Five Takeaways From The First Month of Baseball

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Yankees fans, it’s going to be okay

Hop on Twitter during a Yankees game this year and you might think Rome is falling. It always is in New York. The team hasn’t looked great. The offense is dead last in the majors in slugging. The rotation is questionable, and it doesn’t look like there are any quick solutions there, other than just pitching better.

So yeah, there’s some reasons to worry. At the same time, I don’t want to rush to judgement. Despite being last in slugging, they’re 16th in expected slugging. If you look at their xWOBA differential, which is basically just how much more solid contact are they making against their opponents than their opponents are making against them, you’ll see a team that ranks third in the majors, only behind the Mets and Dodgers.

I’d still approach this team with some caution, especially because they weren’t on pace for 90 wins last season either. However, I think their luck will turn, and we will be talking about a good team come summer.

The Braves aren’t a sinking ship yet, but the iceberg is in sight

The Braves are tough to pin down. It has been a roster that has outperformed their projections dating back to 2018. When a team overperforms one year, you chalk it up to luck. If a team does it three years in a row, you start to wonder what the projections are missing.

In 2020, the Atlanta offense was one of the best in the league. Freddie Freeman won MVP. Ronald Acuna and Marcel Ozuna added even more pop. If pitchers made it past those guys, Travis d’Arnaud and Dansby Swanson prevented anyone from catching their breath.

Fast forward to 2021, Freeman and Acuna are the only qualified hitters with an OPS+ over 100. They still rank in the top 10 in runs scored, and if they had a rotation like the Dodgers or Padres, they might be fine. Problem is, they don’t. Huascar Ynoa and Ian Anderson have been okay, but each has a xERA above 4.00. Max Fried is hurt, but when he was pitching, hitters were slugging over .700 against him. Charlie Morton belongs in an MLB rotation, but he can’t be your best starter. The Braves expect to be a playoff team, but they are going to have to fight an uphill battle to get there.

Let’s get excited about the Giants and Red Sox

I don’t think anyone expected the Red Sox or Giants to be terrible, but you didn’t find many that thought they’d be competing for playoff spots either. Count me cautiously optimistic.

Only the Dodgers have a better run differential than the Giants. I think we can safely say this isn’t the Kevin Gausman we knew in Baltimore; this guy is top of the rotation good. If Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, and Johnny Cueto can keep giving them some competent starts, this rotation is solid. It’s a team with smart and scrappy hitters that understand the strike zone and don’t swing and miss. They are more than capable of putting some hot streaks together that have the Giants thinking about a Wild Card spot in the fall.

Boston started their year by getting swept by the Orioles. It looked BAD. Since then, they have won 14 of their last 20. They’re third in the AL in runs scored, second in run differential, and lead the majors in wOBA. They lead the league in chase rate, which gives me some concern. Their rotation isn’t too impressive either, but the bats are good enough to where this will be a good team all season.

The Wild, Wild West

My sources are telling me that all the cool kids stay up and watch West Coast baseball. This where all the fun is. For starters, both the NL and AL West are shaping up to be the best division races in baseball. If you haven’t been living under a rock the last 10 days, you’re familiar with the Dodgers and Padres and we already talked about what the Giants may bring to that race. The AL West might be home to three of the best teams in baseball with the Athletics, Astros, and Angels and we can count on the Mariners to give us some fun every now and then. The divisions could come down to the wire. All 162 will matter.

What’s really fun though, are all the stars these teams have. The Angels combo of Trout and Ohtani is one of the most watchable baseball has ever had. You could throw Anthony Rendon in there too, who’s been a top 10 player in the majors the last few years. Take a quick drive to Chavez Ravine where you will find MVP winners like Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, and Clayton Kershaw. Hop on a bus to San Diego and catch a glimpse of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado, two players that will bring excitement in some way, shape, or form every time they step on the field. Southern California is the place to be.

Welcome to the Show

I can’t remember a year where there has been this many stars. That’s good news for fans and the sport as a whole. Watchability has been a topic brought up a lot among people in baseball the last few years, and one of the things that could help solve that are the countless great players we are seeing.

We knew Ronald Acuna was good, but one month in and he’s starting to confirm that he’s unlocking another level. Tatis stole the show last weekend in LA, homering five times. Trout and Ohtani need no introduction. Bryce Harper, who hasn’t always lived up to the unfair expectations that were placed on him, looks like he may be in the MVP race all season. Juan Soto is on the IL, but he’s been one of the best hitters in baseball when healthy and has drawn Ted Williams comparisons.

We’ve known about those guys for a while, but one of the enjoyable things about the year so far has been seeing breakouts. Vladmir Guerrero Jr. has put it all together to the tune of a 1.177 OPS. Byron Buxton is finally healthy, and it is beautiful. He’s second in the majors in OPS and barrel rate and it looks sustainable. Yermin Mercedes bust on the scene opening week and a lot thought it was just going to be a cool weekend story, but he’s remained one of the best hitters in the game.

There are guys that I didn’t mention here because I don’t want to go on forever, but that’s a really good sign and this is exactly what baseball needs.

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