Welcome to Top of the Order

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Friday, and welcome to Top of the Order, FanGraphs’ new triweekly column! Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ll be starting your baseball day with some news, notes, and thoughts about the game we love.

To those who aren’t familiar with my work, a little background: I’ve been at FanGraphs since the beginning of the 2021 season. My work here has been largely behind the scenes, with my main responsibility being updating the RosterResource payroll pages (which are pretty great, if I do say so myself). I’ve worked with Jason Martinez and RosterResource as far back as 2012, when it was MLB Depth Charts, before it was in FanGraphs’ awesome interface and even before it was stored in Google Sheets (it was just text on a page!).

That transaction and payroll lens has dominated how I think about baseball over the last decade or so; it’s informed how I watch baseball, and it will certainly influence the topics I choose to discuss in these columns. I’m not watching for the long view of players’ Hall of Fame careers like Jay Jaffe does; I don’t have an incredible projection system like Dan Szymborski; I don’t have an innate feel for the game’s aesthetics and trends like Ben Clemens. I’m watching and following for information.

I’m not being dramatic when I say that I’m incapable of following the league’s goings on without being idiosyncratic about every lineup decision, every bullpen hierarchy, and every transaction down to the 26th man on the roster.

What I love most about baseball is that, even as the season trudges along, with 2,430 regular-season games and over 5,000 hours of play, the sport is in a constant state of homeostasis. There will be 2,430 wins and 2,430 losses; 50% of players will be worse than the median; 50% of players will be better than the median. Every pitch has one positive outcome and one negative outcome, depending on your perspective, and every transaction has a corresponding move.

I live an extraordinarily disorganized and frenetic lifestyle, full of not being particularly sure what I’m doing when, what to cook for dinner tomorrow, and letting my laundry hamper get a little bit too full before I decide it’s time to throw a load in the wash. But when I go to MLB.tv and watch four games at a time for hours on end, all while scrolling Twitter for the latest equilibrium-creating transaction info, I feel a sense of peace and belonging that I really don’t experience anywhere else. And three days a week, you’ll now be able to join me as that manifests itself in this information-sharing journey I’m so excited to experience with you all.

Here are some of the things that stood out to me on Opening Day.

1. Skubal Gets the Quick Hook

Tarik Skubal was excellent in his first start of 2024, shutting the White Sox down for six scoreless innings on just 83 pitches, but it piqued my interest that he was pulled so early in a 1-0 game. It makes sense that the Tigers would be cautious with him during his first start of the season, especially considering that upon his return from surgery during the middle of last season, they never let him throw more than 97 pitches in a game. However, if Detroit is going to make a surprising push for the AL Central title, it will need length from its ace to take some of the load off the bullpen.

2. The Angels Don’t Look Great!

The Tungsten Arm O’Doyle tweet may live on even without Shohei Ohtani, as the Angels’ one Opening Day bright spot was Mike Trout, who hit a towering home run in the first inning. Things unraveled quickly: The pitching staff walked six, Anthony Rendon made an error that led to two unearned runs, and the offense had just two hits. New manager Ron Washington, who continues to run infield drills, has preached fundamentals, and new pitching coach Barry Enright has implored pitchers to throw strike one. Neither was on display much on Thursday.

3. Don’t Sleep on Soto’s Defense

Juan Soto has never been a particularly good outfielder, but it’s not as if he’s unplayable out there. His worst DRS total in a season was actually in the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign (-9); he’s been right around average in all of his other seasons.

He reached base three times in his Yankee debut, including a single in the fifth inning that drove in his team’s first run of the game, but it was his defense that stole the show. The Yankees were leading, 5–4, with one out in the bottom of the ninth when Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker came up with runners on first and second and singled to right field. Soto fielded it and fired home to nab Mauricio Dubón at the plate and preserve the lead.

4. The Battle of the Comeback Players

With the Pirates down one in the top of the eighth inning, shortstop Oneil Cruz stepped in to face Marlins righty Sixto Sánchez in the battle of the comeback players. An ankle injury last April ended Cruz’s season after just nine games, but that was nothing compared to the shoulder issues that kept Sánchez from a big league mound for three years. His second pitch was a 96-mph heater out over the plate that Cruz ripped to left for a game-tying home run. Sánchez settled in after the homer and the game went 12 innings before the Pirates finally won it, 6–5.

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23 days ago

Looking forward to this!

23 days ago
Reply to  Francoeurstein