Spring Training heroes and zeroes

There are few things repeated more often during March than that the stats don’t matter. You need go no further than to look at the future Hall of Famer Kendall Graveman and the illustrius superstar Taijuan Walker’s numbers from last year. The two Cactus League pitchers allowed a total of three runs combined while throwing more than 25 innings a piece. After his spring ERA of 0.36 and a WHIP of 0.75, Graveman held marks of 4.05 and 1.42 in regular season while Walker went from a 0.67 ERA and 0.56 WHIP to a 4.56 regular season ERA and 1.20 WHIP. This is not to say that either pitcher had a poor year, but their incredible springs were not very predictive of their following seasons.

Onto the present season, things are even more extreme as we’re only two weeks into games. Twelve pitchers have allowed one earned run or fewer in eight or more innings and of these, the most impressive has to be Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. With all those incredible pitchers (Corey Kluber, 0.00 ERA, 11 K’s in nine IP and Clayton Kershaw, 0.90 ERA, 10 K’s in 10 IP are expected to pitch this way), Hendricks has particularly stood out not only for striking out 11 (only surpassed by Danny Salazar and Alec Asher who each have 14), but because he has only walked one.

With the addition of Jon Lester and John Lackey to go with Jake Arrieta, Hendricks, who held a 3.95 ERA and 3.36 FIP in 180 innings last year, has largely been forgotten in the Cubs rotation. Not to take too much from his early start, but if he were to have an impressive season this year, it would make Chicago unfair to face in every way.

While not necessarily a great thing, another pitcher who has been mentioned, Asher, deserves to be mentioned again. Unlike Salazar, who has a respectable 3.00 ERA in nine innings, Asher struck out his 14 in just eight innings for an entirely unreasonable 15.75 K/9. Also unreasonable? He has allowed ten hits, three walks and seven runs and somehow has earned himself a 2-0 record. The Phillies pitcher made seven starts last year with a similar 9.31, but didn’t have the kind of incredible strike out numbers he’s seeing now with a 5.0 K/9 in 2015 and an 8.1 K/9 across all minor league levels from 2012 through 2015.

When talking pitching, you almost have to mention the Cleveland Indians and two have already seen their names appear. Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Salazar have allowed a combined five runs in 27 innings while striking out 35. The Mets and Cubs may lay claim to a nearly equally devastating rotation, but none have heated things up quite as early as Cleveland. Since all three of these pitchers posted similar numbers in 2015, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them continue on during the regular season.

Speaking of strikeouts, Bryce Brentz, a AAA outfielder for the Red Sox, has struck out an incredible 12 times in 16 at bats. Mickey Mantle may have played seven years without hitting the ball, but Brentz is definitely on his way with no hits and two walks in his 11 games.

Among hitters who don’t seem to be seeing the ball well yet, Kennys Vargas, Wil Myers, and Hyun Soo Kim have all played enough to qualify for their teams and hold an average below .100. On a positive note, ten hitters have already launched four or more home runs, but only the rookie sensation from 2015, Maikel Franco, has hit more than five. Both his six home runs and 14 RBI lead all of baseball and, while he may never repeat that feat during the regular season, he did hit 15 home runs in 80 games during his first MLB season so this kind of power isn’t inconceivable. He showed this kind of power back in 2013 in the minors as well, when he hit a combined 31 home runs and 36 doubles.

Although he hasn’t played as much as Franco, Tigers catcher Bryan Holaday is leading all hitters in slugging percentage with a 1.412 mark (Franco is slumming with a mere .967). Fighting for a spot as the backup catcher in Detroit, Holaday already has seven extra base hits including three home runs in just 17 at bats. This is the kind of fun with small sample sizes every one loves because everyone expects a player like Holaday, who has three home runs in 108 career games, to notch over 200 extra base hits in a 500 at bat season.

On a slightly less unreasonable note, Franklin Gutierrez is continuing the destruction he started last season with a 1.72 OPS including three home runs in just 13 at bats. Colby Rasmus, Stephen Vogt, Marwin Gonzalez, Domingo Santana, and Steven Moya are also nearing that range of OPS with at least ten at bats worth of play this year. Pittsburgh’s Michael Suchy earns particular distinction as the only player with an elusive 5.000 OPS after hitting a solo home run in his only plate appearance. Suchy played the entire 2015 season in Advanced A and batted .275/.362/.441 in 124 games. This is all information most baseball fans will have no use for, but it’s Spring Training so why not focus on a 2014 fifth round draft pick.

Finally, players generally don’t steal often in Spring Training. It takes a tough toll on the body and most players can judge their jump without actually taking the trip to second. Because of this, deserving credit are the three players who have already taken five, particularly the Cardinals’ Charlie Tilson, who has only been caught once and has only played in eight games. Tilson’s highest level to this point has been AA, where he stole 46 bases last year and was caught 19 times. This could be more than a hobby for the center fielder who could be another one to keep an eye on in a few years. Credit also to the seven players who have stolen four bases without getting caught.

Since teams coddle their major leaguers this early in spring, this is the perfect time of year to enjoy the chance to see some young players who might not be around officially for another few years. That and a great time to enjoy the home run blasting power of Bryan Holaday and the strikeout prowess of Alec Asher and Bryce Brentz.

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since its inception in 2011. He also writes for The Outside Corner and the Comeback and hosts the Tribe Time Now podcast. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians. Follow on twitter @BurningRiverBB