Week in review: 10 riddles of the early season

Ten things that aren’t easily understood so far about the 2016 season (stats through Sunday’s games):

  1. Oakland’s Sonny Gray went on the disabled list, which explains his 6.19 ERA in nine starts. But how to explain last year’s Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, who’s pitched more like Chris Young in 2016 with a 5.92 ERA and .294 batting average against in 10 starts? Remember when opponents were terrified at having to face Keuchel in last year’s postseason? They’re elbowing each other for a better place in line this year. Or how to explain Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer, who has a 5.16 ERA after last year’s 3.13 and thrown 10 home runs despite fanning 65 in 52.1 innings? Or Boston’s $30 million a year David Price, who has a 5.53 ERA that was 6.75 two starts ago, despite 70 strikeouts in 55.1 innings? If it’s true the long season evens out performance, there’s more than one pitcher against whom offense will be down the next four months.
  2. Speaking of bad pitching, is there any reason the Reds give Alfredo Simon the ball every fifth day? Simon made it five innings and gave up five runs Sunday, which lowered his ERA — from 10.34 to 10.16. That looks good compared to the 16.39 the scoreboard flashed a month ago after he gave up eight runs in 2.2 innings to the Cubs. But even that wasn’t his worst start of the season — the 14 hits and 10 runs he gave up to the Indians in 4.1 innings last week was. The Reds welcomed Simon back after dealing him to the Tigers after the 2014 season for infielder Eugenio Suarez, who hit .280 with 13 home runs last year for the Reds at age 23. The Tigers executive who signed off on that deal was Dave Dombrowski. Red Sox fans might want to remember that when the team deals for pitching in July.
  3. How are the Indians scoring runs? Their best hitter, Michael Brantley, has played only 11 games this year but they’re second in the AL in runs scored per game at 4.7 (three teams have scored more but the Indians have played fewer games), a year after finishing 11th. Being across Ohio from the Reds didn’t hurt — the Indians scored 43 runs in four interleague games against them.
  4. Why did the Rangers think Rougned Odor needed a day off on Sunday? He’s about to have eight of them, in a row, courtesy of the American League for slugging slugger Jose Bautista.
  5. When did Melvin Upton become better than brother Justin?  It’s as if twin brothers switched identities and no one could tell, except by their physiques, the Upton brothers don’t look as if they’re related. Melvin sat for as much of 2015 as he played after hitting .184 and .208 in the first two years of a $75 million contract. Melvin hit a game-winning homer off Kenley Jansen Friday, his sixth of the year, which tops last year’s five. Melvin is hitting .266, his highest since 2008, and slugging .442, his best since 2012. Justin signed a $132 million contract in the last offseason and is hitting like Melvin used to: a .223 average, a .319 slugging percentage and an MLB-high 66 strikeouts in 178 plate appearances.
  6. Who’s making the schedule? The Red Sox played 17 straight days in April, had one off, were scheduled for 15 more in a row and then two of five days off. With a rainout, the Sox played 30 times in 31 days and then had three of eight days off.
  7. How long can the Phillies’ stay above .500? Forget about contending. They’re 29th in run scored and tied for 23rd in run differential at -31. And they just lost two out of three to the Braves. Does that sound like a playoff team? Not even in this expanded era. Yet they’re 25-19. You’d think it might be because 19 of those games have been against the Braves, Reds, Brewers and Padres, but the Phillies are only 10-9 in those games. Against teams with winning records, they’re 15-10.
  8. How does WAR rank Adam Eaton above Jackie Bradley? Bradley has a 1.031 OPS, more than 200 points greater than Adam Eaton’s respectable .818. Bradley is outhitting Eaton, .342-.304, outslugging him, .618-.427, has a 27-game hitting streak and playing center fielder competently. So how in the name of Hawk Harrelson does Eaton  lead all major leaguers with a 3.0 WAR, better than Mike Trout (2.8), better than Melvin Machado (2.7) and nine-tenths better than Bradley’s 2.1. Baseball-reference.com credits Eaton with 1.4 value of defensive WAR — if he’s that good in the outfield, maybe the White Sox only need two of them.
  9. How much longer till Ichiro gets to 3,000 hits? Not long if Christian Yellich’s back injury lingers. Ichiro is at 2,956 after getting two more on Sunday, which gives him 21 for the season. Ichiro is hitting as well as he has since the end of the last decade — he’s batting .382, he’s walked seven times and fanned three in 63 plate appearances and stolen two bases without being caught. It’s a limited sample, but Ichiro’s .888 OPS is the best of his career. You’d think Ichiro would be unable to maintain that pace at age 42, except the guy leading MLB in slugging and OPS is 40.
  10. Is there any doubt Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre is a Hall of Famer, and a first-ballot one at that? Beltre is 37 and a month and has 2,811 hits; barring injury, he’ll be crossing 3,000 about this time next year. He has 420 home runs and he should be in range of 500 when his two-year extension expires after the 2018 season. He’s won four Gold Gloves and has a baseball-reference.com WAR of 85.3, which ranks 31st all-time among position players and third among active ones (Alex Rodriguez, 118.9 is 12th; Albert Pujols, 99.8 is 21st). The only position player with a greater WAR not in the Hall is Barry Bonds.

