9 fun -- even outlandish -- early-season stats

April 7th, 2024

The first 10 days of the 2024 season -- not counting the two Seoul Series games -- are in the books. So much is still to be written, and anyone who follows baseball knows there is little sense drawing sweeping conclusions based upon such a small sample.

That doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun with some of the more eye-catching early-season numbers.

We gathered a group of MLB.com writers and researchers together to do just that. Their task was not necessarily to predict which stats will stick and which will fade into the background of a marathon season. Rather, we simply asked them each to identify one number that has caught their attention and tickled their fancy over these first couple of weeks.

Here are the results:

Imanaga’s splitter shines in MLB debut

Although it came on a chilly day at Wrigley Field against a Rockies lineup that isn’t exactly a juggernaut, Shota Imanaga’s debut was still mighty impressive. The left-hander, who signed a four-year, $53 million deal with the Cubs in the offseason after a stellar career in his native Japan, carried a no-hitter through 5 2/3 innings and finished with nine K’s and no walks over six scoreless frames. Including Spring Training, Imanaga has struck out 34 of the 81 batters he has faced (42%) in a Cubs uniform, which is a great indication that he has the stuff to excel at the Major League level.

Imanaga leaned heavily on his four-seamer during his dominant debut, throwing it 60.9% of the time and holding Colorado hitters hitless with four strikeouts in 13 at-bats ending on the pitch. The southpaw’s splitter, though, was the true star of the show.

Imanaga consistently threw his splitter down and out of the strike zone, but Rox batters had trouble laying off of it. Of the 15 swings they took against Imanaga’s splitter on the day, 12 came up empty, good for an 80% whiff rate. That included the final pitch in a 13-pitch battle with Ryan McMahon. Given how similar Imanaga’s four-seamer and splitter look coming out of his hand, the two pitches could prove to be a devastating combo all year long.

-- Thomas Harrigan

Soto provides X-factor for Yankees comebacks

Juan Soto’s first four regular-season games as a Yankee couldn’t have gone much better, as the team pulled off a sweep in Houston with his energy a key part of each win. The Yankees became just the seventh team to open a season with four or more straight wins after being tied or trailing in the sixth inning or later in each game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Soto was at the center of those rallies, with a go-ahead bases loaded walk in the seventh on Friday, a go-ahead solo homer in the seventh on Saturday and a go-ahead single in the ninth on Sunday. Soto is the first player in the expansion era (since 1961) to record a go-ahead RBI in the seventh inning or later in three of his first four games with a team, and the first to do so in three of his first four with the Yankees, specifically, since RBI became official in 1920.

That’s the Soto effect on full display.

-- Sarah Langs

Mookie’s ridiculous start to the season

It’s certainly no surprise that Mookie Betts is off to a great start this season. He is, after all, a great baseball player. But this kind of start is impressive even for someone with Betts’ accolades.

Through his first 10 games, Betts is rocking a .415/.538/.902 line and is leading the Majors with a 1.440 OPS, five home runs and 15 runs scored. Betts is nearly impossible to pitch to right now with prodigious quality of contact and bat-to-ball skills. Over half of his batted balls have been hard-hit (95-plus mph exit velocity) or on the sweet spot of the bat, while Betts is walking more (11 times) than he’s striking out (seven).

That Betts is doing this while transitioning into a full-time shortstop is nothing short of incredible. It’s hard to find new ways to describe Betts’ excellence on a baseball field. Yet here we are again trying to make sense of Betts finding an even higher level while learning a tougher position on the fly and batting leadoff for arguably the top team in the sport.

-- Brent Maguire

Bubba boosts the running Reds

Hopes are higher in Cincinnati this season than they have been for a while, and the club stoked that fire by winning three of its first four games. One reason? These young Reds can run. No team welcomed the new, stolen base-friendly rules more in 2023 (an MLB-high 190 swipes), and that is holding up again in '24 (15 SB through eight games, most in MLB entering Sunday).

Among the Reds’ team leaders is both a likely and an unlikely source: Bubba Thompson. Likely, because he is one of the fastest players in the sport, with 99th-percentile sprint speed. Unlikely because the 2017 first-round Draft pick (by Texas) was claimed off waivers five times by four different teams between last August and this February before snagging an Opening Day roster spot in Cincinnati thanks in part to injuries to TJ Friedl and Matt McLain.

In his Reds debut on March 30, Thompson pinch-ran in the eighth, stole second and scored the go-ahead run. The next day, he pinch-ran in the seventh and stole second as the potential tying run, though he was stranded. The day after that, he entered as the automatic runner at second to start the top of the 10th, stole third and scored the go-ahead run. Here’s the kicker: The only other player on record to start his season with three straight games of zero plate appearances plus a stolen base? Billy Hamilton, also with the Reds, in September 2013.

