Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

AL East: small sample size theater


It’s finally sinking in. Just as the birds and flowers are the signs that Spring is really here, the summer’s arrival is being heralded by long dingers and headfirst slides and heady baserunning. Baseball is really back, and the storylines are beginning to take shape. Some of the stories around the AL East are promising and give the fanbases glimmers of hope; what can a healthy Melky Cabrera or Michael Pineda do with a full season? Evan Longoria keeps proving how great he is. Is Matt Wieters finally seeing his breakout materialize? But some of these stories, ones where the players involved have less of a track record to project from or where their underlying skills don’t support their performance thus far, are more the products of how few games have been played. Without further ado, we will look at a few of the least-representative performances thus far in our proud division’s young season. This is Small Sample Size Theater.

#3 – KELLY JOHNSON

NYY - 3B? 1B? 2B?

Kelly Johnson, the Yankees apparent ‘solution’ to Alex Rodriguez‘ suspension, is currently slugging .680 with a 181 wRC+. The semi-converted second baseman (until Brian Roberts burns down) has had success with the stick before, make no mistake. With the Diamondbacks in 2010, Johnson’s offensive high-water mark, he put up a .284/.370/.496 line for a 128 wRC+ – quite nice for a keystone guy. The scariest part of all of this, and perhaps the reason that Johnson isn’t any higher on this list, is that most of the luck indicators seem to think Johnson can keep something resembling this level of play up for a while. His strikeout and walk rates are not obscenely out of sync with his career rates, and his BABIP is only slightly elevated. It’s when you look at his batted-ball distribution that the red flags start a-flyin’. Johnson’s had a Line Drive percentage of only 11.6% this season so far. He’s managed to post nearly career-best offensive stats despite hitting 66.7% of his balls into the dirt. He’s unlikely to be able to keep up a .280 average past today if he keeps burning worms at such a terrible rate, and thinking that Kelly Johnson is a true-talent .400 ISO hitter is likely a fool’s errand.

#2 – BRANDON WORKMAN

BOS – RHP

Brandon Workman has been doing work, man. In the 6.1 innings he’s thrown so far this year, the 6’4″ right-hander has struck out seven against only one walk. Opponents have mustered just four hits against him so far and have only been able to turn them into one measly run. Workman throws mostly fastballs (66%) that Pitch f/x values like a fair bit (1.9 runs above average) but his out-pitch, his knuckle curve, receives decidedly less adulation. His walk rates through his career (though he has been a starter for the large majority of his pro career) indicate that he likely will walk guys at a fairly average rate, in spite of his current 1.42 BB/9 so far this season. His average fastball velocity of 91 is decidedly average for a starter, despite the fact that Workman has been used exlusively in relief so far this year. His lack of any elite weapons mean that he’s pretty unlikely to be able to keep up his 1.42 ERA for very long.

edit: The Sox clearly agree with me as, despite his putting up the third most WAR amongst AL relievers and nearly half of his total in 61 innings last year, the Sox have optioned Workman to AAA to stretch out as a starter.

#1 – YANGERVIS SOLARTE

NYY – UTIL

The current pride of the New York Yankees, utilityman Yangervis Solarte, is currently 6th place in WAR accumulated by AL hitters, directly behind Evan Longoria and Jose Bautista‘s hot starts. The 26 year old made his big league debut this season in the Bronx after 8 seasons in the minors and has lit things up. He has a .414 batting average and leads baseball with 6 doubles. There is basically every reason, unfortunately, to highlight Solarte as a likely flash in the pan. His BABIP currently sits at .462, an unsustainable figure for any hitter, let alone one who only crossed the .300 threshold in his extensive minor league career. His batting average has only been above .300 a handful of times as well, and his well-below-average walk rate really doesn’t look like it’s going to support his .484 OBP going forward. Expect the regression monster to take a big bite out of Yangervis Solarte; his name tool is his most elite one, the hit tool is going to have to come diving back to Earth.

Tags: Brandon Workman Featured Kelly Johnson Popular Yangervis Solarte