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.



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In addition to Rotographs, Warne is a Minnesota Twins beat reporter for Cold Omaha as well as 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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Jack
Guest
Jack
4 years 5 months ago

Small.

Sample.

Size.

Justin Bailey
Guest
Justin Bailey
4 years 5 months ago

No.

Freakin’.

Duh.

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

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

NBarnes
Member
NBarnes
4 years 5 months ago

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?

hallcd
Member
hallcd
4 years 5 months ago

David Freese. If he can stay healthy.

the hottest stove
Guest
the hottest stove
4 years 5 months ago

In a recent interview, MC Hammer indicated that “Too Legit to Quit” was prophecy regarding Freese’s 2012 season…. so needless to say, I expect big things.

But
Guest
But
4 years 5 months ago

Cespedes =’s hyped, can he do it.

Figgins =’s burn me once…

Longoria =’s I’ll trade you a Cespedes and throw in a Figgins

drewcorb
Member
drewcorb
4 years 5 months ago

Doesn’t the ‘=’ sign already account for ‘s? ‘a = b’ is equivalent to ‘a equals b’, not ‘a equal b’.

But
Guest
But
4 years 5 months ago

Drewcorb = wise

Franklin Stubbs
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Franklin Stubbs
4 years 5 months ago

Also you don’t need a ‘ for plural… it’s for possessives and contractions.

But
Guest
But
4 years 5 months ago

Ss, Is and Us

Plural letters.

But
Guest
But
4 years 5 months ago

s’s, i’s and u’s

Also plural letters.

Natty G
Guest
Natty G
4 years 5 months ago

How about Austin Jackson’s start with the retooled swing? His K rate is down, his walk rate up, and too top it off he simply looks like a different player at the plate.

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

He’ll be one to watch. Oftentimes those stories seem like spring training fluff, but so far so good for AJax

Ari Collins
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Ari Collins
4 years 5 months ago

And he homered today! Last year’s approach was simply unsustainable, and I’d love to see him turn into an excellent player.

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

With his peripherals in 2010, I had a feeling he had a lot of Carlos Gomez in his game, and 2011 sort of looked like it.

I hope for his sake he really has turned a corner.

j6takish
Guest
j6takish
4 years 5 months ago

He is walking a lot more and laying off pitches in the dirt he used to chase. His swing is a bit quicker, but he really looks like he has improved his discipline a lot He’s had big days against Lester and Matt Moore, so he isn’t just beating up on chumps. Time will tell though

Colin
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Colin
4 years 5 months ago

I like the way he looks. He does in fact look different, he appears to be chasing less. But of course it will be a while before we actually know if any of that is true for certain.

Kernel
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Kernel
4 years 5 months ago

Jaramillo + Vernon Wells = ST Fluff

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Can say that again.

Adam D
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Adam D
4 years 5 months ago

Jaramillo + Vernon Wells = ST Fluff

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Kernel, not you. :)

Richard
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Richard
4 years 5 months ago

How ’bout Cespedes’ strike out rate?

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Sort of feel like Hank Hill here:

“Yep.”

Minja
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Minja
4 years 5 months ago

Cespedes: the first two true outcomes hitter?

R.A. Dickey
Guest
R.A. Dickey
4 years 5 months ago

Austin Jackson, anyone?

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Natty G.

philosofool
Member
Member
philosofool
4 years 5 months ago

Another Cespedes trend to watch is this: -3 DRS in 47 innings. That’s -57 runs per 150 games. SSS and all that, but he certainly doesn’t pass the eye test.

Matt
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Matt
4 years 5 months ago

Really? I’ve read good things about the range he’s shown in the first few games.

Coco Crisp
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Coco Crisp
4 years 5 months ago

At best, he is Perseus or Phaethon. He is no Paris.

Ray
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Ray
4 years 5 months ago

He has looked terrible.

Austen
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Austen
4 years 5 months ago

As an A’s fan I’ve watched each game to start the season and there’s no way to tell so far this season, because he hasn’t really been tested much yet.
He did misplay a line drive by Ichiro that ended up going for extra bases when it should have been caught, but that’s really been his only miscue. Also, the guy has an absolute cannon for an arm, and he’s very accurate as well.

CircleChange11
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Cespedes = Bash Hermano?

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

But with no hermano to bash con.

Austen
Guest
Austen
4 years 5 months ago

2 words: Cliff. Pennington.

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

All over Pennington after last year’s line drive rate. I think he could really be a nice piece since shortstops kind of suck overall.

jrogers
Member
jrogers
4 years 5 months ago

No hermano con quien to bash. Nunca termine una frase con una preposicion.

steex
Member
steex
4 years 5 months ago

“Hey, Bash Hermano!” – Buster Bluth

CircleChange11
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Omar Infante

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Former All Star Omar Infante #neverforget

jim
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jim
4 years 5 months ago

i really don’t see the point of these articles which are all “SSS but, this is happening, and we’re going to apply analysis to it that shouldn’t be due to the sample size.”

Ray
Guest
Ray
4 years 5 months ago

What analysis? “It could mean something if this keeps up, which it may or may not, but probably will not” does not constitute analysis. These pieces are harmless and complaining about them is pointless.

Dave
Guest
Dave
4 years 5 months ago

After many months of offseason analysis, everyone is excited to start the season. As another commenter pointed out, would you instead suggest to hold all 2012 analysis until June?

