An action-packed first weekend of MLB baseball snapped the 267-day hardball hiatus.
We saw Lorenzo Cain pull a Houdini.
We saw Anthony Rizzo offer his opponent some hand sanitizer.
We saw the debut of new rules – including the NL DH, extra innings second-base runner, and the 3-batter minimum for pitchers.
There are no fans in the stands or roars of applause. Managers must keep their masks on while berating a poor umpire. Even the elaborate, rehearsed post-homerun handshakes are forbidden.
Players will not be given a chance to have a “slow first month” this season. One month is half the year! It’s time to put up or get replaced by someone else on the gigantic 80-man roster (or however many they’ve expanded to now).
Excluding teams who were postponed due to COVID breakouts – each club has played 5 games. In a season where each game carries the weight of 2.7 games – this is like playing through 13 or 14 games of a full season. It’s time to check in on team and player performances.
Let’s see who is setting the league on fire and who left their gasoline back in quarantine.
Parity is Alive and Well in the Coronavirus Era
For the first time in an MLB season since 1954, no team has begun the season 3-0.
Four days into the season and there are no unbeaten teams left. It’s the first time since 1954 – when there were only 16 MLB teams – that no team started 3-0.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 27, 2020
The Dodgers, Astros, Cardinals, and Padres each started 2-0, but none of the four could win that third one. This is very unusual for a league which is used to seeing multiple teams reach 3-0 each year.
You’d have to go all the way back to 2013 just to find the last season we’ve only had one 3-0 team. There are typically a few each year.
Who are Baseball’s Best Teams This Year?
No team is perfect but we have 4 “top dawgs” who have emerged at 4-1 each.
Tampa Bay Rays (4-1)
The first are the Tampa Bay Rays. The pride of St. Petersburg have tangled with the Blue Jays and Braves this week. We thought the Blue Jays were going to be bad … but they’re kinda good. We thought the Braves were going to be elite … they look dreadful.
Tampa’s offense is producing at league-leading levels through the first week. As a team, the Rays are 3rd in on-base percentage at .353, 6th in slugging percentage at .466, and have hit the 9th-most home runs in baseball – just 3 shy of the league lead.
Tampa also displays impeccable plate discipline. The Rays walk at the 3rd-highest rate in baseball while their strikeout rate is in the top half of the league. This gives Tampa the 5th-highest walk-to-strikeout ratio in baseball.
It should not surprise you that the Rays are tied with the Minnesota Twins for the most runs scored in baseball. 33 runs through 5 games is an average of 6.6 runs per.
Cleveland Indians (4-1)
Ahh yes, the Indians … from the Central. We knew there were going to be at least one or two top teams from the Central divisions. The schedule is weak. The travel is light. The Indians have feasted on the Royals and White Sox to begin the year.
Cleveland’s pitching is insane. With a team ERA of 1.96, the Indians are allowing the fewest runs in baseball. Through the first 5 games, their opponents have scored 0, 3, 2, 3, 3. Cleveland will win the World Series if they hold their opponents to 3 runs or less every single game.
What is the secret for Indians pitchers? No free passes. Indians pitching is allowing just 1.37 BB/9 – an absurdly low mark. Working together with their stellar pitching is an amazing defensive lineup which ranks 3rd in Def through the first 5 games.
The scary thing is that the Indians are 4-1 and their offense has not yet woken up. Jose Ramirez is having an excellent first week of the season, but he doesn’t have much help.
Ramirez is 7 for 19 (.368) with 2 doubles and 2 home runs, 5 runs scored and 5 RBIs. He is easily Cleveland’s most productive hitter. Ramirez has been in MVP talks in the past, and he is square in the early MVP talks again this year.
The Indians are 10th in the MLB in on-base percentage because they play a decent small ball game, but Cleveland has no big boppers. The Indians rank 22nd in the league in team ISO at .135 and 22nd in the league in team slugging percentage at .374. Both of those marks are pretty bad.
Chicago Cubs (4-1)
Rookie manager? No problem!
Fueled by some amazing pitching and a weak Central schedule, the Cubs have put together a very nice opening week. Chicago has done battle with the Brewers (who look decent) and the Reds (who look terrible early).
The Cubbies are absolutely mashing the baseball and it’s leading to wins on the Northside. The Cubs are tied with the White Sox and Tigers for most homeruns in the Major Leagues at 10.
The Cubs team ISO is .250 – the best in the Major Leagues. When a Cubs hitter hits a fly ball it’s got a great chance of going out this year. Cubs are rocking the 4th-highest home run for flyball rate in the league – which isn’t always a good thing – but it proves that the Cubs have some pop.
When the Cubs aren’t hitting homeruns they are hitting the ball hard to other parts of the park – ranking first in the Major Leagues in hard contact percentage.
Leading Chicago offensively are two familiar names – Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez.
Rizzo has already hit 3 homeruns, scored 7 runs, and driven in 3 this year. Baez is right behind him with 2 doubles, 2 homers, 4 runs, and 4 RBIs.
The pitching ain’t bad either. Kyle Hendricks threw a gem on Opening Day, which put him in the same category as Bob Gibson.
