Irrational Conclusions to Draw from 2017 MLB Opening Week

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2017

Irrational Conclusions to Draw from 2017 MLB Opening Week

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Nothing gets fans riled up like the small sample size that is the first week of the MLB season.

    If a superstar hitter falls into a weeklong slump in June or an ace starter gets shellacked in July, no one really bats an eye.

    But when that scoreboard shows a .071 batting average or a 13.50 ERA here in early April, it's a different story entirely.

    So with that in mind, we've decided to pinpoint some irrational conclusions that fans might be drawing after just a handful of games and to provide a counterargument with a rational rebuttal.

    Sound like fun?

Kris Bryant: The Sky Is Falling

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Irrational Conclusion

    The pressure of trying to repeat as World Series champions.

    The pressure of trying to duplicate an MVP season.

    The pressure that comes with being the face of the most talked-about team in baseball.

    It's all just too much for Kris Bryant to handle.

    The Chicago Cubs young star is off to a brutal 0-for-13 start with six strikeouts in three games. He's chasing pitches out of the zone, he's swinging through breaking pitches, and he's simply trying to do too much.

    The 25-year-old is a good player, but last season was a total fluke. There's no way he comes anywhere close to the numbers we saw a year ago.

    Rational Rebuttal

    Phew, that was hard to write.

    Look, you don't accidentally post a .939 OPS with 39 home runs, and you don't accidentally win an MVP.

    That's elite-level production from a player who is just entering the prime of his career and has shown the ability to make necessary adjustments. If you'll recall, he trimmed his strikeout rate from 30.6 to 22.0 percent last season in the face of everyone worrying about him striking out too much.

    He's going to be just fine.

    But hey, if someone in your fantasy league is spouting off that same nonsense you read above, by all means, buy low while you still can.

Yasiel Puig: Back to "Wild Horse" Status

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    Ryan Kang/Associated Press

    Irrational Conclusion

    The "Wild Horse" is back!

    It's sometimes easy to forget just how dynamic Yasiel Puig was when he first debuted in 2013 and earned that nickname from the legendary Vin Scully.

    The corner outfield spots looked like a question mark for the Los Angeles Dodgers at the start of spring training, but now they appear to have a legitimate MVP candidate on their hands in right.

    Puig is playing with a chip on his shoulder after seeing his name pop up in trade talks and then earning a minor league demotion shortly after the 2016 All-Star break.

    No more Puig shenanigans. He's dialed in and ready to post monster numbers.

    A 5-for-12 start with three home runs in four games is all the evidence we need to see that's clearly where his season is headed.

    Rational Rebuttal

    It's probably too soon to go quite that far, but there was some cause for optimism surrounding Puig to begin with after his strong performance down the stretch last year.

    He returned from his minor league demotion when rosters expanded in September and went on to post a .900 OPS with four doubles, four home runs and 11 RBI in 65 plate appearances to close out the year.

    Big picture, we're still talking about a very small sample size.

    Like 80 plate appearances of terrific production after a season-and-a-half of disappointment kind of small.

    By all means, be optimistic that he can continue raking, but you know who else has three home runs this year?

    Pitchers Madison Bumgarner and Michael Lorenzen in four combined plate appearances, and no one is expecting that duo to lead the league in home runs.

    Although...

Corey Kluber: Cy Young Candidate to Batting Practice Pitcher

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Irrational Conclusion

    Corey Kluber is paying the price for all those innings he tacked onto his arm last postseason.

    After throwing 215 frames during the regular season—the third year in a row with at least that many—he worked another 34.1 innings in October while pitching on short rest more than once.

    Those 249.1 total innings were uncharted territory, even for a workhorse like him.

    The first signs of trouble came this spring when Kluber pitched to a 6.17 ERA while allowing 27 hits and 16 earned runs in 23.1 innings.

    His Opening Day start wasn't much better, as he surrendered six hits, three walks and five earned runs over six innings of work against the Texas Rangers for a no-decision.

    Someone else is going to have to step up in the Cleveland Indians rotation because Kluber won't be that dominant ace here in 2017.

    Rational Rebuttal

    Kluber finished last season at 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 227 strikeouts in 215 innings to finish third in AL Cy Young balloting.

    Does anyone remember how he started last season?

    He got knocked around for nine hits and four earned runs in 5.1 innings on Opening Day, and three starts into the season, he was still sporting an unsightly 6.16 ERA.

    The year before?

    Kluber was 0-5 with a 5.04 ERA in his first seven starts before snapping out of that funk with an 18-strikeout performance against the St. Louis Cardinals.

    Some guys are just slow starters.

    Kluber has proven to be one of those guys, so let's give it some time before mashing the panic button, shall we?

Brandon Finnegan: Ace on the Rise

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Irrational Conclusion

    Anyone who watched Brandon Finnegan on a regular basis last season could see this coming.

    Sure, he wasn't always consistent from start to start, but when he was on, he was as good as any pitcher in the National League.

    Just look at his month of August: 6 GS, 2.65 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 9.9 K/9

    The 23-year-old is ready to make the jump to elite status, and he made that clear in his first start of 2017, allowing just one hit and striking out nine over seven shutout innings.

    The Cincinnati Reds still have a long way to go in rebuilding, but at least they have an ace to build the rotation around going forward. 

    Rational Rebuttal

    Where to begin.

    Finnegan did show some flashes last season, but one great start doesn't erase those questions about his consistency.

    Case in point: He pitched to an 8.10 ERA in the five starts prior to that stellar month of August and followed it up by going without a quality start in September.

