8 (very) early overreactions from Opening Weekend

April 3rd, 2023

Opening Weekend of the 2023 MLB season is in the books. It was replete with pomp and pageantry, dazzling debuts, big blasts, crazy comebacks, and, for the first time ever, buzzer beaters (of the “pitcher goes into his motion just before the expiration of the pitch timer” variety, not the “Lamont Butler beats Florida Atlantic” variety).

Oh, and as usual, it was replete with overreactions!

In an annual tradition, we scoured Twitter for just a few of the many, many bold statements being made out there amid the first few of 162. Here were some random fan reactions to the opening games, with a verdict on whether those reactions have merit.

(Hint: 99.9999% of opening reactions are overreactions. It’s science.)

*Some of these observations were slightly edited for clarity and/or grammar.

Wander Franco MVP and Jeffrey Springs Cy Young 2023.” -- @not_datdudeIII

Man, the Rays looked GREAT this weekend.

OK, it was against the Tigers, but it still counts!

Franco and Springs played big roles. Franco went 7-for-11 with a homer, three doubles and two walks. Springs threw six no-hit innings, struck out 12, walked just one and used a changeup that befuddled batters to the tune of a .205 expected batting average and .279 expected slugging percentage last season.

OK, yes, again, this was against the Tigers, but, again, it does still count.

Franco for MVP? Why not? Maybe he ultimately won’t have the power numbers typically prized by MVP voters, but if he’s healthy (something he was not last year), he has the hit tool and discipline to be a force of nature while playing a premium position for a likely contender.

Springs for Cy Young? What a story that would be for the 30-year-old who bounced around and struggled a bit before everything clicked with the Rays (a team for whom pitchers tend to click). Can’t put it past him. Springs moved from the Rays’ bullpen to the rotation last year and wound up striking out 26.2% of batters faced while walking 5.6% with a 40.9% ground-ball rate.

Verdict: Slight overreaction. It’s too early for the awards talk, but, after a 2022 season in which injuries robbed them of some of their mojo, the Rays looked dangerous.

“[Trayce Thompson is] better than Klay.” -- @sub2lucash

Better than Klay at baseball seems a given. It would be fascinating to know which Thompson brother is better at the other’s sport, but we have to leave that in the philosophical file for now. Instead, let’s just take this opportunity to point out that Trayce was acquired by the Dodgers for cash considerations from the struggling Tigers last June, and all he’s done since is slash .278/.370/.584 and turn in the 2023 season’s first three-homer game.

Because, you know, the Dodgers really needed to catch a break.

Actually, after a quiet winter on the acquisition front and then the season-ending knee injury to Gavin Lux, the Dodgers need Thompson more than we could have anticipated last summer. Their ability to find diamonds in the rough is what has helped them sustain their run of excellence, and this season will be a fascinating test of their roster resolve. The younger (and some, apparently, would say better) Thompson is holding up his end of the bargain so far.

Verdict: Inconclusive, as we don’t know the sport in question. But both Thompson brothers have shown they can hit the three.

“There are too many stolen bases in MLB.” -- @TruSnagz

Have we gone, in one weekend, from too few stolen bases to too many? That seems doubtful.

When MLB surveyed fans in advance of designing the rule changes that debuted in the big leagues this year, the stolen base was clearly identified as something fans missed in the modern game. As teams placed a greater emphasis on the value of outs, their risk tolerance for running into them decreased ... and, over time, so did the rate of attempts.

Now, with the bigger bases and the pickoff limits associated with the pitch timer, the pendulum starts to swing the other way. In the Minor Leagues, this resulted in a 26% increase in stolen-base attempts per game, with a 10% rise in success rate. Though the rise in rate of attempts per game in MLB this year might feel revolutionary, as of this writing, it is slightly lower than in MiLB, going from 1.36 to 1.6 (a rise of 17.7%). What’s bigger, in this small sample, is the jump in success rate -- from 75.4% last year to 87.5% this year.

That we are going to see more steals this season is a given. What’s unclear is whether this success rate is sustainable. A generation of pitchers at the MLB level has not had to pay as much mind to the running game as their predecessors, because it hasn’t been as pronounced a piece of the picture. Now, it is. And they have limits placed on their pickoff limits. It’s a big adjustment, as we are seeing in real time.

