Playing 'Reality or Mirage' with MLB's 10 Biggest Week 1 Performances

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistApril 6, 2014

Playing 'Reality or Mirage' with MLB's 10 Biggest Week 1 Performances

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    James Paxton.
    James Paxton.Associated Press

    After a full spring of baseball people saying time and again not to put too much stock into preseason numbers, the regular season is finally here, and we can start poring over some MLB statistics that actually matter.

    How much stock can you really put into a week's worth of games, though? Every year, there are a handful of people who get off to scorching starts in April only to regress to expectations before May rolls around.

    With that in mind, here is a look at 10 players who are off to terrific starts this season and my take on whether their production is reality or mirage.

     

    *Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies

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    David Zalubowski

    Stats: 12-for-20 (.600 BA), 3 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 5 R, 2 SB

     

    Player Overview

    With Dexter Fowler traded to the Houston Astros in the offseason, the Colorado Rockies had an opening in center field and atop the lineup heading into camp.

    Newcomers Drew Stubbs and Brandon Barnes were in the running for the job along with incumbents Corey Dickerson and Charlie Blackmon, and Blackmon has played his way into the starting role early.

    The 27-year-old was solid in limited action last season, hitting .309/.336/.467 over 246 at-bats. He's obviously not going to keep hitting .600, but the offensive tools are there for him to be a solid table setter atop a good Rockies lineup this season.

     

    Reality or Mirage?

    Reality. I've got Blackmon pegged for a .300-plus average over 450-plus at-bats.

Emilio Bonifacio, Chicago Cubs

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Stats: 13-for-24 (.542 BA), 2 2B, 3 R, 4 SB

     

    Player Overview

    The Chicago Cubs jumped at the chance to add some much-needed speed atop their lineup, scooping up Emilio Bonifacio after the Kansas City Royals released him in February.

    He started off his Cubs career with a bang, setting the modern record with nine hits through his first two games. His defensive versatility and good wheels should make him a useful piece for the Cubs all season.

    That said, the 28-year-old was a .262/.322/.340 career hitter entering the season, and he's never hit over .300 in a season, so expect him to regress to being a decent utility man very soon.

     

    Reality or Mirage?

    Mirage.

Mark Buehrle, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Chris O'Meara

    Stats: 8.2 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 11 K

     

    Player Overview

    Now 35 years old, left-hander Mark Buehrle has been as consistent as they come as he enters his 15th big-league season and second year with the Toronto Blue Jays.

    Like much of the Blue Jays roster, he was relatively disappointing last season, going 12-10 with a 4.15 ERA over 33 starts. He finished the year strong, though, and after his terrific first start this year, he is now 8-3 with a 2.83 ERA over his last 14 starts.

    With a career 5.2 K/9 mark, chances are he's not going to maintain his current strikeout rate, but there's no reason the savvy veteran can't put together a strong bounce-back season.

     

    Reality or Mirage?

    Reality on the strong start, mirage on the strikeouts.

Tony Cingrani, Cincinnati Reds

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    Al Behrman

    Stats: 7 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 2 BB, 9 K

     

    Player Overview

    The Cincinnati Reds saw enough out of Tony Cingrani last year as a rookie that they did not think twice about letting veteran Bronson Arroyo walk in free agency, turning his rotation spot over to the young left-hander.

    The 24-year-old saw more action than expected last year with Johnny Cueto missing significant time, and he finished the year 7-4 with a 2.92 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 104.2 innings of work.

    His nasty stuff and impressive minor league track record suggest he has a bright future ahead of him, and he's no doubt one of the best young pitchers in the game.

     

    Reality or Mirage?

    Reality.

Aaron Harang, Atlanta Braves

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Stats: 6.2 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 3 K

     

    Player Overview

    Hit by a wave of injury this spring that saw two projected starters lost for the year to Tommy John surgery and a third on the disabled list to open the season, the Atlanta Braves jumped at the chance to add a proven arm in Aaron Harang after the Cleveland Indians released him this spring.

    His 2013 numbers were not great, as he went 5-12 with a 5.40 ERA over 26 starts, but his 4.38 xFIP (via FanGraphs) suggests he threw the ball better than his numbers reflected.

