MLB's Biggest Surprises and Disappointments at the 2019 1-Month Mark
The 2019 MLB season is nearly one month old, and there have already been some major surprises and disappointments.
Ahead we've highlighted 10 of the most notable. Among that group are two relievers, two starting pitchers, two position players and four teams, along with a smattering of honorable and dishonorable mentions.
There is still a ton of baseball left in 2019, and a lot can change before the end of the season. For now, here's a quick rundown of the biggest surprises and disappointments of the new MLB campaign.
Disappointment: RP Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers
Jose Leclerc was one of baseball's most dominant pitchers last season.
The hard-throwing right-hander posted a 1.56 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings while tallying 12 saves and 15 holds in 59 appearances for the Texas Rangers, earning a four-year, $14.75 million extension.
While he has managed to nail down five of six save chances this year, he's looked anything but dominant in the process, surrendering a 7.88 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in 10 games.
In the small sample size of eight innings, his walks are up (from 3.9 to 7.9 BB/9), his strikeouts are down (13.3 to 10.1 K/9), he's been far more hittable (.126 to .258 BAA) and he's already allowed two home runs after giving up just one all of last season.
If he continues to struggle, the Rangers may have to consider removing him from the closer's role, at least temporarily.
Other RP Disappointments: Jesse Chavez (TEX), Chad Green (NYY), Jared Hughes (CIN), Keone Kela (PIT), Joe Kelly (LAD), Andrew Miller (STL), Trevor Rosenthal (WAS)
Surprise: RPs Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo, Tampa Bay Rays
A truly terrifying two-headed monster has emerged at the back of the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen in the form of Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo.
The numbers are hard to ignore:
- Alvarado: 12 G, 4/4 SV, 2 HLD, 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 13.5 K/9, .184 BAA
- Castillo: 12 G, 2/2 SV, 5 HLD, 2.08 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, .205 BAA
Alvarado (70 G, 2.30 ERA, 11.3 K/9) and Castillo (43 G, 3.18 ERA, 10.3 K/9) both pitched well in middle relief and setup roles a year ago, so the breakout hasn't exactly come out of nowhere. Still, they've unexpectedly taken another leap in 2019.
Alvarado, 23, throws a heavy fastball that averages 99 mph, and he backs it with a hard slider and a rarely used curveball. He's thrown 39 off-speed pitches this season and has yet to allow a hit off them.
Castillo, 25, throws exclusively a slider (61.8 percent) and a fastball (38.2 percent). The fastball averages 98.4 mph, while opponents have posted a .115 average and .039 ISO against the oft-used slider.
These two have played a key role on a Rays pitching staff that leads the majors with a 2.82 ERA, and they will continue to be vital to the team's success.
Other RP Surprises: Brandon Brennan (SEA), Sam Gaviglio (TOR), Tayron Guerrero (MIA), Francisco Liriano (PIT), Ian Kennedy (KC), Mark Melancon (SF)
Disappointment: SP Matt Harvey, Los Angeles Angels
Matt Harvey appeared to finally have his career back on track following a trade to the Cincinnati Reds last season. After a rough start with the New York Mets, Harvey was traded on May 8 for catcher Devin Mesoraco.
While he didn't return to ace form, Harvey posted a respectable 4.50 ERA and 1.25 WHIP with 111 strikeouts in 128 innings that spanned 24 starts with the Reds.
That was enough to earn him a one-year, $11 million deal from the Los Angeles Angels in free agency, as they hoped that adding him and fellow veteran Trevor Cahill would solidify the starting rotation.
He's returned to batting-practice form, though, serving up 29 hits and 22 earned runs in 24.2 innings for an unsightly 8.03 ERA over his first five starts.
It's worth mentioning that he did turn in a quality start Monday, allowing three hits and two earned runs in six innings against an injury-ravaged New York Yankees lineup. Still, the start to his Angels tenure has been anything but encouraging.
Other SP Disappointments: Chad Bettis (COL), Corbin Burnes (MIL), Carlos Carrasco (CLE), Yu Darvish (CHC), Mike Fiers (OAK), Kyle Gibson (MIN), Jakob Junis (KC), Corey Kluber (CLE), Reynaldo Lopez (CWS), Aaron Nola (PHI), Rick Porcello (BOS), Chris Sale (BOS), Kyle Wright (ATL)
Surprise: SP Caleb Smith, Miami Marlins
Caleb Smith was quietly effective in 2018 before surgery to correct a Grade 3 lat sprain ended his season in June, as he posted a 4.19 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 88 strikeouts in 77.1 innings.
