10 Eye-Opening Early Season MLB Stats

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystMay 9, 2013

10 Eye-Opening Early Season MLB Stats

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    It's such a glorious time of year for MLB stat junkies.

    The season is 20 percent complete.

    That's a large enough sample size to legitimately extrapolate the numbers and come up with projected stats, but also a small enough sample size that some of the projections are simply unbelievable.

    Here are 10 of the most eye-opening statistics through the start of play on Wednesday, May 8.

    *All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com and FanGraphs.com 

Juan Pierre's Stolen Base Pace

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    He's been doing it his entire career.

    Juan Pierre has stolen at least 27 bases in each of the past 12 seasons, including three particularly impressive seasons with some ancient team called the Florida Marlins.

    However, we all kind of assumed his career was winding to a close.

    He did steal 68 bases for the White Sox in 2010, but in three of the past five seasons, he was more of a platoon guy than an everyday player. After five consecutive seasons of 162 games played and at least 650 at-bats, he failed to reached 400 at-bats in 2008, 2009 or 2012.

    Not to mention he turned 35 last August and guys rarely maintain their speed into their late 30s.

    There are certainly a few exceptions to that rule. Ichiro Suzuki is still regularly swiping bags, including at least 40 steals at the ages of 36 and 37. Kenny Lofton stole 32 bases during the 2006 season, when he turned 39. Rickey Henderson insanely stole 66 bases in the calendar year that he turned 40.

    Still, there's something mind-blowing about the fact that Juan Pierre is leading the league in stolen bases and on pace to steal 57 of them at the age of 35. And there have already been six games this season that he hasn't started. There's no excuse for him to not be an everyday player on this roster.

Miami Marlins' Complete Lack of Scoring

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    Despite a 14-run outburst against Roy Halladay and the Phillies this past Sunday, the Miami Marlins are on pace to score just 472 runs this season.

    The Marlins have scored three or fewer runs in 26 of their 34 games. That's more than 76 percent of games in which the opposing pitcher is almost guaranteed to record a quality start (take note, fantasy owners).

    Needless to say, things are pretty bad in Miami.

    Only one team in the past 10 years has failed to score at least 550 runs—the 2010 Seattle Mariners scored 513 runs while compiling a 61-101 record.

    To help put that in perspective, the Houston Astros were the lowest scoring team in the league last season, and they scored three or fewer runs in just 57 percent of their games. So, a team that has openly admittedly to being in a rebuilding process for the next several years was a more consistent offensive threat than this year's Marlins.

    I understand Giancarlo Stanton has been ineffective and injured, but this kind of pace goes beyond the struggles of one superstar. This team is inadequate to the core.

Houston Astros' Complete Lack of Anything

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    It wouldn't be fair to talk about how terrible the Marlins have been without also immediately bringing up the Astros.

    As a team, the Houston Astros are striking out in 27.6 percent of their plate appearances. Led by B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla, the Atlanta Braves have notoriously been striking out throughout the season, but they come in at second place with a 25.3 percent rate.

    Heck, there are only 18 individual players striking out as frequently as the Astros do as a team. They're on pace to strike out 1,649 times this season, which would obliterate the record the Arizona Diamondbacks set in 2010 with 1,529 whiffs.

    Kind of hard to believe that a strikeout record set by a team with the likes of Mark Reynolds, Adam LaRoche, Kelly Johnson, Chris Young and Justin Upton could actually be broken, but I wouldn't put anything past the Houston Astros.

    They certainly are putting anything past opposing batters, either.

    The Astros' pitching staff has recorded just eight quality starts in 33 opportunities, slapping together a 5.62 team ERA while allowing opponents to rack up an OPS of .880 against them.

    Even the Colorado Rockies have 15 quality starts, and they're just one year removed from putting an insane 75-pitch limit on all of their starting pitchers.

Shin-Soo Choo: The Human Beanbag

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    Some guys just love to crowd the plate.