    In his first start of the year, the 35-year-old kept the Milwaukee Brewers out of the hit column through the first six innings, picking up the win. However, unless he throws the ball equally well his next couple times out, he's likely ticketed for the bullpen or Triple-A once the Braves rotation returns to full strength with the additions of Mike Minor, Ervin Santana and Gavin Floyd.

     

    Reality or Mirage?

    Mirage, though he could wind up being useful depth like Freddy Garcia was last season.

Tim Hudson, San Francisco Giants

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    Ross D. Franklin

    Stats: 7.2 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 7 K

     

    Player Overview

    Despite the fact that he is 38 years old and coming off ankle surgery, the San Francisco Giants gave Tim Hudson a two-year, $23 million deal to replace Barry Zito in the rotation.

    He was 8-7 with a 3.97 ERA through 21 starts in 2013 before his season came to an abrupt end when he broke his ankle covering first base, and he entered the 2014 season with 205 career wins under his belt.

    After showing no ill effects of the ankle surgery this spring, he opened the season with a terrific start against the Arizona Diamondbacks. As long as he can avoid injury, he looks like a solid No. 3 starter behind Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain in the Giants rotation.

     

    Reality or Mirage?

    Reality.

Casey McGehee, Miami Marlins

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    Lynne Sladky

    Stats: 9-for-20 (.450 BA), 4 2B, 1 3B, 10 RBI, 2 R

     

    Player Overview

    With a glaring need at third base and a thin free-agent crop to choose from, the Miami Marlins went outside the box this offseason and signed veteran Casey McGehee to a one-year deal after he spent last year playing in Japan.

    The 31-year-old hit .292/.376/.515 with 28 home runs and 93 RBI in 513 at-bats for the Rakuten Golden Eagles last season, and that was enough for the Marlins to take a chance on him with a $1.1 million contract.

    So far so good, as he finds himself penciled in as the team's cleanup hitter right now behind Giancarlo Stanton. Expecting him to keep up this pace is unrealistic, though, given his track record. He has a chance to be a two-WAR player with some decent run production numbers, but don't expect an All-Star performance.

     

    Reality or Mirage?

    Mirage, but still worth every penny of $1.1 million.

James Paxton, Seattle Mariners

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Stats: 7 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 2 BB, 9 K

     

    Player Overview

    Taijuan Walker was the Seattle Mariners pitching prospect everyone was talking about entering the season, but it's fellow rookie James Paxton who has stolen the show here in the early going for the M's.

    The left-hander looked sharp in a four-start cup of coffee last year, going 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. He followed that up with a dominant first outing this year, allowing just two hits and striking out nine against a good Los Angeles Angels lineup.

    With Walker still nursing a sore shoulder, it is the 25-year-old Paxton who looks like a legitimate AL Rookie of the Year candidate, and he has the stuff and the upside to keep his impressive start going.

     

    Reality or Mirage?

    Reality.

Mark Trumbo, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Stats: 10-for-32 (.313 BA), 1 2B, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 6 R

     

    Player Overview

    The Arizona Diamondbacks entered the offseason looking for a power bat to protect Paul Goldschmidt, and they found their man in Mark Trumbo, picking him up in a three-team trade at the winter meetings.

    His .234/.294/.453 line and 184 strikeouts last season kept him from being an elite-level player, but he did have career highs with 34 home runs and 100 RBI. That was enough for the Diamondbacks to pull the trigger on a deal, and he has looked like a serious weapon here in the early going.

    The strikeouts will be there again, and he probably won't hit better than .250, but with the move to hitter-friendly Chase Field, a 40-homer season is not out of the question.

     

    Reality or Mirage

    Mirage on the batting average, reality on the power.

Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Nam Y. Huh

    Stats: 10-for-21 (.476 BA), 2 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R

     

    Player Overview

    Chase Utley proved he still has something in the tank last season, as he stayed healthy enough to play 131 games and hit .284/.348/.475 with 18 home runs and 69 RBI to post a 3.2 WAR.

    That earned him a two-year, $27 million extension, and with three option years tacked onto the back of the deal, it looks like the 35-year-old will finish his career in Philadelphia.

    Keeping him healthy will be the key, as his knees and his back are now another year older, and my guess is he winds up missing significant time at some point. If I'm wrong, there is no reason he can't be one of the more productive second basemen in the game.

     

    Reality or Mirage?

    Mirage, only because he'll likely wind up missing time.