Early-Season MLB Overreactions You Should Avoid Making
Baseball fans often have short memories. Long-term success, track records of mediocrity or recent failures are part of every offseason narrative, but April statistics and a poor game or two on national television can quickly change the tenor around a team or player.
For fanatics of the sport, overreacting to the day-to-day results of a 162-game season is natural, yet confounding. After all, baseball is often billed as a marathon. When watching a 26.2-mile race, it would be foolish to overreact to every step a runner took.
At this point of the 2014 MLB season, overreacting is akin to denouncing a marathon runner about two miles out of the starting block. The race has begun, but the finish line is a long, long way from now.
Despite the numbers surrounding the following players and teams, take a deep breath and let the season play out. Your eyes may not be fooling you, but it's much wiser to trust track record and projections than results this early in a season.
Statistics—valid through the end of play April 15—courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster projections via MLB Depth Charts.
CC Sabathia Is Done
CC Sabathia isn't the dominant ace of the past. When glancing at his 88-89-mph fastballs and 6.63 ERA, that is a certainty and far from an overreaction. In fact, the 33-year-old southpaw owns an unsightly 83 ERA+ since the start of the 2013 season.
After a decade (2002-2011) of dominance—159-91, 3.44 ERA, 127 ERA+, 47.7 WAR—the former Indians and Brewers star is fading from ace status in his sixth season as a member of the New York Yankees. Despite a $23 million salary in 2014, Sabathia is probably the third- or fourth-most talented pitcher in the current Yankees rotation.
But he's far from done as a productive major league starter. Despite the hefty ERA since Opening Day 2013, Sabathia owns a 3.64 xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching) during that frame, good for 36th among qualified starters over the last last 13 months. That number is better than the marks posted by James Shields, Justin Verlander and Jon Lester.
Aside from velocity issues, Sabathia has been giving up home runs at an alarming rate. Due to xFIP normalizing home run rates, the metric implies that Sabathia has been pitching well aside from allowing long balls.
At $23 million, the Yankees likely hoped for Sabathia to profile as something better than the 36th-best starter in baseball. However, with doom and gloom surrounding their former ace, perspective is needed in New York. Sabathia isn't great anymore, but he's a good bet to rebound and pitch at an above-average level.
Milwaukee Is a Playoff Team
Through the first two weeks of the 2014 season, the success of the Milwaukee Brewers has been a major story. With a powerful, aggressive offense, solid starting pitching and a stingy bullpen, the NL Central leaders shot out of the gate like contenders.
Due to a 10-4 start, Milwaukee's playoff odds increased exponentially. As FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan notes (h/t Rob Neyer of Fox Sports), the Brewers jumped from about 15 percent to 30 percent postseason odds thanks to early-season success.
Despite the good feelings emanating from Miller Park, don't plan on making a down payment for Brewers postseason tickets just yet. After a 74-88 campaign in 2013, the Brewers are clearly an improved club. In a crowded NL wild-card picture, though, there's little guarantee that improvement will equal a spot in October.
Outside of Los Angeles, Washington and St. Louis, a slew of NL teams have the potential to compete for two spots in the postseason, including Milwaukee.
For now, this is a contender. But it will take more than a fast start to propel the Brewers ahead of teams like Atlanta, San Francisco and Pittsburgh in the league hierarchy.
Robinson Cano Can't Hit for Power Away from the Bronx
From 2007 to 2013, Robinson Cano averaged 25 home runs per season for the New York Yankees. After he signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners, the upstart AL West contenders hoped to immediately jolt their offense with Cano's power-hitting bat.
Through his first 54 plate appearances as a Mariner, though, Cano didn't hit a home run and generated only two extra-base hits.
Due to the short right-field porch in Yankee Stadium and more expansive outfield dimensions of Safeco Field in Seattle—not to mention pitcher-friendly parks in the AL West like Angel Stadium of Anaheim and O.co Coliseum in Oakland—it's easy to wonder if Cano's power was a product of New York and will diminish now.
Save yourself the concern, Mariners fans. Since debuting for the Yankees in 2005—nearly a full decade ago—Cano has posted almost identical slugging percentage numbers at home (.505) and on the road (.502).
Cano's new manager, Lloyd McClendon isn't concerned with the power outage from his star hitter, per Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times.
