clint Barmes and Pedro Alvarez) hitting below .200 and Andrew McCutchen posting a pedestrian .250/309/.429 slash line, Starling Marte has emerged as one of the more exciting leadoff hitters in baseball in his first full big league season.
While Marte will continue to get on base consistently and take advantage of his speed once he's there, his days as a .300 hitter are numbered. Marte is allergic to taking walks, with only seven on the season, while striking out 30 times.
Sooner, rather than later, his inability to draw a free pass and penchant for striking out is going to catch up to his numbers, pushing his slash line down considerably from where it currently sits.
End-Year Projection: .275/.365/.475, 22 HR, 75 RBI, 45 SB, 95 R
2013 Stats: 6 GS, 5-0, 1.95 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 37 IP, 19 BB, 41 K
On Pace For: 31 GS, 26-0, 1.95 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 193 IP, 99 BB, 214 K
Coming off of a somewhat disappointing rookie season that saw him struggle with his command, Matt Moore is living up to the considerable hype that has surrounded him since being called one of the best pitching prospects in baseball beginning in 2010.
The 23-year-old southpaw has already joined an exclusive club, as one of five pitchers in baseball history 23-years-old or younger to record five wins in the first month of the season, joining Dwight Gooden, Greg Swindell, Fernando Valenzuela and Dontrelle Willis.
He's still prone to bouts of wildness, with 10 of his 19 walks on the season coming in two starts. But Moore has outstanding stuff and an excellent mentor in David Price, things that will help to land Moore in the thick of the Cy Young Award discussion at the end of the season.
End-Year Projection: 18-5, 2.65 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 185 IP, 95 BB, 205 K
2013 Stats: 24 G, .379/.471/.690, 6 HR, 14 RBI, 18 R
On Pace For: 139 G, .379/.471/.690, 35 HR, 81 RBI, 101 R
While Carlos Santana is entering the prime of his career and finally living up to the considerable hype that surrounded him as a highly-touted prospect, there is reason to expect his impressive numbers to regress as the season progresses.
Santana's BABIP of .435 is simply unsustainable—and while I'm not predicting that the 27-year-old will revert to his career slash line of .247/.363/.443 heading into the season—Santana won't be contending for the American League batting crown at the end of the season.
End-Year Projection: .285/.415/.535, 30 HR, 85 RBI, 90 R
2013 Stats: 28 G, .348/.435/.663, 7 HR, 28 RBI, 17 R
On Pace For: 146 G, .348/.435/.663, 37 HR, 146 RBI, 89 R
As long as he can stay healthy, there's no question that Troy Tulowitzki is capable of putting up monster numbers worthy of MVP consideration.
Therein lies the rub.
Tulowitzki, who missed most of the 2012 season with a groin injury, is currently dealing with what the Rockies are calling "heavy legs." Considering his recent history with groin injuries, the Rockies were wise to take the cautious approach with their shortstop and hold him out of action.
But we've seen what a healthy Tulowitzki can do—and hitting in as talented a lineup as the Rockies have had since he arrived on the scene in 2006—there's no reason to think that he can keep this pace up for much of the season.
End-Year Projection: .325/.415/.585, 32 HR, 115 RBI, 95 R
2013 Stats: .286/.388/.652, 12 HR, 21 RBI, 25 R
On Pace For: .286/.388/.652, 63 HR, 110 RBI, 131 R
Named the National League Player of the Month for April, Justin Upton has had no problems adjusting to his new surroundings in Atlanta.
Among the league leaders in home runs, runs scored, walks, slugging percentage and OPS, Upton is just beginning to hit the prime years of his career.
As naturally gifted as any player in the game, the sky is the limit as to where his season totals wind up—but they will most assuredly find him in the thick of the NL MVP race once again.
End-Year Projection: .285/.405/.575, 45 HR, 115 RBI, 110 R
2013 Stats: 7 GS, 4-2, 1.55 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 46.1 IP, 13 BB, 50 K
On Pace For: 38 GS, 22-11, 1.55 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 248.1 IP, 70 BB, 270 K
Doubting Justin Verlander's ability to continue his dominance on the mound is an exercise in futility, as the highest paid pitcher in baseball history has been as consistent as anyone in the game over the past few seasons:
While I'd still take Clayton Kershaw over Verlander if given a choice between the two, Verlander remains one of the best pitchers on the planet and one of the favorites to take home the American League Cy Young Award at the end of the season.
End-Year Projection: 21-8, 2.35 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 245 IP, 60 BB, 285 K
2013 Stats: .313/.425/.576, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 6 SB, 20 R
On Pace For: .313/.425/.576, 29 HR, 133 RBI, 35 SB, 116 R
Make no mistake about it: Captain America, the player formerly known as David Wright, has picked up where he left off for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, driving the ball with authority and looking very much like a candidate for his first National League MVP award.
David Wright: HR in 3 straight games; 1 shy of his career-best streak (4 games, 2007)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 5, 2013
It was in 2007 that a, then 24-year-old Wright, posted the first of what was expected to be a string of 30/30 campaigns, finishing the year with 30 home runs and 34 stolen bases. Now 30, Wright will accomplish the feat once again in 2013, reaffirming his claim to the title of "Best Third Baseman in baseball."
End-Year Projection: .320/.415/.545, 32 HR, 115 RBI, 33 SB, 105 R
2013 Stats: 6 GS, 5-1, 1.64 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 44 IP, 7 BB, 27 K
On Pace For: 30 GS, 25-5, 1.95 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 223 IP, 35 BB, 137 K
Who led the Washington Nationals in quality starts last season? Here's a hint: it wasn't Stephen Strasburg or Gio Gonzalez.
It was Jordan Zimmermann with 24, a pitcher who remains one of the most underrated arms in baseball thanks to his pair of higher-profile teammates.
Zimmermann currently leads the National League in wins, complete games (two) and WHIP while sitting third in ERA, doing so without being a traditional power pitcher who racks up double-digit strikeout totals whenever he steps on the mound, pitching to contact instead.
As one American League scout told MLB.com's Bill Ladson, Zimmermann's early season success shouldn't be written off as a fluke:
He is consistent. He can throw all of his pitches for strikes. He keeps the hitters off-balance. He is not predictable at all. He comes back and he challenges the hitter. He has really come a long way from the time he first came up to the person that he is today. He is a quality guy. In most cases, he would be the top pitcher in the rotation.
Could Zimmermann, wind up as a legitimate candidate for the National League Cy Young Award at the end of the season?
End-Year Projection: 20-6, 2.65 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 215 IP, 40 BB, 145 K