Consistent greatness in sports is incredibly difficult to achieve. There are off years and injuries and aging and all sorts of other factors conspiring to keep athletes from remaining at the very top of their sport for long stretches. And yet in the rare instances when someone comes along and actually does it, they’re often taken for granted eventually. Michael Jordan won “only” five MVP awards despite most media, fans, and players agreeing that he was the best player for perhaps twice that many seasons, because on some level a fatigue set in. The best player in the world being the best player in the world became monotonous.
It was a good first quarter for the Rockies, Yankees, Nationals, and Diamondbacks.
In this space yesterday, I examined the four struggling teams that have seen their BP Playoff Odds drop the most through one-quarter of the season. Let’s flip things around now and look at the four teams that have seen their odds rise the most since Opening Day.
The first quarter of the season has not been kind to the Giants, Mets, Pirates, and Mariners.
To slightly tweak a well-worn saying, you can't win a playoff spot in the first quarter of the season, but you can lose it.
The following four teams have seen their BP Playoff Odds decline the most since Opening Day, through slow starts, crowded disabled lists, and various other calamities. Let's take a closer look at how each team fell so far so fast, as well as how they might climb out of the early hole with three-quarters of the season left to play.
This season is old enough to know better, but some early hitting performances really stand out.
I know it’s still too early in the season to draw meaningful conclusions about much of anything because my beloved Twins have a winning record, but we are far enough along that only seven hitters with 100 or more plate appearances are beating their 90th percentile PECOTA projections by at least 200 points of OPS. Two of those seven, Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman, are great hitters off to especially strong starts, leaving five genuine, out-of-nowhere surprises among full-time position players. By the end of the season they may all have turned back into pumpkins, but in the meantime my curiosity is piqued.
Bryce Harper is off to a great start, which is business as usual for one of the best April hitters of all time.
I realize, given the Nationals’ lack of October success, that using a “Mr. April” moniker in relation to Bryce Harper may be viewed as criticism of some sort. That’s not my intention. Harper has hit four career playoff home runs—tied with Miguel Cabrera, Jimmie Foxx, Johnny Bench, Chipper Jones, and Jose Canseco for the 10th-most ever through age 24—and I have no doubt that he’ll put up plenty of big playoff numbers in the future. For now, though, his opening-month numbers are the ones worth drooling over, because few players in baseball history have ever hit like Harper in April.
Maybe teams should be being even more aggressive signing prospects to long-term contracts.
Jon Singleton signed a long-term contract with the Astros before he’d even played a major-league game, inking a five-year, $10 million deal one day ahead of his June 3, 2014 debut. At the time Singleton was a 22-year-old consensus top prospect, cracking both the Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America top-100 lists in four consecutive seasons. Other prominent prospects—including Astros organization-mate George Springer—had turned down similar pre-debut offers, and some critics believed that Singleton was signing away his future too cheaply.
How many top-ranked shortstop prospects actually go on to play shortstop in the majors?
Last weekend the Twins announced that their top prospect Nick Gordon, the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft, would cease playing exclusively shortstop and begin spending some time at second base as well. Positional versatility is not a bad thing, but Gordon’s draft stock was based on the belief that he was a shortstop, period, so the fact that there’s uncertainty about his ability to stick there before he even got to Double-A is discouraging. As a rail-thin 21-year-old with a poor walk rate and just five home runs in 293 games as a pro, Gordon will likely need to have significant defensive value to be a big-league asset.
Gordon’s older brother, Dee Gordon, was also a top prospect as a shortstop who later moved to second base. Dee, who cracked BP’s top 101 prospects list in 2010 and 2011, remained a shortstop long enough to log 147 major-league starts there in 2011-2013, but then shifted to second base full time in 2014 and hasn’t played shortstop since. When talk of little brother Nick possibly moving off shortstop got louder a couple weeks ago, Dee spoke up, telling Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: “I’m not their front office, but my brother is a shortstop and it’s going to be tough for him to play second.”
There's a lot riding on comebacks by Michael Brantley, Kyle Schwarber, and A.J. Pollock.
Michael Brantley was one of baseball’s best all-around outfielders in 2014 and 2015, hitting a combined .319/.382/.494 with 35 homers, an MLB-high 90 doubles, 38 steals, and more walks (112) than strikeouts (107) in 293 games. He easily led Indians position players in WARP during that two-year span and placed third in the AL MVP voting in 2014. And then he missed nearly the entire 2016 season following offseason shoulder surgery, appearing in just 11 games and seeing zero action after mid-May.