A great start can do wonders for a player.
For some, it is the fulfillment of hard work, a new workout regiment, a changed approach at the plate, or new found work ethic in the field.
For others, it is merely a flash in the pan, a one or two week hot streak before the player goes right back to being the man we expected as the season begins.
To start 2010, there are many players off to great starts. Some, like Utley, Pedroia, and Pujols are expected, as they are great, MVP-caliber players who are starting the season off right. Others, though, are surprising, and will be discussed at length in the coming slides, and whether there is any chance of a sustained pace.
The start: 51 PA, .372/.471/.860, 6 HR, 253 wRC+
The verdict: No Chance.
The reason: Has Wells suddenly become steroid-version Barry Bonds? I doubt it, but with a .488 ISO, he is hitting like one. However, after undergoing off-season wrist surgery, Wells could potentially be revitalized in 2010, and a return to 2008 form with the bat is a distinct possibility.
The glove is still a big To Be Decided on Mr. Wells, however.
The start: 51 PA, .439/.521/.463, 6 SB, 0 CS, 203 wRC+.
The verdict: Regression, but possibly a nice season.
The reason: Podsednik in 2009 had his best offensive season since 2003 in Milwaukee, hitting .304/.353/.412. He also recorded 7 HR and 30 SB, but thanks to frequently being thrown out (13 CS), Podsednik's wRC+ dropped to 103 (3% better offensive player than the league average).
Of course, many a nerd, like myself, laughed when Podsednik signed with KC, but so far, all the laughs have been his. No one in the world thinks Podsednik threatens to be the first .400 hitter in almost 70 years, but his ZiPS projection update for the season is already up to .306/.369/.401 to go along with an 80% success rate in steals (28/35). Looks like Scott Podsednik still has some use after all.
The start: 44 PA, .342/.409/1.000, 7 HR, 258 wRC+
The verdict: No chance
The reason: No, I did not give Cruz' AVG/OBP/OPS. That is actually his slugging through 44 plate appearances. I think that alone should tell people this hot start will not last.
He is the prototypical Ranger hitter right now, which is low on the OBP end, and loves to slug the ball, but this is ridiculous. This is not just Barry Bonds, this is Barry Bonds (I mean, Jon Dowd) on easy mode in MVP Baseball. His Isolated Power is .658. 50% of his fly balls have left the park.
Cruz is going to have a career year, barring injury, but it would still be hard for me to believe that Cruz will slug over .600 in 2010.
The start: 54 PA, .270/.500/.568, 17 BB, 193 wRC+
The verdict: MVP candidate
The reason: Okay, the 31.5% walk rate will not last. But there are reasons to be high on Wright in 2010, given the start he has had.
1) No early season fluke BABIP: Right now, his BABIP is .318. High for a normal hitter, but actually low for Wright. In last year's opposite-field debacle he was put through from Jerry Manuel, a near-.400 BABIP salvaged his entire season. But in his full seasons (since 2005), he has never been below .321, and maintains a career average of .345. It is perfectly reasonable to believe Wright's batting average will go up.
2) No fluke ISO. .298 is not sustainable, but with a career mark of .211, Wright most certainly has power. His three HR's put him on pace for around 40. I would say he will be closer to 35. Still great for a 3B.
Wright's ZiPS update has him at .303/.412/.512. I am willing to say that could even be a low-ball estimate, and Wright will be in position to win the MVP award that eluded him in 2007.
The start: 48 PA, .324/.479/.649, 10 BB, 219 wRC+
The verdict: All-Star caliber
The reason: Choo might be the most underrated player in MLB right now, and has already established himself as a .300 hitter who walks, hits for respectable power, and plays good defense.
He has outdone his own pace so far, though, with a walk rate of 20.8%, and an ISO of .324. Choo has talents in both these areas, but not this much.
However, I do think he could post a very solid .300/.400/.500 level line. He could very easily out-do his 2009, where he posted 5.0 WAR, and this time, people may actually notice it.
The start: 53 PA, .333/.358/.706, 4 HR, 7 2B, 188 wRC+.
