Friday, May 4, 2012

MLB 2012: Month One Studs and Duds

With April 2012 in the books, let’s take a look at the month’s early risers and those yet to wake …

In the American League, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Texas lead their respective divisions into May. While in the NL, Washington, St. Louis and LA lead the way.

Nationals SP Gio Gonzalez
Any shockers? Cleveland (13-10) having an early edge over Detroit and Chicago – 12-12 and 12-13, respectively – in the AL Central is a little unexpected where division leaders are concerned. The Nationals leading the NL East and Dodgers leading the NL West are not huge surprises; but the teams’ records might be – Washington at 16-9, L.A. at 17-9.

Then there are the 16-9 Orioles and 15-11 Blue Jays. However, I don’t think the talent-packed Yankees (13-12), Red Sox (11-13) and Tigers have reason to be quaking in their boots just yet.

However, on the losing end of the ledger the two biggest off-season spenders have some early issues of concern.

The new-look, new-name Miami Marlins opened its new ballpark with a 4-1 loss to St. Louis, a game in which its prized pitcher (Josh Johnson) was tagged for 10 hits and two walks in six innings.

Marlins SP Josh Johnson
Four weeks later, Johnson has yet to find his rhythm (0-3, 5.34 ERA, 1.74 WHIP) and highly compensated newbies Jose Reyes (.226 BA, 8 Rs) and Heath Bell (three blown saves, 11.74 ERA) have disappointed as well, as the Marlins toted a 8-14 record into May.

While Miami has its issues, the Fish are just six games back from the NL East-leading Nationals. In the AL, a team in even dire straights is the Los Angeles Angels. The Halos entered its second month of play with a 7-15 record, nine games behind the West-leading Rangers.

Adding super slugger Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson – the ace pitcher of LA’s top rival – has not exactly added up to a lot of Angels wins yet.

Wilson, who improved to 3-2 with a 2.70 ERA after defeating Minnesota on Monday night, has done his part.

Los Angeles Angels 1B Albert Pujols
Pujols, however, that’s a different story. Following yesterday’s game against the Blue Jays, The ex-St. Louis super slugger is batting a baffling .202 with a mere 5 RBI (in 104 at-bats).

It’s so early, though. With 140 games of a 162-game slate remaining for most teams, there’s plenty of time for teams to steer their ships around.

In fact, these first few days of May have already indicated a return of normalcy, as Miami swept the Giants in San Francisco to improve to 11-14 and an Angels’ sweep of the Twins raised its record to 10-15.

As opposed to April, May presents a full month of games (approximately five or six more than April). Combined with the season gaining another month of steam, come June 1 we can conclude a better assessment.

That doesn’t make it any less interesting to take a look at some of the early surprises and disasters.

We’ve gone over some of the teams. How about the individuals?

Target No. 1, undoubtedly, is Albert Pujols.

What has gone wrong with the Sultan of St. Louis?

Pujols, with the Cardinals
And don’t give me his adjustment to the American League as an excuse!

No, there’s something definitely wrong with Pujols. You don’t see the other ex-NL Prince who switched leagues – ex-Brewers star Prince Fielder – struggling at the place. Playing for the Detroit Tigers now, Fielder’s home runs are down (4 through 89 at-bats), but he is batting .281 with 14 Rs and 12 RBI.

Tigers 1B Prince Fielder
Pujols, the greatest baseball player of the past decade, has yet to hit his first Angels home run and picked up only his 5th RBI of the season Tuesday night on a groundout against the Twins. Through his 11-year career with the Cardinals, Prince Albert averaged 40.5 home runs and 121.3 RBI per season.