Also of note, and some not easy to explain:

  • A year ago Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler didn’t homer until May 30 on his way to a career-low 11. In 2016, he’s homered 10 times and in four straight games even before May 30.
  • Max Scherzer is having the kind of year, minus the walks, Adam Dunn would have were he a pitcher — lots of strikeouts and home runs. Scherzer has fanned 84 in 66.1 innings, but thrown an MLB-high 14 home runs. Of course, Chris Young, who’s second with 13 homers allowed, threw his in less than half the innings (32.1).
  • Mets pitcher Matt Harvey has a 5.77 ERA after giving up eight hits and nine runs while getting eight outs against the Nationals Thursday. He’s allowed 65 hits and opponents are batting .325 against him. Maybe Dr. Andrews knew what he was speaking of when he tried to limit Harvey to 180 innings last year.
  • The Reds are last in team ERA, and it’s not close. Their 5.57 ERA is .66 higher than the Twins 4.91, and it’s not all Alfredo Simon’s fault. Apart from Simon, all other Reds starters had started a combined 83 major-league games entering 2016. Three Reds starters — Tim Melville, Tim Adleman and Robert Stephenson — made their major-league debuts this year; two others — John Lamb and Jon Moscot — did last year in limited fashion. The only Reds who had more than 10 starts in multiple seasons before this one were Simon and Dan Straily, who has a 2.85 ERA despite 23 walks in 47.1 innings.
  • As bad as the Reds starters have been — 25th in MLB with a 4.91 ERA — the bullpen is worse. It’s last in MLB with a 6.47 ERA, more than a run worse than 29th-place Texas (5.43). Who needed Aroldis Chapman?
  • Prince Fielder is not only not hitting the 275 pounds he’s listed at, he’s barely slugging it. Doubles on Friday and Sunday pumped his slugging percentage to .294; his .562 OPS is not much more than last year’s .509 slugging percentage.
  • Fielder has been a hefty hitter compared to Tigers catcher James McCann, who’s hitting .155 with three walks, 19 strikeouts and a .417 OPS. McCann was at .118 with a .300 OPS before three hits, including his first homer, in his last seven at-bats.
  • The Cardinals might want to keep infielder Aledmys Diaz in the lineup when injured shortstop Johnny Peralta returns, since Diaz is hitting. 342 with a .984 OPS. But where? Diaz has made 10 errors at short — tied with Suarez for the major-league lead — so he won’t stay there, and Matt Carpenter (.907 OPS) isn’t ceding third. Kolten Wong (.677) and Jedd Gyorko (.723) might not be so secure at second. Maybe after coming from Cuba and the minors — Diaz made 17 errors in 105 games last year — the well-groomed infields of MLB are messing up Diaz (he made 18 in 69 Cuban League games in 2009. Maybe it’s the fielder, not the field).
  • Jackie Bradley’s monthlong hitting streak is up to 27 games. One more and he’ll be halfway to Joe DiMaggio’s record 56. The Red Sox’s record is 34 games by Joe’s brother Dom in 1949. The “Boston” record is 37 games by the Braves’ Tommy Holmes in 1945. First things first.
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