The beginning of June is where the MLB season gets real. The one-third mark is the point of the year when slow starts become bad seasons and breakout candidates forget they were ever mediocre.
The wheat has been separated from the chaff in the standings. There are several teams – cough, Tigers cough – which we are pretty sure we will not see playing in October while there are others like the Dodgers or Rays which we’d bet anything will be playing postseason baseball.
Speaking of the Rays, have you followed what they did to close out the month of May? This team was mediocre – hanging out with the Yankees and Blue Jays in the middle of the AL East standings – before winning 16 of their last 17 games and shooting all the way to the pole position – best team in the Major Leagues.
Now before we get too far ahead of ourselves and crown Tampa the 2021 champions, let’s remember that the Kansas City Royals were the best team in the Major Leagues just a month ago. Things can change quite drastically as 30 professional clubs navigate a 162-game schedule.
A quick glance at the league leaderboards reveal many familiar faces – with guys like Ronald Acuna, Jose Abreu, and Jack Flaherty having tremendous starts to the 2021 season. There are also up-and-comers like Marcus Semien, Yoan Moncada, and Ramon Laureano who are vying to become recognized and established stars in the league.
With so much going on in baseball right now, I will direct your focus to several key accomplishments and musings worthy of your interest. Without further ado, this is MLB by the Numbers – 1st of June Edition.
The number of homeruns by the respective homerun leaders in each league – Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Blue Jays and Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Braves.
Guerrero is a young 22 and in just his 3rd big league season. The son of renown slugger “Big Vlad” is hitting .337 with 17 bombs and a .663 slugging percentage.
Guerrero is posting a career-high in walk rate (14.1%) and a career-low in K rate (14.1%) in 2021. The young infielder has increased his average exit velo each season from 89.5 MPH in 2019 to 92.5 MPH last season to 94.9 MPH in 2021.
As a highly-touted prospect just a couple of years ago, Guerrero received a 65 grade in both hitting and game power with a maxed out 80 grade in raw power. The sky is the limit for this big bopper who scouts reported “has a messianic bat … [and will] probably hit enough to be a superstar”.
Ronald Acuna Jr. is not the son of a big-leaguer like “Little Vlad” but received similar hitting genes. Acuna is 23 years old and in his 4th Major League season.
The young Braves outfielder established himself as a superstar already in his 2nd season in 2019 with a .280 batting average, 41 homeruns, 37 steals, and 101 RBIs, and 127 runs.
The then-21-year-old narrowly missed becoming baseball’s 5th all-time 40/40 player … in just his 2nd season. Oh yeah … his defense is tremendous too!
Acuna is on pace for another incredible season in 2021. His line currently reads .294/17/35 with 8 steals. Extrapolate this over a full season and you have a total of 51 homeruns, 105 RBIs, and 25 steals.
The number of RBIs by league leader Jose Abreu. Abreu is fresh off a 2020 MVP season and is crushing the baseball again in 2021.
Last season, Abreu earned the title of best player in the American League with a batting average of .317 and 19 homers with 60 RBIs in exactly 60 games.
This year, Abreu’s average is down to .262 but his production is awesome once again – 11 homeruns and a league-high 46 RBIs in 51 games.
Abreu is drawing a career-high number of walks – receiving a free pass in 9.8% of his plate appearances (plus he’s been hit 6 times).
The question needs to be asked which is the real Jose Abreu – the .317 hitter in 2020 or the .262 hitter in 2021. The numbers strongly indicate that Abreu is built to be a .260-.270 hitter with good production – not a .300 hitter.
Abreu has surpassed .300 twice in his 8-year career but those days appear gone as his K rate has climbed in every season since 2017. Back then he was striking out in 17.6% of plate appearances. That number has risen steadily to 25.1% this year.
Abreu’s career batting average is .293, but I expect that to plummet as his strikeouts pile up and he loses some of the quickness in that bat … he is 34 after all.
Last year, Abreu’s BABIP was .350 – which indicates he was the recipient of some good ole’ fashioned luck. This year it is down to .301 which is much more normal for a hitter at the Major League level.
Abreu is piecing together a very nice 2021 season but his Off ranks 35th among qualifying hitters – showing that there is not a lot of substance to his stat line apart from the RBIs.
The number of steals by league leader in stolen bases Whit Merrifield of the Kansas City Royals.
Merrifield – one of the fastest players in the game for several seasons running – has stolen these 16 bases in 17 attempts through 53 team games.
This puts Merrifield on pace for 49 steals in 2021 – which would be the most since Dee Gordon stole 60 bags in 2017. Billy Hamilton also swiped 59 that year.
Battery combos are all too used to seeing Merrifield circle the bags freely against them. Since his rookie season in 2016, Merrifield has recorded the 6th most stolen bases of any MLB player. Take a look at the only 5 speed demons who can claim more thievery in this span.
The highest qualifying batting average in the Major Leagues on June 1st – courtesy of Nick Castellanos of the Cincinnati Reds.
Castellanos is in his age-29 season which put him on breakout-alert in Spring Training and has many pundits now claiming “see, I told you so” after watching him lead the league in hitting.
Castellanos has been among the league leaders in hard-hit balls for each of the past several seasons but has never had the batting average to show for it. As long-term variance tends to do, Casty’s average is now trending up toward where it should be as Nick is the beneficiary of a whopping .410 BABIP in 2021.
Castellanos’ 8.1% walk rate is the highest of his career while his 19.1% K rate is the lowest by a few points. His .361 average is by far the loftiest number of his 8-year career – bringing his career batting average up to just .278 with a .329 OBP.
Castellanos is hitting the ball even harder this season than he has in years past – posting a tremendous 91.2 average exit velo and a 51.7% HardHit% per StatCast.
Among qualified 2021 hitters, Castellanos ranks 35th in average exit velo and 13th in HardHit% – giving him more solid hits than notable crushers Jose Abreu, Shohei Ohtani, and Pete Alonso.
Am I predicting Castellanos to be a perennial contender for batting titles in the future? No, but it is nice to see a man receive some good fortune in the field after being unlucky and over-robbed for several consecutive seasons.
The number of wins by the 35-21 Tampa Bay Rays – making Tampa the winningest team in baseball this season.
As mentioned in the intro, the Tampa Bay Rays are the best team in baseball – leading the White Sox, Giants, and Padres by a couple of games.
Tampa was under .500 during the second week of May, spinning their wheels in the Tropicana Field astroturf before embarking on a legendary ride in which the club won 16 of 17 and shot up to 14 games over .500!
Entering 2021, most experts viewed the AL East as a tossup between the Rays and Yankees. Right now half of the talking heads are saying, “I told you so”, while the other half are labeling this win streak a fluke and waiting for the Yankees to inevitably go on their run.
Tampa has won 90+ games in 3-straight seasons (extrapolating the 60-game 2020 season). The Rays advanced to the ALDS in 2019 where they lost to Houston. Tampa rode their COVID high all the way to the World Series in 2020 where they lost in 6 games to a superior Dodgers team.