One stat to believe in for each club in ’22

Detroit Tigers

It’s still early in the 2022 season, but just as with any year, there are some statistics that will prove to have staying power, or at least suggest something significant about the players or teams they belong to. So we asked each of our 30 beat writers to highlight one specific stat they feel is one to believe in, even at this early stage of the season:

Blue Jays: Toronto’s record with Manoah on the mound
A win-loss record for a pitcher? Really? With Alek Manoah, though, there’s something to it. The gifted young right-hander is off to a 3-0 start in 2022 with a 2.00 ERA, but more importantly, the Blue Jays are an incredible 19-4 in Manoah’s 23 career starts, including their current 11-game winning streak behind him. Manoah has gone six innings in all three starts this season and has done so in different ways, at times dominating and at times grinding through orders without his best stuff. The end result is always the same, though, and for a Blue Jays team with a stacked lineup when healthy, that’s going to mean more and more opportunities to win. This is exactly why Manoah looks like he’s built for the postseason, too, even at just 24 years old. — Keegan Matheson

Orioles: Throw strikes, silly
It’s simple: You throw strikes, you’re more likely to get outs. When you throw balls, it’s categorically impossible. That’s been the Orioles’ point of emphasis for their mostly inexperienced crop of pitchers so far this spring. And even without John Means, who’ll miss the season with Tommy John surgery, it’s paying off handsomely. The O’s are among the top teams in the Majors in percentage of their pitches thrown for strikes, north of 65%. Entering play on Saturday, it was north of 66 percent — and the top mark in the Majors. The fruits of that labor? A rotation and bullpen that are performing near the top of their respective classes in many key categories. And this is all before the prospects arrive. — Zachary Silver

Rays: McClanahan’s elite stuff
When he walked off the mound after a seven-inning start against the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field, Shane McClanahan was leading the Majors with 31 strikeouts through four starts. He’s only one of four Rays in club history to make the season-opening rotation and strike out that many hitters in his first four outings, joining Tyler Glasnow (36 last year), Blake Snell (36 in 2019) and Drew Smyly (33 in 2016). And it’s for real. McClanahan has four elite pitches in his fastball, slider, curveball and changeup, and he’s taken a huge step forward in his understanding of how to utilize them. It’s early, but Wander Franco’s step into superstardom might be overshadowing McClanahan’s advancement into an ace. — Adam Berry

Red Sox: Whitlock’s dominance
It turns out Garrett Whitlock’s excellence in 2021 wasn’t just the case of a rookie Rule 5 Draft pick sneaking up on people. The scouting report is fully out on the hard-throwing righty and he is still mowing down pretty much anyone who stands in his way. After a dominant first Major League start on Saturday, Whitlock led the American League pitchers who had a minimum of 10 innings pitched in opponents’ on-base percentage (.146), WHIP (0.51) and hits per nine innings (3.3), while ranking second under the same innings threshold in opponents’ batting average (.109), slugging percentage (.196) and OPS (.341). His role remains in flux, but the expectation is that Whitlock will come through no matter which point of the game he pitches in. — Ian Browne

Yankees: LeMahieu’s resurgence
DJ LeMahieu is raking like the 2019-20 LeMahieu, and his stat line (.333/.414/.510) is backed up by all the underlying numbers. He’s making great contact, with a 58.5% hard-hit rate that’s top-10 in the Majors and a .354 expected batting average based on his quality of contact. LeMahieu is also hitting nearly half his balls to the opposite field. Hard opposite-field contact is a LeMahieu signature and a sign that he’s right again. — Bryan Hoch

Guardians: J-Ram’s 20 RBIs
It really couldn’t be less surprising that José Ramírez, once again, has been the most productive bat in the Guardians’ lineup. The All-Star third baseman has accumulated not only a team-leading, but an MLB-leading 20 RBIs in just eight games. Ramírez is fresh off his second career 100-plus RBI season and has proven his consistency with a trio of top three finishes in the AL MVP Award voting in the last five years (and a sixth-place finish in that span, as well). The only time he’s ever led the Majors in any offensive category was 2017, when he had a whopping 56 doubles, so maybe he won’t stay on pace to knock in more runs than anyone else in the big leagues, but there’s absolutely no doubt that he’ll be the heartbeat of this Cleveland lineup yet again. — Mandy Bell