"I’m not the least bit concerned about Robby’s first home run," McClendon said. "Check the book, they will be there. When it’s all said and done, his numbers will be right they are supposed to be."
One of baseball's best pure hitters can hit and thrive anywhere, from New York to Seattle. By the end of the 2014 season, expect 25-30 home runs and a slugging percentage over .500 from the potential future Hall of Fame second baseman.
Kansas City Is Poised to Disappoint
Heading into play on April 16, the Kansas City Royals sported the second-worst run differential (-12) in the American League. The only team less apt at outscoring opponents thus far this season: the Houston Astros.
It's early, but the Royals caused some worry in Kansas City by dropping seven of their first 11 games. A victory in Houston on Tuesday night brought the postseason contender to 5-7 and two games back of the AL Central lead. A losing record through 12 games is far from a reason to panic, but last place is a difficult look for a franchise looking to play in October for the first time since 1985.
The list of AL contenders is so deep and so long that it's likely easier to just list the teams that have almost no chance of staying in the race through the All-Star break: Minnesota and Houston. Prior to the start of the season, Chicago could have been on that small list, but 82 runs and eight wins through mid-April is enough to hold off those types of declarations.
Similarly, Kansas City shouldn't be labeled a disappointment or held to a 95-win standard this early in the 2014 season. After playing well in the second half of 2013 (43-27), sky-high expectations followed the Royals through spring and into the regular season.
With a young, ascending team, success will soon follow. Give this group time before predicting disappointment.
Bullpens Can't Be Fixed
How quickly we forget. On April 10, 2013, Boston Red Sox closer Joel Hanrahan blew a save, lost the game and saw his early-season ERA balloon to 11.57. Three innings earlier, a middle reliever named Koji Uehara pitched a scoreless sixth inning for the Red Sox.
Every year, some bullpens are destined to pitch really, really poorly and derail the work of solid rotations and good lineups. By August, fans will have an idea about how good or bad each bullpen in baseball truly can perform. In April, however, projections, blown saves and pessimism are a waste of time.
In Philadelphia, a nightly turn of the radio dial to Sportsradio 94WIP would lead an outsider to believe that the 2014 Phillies have the worst bullpen in baseball history. To be fair, a 5.53 ERA through 42.1 innings (per ESPN) is bad, but there's more to the story and room for improvement.
As Bob Brookover of The Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out, the bullpen is likely taxed due to an exorbitant amount of work in relief of a starting rotation failing to provide length. Furthermore, Mike Adams—signed prior to the 2013 season to act as Jonathan Papelbon's setup man—hasn't pitched an inning this season due to injury.
If Phillies starters pitch deeper into games and the bullpen becomes whole, performance could quickly shift in Philadelphia. Much like in Boston last April, the same can be said for almost any bullpen struggling early in the season.
Despite early-season results, manager Ryne Sandberg offered a positive take on his relievers, per Jack McCaffery of The Trentonian.
“There has been positive stuff out of the relievers,” Sandberg said. “They’ve been asked to pitch a lot and have had their moments. It’s early in the season, and when you look at the games that we’ve been in and had a chance to win, the relievers had a part in that."
Mark Buehrle Is an AL Cy Young Candidate
Mark Buehrle has compiled an amazing career since debuting for the White Sox as a 21-year-old during the 2000 season: 13 consecutive 200-inning seasons, 189 career victories, a perfect game, a World Series title, four All-Star Game nods and four Gold Glove awards.
Not among those accolades: a Cy Young award, with a fifth-place finish in 2005 the only time he's received votes.
While the durable and excellent lefty is off to a great start in 2014 (3-0, 21 IP, 0.86 ERA, 8.00 SO/BB), don't expect the 35-year-old to keep this type of dominance up for long, let alone across the entire season.
Amazingly, Buehrle hasn't allowed a home run yet in April. Since becoming a full-time starter for the White Sox in 2001, Buehrle has surrendered an average of 25 long balls per season. Considering his less-than-overpowering arsenal and time spent in hitter-friendly parks like U.S. Cellular Field and Rogers Centre, those numbers are solid.
When using xFIP to normalize home run rates, Buehrle's sterling ERA becomes a 3.01 xFIP early in the season. That's good and should suffice for a Blue Jays team that had pitching issues last summer. But it's not close to enough to generate Cy Young buzz for the veteran starter.
Agree? Disagree? Which stories are fans overreacting to early in the season?