The fun of watching baseball this early in the season is that you can convince yourself that the way everyone’s playing now is the way they’re going to be playing all season. Unless you’re Chris Sale, this is a good thing.
It’s more joyous to imagine the hot start to a season isn’t a fluke, but instead the sign that the breakout season you were waiting for is finally upon us. Six games in the middle of the season, you don’t even notice. But six games to start the season become our new reality.
Thus, the giddy ridiculousness of the “On Pace For Game.” That’s the game where you take an irresponsibly low number of games and expand them out through a whole season.
The most famous of these was for Tuffy Rhodes, the Cubs outfielder who hit three homers on Opening Day in 1994. This put him on pace for 486 homers that season. He would end up with … eight. Rhodes belted just five long balls for the rest of his big league career, though it’s worth noting that he would ultimately go to Japan and hit 464 homers there over 13 seasons.
You can have so much fun with the On Pace For Game at this point of the season. Let’s look at my favorite such stats so far, and the likelihood -- on a scale of 1-10 -- of it continuing. (1 being “ha, no way this is happening” to 10 being “this is the new normal.”) Remember: Past results are not predictive of future performance, to say the least!
1) Cody Bellinger is on pace for 115 homers and 301 RBIs.
Bellinger played every game in 2018, but his homers were down by 15 from ’17, even though he played 30 more games. But Bellinger was so fantastic in 2017 that even a steep drop still placed him as an above-average hitter last year, and he has come screaming out of the gate with five homers in his first seven games. That’s actually tied with Khris Davis for the most homers in Majors, though Davis had those extra two games in Japan. A warning sign: Bellinger has only walked once. Eventually they’ll stop throwing him so many strikes.
Sustainability: 1. Imagine if Bellinger broke Barry Bonds’ record in July! More seriously, though, Bellinger had 39 homers two years ago. Forty-five is on the table here, no?
2) Willy Adames is on pace for 300 strikeouts.
Strikeouts were a bit of a problem last year for Adames, who is a still-hot Rays prospect, in his rookie season. He K’d in 29.4 percent of his appearances. But whiffing is essentially all he has done this young season. In 23 plate appearances, he has struck out a whopping 13 times. He also has only one hit, leading to that gruesome .043 batting average. At this point, the Rays are calling on him to bunt every time he comes to the plate.
Sustainability: 2. Adames will surely be pulled from the lineup if he continues to whiff like this. But the way baseball is going right now, is the 300-strikeout season from a hitter approachable? Mark Reynolds holds the all-time record with 223 back in 2009, but four of the top 10 strikeout seasons have come in the past two years. That record isn’t lasting much longer.
3) The Yankees are on pace to win 54 games.
When you looked at the Yankees’ opening schedule and saw them leading off with Baltimore and Detroit at home, the last thing you imagined was them losing both series. The bats have gone silent, injuries are starting to pile up, and even the vaunted bullpen has sprung some leaks. The heat gets turned up in The Bronx faster every year.
Sustainability: 2. But wow, can you imagine?
4) David Peralta is on pace for 347 hits.
Peralta has always been an underappreciated player for the D-backs, and he was terrific for them last year, hitting 30 homers and getting on-base at a .352 clip. (His best year remains 2015, when he led the league in triples and hit .312.) Peralta is off to a blistering start for Arizona, hitting .455 and smashing seven doubles. He hasn’t walked once all year, though, so when the fall comes (and it’s coming very soon), it may be steeper than he might like.
Sustainability: 1. Ichiro’s record of 262 in 2004 looks like it’s incredibly safe. No one other than Ichiro has had more than 227 since 1988.
5) Bryce Harper and Maikel Franco are each on pace for 227 walks
The Phillies have been baseball’s must-see road show every night, with Bryce amping his personality to its highest level to get those Philadelphia fans rollicking. (The massive homers aren’t hurting either.) It’s clearly working, all of it: It’s impossible to take your eyes off this team right now. This might seem like an insane number of walks -- and it particularly is for Franco, who has never walked more than 41 times in a season. But know that even this would not be the all-time record: Barry Bonds somehow walked 232 times in 2004. (That was the year of the .609 OBP.)
Sustainability: 2. Franco obviously will tail off quickly -- though that he has shown this batting eye so far is an excellent sign -- but Harper could end up with a big number of walks this year. It’s good to be Rhys Hoskins.
6) Mookie Betts is on pace for 764 plate appearances.
The Red Sox have had a sluggish start, but if you’re looking for a way out of it, having one of the best hitters in baseball make the most plate appearances in baseball is an excellent place to start.
Sustainability: 8. If Betts doesn’t get hurt, the Red Sox will get him to the plate as often as humanly possible. The 764 number would be good for sixth all-time; the record is held by Jimmy Rollins (778) in 2007.
7) Mike Trout is on pace for an 8.1 fWAR.
There isn’t much more ridiculous than trying to figure out WAR totals six games into a season, let alone trying to project them forward. But that’s Trout for you: He has no homers, one RBI and five hits … and he still is on a pace that would have made him the third-best player in baseball last year (behind Betts and himself). For what it’s worth, the current fWAR leaders are Harper, Kolten Wong, Christian Yelich and Tim Beckham, all at 0.8 WAR. Harper has gotten there in the fewest games: He’s on pace for a 25.9 fWAR season, which would be (by far) the greatest fWAR season in baseball history, surpassing Babe Ruth’s 1923 season by more than 10 games.
Sustainability: 8. Oh, Trout’s going to end up a lot higher than 8.1 fWAR.
8) Jacob deGrom is on pace for 384 strikeouts.
deGrom has been just as dominant in 2019 as he was in ‘18, though this time, he’s actually getting wins out of the deal. Going off his average of 12 strikeouts in his two starts, and the total 32 starts he made last year, that puts him at 384 K’s. This would be the most of the modern era, passing Nolan Ryan’s 383 in 1973. deGrom has struck out half the batters he has faced.
Sustainability: 4. Probably not going to happen. But if there were ever a year, and a pitcher, to challenge Ryan’s record, it might be this one?
9) Josh Hader is on pace for 163 strikeouts.
The Milwaukee reliever has struck out two batters per innings, giving up just one hit and walking one batter in four appearances. If you give Hader the 81 1/3 innings he threw last year, that would give him 163 strikeouts. The record for strikeouts by a reliever in one season is 181, set by Dick Radatz in 1964. He threw 157 innings that year. Hader won’t throw that many, but 81 1/3 innings seems like the floor.
Sustainability: 9. The Brewers look like they’re going to rely on Hader even more than they did last year. Radatz’s record could be in jeopardy.
10) The Mets are on pace for 134 wins.
I put this one in here just because Mets fans are good and deserve to be happy.
Sustainability: 1. It’s a beautiful thought, though, isn’t it?