    He also benefitted from some tremendous luck all season. His 3.98 ERA was accompanied by a 5.19 FIP, and his .256 BABIP ranked 65th among 73 qualified starters.

    Then there's the fact that those seven scoreless innings earlier this week came against the Philadelphia Phillies.

    That lineup isn't all that different from the one that finished 29th in the majors in batting average (.240) and dead last in OPS (.685) and runs per game (3.77) a year ago.

    Finnegan has a chance to prove he belongs in the conversation for a long-term place in the Cincinnati rotation, and his first start was a nice step toward doing that.

    Let's just pump the brakes on the ace talk for now, though.

Texas Rangers: Postseason Pretender

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Irrational Conclusion

    The Texas Rangers didn't do enough this offseason to improve. Meanwhile, the division rival Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners both got significantly better and passed them by in the process.

    A season-opening sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians proved exactly that.

    The bullpen is a complete dumpster fire. Just look at the numbers:

    • 0-2, 0/2 SV, 10.38 ERA, 8.2 IP, 11 H, 10 ER, 4 BB, 8 K

    Closer Sam Dyson (1.0 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 8 ER) has been the biggest culprit, and setup relievers Matt Bush and Jeremy Jeffress have both given up runs as well, so get ready for the ninth inning to be a revolving door.

    The offense is also a mess, as they're hitting just .227 as a team. And it's already obvious Mike Napoli (1-for-10, 6 K) was a terrible signing.

    Really, all they have going for them is starting pitching, with all three starters going at least six innings.

    They'll be lucky to finish .500 this year.

    Rational Rebuttal

    The Cleveland Indians are pretty good, guys.

    The Rangers have the unlucky distinction of being the first team swept by them this season, but you can bet they won't be the last.

    Dyson's struggles are troubling, no question, but he's only in the closer's role because Shawn Tolleson went from standout closer to mop-up reliever a year ago.

    When you don't have that proven Aroldis Chapman/Kenley Jansen-type, it's not uncommon for the bullpen to devolve into a fluid situation and for someone else to step forward into the closer's role. Everything worked out fine a year ago and there's no shortage of talented arms in that pen if Dyson continues to struggle.

    Scoring runs won't be an ongoing issue for this team, either. There's plenty of talent in the lineup, and they're only going to get better once Adrian Beltre returns from a calf strain.

    In fact, the biggest long-term concern still appears to be the back of the starting rotation and the overall starting pitching depth.

    The Astros look great, and the Mariners have plenty of potential as well, but let's not count out the defending AL West champs just yet.

Minnesota Twins: Postseason Contender

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Irrational Conclusion

    The 2016 season was just a bump in the road for this Minnesota Twins team.

    Remember in 2015 when they surprised everyone with an 83-79 record?

    They're just taking that next step forward a year later than expected, and now it's time for them to legitimately contend for a playoff spot.

    The starting rotation is strong from top to bottom, the bullpen is deep, and the offense will be carried by Miguel Sano—who is ready to break out as a bona fide superstar.

    Everyone is sick of hearing about the Cleveland Indians. It's the Twins that people should be talking about in the AL Central.

    Just look at the numbers:

    • CLE: 3-0, .260 BA, .790 OPS, 7.00 RPG, 4.33 ERA, 1.15 WHIP
    • MIN: 3-0, .263 BA, .786 OPS, 7.00 RPG, 1.67 ERA, 0.93 WHIP

    They're basically the same team offensively, and the Twins clearly have a better pitching staff.

    AL Central title, here we come.

    Rational Rebuttal

    Oh, hypothetical Twins fan. You're setting yourself up for some serious disappointment, my friend.

    First off, that 2015 season was a fluke. That winning record was propped up by a 30-19 start, and the team went 53-60 the rest of the way.

    The starting rotation is off to a nice start, but it's essentially the same group of guys that posted an MLB-worst 5.39 starter's ERA a year ago.

    Is anyone really afraid of that three-headed monster of Ervin Santana, Hector Santiago and Kyle Gibson?

    If the Twins have a lower team ERA than the Indians at the end of the season, I'll literally eat these words. Print them out, cover them in some Sriracha and call it lunch.

    No question it's been a promising start for Sano, but it's been an equally troubling start for another important young player in Byron Buxton (1-for-14, 7 K).

    The Twins are better than that 103-loss total from a year ago suggests, but they're also still a long way from contending.

Comically Early Award Winners

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    AL MVP: George Springer, HOU (.313/.389/.938, 1 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI)

    The Houston Astros are 3-1, and Springer has been their best player so far. He's launched three home runs, including one of the walk-off variety on Wednesday, and he's added some stellar defense in the outfield.

    AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, BOS (1 GS, ND, 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K)

    With Red Sox fans already squirming at the thought of being without David Price for at least a month, Sale went out and turned in the dominant start the team needed for some peace of mind in his Boston debut.

    NL MVP: Yasiel Puig, LAD (.417/.563/1.250, 1 2B, 3 HR, 5 RBI)

    We've already talked about Puig at length here. He's been the clear offensive standout on a Los Angeles Dodgers team that is off to a nice 3-1 start.

    NL Cy Young: Carlos Martinez, STL (1 GS, ND, 7.1 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 10 K)

    The torch was passed to Martinez as the ace of the St. Louis Cardinals last season, and he looks poised to take that next step toward elite status. Hard to believe that Opening Day was just the fourth double-digit strikeout performance of his career.

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, MLB.com and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.