A View from Studio 3: Evaluating winter moves
Stats, stats. Everywhere you look, there are stats. They can't be avoided. For those of us with a math allergy, they can be like a horror movie. There's even a stat about the growing number of stats and an option on some websites for "more stats," as if the first five pages weren't enough. Really? WAR, RAR and oRAR. To be honest, I feel like I'm reading an eye chart. I don't even understand some of it. Not afraid to admit it.
While you don't need 20/20 vision or an actuarial degree to know that there's a decent number of players who are thriving (or shrinking) in new surroundings, the truth is that numbers help tell a few very different early-season stories.
Don't be frightened to continue reading even if you still subscribe to the archaic notion that the simple AVG/HR/RBI line tells us much of what we need to know. But it will help to grab your abacus from the garage. You may need it. Based on current production (or lack of production) along with historical significance, I've pinpointed the best and worst offseason moves involving position players.
Here we are, six weeks into the season, and guys like Justin Upton, Torii Hunter and Mark Reynolds are making new friends. Fast. Savvy moves made by several clubs are paying off in the early going. But perhaps no acquisition has proven more important than the Reds' trade for Shin-Soo Choo. Cincinnati had a gaping hole in the leadoff spot and hit a grand slam, filling the void with the former Cleveland Indians right fielder. Every time you look up, Choo is standing on first. Is someone playing a Reds game on a loop? Or maybe it's a body double?
Crazy Math: Last season, the Reds' on-base percentage from the leadoff spot was a Major League-worst .254. This year, it's an MLB-best .458. (Choo's OBP entering Friday's game was .453.) The last leadoff man to lead the National League in OBP was Lenny Dykstra in 1990.
Even Crazier: With two homers in Tuesday's dramatic comeback win over Atlanta, Choo increased his on-base plus slugging percentage to 1.023. Since 1916, there have been a grand total of three players with at least 100 games in the leadoff spot to finish a season with an OPS of at least 1.000.
Brady Anderson in 1996: 1.034
Rickey Henderson 1990: 1.016
Paul Molitor in 1987: 1.003
What's in store? This is even more impressive; the Reds have already scored 27 runs from the leadoff spot. They're on pace for 122, which would dwarf the team's 2012 total of 83 runs.
Imagine: When Joey Votto starts hitting for power -- he entered Friday with four home runs and 13 RBIs -- this version of the Big Red Machine may be unstoppable.
Imagine, Part II: What will Choo command on the free-agent market after this season as an elite leadoff man who has proven he can play in either league?
Then, on the other side of the ledger, there's this: The curious case of B.J. Upton. In the early going, his five-year, $75 million deal looks troublesome. It's hard to fathom that a player with this kind of talent could be in a such a deep funk. His batting average entering Thursday (.153) looks more like his weight after a nasty stomach flu. Not a typo: .153, with a .240 OBP. Compare this to the Braves' former center fielder, Michael Bourn, who signed with Cleveland for $48 million. Bourn has played in only 10 games this season, but through his first 30 games in 2012, he was hitting .333 with a .404 OBP.
Crazy Math: Granted, Upton has never hit for high average, but he's also never recorded fewer than 127 hits in a full season. This year, he's on pace for 86 hits and 213 strikeouts.
What's in store: Upton could join Reynolds, a fellow Virginian, as the only qualifiers in modern history to finish a season with a strikeout total more than double his hit total. In 2010, Reynolds had 99 hits and 211 K's.
Imagine: What kind of pressure will Upton be under if this slide continues and he's benched?
Imagine, Part II: How will Fredi Gonzalez handle this situation when Jason Heyward returns and Evan Gattis remains too valuable to ride the pine.
Take a breath. You made it through the first stats/history class of the week. We'll be back in a few days with a similar look at the best and worst pitching acquisitions of the offseason.
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2-4 p.m. ET. Follow him on twitter @mattyallofmlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.