Welcome to the 2023 season!
If you clicked this article thinking to yourself that it’s a little too early to start panicking…well, you’re right. Baseball is a game of numbers and those numbers rarely mean much when taken in such a small sample size. At this point, most teams have only played five or six games out of 162. Individual hitters have likely played even fewer with early rest days becoming common throughout the league. And most pitchers have only made one start.
So my general advice is this: patience.
With that being said, there are some players who may be giving you bad feelings and the first few weeks of the season are a critical time to sort your team out. The moves you make now can ripple throughout the rest of summer. Whether you’re buying low, selling high, or adding a hot hitter off waivers, you don’t want to miss an opportunity even now.
Let’s get into it.
Kyle Schwarber, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
This is not the start that Schwarber fans were hoping for to start the season, though maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Schwarber is not exactly a model of consistency in his big-league career. His boom or bust profile comes with multiple peaks and valleys. Through his first four games this season, it’s been all valley. He has just one hit—a single—in 17 at-bats for a .059 batting average. He has struck out at least once each game and has a 7:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. It has not been good.
Still, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Schwarber, like other players of his mold, has had much worse stretches. In July last year, Schwarber batted just .168 with a 37:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. From July 11-25, he went 2-for-42 (.048 batting average). These are the risks you take with a player like Schwarber, who led the majors with 200 strikeouts last season but also was second with 46 home runs.
While Schwarber is still searching for his first home run of 2023, he has hit the ball with authority. His average EV of 93.3 mph is a tick higher than his career average, though his extreme 41.1-degree launch angle is keeping the ball in the park. When he’s not striking out, he’s either hitting flyballs (50% rate) or pop-ups (30%). Schwarber is chasing pitches out of the zone at nearly twice his normal rate.
Verdict: Patience. Schwarber is still settling in. His chase rate should normalize as he becomes more selective and his launch angle will come down in order to take better advantage of his power. If you drafted Schwarber, you understood the risks. While there will be weeks he could carry you in the power categories, he also will have weeks where he can’t buy a hit. Unfortunately for Schwarber and his owners, his first slump came at the start of the season.
Teoscar Hernandez, OF, Seattle Mariners
Hernandez, like Schwarber, has collected just one hit through his first 17 at-bats for an identical .059 batting average. Arguably, Hernandez had a rougher start compared to Schwarber, striking out five times in his first eight at-bats. In a particularly bad performance, Hernandez struggled against Cleveland’s Hunter Gaddis while the rest of his team roughed up the Guardians starter for 5 hits, a walk, and 4 earned runs in just 3 2/3 innings. Gaddis struck out Hernandez twice on a pair of below-average cutters before being chased from the game.
Since that game, Hernandez has rediscovered the ability to put bat to ball. Over the next three days, Hernandez only struck out two more times. He put the ball in play in six straight at-bats but was only rewarded in the final one with a 112.6 mph EV double against reliever Eli Morgan. Despite hitting the ball hard, Hernandez rarely finds the holes so far with a BABIP of .100. His BABIP last season was .335, which sounds high but is actually his lowest mark in the past three seasons. On Sunday, Hernandez had three straight deep hits, reaching 338 ft, 382 ft, and 360 ft (on his double). This is cherry-picking, but if those games had been played at Wrigley Field, two of those balls would have left the park and we would be having a different conversation.
Alas, Hernandez plays at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park which ranks among the very worst in the league for hitters over the past couple of years and will continue to suppress his power all season.
Verdict: Patience. Hernandez struggled in his first couple of games but made rapid adjustments to get back on track. He is hitting the ball hard and putting it in play often. That is typically a recipe for success even in a pitcher-friendly environment like T-Mobile Park. The Mariners start a six-game road trip Friday at Cleveland. He will get his chance for revenge against the Guardians in a more neutral environment.
*Update: Hernandez went 2-for-4 with 2 home runs and 4 RBI Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Angels. Both home runs left the park at 109 mph, travelling 419 ft and 426 ft. Once again, Hernandez proves that a slow start to the season nearly always requires patience and not panic.
