Fun early season stats so far in 2023

April 9th, 2023

Repeat after us: It’s early. It’s really early.

We all know that the baseball season is long, and memories are short. So much of what has occurred over these first 10 days won’t stand the test of time.

But these early season numbers are still as fun to think about as they are eye-popping. And they can be meaningful, too, foreshadowing real changes in performance.

So with that in mind, we gathered seven writers and asked them to pick their favorite numbers from the season so far. Here are the results:

Jason Heyward’s 112.7 mph HR exit velocity

Yes, it’s just one swing. But consider these facts about Heyward’s line-drive homer against the Rockies on Tuesday:

• It had a higher exit velocity than any batted ball hit by a Dodgers player in all of ‘22, including the postseason.

• It was Heyward’s highest exit velocity on a home run since Statcast began tracking in 2015 -- by a margin of 2 mph.

Remember, this is a player who slugged .326 and hit nine homers over 152 games with the Cubs over the past two seasons, before getting released with one year and $22 million left on his contract. The Dodgers gave him a shot on a Minor League deal, and he quickly impressed with some changes to his set-up and swing. After making the roster as an extra outfielder, Heyward has already homered three times in 13 at-bats. Whether this is truly the start of a new chapter for the 33-year-old remains to be seen, but driving the ball like that (even once) is certainly a good sign.

-- Andrew Simon

Miguel Vargas’s 7% chase rate

You might remember Vargas from such moments as “being told not to swing the bat in Spring Training due to a fractured finger and still drawing nine walks anyway, even though pitchers knew he wasn’t going to be swinging the bat.” While a bit of an entertaining sideshow -- one which maybe shed more of a light on the value of not swinging than anyone was comfortable with -- it was still just Spring Training, and therefore, mostly meaningless. Uh, right?

Well, now the games have meaning. Vargas has stepped to the plate 26 times. He’s walked in nine of them, which is particularly impressive given that this wasn’t exactly a noted skill of his in the Minors, where he had a solid-but-not-elite 10% walk rate in nearly 2,000 plate appearances. But, really, it’s not about walking. It’s about not swinging at bad pitches. Like, ever.

So far, Vargas has seen 124 pitches. Of those, 71 have come outside of the zone. Of those, Vargas has gone after … five. It’s the lowest chase rate in baseball this year, and while we all know it’s incredibly early, also know this: among the players at the top of that list are Mike Trout and Juan Soto. Some skills just don’t take all that long to find.

-- Mike Petriello

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s 2 K's in first 38 PAs

Guerrero has never been a big strikeout guy, but he’s taken his bat-to-ball skills to the next level so far this season. Through his first seven games, the 24-year-old went down on strikes twice in 38 plate appearances -- a 5.3% K-rate -- while whiffing on only 15.2% of his swings.

Of course, some of this has to do with the competition Guerrero has faced -- the Cardinals and Royals aren’t exactly brimming with bat-missing arms. But considering how hard Guerrero hits the ball, even a slight reduction in strikeout rate -- which means more balls in play -- could pay huge dividends over the course of a season.

Guerrero already owns the two highest totals of hard-hit batted balls (exit velocity of 95+ mph) produced in a single season under Statcast tracking (since 2015), with 274 in 2021 and 265 last year. In those two seasons combined, 38.4% of his plate appearances ended with hard contact. In the early going this year, it’s 51% -- 22 hard-hit balls in 43 PAs.

-- Thomas Harrigan

Kodai Senga's 8 ghost fork K's in his MLB debut

Senga's ghost fork is as ghostly as advertised. It's the pitch everyone wanted to see when the Japanese right-hander took the mound for the first time in MLB, and Senga delivered with eight strikeouts -- all on his forkball -- including getting Yuli Gurriel to lose his bat for his first big league K. Now here's the fun fact: Since pitch tracking began in 2008, Senga's eight strikeouts on his ghost fork are the most that any pitcher has ever had on a secondary pitch in his MLB debut. Think about all the nasty sliders, curveballs, changeups and splitters we've seen come into the league in the last 15 years. None of them stacked up to Senga's ghost fork. 

