A new season is here, and we're all trying to figure out what it means.
There's always a tendency, just from having so little to go on, to make too much of what happens in these earliest days, be it a player's performance or a manager's decision. Something that would mean nothing midseason seems like everything right now, and trying to process it all can be overwhelming.
It's especially true this year, with the season ending after two months instead of the usual six. You can't afford the patience you normally would, and yet you don't want to jump to conclusions knowing how long things need to develop in this sport.
I'll give you, then, what I consider to be the most important developments amid all the noise. Note that I'm specifically referring to on-the-field developments. The impact of Justin Verlander's injury (which you can read about here) and Mike Moustakas' illness are more obvious.
1) Kyle Tucker sat against two left-handers
With an elite prospect pedigree and back-to-back dominant seasons at Triple-A, Tucker is the most exciting hitter without a full-time job, and veteran manager Dusty Baker evidently plans to keep it that way.
Josh Reddick no longer contributing much in right field? Nope, can't move on from him. Yordan Alvarez unavailable for the start of the season? Seems like a perfectly good spot for Aledmys Diaz. Wait, now Diaz is going on the IL? Let's see what Taylor Jones, this kid called up to replace him, can do.
In all, Tucker started just one of the Astros' first three games even as the path kept getting wider for him. He hit a double in that start and then hit a double off the bench Sunday, but for now, it seems like Baker won't be moved to start him against a lefty. Tucker hopefully earns some favor every time he capitalizes on what few opportunities he gets, but he's not an advisable play in Fantasy right now. And Alvarez, it's worth pointing out, won't be sidelined forever.
2) Rays starting pitchers don't appear ready
Charlie Morton gave up six earned runs over four innings in his season debut Friday and was clocked at 2-3 mph lower than last year. Blake Snell was expected to go 2-4 innings Sunday after throwing 47 pitches his final tuneup. He made it just two, tossing 46 pitches. Tyler Glasnow will take the next turn, but considering he was late reporting to camp because of a positive COVID-19 test, it's hard to imagine he'll be any further ahead of those two.
It's almost like the Rays took a different approach than most every other team during the shutdown — having their pitchers take it easy, not wanting to waste any bullets — and are paying for it now. That's pure speculation on my part, but how weird it is to have so many from the same team appear so far behind schedule? Snell has actually said he's two weeks behind. How many starts will we have to suffer through with them at less than their best? Most pitchers are going to make only 12 all year.
3) Shohei Ohtani has no command right now
Working his way back from Tommy John surgery, Ohtani walked 16 in three summer camp starts — the ones we're aware of, anyway. If you were hoping he'd flip a switch once the games began to count, you'll have to find some other way to comfort yourself. He failed to record an out in his season debut Sunday at the Athletics, walking three while throwing just 15 of his 30 pitches for strikes.
Even worse, the velocity was way down from when we last saw him in 2018, so it doesn't seem like he's close to making a worthwhile contribution yet. He attributed it to rust — and maybe it'll come back quickly — but this season will also end quickly. If he doesn't show marked improvement next time out, you'll have to consider what you're giving up by continuing to stash him.
4) Carlos Carrasco was worked as hard as ever
It took one start for Carrasco to cast aside all of my concerns about him heading into the season. Would the Indians work him as hard after last year's leukemia battle? Well, they let him go six innings in his season debut, when pitchers are typically removed earlier than usual. Yeah, but would his stuff hold up deep into games? Well, his average fastball velocity was right on par with last year, and he struck out 10 on 17 swinging strikes.
It was business as usual for the 33-year-old after a life-altering ordeal that gave reason to wonder what "usual" would even mean for him moving forward. No need to speculate anymore. This start shows he's all the way back, and that's a major win for anyone who made the investment in him this year.
5) Madison Bumgarner's velocity is way down
What's "way down" for a guy who has already seen his velocity dip the past couple years? Well, last year, Bumgarner averaged 91.7 mph on his fastball. On Friday, it was more like 88. But isn't the cutter sort of his primary pitch? Fine, last year, Bumgarner averaged 87.5 mph on his cutter. On Friday, it was closer to 83.
