Take a breath: 10 spring overreactions

March 3rd, 2020

Watching Spring Training is akin to how many of us feel looking at modern art. We know it means something; we’re just not exactly sure what.

The injuries and 0-fers that feel frustrating now might prove to be no biggie in the big picture. Today’s exhibition MVP could be tomorrow’s DFA candidate. The season is long, no matter how short our memories or attention spans. But it’s human nature to react and, therefore, to overreact. We do it every spring, and we’re collectively doing it again in 2020.

So let’s take a look at some reactions that have taken shape on Twitter in recent days and determine whether they are extreme overreactions or whether they might prove to have merit in the long run.

1) When are the Nationals going to realize Carter Kieboom is not the answer at third? When they are 10 games under .500? 20 games? -- @MindfulRob

Anthony Rendon’s departure via free agency wasn’t exactly well-received in D.C., but it was a lot easier for Nats fans to swallow in the aftermath of a World Series title than otherwise. Still, you can’t blame them if they want more certainty at third base. The 22-year-old Kieboom -- MLB Pipeline’s No. 21 ranked prospect -- has made some early defensive gaffes and struggled at the plate (1-for-12 with five strikeouts), to boot (though he has drawn six walks). Maybe this is all too much, too soon … or maybe this is too soon, period.

The Nats retain the option of optioning Kieboom and opening the season with Asdrúbal Cabrera at the hot corner. They will certainly be circled as a potential player for Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado in the midseason trade market, if it comes to that. But for now, let’s go easy on the kid. He’s got a lot on his plate with the shift from short and second and a lot of eyes upon him. He needs and deserves more than half a dozen Grapefruit games to prove himself.

Verdict: If the Nats do somehow find themselves 20 games under .500, something tells me Kieboom won’t have been the only issue.

2**) I, for one, accept our new Chris Davis overlord -- @blaisem21**

There is not a more perfect Spring Training story than the Chris Davis Redemption Tour. And there is no better fodder for overreaction than the Chris Davis stat line, which reads as follows: .625 average, .714 on-base percentage, 1.750 slugging percentage.

In 13 plate appearances.

Look, you don’t need me to tell you Davis won’t be vying for the AL MVP honor. And even the Comeback Player of the Year conversation feels a bit ambitious when considering Davis’ .263 weighted on-base average was in the bottom 1 percent of baseball last season or that his strikeout rate over the last three seasons is a ghastly 37.6 percent. Davis put on what he considers to be good weight in the bid to regain his power, but it’s not as if he totally reformed his swing. If he struggles in the first half, the Orioles might pivot to prospect Ryan Mountcastle.

But confidence is an amazing separator in this sport. If nothing else, Davis is stocking up on that this spring.

Verdict: Clear overreaction. But how could you not root for this guy?

3) WIL MYERS REVENGE SZN -- @rich_roberts

The Padres have been trying in vain to get out from under even a fragment of the Myers contract for the last couple years, including in talks with Boston late in the offseason. With those talks as a backdrop, it’s nice to see Myers casually ripping a couple homers, putting up a 1.169 OPS and even flipping his bat in Cactus League play.

Regarding his struggles the last three seasons, however, there’s not a great deal to suggest Myers has been the victim of poor batted-ball luck, and his strikeout rate ballooned to 34.2 percent last season. His biggest issue is that the Padres have aligned themselves with ample outfield options that could crowd Myers’ playing time, though he could steal some at-bats against lefties from Eric Hosmer at first.

Verdict: Another clear overreaction, but another guy worth rooting for.

4) On Feb. 26 (Edwin Diaz gives up two runs in an inning) …
Edwin Diaz will remain bad for all of 2020 -- confirmed -- @EDSdt1234
On March 1 (Diaz pitches a scoreless inning) …

Mets fans are just going to have to ride the wave with Diaz for now, because judging reliever performance in this environment is particularly precarious. Diaz needed 25 pitches to get through his Grapefruit debut, in which he allowed a pair of RBI doubles to the Astros. And afterward he invited even more scrutiny when he said he felt “anxious.” But Diaz was sharp in a scoreless inning against the Nats on Sunday.

The Mets’ bullpen is basically built around the idea that the pendulum will swing back in the favor of some relief arms who have been elite at one time or another (Diaz, Dellin Betances and Jeurys Familia). Diaz’s walks were up and his home runs were way up in 2019, but his chase rate and whiff rates were in line with his career norms. The key to his 2020 will be a slider that abandoned him last year, and, even in that ugly outing against the Astros, the pitch appeared to have good shape to it. Personally, I think he’s going to do a better job limiting the long balls and bounce back nicely, though probably not to the elite level he reached with the Mariners in 2018.

Verdict: Mets fans on each side of the Diaz discussion are overreacting. Confirmed.

5) The Astros will lead the league in hit-by-pitches this year -- @BaseballBros

Houston was hit by seven pitches in the first week of exhibition play, and that was food for the sharks looking for a story.

