CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Sma... (04/09)
<< Previous Column
The Lineup Card: 10 He... (04/02)
Next Column >>
The Lineup Card: Eight... (04/16)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Minor League Update: G... (04/09)

April 9, 2014

The Lineup Card

Seven Memorably Misleading April Performances

by Baseball Prospectus


1. Tuffy Rhodes, 1994
The Chicago Cubs' Tuffy Rhodes kicked off the 1994 season with a bang, going 4-for-4 with three solo home runs on Opening Day against the Mets. To say Rhodes’ performance was a surprise would be an understatement. Coming into the ‘94 season, the then-25-year-old had amassed just 280 major-league at-bats and hit a grand total of five home runs. But Rhodes didn’t just perform on opening day that year. He hit .276 in the remaining games of April, smacked three more homers, and added five doubles. Rhodes would finish the month with a slash line of .313/.396/.600 with six home runs, five doubles, and 10 RBI. After that performance, some thought the Cubs might just have their center fielder of the future. Unfortunately, one month does not make a career, or even a season. Tuffy Rhodes would hit just two more home runs in 1994, and by 1996, he was playing in Japan, where he would end his career some 13 years later. —Joe Hamrahi

2. Chris Shelton, 2006
No other player in MLB history began the year with 35 total bases in the first five games. (Nobody else had more than 30.) His batting average after five games was .700. Only five others hit nine homers in the first 13 games, and four of them are Hall of Fame-caliber. Shelton, a former Rule Five draft pick who was already regarded as a decent hitter (but not an elite power bat) did all of this.

That month, I recall ESPN had a poll about which first baseman you would build your team around; options other than Shelton included Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, Paul Konerko, and the like. Another ESPN online poll asked how many home runs Shelton would hit that year; 14 percent said he'd break Barry Bonds' record. The Internet was hopped up on April sample size.

  • April: .326/.404/.783, 10 HR, 104 PA
  • Rest: .256/.318/.363, 6 HR, 308 PA

The rest of the year went so poorly for Shelton, he was optioned to Triple-A, mostly because the Tigers were in the rare position of being competitive and needing someone to hit, and he was ultimately left off the playoff roster. He would be traded the following year and hit two more homers in his MLB career. He was never again included in an online poll alongside Pujols, but on a full moon in the state of Michigan you will see the occasional Chris Shelton jersey on the streets, not fully knowing for sure whether it's him. —Matt Sussman

3. Raul Ibanez, 2011
Ibanez, then 39, posted one of the worst Aprils in the league three years ago by hitting .161/.247/.218. Given his age and poor play, it would've been easy to assume his days as a productive player were behind him. Yet Ibanez rebounded. He went on to play in 120 more games and hit .261/.297/.458 while homering 19 times. It's an obvious lesson, but not every old player who starts with a bad month is finished. —R.J. Anderson

4. Carlos Silva, 2010
Do you remember Carlos Silva? I’m willing to bet that your version of Silva differs from mine. For most, Silva was a pure innings eater with an absurdly low strikeout rate. He was the quintessential Twins pitcher in a lot of ways, as the low strikeout rates were frequently accompanied by high hits totals and low walk rates. He was mayo, and his career came to an unfortunate end. Cubs fans have a different view of Silva. The portly pitcher was acquired from the Seattle Mariners for Milton Bradley, who famously charmed then-GM Jim Hendry into believing that he was a changed man before becoming a clubhouse cancer for the Cubs and essentially putting up zero production in 2009. Trading for Silva was a nothing deal, but for one glorious April stretch, it looked like Jim Hendry had somehow managed to pull one over on Seattle. Silva started the year 8-0 and became the first Cub to do so since Ken Holtzman did it in 1967.