Royals: Barlow’s reliability
If there is one thing the Royals have been able to count on over the past two seasons, it seems to be Scott Barlow. The right-handed reliever has anchored the Royals’ bullpen for the past three years and has become one of the best relievers in baseball over the past two. Since the beginning of 2021, Barlow has a 2.4 WAR, per FanGraphs, third best in baseball among qualified relievers. He’s thrown 82 1/3 innings and posted a 2.30 ERA, which is 10th best among relievers (min. 70 innings pitched). Whenever he’s called upon to pitch, Barlow is ready, whether it’s the sixth or ninth inning. Since Barlow’s first full season in 2019, he owns a 4.0 WAR, which ranks seventh in the Majors among relievers. He’s also thrown the fourth-most relief innings in that span at 182 2/3. The Royals have built their bullpen around Barlow and his reliability. — Anne Rogers

Tigers: Tork doesn’t change
Spencer Torkelson is known for his tape-measure power, but the rookie slugger and Tigers top prospect doesn’t get enough credit for his plate discipline and strike-zone awareness. His 19.5% chase rate is well under the Major League average of 28.3, placing him within the top 18% of MLB hitters according to Statcast, and his 37.4% swing rate is even further below the Major League average of 47%. The latter should change as opponents begin to pitch him more in the zone — he’s seeing just 47.2% of pitches in the zone so far — but the low chase rate reflects a game plan he followed all the way through the Minors and stuck with in Spring Training. That’s the type of discipline manager A.J. Hinch wants to see more of from his lineup in general, so don’t expect him or the coaching staff to mess with that. — Jason Beck

Twins: Buxton hits the ball really, really, really hard
Breaking news: Byron Buxton is off to another torrid start, with his pair of homers against the White Sox on Sunday giving him the longest walk-off tracked by Statcast (469 feet) and making him the first player in Twins history with six homers within his first 10 games played in a season. The underlying numbers say he’ll keep that up. He entered Sunday ranked in the top one percent of the league in average exit velocity (96.9 mph), barrel rate (27.3%) and expected slugging percentage (.709). Could small sample sizes be blowing that up a bit? Sure. But it’s also the hitter he’s been since last year, considering his xSLG ranked third among hitters with at least 250 plate appearances in 2021, and his barrel rate ranked eighth. — Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: Vaughn’s breakout
The White Sox are expecting big results from Andrew Vaughn, despite the talented right-handed hitter running into a little bit of a wall during September of his solid 2021 rookie season. The early numbers indicate the White Sox were right in looking for strong production. Vaughn leads the club with three home runs and eight RBIs, not to mention a .575 slugging percentage and an OPS of .939. He ranks in the 95th percentile with a hard-hit rate of 54.5% and featured an xSLG of .691, per Statcast. Vaughn figures to get more time in left field with Eloy Jiménez’s recent injury, but he has an advanced plate approach beyond his 24 years regardless of his defensive position. — Scott Merkin

Angels: Trout’s AL-leading 1.141 OPS
Mike Trout was limited to only 36 games last year because of a strained right calf but he’s once again showing why he’s been the game’s most consistently great player over the last decade. Trout, a three-time AL MVP and nine-time All-Star, missed three games after being hit by a pitch on his left hand, but proved he was just fine with a two-homer performance on Saturday. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Trout lead the league in OPS this season or to see him win his fourth AL MVP Award. He already led the league in OPS in 2015, and again each season from 2017-19. His career 1.003 OPS is also tops among active players. — Rhett Bollinger

Astros: Verlander’s 0.74 WHIP
Justin Verlander sure hasn’t pitched like someone who has essentially missed two full seasons. The veteran right-hander has been terrific in his first three starts post-Tommy John surgery at age 39, with a 1.89 ERA and a 0.74 WHIP in 19 innings. He’s given up only 10 hits and four walks, only one of which has come in the last 14 innings. Verlander is pitching as well as he did in his last full season in 2019 — he won the AL Cy Young Award that year. — Brian McTaggart

Athletics: Murphy’s 92.4 mph avg. exit velocity
It was a bit surprising to see Sean Murphy get off to a slow start at the plate after his offseason adjustments at the plate led to an offensive tear in Spring Training. Throughout the year, though, Murphy has consistently been driving the ball, entering Monday with an average exit velocity of 92.4 mph that ranked among the top 20 hitters in baseball, according to Statcast. The numbers are already starting to show in-season. After going 2-for-21 through his first five games, Murphy is now 14-for-45 (.311) with six doubles, three home runs and 10 RBIs over his last 12 games, showing that a breakout year on offense still appears likely for the 2021 Gold Glove Award-winning catcher. — Martín Gallegos

Mariners: Ray’s six innings per start
On Sunday, Robbie Ray became the first pitcher this year to complete six innings in at least four starts, picking up right where he left off after leading the AL with 193 1/3 frames last year en route to winning the AL Cy Young Award. Even on nights when he doesn’t have his best stuff, Ray is still efficient early in counts to pitch deep into games. Despite striking out an MLB-high 248 batters last year, he’s not hunting for the punchout until he gets to two strikes, instead relying on weak contact to get outs early in counts. That type of approach is why he’s such an innings-eater. — Daniel Kramer

