|Torrid doesn't begin to describe the start for Josh Willingham in Minnesota. (Getty Images)|
Each Monday, after a week of play and of scouring the major leagues for the best information, Jon Heyman passes along tips on whose stock up and whose is on the decline.
1. Matt Kemp: Who else? It's a wee bit early to say anyone's got a lock on the 2012 NL MVP award, but beyond the fact he entered the year with a bit of added sympathy (some believe he deserved the honor last year, though to his credit, he never said any such thing), he is currently lapping the field. Kemp leads the league in these categories: home runs (six), RBI (16), runs (13), hits (19), batting average (.487), on-base percentage (.523), slugging percentage (1.026) and OPS (1.548). And if there were more categories, presumably he'd be leading those as well. Kemp's public goal to become the first 50-50 player (50 homers, 50 steals) looks good so far on the home runs, as he's on pace for 97 of those, but the one negative is his one stolen base in three attempts, which puts him on pace for 16 steals. It's early, though. Don't doubt he'll pick up the pace there (though it isn't easy to steal bases when you're hitting so many homers). Although he hit .417 in the series against the Pirates, the Padres have to be absolutely shell-shocked. Kemp victimized them for all six of his homers and 15 of his 16 RBI. Here's a suggestion: Maybe they need to throw in an IBB every now and again. Kemp is the clear No. 1 reason for many as to why the Dodgers are an MLB-best 9-1.
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2. Josh Willingham: Minnesota looks wise so far for giving Willingham a $21 million, three-year deal. Willingham's stats are otherworldly, or at least they are otherworldly compared to everyone but Kemp. His 1.384 OPS is unreal, and way ahead of anyone but that guy Kemp again. Willingham was a prescient choice for the Twins because he managed to hit 29 home runs last year despite playing home games at the Oakland Mausoleum. Willingham, in fact, hit 15 home runs in Oakland's expansive and outdated ballpark. Expansive, up-to-date Target Field has been a chore for a lot of great hitters, including Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, but so far it hasn't contained Willingham, who has three dingers there already.
3. David Ortiz: He's been plagued by some horrendous starts in recent years, but not this season. Ortiz led the Red Sox on a sweep of the rival Rays in Boston's first home series, and has his average up to a league-leading .444 with 10 RBI. He had nine hits in 13 at-bats (.692) in the three games that were started by David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore. Some thought Ortiz was showing signs of slowing down at points early in recent years (he batted .143 in May 2009, and the same .143 in April 2010), but now he seems as good as ever, and maybe even better against left-handed pitchers. The Red Sox never quite worked out a multiyear deal with Ortiz, who settled for a one-year contract at a high rate of pay for a DH after he accepted arbitration. He's making $14 million at a time when many decent DH types are finding employment difficult to come by. But no one in management is complaining.
1. Marlon Byrd: He was on the block for a while. But who'd want to trade for him at this point? Byrd, flying as low as possible, is now 2-for-31, which puts him at .065 (that's both his batting average and slugging percentage). Given that productivity, his $6.5 million salary looks like no bargain. Word is, the rumored Byrd-for-John Lannan deal has no real juice to it, which is understandable considering the marketability issues possessed by an outfielder with a sub-.100 average. Byrd has always been known as a solid and consistent performer, and he had a very nice game in the 2010 All-Star Game. However, the way he is going, he shouldn't count on a return engagement.
2. Josh Johnson: He hasn't said a word about any possible issues with his arm, but so far he's been the most hittable pitcher in the game, and that just isn't him. Through 9 2/3 innings, Johnson has allowed 21 hits as opposing batters are hitting him for a ridiculous .447 batting average, which is easily the worst in baseball. His 2.483 WHIP is about double his career mark and even more than that compared to his most recent excellent seasons. For all the Marlins' exciting acquisitions and key stars, Johnson has correctly been seen as the most vital man on their roster. If he's right, they are viewed as a major threat in the tough NL East. So far he hasn't been. There has been some trepidation about Johnson, considering he didn't pitch after May last year due to shoulder tendinitis. He hasn't suggested he isn't healthy. But so far he isn't the same pitcher either.
3. Phil Hughes Off a nice spring performance, he won the No. 3 spot in the Yankees' rotation, a call that seems optimistic at best now that Hughes is pitching no better than he did in his wasted 2011 season. Yankees people seemed giddy over his regained velocity following a year in which his fastball went AWOL. However, he isn't exactly tricking hitters now that the regular season has begun. He's 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA and 2.13 WHIP. Even more telling: the 1.144 OPS by opposing hitters is the worst mark in baseball.