Perfect Clayton Kershaw, rookies fighting early


The warm sense of nostalgia that comes when MLB teams don their old uniforms and connect the past with the present is one of the things that makes baseball great.

But even better is when vintage ball players go back in time to give us a glimpse of how they fared at their best.

This theme has been pleasantly recurring as the 2022 season began.

Topping the list is Los Angeles Dodgers ace and three-time Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw, who just retired all 21 hitters he faced in his first game of the season. Despite making just 80 shots, coach Dave Roberts pulled Kershaw with perfect game intact.

Roberts’ decision caused a bit of a stir, but it was the right decision. Kershaw even agreed. There’s no reason to push a 34-year-old with an extensive injury history in 38-degree weather in Minneapolis.

Almost as impressive, 39-year-old Justin Verlander was magnificent in his first two games of the season – after missing the entire year of 2021 and shooting just once in 2020.

Verlander, a two-time winner of Cy Young, knocked out eight out of eight shutout innings Saturday in Seattle to reduce his ERA to 0.69.

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Coupled with some solid starts from pitchers Adam Wainwright (40 years old) and Zack Greinke (38 years old) and hitter Albert Pujols (42 years old), the “boring old men” strategy paid some early dividends for the fantasy managers who implemented it.

Plenty of slow starts

On the other hand, some of this year’s most promising rookies have yet to make it to the ground.

Royals’ Bobby Witt Jr. had an RBI of two in his major league debut, but only hit 0.156/0.182/0.281 with 11 strikeouts and a walk in his first eight games.

— Josh Lowe of the Rays cut .138/0.265/0.207 in nine games without a home run or a stolen base.

— Bryson Stott of the Phillies saw action in three field positions, but not much in the batter’s area, with a cut line of 0.154/0.185/0.192.

— CJ Abrams of the Padres played second, short and right as he hit .115 in his first nine games.

— And Mariners’ Julio Rodriguez started 4 for 32 (0.125) with 16 blows, three walks and an OPS of 0.356.

While it’s true that Abrams and Rodriguez, both 21, jumped straight from Class AA last year to the majors, the others had little to prove in the minors. While the results haven’t been great so far, the incentive for teams to have their best players in the top leagues to start the season is positive.

It’s not like a few weeks in the AAA class made any difference to their performances. If these kids are going to experience growing pains when they get to the majors, they might as well have them in April instead of May, July or September.

Sure, there should be some concern for these rookies’ fantasy managers (and real-life managers too), but they’re not the only ones starting slow.

The Arizona Diamondbacks hit 0.152/0.284/0.264 as a team in their first nine games. The Cincinnati Reds posted a 0.539 Major League OPS low in their first 10 games.

Individually, Eddie Rosario of the Braves — the 2021 NLCS MVP and a career .273 hitter — started the season with a 1-of-29 (.034). The Reds’ Tommy Pham (0.038 average) went without hits in his first 22 hits and Joey Votto posted a 0.118 average to go with a 0.250 base percentage.

Kyle Tucker (0.121), Marcus Semien (0.128), Carlos Correa (0.133), Paul Goldschmidt (0.138), Kyle Schwarber (0.139) and Jose Altuve (0.156) are among the 60 major league regulars with sub-0.200 batting averages after the first full week of the season.

How long before it’s officially time to panic over these slow starts? Perhaps the leash is shorter for the newbies because they can be picked for the smaller ones if their struggles continue. However, if any of the veterans listed above have a similar 10-game mid-season dip, we might not even notice.

While there are some metrics (strikeout rate, contact rate, walk rate) that start to show some statistical significance quickly, I generally try not to make any reactionary moves until at least a month into the regular season to allow for some randomness at the start going to even out. .

I’ve often wished I’d written down some of the bad games some of my top players have experienced in the past, just as a simple reminder that better days are almost certainly on the way.

COVID still has an impact

While we do not have an abbreviated regular season or games played in stadiums with limited seating capacity, as we have done for the past two seasons, the presence of the coronavirus and its variants have not completely disappeared.

New York Mets outfielders Brandon Nimmo and Mark Canha tested positive prior to their streak against the Diamondbacks and were unable to return for a minimum of five days. Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger also tested positive over the weekend. The Boston Red Sox also placed several players on the COVID list earlier this week.

The Mets and Yankees were fortunate to have a new policy in place before the start of the season that exempted athletes and artists from the city’s COVID-19 restrictions. However, that is not the case for MLB teams traveling to Toronto.

Last weekend, the Blue Jays welcomed the Oakland Athletics – who were without outfielder Stephen Piscotty (COVID list), as well as catcher Austin Allen and relievers AJ Puk and Kirby Snead (shortlist).

The shortlist is for players who are not fully vaccinated and not allowed to cross the border into Canada. (While some might argue that this gives the Jays an unfair advantage, the reverse is true for Jays players entering the US. It’s just that everyone on the Toronto roster has been vaccinated.)

The Jays are on the road this week but will return for an extended game against the Red Sox, Astros and Yankees starting April 25.

Sox right-hander Tanner Houck has already told The Boston Globe that he would not take his scheduled turn in the rotation, presumably because he will be placed on the shortlist. Coach Alex Cora also told reporters that Houck is not the only Red Sox player who will miss the series in Toronto.

While it was the subject of much speculation and debate up until the start of the season, we’ll soon find out which players – possibly some very important ones – have yet to be vaccinated.

With this being the final year of the lopsided calendar and all AL East teams playing nine or 10 games in Toronto, there could be some significant implications.

Follow Gardner on Twitter @SteveAGardner

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