Just about every Major League team hit the 30 game bench mark over the weekend, and while the MLB season is a marathon not a sprint, 30 games is an adequate sample size to reflect on what we have learned so far.
The Big Spenders in the offseason are not fairing too well
The Angels and Blue Jays spent a lot of money in the offseason and are struggling mightily. The Angels are 11-20, and we have learned that the days of small ball and a great bullpen are long forgotten. They have stolen only 12 bases so far and have a 9:1 strikeout to home run ratio. Josh Hamilton is hitting .208 with two home runs. Then there are their pitching woes. The Angels are second to last in the league in team ERA (4.78) and sixth to last in batting average against (.265). The takeaway: Manager Mike Scioscia is in the hot seat.
Before the season, many experts had the Blue Jays winning the AL East because they acquired R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Melky Cabrera. Now, Toronto is 11-21 with Reyes and Johnson hurt and Cabrera, Buehrle and Dickey all struggling. The takeaway: Don’t sign players who were suspended for steroids a season ago or trade for 38-year-old knuckleballers and injury-plagued starting pitchers.
League Wide Strikeouts
The league-wide strikeout rates are entering unprecedented territory. This past April featured the second-highest strikeout per game total for a single month in MLB history at 15.29 hitters per game. It wasn’t just April either, the top eight highest strikeout per game totals for a month have come in the last eight months of play. That’s right — the last eight months of play are the top eight months for strikeout per game totals in MLB history. The month that holds the top spot is September 2012, when an average of 15.47 hitters struck out per game.
Many hitters will point to April’s cold, bad-for-hitting weather in many cities or the pitchers arm’s being fresher, but when this trend dates back to last season it is pretty safe to say that this is an on-going trend. So what is causing this? Twins catcher Joe Mauer has said recently that pitchers are developing deeper pitch repertoires since he came into the league ten years ago. It could also be that since the ousting of performance-enhancing drugs, hitters now have to try a lot harder to hit home runs leading to more whiffs and thus more strikeouts.
Yu Darvish Can Pitch
This isn’t shocking news — we all already knew Darvish could pitch. However, what we didn’t know heading into the season is that Darvish has a chance to make history. After barely missing a no-hitter on April 2 against the Astros, Darvish is 5-1 with a 2.56 ERA, and opponents are hitting an abysmal .169 off of him. Here is the historic part: In his 45.2 innings pitched so far this season, he has accumulated 72 strikeouts. That’s about 14 strikeouts for every nine innings pitched, which means he is on pace to become the first pitcher since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2002 to strikeout 300 batters in a season. If he keeps this up, Darvish could make history by becoming the first Japanese born pitcher to win the Cy Young.
2013 is a new year for 2012 Cy Young Winners David Price and R.A. Dickey
20-5, 2.56 ERA, 205 K’s — 20-6, 2.73 ERA, 230 K’s
The numbers above reflect the final regular season stats of last season’s Cy Young award winners, David Price and R.A. Dickey respectively. Now, unfortunately, both of these quality pitchers are finding out that 2012 is no more. So far this season Price is 1-3 with a 6.25 ERA and 40 K’s in 44.2 innings. Dickey is 2-5 with a 5.36 ERA and only 33 K’s in 42 innings.
These struggles will almost certainly end for Price because he has proven he can be consistently dominant in the competitive AL East. Furthermore, a guy who throws upper 90s with a plus slider and good command will not continue to get lit up like he has. As for Dickey, these struggles shouldn’t be that surprising. He is 38 years old and has won more than 10 games in a season only once before last year. Perhaps the injuries are causing the knuckleball not to knuckle, but his poor numbers could also be a result of moving out of the poor NL East and into the AL East. Now Dickey has to face the big hitting Red Sox, Yankees and Orioles multiple times a year instead of teams like the Marlins.
The MLB is becoming a young man’s league
We are seeing a dramatic drop-off in the number of players who are still productive into their late 30s. Gone are the days where guys like Barry Bonds were hitting 40 home runs annually in late 30s. Now the game is being dominated by young and freakishly athletic players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw.
What has caused this trend? We don’t know. It could be the passing of the steroid era, which made players better for longer, or simply the manifestation of human evolution right before our eyes. What we do know is that players like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Alex Rodriguez, Roy Halladay and many other aging stars are not doing well at all. Instead, the players who are making headlines are barely out of their teenage years. In honor of this trend, here are the top 10 players who are 25 years old or younger and who are not named Trout, Harper, Kershaw or Strasburg.
Manny Machado, age: 20, 5 HRs, 21 RBIs, .309 BA. First in league among third basemen with .8 defensive wins above replacement, which measures production compared to the average player. Machado is being compared to Orioles Hall of Fame third basemen Brooks Robinson, who won a record sixteen consecutive gold gloves.
Anthony Rizzo, age: 23, 8 HRs, 21 RBIs, .246 BA. Despite the low batting average, Rizzo still maintains a solid .331 on-base percentage, which speaks to his eye at the plate.
Jose Fernandez, age: 20, 1-2, 3.48 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 32 K’s. Fernandez is the fourth pitcher in the last 90 seasons under the age of 21 to throw seven or more scoreless innings with at least nine strikeouts and allow one hit or fewer.
Elvis Andrus, age: 24, .246 BA, 10 RBIs, 6 stolen bases. Andrus’s superb defense and 129 career stolen bases are among the many reasons why the Rangers locked him up with an eight year, $120 million contract extension.
Matt Moore, age: 23, 5-1, 1.95 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 41 Ks. Moore has allowed only 20 hits in 37 innings pitched so far this season, which means … hope for a walk.
Jose Altuve, age: 23, .331 BA, 15 RBIs, 1 HR. The only thing more impressive than Altuve’s batting average is that he is doing it at 5’5”, 173 pounds. The epitome of a baseball player.
Jean Segura, age: 23, .333 BA, 4 HRs, 13 RBIs, 8 stolen bases. After coming over from the Angels in the Greinke trade last season, all Segura has done is hit, hit and hit some more.
Will Middlebrooks, age: 24, .195 BA, 6 HRs, 12 RBIs. Don’t let his early season slump fool you; Middlebrooks was keeping up with Mike Trout last year before falling to injury. Middlebrooks will be a 30 home run guy for a long time in Boston.
Chris Sale, age: 24, 3-2, 3.42 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 42 K’s. Sale has a power arm from the left side and a good feel for all of his pitches. He was in the running for AL Cy Young last year after posting a 17-8 record.
Matt Harvey, age: 24, 4-0, 1.56 ERA, .82 WHIP, 46 K’s. Harvey’s hard fastball, along with the fact that opponents are hitting .153 against him, has people comparing him to Mets Hall of Famer Tom Seaver.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of May 7, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Art by Mingchen Shen of The Daily Nexus.