Irrational MLB Conclusions After the 2017 Season's First Month
There are a few rational conclusions to draw after the first month of the 2017 MLB season. For example: Mike Trout is still really good, and the New York Mets are totally screwed.
But irrational conclusions? There are some of those too.
The last time we dove into this topic was after the first week of the season, when things were in the heart of Small Sample Size territory. The sample sizes have since gotten larger, but they're still not quite large enough for all early developments to be set in stone.
With that in mind, it's time to run through a list of eight irrational conclusions and offer rational rebuttals for each.
Ryan Zimmerman: Obviously the Best Hitter in Baseball
Holy moly. Have you people seen what Ryan Zimmerman is doing?
The veteran seemed to have left his star status behind when he managed just a .642 OPS last year. But when April turned into May this season, he was either leading or co-leading MLB in:
- Home Runs: 11
- Hits: 37
- RBI: 29
- Average: .420
- Slugging Percentage: .886
- OPS: 1.345
If it's a major offensive statistic, Zimmerman is owning it.
Who knows? This could be for real. Bad 2016 season aside, Zimmerman has generally been a good hitter. And now he's healthy. So...maybe?
Eh, maybe not.
There's no arguing with Zimmerman's results, and he does deserve a tip of the cap for getting with the times and upping his launch angle. Viva la fly ball revolucion!
Otherwise, Zimmerman's exit velocity is basically the same as it was in 2016. It's not too surprising to see that he has the second-largest gap between his expected wOBA—it's like OPS, except with more geek cred—and his actual wOBA.
Even without additional context, he'd be due for regression. In this case, the additional context includes how bad he was in 2016 and how iffy his durability has been for much of his career.
There's also this: Only Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds have ever finished a season with an OPS over 1.300.
Eric Thames: Just Try to Stop Him from Mashing Dingers
Zimmerman is great and all, but how about this Eric Thames character?
He went abroad for a spell after his first chance at MLB stardom fizzled out. Now he's back and making it look easy. He ended April with a .345/.466/.810 slash line and 11 homers of his own.
Surprising for those of us stateside, maybe, but not for anyone who watched him in Korea.
It was there that Thames carried out his transformation from an MLB washout into a dinger-mashing Leviathan. He averaged a 1.172 OPS and 41 homers over three seasons.
Juicing, you say? Pah. Thames has already been tested several times and has made it clear he has plenty more blood and urine to go around. Don't tempt him, haters.
All of the above is duly noted. But what about the Cincinnati Reds effect?
Thames has a 1.976 OPS and eight homers against their terrible pitching. That's compared to a relatively human .969 OPS and three homers against everyone else.
This isn't to suggest Thames is some slouch. He's shown excellent discipline, which is a good starting point for elite hitting.
But his swing hasn't packed a huge punch. Through April, balls were leaving Thames' bat at an average of 11.9 degrees and 89.6 miles per hour. The latter is as hard as Buster Posey, who homered once all month.
So like Zimmerman, Thames has been a bit lucky. Still good! But a bit lucky.
Ervin Santana: Now the Most Elite of Baseball's Elite Aces
Clayton Kershaw? Psh.
Max Scherzer? Psh.
Chris Sale? Psh.
So far this season, they're all chumps compared to Ervin Santana. He has a 0.77 ERA through five starts, easily the best in the majors. Before anyone can even think of doing a "Well, actually" on ERA, consider this: Santana also leads MLB in hits per nine innings (3.3) and WHIP (0.66).
Besides, this isn't some rando we're talking about. Santana has been a good pitcher for a long time and is coming off a quietly good 2016 season. Why can't this be a logical next step?
Well, actually, here's the thing about ERA: It doesn't tell the whole story.
In fairness, Santana's ERA isn't entirely accidental. He's pitching in front of one of the most efficient defenses in baseball and has been one of the best at stifling exit velocity so far. That's a good combination.
But with only 26 strikeouts and 10 walks in 35 innings, Santana hasn't been overpowering or precise. No matter how good he is at pitching to his defense, it's a tad unfair to expect him to keep stranding 99 percent of the runners that get on base against him.
Somewhere below Santana right now is the earth. He'll come back to it eventually.
Mike Leake and Ivan Nova: Obviously the National League's Best Pitchers
Neither is on Santana's level, but Mike Leake and Ivan Nova have at least ascended to the top of the National League's pantheon of aces.
Leake ranks first in the NL with his 1.35 ERA. Nova is just a tad behind him at 1.50.
Maybe this isn't so surprising.
After all, Leake was a good pitcher for years in Cincinnati despite having to pitch at the bandboxiest of bandbox ballparks. So of course he would take the next step at a place like Busch Stadium.
As for Nova, any baseball fan worth his/her salt can see that he has Ray Searage's fingerprints all over him. The Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach is known for his Midas touch with pitchers. Nova is the latest to feel it.
With Santana, at least you could point to excellent contact management combining with excellent defense to form some semblance of dominance.