    Craig Biggio was the master of getting on base by any means necessary, getting plunked 285 times in a 20-year career. He was just two shy of the record set by some guy named Hughie Jennings over 100 years ago. I'm sure Biggio's blood vessels are just fine with coming up short.

    Shin-Soo Choo has averaged 12 HBPs over the past four seasons and is just one more bean ball away from getting there again this season, but there are still 130 games to be played.

    His current count of 11 HBPs puts him on pace to get hit by 52 pitches this season. The all time record was set by Jennings back in 1896 with 51 of them, so Choo is on an historic pace.

    Even if he doesn't quite get to 52 HBPs, only one person since 1900 has been hit by more than 35 pitches in a season. Ron Hunt was hit 50 times back in 1971. Choo's name will likely be added to that list this season.

Tampa Bay's Bullpen Blunders

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    One of the things that has kept Tampa Bay competitive in the AL East over the past several years has been an impeccable bullpen.

    The Rays have converted at least 75 percent of their save opportunities in four of the past five seasons. Their 86 percent success rate in 2012 was not only the best in the majors for that season, but the best of any team since the 2003 Los Angeles Dodgers, who converted 88 percent of their chances.

    Thus far in 2013, however, they have the worst save percentage of any team in the league, having already blown six of their 10 opportunities after blowing just eight all of last season.

    It certainly isn't all Fernando Rodney's fault. He's blown two of six save chances in a sub-par start to the 2013 season, but one of them was over a month ago. The other came in an atypical five-out save situation—presumably because Joe Maddon doesn't trust anyone else in the bullpen at this point—and he blew the save on his 30th pitch of the outing.

    Jake McGee has been downright dreadful in the seventh inning. Already this season, he's had two appearances where he allowed five earned runs to score. His 11.25 ERA is third-worst in the majors among pitchers that managers have foolishly allowed to pitch at least 10 innings this season.

    Kyle Farnsworth has been almost as bad. His 2.32 WHIP is fourth-worst among pitchers with more than seven innings of work in 2013.

    Jim Hickey has done a fine job as the Rays pitching coach over the past six seasons, but between the awful bullpen and David Price's terrible start to the season, this year may be Hickey's last.

Darwin Barney's Intentional Walks

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    I love National League baseball.

    People seem to think that the constant flow of interleague games throughout the season will eventually result in the NL adopting the designated hitter.

    If there's anything that will convince me that the National League needs a DH, it's the fact that Darwin Barney has a .147 batting average this season, but has been intentionally walked four times in order to face the pitcher behind him.

    He was intentionally walked twice in one game just a few days ago. He grounded into a double play in his first at-bat. Then, with a man on second base and two outs, they walked him to pitch to Cubs pitcher Scott Feldman. Feldman promptly hit an RBI single and started a five-run, two-out rally. That didn't stop the Rangers from intentionally walking Barney again in the exact same situation the following inning.

    Really, though, how bad does an opposing pitcher have to be in order for you to walk a lifetime .257 hitter in order to face him? And isn't it more exciting when Scott Feldman starts a two-out rally than when Billy Butler hits one of his 40 doubles of the season?

J.P. Arencibia's K/BB Ratio

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    There have been a lot of free swingers through the years.

    Bo Jackson averaged 0.24 strikeouts per walk during his career. Corey Patterson racked up 4.5 whiffs per free base, while Shawon Dunston checks in with a career ratio of five to one. Miguel Olivo takes the cake, though, striking out 6.8 times per walk over his 12-year career.

    None of that compares to the 22.5-to-1 ratio that J.P. Arencibia has through five weeks of the 2013 season.

    Arencibia doesn't quite lead the league in strikeouts, but he's close. Despite 45 whiffs in 127 at-bats, he's only been granted two free bases all season.

    He's never been particularly adept at putting the bat on the ball, so this isn't anything new. Coming into this season he had 4.5 strikeouts for each walk, which would put him tied for sixth-worst in the list linked in the opening sentence of this slide, if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.