-- Andrew Simon

Boston’s starting pitching makes history

To say starting pitching wasn’t a strength of the 2023 Red Sox would be an understatement. Boston’s starting pitchers had a collective ERA of 4.68 a year ago -- ninth highest in MLB -- en route to the Sox taking last place in the AL East for the second straight year.

But a lot can change over the course of a year. Boston’s starting pitchers own a 1.72 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in 2024, both second in MLB behind Kansas City. Both figures are the Red Sox’s second best through nine games since the mound was moved to its current height in 1969.

The historical context doesn’t end there. The Red Sox joined the 2023 Twins as the only teams since at least 1900 to begin the season with seven straight starters throwing five-plus innings and allowing five or fewer hits.

-- Cole Jacobson

Witt's statement hot streak

Bobby Witt Jr. had a really good sophomore year. Like, really good. But being in your third Major League season having had, in your first two, a so-so performance and an elite one, regardless of which order they came in, is a proverbial no-man’s land. One of those seasons was a more faithful representation of what you can do on a yearly basis -- only time will tell.

Witt lived in that uncertainty for all of an hour. It’s easy to brush off sparkling rate stats through a week and a half of baseball -- his .389 batting average is a 14-for-36 line, which is about 5% of the 2024 season -- but almost no one else is this locked in. He’s hitting the ball so hard it feels personal. He has a 78.3% hard-hit rate and eight of his 14 hits thus far have gone for extra bases.

None of that is sustainable, but that’s not really the point. No one has started off hotter at the plate in 2024, and that’s huge for a guy out to prove he’s a perennial All-Star (and for those of us who already think of him as appointment viewing).

-- Shanthi Sepe-Chepuru

Jarred Kelenic silencing doubters

After Kelenic’s three mostly disappointing seasons with Seattle, his poor Spring Training numbers (.143/.200/.232) with the Braves did little to persuade critics to believe he could still live up to the hype from his prospect days. But since the bell rang on the 2024 season, Kelenic has left those doubters virtually silent.

In seven games with Atlanta, Kelenic is batting .625 with an OPS of 1.480 across 18 plate appearances in a platoon role. He has reached base in every game in which he's played and is tied for second on the team in hits.

The Braves plan to give Kelenic the bulk of playing time in left field, with Adam Duvall usually playing against lefties. But already, manager Brian Snitker has played matchups and pinch-hit Kelenic against righty relievers. And wouldn’t you know it? Kelenic is 2-for-2 with an RBI off the bench in three plate appearances.

Atlanta doesn’t necessarily need him to mash, but if Kelenic can build on this early success to become a frequent contributor, the doubters might not speak again.

-- Jason Foster

Singer leads surging Royals rotation with grounders galore

The Royals’ starting rotation, which gained a pair of veteran right-handers in Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo over the offseason, has enjoyed a stellar start to the 2024 campaign. Through eight games, Kansas City starters have combined for an MLB-best 1.26 ERA. And the best of the group so far has been right-hander Brady Singer, who owns a 0.68 ERA with two walks and 14 strikeouts through his first two outings.

Singer’s impressive line includes an 80% ground ball rate -- of the 30 batted balls opponents have put in play against him, 24 have been on the ground. Ground balls can be a pitcher’s best friend, and a high ground ball rate is typically a big plus. Given the miniscule sample size, of course, Singer’s rate will go down (he has a career ground ball rate just north of 50%).

But if you want a fun early-season stat, an 80% ground ball rate certainly qualifies amid what could become a breakout season for the former first-round pick -- and potentially a surprise postseason push for the Royals.

-- Manny Randhawa

2024 Edwin Díaz looks just like 2022 Edwin Díaz

The trumpets are back in New York, and Díaz, after missing all of 2023, is pitching like he never missed a game. The Mets closer has a 0.00 ERA in four outings, and he's allowed only one hit with six strikeouts in four innings.

Díaz's slider, the weapon that powered him to his historically dominant season in 2022, is still every bit as devastating. In '22, Díaz held opposing hitters to a .114 batting average against his slider and generated a 55% swing-and-miss rate. In '24, he's holding them to a .111 batting average against his slider and generating a 53% swing-and-miss rate. Díaz has collected one slider strikeout in each of his games back -- at velocities of 90.4 mph, 91.4 mph, 88.2 mph and 90.5 mph. That's the vintage Díaz power slider.

-- David Adler