Rangers: Lowe’s .373 batting average
Rangers manager Chris Woodward said Nathaniel Lowe has the best bat-to-ball skills on the team. He currently leads Texas and ranks third in the AL in batting average. His OPS also ranks 13th in the AL, at .888. Lowe worked all spring on becoming more aggressive at the plate and it’s paid off so far. He’s poised for a breakout season after an up-and-down 2021 that showed his potential. — Kennedi Landry

Braves: Riley’s .984 OPS
Austin Riley has hit four homers and constructed a .984 OPS through his first 16 games of the season. His .451 expected weighted on-base average ranks third among all NL players, and his 55.6% hard-hit rate ranks fourth among NL players. The young third baseman is just picking up where he left off last year, when he struggled for a couple weeks and then produced a .930 OPS over his final 143 games. — Mark Bowman

Marlins: Alcantara’s 14.2 pitches per inning
A major reason why Sandy Alcantara has the fifth-most innings (464 1/3) among Major Leaguers since 2019 is due to his efficiency. Last year, Alcantara finished fifth with 15.1 pitches per inning, as he went on to become one of just three Major Leaguers to record 200 frames and 200 strikeouts. Through three starts in 2022, the 26-year-old ranked 14th with 14.2 pitches per inning. — Christina De Nicola

Mets: Lindor is back — his OPS proves it
During Francisco Lindor’s first season in New York, his numbers weren’t quite what they were throughout his six years in Cleveland. He posted career lows in batting average (.230), on-base percentage (.322), slugging percentage (.412), OPS (.734) and OPS+ (101). It’s only a little more than two weeks into the ’22 campaign, but Lindor’s .971 OPS through 17 games entering Monday was well above his career average of .823. Will it stay quite that high? Maybe not. But Lindor isn’t striking out much, isn’t whiffing a lot and is drawing walks at a tremendous rate. With the track record that the four-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger shortstop has, there’s reason to believe we’re going to continue to see the best form of Lindor this season. — Jake Rill

Nationals: Soto’s walk rate
After leading all of baseball with 145 walks in 2021, Juan Soto is on pace to do it again this season. Through Sunday, he topped all players with 16 bases on balls in his first 18 games. Of those, Soto already has drawn multiple walks in five contests. The 23-year-old slugger’s patience at the plate is reflected by a 17.4% chase rate. — Jessica Camerato

Phillies: Knebel is 3-for-3 in save opportunities
Let’s start with this: three saves in three save opportunities is a ridiculously small sample size. But so far, Corey Knebel has been everything the Phillies needed and expected. In seven innings, he has struck out six and walked two. He has allowed four hits. There is no reason to think Knebel will not continue his dominant ways in the months ahead. He will not be perfect, but he will make the ninth inning anticlimactic. — Todd Zolecki

Brewers: Hader is 8-for-8 in save chances
Typically there’s some volatility in relievers, especially heavily used relievers, from year to year. Not with Josh Hader, who may be getting better as years go by and he settles further into a typical pattern of closer usage after breaking into the big leagues in more of a hybrid role. He came into the year, once again, forecasting more frequent use of his changeup, but the fastball/slider combo has worked nicely so far. — Adam McCalvy

Cardinals: Arenado’s 1.5 WAR (FanGraphs)
Nolan Arenado hit 34 home runs and drove in 105 runs in his first season in St. Louis, and he was disappointed. So, Arenado — who was described as “obsessed” by workout partner Lars Nootbaar — retooled his swing to make his hands quicker. So far, Arenado has arguably been the best player in the NL by ranking second in average (.364) and OPS (1.153), third in home runs (five), fourth in RBIs (14) and tied for first in slugging (.727). As for WAR, Arenado sits at 1.5, highest among position players. He finished 15th in the NL in WAR last season and he’s likely headed for a top-five ranking this season after improving dramatically. — John Denton

Cubs: The offense’s 10.2% swinging-strike rate
When the Cubs acquired elite bat-to-ball hitter Nick Madrigal from the White Sox at the July 30 Trade Deadline last season, it was a glimpse into a goal for constructing the ’22 offense. Chicago’s feast-or-famine lineup of recent years was big on power, but also prone to whiffs and bottom-of-the-league contact numbers. The additions of Madrigal, Seiya Suzuki and Jonathan Villar, combined with holdovers like Frank Schwindel and Nico Hoerner, have helped transform Chicago into a ball-in-play product. Entering Sunday, the Cubs’ 10.2 swinging-strike rate was in the upper-third in the Majors, and the lineup had a 76.9% contact rate and 85.8% contact rate in the zone. The group may not clear the fence as often, but it’s a line-to-line offense that can generate doubles, move runners and has cut down on the whiffs in a big way. — Jordan Bastian

