88 HRs for Vlad? 465 K's for Kershaw? ... Hey, we can dream

April 17th, 2022

We've all heard the refrain this time of year: It's early!

Yes, it's early, but that makes it no less fun to highlight some gaudy early-season statistics. Eighty homers? Sure, why not? Four hundred strikeouts? Hey, it could happen, right?

OK, so we might be getting a little ahead of ourselves and those numbers are far-fetched. But one week into the season, let's have a look at all of those great "on pace for" stats we love to throw around in April.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and C.J. Cron: On pace for 88 home runs
(Based on a 600-at-bat season)

After his incredible three-homer performance against the Yankees in New York last Wednesday night, in which he smashed two solo shots and a double after having his right hand bloodied when he was spiked on a play at first base, can we really rule 88 homers out of the question for Guerrero?

OK, Vlad isn't going to hit 88 homers. But is 60 out of the question? Not with this guy, who would be the reigning American League MVP if not for an otherworldly season of slugging and pitching by Shohei Ohtani in 2021.

Cron continues to impress after enjoying the finest season of his career last year, when he launched 28 homers with a 131 OPS+ for the Rockies. Thanks to a two-homer night Saturday at Coors Field, the slugging first baseman is already almost a fifth of the way there, with five through his first eight games of the '22 campaign.

Clayton Kershaw: On pace for 465 strikeouts
(Based on his current 62% strikeout rate, 750 batters faced)

Kershaw? Absurd stats? We've seen that before. But no, the three-time Cy Young Award winner and future Hall of Famer won't strike out anywhere near 465 batters in 2022. Still, it's fun watching Kershaw continue to do his thing at age 34, and after so many injuries have marred recent seasons. Over his seven perfect innings last Wednesday in Minnesota, he struck out 13 of the 21 batters he saw.

For the record, Kershaw's career-high in strikeouts is 301, all the way back in 2015. And the single-season record in the Live Ball Era belongs to none other than all-time strikeout king Nolan Ryan, who fanned 383 batters in 1973 with the Angels.

Owen Miller and Nolan Arenado: Slugging above 1.000

Owen who? That's right, learn the name: Owen Miller. Miller led all qualified hitters in almost every major offensive category entering Sunday, including his 1.080 slugging percentage. The Guardians' infielder, who was a third-round Draft pick in 2018 by the Padres before being traded to Cleveland in the 2020 deal that sent Mike Clevinger to San Diego, made his MLB debut last year and has already gotten more than a third of the way to his 2021 hit total of 39 in 60 games.

Arenado had a subpar season at the plate by his standards in 2021, largely because his OPS at Busch Stadium was just .722. He's off to a scorching start for the Cardinals in '22, however, entering play Sunday slugging 1.038. He's launched four homers already and is looking every bit like the MVP candidate he was a few years ago with the Rockies.

That number will go down, of course, as will Miller's. But Arenado will likely be unhappy with a slugging percentage anywhere below .500 when it's all said and done this season.

Christian Yelich: 76.5 percent hard-hit rate

Yelich? Really? Yes, really. Though the 2018 National League MVP continues to slump at the plate early in the 2022 campaign after two rough seasons from 2020-21, he's actually hit the baseball very hard. Entering Sunday, 13 of his 17 batted balls in play this season, or 76.5%, have had exit velocities of 95 mph or greater, according to Statcast.

So if there's one thing Yelich has going for him despite a .686 OPS entering play Sunday, it's that his quality of contact has been great.

Can you imagine what kind of damage someone could do if 75% or more of their batted balls in play were hit hard for an entire season?

Hunter Greene: 100 mph average four-seamer velocity

No starting pitcher in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008) has averaged more than 99.2 mph on his four-seam fastball for a season -- that 99.2 mph figure belongs to Jacob deGrom, who achieved it in 2021 (albeit in about half a season -- he made only 15 starts due to injury). And while the rest of the numbers on this list may be unreachable, Greene might actually do this.

After his tremendous performance on Saturday night against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, in which he threw a single-game record (in the pitch-tracking era) 39 pitches at 100 mph or higher, you can't say it's unattainable for the Reds' 22-year-old phenom. He entered that start, the second of his Major League career, with an average velocity of 99.7 mph on his four-seamer, and last night, he averaged 100.2 mph on the pitch.

Guardians: .826 team OPS, best in MLB

The Guardians? Yes, we know José Ramírez is a perennial MVP candidate. But what about the rest of that lineup? Enter Steven Kwan and Owen Miller, who have burst onto the Major League scene in the season's first week. Miller entered Sunday hitting .560 to lead all qualified batters, while Ramírez was second at .484, and Kwan was batting .385.

But while those numbers are all very impressive, that's not what we're focused on here -- it's the .826 team OPS, which leads the Majors. Miller, as mentioned above, is leading the world in virtually every offensive category, with a 1.666 OPS entering Sunday. Ramírez was at 1.496, and Kwan was at "just" 1.079. That trio is fueling a hot offensive start to Cleveland's 2022 campaign.

Rockies: 1.53 bullpen ERA, best in NL

The Rockies and "best bullpen in the NL" in the same sentence is wild (forgive the pun). But it's true, at least through the first week or so of the season. If you're going to win in Colorado, a good bullpen helps. And while that ERA will go up, the Rockies could be a lot more dangerous than at first glance if their relievers are significantly better than their 26th-ranked ERA in 2021 (4.91).