3 surprising early-season stats, including the mashing Kansas City Royals

Kansas City Royals
Credit: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

The 2024 baseball season is barely underway, but this is the best time of year to look at statistics and wonder “what if?” Mookie Betts has five home runs this season in 12 games. On a per-game basis, he’s on pace for 68 dingers. A Dodger breaking the single-season home run record held by Barry Bonds (73) would sure be something. Will it happen? Probably not. Maybe next year when the Oakland A’s move into their minor-league ballpark that will be the “most intimate ballpark in Major League Baseball.”

The Houston Astros enter play on Monday at 3-7, tied with the Oakland A’s, who are tanking, at the bottom of the AL West. They rank 13th in baseball in ERA through ten games with a cumulative 3.89, but Ronel Blanco is doing a lot of the heavy lifting by allowing one hit in 15 innings. They’ll get going as a group, but they’re already 3.5 back of the Texas Rangers in the AL West. It’s plenty early to make up that difference, but the Rangers aren’t even at full strength just yet.

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When you think of the Tampa Bay Rays, the first thing most fans will say is “pitching.” Maybe not this year. The team currently ranks 26th in team ERA with a 5.24, thanks to two high-scoring affairs at Coors Field in Colorado. They also gave up eight and nine runs to the Toronto Blue Jays at home to open the season, and then another nine against the Rangers at home. They’re facing good teams to begin the year, but it’s still surprising to see Tampa Bay falter on the mound at any point in the season.

Those are just a taste of the odd stuff happening around baseball to begin the year. Now let’s get real wild.

Kansas City Royals, noted baseball mashers

Kansas City Royals
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Now that enough games have been played and a sample size has been created, the stats over at Baseball Savant now include the 2024 season. Would it surprise you to find out that the Kansas City Royals have three players that are hitting the crap out of the ball?

Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, and Maikel Garcia rank in the top-11 in barrels per plate appearance. In essence, that means that they’re hitting the ball hard consistently when they come up to the plate. Luis García Jr. of the Washington Nationals leads all of MLB at 23.8% Brls/PA, followed by Adam Duvall of the Atlanta Braves. Coming in third is Witt at 17.5%. Melendez ranks seventh at 16.1%, and Garcia rounds out the top-11 at 15.0%, right behind Yordan Alvarez.

Related: Kansas City Royals season preview

The Royals have three of these guys who are mashing to begin 2024. No other team has more than one. The only team that comes close is the Astros, who have Jake Meyers in 8th and Alvarez in 10th. Their third-highest player is Jose Altuve, who is ranked 38th.

The Royals enter Monday at 6-4 with a +19 run differential, thanks in large part to their stellar pitching staff, who hold a cumulative 2.53 ERA. That’s good for third in baseball behind the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Guardians, two teams that have started the year by playing the A’s.

Watch out for the Royals?

Pittsburgh Pirates outperforming the Los Angeles Dodgers

Pittsburgh Pirates
Credit: David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports

Name a way to measure team success.

Did you say winning percentage? The Pirates hold a .800 in that field thanks to an 8-2 start. The Dodgers (8-4) are slightly behind at .667. The Yankees are the only other club with a winning percentage as high as Pittsburgh’s, with New York also holding an 8-2 record.

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What about team ERA? Pittsburgh has a cumulative 3.60 ERA, which ranks 10th in baseball, compared to L.A.’s 4.21, which puts them down at 18th.

You wanna go with runs scored? The Dodgers have the edge in total runs (69), thanks to playing two more games, but if you take the average number of runs per game, the Pirates have them beaten there, too. Pittsburgh has scored 59 runs in ten games (5.9/game), while the Dodgers have put up a lowly 69 runs in 12 games (5.75/game).

While nobody is necessarily expecting this trend to continue long-term, the NL Central could be wide open this season. Would it be too unlikely for the Pirates to surprise some people and make a postseason appearance? If they can go .500 the rest of the way and finish just a few games over, they may have a shot. That said, they were 20-8 near the end of April last season and ended up in fourth place in the division.

Atlanta’s starting woes

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies
Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

When it’s so early in the season, a bad outing or two can really influence the statistics. That’s been the case for the starting five in Atlanta, who ranked 27th in baseball with a 5.81 ERA heading into Sunday. A lot of that damage has been done in the two Max Fried starts, where he has totaled just five innings, and given up 11 runs (10 earned) on 12 hits and four walks while striking out six. He has an 18.00 ERA, which is quite a bit higher than his career 3.13.

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After a 5-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta’s starter’s ERA dropped to 5.45, which moved them all the way up to 25th. Early season stats are so much fun because they can fluctuate wildly from day to day. That said, it’s not all fun and games for the Braves.

Spencer Strider’s 7.00 ERA through two starts also didn’t help much in the matter, but the team also announced on Saturday that he underwent an MRI which revealed damage to his UCL. Atlanta may be without Strider the rest of the way, which could be a huge blow to the rotation and their title aspirations.

The good news is that the rest of the rotation has been good through the first turn with Charlie Morton (0.00) Reynaldo López (1.50) and Chris Sale (3.38) each going at least five frames. The question for this club will be how they attempt to replace Strider in the rotation in the short, or potentially, long term.

Atlanta’s bullpen has been stellar early on, posting a 1.87 ERA as a group, good for fifth in baseball. This is still a playoff team, but how far they make it in the postseason will depend on what kind of addition they make in the rotation.

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