Now that he's healthy, he's been even better.
The 27-year-old has a 2.35 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and a 29-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 23 innings over his first four starts, and his peripheral numbers show significant improvement across the board:
- Strikeout rate: 27.0 to 33.3 percent
- Walk rate: 10.1 to 6.9 percent
- Ground-ball rate: 28.4 to 36.7 percent
- Soft-contact rate: 18.8 to 19.2 percent
- Hard-contact rate: 37.1 to 30.8 percent
This is a pitcher who is figuring things out, and he has a real chance to emerge as the staff ace for a rebuilding Miami Marlins team.
Other SP Surprises: Matt Boyd (DET), Yonny Chirinos (TB), Zach Davies (MIL), Max Fried (ATL), Domingo German (NYY), Jordan Lyles (PIT), Nick Margevicius (SD), Spencer Turnbull (DET)
Disappointment: 3B Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
One of the most notable early storylines of the 2019 MLB season was the record-breaking 54 at-bat hitless streak by Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis that stretched back to last season and included an 0-for-33 start to 2019.
Davis is now hitting .155/.234/.310 for a 46 OPS+.
Why is that relevant?
Jose Ramirez is hitting .157/.237/.229 for a 24 OPS+.
That's right. The guy who has finished third in AL MVP voting each of the past two seasons and had a 150 OPS+ last year has been 22 percentage points worse offensively than the guy who started with an 0-for-33.
A terribly unlucky .171 BABIP has played a role, so there's some positive regression coming. However, that does little to take away from how disappointing his performance has been.
Other Position Player Disappointments: CF Albert Almora Jr. (CHC), IF Zack Cozart (LAA), 2B Garrett Hampson (COL), C Danny Jansen (TOR), CF Cedric Mullins (BAL), IF Jose Peraza (CIN), IF Jurickson Profar (OAK), RF Yasiel Puig (CIN), CF Mallex Smith (SEA)
Surprise: SS Jorge Polanco, Minnesota Twins
As a team, the Minnesota Twins rank near the top in batting average (.272, second), slugging (.503, second) and OPS (.843, third), while averaging a robust 5.7 runs per game.
So it means something to say that shortstop Jorge Polanco has been the team's best hitter.
The 25-year-old ranks among the MLB leaders in batting average (.372, third), on-base percentage (.432, ninth), slugging (.679, ninth) and OPS (1.111, seventh), and he's tallied six doubles, three triples and four home runs in 88 plate appearances.
Manager Rocco Baldelli told reporters:
"I don't know what else you can say. We talk about him being hot. Yeah, he's swinging the bat well, but it's the quality of these ABs. We talk about it every day before the game and every day after the game -- he gives himself an opportunity because he swings at good pitches, and he finds a way to get the barrel on the ball on a very consistent basis."
That five-year, $25.75 million extension the Twins gave him during the offseason is already looking like a stroke of brilliance.
Other Position Player Surprises: SS Tim Anderson (CWS), DH Yandy Diaz (TB), 3B Hunter Dozier (KC), OF Clint Frazier (NYY), OF Brian Goodwin (LAA), OF Adam Jones (ARI), IF Tommy La Stella (LAA), OF Austin Meadows (TB), C Omar Narvaez (SEA), OF Dwight Smith Jr. (BAL), 1B Dan Vogelbach (SEA), 1B Christian Walker (ARI)
Disappointment: Cincinnati Reds
At a time when so many non-playoff teams were content to stay the course with rebuilding efforts, the Cincinnati Reds made an aggressive push to improve this past offseason.
Adding Sonny Gray (5 GS, 3.28 ERA) and Tanner Roark (4 GS, 3.60 ERA) to the rotation has helped the team move from 25th (5.02) to sixth (3.29) in starters' ERA, while the bullpen has once again been a strength with a 3.33 ERA that ranks third in the majors.
