April 18, 2003
Stroll Through the SortablesESPN.com's sortable stats late Thursday night, when I began to realize something. We're on the cusp of when the performances we're seeing start to have some meaning; guys are making their fourth starts, hitters are edging towards 100 plate appearances. For a performance analyst, it's a fun time to take a global look at the numbers.
Now forget everything I just wrote, because Brent Mayne leads the world in OPS. Mayne's .472/.512/.806 performance is one of those fun early-season flukes that, if he can keep it up for another three weeks, will get him a four-page spread in Sports Illustrated, right around the time he reverts to being Brent Mayne. Derek Bell and Ruben Sierra are just two recent examples of players who received the SI treatment off of 50 good at-bats.
Second in the majors in OPS is Sammy Sosa, on the strength of a .549 OBP, fed by 21 walks. As recently as 1996, Sosa walked 34 times in the entire season, so his Bondsian patience reflects a tremendous amount of growth as a player, and a reminder that every player has the potential to surprise us with his development. Sosa may not sustain a 240-walk pace, but he's a lock for 100 free passes and a .400 OBP, which is a sentence I never figured I'd write when I got on this train back in '96.
Sosa's walk rate will mean a boatload of RBIs for Hee Seop Choi, who's sixth in OPS with a .281/.521/.688 line. Choi has shown the power and patience that marked his entire minor-league career, and after sitting twice in the first week, has played in all but one Cubs game since. If that holds, it will mean my criticism of Dusty Baker's choices that first week was premature and that Choi will battle Kurt Ainsworth for NL Rookie of the Year.
Speaking of guys BP has spent countless HTML code pimping, Hank Blalock is just behind Choi at .423/.464/.731. His four walks in 52 at-bats isn't special, but his power is, and he hits just about every ball hard. Blalock can be a .320-.340 hitter, which means he'll get by with a walk rate of one every 10 at-bats.
I want to mention Carl Everett's hot start--.348/.423/.717--mostly because I have him on all three of my fantasy/Scoresheet teams, and spent all winter saying that if he was left alone on a corner, he'd rake. As I like to say when I drop a nine-iron on the green, "blind squirrels and acorns."
Who isn't hitting? ESPN.com lists 221 batting-title qualifiers, and the name at the bottom of the list is Dmitri Young, whose .104/.140/.125 performance stands out even on the Tigers. One of the side effects of the awful Tigers offense is that two of their regulars, Omar Infante and Brandon Inge, don't qualify for the list despite having played in 11 and 10 games, respectively. The team just isn't getting through the lineup four times a game.
The big disappointment is Carlos Pena, who hit well after his trade to Detroit but has opened the year with a .167/.279/.333 performance. He's one of a number of young players potentially playing their way out of jobs; Brandon Larson is at .093/.212/.093, Josh Bard is hitting .186/.271/.233, Mark Teixeira is making it hard to get mad at Buck Showalter for limiting his playing time, putting up a .136/.208/.295 line.
Rocco Baldelli, who was the most popular AL DiSar Award pick, drew a walk Thursday night off of Pedro Martinez after 60 walkless at-bats. AL players with no walks yet include Deivi Cruz with 53 and Bengie Molina with 54. NL walkless leaders are Carlos Baerga and Kevin Young with 23 at-bats each.
The league leaders in ERA look like nothing you'd expect. Of the top seven in MLB, just one has ever had a year with an ERA below 4.00--and that's the top guy, Kris Benson. All of these pitchers are getting a lot of help from their defense; among those seven only Esteban Loaiza is averaging even close to a strikeout an inning; I'd expect Runelvys Hernandez, Shawn Chacon, Ricardo Rodriguez and Jeff Suppan to all disappear from this section of the stats shortly.
ERA can be deceiving at this point, but strikeout-to-walk ratio rarely is. Javier Vazquez is at 26/3; Mike Mussina and Mark Prior are both 25/4, as is Cory Lidle. Vicente Padilla is at 20/3. David Wells hasn't walked a batter yet, while striking out 17 in 22 innings.
Hmmm...maybe we need a pitchers' DiSar Award.