Parsing Baseball's Early Surprises: Barry Bonds or Chris Shelton?

Eugene KimCorrespondent IApril 14, 2008

In 2001, Barry Bonds hit seven home runs in the first 14 games of the season en route to the single season home run record. In 2006, Chris Shelton hit nine home runs in the first 14 games of the season en route to the AAA Toledo Mud Hens.

Sure, it’s early, but are these surprising starts reflections of reality or early flukes?

Detroit’s Record (2-8)

The Detroit Tigers, already crowned the 2008 On-Paper World Series Champions, have limped out to a pathetic 2-8 record. Are they that bad? Of course not.

They’ve been playing without the injured Curtis Granderson and as everyone points out, Miguel Cabrera is a career .311 hitter (as if even an average major leaguer could hit .175 for a whole season).

Even allowing for a decline from Gary Sheffield and a regression back to the mean for Magglio Ordonez, this is a formidable team that’s slumped at the wrong time.

That’s not to say that there’s no concern. The pitching staff looks awfully shaky, and Dontrelle Willis has picked up where he left off in 2007, producing pitching lines that genuinely look like typos. Not to mention their closer’s arm is pretty much all rubber bands and duct tape at this point. Chris Shelton

Joe Saunders’ Start (1.27 ERA, 2-0)

No way. The guy’s been adequate in his career, but he doesn’t miss enough bats. Not that his 1.27 ERA is generally sustainable anyway by even the finest starters, but a very lucky BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) has powered his hot start. Chris Shelton

The Kansas City Royals (7-5)

I think the Royals are going to have a good season. There. I said it. I’m not saying that they’ll win the division or anything, but this team is really starting to blossom and they have some good parts.

Mark Grudzielanek is as steady and reliable as ever, though he'll never surprise you. Billy Butler and Alex Gordon are the requisite young studs. Jose Guillen managed to hit 23 balls over Safeco’s vast expanse last year, and Zack Greinke’s got his head on straight.

All they need is some leadership and a smattering of luck, and Trey Hillman will give the Kauffman faithful something to cheer about – finally. Barry Bonds

Crede’s Bat (.341, 4 HR, 15 RBI)

I will preface this by admitting that you should never underestimate a player who plays half his games in U.S. Cellular Field, a park in which a hard-hitting Little Leaguer could conceivably hit 40 homers.

But with that said, Crede’s early performance is shouting “fluke,” especially when you consider how little he’s gotten on base his entire career—and how rare it is for a guy to have a peak year coming off back surgery. Chris Shelton

Mark Reynolds’ Power (.298, 5 HR, 15 RBI)

Let’s get one thing out of the way. Reynolds’ power is real, and he plays in a great park tailored for posting killer offensive numbers. But he also strikes out at a prodigious rate.

Can he make enough contact to offset all the times he gets himself out? That’s a question a lot of people are asking, but I think he will. There’s plenty of room for a guy who hits around .270 and jacks out 30. Barry Bonds

The St. Louis Cardinals (9-4)

Of course, the Cards feature a man who is arguably the best player in the major leagues. But outside of him, what do they have?

Rick Ankiel is more Adam Dunn than Manny Ramirez and batting about 40 points higher than he should be, and the annual Braden Looper spring cocktease is still in full effect.

Guys surprise us all the time and that’s what makes sports great, but the smart money is against the Looper-Thompson-Wellemeyer trio ever evoking memories of Smoltz, Glavine, and Maddux. Chris Shelton

Carlos Gomez’s Start (.269, 5 SB)

Granted, this would have been a lot more controversial if I had written this earlier when Gomez was still hitting .450.

Unfortunately, you should expect Gomez’s ceiling this year to be close to what his stats are now. The man has a career minor league OBP of .339, which is pretty terrible for a guy who figures to bat leadoff.

He has apparently made no progress this year, as he’s drawn a paltry two walks in 52 at-bats. That’s not Chone Figgins or Ichiro. That’s straight up Juan Pierre...at best. Chris Shelton