So we're talking a drop of 3-4 mph for a pitcher whose move to Arizona already gave us major reason for concern. His numbers were pretty awful away from spacious San Francisco the past two years, which roughly coincides with the first velocity drop. A wily veteran like him might be able to navigate a small decrease, and it's reasonable to think he's still building up arm strength at this point. But if his velocity remains stuck where it is now, Bumgarner could be in for a decline as steep as the one Felix Hernandez experienced a few years back.
6) Edwin Diaz got consecutive save chances
Rookie manager Luis Rojas wouldn't commit to Diaz as his closer heading into the season, which raised another red flag for a pitcher who couldn't hold down the job last year. But when the first save chance came up Friday, Diaz converted it with ease, and when the next one came up Saturday, he was right back out there.
Granted, he didn't convert that second one, allowing a game-tying solo home run to Marcell Ozuna, but it came on a fastball and not the slider that gave Diaz so much trouble last year. It was well-placed off the outer edge of the plate, and there seems to be universal agreement on the Mets side that it was a good pitch. Rojas said he wasn't worried, and neither am I. I'm just happy the Mets are turning to Diaz again, and I've seen nothing yet that suggests they shouldn't.
7) Austin Riley started all three games
Particularly after his bumpy finish to last season, Riley wasn't guaranteed anything in terms of playing time this season. With Johan Camargo still in play at third base and Marcell Ozuna, Adam Duvall and Matt Adams presenting the team with ample alternatives at DH and left field, it seemed like an everyday role might be outside of the 23-year-old's reach.
But he started all three games over the weekend, even shifting between third base and left field to help optimize the lineup for the handedness of the opposing pitcher. Adams and Ender Inciarte were in against righties. Duvall and Camargo were in against lefties. Riley was in against both, and after reminding manager Brian Snitker of his power potential with a massive 458-foot blast Sunday, that doesn't figure to change anytime soon.
8) Ross Stripling got front-line treatment
Given the way Stripling backed into a starting role, only securing it when David Price opted out for COVID-19 concerns, you wouldn't expect the Dodgers to treat him like a full-fledged member of the starting five. After all, they bounced him from the rotation after an All-Star first half in 2018 and then confined him to a swing-man role in which he was typically limited to 4-5 innings last year.
But there he was going seven strong in the second game of the season Friday, stretching out to 92 pitches while allowing just one run with no walks and seven strikeouts. It was a dream outcome for a guy who already enticed us with a 3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 9.7 K/9 over the past two season, and it hopefully means Stripling is finally getting the respect he deserves. He may prove to be a must-start option moving forward.
9) Mitch Keller's velocity is way down
Whose velocity decline might be even more concerning than that of Bumgarner? The Pirates rookie who struggled in his first taste of the big leagues last year but nonetheless showed the potential to overpower hitters with an impressive fastball-slider pairing.
That fastball was down about 3 mph from a year ago, though, and he wasn't the least bit overpowering in his season debut Sunday, recording just two strikeouts with five swinging strikes on 87 pitches. The irony is he actually had success, allowing one run in five innings, but it won't last if the stuff doesn't back it up. With the quick buildup, you give him a pass for now, but he'll need to show improvement soon. It's only a two-month season, after all.
10) Tommy La Stella started against the first lefty
We didn't give La Stella much more than a passing mention during draft prep season, in part because we were skeptical of the .295 batting average and 16 home runs he delivered in about half a season's time and in part because we weren't expecting him to play against left-handers. So the fact he started against the first lefty the Angels faced in 2020, staying in the lineup for all three of the team's games on opening weekend, is a potential game-changer.
