With the first weekend of the new season in the books, it is time for some early takeaways from what I saw around Major League Baseball these last few days.
Let me start by addressing the elephant in the room, I support the decision by the Major League Baseball Commissioner, Rob Manfred, to move the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta in response to the recent voting laws enacted in Georgia. Major League Baseball cannot trumpet itself as the league of Jackie Robinson while ignoring questionable policies in the state in which he was born. I will not act as if the league suddenly found its voice on current civil rights issues, but at least they ended up doing the right thing by following the sponsorship dollars.
Since I put my Extra Innings television package to use, I think I have seen all or parts of games from each team so far. To state something obvious, the Dodgers are good and the Rockies are bad; safe to say that is a worse kept secret than The Manhattan Project. Julio Urias was particularly impressive in his start; it remains to be seen if he will continue to use his changeup 30% of the time. I want to see if Fernando Tatis Jr. settles in or continues to sell out for power; one 465 foot homer is not worth a 31% strikeout rate. Kevin Gausman was good, with the split-finger fastball that had a lot of life. We might see the return of 2019 Ketel Marte this year as the two homers shows he might be back to being the 30 home run version of two years ago. Of course pitching is a challenge in Colorado, but a FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 4.91 from the starters, and a FIP of 4.05 from the relievers means these pitching woes will travel.
Moving to the National League Central, Josh Hader looks to have regained his fastball. He averaged 98.1 mph with it, up from 94.6 mph last season; this is useful if you are going to throw it 90.9% of the time as he has so far. Speaking of fastballs, I want to see how it goes for Jordan Hicks. He was at 97.8 mph in his three appearances as he works to come back from Tommy John surgery; this is down from an average of 101.2 mph before the procedure. Kris Bryant looks like he is trying to have a strong platform year before free agency; his 16.7% strikeout rate would be a career low. Ke’Bryan Hayes was looking the part of a Rookie of The Year candidate before being placed on the injured list on Sunday. Nick Castellanos has been the man in the mix for Cincinnati; the 1.364 slugging percentage is fun to see, if it is just for a weekend.
This may be the season we see Max Fried in the Cy Young conversation over a full season. The 8 strikeouts in five innings on opening day portend of more to come. Jazz Chisolm may be more exciting than actually good, as his two stolen bases (one of which came after getting picked off), before scoring on a shallow fly ball showed. Zack Wheeler was as good as anyone with his 10 strikeouts in 7 innings in his first outing. The Mets and Nationals sadly missed out on the fun.
Jared Walsh was the Angel who I was the most interested in at the start of the year. A 1.500 slugging in the first weeking gives me reason to keep watching. Enoli Paredes could give Houston another relief weapon. He is wild, his 27.00 BB/9 shows (It wasn’t good in the minors either), but his 13.50 K/9 will work anywhere. As a lifelong Mets fan I have to hate on Jed Lowrie here. His 13 plate appearances this weekend is five more than he had in two years in New York. But seriously, his 119 WRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus)shows he is back home in Oakland. I am rooting for Chris Flexen to come good. 5 innings of shutout ball in his first start back from Korea should be encouraging. Nate Lowe might be back to being sneaky good again now he has gone into witness protection, also known as being a member of 2021 Texas Rangers. If he keeps up the 167 WRC+, then the baseball mob just might find him.
Emmanuel Clase will be a factor in the Cleveland bullpen. A fastball averaging 100.6 mph will get him high leverage looks down there. Whit Merrifield might be adding more power to his game; two homers so far means he can get to his career high of 19 if he keeps doing what he is doing. Akil Badoo is my favorite Rule 5 pick, with a chance to stick in the Detroit outfield. A homer on his first big league pitch can’t hurt. Lius Arraez did his thing for Minnesota, a .500 average, with no power, sounds about right. Yermin Mercedes was living his best life in Anaheim; 8 hits in his first 8 at-bats was just what the White Sox envisioned for the weekend (wink-wink).
The closer situation may be working itself out in Toronto where Julian Merryweather is two for two in save opportunities so far. John Means was intriguing on Opening Day. He may have changed his pitch mix to use more changeups; the 31% would get him back around the 29% from 2019, which was his best year. The two home runs in the first weekend may mean Austin Meadows has returned for the Rays. J.D. Martinez looks good so far with a 294 WRC+ for the Red Sox. The less said about the weekend, the better for Boston. The good Gary Sanchez has been at the plate for the Yankees so far. Two homers and an 8.3% strikeout rate are definitely encouraging.
I still had time to watch Godzilla fight King Kong with all of this, so 2021 is looking up!