Other hitters in unexpected early slumps include:

Jose Bautista (OF/3B) Toronto Blue Jays
.172 BA, 4 HRs, 12 RBI
Robinson Cano (2B) New York Yankees
1 HR, 4 RBI
Jose Reyes (SS) Miami
.226 BA, 8 Rs
Adrian Gonzalez (1B) Boston Red Sox
.250 BA, 2 HRs
Mark Teixeira (1B) N.Y. Yankees
.227 BA, 3 HRs, .371 SLG
Ryan Zimmerman (3B) Washington
.224 BA, 1 HR, 7 RBI
Nelson Cruz (OF) Texas
.224 BA, 2 HRs, .347 SLG

Conversely, some of this year’s early hitting sensations include:
Blue Jays DH Edwin Encarnacion
Edwin Encarnacion (DH) Toronto
.307 BA, 9 HRs, 25 RBI
Mike Aviles (SS) Boston
5 HRs, 19 Rs, 19 RBI
Bryan Lahair (1B, Chicago Cubs)
.388 BA, 7 HRs, 16 RBI
Ryan Sweeney (OF, Boston)
.361 BA, 12 2Bs, .556 SLG
Omar Infante (INF, Miami)
5 HRs in 75 ABs (hit 7 in 579 ABs last season)
Jordan Schaefer (OF, Houston Astros)
17 Rs, 9 SBs
Jose Altuve (2B, Houston)
.358 BA, 16 Rs

On the mound, not too many aces are struggling miserably. A few of them are, however, along with a slew of with second-tier starters and closers.

Twins SP Francisco Liriano
Indians SP Ubaldo Jimenez
Tim Lincecum (SP) San Francisco Giants
2-2, 5.74 ERA, 1.57 WHIP
Yovanni Gallardo (SP) Milwaukee Brewers
1-3, 5.79 ERA, 1.65 WHIP
Jon Lester (SP) Boston
1-2, 4.65 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
Mat Latos (SP) Cincinnati Reds
1-2, 5.97 ERA, 1.57 WHIP
Adam Wainwright (SP) St. Louis
1-3, 6.75 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
Josh Johnson (SP) Miami
0-3, 5.34 ERA, 1.74 WHIP
Ubaldo Hernandez (SP) Cleveland
2-2, 5.02 ERA, 1.74 WHIP
Ervin Santana (SP) L.A. Angels
0-5, 6.16 ERA, 1.50 WHIP
Max Scherzer (SP) Detroit Tigers
1-3, 7.77 ERA, 2.05 WHIP
Justin Masterson (SP) Cleveland
1-2, 5.20 ERA, 1.51 WHIP
Francisco Liriano (SP) Minnesota Twins
0-4, 9.97 ERA, 2.22 WHIP
Heath Bell (CL) Miami
0-3, 11.74 ERA, 2.74 WHIP
J.J. Putz (CL) Arizona Diamondbacks
0-2, 6.48 ERA
Jose Valverde (CL) Detroit
5.59 ERA, 1.86 WHIP
Jordan Walden (CL) L.A. Angels
6.75 ERA, 2.06 WHIP
Sergio Santos (CL) Toronto
9.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP
Carlos Marmol (CL) Chicago Cubs
6.23 ERA, 2.31 WHIP

Conversely, many average veterans or unproven pitchers have blossomed early.

Chicago Cubs SP Ryan Dempster
Kyle Lohse (SP) St. Louis
4-0, 1.62 ERA, 0.84 WHIP
Joe Saunders (SP) Arizona Diamondbacks
2-1, 1.23 ERA, 0.96 WHIP
Jake Westbrook (SP) St. Louis
3-2, 2.12 ERA
Jason Hammel (SP) Baltimore Orioles
3-1, 1.97 ERA, 1.03 WHIP
Brandon Morrow (SP) Toronto
3-1, 2.38 ERA, 0.91 WHIP
Gio Gonzalez (SP) Washington
2-1, 1.82 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 34 Ks
Ted Lilly (SP) L.A. Dodgers
3-0, 1.38 ERA, 0.85 WHIP
Jason Vargas (SP) Seattle Mariners
3-2, 3.38 ERA, 1.04 WHIP
Joe Blanton (SP) Philadelphia Phillies
3-3, 2.83 ERA, 1.06 WHIP 
*Ryan Dempster (SP) Chicago Cubs
0-1, 0.95 ERA, 0.81 WHIP
Lance Lynn (SP) St. Louis
5-0, 1.60 ERA, 0.77 WHIP
Chris Sale (SP) Chicago White Sox
3-1, 2.81 ERA, 1.00 WHIP
Ross Detwiler (SP) Washington
3-1, 1.59 ERA, 0.99 WHIP
Wade Miley (SP) Arizona
3-0, 1.29 ERA, 0.81 WHIP
Anthony Bass (SP) San Diego Padres
27.1 IP, 2.30 ERA, 1.02 WHIP
Kyle Drabek (SP) Toronto
2-2, 2.40 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
Drew Smyly (SP) Detroit
1-0, 1.23 ERA, 1.18 WHIP
Tommy Milone (SP) Oakland Athletics
3-2, 3.69 ERA, 1.01 WHIP
Jim Johnson (CL) Baltimore
6 SVs, 0.00 ERA
Fernando Rodney (CL) Tampa Bay
9 SVs, 0.73 ERA
Henry Rodriguez (CL) Washington
6 SVs, 1.64 ERA