Now, it's worth noting the Angels were playing short-handed, going without star third baseman Anthony Rendon. Maybe David Fletcher would have spelled La Stella at second base against left-hander Sean Manaea Saturday if he wasn't already filling in for Rendon at third. But if La Stella, with his exceptional contact skills, is indeed a fixture in a lineup that includes Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Justin Upton and Rendon, then he's a must-have just in case last year's power breakthrough was legit.
11) Eric Hosmer is elevating unlike ever before
Chris Towers has been angling for this one for years now, and while a two-game sample isn't near enough to overcome a mountain of contrary data, it does suggest that Hosmer is indeed putting the ball in the air more. He homered once and doubled twice in those two games. Together, they mark the first time since 2013 that he made back-to-back starts without hitting a ground ball.
What makes it important is that Hosmer has always delivered the quality of contact that would normally result in home runs, but he had a a launch-angle problem, putting the ball on the ground as often as any player with a full-time job. It led to some pretty pathetic stat lines for a first baseman, particularly in more recent years. But he finally acknowledged the problem back in spring training and may have learned how to address it as well. If so, he might develop into the stud hitter he was long touted to be.
12) Alex Wood's velocity is the same as usual
The reason Wood got so much love as a sleeper during draft prep season is that he was reportedly throwing 92-93 mph after some offseason work with Driveline Baseball and put up incredible numbers the last time he was throwing that hard, going 10-0 with a 1.67 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 10.8 K/9 in the first half of 2017. So by averaging more like 90 mph in his season debut Saturday, he kind of destroyed the narrative.
Not all hope is lost, though, because while the final stat line wasn't great, he did record 12 swinging strikes on just 69 pitches. He'll find success if he keeps doing that and has been a successful pitcher even with lesser velocity in the past. But the path to greatness isn't as clear, and the amount of leash you give him deserves to be less.
13) Garrett Hampson started just one game
Hampson can play virtually anywhere, which set him up to get close to full-time at-bats in a super utility role. But through the first weekend of action, the Rockies have tried him at only one position, left field, establishing him as the right-handed half of a platoon with Sam Hilliard.
It's a discouraging development for a player pegged as both a breakout candidate and an undervalued steals source. Hampson has to play to deliver on any of it, after all. The super utility role is one defined by inconsistency and irregularity, though, and it would come as no surprise to anyone if he was manning second base tomorrow. Your best bet for now is to treat him like a steals specialist in 5x5 leagues, but don't lose sight of him as a possible breakout.
14) The Royals appear to have a new closer
New manager Mike Matheny never seemed sold on Ian Kennedy in the role, despite his 30 saves last year, and brought him in to pitch the sixth and seventh innings of a tie game Saturday. So who took the ball when the Royals eventually took the lead in the top of the 10th inning? Former All-Star Greg Holland, who of course helped anchor the bullpen during the Royals' not-so-distant run of success.
Here's what Matheny had to say about it:
"There's just something about a guy who has been there and done that on that big stage of a major-league season," Matheny said of Holland. "He's just got so many things to teach the guys down in the pen. He has done such a good job behind the scenes. To watch him do it up on the stage too, it's going to advance everybody down in that pen."
It wasn't a full-throated endorsement of the 34-year-old in the role, but of the many relievers who surprised with saves this weekend, Holland appears to have the clearest path. He also has the most traditional manager — one who might prefer a proven closer and predetermined bullpen roles — and made a strong first impression by recording all three outs via strikeout. He was throwing a couple miles per hour harder than last year, too.
15) Luke Voit started all three games
Voit appeared to settle in as the Yankees everyday first baseman last year, hitting .280 with 17 homers and a .901 OPS in the first half, but then new options emerged when he was contending with a core muscle injury in the second half. Those options didn't even include Miguel Andujar, who himself was injured but is now back and looking for playing time anywhere he can get it.
But Andujar's only start over the weekend came in left field. Voit started all three games at first base, which is especially notable since Mike Ford, who filled in so capably for him in the second half last year, is presently on the expanded roster. Voit has must-start potential batting in the middle of that lineup.