Pirates: Crowe’s 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings
Instead of rolling with the traditional starter/reliever dichotomy, Pittsburgh has rolled out several “hybrid” players, pitchers who will come out of the bullpen but cover two or three innings. The poster child of this movement has been Wil Crowe, who has evolved from a struggling starter to a dominant reliever. With another scoreless frame on Sunday, Crowe maintains the league lead for most innings thrown without allowing a run (13 1/3). Not only has Crowe been far more aggressive at attacking hitters, but he’s changed up his pitch usage by throwing more changeups (pun intended). Entering Sunday, Crowe’s changeup, which he’s throwing about 30% of the time, had a Run Value of -2. Last season, the changeup had a Run Value of -5, easily his best pitch, but one Crowe only threw it 18.1% of the time. — Justice delos Santos

Reds: Greene throws legit gas
Even though it was alarming to see Hunter Greene lose nearly 5 mph of velocity during his last start on Friday vs. the Cardinals (he averaged 95.8 mph and topped at 97.2 mph in a 4-2 loss), his ability to reach triple digits in his first two starts was legitimate. Overall, 59 of 238 pitches thrown by Greene (24.7%) have been fastballs at 100+ mph — including a record 39 triple-digit pitches vs. the Dodgers on April 16. Greene, who was not believed to be injured, did show he could work without velocity, too. Against St. Louis, hitters did not square up on him and he was able to induce weak contact. — Mark Sheldon

D-backs: Kelly’s ERA
While Merrill Kelly won’t have an ERA of 0.59 at the end of the year, it is an indication of how well he’s been throwing the ball and it would not be surprising to see him post the lowest ERA of his career in 2022. Kelly spent the offseason reworking his changeup and the results have been impressive. He did not allow an earned run in two spring starts and he’s been nearly as dominant in his first three starts of the regular season. Signed to an extension during the spring, Kelly has been a consistent performer the last few seasons, but he seems to have taken things to another level this year. — Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: Bullpen’s dominance
Manager Dave Roberts called this year’s bullpen the “deepest group” the Dodgers have had during his seven-year tenure. So far this season, the group has proven Roberts right. Since the Opening Weekend in Colorado, the Dodgers’ bullpen has allowed just seven earned runs over 42 innings pitched. That 1.50 ERA is only more impressive when you consider that it has done so without having Blake Treinen, the club’s most important reliever, who has been on the injured list since April 14 with right shoulder discomfort. The group is only expected to get better once Tommy Kahnle, Caleb Ferguson and Treinen are ready to come off the IL. — Juan Toribio

Giants: Rodón’s MLB-high 15.4 strikeouts per nine innings
Rodón has been racking up strikeouts at a historic rate, as his 29 punchouts are the most by a pitcher through his first three starts with the Giants since 1901. With a blazing fastball and a wipeout slider, Rodón has the type of electric stuff that should allow him to overpower hitters all year, assuming he can stay healthy. The 29-year-old left-hander also missed a ton of bats in 2021, when he averaged a career-high 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings during his All-Star campaign with the White Sox. — Maria Guardado

Padres: Record with 3+ runs (9-0) and without (1-7)
This is an elite defensive team, one that set a record with a 16-game season-opening errorless streak. This team also has an excellent pitching staff, with a very deep rotation. Sure enough, pitching and defense has carried the Padres in the early part of the season. The offense? It’s been streaky, to say the least. Simply put, the Padres probably won’t need much offense to win on most nights. When they get at least three runs, they’ll be in good shape. — AJ Cassavell

Rockies: Joe’s effectiveness as a leadoff hitter
Among players with 50 or more plate appearances in the leadoff spot, Connor Joe’s .973 OPS through Sunday was highest in the Majors, with the Braves’ Ozzie Albies (.965) and the Mets’ Brandon Nimmo (.947) holding the next two spots. Also, among the 50-and-over plate appearance crew, Joe is tops in batting average (.313) and is behind Nimmo for first in on-base percentage (.411). The original plan was for Joe to take the top spot against left-handed pitching, and hit down in the order against righties while Charlie Blackmon led off. However, Joe has a higher OPS (1.062) right-on-right than his still-strong split against lefties (.959). Joe is reasonably patient, with 4.04 pitches seen per plate appearance but doesn’t let a mistake go by, as evidenced by his three home runs, four doubles and one triple. — Thomas Harding

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