It’s pretty common to see a batter hit .630, just as it is to observe a player on pace to hit 108 HRs. Just look at the stats after the season is one week old. Over time stats normalize, teams fast out of the gate hit the skids while the cream rises, and you start to see which teams and which players are actually “all that”.
65 or so games in, we begin to hit the “this is who you are” portion of the season where if teams or players are performing at a certain level things might shift by the end — but you can’t really decry what is happening as a “fluke”.
So what are the storylines emerging in 2023 that are not so much flukey, just perhaps surprising or worth following with a closer eye?
The Texas Rangers
From the Bo Porter “Bad News Bears” jokes to the perennial dominant force in the division, the Houston Astros have recently enjoyed a long reign atop the AL West. Every year some team promises to threaten them — first it was the A’s, then it was going to be the Mariners — and every year Houston shrugs its collective shoulders, wins over 100 and prances off with the division well in hand.
Meanwhile, every year the Rangers promise this is the year it will all come together for the team to return to contention. Texas even splurged, in 2022, on Corey Seager and Marcus Semien but forgot that you also need to pitch.
In 2023 they splurged on pitching, initially forgetting that your $37M/year pitcher needs to be healthy, but they were wise enough not to put all their eggs in the basket that is Jacob DeGrom’s tattered right elbow. Nate Eovaldi has been sensational, Jon Gray terrific as well, and here are the Rangers 40-22 and a solid 5 games up on the Astros.
Adding injury to insult, Houston just lost star Jordan Alvarez to the IL for an oblique injury and Alvarez’ .272/.384/.579 (165 wRC+) is a bright spot in an Astros lineup that has been surprisingly pedestrian.
It’s time to recognize the Texas Rangers as legitimate candidates to end Houston’s run of division titles at 5 (skipping the 60 game season), as the Rangers have good pitching backed by a pretty fearsome lineup. And while at 36-28 the Astros are still a solid team, they are not on their way to another 100-win season (currently 91) and are more flawed than Astros teams of recent yore.
It could go down to the wire for the AL West crown, but these Rangers are for real.
After 64 Marlins games, 59 of which Arraez has played in, we have a .400 hitter: Luis Arraez currently sits at .400/.449/.491 with a strikeout rate of 4.5%. Will he finish at .400? Probably not. But could he do it? If anyone could, it’s likely this guy.
As much as he sprays the ball from line to line, it’s possible even Arraez could not flirt with .400 in the “shifting era,” but the new rules at least open up the possibility of a level enough playing field for a hitter to find enough holes all season to chase history.
In my lifetime, only Tony Gwynn (.394), George Brett (.390), and Rod Carew (.388) have come close to batting .400 for a full season. Arraez has a steep hill to climb to maintain a .400 BA over 162 games, because statistics themselves work against the principle.
Go 2 for 5 in a game and while you have had a solid day at the plate your batting average doesn’t move at all. Have one 0 for 4 game and it’s hard to offset it as your average “plummets” relative to how an 0 for 4 day impacts the BA of your typical .250 hitter.
So as a hitter chases .400 he really can’t afford even the mini-est of slumps. That 1 for 9 “skid” needs a 7 for 11 chaser to bring you back to .400. “Regression to the mean” is a nasty reality that punishes outliers.
What Arreaz has proven is that for at least 64 games it’s doable — he has offset every 0-fer with a sufficient barrage of hits and if he can do it for 40% of a season who is to say he can’t maintain getting a hit 40% of the time in a magical year?
I might put Arraez’ odds of hitting .400 this season at 3%-4% but I sure as heck won’t put it at zero and that’s more than you can say for, well, just about anyone the last 30 years.
The Arizona Diamondbacks...?
Not sure about this one, but if we’re going to talk about the Rangers unseating the Astros how do we overlook that the NL West is not currently led by the 36-28 Los Angeles Dodgers but rather by an Arizona team playing over .600 ball (.603) at a robust 38-25?
The Dodgers have won the NL West every year since 2013, except for the 2021 season when by all accounts the San Francisco Giants were “flukey good” from end to end, showing that the exception proves the rule and that every once in a blue moon teams can just defy all projections and reason for 6 months straight.
Do you buy that come August, the D-Backs will still be fighting for the NL West crown? Or did they just lump all of their good baseball into their first 63 games? I tend to think a big fall is coming and that at season’s end the Dodgers will sit in their customary position well above the rest, but ... the whole premise of this article is that we are moving into the portion of the season where your track record suggests who you are.
Here is where you offer your thoughts. Are the D-Backs for real? For that matter, what about the Rangers? Is a .400 season within reach for Luis Arraez? And what other key storylines do you think should be noted as “real, no longer flukey”? In a world where the 2023 A’s can win 3 in a row and Dave Kaval can be outed as a “walking, talking bobblehead,” it feels like anything is possible!