Silva was a dynamo, specifically in April, when he posted a 1.73 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP. Alas, it wasn’t meant to last, as Silva faded badly after June and was pulled from a start on August 1 with an abnormal heart rate. Silva would sign a few minor-league deals in 2011 and 2012 but he never made it back. The heart condition makes his story bitter in my eyes, but for a few months Silva got to play the part of staff ace in a most misleading fashion. That’s a lot more than most pitchers can say. —Mauricio Rubio

5. Giancarlo Stanton, 2013
At the end of play on April 26 of last year, 17 games into his season, Giancarlo Stanton had zero home runs. Even four games at Great American Ball Park couldn't get him off the schneid. Panic was setting in among Marlins fans and antsy fantasy owners. To make matters worse, Stanton wasn't really coming close to the fences he was supposed to be clearing by a mile.

Suddenly, the next day, Stanton remembered that he has 80-grade raw power—more moonshot ability than anyone in the league. He went yard thrice in his next three games, before hitting the disabled list, and then returned in June with four more in the first seven contests after he was activated.

Next time your fantasy team's cornerstone carries a bagel in the "HR" column more than 10 percent of the way through the season, just remember: A three-week sample and a bout with shoulder soreness can make even the mightiest hitter in baseball look feeble. —Daniel Rathman

6. Danny Heep, 1983
In 1983, I was 11 years old and rooting for the Mets. Danny Heep opened the season in right field. He ended April with a .362/.446/.574 slash line.

Who is the wonder acquired from Houston, young Harry rejoiced. All the Mets had to do was give up Mike Scott.

Imagine my confusion and dismay when the Mets called up some prospect and handed him Heep's well-deserved job. No more checking the morning papers for Heep's place among the batting leaders.

Well, it didn't take long to get over that. Darryl Strawberry—lesson learned. It took longer to realize the full cost of the Mike Scott trade, but that's another story. —Harry Pavlidis

7. Brian Roberts, 2005
Brian Roberts’s April 2005 gave him a chance to be talked about and treated like an elite player for a while. He got a lengthy feature in the Washington Post talking about how he overcame a heart defect in childhood and a stature not typical of major league baseball players. Harold Reynolds declared that Roberts was the most likely player then active to be able to break Joe Dimaggio’s hitting streak, rather than the easy pick of Ichiro. Reporters asked him about his contact lenses. David Schoenfield began an ESPN column as follows: “This is what bugs me about April baseball: Brian Roberts.”

As Schoenfield pointed out, Roberts to that point was a career .264 hitter with 12 home runs in 1500 at-bats. It would make no sense for Roberts to have suddenly become Rogers Hornsby, but his April numbers were astounding: .379/.459/.726. He had eight homers and 10 steals, pacing him to join the 40–40 club. The good fortunes, of course, did not last. Roberts played the rest of the season at a very respectable .300/.373/.472 clip—a career year, but not superhuman. His subsequent seasons have been solid (when healthy), but not spectacular.

Roberts is still around, now playing second sack in the Bronx. What better place to break DiMaggio’s hit record, as Ichiro’s teammate? —Dan Rozenson

Related Content:  April

17 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Pat Folz

Woo, Chris Shelton! #1 Rule 5 pick the year the Pirates bungled their roster management so badly that they had players taken with 5 of the first 6 picks. None was considered a huge talent at the time, but it still hurts to lose free contributors -- Shelton and Jeff Bennett each played in the Majors for a few years, and another one picked (ironically, the lowest-picked Pirate in the Major League phase, and who was eventually returned to the Pirates) was... Jose Bautista.

Apr 09, 2014 04:40 AM
rating: 3
 
Dave from Pittsburgh

No honorable Mention to bonafacio whos hitting over .500 still?

Apr 09, 2014 05:00 AM
rating: 0
 
swarmee

Well, he hasn't proven that he can't sustain it this year! ;-) Maybe a few years down the line, he'll be on one of these lists.

Apr 09, 2014 05:19 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Matt Sussman
BP staff

Bonifacio also hit .485 through his first seven games in 2009. I think he just loves opening weeks.

Apr 09, 2014 05:55 AM
 
Roy in Omaha

Except that it was omitted here that Rhodes went on to what was arguably the finest career by an American player in Japanese Baseball League history, and is likely going to be elected to their Hall of Fame when he is eligible to be considered in 2014. Rhodes hit 474 homers in Japan and he tied Sadaharu Oh's Japanese League single season homer mark one season at 51. I don't know that he was a shining example for inclusion on this list, much less, being # 1 on it.