Alas, the Astros aren’t even leading the Grapefruit League in HBPs (congrats, Cardinals!). Jose Altuve was hit on the foot by a breaking ball. Alex Bregman was hit in the back by a splitter from a guy who walked 24 guys in 57 innings in Class A ball last season. And something tells me the other Astros plunked by pitches -- Aledmys Díaz, Dustin Garneau, Osvaldo Duarte, Jake Meyers and Alex De Goti -- aren’t being targeted because of the 2017 Astros scheme, given that they weren’t members of the 2017 Astros.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has already tried to get out in front of the retaliation conversation in his meetings with managers this spring. We’ll see what develops in-season. But this is a lazy narrative for now.

Verdict: Like a hitter charging the mound after getting hit by a breaking ball, this is an overreaction.

6) 2019 Yankees: “What a crazy year with this necessary ‘Next Man Up’ mentality b/c of injuries… bet we’ll never see a season like this again!

2020 Yankees: “Hold my beer…” -- @blondinthebronx

At the risk of being accused of having an under-active imagination, I can’t, for the life of me, believe that the Yanks are going to break their own injured list record (30 players, 39 stints) they set last season.

But are the hang-ups and bang-ups affecting Luis Severino (out for the season with Tommy John), James Paxton (out until May with back surgery), Giancarlo Stanton (calf strain) and Aaron Judge (shoulder and pectoral soreness) a source of concern? Sure. The 2019 triumph over injury adversity was commendable, but is it entirely repeatable, especially on the pitching side? The rotation has taken some big hits with Severino and Paxton injuries and the suspension of Domingo German. It will be interesting to see when or if the Yanks swing a swap for a starter.

Verdict: The rotation hits are a genuine concern. But the Yankees’ injured list probably won’t read as a Murderers’ Row again.

7) The centerpiece of the Corey Kluber trade is out until Memorial Day. Yet another piece of evidence that God hates the Cleveland Indians -- @jamesedgar70

The Indians didn’t want to be on the hook for $17.5 million to find out if Kluber could bounce back from a 2019 limited by injuries to just seven mostly unsuccessful starts. Making a young reliever the centerpiece of such a swap return is really risky, but Emmanuel Clase’s 100-mph cutter is the kind of pitch you can dream on and would add a lot of firepower to a ‘pen that didn’t have much of it in 2019.

Trouble is, Clase won’t be throwing that cutter -- or anything else -- for the next couple months because of a back sprain that developed early in spring, and the Indians probably don’t have a ton of margin for error in an improved AL Central (and with the Francisco Lindor trade speculation hanging over their heads). The spring bumps and bruises have taken the Tribe down a peg in the FanGraphs pitching projections, which have the Indians at 18.3 WAR from the arms, barely ahead of the Twins, at 18.1.

Verdict: I don’t think God actually hates the Cleveland Indians, but their fans would not be totally out of place in the Book of Job.

8) Took at look at what the Red Sox have done this spring so far. I can’t stop myself from thinking this is a good team. Taking the East is a long shot. But with the Yankees having injury troubles and the Rays being the Rays, I wouldn’t put it past this team to do it -- @Pat_Light

This is a mostly measured take from former pitcher (and Red Sox Draft pick) Pat Light. But anything that suggests the Red Sox are an actual contender in the wake of the Mookie Betts-David Price trade will be treated by many as an overreaction.

I won’t go as far as the FanGraphs projections (which have the Red Sox at 88.6 wins), but I do think a Red Sox team relieved of the weight of expectations can be competitive this year. It’s just that the pitching depth here is so suspect that so much (probably too much) revolves around the health of Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez, which is an iffy proposition, especially with Sale already slated to begin the year on the IL after the flu and pneumonia set him back at the start of Spring Training. The Yankees and Rays both have a lot more depth and flexibility. The blockbuster trade was entirely defensible with regard to the long-term fortunes of the franchise and the luxury tax penalty structure. But for the Red Sox to make that trade AND contend for a division crown in 2020 would take a load of luck that doesn’t feel especially realistic.

Verdict: Overreaction. But if you can’t overreact in Boston, what’s the point?

9) Angels: Griffin Canning felt something in his elbow
Me: [GIF of a frog jumping off a bridge] -- @SSimons618

Just a couple weeks ago, I touted Canning as a guy worthy of more love in light of the narrative that the Angels had not done enough to amplify their rotation this offseason. Now, I just hope he’s not a guy in need of major arm surgery before year’s end. Canning has UCL damage but will go the rest-and-rehab route in the hope of avoiding Tommy John surgery.

This is a big blow to the Angels’ internal upside, and, unfortunately, it’s the continuation of a trend in which the Halos have struggled to keep their projected starting five on the active list at a given time.

Verdict: Not a total overreaction, but please note that no frogs were harmed in the disbursement of this opinion.

10) When Mike Trout is done with baseball he should be on the PGA Tour -- @chappyA4

OK, Trout murdered that golf ball the other night … but he also hooked it. And by the way, how’s his short game? Come on, people, let’s not read too much into a one-minute video from a driving range. Calm down.

Verdict: Just kidding. Trout would probably dominate the PGA, too.