30 teams, 30 stats that stand out

Detroit Tigers

It’s still early in the 2021 season, but some of the numbers we’re seeing are definitely real.

MLB.com’s beat reporters sat down to figure out which ones to trust. For all 30 clubs, these are the stat lines that are a real indicator of what’s to come over the course of the year.

Here’s one stat you can believe in for every MLB team. Stats are through Sunday.

BLUE JAYS: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s 12 balls hit 110+ mph

Guerrero is already pulling away from the field, hitting 12 balls harder than 110 mph over his first 16 games. New York’s Giancarlo Stanton is next in line at seven, which shows just how impressive Guerrero’s April has been. We’re finally seeing the Vladimir Guerrero Jr. that dominated the Minor Leagues and arrived as baseball’s top prospect in 2019. These big numbers at the plate will get the attention, but Guerrero has been setting himself up for this power by doing the little things, like taking walks and working counts into his favor. His improved fitness brings optimism that he can sustain this swing late into the season, too, and with a .389 average and 1.174 OPS entering this week, the sky is the limit once again for the young star.

ORIOLES: John Means’ two scoreless outings

The 2019 All-Star finished the shortened ’20 season pitching the best baseball of his career, posting a 1.52 ERA and 30 strikeouts to only three walks in four starts down the stretch. It was not a mirage. Means opened 2021 on a roll, pitching to a 1.52 ERA, a 0.93 WHIP and 23 strikeouts to six walks over his first four starts, all while providing the O’s shaky rotation with much-needed innings. By blanking the Rangers in Baltimore’s eventual 1-0 extra-inning loss on Sunday, Means became the only starter in baseball, three weeks into the season, with two scoreless outings of at least seven innings.

RAYS: Tyler Glasnow’s 40% strikeout rate

Is Glasnow going to strike out two of every five batters he faces all season? Probably not. But the Rays’ ace has some of the best stuff in baseball, with an effective new slider to complement his overpowering fastball and curveball. There’s more to his performance this year than the raw talent he displayed while striking out 14 Rangers over 7 2/3 innings on April 12, too. Even when he couldn’t find his command Saturday, Glasnow showed a greater ability to grind through a start as he held the Yankees to one run on two hits and four walks while striking out seven over five innings. If Glasnow stays healthy, his teammates are already predicting a top-three finish in AL Cy Young voting.

RED SOX: AL-leading .788 OPS

Boston’s offense has been a juggernaut this season, leading the AL in average (.277), on-base percentage (.337) and slugging (.450) and ranking second in the league in runs per game (5.31) before hanging an 11-spot on the White Sox on Monday. While J.D. Martinez’s rebound has received plenty of attention, it’s been a true team effort, with six Red Sox regulars carrying an OPS+ of 119 or higher (100 is considered average). Xander Bogaerts hasn’t homered yet, but he has more hits (22) than anyone else in the AL. Rafael Devers has five homers and 14 RBIs in 15 games. Boston’s pitching has been better than advertised, but it’s the offense that will continue to be the backbone of the club.

YANKEES: Aroldis Chapman’s splitter is legit

Aroldis Chapman decided that he needed another pitch. The Yankees closer spent much of the winter and spring tinkering with a splitter, in hopes of complementing his fastball and slider combo. The results have been stunning; Chapman has thrown it seven times this season, generating five strikeouts and surrendering no hits. In fact, Chapman now has two or more strikeouts in 13 consecutive appearances, dating to last year. So far, batters haven’t figured out how to deal with an offering that manager Aaron Boone described as “gross.”

INDIANS: Shane Bieber’s MLB-leading 48 strikeouts

No, 2020 wasn’t a fluke. Bieber has picked up right where he left off last season, racking up 48 strikeouts in his first four starts. Not only does that lead all other pitchers, but it also tied Nolan Ryan for the most in the first four appearances of a season since at least 1906. His 13 strikeouts against the Reds on Sunday made him the first pitcher since at least 1893 to fan at least 10 batters in the first four appearances of a season. Maybe we couldn’t have predicted these specific records to be set by Bieber this season, but after the 25-year-old won both the AL Cy Young and MLB Triple Crown last year, seeing him atop the strikeout board once again isn’t surprising.

ROYALS: Bullpen strengths (55 straight wins when leading after 7 innings)

The Royals have won 55 consecutive games when leading after the seventh inning, by far the longest active streak in the Majors, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The second-place Cubs have won 38 consecutive games. The Royals’ last loss when leading after the seventh inning came on June 21, 2019 — 668 days ago — when they blew a 6-5 lead in the eighth en route to an 8-7 loss to Minnesota. This stat is largely made possible by the bullpen, which has been a strength since last season. In 2020, the Royals bullpen ranked sixth in the AL with a 3.84 ERA; so far this season, it ranks seventh with a 3.88 ERA while holding opponents to a .224 average.