    He has the sixth-worst strikeout rate of any player over the past four seasons, and aside from the aforementioned Olivo, his on-base percentage is 30 points lower than anyone else on the list. In fact, he has the third-lowest on-base percentage of anyone over the last four years.

    His ratio will inevitably improve a bit throughout the season, but this is hardly an issue of a small sample size early in the season. Arencibia has proven throughout his brief career that he's more likely to strike out than get on base. Thus far, he has 297 strikeouts for the 278 times he's reached base.

    By my count, there are only two non-pitchers in MLB history with at least 2,000 plate appearances and a strikeout rate worse than their on-base percentage—Russell Branyan (1,118 Ks vs. 1,115 times on base) and Bo Jackson (841 Ks vs. 812 times on base).

    To see what the other end of the spectrum looks like, there's a Hall of Famer by the name of Joe Sewell who played in the 1920s and 30s. In his career, he reached base 3,148 times via hit, walk or HBP and struck out only 114 times in 8,329 career plate appearances.

    J.P. Arencibia will probably have that many strikeouts by the time we reach the All-Star break.

Yu Darvish's Strikeouts

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    When Yu Darvish is on the mound, opposing hitters just have no chance.

    Darvish has struck out at least one batter per inning in each of his starts and currently has a K/9 of 14.2. Only two people have posted a K/9 of 12.6 or better for an entire season—Pedro Martinez (13.2 in 1999) and Randy Johnson (13.4 in 2001).

    You've heard of those names, right?

    The best K/9 of the past nine seasons belongs to Max Scherzer and the 11.1 mark he put up in 2012 and Darvish looks ready to obliterate that.

    If you haven't seen this GIF of Darvish throwing five different pitches from the exact same release point, it's an absolute must see.

Oakland's Affinity for BBs

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    Not since Barry Bonds was intentionally walked a record 120 times in 2004 has a team eclipsed 700 bases on balls in a season. That year, the San Francisco Giants' batters reached base via walk 705 times.

    The 2013 Oakland Athletics are on pace for 729 walks. Nobody does it like Billy Beane.

    The A's aren't even batting .250 on the season, but they are fourth in the league in on-base percentage and are leading the league in runs scored. They have accomplished all this while playing 15  percent of their games without Yoenis Cespedes.

    The only guys on the team without at least one walk for every 10 at-bats are two of their light-hitting middle infielders—Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales. If those guys are still struggling two months from now, don't be surprised if the A's make a trade with the Dodgers for Nick Punto or Skip Schumaker.

    Not surprisingly, Sogard is the only regular contributor averaging fewer than 3.94 pitches per plate appearance.

    Picking a couple other teams at random to compare against, nine of the 14 Seattle Mariners with at least 50 at-bats this season are averaging fewer than 3.94 pitches per plate appearance. Only two of the nine Cincinnati Reds with more than 50 at-bats are averaging better than 3.94 pitches per plate appearance—their OBP specialists Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo.

    Patience is a virtue. In Oakland, it's a lifestyle.

Who Are You and What Have You Done with Carlos Gomez?

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    Coming into the 2013 season, Carlos Gomez was batting .247 and averaging one home run for every 44 at-bats in his six-year career.

    Naturally, he's batting .364 with a home run in every 18.3 at-bats.

    By ESPN's metrics, his WAR through 30 games is already higher than in any other full season.

    After more than 2,000 career plate appearances, Gomez had a meager OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of 0.673. Other names in that vicinity include Desi Relaford, Jack Wilson, Tony Womack and about 50 other guys who never came close to sniffing 100 home runs in their career.

    This season his OPS is 1.048, which is sixth-best among all qualified batters.

    According to a piece by ESPN's Buster Olney that ran on Wednesday morning (Insider subscription required), Gomez's success this season has come essentially by ignoring everything he's been taught throughout his career. Instead of being a singles hitter, he's just trying to murder every ball to center field.

    That hardly seems like a sustainable strategy, but it's led to a BABIP that's about 120 points better than his career number entering the season.