Today will be the last day in April I’ll have a chance to talk to you guys, so I wanted to go over the most surprising break-outs in the first month of the 2016 season. A lot of the usual suspects are at the top of the leaderboards, like Bryce Harper and Jake Arrieta. But did you know that…?
Neil Walker has nine home runs
Walker is tied with Harper, Trevor Story, and Nolan Arenado for the major league lead. His nine April homers tied a Mets club record also held by Dave Kingman, Carlos Delgado, and John Buck. Walker has crossed the 20-homer threshold in a season just once, with 23 in 2014. He would need to average only three home runs in each of the remaining five months in order to surpass that career high.
Mat Latos has a 0.74 ERA
Latos has always been regarded as a solid starter, but injuries limited hampered both his 2014-15 seasons, causing him to drop off most fans’ radars. Last year, between the Marlins, Dodgers, and Angels, he finished with a 4.95 ERA in 21 starts and three relief appearances. So far this year? He’s won all four of his starts, yielding only two runs on 13 hits and seven walks with 13 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings. Of all the pitchers with microscopic ERA’s to start the season, however, Latos’ appears to be the least sustainable as pitchers that average under five strikeouts per nine innings and nearly three walks per nine don’t end up in the Cy Young Award conversation.
Jeanmar Gomez has six saves
The Phillies’ closer situation was a big mess to begin the season. Having traded Ken Giles to the Astros in the offseason, David Hernandez got the first try as the club’s new closer, but hocked up three runs without retiring a batter against the Reds on Opening Day. Dalier Hinojosa got a shot, but he served up two runs and retired only one of the five batters he faced in the second game of the season. Eventually the Phillies settled on Gomez, who has made 11 appearances with a 2.08 ERA and an 11/3 K/BB ratio in 13 innings, notching the save in all six appearances. The success is not surprising as the once-failed starter became a solid reliever after joining the Pirates for the 2013 season. Since the start of the ’13 season, Gomez has an aggregate 3.13 ERA over 230 1/3 innings.
Aledmys Diaz is batting .462
The Cardinals’ shortstop situation appeared to be getting worse and worse. They lost Jhonny Peralta for 10-12 weeks due to a torn thumb ligament, so Ruben Tejada joined the squad, but he succumbed to a strained quad. That opened the door for Diaz, who has done nothing but hit since the regular season began. He’s currently on a seven-game hitting streak and has registered multiple hits in eight of 19 games so far. Of his 29 total hits, eight have been doubles, one a triple, and four home runs. Diaz’s 1.323 OPS is even better than Harper’s.
Dexter Fowler is slugging .662
Fowler, a veteran of nine seasons, has never been an All-Star. Despite playing the first six seasons of his career in Coors Field, he was never one to hit many homers. Instead, he racked up copious amounts of doubles and triples. And aside from hitting .300 in 2012, he didn’t hit for much of an average, either. Now in his second season with the Cubs after a contract snafu with the Orioles, Fowler has gotten off to a scorching hot start, batting .368/.488/.662 with 13 extra-base hits in 86 plate appearances.
Rich Hill has a 2.42 ERA with 37 strikeouts
Hill put himself back on the map late last season with four outstanding starts for the Red Sox, resulting in a 1.55 ERA and a 36/5 K/BB ratio in 29 innings. He parlayed that into a one-year, $6 million deal with the Athletics, who bet on the 36-year-old replicating that success. Hill has, notching two double-digit strikeout games already while striking out over one-third of the batters he’s faced. Among qualified starters, only Noah Syndergaard, David Price, and Jose Fernandez have fanned batters at a higher clip.
The White Sox are 16-6
In terms of winning percentage, only the cross-town rival Cubs (15-5) have been better. The White Sox had an uninspiring offseason, as the only impact name they brought in was Todd Frazier in a trade with the Reds. It’s been the less-heralded newcomers who have made the difference, like the aforementioned Latos, Brett Lawrie, and Jimmy Rollins. It also hasn’t hurt that Chris Sale has a 1.66 ERA and Jose Quintana 1.47. This writer isn’t so confident they’ll be able to maintain this level of success going forward, but then again, we didn’t even think they were capable of putting together this kind of opening month.