Can They Keep Up Their Hot Starts?
The first third of the baseball season is just wrapping up and has already been marked by numerous injuries, slow starts, and surprises galore. In particular there are some players who have come out of relative obscurity and are well on their way to posting seasons beyond what even the most optimistic analysts predicted during spring training. The big question moving forward will be whether or not these players can sustain their hot starts or if they will regress back to previous expectations.
In particular there are five players who have caught my eye because of their uber over-achieving. In looking at what they have done so far and what they face for the rest of the season, I will let you know who to expect to keep producing and who will be revealed as a flash in the pan.
Lance Lynn: 8-1 and 2.54 ERA- The Cardinals liked what Lynn, a former first round draft pick, did out of their bullpen during the latter part of last year’s World Series run, but even they must be a little surprised at how he has exploded this year as a starter. Lynn has done an admirable job of filling in as the team’s ace while Chris Carpenter suffers through yet another lengthy injury, but unfortunately he won’t be able to keep up his torrid pace. That’s not to say he won’t end up having a good rest of the season; he will simply be coming back to earth, which has already begun happening. Over his past 4 games he has allowed 12 earned runs in 25 innings after allowing just 5 earned runs in his first 6 starts.
The Cardinals are also likely to limit Lynn’s innings somewhat towards the end of the season given his age, but perhaps not as much as other prospects. Lynn has surpassed 100 innings in each of the past four seasons and with his mountainous frame can take a little more pounding than others. When it is all said and done 15 wins and an ERA in the 3.50 to 3.75 range seems like a good bet for this up and coming right-hander.
Chris Davis: .309, 9 home runs, 23 RBI- The Orioles have been a surprise story in their own right, having clung to the top of the tough AL East for the first two months of the season. As the Orioles have begun their inevitable slide back in the pack, so too will Davis. The power will be there, but not the average. He will continue to get playing time and hit some home runs, but he is what he is, and that is a hitter who rarely walks and strikes out in bunches. His bat will be an asset for the offense-deprived Orioles but expect his average to dip precipitously. A best case scenario for him will be finishing in the range of .250, 25, 75, which wouldn’t be too bad at all for a guy who fell out of favor in Texas and wasn’t even assured of starting in Baltimore when the season started.
Chris Capuano: 7-1 and 2.14 ERA- A lot has gone right for the Dodgers over the past few months; from finally getting out from under the disastrous ownership of the McCourts, to finding a great blend of players who have catapulted the team to an early lead in the NL West. Their efforts have been led in part by Capuano, a guy to root for regardless of whether or not you are a Los Angeles fan. He missed all of 2008-2009 and part of 2010 with a devastating injury. His results since returning suggest that the time off allowed him to figure out how to pitch, an education in craftiness, which has allowed him to extend his performance beyond his pure stuff. With the Dodgers appearing to be the class of the West, Capuano should be able to approach 16 wins, 175 strikeouts, and a sub 3.00 ERA for the season.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia: .281, 10 home runs, 24 RBI- People have been waiting for Salty to emerge into the player that was envisioned when the Braves made him a first round choice in 2003 for quite some time. Signs are finally pointing to his arrival. He has cut his high strikeout rate a bit in 2012 and has been crushing fastballs. Most importantly, he has become a serviceable catcher and has replaced the recently retired Jason Varitek as the leader of the staff. Salty doesn’t make enough contact to hit .281 all year, but could easily hit .250 with 20-25 home runs in the potent Red Sox lineup.
Josh Reddick: .266, 14 home runs, 27 RBI- Many felt that the A’s return on Andrew Bailey was a little light, but Reddick has been proving them wrong so far. Never a huge power prospect, Reddick was expected to have his home run totals further inhibited by playing in the cavernous Coliseum. So much for expectations, as Reddick has been the most consistent player on the Oakland roster and has signed major signs of maturity as a player. He is taking a few more walks, and while he still piles up the strikeouts, his plate discipline and approach has improved from when he was with Boston. If he avoids the injuries that have plagued him in the past, he is a good bet to continue his excellent production. Since his teammates struggle to get on base with much regularity, his RBI numbers will remain low, but don’t be surprised if he finishes in the neighborhood of 25-30 home runs and a .260 batting average.
High praise has been earned by the players on this list but the true test will be seeing if they can put together full seasons of strong production. Such performances can often swing the direction of a team or even a playoff race, so these are stories that bear close watching. As in previous years some of these players will transition into long term solid major leaguers or perhaps even stars, while others will fade as the games pile up. The great fun comes in trying to figure out who will make the permanent transformations and watching it all play out.
Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach him on Twitter at @historianandrew.