Early surprising MLB leaderboards

Mike Trout leads the Major Leagues in OBP, Slugging and OPS. Because of course he is.

Recent injuries aside, Trout to be at the top of those categories is about the least surprising thing that could happen. But that’s baseball, and those kinds of predictable outcomes only serve to highlight all that’s unpredictable in the entire sport.

We are now approaching the one month mark since opening day and the leaderboards remain at the top full of surprises. So buckle up and get ready to take a double shot or two as you check out this list of 10.

Note: All statistics are included in the Monday games.

It’s not like Rizzo is just any hitter. He started this season with 251 career home runs after surpassing 30 four times. But he also went deep just 22 times in 141 games last year, and the 32-year-old’s batting didn’t exactly pick up after the move from the Cubs to the Yankees last July, despite the inviting short porch at right field in the bronx .

Rizzo reclaimed a two-year deal when Freddie Freeman proved an elusive target, and this time took better advantage of it. The veteran left-hander has lowered his groundball rate, increased his pull rate and shot seven of his Dingers either right or right center at Yankee Stadium. That surge in performance is one of the reasons the Yankees have an early lead in the American League East.

Hosmer has hit over .300 twice in his career, so he’s not exactly the least likely potential hitting champion. But he averaged just a .264 in 1,884 at-bats for San Diego from 2018-21, and this offseason there has been talk of the Padres trying to delay his contract. Instead, the 32-year-old is still there, and he’s raking again. A grounder-heavy profile and a .426 on-ball average point to an imminent regression, but for now, Hosmer is helping define the brothers’ 15-8 start.

Meanwhile, who would have thought that after 23 games into Seattle’s season, Crawford would be the team’s top batter? The quick-witted shortstop started the year as a .250 hitter in the majors, with a career-high .273 in 2021. But with an elite strikeout rate and slightly improved contact quality, Crawford is writing a breakout at age 27. Aside from the average, he has more walks than K’s and is more than 250 points above his previous career level.

Imagine hearing before opening day that a National would lead the NL in OBP by May 1st. Your likely answer? “Yeah sure. Juan Soto is amazing!” Soto is doing fine (.415 OBP) but it’s actually Bell who is the king of the NL on base at this point.

The switch-hitter, who started with a .348 career OBP in 2022, isn’t actually running much more than usual. But he’s hitting a little less, contributing to a .351 average, which is backed up by an expected 95th percentile average is supported. If Bell can keep it up and the Nats don’t gain a foothold quickly, the pending free agent could soon be a hot trade deadline target.

When Miller got his first taste of the majors last season, he finished with eight doubles in 60 games while hitting .309. Of course, last Friday he recorded his ninth two-bagger of 2022 in his 15th game. And it’s not just the doubles, with the 25-year-old slicing .377/.440/.660 through 63 plate appearances.

Nobody expects Miller to maintain that kind of pace, but his 48.8% hard hit rate and 43.9% sweet spot rate make for an impressive contact combination. For a Cleveland team that’s been scouting for bats for the past few years, that’s a welcome development.

J-Rod’s collection of nothing but tools made him the #3 game in the MLB pipeline, but speed shouldn’t be at the top of the list. In 84 minor league games in 2019, Rodríguez went 4-1 on steal attempts. But as his pipeline scouting report notes, “Rodríguez has worked hard on his pace and is an excellent and aggressive baserunner who can steal a base.”

That may be so, but 9-on-9 in his first 21 career games through Sunday? That’s a shocker. Rodríguez was going 21-to-26 in 74 games in Class A Advanced and Double-A a year ago, and now he’s nicked more bags than 10 entire MLB teams in 2022, which provides a boost even if his racquet is straight first comes about. A 99 percent sprint speed certainly helps.

These two righties just earned MLB’s Pitcher of the Month awards for April, and with good reason. Combined, they had conceded a stunning three earned runs in 51 1/3 innings this season going into López’s Monday night away game.

To be clear, both showed a lot of potential ahead of 2022. López is 26 and had a 3.26 ERA over 31 starts from 2020-21. Gilbert was drafted 14th overall in 2018, was a Top 50 prospect and showed fascinating stuff during a competitive rookie campaign last year (4.68 ERA). Still, there are a lot of over-talented guns among the majors these days. Seeing these two at the top of the leaderboards is an unexpected turn of events – but a welcome one for two up-and-coming clubs.

Now we’re at the other end of the spectrum. For example, if we were making league-leader predictions for much of the 2010s, these two future Hall of Famers might have been the top picks. But the year is 2022. Verlander is 39 years old and has pitched six innings over the past two seasons. Kershaw is 34, struggled with an elbow problem at track last year and has not committed to returning.

The fact that both are still pitching this year is a gift. The fact that both do it in their own way at this level should not be underestimated. With all the young poor throwing unbeatable stuff right now, the old veterans still stack up well.

Joe Ryan, twins
MLB Opp. BA Leader (.132)

Four years ago, Ryan was a seventh-round pick from Stanislaus State, California. Last July, he was part of the Twins’ return for Nelson Cruz before making his debut with five encouraging starts in September. Righty, 25, was a trending sleeper heading into 2022, but that’s different. Ryan has allowed just 10 hits in 23 innings before starting in Baltimore on Tuesday, with a 1.17 ERA and a 25-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Untenable? Naturally. But Ryan now has an expected .197 career average allowed at the major league level, allowing for his strikes and poor contact quality, with batsmen struggling to reconcile any of his four offers.

Start of rotation, Gemini
AL-ERA Leader (2.62)

Ryan isn’t the only one to pull off an incredible about-face in Minnesota. The Twins’ 2021 season fell apart in no small part due to a rotation that finished 25th in the majors with a 5.18 ERA. That group was also a question mark in 22 when José Berríos was traded last summer and Kenta Maeda was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Then there’s the fact that Sonny Gray, the team’s top offseason acquisition, is in the IL himself after pitching just 6 1/3 innings.

And yet here they are. Ryan has teamed with reclamation projects Chris Archer, Dylan Bundy and Chris Paddack along with 26-year-old Bailey Ober (now also in the IL) to propel the Twins into an early AL Central lead.

Bullpen, Tiger
AL ERA Leader (1.97)

Bullpens tend to be wildly unpredictable, and this is a great example. Tigers Relivers had a 4.50 ERA last year (22nd in MLB) — amazingly, the team’s highest result in that category since going to the 2012 World Series. Aside from 2016 AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer, a converted starter, there aren’t any big names here. Still, Jacob Barnes, Drew Hutchison, Joe Jiménez, Alex Lange, Wily Peralta, Gregory Soto, and Will Vest each have at least five appearances and an ERA of 2.35 or lower.

It was a pretty miserable 7-14 start for a Tigers team with some high hopes, but that surprise bullpen was at least a silver lining.

Leave a Comment