San Diego Padres (4-1)
Oh boy! Is this finally the year when the Padres get good? They’ve beat the Diamondbacks and the Giants – not exactly a who’s who of Western teams. Let’s see how the Friars fare against one of baseball’s best. They play the Dodgers the first week of August – San Diego’s first test.
Looking at the batted ball stats for San Diego brings up an interesting juxtaposition. The Padres have the second-highest hard-hit ball rate in the Major Leagues this year. Despite always hitting the ball hard, San Diego ranks 25th in line drive rate.
As a team, San Diego displays good patience at the plate. Padres hitters do not leave the zone to chase bad pitches very often. The Padres crush juicy pitches inside the zone. Their Z-Contact% is 86.5% – 10th in the Major Leagues.
The Padres are led offensively by Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers. Hosmer is 5-10 with 2 doubles, a homer, 7 RBIs, and 2 runs scored. Myers has cranked 2 homeruns. Wil has also hit a double, scored 4 times, and drove in 5 runs.
Who are Baseball’s Worst Teams This Year?
5 different teams have started the 2020 season 1-4 and must play themselves out of the cellar.
Cincinnati Reds (1-4)
The Reds were a popular pick to win the NL Central this year, but they have not looked like they can win much of anything right now.
Cincinnati lost their opening series to the Tigers and then struggled with the Cubs as well. If you can’t beat the Tigers or the Cubs, you’re not going to have a great season.
The word that best describes Cincinnati’s offense is “flailing”. The Reds leave the zone and chase bad pitches with too much regularly to maintain consistency. Cincinnati’s O-Contact% is 53.9%. This means when a Reds hitter chases a pitch outside of the zone, he only hits it slightly more than half the time. Think this doesn’t sound good? It isn’t. Cincinnati ranks 21st in the Major Leagues in this metric.
The Reds are not driving the ball much in the early part of the 2020 season. They are just poking at it. Cincinnati ranks 28th in the Major Leagues in Hard%, which is puzzling because they have many powerful hitters like Castellanos, Votto, and Suarez who always hit the ball hard.
One area Cincinnati’s offense excels is Z-Contact%. At 86.9%, Cincinnati ranks 5th in the Major Leagues in this category, proving that the swings aren’t the issue – it’s the approaches. This does not bode well for the longevity of new Reds hitting coach Alan Zinter.
Starting pitching doesn’t seem like it will be an issue for Cincy. Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo both look very strong. Trevor Bauer is also in that rotation and he’s no chump.
The Reds have to be concerned about their closer Raisel Iglesias. Iglesias broke out in 2018 with a monster campaign to enter the best closer in the game conversation. 2019 was a stepback year for Iglesias. The team was hoping he would bounce back this year, but an ugly blown save against the lowly Tigers is not instilling much confidence.
Boston Red Sox (1-4)
Few have Boston winning the East or even finishing 2nd, but no one had the Red Sox playing .200 baseball.
Boston dominated Baltimore on Opening Day but then lost the final two games of the series. Immediately after, the Mets took the first two from Boston in their series.
Even after losing Mookie Betts, the Red Sox have plenty of big names. Names don’t win baseball games, though, players do.
The Sox have slowly been letting their talent trickle away over the past couple of years without replenishing it. Boston has fluctuated between World Series contenders and last-place team. This might be another one of those downward fluctuations.
If you were ever going to pick a season to tank, 2020 would be the time to do it. With only 60 games on the schedule it would be a lot less miserable to endure. There are no home fans in the stands to disappoint because they paid to watch your team lose game after game.
I’m not saying that the Red Sox are intentionally tanking, but tanking makes sense for them this year.
Chicago White Sox (1-4)
Oh, the White Sox … a team with so much promise.
Chicago’s first two series have been against the Twins and Indians. These are the two strongest teams of the AL Central … but this is still the Central. You are going to need to beat these teams if you want a chance at the postseason.
Seattle Mariners (1-4)
Seattle started off hot last year despite having a horrible record by season’s end. This prompted everyone to ask which team in 2020 would be last year’s Mariners?
The Mariners wish they could be last year’s Mariners, as tough series against the Astros and Angels have put Seattle in an early hole.
The Mariners’ 2020 woes can be summed up in two words: no pitching. The Mariners team ERA is a preposterous 7.90 – the highest in the MLB. Seattle has allowed 8,7,6,8, and 10 runs to their opponents. This is absolutely horrendous. You cannot hope to even remain within striking distance when you’re giving up 7 to 8 runs a game.
On offense, Mariners hitters seem overmatched. They are chasing and missing bad pitches with regularity – ranking 28th in the Major Leagues in O-Contact% at 50.4%. It’s a classic tale of a team with horrible pitching that presses on the offensive end to try to make up for it and ends up beating themselves.
Washington Nationals (1-4)
Call it a World Series hangover or the byproduct of injuries and COVID, but the Nationals aren’t looking like a contender right now.
Washington struggled as expected against the stellar Yankees but those troubles have continued against the less than stellar Blue Jays.
Washington is not hitting the ball very well. The Nationals rank 28th in the Major Leagues in line drive rate and 25th in hard contact rate.