Apr 09, 2014 05:02 AM
rating: 4
 
TeamPineTar

Well, Roy, Japan is Japan; and this is not to diminish your point. But in AMERICAN baseball-cultural history, Rhodes will always be Tuffy "April" Rhodes the way Dent will always be Bucky "Fucking" Dent in Boston. The BP staff has included the counter-examples of "April Famine/Season Feasts" of Stanton and Ibanez. And the "April Feast/Career Season" of Roberts really doesn't belong.

The other three vignettes are Tuffyesque. Heep probably still riles New Yorkers, but as much or more in trade lore than "April" oddities. Plus, Heep was so long before the fantasy craze that his performance did not impact tens of thousands of leagues. Silva's 2010 was still quite useful overall and ended in tragedy rather than the comedy of glory-to-joke. Of all the above, though, the 2006 Chris Shelton Story is probably worthy of knocking Tuffy off the high throne. Sussman's memories, the stats, the framework of the five-game TB record to "full moon over the state of Michigan" conclusion are masterly.

I recall Shelton not being auctioned in either of my leagues, being added as a $10 default, and then being traded for one of or the best base stealer in a category adjustment trade that became a joke in that league. The trade was probably for Reyes, Figgins or Pierre.

Shelton surely affected many tens of thousands more fantasy leagues in 2006 than Tuffy did in 1994 and probably would deserve the all-time "April Feast/Career Bust" identification more than Tuffy, as you point out. But that's not the way popular culture icons arise.

Tuffy "took the cake" by absconding to Japan. His subsequent success there after failure in the USA underscored US major league superiority in a way that satisfies our nationalism or half-empty ethnocentrism or pathetic racism, too. Tuffy had many offers to return to MLB but never did. Maybe he was going all Wilt Chamberlain with the Ladies of Nippon. I saw a picture long ago of Tuffy in a kimono, attended by a couple of Japanese beauties. To this day, that image makes me LMAO. The more it becomes clear which way the talent flows, the mythology of Tuffy's narrative and his stature as Baseball Comedy King of April grows. No flag waving here, either: It's about stacks of $100 bills, not "USA! USA!"

But don't think Chris Shelton or anyone else will ever knock Tuffy off his comic perch.

Kudos to Matt Sussman for a virtuoso, amusing skinny on Shelton! I think I'll start re-telling the fantasy baseball story of Shelton-for-Reyes. I'm not sure that's who the other party was, but by now it's better narrative than Shelton-for-Pierre or Figgins. We're all addicted to the facts if we are BP enthusiasts, but that doesn't mean we have to get all the STORIES correct. In our mythologies, the facts should not get in the way.

Apr 09, 2014 07:18 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Hamrahi
BP staff

Couple of things...First, the list isn't in any particular order. Second, this is about cutting it in the Major Leagues in the U.S., not Japan. There are plenty of Japanese players who had great careers that never played an inning in MLB. There are also a number of players who went to Japan because they couldn't stick with a major league team. So I stand firmly behind my decision to include Rhodes on this list. I'll give him all the credit for having a great career in Japan. But in the end, he had one really good April in Major League Baseball, but that's it.

Apr 09, 2014 07:32 AM
 
misterjohnny
(925)

Tuffy Rhodes absolutely belongs on this list. Every year at our auction we talk about him, since that was one year we actually drafted *after* opening day. Good times.

Apr 09, 2014 09:54 AM
rating: 1
 
bhalpern

Pitchers may be streakier in general but CC Sabathia's 2008 started horrendously. He's had a few mixed April's over the years but in 08 he was absolutely terrible, going 1-4 while giving up 28 R - all ER - in 32 IP (1.78 WHIP, only 1.94 K/BB). The rest of the season 16-6, 1.97 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 5.19 K/BB.

Apr 09, 2014 06:41 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

Sabathia's 08 was on my shortlist before I went with Stanton.

Apr 09, 2014 09:47 AM
 
newsense

Didn't Tuffy Rhodes set a HR record in Japan?