Furthermore, the focus here is on players who may have had a down year or new to the league. These are players that we might expect to turn it around or have break out years so it may be worth pointing out that they got off to a good start.

Every reader on fangraphs should have a general understanding of sample sizes and realize that three games does not make a season. I don’t think we need to waste time pointing it out.

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

I’m not actually analyzing the sample size, but rather suggesting what I think those three players are trending toward regardless of which direction they’ve come out of the gates. Summarily, I think Figgins will be so-so, Cespedes will be a bomber with a relatively low WAR, and Longoria will be a monster.

mcbrown
Member
mcbrown
4 years 5 months ago

It can be useful in the same way that scouting is useful – particularly for players that we haven’t seen (Cespedes, Darvish) or whose roles/approach may be changing (Shark). No, a few games doesn’t tell us what Cespedes will do over the season. But it does tell us he has monstrous power potential, and probably has plate discipline every bit as horrible as expected. SSS and all, the monster homeruns do tell us something we may not have known, and it’s not wrong to talk about it this early.

Caveman Jones
Guest
Caveman Jones
4 years 5 months ago

Honorable mention in regards to the 3bs with 10 WAR goes to Adrian Beltre who put up a 9.9 in 2004 (when he hit 48 bombs).

Brandon Warne
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Yep. Slugged 600-plus and was 20-plus runs above average at third. #insane

Also
Guest
Also
4 years 5 months ago

A-Rod’s 2007 was a 9.8 WAR season. Mostly at the plate and on the bases, though.

Cidron
Member
Cidron
4 years 5 months ago

and, George Brett, 9.5 in 1980. .390 avg and all that.

Ignorant Tool
Member
Ignorant Tool
4 years 5 months ago

Hey did anyone mention the small sample size yet?

But seriously, I’m liking what I’m seeing from Melky Cabrera, starting off hot after last year’s numbers. Glad he’s on my fantasy team, got him for great value.

AK
Guest
AK
4 years 5 months ago

Potential return of Nick Markakis power stroke? (is it necessary to qualify this with yet another mention of SSS?)

drewcorb
Member
drewcorb
4 years 5 months ago

You need to qualify it with the fact he was playing the Twins. They are terrible.

AK
Guest
AK
4 years 5 months ago

Fair enough.

duh
Guest
duh
4 years 5 months ago

What about Duane Below’s 2-0 start? On pace to set a record for wins.

duh
Guest
duh
4 years 5 months ago

what about duane below? his 2-0 start puts him on a record pace for wins.

Cozar
Member
Cozar
4 years 5 months ago

I think it’s fascinating that Figgins is doing so well after claiming his decline was the result of a different mental approach when hitting in the #2 slot. Woe is the team that trades for him and tries to bat him anywhere other than #1 or #9.

BlackOps
Guest
BlackOps
4 years 5 months ago

David Wright: .583/.647/.833 4 Walks (2 IBB) 1 Strikeout

FratticusFinch
Guest
FratticusFinch
4 years 5 months ago

And a fractured pinkie coupled with the Mets training staff…

EbbyCalvin37
Member
EbbyCalvin37
4 years 5 months ago

Cespedes is this era’s Pedro Cerrano. Have you watched this man try to hit a curve ball?

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
4 years 5 months ago

Are you saying Jesus Christ can’t hit a curveball?

Ross
Member
Ross
4 years 5 months ago

Pablo “Panda” Sandoval

Jonny's Bananas
Member
Member
Jonny's Bananas
4 years 5 months ago

255 wRC+ and look at that walk rate so far – he already has 6.25% of the walks he had last year!

Dave S
Guest
Dave S
4 years 5 months ago

Jose Altuve

altered approach: 3BBs in 18 PAs, vs 5 BBs in 234 PAs last season.

O-swing% down from 43.7% to 17.2%

Baseball Bob
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Kemp and Ethier have 9 RBI each, and the Dodgers have scored only 22, so they account for over 80% RBI. Long live small samples!

Anon
Guest
Anon
4 years 5 months ago

Will the NL article be today?

supershredder
Guest
supershredder
4 years 5 months ago

Astros are on pace for about 97 wins, bitches!!! World Series here we come!!!

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
4 years 5 months ago

2012: Win the World Series.
2013: Switch to the AL.

I gotta admit, that would be classic.

CircleChange11
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

The small sample situations are often the most interesting to discuss.

At the start of the baseball season, all situations are small sample size.

It’s not like anyone is saying that Tuffy Rhodes is “on pace” to hit 486 HR after going deep 3 times on opening day some years ago.

That said all stats so far are “in the books”, even if they are projected to play at their career or talent level from here on out.

David Freese is going to be interesting. His swing is sweet and tailored to drilling the low away pitch deep to the opposite field (as is Allen Craig’s swing). What will be interesting to watch for is if pitchers start pitching him in much of the time.

Other trends to watch …

1. Kyle Lohse’s control/command.
2. The Cardinals offense.
3. Lance Berkman’s horrible head first slides. He got it out of the way early this year. Will there be another?

DMAR
Member
DMAR
4 years 5 months ago

What is your take on Connor Jackson and can he come back to the player he was in AZ? Chisox have him stashed in AAA so if you were a contender in need of a cheap LF option with OPS could he fit the bill…

In other words was his offensive drop off solely the result of Valley Fever?

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