Statcast metrics say to keep an eye on these 10 players

April 9th, 2024

It's early in the 2024 season, but plenty of players stand out with hot starts.

In some cases, it's certainly no surprise -- we already know that Mookie Betts, Bobby Witt Jr., Jose Altuve and Zack Wheeler are some of the stars of the sport. In other cases, there's enough data to suggest that some newer players could be taking big steps forward.

While sample sizes might be too small for traditional stats (batting average, on-base percentage, etc.), Statcast metrics can be a great way to evaluate early-season performance. If a player is showing a new level -- whether that's a hitter making more quality contact or a pitcher generating more whiffs -- it's a useful barometer to see whose performances might be legitimate.

With that in mind, here are 10 players who are early-season Statcast standouts and why the future could be bright for them.

All numbers are through Sunday's games.

Maikel Garcia, Royals
Key stats: 18.8 percent barrel rate, 93.3 mph average exit velocity

Garcia was a trendy breakout pick this year because the gifted third-base defender also flashed offensive potential with a 93rd percentile hard-hit rate and 87th percentile average exit velocity last season. Those hard-hit balls, however, often ended up on the ground, which helped explain Garcia’s .358 slugging percentage. Garcia has gotten more of that hard contact in the air to the pull side this season, which has led to Garcia barreling more baseballs and nearly matching his 2023 home run total in 100 fewer games. Garcia is chasing and whiffing a bit more but the trade-off has paid dividends.

Jung Hoo Lee, Giants
Key stats: 54.1 percent hard-hit rate, 8.8 percent whiff rate

When the Giants signed Lee, the consensus was that the 25-year-old would be a solid everyday leadoff hitter thanks to strong contact and plate discipline skills while providing above-average defense in center field. How much power Lee would bring to the Majors was less clear. Thus far, Lee is showing legit thump in his bat with a hard-hit rate above 50 percent and 93.4 mph average exit velocity. While Lee is running a poor wOBA (.249) so far, his expected wOBA (.320) suggests that he's been unlucky and good fortune is on the way.

Shota Imanaga, Cubs
Key stats: 44.1 percent chase rate, 35.0 percent whiff rate

Imanaga signed a four-year, $53 million deal with the Cubs in the offseason after a superb NPB career. The 30-year-old left-hander wasted no time showing why he dominated for years in Japan. Albeit it coming against a subpar Rockies lineup, Imanaga dominated in his debut at Wrigley Field, striking out nine batters and walking none in six scoreless innings. Imanaga carried a no-hitter through 5 2/3 innings and generated 20 whiffs, including 12 on 15 swings against his splitter. He more or less did the same against the Dodgers in his second outing (four scoreless innings with three strikeouts) before a rain delay cut his outing short.

Garrett Crochet, White Sox
Key stats: 1.54 expected ERA, 34.1 percent whiff rate

After making 72 appearances out of the bullpen across parts of three seasons (he missed all of 2022 due to Tommy John surgery), the White Sox decided to test Crochet in a rotation that needed it. The left-hander has seamlessly transitioned to the rotation, posting a 2.00 ERA and 1.54 expected ERA in 18 innings while striking out 21 hitters and walking one. Notably, Crochet’s 96.9 mph fastball velocity as a starter is higher than it was in both 2021 and ‘23 and he is flashing a nasty new cutter that has bridged the gap between his four-seamer and slider.

Jared Jones, Pirates
Key stats: 97.0 mph average fastball velocity, 41.3 percent whiff rate

Paul Skenes might garner much of the attention for Pirates pitching prospects but the system is flush with quality arms. Look no further than Jones, the 22-year-old starter showing why he deserved to win a spot in the starting rotation out of spring. The right-hander has a 3.86 ERA across his first two starts, 17 strikeouts and a whopping 43 whiffs -- tied with Shohei Ohtani for the most by a pitcher in his first two career outings in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008). Opposing hitters have swung and missed on 41.3 percent of swings, which makes sense given Jones is coming at hitters with a 97 mph heater and filthy slider generating whiffs at a near-50 percent clip.

Yainer Diaz, Astros
Key stats: 38.5 percent chase rate, 17.9 percent whiff rate

Diaz already broke out with a strong rookie season in which he bopped 23 home runs, displayed elite pop time and arm strength and finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. The young catcher had two clear weaknesses, though: he finished in the first percentile in chase rate and 37th percentile in whiff rate. Diaz flipped that script early in ‘24 by shaving his chase rate by more than 5 percentage points and his whiff rate by nearly 10 percentage points. After striking out more than six times as often as he walked in ‘23, he only has twice as many strikeouts as walks this season while he is maintaining his contact quality.

Reid Detmers, Angels
Key stats: 41.8 percent whiff rate, 2.24 xERA

Following Detmers' strong first full season in 2022 (3.77 ERA and 4.05 xERA), his '23 performance (4.48 ERA and 4.55 xERA) felt like a bit of a letdown. A key factor in the decline was tied to a four-seam fastball that allowed a .878 OPS against and a 21.2 percent whiff rate. The young left-hander has had a complete 180 with his fastball in 2024 by generating whiffs at a 46.9 percent clip while allowing just one hit. With better shape on his fastball -- the pitch is dropping 2.5 fewer inches than last year -- Detmers is excelling with the heater up in the zone. The fastball success has allowed his strong secondary pitches to play up more, leading to just two runs and 19 strikeouts across his first 11 innings.

Victor Scott II, Cardinals
Key stats: 30.3 feet-per-second sprint speed, 9 bolts

MLB Pipeline’s No. 93 prospect (No. 3 Cardinals prospect), Scott made the Cardinals' Opening Day roster thanks to his blazing speed and being a plus-plus defender in center field. That speed has been abundantly clear, as Scott leads the Majors in sprint speed and bolts. That’s certainly no surprise given that Scott led the Minors with 94 stolen bases last season. Scott’s bat hasn’t quite shown up yet but with a track record of getting on base (.367 OBP) and making contact (16.2 percent strikeout rate) in the Minors, there’s plenty of reason to believe he’ll be on base enough to put that blazing speed to use.

Logan O’Hoppe, Angels
Key stats: 61.9 percent hard-hit rate, 27.7 percent whiff rate

The young Angels catcher already had a mini breakout in 2023, albeit coming in just 51 games due to a shoulder injury. After crushing 14 home runs and slugging .500 in 199 plate appearances, O'Hoppe has shown that his offensive level is legitimate early in ‘24. O’Hoppe is slugging .630 thanks to consistently crushing baseballs and there are even signs that he’s improving his approach at the plate. If O’Hoppe’s improvement in whiff rate (down 4.4 percent) is legitimate, that means more opportunities for the 24-year-old to put his raw power on display.

Mason Miller, A's
Key stats: 47.6 percent whiff rate, 100.2 mph average fastball velocity

Miller debuted last season as a starter for the A's but only pitched 33 1/3 innings due to a UCL sprain. The club opted to transition him to the bullpen this season, a move that's already paying dividends. Miller's fastball is averaging 100.2 mph while his slider is one of baseball's nastiest in terms of velocity (87.3 mph) and movement (38.7 inches of drop and 8.7 inches of break). It's only a five-inning sample but Miller has the makings of a potentially dominant reliever.