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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

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