10 Things I Learned From 2014's Opening Day
In Detroit, Alex Gonzalez drove in a game-winner against the Royals in the bottom of the 9th. Not long after, Neil Walker hit a bomb to PNC Park's right field in the 10th inning, lifting the Pirates over the Cubs. In the evening, we watched phenom Jose Fernandez straight deal against the Rockies. And then later in the night, star Mike Trout hit a bomb off of one of the best pitchers in the game during his season's first plate appearance.
Baseball is back.
While Opening Day games mean as much as the ones played in June and July, the significance behind them is much greater. Teams want to get off on the right foot, creating a winning atmosphere in the locker room from the start. And we, fans of the game, want to celebrate the start of a seven-month long adventure, both as fans and fantasy owners.
Opening Day games are inevitably going to be scrutinized a little more than any other contest of a team's 162-game slate. And I'm guilty of doing so, as the title suggests. But hey, what's wrong with getting a little excited about what's to come in the MLB season?
Here are 10 things I learned from this year's Opening Day in Major League Baseball.
1. Grady Sizemore is relevant again.
Do you know when Grady Sizemore last hit a home run in a big league game? Yesterday. It happened yesterday.
Sizemore went 2 for 4 in his first game since 2011, a year where he saw 295 plate appearances, hitting to a .224/.285/.422 slash. Not good, sure, but once upon a time Sizemore was a really good baseball player. Between 2006 and 2008, he batted no worse than .277/.375/.462, making three All-Star games and winning two Gold Gloves. Injuries got in the way though, and he hasn’t seen more than 300 plate appearances since 2009.
If you haven’t followed him in spring training, it’s not a huge surprise that he had a big Opening Day – he hit to a .310/.356/.429 slash in the Grapefruit League. Teammates said that he looked and felt comfortable too, as if he never missed any time.
The big question here isn’t really about what he can do while he’s on the field, but rather what happens outside of this single-game sample. It’s a long, long season, and Sizemore has had his fair share of health issues. Just take a look at his injury history, and try not to cry yourself to sleep.
It’s convenient that we’re looking at a one-game sample, but remember to be realistic about his season-long value. Sizemore’s still a risk.
2. The Reds lineup could be in trouble.
Speaking of single-game samples, it’s probably a good idea – no, it is a good idea – to not have knee-jerk reactions after 0.62% of the season has been played. But I’m going to do that anyway, because it makes for a more entertaining article.
The Reds lineup could be in trouble. Yes, I’m fully aware that they faced one of the best pitchers in the game yesterday. And yes, I know taking that performance and making a sweeping generalization probably isn’t the smartest thing to do, especially considering Reds fans will be reading this and they'll let me hear it. But this is something I wrote about in my Reds preview before the season started, and the team is already off to a bad start.
Losing Shin-Soo Choo matters. Folks in Cincinnati don’t want to think it’s true, but filling the void of a .393 wOBA bat and one of the best on-base guys in the league last year is not an easy task. And if yesterday’s minuscule portion of the season is any indication, there’s no way that Choo’s bat is even close to filled this year.
Billy Hamilton, Cincy’s new speedy leadoff man, went 0 for 4 with four strikeouts yesterday. You and I could have done that. Do you know how many four strikeout games Choo had last year? Zero. And he only had three where he K’d three times.
Hamilton has to get the ball in play. He’s naturally going to have a solid BABIP due to his blazing speed, and getting on base will help the bats of Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce tremendously. This isn’t to say that the Reds are done for – making that type of statement this early on would be idiotic. However, I think people need to realize that the lineup’s production is going to start and end with Billy Hamilton.
Fortunately, the Reds pitching staff is one of the best in the NL, and Johnny Cueto looked solid in his debut yesterday.
3. Jose Fernandez is here to stay.
Fernandez was one of our favorites yesterday in daily fantasy baseball, and he definitely didn’t disappoint. Against an average-at-best Rockies’ offense, Fernandez struck out nine batters in six innings, giving up only one run. It was a continuation of his dominant rookie year, where he posted a 9.75 K/9 rate, and an ERA that was under 2.20.
The Marlins didn’t really need him to go on past his 97 pitches thrown, but it will be interesting to see how they handle him in closer games. If you’re a fantasy owner, all you can do is get excited about his potential – he’s a high-energy player that could completely turn around the Marlins franchise.