Anthony Rendon moved on to Los Angeles and Juan Soto has been out with COVID. These are two major parts of the Nationals’ attack from last year that they have been without during the first week of the 2020 season. Obviously, Rendon is not coming back. We’ll see if Soto can be the catalyst for this offense upon his return.
Surprise Surprise! These 2 MLB Teams are Defying the Odds
Baltimore Orioles (2-1)
O’s hitters have the 2nd-lowest K% in the league and the 6th-highest batting average (.257) in the league. Of course we must take the Orioles’ success with a grain of salt – it is only 3 games.
The O’s got creamed on Opening Day 13-2 by the Red Sox. This game was the largest margin of victory for the Red Sox ever in an Opening Day game.
The O’s are nothing if not resilient, and they bounced back to win the series only to have their next series postponed due to the Marlins COVID breakout.
Baltimore is smacking the ball all around the yard, ranking 1st in the Major Leagues in line drive rate and 1st in Z-Contact%. Don’t throw these guys strikes. They will clean up.
Jose Iglesias is off to a super hot start for Baltimore. Iglesias is hitting .538 (7-13) with 2 doubles, 2 RBIs, and 2 runs scored. Iglesias is one of two Orioles who is hitting over .500. His teammate Hanser Alberto was 6-12 in the Boston series.
Detroit Tigers (3-2)
My team… The Detroit Tigers. After a pitiful Opening Day performance in Cincy, I thought Detroit wouldn’t win a game this year.
Just like the Orioles, the Tigers bounced back and won the final two games of the series to start 2-1. Inlike the Orioles, the Tigers were able to play their next series against Kansas City – splitting the first two games to bring their season record to 3-2.
The numbers are all over the place for the Tigers. Detroit is tied with the Cubs and White Sox for most homeruns hit in the Major Leagues (10), but Tiger pitchers have allowed the most homeruns by a staff in the Major Leagues (12).
Tigers hitters have the highest HR/FB% in the Major Leagues, which is usually not a great sign. This makes sense for the Tigers, however, as this team relies heavily on the long ball.
Tigers center fielder Jacoby Jones is finally coming into his own. Jones is 5-16 (.313) with 2 homeruns, 4 runs scored, and 5 RBIs. New Tiger CJ Cron has been showing off the pop. Cron has 1 double, 2 homeruns, 3 runs scored, and 4 RBIs this year.
The MO on offense is homerun or bust for Detroit. The Tigers rank 29th in the Major Leagues in hard contact percentage. If they aren’t hitting a 440 foot flyball they’re hitting a 60 foot tapper to the shortstop.
Tigers hitters also display horrible play discipline. Their O-Contact% is a dismal 46.0%. The Tigers are just one of two teams to have this mark be below 50%. This means when a Tiger hitter leaves the zone to swing at a pitch, he will swing and miss over half the time.
Part of me looks at the Tigers’ metrics and says there is no way a team with this bad of plate discipline who relies on the homerun so heavily could ever sustain a winning record long enough to make the postseason.
Let’s not forget that the best Tigers players are not even at the Major League level. If the Tigers can remain a winning team for the next week or two, management may be forced to call up some of the young arms and talented bats from the AA and AAA levels for a postseason run.
Nobody thought this team would ever be above .500, so it is the duty of the organization to do what they can to remain in the playoff race.
Individual Player Achievements at the One-Twelfth Mark
Burch Smith is Leading the MLB in Wins
30-year-old relief pitcher Burch Smith of the A’s has 2 wins – which leads the Major Leagues. Burch has not won a game since 2018 with the Royals and had just 2 wins in his career before this season.
It Isn’t Even Funny What Nelson Cruz is Doing
The Twins 40-year-old slugger Nelson Cruz is tied for the league lead in homeruns with 3 alongside Chiacgo’s Anthony Rizzo and Pittsburgh’s Colin Moran.
Cruz’s 10 RBIs are the most in the MLB outright – giving the big righty the lead in 2 of the 3 Triple Crown categories. Not to brag, but our Wagerbop MLB simulation predicted Cruz to be in the running for a Triple Crown.
David Fletcher of the Angels leads all qualified batters with a .556 average. Jackie Bradley Jr of Boston is 2nd with .444. The Cheating Astros Michael Brantley is 3rd in the Majors with a .421 average. Cruz is 6th in the MLB (5th in the AL) at .412 but is only a couple hits behind Fletcher because averages fluctuate so much early.
Cruz doesn’t try to do too much at the plate. He focuses on two main areas of the strike zone and does maximum damage when he sees his pitch. Below are two heat maps of Cruz’s 2020 pitches. On the left are all of the pitches Cruz has seen this season. On the right are the pitches he swings at.
Pitchers love to throw Cruz down and away. Cruz sees an ample amount of middle-in pitches due to his patience, however. These are the only two areas Cruz seeks to hit: down and away where most of his pitches are and mistake pitches over the middle of the plate once he gets ahead.
Nelson Cruz is also tied for the league lead in runs scored. Cruz has 7 alongside Anthony Rizzo and the Cheating Astros’ Jose Altuve.