I consider myself a full-fledged member of the “early season stats are essentially meaningless” club, but it’s still fun to look at some of the numbers players are carrying around right now, if only because they will probably all be forgotten in about a month. For instance, this time last year I wrote about the fact that Dontrelle Willis had started the season 6-for-6 with a home run at the plate, in addition to being 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA on the mound. Sadly, his season didn’t end nearly as well as it began. After his hot start, Willis finished the year by going 9-for-69 (.130) as a hitter and 8-11 with a 4.30 ERA as a pitcher. Willis, incidentally, is off to another good start this season. He’s just 2-for-9 at the plate, but is 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA after three starts.
However, this season’s hottest start unquestionably belongs to Baltimore second baseman Brian Roberts. A 27-year-old career .264/.328/.360 hitter in 1,687 major-league plate appearances heading into this season, Roberts is currently Roy Hobbsing the ball to the tune of .421/.507/.860 through 14 games. He is leading the American League in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, stolen bases (6), and runs scored (16), and also ranks second in homers (6). I would say without hesitation that he would be the AL MVP if the season ended today, that is if that statement didn’t sound so silly coming out of my mouth.
Roberts had a solid season for the Orioles in 2004, hitting .273/.344/.376 with 29 stolen bases, 107 runs scored, and a league-leading 50 doubles. He only had four homers in 641 at-bats though, which is what makes his power surge this season so surprising. In fact, Roberts has already surpassed his career-high of five homers set in 2003. And that took 460 at-bats. How out of character is Roberts’ performance so far this season? Well, if he were to get the same amount of playing time as last year, he would have to hit .258 with a .333 slugging percentage to avoid setting new career-highs in batting average and slugging percentage. In other words, even if Roberts spends the rest of the year hitting like Neifi Perez, this will be his best season.
All of which segues nicely into the fact that Perez himself is hitting .379 with a .517 slugging percentage in 29 at-bats so far this season. That’s a small enough sample size that Perez’s numbers could be back to his typical horrible levels within the week, but it’s still an interesting start to the season from a guy who also hit .371/.400/.548 in 23 games with the Cubs last year. That makes Perez a career .373 hitter with a .538 slugging percentage in 34 games with the Cubs, compared to a .240 batting average and .313 slugging percentage everywhere else during the past three seasons.
After leading all of baseball with 150 RBIs last season, Roberts’ double-play partner in Baltimore, Miguel Tejada, is leading the way in the AL with 19 RBIs so far this year. Just like in 2004, part of the credit for Tejada’s huge RBI total this season goes to Tejada, while part goes to his teammates. See, in addition to having more RBIs than anyone last season, Tejada also had more at-bats with runners in scoring position (208) than anyone. He took advantage of his MLB-best number of RBI opportunities by hitting .334/.377/.592 in those situations, of course, but you can’t drive runners in unless they are on base in front of you.
Tejada is once again getting a ton of RBI chances this season, with 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position already in just 14 games. An at-bat against Kevin Brown and the Yankees Sunday was a perfect example of why Tejada’s RBI totals have been so huge since joining the Orioles. With two outs in the bottom of the second inning, Roberts walked, David Newhan singled, and Melvin Mora walked. That brought Tejada up to the plate with the bases loaded for the fourth time in the young season. Tejada took full advantage of the opportunity by driving in all three runners and himself with a grand slam over the fence in center field.
If Roberts keeps leading the league in on-base percentage for a while and Mora starts getting on base like he has in the past two years, Tejada could have a shot at breaking Vern Stephens‘ all-time record for RBIs by a shortstop, which is 159 set in 1949. Assuming Tejada plays in every game this season like he has for the past four years, he will need 140 RBIs in his remaining 148 games to tie Stephens. That might seem like a crazy pace to keep up, and it is, but Tejada has 147 RBIs over his past 148 games dating back to last season.
Some other notable early season paces …