The verdict: No chance
The reason: His 2009 was a tale of two cities, as Gonzalez was a disaster in Cincinnati, but parlayed his hot stretch with Boston to a decent free agent contract this winter.
Gonzalez continues to do what he does at the dish, which is never walk and hope he gets his power stroke going. So far, he has in a big way.
However, his BABIP of .342 is over 60 points higher than his career mark, his slugging is about 50% higher than his career high. He's kept the ball off the ground, but I see no reason why that keeps up.
His ZiPS updated projection is .251/.293/.420, good for 6 runs below average, in 414 PA. Perfectly fine for a good defensive SS, but not exactly the next coming of Honus Wagner.
The start: 52 PA, .442/.529/.628, .529 BABIP, 208 wRC+.
The verdict: Potential All-Star.
The reason: Give credit where it's due to Atlanta, they finally figured out the gem they had in Martin Prado and were rewarded once he finally received regular playing time. A career .314/.369/.460 guy, he's making sure no one in Atlanta misses Kelly Johnson.
Of course, a .529 BABIP is simply unsustainable. It is an inevitability that his numbers will decline once his balls in play start becoming outs at a normal rate.
With the fast start, however, his ZiPS update is at .321/.379/.471, good for about 18.6 runs above average. Of course, he'll also reach 600 PA in all likelihood, bumping this projection up to around 23 wRAA. For an average defensive second baseman, that is all-star caliber production, and a justified reward for a long time wasted as a utility man.
The start: 47 PA, .366/.426/.756, 4 HR, 205 wRC+
The verdict: Regression to average player
The reason: McGahee is now locked in as the starting 3B in Milwaukee, and has gotten his new role off to a bang. Mind me, however, if I am skeptical that a player who was actually demoted in the minors for a season as recently as 2007 is suddenly the next Matt Williams.
While his BABIP is not ridiculous (.333), his line drive rate is just 5.4% right now, and he is living off of the fine line between 350 foot outs and 360 foot home runs. Once his Home Run per Fly Ball rate of 22.2% regresses to a normal level, McGahee's power numbers look to hit the tank.
His ZiPS projection, in my opinion, is harsh, updated to .279/.335/.449. I see McGahee myself as a mid-800's OPS guy. Good for a third baseman, but not exactly an all star (especially with a questionable glove for the role).
The start: 47 PA, .382/.532/.765, 23.4% BB rate, 238 wRC+.
The verdict: Potential All-Star.
The reason: Willingham can hit, and I do not know why more people miss this. His career wRC+ is 126, and has been amazingly consistent since breaking into the majors full time in 2006. He's your prototypical good baseball player.
Let us get some things clear, though. His BABIP will not be .385 going forward. His walk rate will not be in the 20's. His ZiPS update also seems very sane to me, projected to go .271/.374/.505 the rest of the way, and have a full season OPS in the low-.900's.
On that note, let us get some other things clear: just because a player has a "fluke" start, does not mean that the player is bad, or even average. Willingham could play on my Red Sox any day if he wanted to (for the right price, of course). However, we have to be realistic.
The start: 47 PA, .300/.404/.600, .404 BABIP, 167 wRC+.
The verdict: Rookie of the Year, possible MVP candidate.
The reason: Want an exercise in uselessness? Use projection systems to project a hot shot rookie.
Heyward has come in and been the player everyone expected immediately, and while most everything looks fairly reasonable to me given the small sample (.300 BA, .300 ISO, 14.9% walk rate), his .409 BABIP leads me to think regression is due.
But what kind of regression? ZiPS forecasts Heyward to finish up at .278/.351/.457. I disagree, I think Heyward is better than this. In fact, I think Heyward can easily be a .290/.380/.540 guy. That, on top of what looks to be efficient defense, leads me to think Heyward could also see the All-Star game in his rookie season, as well as be a virtual lock for the Rookie of the Year.
And could he outperform that? While I don't think he will, he definitely could, and that would put him in the running for MVP, especially if the Braves fulfill my crazy prediction of 2010 and win the NL East. If they do, I will likely owe Jason Heyward a thank you card.