Hot Starts and On Pace Fors

The season is just two weeks old, but it’s never too early to look at what kinds of interesting stuff we can find in the 2004 numbers…

Dontrelle Willis

The D-Train is doing his very best Babe Ruth impression so far this year. He is currently 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in two starts on the mound and 6-for-6 with a homer and a double at the plate. Six at-bats at the beginning of a year is the very definition of “small sample size” but it’s still pretty cool.

National League pitchers hit a combined .143/.176/.188 last season. Assuming Dontrelle makes a full-season’s worth of starts and he doesn’t suddenly start to pinch-hit and play left field on his days off, he should get somewhere around 70 at-bats on the year. For him to end up with similar numbers to the average pitcher last year, he would have to go 4-for-64 (.063) with zero extra-base hits for the rest of the year. If he did that, he’d end up at .143/.143/.200.

The best OPS of any starting pitcher (with 50+ PAs) last year belonged to Russ Ortiz, at .703. Ortiz hit .257/.303/.400. For Willis to top that, he would need to hit .188 (12-for-64) with a .281 slugging percentage and four or five walks for the remainder of the year. Willis hit .241/.279/.328 in 64 at-bats last year, so I think that’s definitely well within reach.

On the other hand, the best OPS by a starting pitcher since Willis was born in 1982 is Mike Hampton‘s .891 in 2001. That was Coors-aided, but we’ll let it stand anyway. For Dontrelle to match that, he’d have to hit .219 (14-for-64) with a .543 slugging percentage and one or two walks for the rest of the year. All of which is a long way of saying Mike Hampton was an amazing hitter with the Rockies (.315/.329/.552 in two years).

Through 69 career plate appearances, Dontrelle Willis is a .313/.343/.453 hitter. That’s a better career OPS (.796) than Bret Boone, Eric Karros, J.T. Snow, Darin Erstad, Julio Franco, Steve Finley, B.J. Surhoff, Todd Zeile, Ruben Sierra, Marquis Grissom, Ray Durham, Johnny Damon, Jose Valentin, Edgar Renteria, Joe Randa, Matt Lawton and Tony Batista.

His career numbers, projected out to 650 plate appearances (about a full-season’s worth of everyday playing time):

 AB      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     2B     HR     RBI     BB     SO
603     650     .313     .343     .453     28     19      66     28     75

Everyday Dontrelle is pretty much Jacque Jones (.304/.333/.464 last year), complete with the left-handed swing and total inability to hit lefties that Jacque possesses.

And, of course, Dontrelle can throw the baseball a little too. He’s now 16-6 with a 3.06 ERA in 173.1 career innings.

Henry Blanco

Henry Blanco came into the 2004 season a career .219/.295/.353 hitter in 1,404 plate appearances. In his five full-seasons in the major leagues, his cumulative career-highs were .236/.320/.394 with seven home runs and 31 RBIs.

He began this season as Joe Mauer‘s backup, likely to see playing time maybe once or twice a week. First Mauer went down, and then the Twins made Matthew LeCroy the starting catcher. Then LeCroy went down. Now, Henry Blanco is playing every day.

In his first 33 plate appearances of the season, Henry Blanco is batting .360/.500/.840 with three homers, three doubles, six walks, seven RBIs and eight runs scored. That is plenty amazing in itself, but it becomes even more incredible when you consider the fact that Blanco started the season 0-for-8. Since then, he has gone 9-for-17 (.529) with a 1.235 slugging percentage.

Blanco has played in eight games this season. He went hitless in four of them, going a combined 0-for-11. Check out what he’s done in the other four games:

 AVG      OBP       SLG       OPS
.643     .722     1.500     2.222

For those of you interested in specifics, that is 9-for-14 with four walks, three homers and three doubles.

A guy who was a career .219 hitter with a career-high of seven homers in a season, already has a two-homer game and a 4-for-4 game under his belt, and he’s driven in three runs in a game twice already.

Forget Joe Mauer, folks. The Twins have Henry Blanco.

Barry Bonds

There are a lot of guys who are off to incredible starts offensively this year, among them Henry Blanco. As usual though, Barry Bonds is the man among men.

.440 / .600 / .960

That’s what Superman is hitting to start the season.

Bonds has played in all nine of San Francisco‘s games so far and if he keeps playing in every game (which he won’t), his prorated season totals would look like this:

  G      AB      AVG      OBP      SLG       H     2B     HR     RBI     RUN      BB     SO
162     450     .440     .600     .960     198     72     54     144     126     180     36

That’s not really all that important, but I just like looking at it.