Alek Manoah, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
There was some concern about Manoah’s reduced velocity during Spring Training, but that was put to rest in his first start. His fastball averaged 94.2 mph (93.9 last year), his sinker was at 94 mph (93.3 last year), and his slider hit 81.6 mph (81.5 last year). So, if you had any reservations about Manoah’s velocity, you can rest easy. If you had concerns about anything else…well, therein lies the problem.
Debuting against the St. Louis Cardinals, Manoah gave up 5 earned runs on 9 hits and 2 walks over 3 2/3 innings. He struck out 3. The game started with an ugly play after a soft, broken-bat grounder from Brendan Donovan eluded the glove of a diving Matt Chapman. Backing up the play, Bo Bichette sailed the throw to first base way, way off the mark into the Cardinals’ dugout and Donovan moved to second. A one-out single by Nolan Arenado drove in a run.
Manoah actually settled in nicely after that despite giving up the first big league hit of Jordan Walker’s career in the second inning and home runs to Tyler O’Neill and Donovan. Of the 9 hits that Manoah gave up, seven of them were singles. Quite a few of those barely wriggled through holes in the Jays’ defense. Both walks were on full counts.
These were the types of “quality” hits the Cardinals managed that day:
Verdict: Patience. The home runs are on him, but many of the other hits could have been neutralized with a bit of better luck or better defense. He still generated 12 whiffs on 85 pitches with a good 31% CSW. The Cardinals are a tough assignment for any pitcher, but Manoah’s next two starts are lined up against Kansas City and Detroit.
Vinnie Pasquantino, 1B, Kansas City Royals
Pasquantino was a popular breakout pick this spring. He went as high as Round 4 in a few drafts that I participated in, which is far too high for my liking and might explain why I have no shares of him this season. And while I could sit here today and say “I told you so,” I’m not ready to take that victory lap yet. Pasquantino is hitting just .143/.250/.214 through the first four games of the season without any hint of the power that people were so passionate about picking. But with an average EV of 91 mph and a max EV of 103 mph, it feels like it’s just a matter of time. Pasquantino has struck out just twice and sent one 379-foot bomb off of Joe Ryan into the eager glove of Max Kepler on the warning track over the weekend. It’s coming.
Chris Sale, SP, Boston Red Sox
The Baltimore Orioles beat up on everybody the first few days of the season. That included Sale, who gave up 7 earned runs in 3 innings on Saturday. Sale allowed 7 hits and 2 walks despite striking out 6. Sale touched 97.2 mph with his fastball and 96 mph with his sinker. He had 13 whiffs on 74 pitches, including 4 whiffs on 5 sliders and 5 whiffs on his changeup. Ryan Mountcastle was the only one to even touch Sale’s slider and proceeded to send it out of the park at 107 mph. A total of seven pitches were hit over 102 mph. Sale still had his stuff, but the Orioles were just better.
Max Muncy, 2B/3B, Los Angeles Dodgers
I have to go off-script somewhere. It can’t all be rainbows and butterflies just because we’re less than a week into the season. I’ll admit that I’m concerned about Muncy. He hit .196/.329/.384 in 136 games last season. He has never been a particularly strong hitter, but if you were chasing his 36 home runs from 2021, I understand. Muncy hits the ball as hard as anybody, but all of his metrics took a concerning dip last season and he seems to have picked up right where he left off. Through four games, Muncy is hitting .063/.211/.063 with no extra-base hits and a 9:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. With a better track record, I’d be more willing to forgive a slow start, but Muncy does not get the benefit of the doubt at this point.
Agreed on Muncy through the first four games, but does his performance last night (April 4th) do anything to change your verdict?
Telling people to panic on Muncy after four games seems wrong, and looking at his full season numbers last year to write him off doesn’t tell the full story. Muncy was recovering from an elbow injury for most of last year, which is why his stats cratered. Then in August and September he produced as usual with ~.240 avg and 12 hrs. He’s going to be prone to cold streaks from time to time, but if someone drafted him, it comes with the territory. If his underlying numbers are still bad at the end of the month, that’s different, but if someone is panicking on him already, he’s a great buy opportunity. Especially given how few 30 hr guys there were last year, and how shallow 2B and 3B is this year.