*Dempster’s winless despite having a MLB-best 0.95 ERA

Some notable mentions of successful veterans who’ve struggled in recent years but are having “throwback” or “comeback” years thus far this season include:
White Sox SP Jake Peavy
Bartolo Colon (SP) Oakland Athletics
3-2, 42.2 IP, 2.53 ERA, 0.94 WHIP
Jake Peavy (SP) Chicago White Sox
3-1, 37.2 IP, 1.67 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, 2 CGs
Barry Zito (SP) San Francisco
1-0, 30.2 IP, 1.76 ERA, 1.11 ERA

Beyond the unexpected, I’d be remiss to not mention the proven studs that have absolutely dominated throughout the first month and change. It all starts with bona fide triple-crown candidates Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton.

Los Angeles Dodgers CF Matt Kemp
Kemp (OF, L.A. Dodgers)
.411 BA, .856 SLG, 12 HRs, 25 RBI, 27 Rs
Hamilton (OF, Texas)
.395 BA, .744 SLG, 9 HRs, 25 RBI
Carlos Gonzalez (OF, Colorado Rockies)
.310 BA, 7 HRs, 23 RBI
David Ortiz (DH, Boston)
.391 BA, 6 HRs, 21 RBI
Carlos Beltran (OF, St. Louis)
7 HRs, 18 RBI, 20 Rs, 5 SBs
David Wright (3B, New York Mets)
.392 BA, .495 OBP, 3 HRs, 14 RBI
Derek Jeter (SS, New York Yankees)
.404 BA, 18 Rs
*David Freese (3B, St. Louis)
.329, 6 HRs, 24 RBI

*Freese could fall in either category – unexpected or proven studs. The Cards 3B has taken his outstanding 2011 postseason play and continued it into the early going of this season.
Angels SP Jered Weaver, after his May 2 no-hitter vs. Minnesota
Jered Weaver (SP) L.A. Angels
4-0, 1.61 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 2 CGs (including one no-hitter), 45 Ks
Justin Verlander (SP) Detroit
2-1, 2.38 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 42 Ks
Matt Cain (SP) San Francisco
1-2, 2.35 ERA, 0.68 WHIP
Felix Hernandez (SP) Seattle
2-1, 2.23 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 42 Ks
Wandy Rodriguez (SP) Houston
3-2, 1.64 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
Jonny Cueto (SP) Cincinnati
3-0, 1.39 ERA, 1.05 WHIP
*Stephen Strasburg (SP) Washington
2-0, 1.12 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 34 Ks

*Strasburg, like Freese, could probably qualify for unproven as well, considering he missed the majority of last season and made just 12 starts in 2010.

Again, please note these are some examples. None of these lists are extensive or all-inclusive.

So that’s a look at Month One in the 2012 MLB season. It will be interesting to see if Pujols still trails Omar Infante in home runs, Dempster's still winless with a razor-sharp ERA and Jason Hammel's Orioles' lead the AL East at the end of Month Two.

I hope everyone’s enjoying the season! I know I am! Well, outside of the crumbling disaster known as the Minnesota Twins that is.