Apr 09, 2014 06:42 AM
rating: 0
 
NYYanks826

He did, but then Wladimir Balentien destroyed it last year.

Apr 09, 2014 18:07 PM
rating: 0
 
derflotr

2010 Ubaldo Jimenez. Started 5-0 with 0.79 ERA in April, hot streak extended through May. Distinctly remembered prognosticators confident he would win 30 games (stunk it up in the summer, ended up with 19).

Apr 09, 2014 07:19 AM
rating: 1
 
tonyfranco

I would include Fernando Valenzuela's 1981 start.

5 starts
5 complete games (45IP)
4 shutouts
0.20 ERA
43K/11BB

In the 1-0 win on April 22nd he drove in the only run.

Of course he continued the streak with 3 more complete games to begin May. Which included another shutout, a game with 1ER, and the last with 2ER. He also hit .360 in this 8 game streak.

Apr 09, 2014 08:16 AM
rating: 0
 
bline24

In 2009, David Ortiz came into the season dinged up and out of shape and posted a .230/.290/.333 April slash line with 0 HR and a troubling 22 Ks in 87 AB. He followed it up with a .143/.278/.242 line in May. The Boston faithful were calling for him to be benched. Fortunately, he found his swing in June and everyone lived happily ever after.

Apr 09, 2014 09:23 AM
rating: 2
 
JPinPhilly

Max Scherzer's March/April 2012 numbers come to mind. He had a 7.77 ERA after his first five starts. Over the course of the rest of the season his ERA went from 7.77 that first month to 4.04 in May, 3.86 in June, 3.62 in July, 2.25 in August, and then finally to his 1.95 ERA in six September starts. And then in 2013, well, he was pretty good.

I had him in a keeper league to start 2011 and dropped him after a few starts before I changed my mind and grabbed him again. The clues were there. His BABIP was .442 that first month. There were lots of signs indicating that this was just some bad luck.

Apr 09, 2014 12:08 PM
rating: 0
 
JPinPhilly

Meant to say I had him to start 2012 and dropped him.

Apr 09, 2014 12:08 PM
rating: 0
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Sma... (04/09)
<< Previous Column
The Lineup Card: 10 He... (04/02)
Next Column >>
The Lineup Card: Eight... (04/16)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Minor League Update: G... (04/09)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article League Preview Series
Every Team's Moneyball: Minnesota Twins: Reb...
Premium Article Skewed Left: History Repeats Itself
Premium Article League Preview Series
Premium Article Pitching Backward: Why Relievers Get A Free ...
Premium Article Spring Training Notebook: Cactus League
Prospectus Feature: How the Astros do Spring...

MORE FROM APRIL 9, 2014
Premium Article Overthinking It: The Minor League Leaders Wh...
Premium Article Notes from the Field: Backfield/Minor-League...
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Wednesday, April 9
Premium Article What You Need to Know: You Must Learn Contro...
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of Tuesday, April...
Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Small-Sample Numbers That...
Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Buying Low, Letting Go, a...

MORE BY BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
2014-04-16 - The Lineup Card: Eight Notable Early-Season ...
2014-04-16 - BP Announcements: Saberseminar Tickets on Sa...
2014-04-10 - What Scouts Are Saying: April 10, 2014
2014-04-09 - The Lineup Card: Seven Memorably Misleading ...
2014-04-02 - The Lineup Card: 10 Headlines for 2014
2014-03-26 - The Lineup Card: 10 Players Whose Seasons We...
2014-03-21 - Pre-Season Predictions
More...

MORE THE LINEUP CARD
2014-04-30 - The Lineup Card: 10 Things We Learned in Apr...
2014-04-23 - The Lineup Card: 10 of Our Favorite Pitches
2014-04-16 - The Lineup Card: Eight Notable Early-Season ...
2014-04-09 - The Lineup Card: Seven Memorably Misleading ...
2014-04-02 - The Lineup Card: 10 Headlines for 2014
2014-03-26 - The Lineup Card: 10 Players Whose Seasons We...
2014-03-19 - The Lineup Card: 11 Spring Training Performa...
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2014-04-10 - Premium Article Skewed Left: The Surprising Sameness of Just...