We are now watching baseball in the third week of the season. Although the sample size is small, things are definitely happening. With that in mind, and at the risk of overreacting to 8% of the season, I present to you my first edition of Three Up, Three Down.
Sans the Schwarber injury, the Cubs season has started perfectly. The pitching has been great, the hitting even better, and they have dominated their opponents. Through April 20th, the Cubs have scored 45 runs more than their opponent. For the sake of comparison, the Tigers lead major league baseball at this point last year with a run differential of +34 (the Padres lead the NL at +23). Although a strong start doesn’t guarantee a spot in the playoffs, the Cubs are looking more and more like the clear front-runner. As Yahoo baseball columnist Jeff Passan said in a recent interview, “The only story of 2016 is the Chicago Cubs.”
Through three starts, Happ has a 1.89 ERA in 19 innings. After getting a three-year, $36 million contract from the Blue Jays in the offseason, many questioned whether Happ could duplicate his 2015 performance. Depending a bit more on his slider, Happ is inducing more ground balls on his way to wins over the Red Sox (7 IP, 1 ER) and the Yankees (6 IP, 1 ER). With R.A. Dickey as their 5th starter (14 runs through 14.2 IP), Happ’s success is critical to the Blue Jays hopes of another October run.
One of the more understated offseason moves was the Cardinals signing of 33-year-old Asian pitcher Seung Hwan Oh (a.k.a “Stone Buddha”). Over the course of his career in Korea and Japan, Oh amassed more than 350 saves with a good fastball and devastating slider. A dozen games into 2016 and Oh’s international success has translated better than anyone could have imagined. After another perfect performance against the Cubs on Wednesday night, Oh has pitched 7.2 innings and given up just one hit. More than that, he’s generating more whiffs than anyone in baseball. August Fagerstrom of Fangraphs has written an excellent article documenting Oh’s dominance. Batters have swung and missed at more than half of Oh’s pitches (41.2% contact rate), which is almost 20 percentage points better than the next highest whiff rate (Craig Kimbrel at 59.5%). As the season progresses, you can guarantee that opposing hitters will make adjustments against Oh, but what he has accomplished through seven games is worth noting. Now, if only he could bring over the umpires from the far east...
The Red Sox marriage with their $95 million dollar third baseman has gone from bad to worse in 2016. After showing up to spring training in less than ideal shape, Sandoval lost the starting 3B job to Travis Shaw. Frustrated by a lack of playing time and a scarcity of usable belts, Sandoval complained of mysterious shoulder pain last Wednesday. Without an MRI to assess the severity of the injury, the Red Sox immediately placed him on the DL later that day. Throw in an article about his need for a weight-watching “baby-sitter” and a slow motion video of his belt breaking while taking a swing, and it's pretty easy to say that Pablo has had better months.
Active CY Young winners
Scroll through the bottom third of MLB’s ERA ranking for starting pitchers and you’ll find your typical assortment of Brewers and Rockies players. But you will also find five former Cy Young winners. Adam Wainwright (8.27), Corey Kluber (6.16), Justin Verlander (7.16), Zack Greinke (6.75), and R.A. Dickey (6.75) all rank in the bottom 20 of ERA for starting pitchers. The good news? They still have 90% of the season to go. And they aren’t as bad as Wily Peralta (0-3, 18.1 IP and 17 ER).
C’mon Orioles fans! After starting the season by surprising everyone and winning seven games in a row, you’d expect the residents of the greater Baltimore area to catch Oriole fever (Bird Flu). That has no been the case. Not counting a sellout Opening Day crowd of 45,785, the Orioles have drawn less than 20,000 fans at four out of five home games. Although April weekday games are admittedly hard for families to make, the Orioles rank 27th in attendance (better than only Oakland, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay), a disappointing start for a team leading the AL in run differential.