Around The League: May 2024

May 10, 2024

As MLB Pro teams near completing 25% of their season in the coming days, now is a good time to take a look at some questions that have been forming with the action that has taken place. Here’s a quick look at some of the leading questions to date:

Best In The Bay…And In Baseball?

@BerkeleySteveSF: “Hey everyone, Steve here from Berkeley, and I gotta ask: what’s the deal with the Giants’ insane start? Seriously, did anyone see this coming? And more importantly, can they keep it up? It’s like they’ve been on fire lately, but I’m not sure if it’s just a hot streak or if there’s something more to it. Any thoughts on why they’ve been killing it on the field?” #SFGiants #BayAreaBaseball πŸ”₯πŸ€”

Before looking at the Giants in 2024, let’s take a quick look back at the Giants in 2023. After going 22-35 before June, the Giants played near .500 baseball (51-54) the rest of the season in a division that sent three teams to the playoffs. This was a team that finished last year with the NL’s second best team ERA and best bullpen. The building blocks were in place.

With the foundation set in place, the Giants were able to attack the open the market. How do you fix a broken offense? You bring in the NL MVP runner-up and a Silver Slugger winner in Taylor Sparks, a former AL MVP contender in Nolan Arenado, and veteran bats like Matt Dan Dekker and Brandon Nimmo. These moves provided lineup depth, pushing guys back to their more natural positions. For example, instead of hitting cleanup like he did last year, Mason Majerle is back in a leadoff spot. There’s less pressure on Ryan Vilade to be the focal point of the offense. The likes of Sparks, Arenado, and others also provide enough offense when injuries take place. Last year if Spencer Torkelson was hurt, the offense had nothing, this year with Torkelson out there’s plenty of depth to keep runs coming. Don’t sleep on the development of Tyler Soderstrom either. Think back to the likes of Posey and Pardo behind the plate, Tyler is the next great Giant catcher.

This is year three under GM John Heinz and think back to what he built up in Tampa Bay. In 2015 prior to his arrival, the Rays won 62 games. Under Heinz that increased to 77, 85, 85, and 95. Prior to his arrival in the Bay, the Giants won 67 games in 2021. This should be no surprise that the Giants are again among the best in baseball.

@BoulderDanRocks: I gotta get something off my chest. What’s up with our team this season? Seriously, a 13-24 start? It’s like we forgot how to play baseball overnight. Winning the World Series last year was a dream come true, but now I’m scratching my head at these moves. Trading Alonso Martinez in the offseason, okay, I guess I get it. But now we’re saying goodbye to Alberto Vega, and there’s talk about Hideaki Abe and Carlos Correa hitting the road too? I’m all for trusting the front office, but this feels like we’re dismantling the squad that brought us glory. Can someone please tell me what the plan is here? Because right now, I’m feeling lost as a Rockies fan.” #RockiesNation #InFrontOfficeWeTrust πŸ”οΈβšΎ

Dan and the rest of #RockiesNation enjoyed the highest of highs last season but apparently have not gotten off the mountain (or the good stuff) when it comes to remembering that baseball is also a business. There is no Deion-esque transfer portal to live by here. Coming off of his monster MVP season, Alonso Martinez opt-out after this season was looming, Alberto Vega is a free-agent to be, as are the likes of Carlos Correa and Hideaki Abe. The Rockies had to make tough decisions.

With the Denver media market spread out amongst fans between the Avalanche, Nuggets, and Rockies, continuing to expect media rights to soar would be foolish. Fans have to make decisions each night among three successful franchises. Even with the World Series title, the Rockies often find themselves as the third choice within the city. The success of this front-office has had with their roster building is one that saw Denver Broncos ownership spend a lot of time flirting with the team’s General Manager in hopes of bringing him over to run their football operations. That may have led to some early some distractions.

On the field this season while the loss of Martinez has been felt some in the lineup, the faults of the 2024 Rockies lands on the mound. Last season, they had the NL’s third best bullpen ERA (2.95), this season they rank dead last with an ERA of 6.01. The ~140 innings pitched between Krishawn Holley and Hideaki Hirata have not been replaced successfully. After leading the NL in defensive zone rating last year, the Rockies rank 10th this season. How much of that has played into the BABIP rise of Jim Lawrence (.262 to .422), Eric Harris (.347 to .468), and Henry Harris (.525)? Balls are finding dirt again and again and it is an absolute killer.

I fully expect we see Correa and Abe moved sooner rather than later. But I also see this 6-2 start to May as an indicator that things will improve and the 6-19 month of April will be erased over time. There’s a lot of baseball left to chase down a playoff spot. But while that feels like a longshot with the potential moves to be made, I would be excited about the future in Colorado.

