Early surprising MLB leaderboards

Mike Trout leads the Major Leagues in OBP, slugging and OPS. Because of course he is.

Recent injuries aside, Trout being on top in those categories is just about the least surprising thing that could happen. But this is baseball, and those sorts of predictable outcomes only serve to highlight all that is unpredictable across the sport.

We’re now closing in on the one-month mark since Opening Day, and the leaderboards remain full of surprises at the top. So buckle up and get ready to do a double-take or two as you check out this list of 10.

Note: All stats are entering Monday’s games.

It’s not as if Rizzo is some slap hitter. He entered this season with 251 career home runs, having topped 30 on four occasions. But he also went deep only 22 times in 141 games last year, and the 32-year-old’s slugging did not exactly pick up after last July’s trade from the Cubs to the Yankees, despite that inviting right-field short porch in the Bronx .

Brought back on a two-year deal when Freddie Freeman proved an elusive target, Rizzo has taken better advantage this time around. The veteran left-handed hitter has dropped his ground-ball rate, skyrocketed his pull rate and launched seven of his dingers to either right or right-center at Yankee Stadium. That power surge is one reason the Yankees hold an early lead in the American League East.

Hosmer has hit over .300 twice in his career, so he’s not exactly the least likely potential batting champion. But he also posted a mere .264 average in 1,884 at-bats for San Diego from 2018-21, and there was talk this offseason of the Padres looking to move his contract. Instead, the 32-year-old is still there, and he’s raking again. A grounder-heavy profile and .426 average on balls in play suggest regression is coming, but for now, Hosmer is helping key the Friars’ 15-8 start.

Meanwhile, who would have thought that 23 games into Seattle’s season, the worst best hitter would be Crawford? The slick-fielding shortstop began the year as a .250 hitter in the Majors, with a career high of .273 in 2021. But with an elite strikeout rate and some improved contact quality, Crawford is authoring an age-27 breakout. Besides the average, he has more walks than K’s and is slugging more than 250 points above his previous career level.

Imagine you had heard before Opening Day that a National would be leading the NL in OBP through May 1. Your likely response? “Well, sure. Juan Soto is amazing! ” Soto is doing just fine (.415 OBP), but it’s actually Bell who is the NL on-base king at this point.

The switch-hitter, who started 2022 with a .348 career OBP, actually isn’t walking much more than usual. But he is striking out quite a bit less, contributing to a .351 average that is backed up by a 95th-percentile expected average. If Bell can keep it up, and the Nats do not find their footing quickly, the pending free agent could soon be a hot Trade Deadline target.

When Miller got his first taste of the Majors last season, he finished with eight doubles in 60 games, while slugging .309. So of course he recorded his ninth two-bagger of 2022 in just his 15th game, last Friday. And it’s not just the doubles, with the 25-year-old slashing .377 / .440 / .660 through 63 plate appearances.

Nobody is expecting Miller to maintain that sort of pace, but his 48.8% hard-hit rate and 43.9% sweet-spot rate makes for an impressive contact combination. On a Cleveland team that has been searching for bats in recent years, it’s a welcome development.

J-Rod’s collection of loud tools made him the game’s No. 3 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, but speed wasn’t supposed to be at the very top of the list. In 84 Minor League games in 2019, Rodríguez went 1-for-4 on steal attempts. But, as his Pipeline scouting report notes, “Rodríguez has worked hard on his speed and is an excellent and aggressive baserunner who can steal a base.”

That may be so, but going 9-for-9 in his first 21 career games through Sunday? That’s a shocker. Rodríguez went 21-for-26 over 74 games in Class A Advanced and Double-A a year ago, and now he has swiped more bags than 10 entire MLB teams in 2022, providing a boost even as his bat is just now starting to come around. Having 99th-percentile sprint speed certainly helps.

These two right-handers just earned MLB’s Pitcher of the Month Awards for April, and for good reason. Combined, they had allowed a mind-boggling three earned runs in 51 1/3 innings this season, heading into López’s Monday night outing.

To be clear, both showed plenty of potential prior to 2022. López is 26 and posted a 3.26 ERA over 31 starts from 2020-21. Gilbert was picked 14th overall in the 2018 Draft, was a top-50 prospect and flashed intriguing stuff during a competitive rookie campaign last year (4.68 ERA). Even so, there are a ton of uber-talented arms in the Majors right now. Seeing these two atop the leaderboards is an unexpected turn of events – but a welcome one for a pair of up-and-coming clubs.

Now we’re on the other end of the spectrum. If we were making league leader predictions for, say, much of the 2010s, these two future Hall of Famers might have been top picks. But this is 2022. Verlander is 39 and had thrown six innings over the past two seasons. Kershaw is 34, battled an elbow issue down the stretch last year and hadn’t committed to returning.

That both are even pitching at all this year is a gift. That both are doing it at this level, in their own ways, should not go underappreciated. With all of the young arms throwing unhittable stuff right now, the old vets still stack up well.

Joe Ryan, Twins
MLB Opp. BA leader (.132)

Four years ago, Ryan was a seventh-round pick out of Stanislaus (Calif.) State. Last July, he was part of the Twins’ return for Nelson Cruz before debuting with five encouraging starts in September. The 25-year-old righty was a trendy sleeper pick heading into 2022, but this is something else. Ryan has allowed just 10 hits in 23 innings heading into Tuesday’s start at Baltimore, sporting a 1.17 ERA and 25-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Unsustainable? Of course. But Ryan now has a .197 career expected average allowed at the Major League level, taking into account his strikeouts and low quality of contact, with hitters struggling to square up any of his four offerings.

Starting rotation, Twins
AL ERA leader (2.62)

Ryan is not alone in driving an incredible turnaround in Minnesota. The Twins’ 2021 season fell apart in no small part due to a rotation that finished 25th in the Majors with a 5.18 ERA. That group was a question mark heading into ’22 as well, with José Berríos traded last summer and Kenta Maeda rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Then there’s the fact that the fate top offseason acquisition, Sonny Gray, is on the IL himself after throwing just 6 1/3 innings.

And yet, here they are. Ryan has combined with reclamation projects Chris Archer, Dylan Bundy and Chris Paddack, along with 26-year-old Bailey Ober (now on IL as well) to help put the Twins in an early AL Central lead.

Bullpen, Tigers
AL ERA leader (1.97)

Bullpens tend towards the wildly unpredictable, and this is a great example. Tigers relievers had a 4.50 ERA last year (22nd in MLB) – amazingly, the highest highest finish in that category since it went to the World Series in 2012. Other than 2016 AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer, a converted starter, there are no big names here. Yet Jacob Barnes, Drew Hutchison, Joe Jiménez, Alex Lange, Wily Peralta, Gregory Soto and Will Vest each have at least five appearances and an ERA of 2.35 or lower.

It’s been a rather miserable 7-14 start for a Tigers team with some high hopes, but that surprising bullpen at least has been a silver lining.

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