TIGERS: Jeimer Candelario’s .295 AVG and .377 OBP

The Tigers’ offense has a whole lot of impressive numbers in small sample sizes, from Akil Baddoo’s record-setting start to Wilson Ramos’ home run binge to Robbie Grossman on pace for 100 walks. But the most believable so far is the quiet production of Jeimer Candelario, who has picked up where he left off last year and churned out hits from the middle of the order. His .295 average and .377 OBP are nearly identical to last season, while he has recorded four doubles, putting him on pace for a 40-double season. The switch-hitter has been spraying the ball around the field while improving his production off breaking balls and his exit velocity off fastballs. Whether or not his home run power ticks up after last summer’s outburst, the hard-hit rate remains solid enough to take advantage of Comerica Park’s gaps. Ten Tigers have had 40-double seasons in the Comerica Park era, and Nick Castellanos was on his way with 37 doubles in 2018 before his trade to the Cubs. Candelario should be able to join the club, maybe this year.

TWINS: Starting rotation’s 2.86 ERA

A frequently heard complaint among Twins fans is that there isn’t a flashy, big-name starter among this group, but it’s time to acknowledge that pitching coach Wes Johnson doesn’t need big names to make a big impact. In 2019, Minnesota starters finished fourth in the AL in WAR, per FanGraphs, and they raised that to second in the AL behind only Cleveland in ’20 despite heavy injury issues throughout the season. Here they now sit, nearly three weeks into 2021, with the second-best starters’ ERA in the AL — and that’s without 2020 Cy Young runner-up Kenta Maeda’s best stuff. Sure looks like the pitching is here to stay.

WHITE SOX: Starting pitchers lead AL in team ERA (2.68)

Before Lucas Giolito’s rough outing against the Red Sox on Monday, Chicago starting pitchers had been phenomenal in the first month of the season: a 2.68 ERA (26 earned runs in 87 1/3 innings), 98 strikeouts, two complete games and a no-hitter. They led the AL in ERA (2.68) and WHIP (1.03) and were second in MLB in innings pitched (87 1/3) through Sunday.

ANGELS: Mike Trout tied for the AL lead in WAR (1.2)

Angels superstar Mike Trout is off to a hot start at the plate and could be in line for a career year. The three-time AL MVP is still only 29 and finding new ways to improve. He’s currently tied with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for first in the AL in FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement, and that comes as no surprise. As long as Trout stays healthy, he’ll remain the favorite to win AL MVP yet again.

ASTROS: Ryne Stanek’s season stat line is essentially a one-hitter

Astros reliever Ryne Stanek has nearly pitched the equivalent of a full game this season (8 2/3 innings) and has given up one hit — a homer to Oakland’s Seth Brown on April 10 — while striking out 12 batters. Opposing hitters are 1-for-26 (.038 average) against Stanek, and he’s posted a 0.46 WHIP. Right-handed batters are 0-for-18 against him with eight strikeouts.

ATHLETICS: Ramón Laureano is running wild

Over the past few years, the A’s have generally shied away from stealing bases as a club. But Laureano is emerging as a player that is just too electric to leave out that aspect of his game. The center fielder leads the Majors with eight stolen bases. Laureano alone has stolen more bases than 19 other Major League clubs, including 10 in the AL. He swiped his eight bases in the first nine games of the season, becoming the first A’s player to do so since Rickey Henderson in 1982. Henderson finished that year setting the single-season steals record with 130.

MARINERS: The 1-2 punch of Haniger, France

Mitch Haniger and Ty France seemed like they would be a formidable force after incredibly productive performances in Spring Training. But the best 1-2 punch in the American League probably would’ve seemed like a lofty designation back then. Yet through the first 15 games of 2021, Haniger (.988 OPS) and France (.925) have the highest combined OPS of any 1-2 tandem in the AL, at 1.913. While this one metric isn’t all-encompassing, it does paint a pretty clear picture on how consistent they’ve been. In Sunday’s 7-2 win, for example, Haniger and France each had a season-high three RBIs to lead Seattle to a series win over division-rival Houston.