I don’t think any hitter is likely to hit .400 anytime soon, but I wonder if maybe Bonds is the guy with the best chance to make a run at it. Someone like Ichiro! might be the popular pick, but he would have to get 260 or 270 hits to come close to .400. On the other hand, Bonds gets walked so much and sits out some games, so he’d probably only need about 150-160 hits to bat .400. The fewer at-bats you need to hit .400 in, the more likely it’ll happen, obviously.

Bonds had 390 at-bats last year. If he gets 390 at-bats again this year, he would need to go 145-for-365 (.397) during the rest of the year. Which is to say, even with someone who doesn’t get a lot of at-bats, and even with him starting the year hitting .440, .400 is really tough.

The one thing making this somewhat interesting is what Bonds has done in the second-half of the past two years:

          AVG
2002     .404
2003     .388

In 2002 and 2003 combined, Bonds was a .397 hitter after the All-Star break. .397. Coincidence? Well, yeah.

Is Barry going to hit .400? No. I mean, he could… but no. Still, if he can hang around .400 for a little while longer, it should make things interesting in the second-half.

Jermaine Dye

After just two weeks, Jermaine Dye has nearly had himself a season. Not a good season, mind you, just last season.

Dye was horrendous last year. He had one of the worst seasons from a previously very good hitter still in his “prime” years in some time. In fact, in the last 50 years, only two outfielders under the age of 30 who had 250+ plate appearances had a worse OPS than Dye last season:

                         YEAR      OPS
George Wright            1985     .483
Marvell Wynne            1985     .505   
Jermaine Dye             2003     .514   
Brett Butler             1982     .516  
Tony Armas               1978     .522

This year, however, Dye is off to a very good start. In fact, after just nine games, look at how his power numbers compare to what he did all last year:

          G     2B     HR     RBI
2002     65      6      4      20
2003      9      3      5      12

Dye is hitting .333/.385/.833 so far this season, after “hitting” .172/.261/.253 in 253 plate appearances last year. For Dye to reach last season’s lows in batting average and slugging percentage in the same amount of playing time, he would have to go 26-for-185 (.143) to finish the year, and he’d have to avoid smacking a single extra-base hit the entire time.

The Florida Marlins Pitching Staff

Dontrelle Willis isn’t the only Marlins hurler who has been perfect this year, at least when it comes to pitching. Along with Willis, four other Florida pitchers have 0.00 ERAs. In fact, there isn’t a bad ERA on the entire staff through nine games:

Perisho     0.00
Wayne       0.00
Phelps      0.00
Willis      0.00
Bump        0.00
Beckett     0.64
Benitez     1.50
Penny       1.80
Pavano      1.98
Fox         2.25
Oliver      2.57

That’s pretty amazing. Pedro Martinez‘s career ERA would rank him last on the staff.

After shutting out the Expos yesterday, the Marlins have tossed 30 straight scoreless innings. Florida’s team ERA now stands at an incredible 1.22 through nine games and 81 innings. They’ve struck out 75, walked 24 and allowed just three homers. They’re also 8-1 as a staff, and opponents are hitting just .184 off them.

The best team ERA since the mound was lowered in 1969 is the 1972 Baltimore Orioles, at 2.53. That team had Jim Palmer (274.1 IP, 2.07 ERA), Mike Cuellar (248.1, 2.57), Dave McNally (241, 2.95) and Pat Dobson (268.1, 2.65) in the starting rotation and only had 11 pitchers throw an inning for them all year. Of those 11, only one — Dave Leonhard — had an ERA above 2.95. And Leonhard threw just 20 innings (with a 4.50 ERA).

Of course, 1972 was a totally different environment for scoring runs. The average AL team scored 3.47 runs per game that season, whereas the average AL team scored 4.86 per game last year (an increase of 40%).

Looking instead at the top pitching staffs of the past 10 years (1994-2003), we get the following leaders:

YEAR     TEAM            ERA
2002     Atlanta        3.13
2003     Los Angeles    3.16
1997     Atlanta        3.18
1998     Atlanta        3.25
1995     Atlanta        3.44

Hmm… no wonder the Braves won so often.

For an entire season, pitching staffs typically throw right around 1,450 innings. For the Marlins to crack that top five, they would have to pitch 1,369 innings with a 3.57 ERA from here on out. To replace the 2002 Braves atop the list, they’d have to throw those 1,369 innings with a 3.24 ERA.

The Marlins had a team ERA of 4.04 last year. When they won the World Series in 1997, their team ERA was 3.83.

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