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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

MLB season in full swing

Standout players, competitive play and league-wide issues highlight an exciting first month of baseball


By PATRICK FIGUEROA — sports@theaggie.org 


With the conclusion of April, MLB teams have played just over 20 games. While this is only a small fraction of the total season, there are still takeaways from this first month of baseball action. People say there are players shining in new places, teams looking impressive, competitive division battles just beginning and also, issues regarding baseballs and hitting. 


Takeaway #1: Matt Olson and Freddie Freeman both look great for their new teams 

One of the biggest headlines during the MLB offseason was about whether the Braves were going to re-sign 32-year-old first baseman Freddie Freeman, or look elsewhere. The Braves opted to trade for 28-year-old, former Oakland A’s first baseman Matt Olson instead of re-signing Freeman. They also gave him a contract extension worth $168 million over eight years. Freeman signed to play first base with the Los Angeles Dodgers for six years and $162 million. 

Both players have played well for their respective new teams. Through 29 games, Olson has a batting average of 0.267, an on base percentage of 0.386 and a slugging percentage of 0.457. Through 25 games, Freeman has a batting average of 0.316, an on base percentage of 0.400 and a slugging percentage 0.516. These numbers offer high-end production for first basemen. This seems to be a situation where both players and both teams won, as the players got paid and the teams are getting optimal production from their new acquisitions. 


Takeaway #2: The NL West looks like a gauntlet 

Speaking of the Dodgers, they are currently competing in the most competitive division in baseball — one with all teams at at least 0.500. With an elite lineup that consists of players like Trea Turner, Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts, the Dodgers are in first place — but the rest of the division aren’t too far behind. The Padres are in second place thanks to elite pitching performances and solid offensive production from players like Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Jurickson Profar. Brandon Belt, Carlos Rodon and Logan Webb lead the Giants in third place. This battle among these teams will be worth watching for the rest of the season. 

However, we must also acknowledge the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies currently sit at fourth place with a record of 13-9 thanks to CJ Cron, Connor Joe and Chad Kuhl. What separates the other three teams and the Rockies is that the Rockies are the only team with a negative run differential. The other three teams have a positive run differential. Because of these four teams, they make the NL West the most competitive division in baseball. It is very likely that the NL West has three representatives in the NL postseason, and that one of these teams will represent the NL in the World Series. 


Takeaway #3: The Twins, Marlins and Angels are good!?

Some surprising teams that had a successful April include the Minnesota Twins, the Miami Marlins and the Los Angeles Angels. The Twins are currently the best team in the AL Central. Some standout players from the Twins include center fielder Byron Buxton, right fielder Max Kepler and pitcher Joe Ryan. The Marlins sit near the top of the NL East, slightly above the World Series champions Atlanta Braves. On their team, they have one of the most exciting, young players in baseball with Jazz Chisholm Jr, along with star pitchers Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez. 

While the Angels have always had high-end talent with players like Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, they seem to finally be putting it together as they are fighting for the top spot in the AL West. One of the things that has stood out about them is their pitching, with Patrick Sandoval leading the way with no runs allowed through three starts. It is still early in the season, but if these teams can continue their success, they will be exciting additions to the playoffs. 


Takeaway #4: Tommy John who? 

Currently, the pitcher with the lowest WHIP (0.69), the top 15 ERA (1.93) and who has 31 strikeouts through five starts is 39-year old Justin Verlander. Verlander missed the entirety of the 2021 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. For most pitchers at this age, Tommy John surgery would likely end any chance of them providing high-end pitching. However, Verlander seems to be just fine. 

Another pitcher who also made his return after missing the 2021 season due to Tommy John surgery, is 29-year old Angels pitcher Noah Syndergaard. Syndergaard is off to a great start with an ERA of 2.63, a WHIP of 0.96 and 14 strikeouts through four starts. Both players overcame a tough injury and seem to be in elite form. They are worth keeping an eye on for the remainder of the season to see if they can maintain this early success. 


Takeaway #5: Fun, Young Players

It is also worth mentioning some rookies that are taking the league by storm only a month into their MLB careers. Starting with Seiya Suzuki, the 27-year old rookie Cubs’ outfielder from Japan, has had a very good April. Through 26 games, Suzuki has a batting average of 0.253, an on base percentage of 0.365 and a slugging percentage of 0.483. Although he has cooled off as of late, all of this is very impressive, especially when considering that he is transitioning to MLB after playing in Japan for the majority of his career. 

Another player worth mentioning is Jeremy Peña, the rookie shortstop for the Houston Astros. With high expectations to replace Carlos Correa, Peña has delivered with six home runs — including a walkoff home run versus the Blue Jays — 15 RBI and a respectable OPS of 0.787 through 26 games. 

Lastly, San Diego Padres’ rookie pitcher MacKenzie Gore has been phenomenal through his first four starts this season. With a 1.71 ERA, 22 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.190, Gore has done a good job filling in for the injured Blake Snell. These players have helped their teams succeed and look to keep this success moving forward. 


Takeaway #6: MLB Baseball Situation

One of the memorable moments from the MLB season so far did not come from a game. Instead, during a post-game interview with Mets’ pitcher Chris Bassitt, Bassitt criticized the MLB for problems he has encountered with gripping the baseball. After seeing three of his teammates get hit by baseballs in a 3-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on April 26, Bassitt expressed his frustration.

”MLB has a very big problem with the baseballs… Everyone knows it… We’ve told them our problems with [the baseballs]. They don’t care,” Bassitt said

Bassitt elaborated on his frustration with these baseballs, describing them as inconsistent from inning to inning and not allowing pitchers to get a grip. 

“The first inning they’re decent,” he said. “The third inning, they’re bad. The fourth inning, they’re OK… Everything’s different. There’s no common ground with the balls. There’s nothing the same, outing to outing.”

Through 20 games, Mets’ players have been hit by a baseball 19 times, the most in the league as of right now. There is a league wide concern for player safety. MLB is currently working to develop tackier baseballs, but it is unknown when these baseballs will make their way into regular season play. One can only hope that these issues will not persist throughout the rest of the 2022 MLB season.


Takeaway #7: All-Time Low Hitting

Another league wide issue throughout the first month of the regular season were all-time low hitting numbers. Specifically, this year MLB has all-time lows in batting average and hits per game. It is still early in the season, but if these trends continue, it would be one of the worst offensive seasons in MLB history. This is a problem because when teams hit the ball more and score more runs, this leads to a more exciting on-field product. Some speculate that this could be the result of a shortened offseason but will improve as the year goes along. There is also some hope that this issue can be fixed by next year, as MLB plans to implement a pitch clock and a ban on infield defensive shifts for the 2023 MLB season. However, baseball fans must be aware that this season could be one of the worst offensive seasons in MLB history. 

While there is still a lot of baseball yet to be played this season, April was an entertaining start for the 2022 MLB season. Considering that there were concerns on whether there would even be a full season this year due to the lockout, April was likely a treat for baseball fans. With so many storylines already and a long season ahead, it makes many fans excited to see how the rest of this season will unfold. 


Written by: Patrick Figueroa — sports@theaggie.org



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