Around The Horn: interesting tidbits from the world of baseball
Three weeks into the baseball season and a few storylines have piqued my interest. In the grand scheme of a 162-game schedule, what has happened so far doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot. But stories need a beginning and below are a few that have stood out.
Under the radar - Seattle Mariners
The Mariners were one of the luckiest teams in baseball last year, posting a remarkable 33-19 winning record in one-run games. Hoping for similar clutch results this season would have been fools gold for Seattle, instead the Mariners have one of the most potent offenses through 20 games leading all of baseball with a 127 wRC+ and 11.7 BB%, accumulating the second most offensive fWAR behind the Mets. This is a team that gets on base and gets enough timely hits and home runs to lead the AL West with an 11-6 record.
Two players have been key to the Mariners impressive start.
First baseman Ty France has fantastic bat-to-ball skills and is currently hitting like one of the best players in the league sitting in the top 10 for wRC+, wOBA and fWAR. For those sabermetrically-minded this is highly impressive, indicating he is getting on base at a high clip as well as driving in runs at a high clip also. With over 1000 big league plate appearances to his name the holes in his game are diminishing, with good health as he enters his prime he is ready for a breakout.
Starting pitcher Logan Gilbert is leading MLB with a 0.40 ERA and the Mariners have won all four of his starts to date. With reports of him overhauling his repertoire this preseason he has started this year with a better feel and command of his offspeed pitches. He has also added a couple of miles per hour to his curveball, changeup and slider. He came into this season as a bit of a sleeper due to a solid minor league track record and promising stuff. It’s probably time to take notice of Gilbert, especially considering new signing and Cy Young-winner Robbie Ray’s slow start for the Mariners.
Best offseason signing?
Speaking of an offseason signing, Carlos Rodon looks like he could well be the pick of the bunch. A hot-take to be sure, but the performances have been spectacular to date. Through four starts he leads all pitchers with 38 strikeouts and a 14.87 K/9, culminating with a 1.17 ERA and 1.2 fWAR. More importantly, considering how his velocity tailed off in the second half of last season after Tommy John surgery, his fastball is averaging 96.3 mph. The San Francisco Giants have a knack for getting the best out of veteran starters and they’ve had Rodon scrap his less effective changeup in order to focus on his deadly fastball-slider combo with a curveball sprinkled in for good measure. His two-year deal for the Giants already looks like a bargain and is a significant reason for San Francisco’s strong start.
Finding betting diamonds in the rough
The Angels have started this season well, sporting an 11-7 record in the AL West and grading out as one of the top offensive teams in the league. Not surprising when the annual Mike Trout is closing in on top of the fWAR leaderboard time has arrived. With Shohei Ohtani performing more like pitching-first Ohtani rather than hitting-first Ohtani (as in 2021) there is perhaps still room for the Angels offense to get better.
What is holding back the Angels’ underdog narrative is their middle of the pack pitching performance, similar to the last few years. Can they take the next step? Syndergaard, Lorenzen and Sandoval have all flashed potential and appear healthy. Ohtani looks primed for a Cy Young season if he continues in the same vein of form. Watch out for a mid-season signing to push them over the top. The Angels at +2800 currently for the World Series represents some value, health permitting.
Teams in the AL Central have struggled for wins three weeks into the season, with the White Sox and the Guardians on an eight and five-game respective losing streak. The lack of any dominant franchise opens the door for a sleeper pick to win the division. The White Sox and Twins are the two most talked about clubs preseason due to their coterie of talented young players, however the Detroit Tigers deserve a mention.
As a team the Tigers are seventh in the majors with a 3.22 team ERA despite being best by injuries, yet during this time have hit a total of eight (yes, you read that right) home runs. Right now the Tigers hold a 94 wRC+, ranking them the 18th best offense in baseball. With the predictive advanced stats not showing any concerns (yet) there is every reason to believe that their lineup will start to pick up. If it does? Detroit at +800 for the AL Central division is certainly tasty.