With Leake and Nova, that's not so easy to do.
To their credit, Leake and Nova have combined for only six walks in 69.1 innings. But they've also combined for just 47 strikeouts. That's 6.1 per nine innings, well below the starter average of 7.9.
Leake and Nova should go on to have good years. They just won't be anywhere near this good.
Carlos Correa: Turning into a Bust Before Our Very Eyes
Man, those Houston Astros are something else. A 16-9 record to lead the AL West? Impressive stuff.
Shame about Carlos Correa, though.
He hasn't been terrible. He's not Curtis Granderson or anything. But a .236/.317/.360 slash line doesn't jump off the page. It stays firmly on the page, wallowing in misery.
Perhaps this was inevitable. As great as Correa was as a rookie in 2015, he did disappoint as a sophomore in 2016. That's no way to follow up a Rookie of the Year award, and this is no way to show last year was a fluke.
His agent says he doesn't want to sign a multi-year contract extension? He'll be lucky if he even gets an offer at this rate. Better pick it up.
Take a closer look at Correa's 2017 season, and you'll see the heat emanating from more recent efforts.
He started slow, but he's now in the midst of an eight-game stretch in which he's hitting .303 with a .907 OPS. That'll do for progress.
Take an even closer look at Correa's 2017 season, and you'll see that he's answering the big question he needed to answer. His swing was powerful but flat in his first two seasons. Now his launch angle is higher than ever. That's a good sign.
That's one thing that puts Correa on the flip side of Zimmerman and Thames. Where they've been lucky, he's been unlucky. That should change with time.
Justin Verlander: Back to Bad Again
Looking back now...ugh, what a cruel tease that was.
Verlander has looked anything but vintage in 2017. He only has a 4.60 ERA through five starts.
It's as if 2014 Verlander traveled forward in time and couldn't suffer to share the same plane of existence with a better version of himself, so he took matters into his own hands.
Either that, or maybe Verlander is preoccupied with marrying Kate Upton. Or maybe he just wants another beer.
In fairness, wouldn't you be anxious to marry Kate Upton? And don't you just want another beer?
Besides, give the guy a break. Verlander may have a 4.60 ERA, but he's only had two bad starts. One of those was a nine-run stinker in which he may have been tipping his pitches.
His arm appears to be fine. Too fine, if anything. His fastball velocity is still trending up, but his slider, curveball and changeup are moving faster as well. That's not a good recipe for changing speeds.
All the same, he's still struck out 30 batters in 29.1 innings. He couldn't strike guys out like this back in 2014.
Don't confuse Verlander's current self with his worst self. He'll be fine.
Texas Rangers: From AL West Champs to AL West Whipping Boys
Sure, it's only been one month. But it's darned startling to see the Texas Rangers go from the best team in the American League to, well, this.
"This" being a team that's 11-15 and tied with the Seattle Mariners for last place in the AL West.
Seriously, what the heck?
At least the Mariners can blame their poor fortunes on roughly half their star players' being injured. Adrian Beltre aside, the Rangers don't have that many injured stars. They flat-out stink.
Do they, though?
The Rangers have had their struggles, to be sure. But they ended April with a plus-eight run differential, the best of any sub-.500 team.
It's not hard to see where better things should spring from. The Rangers are sixth in the American League in runs even though Jonathan Lucroy, Mike Napoli, Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara are holding them back. They'll get better, and Beltre will be back soon too.
"Sometimes it clicks right away, sometimes it takes longer," said shortstop Elvis Andrus, per MLB.com's Anthony Andro. "We're still fighting. We are believing in the process. We understand every game is going to be different. As long as we keep working and everybody makes adjustments, we'll be in good shape."
Because they went an unsustainable 36-11 in one-run games last year, the Rangers were never likely to repeat their 95-win performance this season. But they're better than they've shown.
Colorado Rockies: The Team to Beat in the NL West
Finally. Somebody other than the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants is kicking butt in the NL West.
The Colorado Rockies exited April with a 16-10 record and first place in the NL West all to themselves. They're getting it done in truly modern fashion: just enough good work from their starting pitchers and a whole lot of good work from a bullpen that might be baseball's best.
Just wait until their offense gets going. They're already fifth in the National League in runs and haven't gotten anything from Ian Desmond and little from Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story and DJ LeMahieu.
Once they get going, it'll be all glory to the Rockies.
But that glory will only come if their luck holds.
Baseball-Reference.com calculated that the Rockies got four wins from luck in April. No other National League team got more than one such win.
This isn't too hard to believe. The Rockies won six more games than they lost in April despite allowing six more runs than they scored. That's rarely a good sign.
While their bullpen has been good enough to pick up the slack for their starters so far, how long can that last?
The 4.76 ERA put up by Rockies starters has necessitated 90.1 innings out of Rockies relievers. That's a heavy workload that might ultimately break the bullpen's back.