Baseball is a funny sport. You remember baseball, don’t you? Men wearing gloves chase down a ball hit by another man holding a big stick. Like I said, funny. Damn, I really miss it though. Baseball is special beyond words (the rest of this post notwithstanding) and uniquely American in that you have to proactively win a game or lose by failing (unlike that silly soccer/euro-football). Earl Weaver once said, “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.” There are two other things about baseball that make it special beyond the rest:
First, baseball is a game of failure. There is no other profession on this planet where you can fail 70% of the time and be considered elite; that is, other than maybe weathermen and apparently now epidemiologists. The enigma that is Pete Rose once said, “When you play this game 20 years, go to bat 10,000 times, and get 3,000 hits, you know what that means? you’ve gone 0 for 7,000.” Secondly, it’s a game of adjustments. The eternal cat and mouse between the opposing pitchers and the batters. Batters show what pitches they can hit, pitchers adjust and throw them something different. Then the batters have to adjust to the new game plan, and the beat goes on Sonny. I’m Cher you know what I mean.
One such aspect of said feline frivolity is the idea of the “hot bat.” When a hitter is hot they have either A) found the edge of the scouting book that other teams have on them or B) are capitalizing on pitching mistakes, or even C) both. When it comes to this game within the game, there are different types of hitters: reactive and proactive. There’s a fine, fine line between the two kinda like between love and waste of time. Reactive hitters essentially are chasing the book on themselves, adjusting after the fact. Proactive hitters generally make adjustments in advance and when the league catches up, they move on to their next plan. Then some hitters walk the line. You can take that to the bank, Cash money.
So after that 380-word segue (you made it!), I have always wondered what hitters are “fast-starters” in baseball. When the season begins, who are the guys that come out of the gate hot and put up the most crooked numbers at the outset of a season? And further, are there some guys that do it on the regular? This COVID-19 afflicted season looks to have a severely shortened half-life and more than ever (especially in roto) you’ll want to start hot with less of time to make up for a cold April* (way after April). Remember that one season you started in last place and rallied after the ASB?! Sorry, you’re bat[crap] crazy if you think you can do that again. You can thank a horseshoe bat in China for that. In Mandarin, its “xie xie,” pronounced, “shiEH shieh.” Hmmm, that oddly sounds like… nevermind.
Without further ado, I present to you the Great Wall of Text Which is Actually a Table for Hot Bats in April; or we can just call it something a little more catchy like… April Powers!
This is a table for the last 3 years, showing which players started hot in April (including the end of March) more than once. What am I calling “hot” you ask? Shut your mouth daddy’s talking. Kidding (sorta). After numerous throws at a dartboard… I decided to stop wasting time, and elected to use wRC+ as statistic of a hitter’s value. For those unfamiliar, wRC+ strips away the fickleness of AVG, SLG etc and frees it of goofy factors like BABIP and Coors/Crayola Canyon to find out the offensive contribution in Runs based off of wOBA on a scale where 100 = average. Anything above 100 is good to great.
I chose 130 as the marker, meaning, 30% production above average (compared to the field) to represent a hot bat. This clearly narrows the search to those doing more than just a decent hitting-streak. MA130+ is how many Aprils a player had a wRC+ above 130. wRC+ and other stats above are the combined averages during their hot starts. And ADev is the Average Deviation of the combined wRC+. For example, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are within a couple of points of each other; though Trout’s ADev of 10.4 means he was more consistent than Harper with a 33.6, as well as doing it 3 years straight vs only 2. And then there’s Mitch Haniger, ROFL. What the WUT.
I could sit here and swoon over Mike Trout for the 100th time and tell you again why he’s the greatest player ever, but you don’t need me to tell you that! What we can glean here, are other players that may be worth targeting a little more in this shortened season who are more likely to start the season hot. One in particular that stands out to me in Eric Thames. Since returning to the MLB, he has started hot every season. Though he is in a less favorable park, he will be the strong-side of a platoon in a division with very few Lefty starting pitchers (assuming games return to home fields).
Another of note is Tyler Flowers. If you find yourself punting catcher and looking for a cheap one to start the season off, you might consider Flowers; he has been flaming hot like Cheetos 2 of the last 3 years. Eugenio Suarez also began hot 2 of the last 3, and that doesn’t include last year when he went off for 29 HR in the second half, hmmm. There are several MIs to choose from that won’t cost you much and could give you a nice early boost in Andrus, DeJong, Mous with various skillsets. Javier Baez presents an interesting case and will be one of the subjects in Part 2 as I explore the Why. Not to be confused with The Who, as we will be nowhere near Soho. Stay tuned.