Having been underway for three weeks now, a lot has happened in the 2016 Major League Baseball season, and it has been difficult to sort out team strengths. So what can we take away from the national pastime thus far?
First, the mantra of the month for every fan should be: “Do not freak out.” The season is 162 games long, and no team has ever won or lost a World Series by its play in the first month. The sample size for every team and every player is still too small, and for most teams, things will level out. The Washington Nationals are a solid club, but they are not going to finish the season anywhere near their current clip — winning nearly 80 percent of their games.
Baltimore right fielder Mark Trumbo, who owns a career .253 batting average, is pretty unlikely to keep up his .381 average for the rest of the season. It is just the beginning of a long season, and whether your team started out looking great or terrible, do not freak out.
Once we all remember to take a deep breath, then comes the big question: “What are we supposed to make of a couple enigmatic, power-hitting rookies?” Last year, in one of the worst trades in recent baseball history, the Colorado Rockies traded away their perennial, all-star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Trevor Story, their new shortstop, has had a historic start to this season. Story hit seven home runs in the first six games, a feat that has never been achieved by anyone, let alone a rookie.
It is no doubt an impressive accomplishment, but his critics point out that Story’s home ballpark in Denver, Coors Field, is by far the friendliest MLB park to power hitters. Short fences and high elevation make the ball fly off the bat at Coors. However, Story’s first four home runs came in a three-game series in Arizona. Arizona’s Chase Field is also relatively friendly to hitters, but not exceptionally so. Regardless of the ballpark, Story has some serious pop. However, since that seven home run start, he has only hit one more bomb, his batting average has dropped from .333 to .253 and his slugging percentage dropped from a whopping 1.316 to its current low of .667.
Is this just a regular bump in the road, or a sign of a longer fall from grace? Story’s stats reveal a trend more troubling than a dropping batting average and short home run drought; he has struck out a league-leading 30 times in only 75 plate appearances. He strikes out six times as often as he walks, which is a pretty terrible ratio. Story’s bandwagon fans should hope that he learns a little plate discipline, but they should also take into consideration the aforementioned advice not to freak out. He is a top-tier talent and will go on to have an excellent season, albeit with plenty of ups and downs.
Tyler White, the first baseman for the Houston Astros, is almost as big of a surprise as Story. White, a 33rd-round draft pick, was a preferred walk-on at Western Carolina University, his only Division I offer. The 25-year-old barely made the opening day roster for the Astros, beating out Jon Singleton — who is on a $35 million contract — for the starting first base position. White just continues to beat expectations. Now, he already has five home runs and holds a .274 batting average.
White has not received much hype in the media, but he is quietly driving in a lot of runs behind Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Colby Rasmus. If White is able to continue to hold his own and the bottom half of the batting order starts playing to its talent level, Houston’s lineup is going to be one of the best in baseball. White, like Story, strikes out too much. He already has 20 strikeouts in 62 at-bats, but there is a lot to like about him. Quick hands and powerful hips back up a scrappiness that has helped him throughout his baseball career. Now, those skills are making him an early success story for the Astros.
The year of the rookie seemed to be 2015: Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa and several young pitchers immediately made their mark on the game. But if April is any sort of measure, 2016 will be more of the same, led by talents such as Story and White. Of course, it is only April, and nobody has ever made a career in April.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.