We’re a week into the 2018 MLB season which, for all its walk-offs, extra innings, home runs, great pitching performances, and great pitching performers who hit home runs, is in the way of free agency 2019. The highly-regarded class of 2019 has to get through 162-plus games before they can hit the open market, put ink to paper, pull in big numbers and long-term security, and maybe find new cities to call home.
Will one week of work make a difference on eventual contracts? No. More likely, the deals ahead will be predicated on a combination of career numbers, potential, age, a larger body of recent performance, maybe some hometown shenanigans and hopefully no collusion.
But it’s never too early to check in on the class of 2019, if only because the first week of baseball, more than any other, is a lot like the free agency period: filled with runaway excitement and rampant speculation.
Let’s check in on the first handful of at-bats and innings of a few of this winter’s celebrated class.
What a fantastic start to the former NL Most Valuable Player’s season—one in which many picked him to win his second MVP. Harper is at or near the top of the league in home runs, RBIs, slugging, OPS, and OPS+. He just finished a four-home-runs-in-three-games stretch where he also walked six times. In an April 1st game against Atlanta, Harper went 1-2 with an oddly interesting 1 HR, 3 RBI, 4 BB, and 3 R line. Equally impressive: He hadn’t struck out until game six of the season.
Clayton Kershaw (opt out)
Kershaw hasn’t pitched poorly but is 0-2 to start the year. 12 innings of work for the lefty have produced 13 strikeouts but a slightly higher WHIP (1.25) than his career mark (essentially 1.00), though we’re talking about three extra baserunners for the year. Two six-inning starts where he gave up three combined runs makes Kershaw a bit of a hard-luck loser. He’ll be fine because he already is. What is somewhat shocking is how well left-handed hitters have done against him so far. He’s surrendered three home runs, all to lefties who collectively have seven hits in 15 at-bats on a robust 1.533 OPS against Kershaw. For his career, lefties are hitting .193 with a meek .572 OPS against him.
It’s been a rough start to Machado’s season. On the one hand, he’s been one of the Orioles’ better hitters. On the other, that means very little on a Baltimore offense that’s been pretty bad a week in. He’s hitting .261 with nothing driven in and only one run scored on a .675 OPS. Machado dipped under an .800 OPS last season, only the second time that’s happened to him in a season where he played 150 or more games, and I think he’ll get back above the .800 mark eventually.
It’s a little early to say how the Machado at short transition has gone, but the eye test says he’s been clean so far. FanGraphs has him at a -1 DRS as of Tuesday night.
Donaldson has been okay, but his batted ball data is a little troubling. He’s been putting the ball on the ground more than in recent years and is making soft contact at a very high rate. His BABIP is predictably down as a result, but half his hits have gone for two or more bases (two of which were homers), leading to a healthy .942 OPS. He’s seeing a lot of pitches low and away, a kind of exit velocity dead zone for the former AL MVP. Donaldson’s also been dealing with a dead arm issue that cost him innings in the field, though not at the plate.
Blackmon’s home-away splits are really disparate, raising questions about how his numbers will be considered in free agency Blackmon was just awarded a six-year deal with the Rockies, so he’s coming off this list. Before he goes, we should acknowledge that he’s off to an electric start with no games played at home yet. He has some extreme home-away splits for his career, making the Coors Field effect a concern for free agency. Even though he won’t be a UFA for a while now, it’s good to see him producing at a high level on the road (albeit with some of that power output coming in power-friendly Arizona).
Blackmon is turning 32 this season, and a $108 million deal that could rise to $118 million is a nice haul from a franchise that he’s done a lot for. He’s been very good for the last four seasons, though predicting his inevitable decline is always a popular topic. So far, he continues to be very good. He would have been an intriguing free agent this upcoming winter, especially considering the stagnant market for post-30-year-olds this past winter. But he got a good deal to sign, and he inked it.
There are more guys on the infamous class of 2019 roster: Dallas Keuchel, Adam Jones, Daniel Murphy, A.J. Pollock, and Craig Kimbrel are a few more notable names on the list. We’ll follow along with them throughout the season. Stay tuned for more check-ins with the upcoming heralded free agent class.Next post: Too Soon…to Panic?
Previous post: Marlins in Review—One More Glance into the Past