RANGERS: Kyle Gibson is a legit No. 1 starter

Gibson came into 2021 as the Rangers’ No. 1 option at pitcher and was even handed the ball on Opening Day. That start didn’t go as planned, but Gibson has since shown why it was him in the first place. Since the disastrous Opening Day start when he didn’t get out of the first inning, Gibson has since gone six innings once and seven innings once before his eight-inning scoreless start against the Orioles in Sunday’s walk-off win. His ERA dropped from 135.00 to 4.05 and now sits at 2.53 with a 1.125 WHIP. If you remove his first start from the calculations, Gibson’s ERA would sit at 0.43 ERA on the season. Both Gibson and manager Chris Woodward called the Opening Day start “fluky,” but it’s clear what the Rangers saw in him in the first place.

BRAVES: 43.6% team hard-hit rate

After their 13-4 win over the Cubs on Sunday night, the Braves rank second in the Majors with a 43.6% hard-hit rate and first with a .358 expected wOBA. In other words, expect this offense to continue rising toward the top of most major statistical categories. Reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman has a .395 wOBA, which is great. But his expected numbers based on his quality of contact are even better. Looking at players with 50-plus plate appearances, Freeman ranks fourth with a .503 xwOBA. And Ronald Acuña Jr. ranks second with a .516 xwOBA.

MARLINS: Team two-out hitting

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 2020 Marlins scored 122 of their 263 runs with two outs — the highest such percentage (46.4%) in the Majors. With nearly the same lineup back in 2021, it has been more of the same. Entering Monday, Miami’s 29 two-out RBIs were the fifth most in the NL. In Saturday’s 7-6 walk-off win over the Giants, six of the Marlins’ runs came with two outs.

METS: Jacob deGrom’s 15.75 K/9

Among qualified pitchers, the record for strikeouts per nine innings is 14.20, set last season by Cleveland’s Shane Bieber. deGrom ranks second on the all-time list with 13.76 K/9, also set last year. It’s a mark deGrom has improved — along with his velocity — in each of the past five seasons. deGrom’s current mark of 15.75 K/9 may be a shade higher than the one he’ll have at the end of the year, but probably not by much. He’s at least a decent bet to pass Bieber for the highest qualified K/9 of all-time, which would be an awfully impressive feat. If anyone can do it, it’s deGrom, who excels at staying strong throughout the 162-game season.

NATIONALS: Soto’s hard contact

It’s no secret Juan Soto can hit, but taking a deep dive into his work at the plate usually reveals something noteworthy. The 22-year-old entered Monday ranked second in baseball with 28.2 percent of his swings producing hard contact (qualified as 95 mph or more). Soto trails only Manny Machado (30.1%), and he ranks ahead of Ronald Acuña Jr. (26.5%), Avisaíl García (23.1%) and Aaron Judge (22.3%), on the Majors’ top five leaderboard in the category.

PHILLIES: Bryce Harper: .994 OPS

Relatively speaking, Harper has flown under the radar since he signed with the Phillies before the 2019 season. Not because he hasn’t hit the ball well, but because the Phillies have underperformed. But Harper has been crushing the baseball since last season. He is walking more and striking out less, and whenever he puts the bat on the ball he hits it hard. As long as Harper stays healthy there is no reason to think that he will not continue to put up big numbers hitting third in the Phillies’ lineup.

BREWERS: Starting pitchers’ 29.0% strikeout rate

The Brewers’ strength is their starting rotation, led by Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes with Freddy Peralta at the back end. Ground-ball pitchers Adrian Houser and Brett Anderson will probably bring down the unit’s collective strikeout rate, but Burnes (48.4%, second among NL qualifiers), Peralta (40.3%, sixth) and Woodruff (29.2%, 17th) have so much swing-and-miss that they should keep Brewers starters near the top of the league leaderboards — and, more importantly, keep the team in most games. Through the Brewers’ first five series, only Mets starters (31.4%) have struck out a higher percentage of opposing hitters among NL teams.

CARDINALS: Nolan Arenado’s 152 OPS+

Betrayed by a wonky left shoulder last season — specifically, a sprain to the AC joint — Arenado was hampered mightily at the plate, saying it impacted his ability to finish swinging at pitches high, which led to a career-low .253 batting average and near-career-low .738 OPS. Just 14 games into 2021, though, Arenado is showing the world that last season was a mere aberration, slashing .291/.350/.564 through the first 14 games. He’s tied for the Cardinals lead with four homers and is on pace for a career-high 152 OPS+. Coors effect? Yawn.