But too many steals? As of this writing, we are on pace for about 3,400 steals, which would be the most since 1999 (3,421). We are only slightly above the rate that produced 3,279 steals in 2011. If people were complaining that there were “too many stolen bases” then, I don’t remember it.

Verdict: Overreaction. Enjoy the show.

“How did the Phillies manage to lose 16-3? This season better not be a World Series hangover.” -- @mclydon8

Unfortunately, World Series hangovers are possible even for the teams that lose the series. The hangover comes not from the sips (or chugs) of celebratory champagne but from the wear and tear of a long October (and in this case, early November) and the shortened offseason.

There’s a new rule that only allows you to use a position player to pitch in a total blowout, and yet the Phillies were eligible to use one on the second day of the season against the Rangers. That’s no fun. Bryce Harper is evidently ahead of schedule in his rehab from Tommy John surgery, but losing Rhys Hoskins to a torn ACL hurts the lineup depth, and injury setbacks for Ranger Suárez and Andrew Painter hurt the rotation depth. The fifth starting pitcher they’ll use this season will be Matt Strahm.

As in, Matt Strahm, the reliever.

So the Phillies have run into some early challenges here, but it’s still a confident club that proved last year it now knows how to maximize the value of its pitching staff, top to bottom. It is true, though, that they might be dealing with a bit of a hangover in the early stage of this season.

Verdict: Mild hangover, mild overreaction.

Chris Sale may be washed.” -- @CamAlexander91

In the three-game series with the Red Sox and Orioles, there were 50 runs scored on 74 hits. EVERY pitcher looked washed.

But Sale had a particularly frustrating first outing, giving up seven earned runs in just three innings. He called it “the most embarrassed that I’ve ever been on a baseball field.”

Of course, this was only Sale’s third big league start since the start of 2022 and just his 12th since 2019. His fastball topped out at 97.2 mph, so that didn’t look washed. He got whiffs on 13 of 30 swings, and six of his nine outs came via the strikeout. His trouble was location.

Let’s see here ... Sale’s next start comes against [checks notes] the Tigers.

Verdict: Overreaction.

Anthony Volpe gonna steal 60 bags this year.” -- @GareMedia

As noted by MLB.com’s Sarah Langs, Volpe became just the fifth player --and the first since Billy Hamilton -- to steal a base in each of his first three games:

What’s exciting about Volpe is he ought to be able to get on base quite a bit more frequently than Hamilton. What’s doubly exciting is that he’s come up in an environment that, as noted above, aids and abets base steals. And what’s triply exciting is that when Volpe steals a base, his dad might be in the stands scoring it in his program.

So yes, be excited about Volpe, even if 60 steals seem like a stretch. (Then again, I’m old enough to remember when Aaron Judge hitting 60 homers seemed like a stretch.)

Verdict: Understandable overreaction.

“Best Cardinals lineup top to bottom I’ve ever seen. Absolutely no holes.” -- @HornsbyVargus

The vast majority of Twitter users (including, presumably, this one) were not alive to see the Gashouse Gang, so … maybe?

Every time I flipped to a Cardinals game this weekend, at least one of their players was on base ... even when they weren’t up to bat! They hit .373 as a team while taking two of three from a Blue Jays team that trotted out Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman and Chris Bassitt. Pretty good.

The Cards are deep, and they are balanced. They have youthful upside and veteran stability. And they are seemingly made better in a big way by the promotion of Jordan Walker, who hits the ball as hard as you’d expect a 6-foot-6, 245-pounder to hit the ball and also has good speed for his size. He sure doesn't look 20.

The run environment won’t allow this group to outscore the Cards clubs that had Mark McGwire or Albert Pujols in their prime, but this does have the makings of a very fun summer in St. Louis.

Verdict: An overreaction, because you should never say “best” in the first week of the season (unless, say, it is in relation to the best milkshake topped with a glazed donut topped with popcorn that you have ever had). But the enthusiasm is understandable.

“God, I missed baseball.” -- @VodemortsGF


Verdict: Highly appropriate reaction.