@TotallyNotScottGM: “Hey A’s fans, it’s definitely not Scott, just your average die-hard supporter here. Can we just take a moment to bask in the glow of the standings? The A’s soaring above the Angels, who are chilling in last place? It’s like Christmas came early! But seriously, what’s going on with those Halos? Did they get lost on their way to the ballpark or something? I’m loving every second of their misery, and I bet you are too! I’m sure the whole league is praying for it to last! It’s like winning the lottery, but with baseball. However, let’s not get too carried away. The Angels aren’t gonna suck forever, are they? Let’s savor the moment, but let’s also keep an eye on the rearview mirror. Storm’s a-brewin’, folks!” #NotScottButStillKnowsBaseball #GoA’s 🐘πŸ’₯

Well Sco…I mean, TottallyNotScott, the Angels season has been a rollercoaster indeed. After an 8-4 start, the Angels dropped 12 of their final 18 games in April. The common theme, the bullpen. The Angels are 4-10 in one-run games and 1-4 in extra inning affairs. The AL’s best bullpen last season, the Angels thought it had only gotten better bringing in Dennis Moore and then bringing back Takaaki Ichikawa after he tested free-agency. Are there too many cooks in the kitchen that is this bullpen? Have the likes of Darin Erstad, Dallas Braden, and Matt Eisenberg thought about the ramifications of roles with this bunch? More importantly, has the focus on the bullpen taken away from the lineup?

Remember when the Angels had Cutler, Xun, Ohayashi, Cowart, Paolini, Pujols, and others? Now the likes of Nomar Mazara and Bryan Hennessey are left wondering what they did to find themselves surrounded by a bunch of question marks. Anthony Kerr a normally reliable bat is hitting below .200 as is second-year starter Adam Smith. Caleb Koskie is only in his second year and his power has not been on display much, then throw in rookie starters Easton Dean and Jack Jenkins and the Angels are left with inconsistent offense. Will we see this team be active in the market? If so, it would be a change of the team’s history. But think of what Yordan Alvarez, Chris Betts, or even Ryan Kerr could do the lineup?

Now with all of that being said, the Angels have a run-differential of +60 (2nd best in AL) and a pythagorean record of 26-12 (the would be best record in baseball). Should be concern about the bullpen and the depth in the lineup? Absolutely. Should there be concern that their elite starting pitching to date will not last? 100%. But over 162 games will the ball start to bounce their way? Probably — and when it does, last place in the AL West likely ends up being occupied by someone else. But in a division loaded with playoff caliber teams, the AL West will be intriguing right up until the final day of the season.

@FishFanatic22: Can we talk about the incredible start to the season for Shane Baz and Matt Canterino? I mean, with Baz posting a 3.06 ERA and Canterino sporting an unbelievable 0.71 ERA, they’re making opposing batters look like Little Leaguers! But here’s what’s been on my mind: can we trust that this pitching prowess is here to stay, or are we in for a reality check? And with the rest of the team showing glimpses of greatness, could this finally be the year we break through and make a serious playoff run? Let’s dive into the stats and dissect this Marlins momentum! #GoFish 🐟⚾️”

The arms in Miami are dazzling to start 2024 but it’s worth remembering that the Marlins sported the NL’s second-best ERA among starters last season but were let down by the bullpen’s 4.06 ERA which ranked 12th in the NL.

To hit upon some of the pieces @FishFanatic22 mentioned, Shane Baz is a former top 25 prospect and GCL Pitcher of the Year runner-up who has been a headlining piece in trades involving both Lucas Giolito and then Wander Franco. Injuries derailed 2023, limiting Baz to 72 innings – but 72 innings in which he had a 2.12 ERA and an ERA+ of 189. A five pitch arsenal, Baz has limited righties to a .200 batting average. The only thing that is left to question about his time on his mound is his durability and availability to reach later into games as he has yet to complete six innings in a start.

The difference makers on the mound to date have been Hayden Pierce and Alex Watts. Their success while Hunter Johnson had been out allowed Matt Canterino to move to the pen where he has been lights out. The acquisition of Phillippe Aumont stabalized the ninth-inning role and shortened games for the rest of the staff.

The success on the mound would be nothing without the improvement at the plate. They ranked 14th in runs scored last year, but sit in 5th to date this season. Ronald Acuna continues to look like a cornerstone piece, but he’s gotten help from NL ROY favorite Gunnar Henderson. Henderson’s slashing .351/.446/.619 with 10 homers in his first 38 games. With Brayan Rocchio and Justin Flowe, a pair of top 70 prospects in the upper minors not too far away, their could be even more offense on the way in Miami.

I still believe the Phillies are the best team in the division, but with Henderson, Acuna and a much improved bullpen, this is a team that can fight for a playoff spot.

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