Early Season Trends Worth Monitoring

As we round the corner and storm full-steam ahead through week two of the big league season, today I thought it might be apt to take a peek at a few players’ starts and wonder aloud what exactly they might mean for the season ahead. Of course we have the small sample size caveats — likely suggesting we take most trends with a grain of salt — but sometimes a hot or cold start is all it takes to spur a career-altering season, especially if it comes on the heel of a torrid previous September or something like that.

On a semi-related note: How awesome is it to finally be able to click on a 2012 season on the sortable leaderboards?

But I digress. Let’s take a peek at a few trends and see what we think. Again, I’ll emphasize it’s only been three to five games, so I’m not going super serious with how I think these will play out.

Yoenis Cespedes – .250/.368/.875 (.505 wOBA/244 wRC+)

Cespedes is off to a sizzling start which obviously won’t continue, but there have been a few key elements of his game that I’ve found interesting. For one, he’s yet to hit a single, and has only drawn a single walk — two HBP in 19 PA keep his isolated discipline reasonable — so despite a healthy triple-slash, it’s hard to get an exact feel for how his season will extrapolate.

The light-tower power that Cespedes has displayed has been breathtaking; according to Hit Tracker Online’s true distance, his three bombs have averaged 432.6 feet. This utter contempt for home park factors is typically only displayed in elite power talents such as Prince Fielder or Miguel Cabrera, and suggests to me that the power is very real even if the rest of his game is more than a bit raw (see 9:1 K/BB rate and 47.4 percent K rate). ZiPS, Bill James, and Steamer all forecast about a .330 wOBA with about 20 homers and a 15 percent K rate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t a bit low on the homers and K side.

Chone Figgins – .381/.409/.524 (.410 wOBA/178 wRC+)

Last season Figgins and Adam Dunn were probably the two worst bang-for-your-buck players in the entire game. And while Dunn started off the season with a long ball before tailing off a bit, Figgins is doing a pretty good job at beating the ball around the ballpark. Figgins currently checks in at a 37.5 line drive rate, a rate that’s come exclusively at the expense of his usual ground ball rate. As a result, his .471 BABIP is obviously inflated, but doesn’t mean one should hide behind the fact that Figgins is off to a nice start. Look, I know he can’t keep it up, but if he stopped playing today he’d be worth 1.5 more wins than he was all of last season.

A little positivity goes a long way in Figgins’ case.

But what I’m wondering is how good Figgins has to be — and for how long — before another team comes calling to add him as a utility type. Figgins has always been extraordinarily versatile, but this year for the first time in his career, he’s seeing playing time almost exclusively in left field. And while that’s not exactly the Alex Gordon treatment, other teams already know he can play second or third. Maybe the left field thing is a ploy to artificially inflate Figgins’ value to move that symmetrical contract he signed back in the ‘09-’10 offseason. The $9 mill vesting option for 2014 complicates things — though he’s unlikely to reach the needed 600 PA in his age-35 season — but I do wonder if Figgins was able to settle in somewhere between his ‘09 and ‘10 numbers, how much would the Mariners have to kick in to get him off their coffers? Maybe half?

Evan Longoria – .600/.692/1.100 (.714 wOBA/392 wRC+)

Let’s move out of the AL West but stay in the junior circuit. Holy hell is Longoria on fire to start the season! Now this is just your garden-variety 6-for-10 stretch, but for a guy I have slated to win the AL MVP, I think it’s a sign that he’s in for a monster season, and this sign is a harbinger for opposing hurlers. To be sure, Longoria was really good last season — .365 wOBA/133 wRC+ — but should have been even better. Many will point to Longoria’s .239 BABIP as a sign of potential improvement for the young third-sacker — our xBABIP worksheet used his batted-ball mix to come up with something closer to .315 — but equally important to me are the strides he made in his K/BB rate. Throw in Longoria’s sterling as usual defense and he was still a 6-plus win player last season, despite the lack of luck.

It’s almost sort of scary what kind of season Longoria can turn in if he can even return to his career BABIP of .303. The last 10-win season from a third baseman came in 1974 — Mike Schmidt, on the heels of a Darrell Evans 10.2 win season — and while I don’t think Longoria is necessarily going to hit that mark, I think there’s a good chance he could threaten it.

To close, again let me re-emphasize that I know how little of the season we’ve been through thus far. I get that. Today’s piece has just been to look at a few early-season movers and shakers and what I think they’re capable of. Per usual, I’ve missed some. Feel free to add them in the comments section and we’ll chat about them there.

In addition to Rotographs, Warne writes about the Minnesota Twins for The Athletic and is a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

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12 years ago




Justin Bailey
12 years ago
Reply to  Jack




Brandon Warne
12 years ago
Reply to  Jack

In his defense I should have mentioned it a few MORE times in a 1000 word piece. Apparently.

12 years ago
Reply to  Jack

Small Sample Size(tm) is not a reason to tell entertaining stories about the beginning of another beloved baseball season. How boring would this be if all we said was, ‘And another day of meaningless play as we wait for the sample sizes to get big enough for us to start talking about baseball,’ until late May?