However, the offense has gone in the opposite direction:
- 2018: 4.3 RPG (18th in MLB), .254 BA (8th in MLB), .729 OPS (15th in MLB)
- 2019: 3.6 RPG (25th in MLB), .201 BA (30th in MLB), .651 OPS (27th in MLB)
Outfielders Yasiel Puig (.183 BA, .552 OPS), Scott Schebler (.153 BA, .525 OPS) and Matt Kemp (.200 BA, .493 OPS), and infielder Jose Peraza (.159 BA, .403 OPS) have been the biggest offenders.
As a result of the struggling offense, the Reds are 9-13 and the only team under .500 in the NL Central.
A plus-five run differential and the improved starting staff provide reasons for optimism. They can't afford to fall too far behind in an ultra-competitive division, though, and thus far the 2019 Reds have been a major disappointment.
Surprise: Pittsburgh Pirates
On the opposite end of the NL Central spectrum, the Pittsburgh Pirates are off to a 12-9 start thanks to a dominant showing on the mound.
The rotation has been lights-out from top to bottom:
- Jameson Taillon: 26.0 IP, 3.12 ERA, 1.12 WHIP,
- Chris Archer: 23.0 IP, 2.74 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
- Joe Musgrove: 28.1 IP, 1.59 ERA, 0.85 WHIP
- Trevor Williams: 31.1 IP, 2.59 ERA, 0.96 WHIP
- Jordan Lyles: 17.0 IP, 0.53 ERA, 0.88 WHIP
That group has turned in 15 quality starts in 21 games and leads the NL with a 2.26 starters' ERA.
The decision to dump Ivan Nova (25.2 IP, 8.42 ERA, 1.75 WHIP) and use some of the savings to sign Jordan Lyles to a one-year, $2.05 million deal is already looking like one of the smartest of the offseason.
As long as the starting rotation keeps pitching at such a high level, this team has a real shot at contending for a playoff spot, after it looked like it might be battling to avoid a last-place finish heading into the year.
Disappointment: Boston Red Sox
How bad has the 2019 season been for the Boston Red Sox?
Only the Baltimore Orioles (-48) and Miami Marlins (-45) have a worse run differential than the minus-43 the defending champs have posted en route to a 9-15 start.
While the bullpen has not been the glaring weakness many expected it to be, the starting rotation has been awful with an MLB-worst 6.22 ERA and just four quality starts in 24 games.
Rick Porcello (8.47 ERA), Chris Sale (7.43 ERA), Eduardo Rodriguez (7.20 ERA) and Nathan Eovaldi (6.00 ERA) have all been hit hard, and the team is relying heavily on that group.
Meanwhile, the offense has gone from 5.4 to 4.1 runs per game, and the OPS has plummeted by more than 100 points from .792 to .691.
The Tampa Bay Rays look like serious contenders in the early going, and the New York Yankees are keeping their heads above water with a plus-30 run differential despite a ton of injuries, so the Red Sox are facing an uphill battle in the AL East.
Surprise: Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners were 2-0 before the official Opening Day arrived after they bested the Oakland Athletics in a two-game series in Japan. Since returning stateside, they've not shown any sign of slowing down.
They hold a half-game lead in the AL West with a 16-10 record and a plus-29 run differential.
After trading James Paxton, Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, Mike Zunino and Alex Colome during the offseason, it looked like the M's were headed for a rebuilding season.
Instead, they've performed like legitimate contenders, thanks in large part to some key contributions from a number of unexpected sources:
- C Omar Narvaez: 79 PA, .929 OPS, 5 HR, 12 RBI
- 1B Dan Vogelbach: 73 PA, 1.287 OPS, 8 HR, 14 RBI
- SS Tim Beckham: 96 PA, .933 OPS, 5 HR, 16 RBI
- LF Domingo Santana: 118 PA, .876 OPS, 5 HR, 27 RBI
- SP Erik Swanson: 13.2 IP, 4.61 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 12 K
- RP Brandon Brennan: 14.0 IP, 3 HLD, 1.29 ERA, 0.79 WHIP
- RP Roenis Elias: 13.2 IP, 4/4 SV, 2.63 ERA, 1.02 WHIP
It remains to be seen if this group will hold up for the duration, but thus far, it's been the best story of April and an easy team to root for with so many new faces coming together.