CUBS: Kris Bryant’s 166 wRC+

After reaching base twice on Sunday, Bryant is performing 66% above MLB average offensively based on wRC+. Now, this is not to say the Cubs star will continue to perform at that level all season long, but there are signs that this is real. One early trend that jumps out is that Bryant is attacking the first pitch at around a 40% clip right now. That’s up from a career-low 27% rate in his injury-plagued 2020. During his NL MVP season in 2016, Bryant swung at the first pitch 36% of the time. He is currently slashing .265/.362/.653 with five homers through 14 games played. The slugging will likely regress closer to Bryant’s career norm (.511), but there is no reason to think he couldn’t slug in the .525-550 range if he stays healthy. That’s the key. When Bryant avoids injury setbacks, he is elite. And right now, he is healthy and hitting at an impressive level. If that continues, Bryant could be in the neighborhood of his 2016-17 wRC+ (147).

PIRATES: Bryan Reynolds back over .300

Pirates left fielder Bryan Reynolds has always been a consistent presence with his bat. Even going back to his days at Vanderbilt, Reynolds hadn’t finished a year hitting below .300 — that is, until the 2020 season. Last year, he struggled to a .189 average, going just 35-for-185 in 55 games. Reynolds’ average this season sunk to .241 following a 1-for-4 day against the Cubs on April 10. After that, Reynolds flipped a switch. Following a 2-for-3 day against the Brewers on Sunday, Reynolds is now 12-for-35 over his last eight games. His .342 average over that stretch has upped his season average to .317 — back to where it’s supposed to be.

REDS: 91 runs scored as a team

One of baseball’s worst offensive teams a season ago, Cincinnati entered Monday leading the Major Leagues with 91 runs scored. Their 70 runs at home are more than some teams’ season total — by a lot. There’s enough reason to believe they can remain potent at the plate. They are second in the Majors in OPS (.808), first in homers (24), third in hits (135) and fifth in team batting. According to Statcast, they are also squaring up with contact. Their 6.9% barrel rate per plate appearance rate is tops in the Majors.

D-BACKS: Carson Kelly’s adjustments are paying off

Carson Kelly looked like the D-backs’ catcher of the future after a solid 2019, but in 2020 he struggled at the plate and it wore on the young backstop. Along with some mechanical adjustments at the plate, Kelly has worked to be more selective at the plate and it has come together for him. His walk rate of 22 percent and his chase rate of just 18.9 percent speak to his discipline at the plate and explain why he’s walked more in the first three weeks of the season than he did all of last year. While he’s not going to hit .400 all season, he’s clearly more of the player he was in 2019 than 2020 and that’s important for the D-backs.

DODGERS: Dominant pitching

The Dodgers entered Monday’s game with the second-best ERA (2.79) in the Majors. That’s led by a starting rotation that features Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Trevor Bauer. Dustin May and Julio Urías have also shown improvement this season. With the starters leading the way, the Dodgers have recorded four shutouts in 16 games. With Kenley Jansen, Corey Knebel, Blake Treinen, Victor González and Brusdar Graterol in the bullpen, the Dodgers have plenty of firepower in the late innings. The Los Angeles pitching staff is one of the best in the Majors, so this hot start is definitely sustainable.

GIANTS: Kevin Gausman’s .000 AVG allowed on his splitter

Gausman’s fastball sits in the mid-90s, but his best pitch is his diving splitter, which induced a 51.1% whiff rate through his first three starts of the year. Entering Monday, he threw 79 splitters in 2021 and had not given up a hit on the offering, which teammate Logan Webb has described as “one of the best pitches in baseball.” Gausman held opposing hitters to a .097 average on his splitter in 2020, when he emerged as the Giants’ most dominant starter and posted a 3.62 ERA with 79 strikeouts over 59 2/3 innings.

The Padres’ staff ERA is the best in baseball, and at this point it’s not particularly close. Not that San Diego’s dominant pitching staff should come as a surprise to anyone. San Diego traded for Blake Snell, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove during the offseason, and that trio has combined to post a 2.28 ERA this year (not to mention the first no-hitter in franchise history). On top of that, the Padres added Mark Melancon and Keone Kela to an already-solid bullpen, turning it into one of the best relief corps in baseball. Those two have have combined to notch a 1.08 ERA in 16 appearances.

ROCKIES: Ryan McMahon’s six homers, 21 fly balls and 12 K’s in 57 PA

McMahon fanned 66 times in 193 plate appearances in 2020 (34.1%). That strikeout rate was too high for his nine home runs to offset it. McMahon and the coaches identified some movements that almost took his back to the pitcher. To correct that, they slightly opened his front foot. The difference is a shorter beginning of the swing, less unnecessary effort and a swing path that makes him a much more dangerous hitter. McMahon has also hit four doubles. Through the weekend he had just one walk. The book on him, however, has been to attack him over the plate early in the count because of a tendency to miss those pitches. If he can use his power to make pitchers pay, the plan against him may change and work in his favor.

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