Trea Turner's first 162 games have featured some greatness, some goodness, and a few remaining questions.
No matter what happens during Trea Turner’s career on the field, he forever left his mark off the field by motivating Major League Baseball to change the way it handles trades of recent draft picks—the Trea Turner Rule, unofficially. Turner was drafted 13th overall by the Padres in 2014 out of North Carolina State, where he hit .342 with 113 steals in 173 games. After signing quickly for $2.9 million, he debuted by hitting .323 with 23 steals in 69 games between rookie-ball and low Single-A, establishing himself as a consensus top-100 prospect right away. And then that winter the Padres traded him. Sort of.
New general manager A.J. Preller was hell-bent on turning a 77-85 team into an immediate winner, giving up prospects, young major leaguers, and piles of cash to bring in Craig Kimbrel, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, James Shields, Melvin Upton, and Derek Norris, among others. Myers was acquired from the Rays in a three-team blockbuster that involved Turner being dealt to the Nationals. However, because he was just six months removed from signing and MLB rules prohibited draft picks from being traded for a full year, Turner’s inclusion in the swap had to be masked as a “player to be named later.”
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.
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.
Ryan Zimmerman credits Daniel Murphy with his comeback season, but can learning from teammates break bad too?
The big story of the Nationals' season so far (other than that guy who got a save the other day) has been the resuscitation of Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman, who has battled injuries for the past few years, reached double digits in home runs for the month of April. According to a story that should probably be called “apocryphal,” Zimmerman’s renaissance can be credited to deep, late-night conversations with teammate Daniel Murphy. Murphy had one weird trick that he suggested Zimmerman might try this year: swing up. Apparently, it worked.
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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.
In the middle of his start, a struggling Adam Wainwright began switching sides of the pitching rubber.
The Cardinals’ season is off to a disastrous start. On Monday night, they got shelled by the Nationals, falling to 2-5. Things are going wrong everywhere, from a generally anemic offense to a bullpen that looks (surprisingly) like one of the NL’s worst. They also haven’t gotten many good innings from their starting pitchers, and on Monday night Adam Wainwright got knocked around by a good Washington offense. He left after facing three batters in the fifth inning, but without retiring any of them and with four Nationals runs already on the board.
If anything, the outing was worse than that brief summary sounds. For most of the night, Wainwright was unable to command his curveball to the third-base side of home plate, and unable to command his cutter to the first-base side. He struggled to create the angles that would allow him to miss bats, especially against the Nationals’ excellent left-handed hitters: Adam Eaton, Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Stephen Drew, and Matt Wieters.
Can whatever got into Daniel Murphy get into Ryan Zimmerman and, maybe some day, Eric Hosmer?
The revelatory figure responsible for changing at least one player’s career first appeared in early August, 2015. It showed itself to an unsuspecting and inconspicuous soul—don’t they all?—who knew himself in concrete terms. Having accepted both the immense gifts that allowed him to ply his lucrative trade, and the limitations that grounded him on a certain level of it, this Daniel Murphy fellow was to be the protagonist of our tale, even if there was no way he could have known it at the time.
The first shock, of course, was seeing the translucent image of himself emerge from his equipment bag (on a decidedly upward trajectory). But, lacking the wherewithal to question this presumed hallucination about its nature and origin, the shock that Murphy remarked upon was its familiar but incongruous wardrobe.
Is there an inefficiency to be exploited by taking so-so center fielders and playing them in a corner?
The Mariners have added Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Haniger to their outfield this offseason and they already had Leonys Martin. The Rays traded Drew Smyly for a group of prospects, which they insisted (to at least some extent) include Mallex Smith, and they already had Kevin Kiermaier. I think the Mariners and Rays made these trades because they thought high-end corner outfield defense was undervalued.