Small Sample Size Surprise Stars
If I wanted to extend the alliteration in the title, I could have added the word skeptical as that would describe my general feeling about the players discussed below in my Sunday Special (there I go again).
Mark Bellhorn has a major league-leading 15 walks in his first 10 games. To the casual fan, Bellhorn's .233 batting average would appear as if he is not contributing when, in fact, the Red Sox infielder has reached base 23 times in 46 plate appearances. He has also stolen two bases without being caught. It won't surprise me if Bellhorn ends up getting the majority of the playing time at 2B for Boston this year, especially on days when Derek Lowe isn't on the mound.
Ronnie Belliard had seven hits in his first two games and is 20-for-48 on the season. He ranks second in the A.L. in batting average (.417) and seventh in on-base percentage (.462). With the exception of 2002, Belliard has been a reasonably productive second baseman but one who is unlikely to take it up to the next level.
Eric Byrnes didn't play in five of Oakland's first eight games but has gone 7-for-14 in his only three starts of the season since then. The hustling outfielder hit .335/.402/.576 in the first three months last year and .146/.242/.268 in the final three months of 2003. Given his style of play, it's quite possible that Byrnes may well be one of those players who ends up performing better in the first half before wearing down in the second half.
Lew Ford is 10-for-24 with six runs and seven RBI since being recalled on April 10 when Torii Hunter was placed on the 15-day disabled list (retroactive to April 7). The 27-year-old outfielder is now 34-for-97 for his career with rate stats of .351/.413/.619. At a minimum, Ford gives the Twins a serviceable OF who can be used as a starter, a backup, or as trade bait.
Jack Wilson (.390/.409/.659) failed to hit safely for the first time all season on Saturday. The slick-fielding shortstop has five doubles, two home runs, and two stolen bases in the early going. Wilson has increased his OPS in each of the past two years off an admittingly low base and is a good bet to do so once again in 2004. However, that isn't saying much as he only needs to top his career-best OPS of .656 last year to keep his streak alive.
Tony Womack (.366/.438/.537) went 3-for-3 with a HR, two RBI, three runs, and a SB Friday night. The fleet-footed second baseman has walked at a career-high rate and stolen six bases in six attempts. Enjoy it while it lasts Cardinal fans because Tony's regression to the mean is about to begin sooner than later.
Paul Abbott is fourth in the A.L. in WHIP (0.92) and BAA (.167) and eighth in ERA (1.38) in his first two starts covering 13 innings against the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox on the road. The 36-year-old journeyman has pitched 100 or more innings in a season only twice in his career. I am unconvinced that this could finally be Paul's year and would be inclined to call Bill Bavasi if I were Chuck LaMar to find out if the Seattle GM would like to entertain taking back the former Mariners pitcher.
Jose Mesa is 5-for-5 in save opportunities this year. I'm not one to overemphasize the importance of saves but there's no denying his other numbers (5 1/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 K), at least not yet. If Mesa were a stock, I'd be selling into strength and taking my profits. The soon-to-be 38-year-old has only had two seasons out of the past six with an ERA below 4.57.
Matt Riley leads the A.L. in BAA (.089) and is second is WHIP (0.83) and seventh in ERA (1.35). The Baltimore southpaw has allowed only four hits in 13 1/3 innings in his two starts vs. Boston and Toronto. The highly touted youngster may be on the verge of a breakout season but what do I know? I drafted teammate Eric DuBose (0-2, 5.56), another Oriole lefty, rather than Riley in my fantasy baseball draft three weeks ago.
Nate Robertson has put up some eye-opening numbers in his first three outings (two relief appearances and one start). The Detroit lefty has 16 Ks--good for sixth in the A.L.--in only 11 IP while giving up just six hits. Robertson's gaudy BAA of .162 is the second lowest in the league and his 1.64 ERA is ninth best. The 26-year-old's track record doesn't suggest he is a star in the making, but he had a decent strikeout rate last year for a groundball-type pitcher.
Jason Stanford ranks third in the A.L. in ERA (0.82) after two starts against Central Division rivals Kansas City and Minnesota. Stanford actually has a good minor league record, but the Cleveland lefthander is unlikely to sustain his early season excellence if he continues to allow more than one hit per inning and as many walks as strikeouts.
Paul Wilson is 2-0 with a 0.63 ERA in his first two starts against Chicago and Philadelphia. The Cincinnati righthander is scheduled to make his third start of the season against a struggling Greg Maddux (0-2, 7.45) on Sunday in a battle of finesse pitchers. Wilson is 2-3 with a 3.58 ERA lifetime against the Cubs. I would expect the former #1 draft pick out of Florida State to wind up with an ERA in the 4s as he has in each of the past three years.
If nothing else, it's sure fun to speculate when it comes to these suddenly special springtime stars.