The first month of the Major League Baseball season has been rather eventful, and there are some really big storylines that are already building. Some things will drastically change, and some things will never really get back on track, but it is always interesting to see how a start to the season can change the dynamic of a player, team, or league.
The Early Surprises
I think that the Tampa Bay Rays are pretty easily the biggest surprise of the season so far with the best record in baseball. This is mainly due to the dominant pitching so far and the improved top of the order. I am still not scared of this Rays order, but guys like Austin Meadows and Tommy Pham are legitimate pro hitters, and the Rays have really lacked that for a few years.
Their team ERA is 2.95 led by the opener strategy, Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, and Tyler Glasnow. All three of these guys are in completely different places in their career, but they are all really talented and have elite stuff. Glasnow is the biggest surprise of the three, but the talent has been there all along. I hope we see Glasnow continue to keep the walk rate low and if we do, he should continue this early success.
The Yankees are 17-12 in one of the strangest starts to a season I have ever seen in any sport. The Yankees had one of the easiest opening schedules in baseball, so they were expected to get off to a hot start, but then they ran into some sorcery that has cast the worst injury spell in modern baseball history onto this team to start the year. The Yankees have seen Luis Severino, CC Sabathia, Dellin Betances, Didi Gregorius, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Hicks, Miguel Andujar, Troy Tulowitzki, Clint Frazier, Greg Bird, and DJ Lemahieu ALL miss multiple games due to injury and most of them have missed basically all of the season.
Those are 13 guys that are almost all above average baseball players. To put this incredibly bad luck into perspective, since 2000, the team with the most WAR on the DL at one time was the Nationals at 21 WAR on the DL. The Yankees have had over 33 WAR on the IL this season, and that is using previous year’s numbers in WAR, which don’t give Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge enough credit for their actual importance due to injuries that hindered them last season.
This is good and bad for this team, as they still have one of the best records in baseball, but they would obviously like to be at least 50% healthy.
Cody Bellinger’s K/HR ratio WILL NOT continue, and I would be selling high on Bellinger right now, but he has been on fire to start the year, and this shows in his K-rate. Bellinger has struck out just 11% of the time, half as much as he has in any professional season. I don’t see a ton of major adjustments that make me think Bellinger is the best player in baseball now, but it is really fun to watch as long as he looks like that.
The Boston Red Sox are 14-17 after winning the World Series last year, and this is the biggest disappointment of the young season. Now, I was talking down the Red Sox for the past 8 months trying to explain that they simply aren’t as good as they played all of last season. I feel really strongly about the concept of them being the clear third best team in baseball due to their so-so back of the lineup and their lack of bullpen arms.
Baseball doesn’t require having the best team, but like the Astros the year before, everything fell right for Boston last season. Their stars all had their career year last season, and they are bound to regress to some degree. Their bullpen drastically overperformed in the postseason. I’m not as surprised as the rest, but this still isn’t a team that should be under .500 at this point.
Aces have really struggled to start the year, and I think that has a lot to do with the increased launch angles and the discussions of “juiced balls.” I think the long ball is the way to attack elite pitchers simply because asking for a team to piece together 4 hits to score 2 runs off of Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer is a lot harder than asking for 2 homers over 27 outs. It is early, and I expect these guys to get back on track, but Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber, both Cy Young winners, have ERAs over 4 and a few REALLY bad starts, and they aren’t alone. Almost every elite pitcher has had a really bad game through the first month.
Bryce Harper has struggled recently, and I am not really concerned about the long-term prospects of this situation, but it is interesting to see how long it takes him to get acclimated. I have been a huge Harper fan this offseason because I think he has played through a lot of rough injuries and he has really been pitched around after great starts seemingly every year. This season, he is only hitting .240 through the first month, which is not normally the case. I think you can credit at least some of this to the issue that has plagued free agents for two years now. Harper signed in the middle of spring training, and almost everyone that hasn’t been signed before the spring has struggled to get off to a good start.