4. Jose Abreu is going to be fun to watch.
Another youngster making moves on Opening Day was a favorite among a lot of fantasy experts entering the season. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu went 2 for 4 with a double, RBI and run scored in his Major League debut, helping the White Sox get a victory over the depressing Minnesota Twins.
He’s going to provide the perfect spark in the White Sox lineup at the cleanup spot, as the order was one that ranked 27th in wOBA and ISO a season ago. As Jim Sannes noted in his White Sox preview, using Abreu should limit the at-bats of the old guys, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko. That’s always a plus.
5. Francisco Liriano looks like last year's Francisco Liriano.
In the Pirates home opener at PNC Park, Francisco Liriano started right where he left off, pitching six innings, allowing zero runs and striking out 10 batters. His slider was working again, and he looked just like 2013’s version of himself.
But let’s be clear about something: It was against the Cubs. I’m pretty sure Kip Wells could’ve struck out at least seven against this Cubbies team. Oh, and don’t forget where the game was played. Liriano had some serious home/away split differences last year, piling on a 4.33 ERA on the road versus the 1.47 one he earned at home.
He did look good though, so let’s give him that. The Pirates are going to need him to be a true ace if they want to compete, especially with their poor offensive showing yesterday.
6. Instant replay is a good thing.
I feel like this is an obligatory comment to make – how would I go through an entire Opening Day article without mentioning the fact that instant replay is now being used in baseball on an even larger scale?
No, I have no numbers to throw at you here, just an opinion. Instant replay is good for the game. I just wish managers could throw red flags at the umpires when they want to challenge a call. Also, I want something bad to happen to a team when they lose a challenge. Maybe they have to switch out there pitcher or something (no, that’s not serious).
7. Pitcher wins is a dumb statistic.
I didn’t learn this yesterday, but it’s always an important thing to note. One of the worst parts about fantasy baseball - and baseball in general - is pitcher wins. And Opening Day 2014 showed us exactly why.
Lee got a win. With that horrendous line, Lee was a winner. Meanwhile, Johnny Cueto goes seven innings, allows just one run on three hits and strikes out eight, but gets the loss. Jeff Samardzija pitched seven scoreless innings against the Pirates, getting a no-decision. Jon Lester went seven innings too, allowing just two runs while striking out eight. He lost.
The phrase “Pitcher X looked strong in a loss” shouldn’t exist. And if you don’t understand why, then you probably think Peyton Manning is an overrated quarterback because of his unwarranted tag of being a bad playoff passer. I just don’t know what to tell you.
8. Jim Henderson needs to step up his game.
In yesterday’s Brewers game, Francisco Rodriguez took over in the ninth inning to close the game. Not Jim Henderson. It’s now being reported that the change occurred after the Brewers were concerned that Henderson “showed diminished velocity and life on his pitches this spring.” Once they can figure out this issue, the hope is that Henderson will slip back into the closer role.
For now, it’s a giant mess. The fact that Henderson didn’t even enter in the 7th or 8th inning of a close game shows the lack of confidence in him after a rough spring. There’s not a whole lot you can do from a fantasy perspective outside of waiting with Henderson, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea at all to snag Rodriguez off the wire if he’s available.
9. Jose Reyes needs to wear a “fragile” sticker.
Death, taxes and a Jose Reyes injury.
Reyes was placed on the DL with hamstring tightness, leaving the Blue Jays opener in the first inning. That’s not good news for anyone with Reyes stock, whether it be through fantasy or as a fan of the Jays.
Taking a look at his injury history, hamstring issues are common for the Blue Jays shortstop. In fact, with the Mets, Reyes spent time on the DL with hamstring issues four different times. Stretch them out a little, bro.
We’ll see how severe the injury is now, but anytime you have Reyes stock, you should be prepared with a fill-in.
10. People are going to overreact.
Perhaps you’ve read this article and are now saying, “But you’ve overreacted with at least half of these statements!” While it may come off that way, my goal is to just give a glimpse of what’s potentially to come based on more than just Opening Day.
The Rockies aren’t going to go 0-162, being outscored 1,620 to 162. Cliff Lee isn’t going to finish the season with an ERA above 14.00. Billy Hamilton won’t strikeout every time he’s up to bat. And Grady Sizemore isn’t going to bat .500.
You have to analyze any small sample – even through an entire month – with a grain of salt. We can all still learn things from a game or two, but don’t let that overshadow the massive amounts of research you did before the season started. Making knee-jerk moves in fantasy baseball, or getting into bar arguments based on one game’s worth of statistics isn’t a smart idea. Trust me.