7 Eye-Opening Stats From the First Month of the MLB Season
The first month of the baseball season is, without a doubt, a small sample size.
After all, we're just talking about 20-23 games played so far here in the 2015 season, which is about 12% of the season so far. That's not really enough information to say with any real degree of certainty who is going to have a good year this year and who is going to stink.
But it's always interesting, as the calendar flips from April to May, to take a look at the Major League statistical leaderboards after the first month of the season. There's always some fun surprises in there, both good and bad.
Here are some of the more surprising statistical happenings from the first month of the MLB season.
Mark Teixeira: 8 Home Runs
The Yankees first baseman is off to a hot start power-wise, with his eight home runs tied with Los Angeles' Adrian Gonzalez for second-most in baseball, behind only Seattle's Nelson Cruz and Boston's Hanley Ramirez with 10. But for Teixeira so far, it's been either homer or bust. Half of his 16 hits are homers, and when you throw in his 5 doubles, that makes 13 of his 16 hits are for extra bases, leading to a robust .608 slugging percentage. However, he has just 16 hits in 74 at-bats, leading to a paltry .216 batting average. But we're all beyond obsessing about batting average nowadays, aren't we?
DJ LeMahieu: .406 Batting Average
Oh, I guess not.
Anywho, LeMaheiu has 26 hits in 69 at bats so far this year, easily the hottest start of his career. However, the Rockies' second baseman has been a decent player for a while now -- over the last two years he's hit .273/.313/.354 in 972 plate appearances. He's not a big power guy, with just seven home runs over that span, and that's carried through to this season so far, with just one. But his .406 batting average is second-best in all of baseball behind Miami's Dee Gordon.
Chase Utley: .114 Batting Average
Among 187 qualified Major League hitters so far this year, Philadelphia's star second baseman has the lowest batting average of anyone, a ghastly .114. Not only that, he has just a .198 on-base percentage and a .200 slugging percentage, numbers so horrific they defy explanation.
There's no doubt Utley has hit into some bad luck, with a league-worst batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .102. The league average is .293. Even so, Utley's April is the worst stretch of his career, and has some wondering whether the 36-year-old has met the steep decline much faster than expected. My sense is he'll bounce back, but it's something to watch in May.
Bryce Harper: 21 Walks
Last year, Harper walked 38 times in 395 plate appearances. The year before, he walked 61 times in 497 PAs. And in his rookie year, it was 56 in 597 plate appearances.
Already this year, Harper has walked 21 times in 95 plate appearances, good for a league-leading walk rate (tied with L.A.'s Joc Pederson) of 22.1%. That's a pretty terrific number for a kid who is still just 22 years old. Improved plate discipline has helped his overall numbers spike as well, hitting .274/.432/.521 with five homers and three doubles.
Perhaps this is the year Harper puts it all together. He's off to a great start.
Jon Lester: 6.23 ERA
Lester's Chicago debut hasn't gone too well so far. Aside from a glaring issue when it comes to throwing the baseball to the bases that surround his pitcher's mound, he's also piled up the fifth-highest ERA among all qualified starters so far.
But take heart, Cubs fans, this is all a mirage. Lester's peripheral statistics all look really good. He's striking out more patters per nine innings than he did last year (9.97), walking them at a similar rate (2.08), and his home run per fly ball ratio (HR/FB) is the lowest of his career (0.42). What's killing him is some very bad luck, with batters hitting a completely unsustainable .424 against him on balls in play (BABIP). That's why his Fielding Independent Pitching of 2.25 is so radically different.
He's pitching exactly the same way as when he was with Boston. He just doesn't have the results to show for it yet. Don't worry, Lester owners and Cubs fans, he's going to be alright.
Nick Martinez: 0.35 ERA
On the flip side, Texas' Nick Martinez has the lowest ERA among all qualified starters in baseball in his four starts so far. Last year he was quite unproductive, going 5-12 with a 4.55 ERA and a 0.1 fWAR in 24 starts (140.1 innings).
No one is quite sure how he's doing it this year, however. He's only striking out 3.81 batters per nine, which isn't far off his career average. He doesn't miss many bats. It helps that opponents have just a .250 BABIP against him, about 40 points below the league average. He's also stranded an insane 93.6% of all runners, something that is not sustainable. So I caution you, Rangers fans. Don't get your hopes up here.
Tyson Ross: 12.04 K/9, 5.86 BB/9
What is up with San Diego's Tyson Ross? He's striking out 12.04 batters per nine, which is second most in the Majors. That's really good. But he's also walking 5.86 batters per nine, which is the worst in baseball. That's really bad. Usually a guy who is striking out more than 12 batters per nine would have a much lower ERA than 4.55.
His scary walk rate is likely a blip, though, as is his remarkable K-rate. Last year, he struck out 8.97 batters per nine and walked just 3.31 per nine, very similar numbers to his 2013 totals as well. That balance was one of the reasons he has been one of the more effective starters in the National League over the last two years, with a 2.81 ERA last year and a 3.17 ERA the year before.
Those are just some of the more interesting individual numbers after the season's first month. We'll see how many of these folks continue on their current path, or whether the first month of the year turns out to be the odd-duck small sample size of a larger, 162-game season.