Most K's on a secondary pitch^ in MLB debut, since 2008
Kodai Senga's forkball: 8 -- April 2, 2023
Anthony Kay's curveball: 7 -- Sept. 7, 2019 
Dillon Peters' curveball: 7 -- Sept. 1, 2017
Reynaldo Lopez's curveball: 7 -- July 19, 2016
Cody Reed's slider: 7 -- June 18, 2016
Tyler Matzek's slider: 7 -- June 11, 2014
Charlie Leesman's curveball: 7 -- Aug. 9, 2013
^Any breaking or offspeed pitch (all non-fastball pitch types)

The only pitchers to beat Senga's ghost fork with any pitch type in their MLB debut (including fastballs) were Freddy Peralta, who had 12 strikeouts on his four-seamer on May 13, 2018, and Triston McKenzie, who had nine strikeouts on his four-seamer on Aug. 22, 2020.

-- David Adler

The Rays are chasing the Maroons and the rest of the 1800s

The Rays are the last remaining undefeated team, at 8-0 entering Sunday. They’re the first team to start 8-0 or better since the Royals started 9-0 in 2003. But wait, there’s more. All eight of the Rays’ wins have been by at least four runs. That’s the second-longest streak of wins, all by four-plus runs, to start a season, behind only the 1884 St. Louis Maroons, at 13. The last team to win at least eight straight by at least four runs? That would be the 1939 Yankees, with 10 straight. Talk about great company.

Don’t worry, there are more lists comprised of the Rays and pre-1900s baseball. Tampa has a plus-46 run differential. The only teams with a higher mark through their first eight games of a season were the aforementioned Maroons (+68), the 1884 New York Gothams (+48) and the 1882 Providence Grays (+47). The Rays are tied on the list with the 1876 Hartfords of Brooklyn. For context, the mound was moved to its current distance in 1893.

-- Sarah Langs

The Giants: MLB’s surprise power team

The Giants made it well known that they wanted to add a headline bat this past winter, but their efforts largely went for naught. They pushed hard but came up short in the Aaron Judge sweepstakes. Their agreement with Carlos Correa fell through due to medical concerns. Their most lucrative offseason signing, outfielder Mitch Haniger, has yet to play this year because of an oblique strain.

And yet, the Giants have been one of baseball’s best power-hitting squads thus far. Their 16 homers trail only those undefeated Rays (21) and the powerhouse Dodgers (18). The damage has been spread out pretty evenly as 11 Giants have gone deep, tying the Rays for the most players with a home run so far.

Instead of a true star hitter leading the way, San Francisco’s lineup has been buoyed by contributions from J.D. Davis (56.3% hard-hit rate), David Villar (23.5% barrel rate) and Thairo Estrada (1.038 OPS through 31 plate appearances). Michael Conforto, who missed all of last season due to a shoulder injury, has seen the ball jump off his bat in the early going, with two homers and a 95.0 mph average exit velocity.

The Giants feasted on White Sox pitching earlier this week for 13 homers over a three-game series -- including seven longballs in one game. That helped put this group in the company of teams that featured legends such as Ruth, Banks, Griffey Jr., McGwire and Cabrera.

-- Brian Murphy

Brian Anderson’s 35.3% barrel rate

Obviously, nobody believed Anderson was a .500 hitter. In fact, to assert that his red-hot start guarantees anything from here on out would be silly.

... But have you seen how hard this guy is hitting the ball? Because nine days into the season, few players are crushing it quite like Anderson is. More specifically, he has a 35.3% barrel rate. For context, the single-season record is 26.5% (Aaron Judge, 2022.)

Yes, this is an extremely small sample size (6-for-17, to be precise), and yes, it's entirely unsustainable. What makes it worth our time is that this isn't remotely Anderson's game. He entered this season with a career 7.8% barrel rate, and generally speaking, when a player gets hot, no matter how brief the streak, he’s counting on a lot of luck, and doesn't become someone else. Anderson is, for the moment, earning his ridiculous .417/.516/.833 line, and after the long run of injuries he's dealt with over the past two years, watching him tear the cover off the ball early on is extra gratifying.

-- Shanthi Sepe-Chepuru