It may be exciting or the worst thing possible, but the first month of the MLB season tells many lies. Juan Soto is struggling mightily, while three other players have equally surprising starts. Are these something or nothing?
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Last week, we hit on some early season surprises for a number of teams in the majors. This week, it’s time to focus on players off to surprising starts. What is to be believed as a real predictor of the future, and what is meaningless or misleading? In other words, some things are something, but some things are nothing.
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What’s real and what’s noise? Small sample sizes are misleading, but not always. Let’s separate out what’s important from what’s not, starting with a former star who’s fallen on hard times, Juan Soto. Jarred Kelenic, Spencer Strider, and Kyle Freeland join the party with equally surprising starts to the 2023 season.
Something Or Nothing: Hot Starts In 2023
Juan Soto has 7th-worst batting average in baseball among qualified hitters
Todd Salem: This early in the season, it is easy to be a qualified hitter. Essentially, Soto’s 10 hits through his first 58 at-bats mark him as one of the worst hitters in the sport. After last year’s struggles, Soto feels a lifetime away from when we all considered him the best hitter in the game.
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Even so, this cold start is nothing. I’m not worried. Soto is still seeing the ball exceptionally, to the tune of one of the highest walk rates in all of baseball. He is also hitting the ball extremely hard when he makes contact, making a .172 batting average little more than bad luck in a small sample. In fact, his batting average on balls in play is an unbelievably unlucky .179 as of April 17.
Dan Salem: Assessing players over such a small sample size is even crazier than evaluating teams, because literally everyone in baseball goes on streaks. Surges of dominance and woeful slumps are part of the long season, so what of Juan Soto? He struggled last year, which isn’t always indicative of what is to come, but is certainly informative. Now that Soto is once again struggling, why are we dismissing this troublesome trend? He’ll likely have some streaks of success, but this is something. Soto needs a great month to bump up that average and until I see it, I’m worried he is simply this player now.
Jarred Kelenic ranks fourth in baseball in OPS
Todd Salem: The former world’s top prospect, Kelenic crashed and burned in his first taste of the majors in 2021. He got another extended chance in 2022 and was really bad yet again. It took less than a full season of games for Kelenic to go from hottest commodity to bust. 2023, though, has finally showcased what made him an elite prospect. Kelenic is hitting for power, running the bases, and making great contact. Of course, he continues to strike out at an enormously high rate. Kelenic is not going to remain a .300+ hitting in MLB, but his production could be sustained nonetheless. I find this encouraging and to be something.
Dan Salem: I’ll jump on board with your positive outlook and call this something as well. Anyone who showed as much promise as Kelenic did, should in principle become a serviceable player at the very least. Kelenic may never be the star we envisioned, but I too find his current confidence encouraging. He’s showing that he is not going to be a bust, or at least that’s what believing in this start implies.
Spencer Strider has a 15.2 K/9 rate
Todd Salem: The all-time record for strikeouts-per-nine for a qualified pitcher in baseball history is 14.2 in the pandemic-shortened season of 2020. Strider is demolishing that mark through his first three starts.
Now, a lot is playing against him moving forward. For one, he has to remain healthy and pitch enough innings to qualify. Strider burst onto the scene last year as a rookie. He’s never topped 132 innings as a professional at any level. Second, he has to keep up this peerless pace against presumably stiffer competition. Him breaking this record is probably nothing, but Strider cementing himself as one of the premiere arms in the game after just a season-plus is something for sure.
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Dan Salem: Three starts is an insanely small sample, yet Strider’s level of dominance is no fluke. This is something and I’m excited for him. We must play the wait and see game, but being on the Braves puts Strider in a nice position to remain dominant. He’s not the only Atlanta pitcher I’m keeping my eye on this season, but he’s the only one positioning himself to set a record. Let’s check back in June to see where he stands.
A Rockies starting pitcher, Kyle Freeland, is good
Todd Salem: Through three starts, Kyle Freeland has three quality starts and has allowed two total runs. Two of those starts even came at home!
Okay, I won’t drag things out. This is nothing. Freeland does not have good stuff. His velocity and whiff rate are some of the worst marks in the league. His early success has been thanks to small-sample noise. On top of that, we know Colorado will eventually wear down all comers. It’ll be fun to see how long Freeland can keep it going though!
Dan Salem: I really want to make something of this, because Freeland has shown sparks before and it’d be great for someone to break the inevitable that is struggling in Colorado. However, his numbers contradict what we see with our eyes and that is all you need to know. This is nothing indeed.
Meet our Writers:
Dan Salem is Lead Editor, Writer, and Co-owner of BuzzChomp. He’s a published author, as well as an award winning Actor, Director and Producer. Visit M Square Productions for his film work, or get lost in his old-school comedy on Pillow Talk TV. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
Todd Salem is a Staff Writer and Contributing Editor at BuzzChomp. He’s also a fantasy football and fantasy baseball Staff Writer for RotoBaller. Follow him on Twitter or comment below for his unfiltered opinions.
Juan Soto Photo Credits: Si.com and Sports.MyNorthWest.com via Getty Images
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