On April 8, the Astros opened a three-game series at home against the A’s with their fifth consecutive victory against Oakland on the young 2021 season. Houston had won all five of those games by at least four runs, by a total score of 41-11.
Total domination. The Astros were 6-1, the A’s were 1-7.
That was April 8. The standings entering play on April 22 looked a bit different.
The A’s are in first place in the AL West with a record of 12-7. Yep, if you’re counting, that’s 11 consecutive victories. The Astros are in last place in the division, with a 7-10 record. Yep, if you’re counting, that’s a 1-9 stretch.
Point is, it was too early for the A’s to panic and too early for the Astros to celebrate. Keep that in mind as we play “Panic or Patience?”
Tommy Pham, Padres
Troubling numbers: .153 average, .017 ISO, 0 HR in 73 PA
Panic or Patience? Good thing those numbers aren’t the only ones associated with Pham, because they don’t paint a pretty picture. So let’s look at other numbers. His walk percentage of 15.1 percent is a career high. His strikeout percentage of 19.2 percent is a smidge away from his career low (18.8 percent). That’s a great combination.
How about the contact he’s making? A full 91.3 percent of his contact this year is rated as medium/hard-hit, which is well above his career average of 85.3. He’s pretty much eliminated the “soft contact” element. And his average exit velocity this year is 91.8 mph, right at his career average. His barrel percentage is 13 percent, well above his career average of 9.6 percent. Problem is, he’s hitting the ball right at defenders, or defenders are making great plays. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is just .196, which is unsustainably low and well below his career average of .329. Just watch Mookie Betts rob Pham on this play. Patience, Padres fans.
New York Yankees
Troubling numbers: 6-11 record
Panic or Patience? There is very little patience in New York right about now, and that’s understandable. The Yankees are a mess. They’re tied with the Twins for the worst record in the AL and calls for manager Aaron Boone to be fired are growing louder. The offense is struggling mightily — the Yanks have scored the fewest runs in the AL and the team’s OPS+ is just 83 — and the defense just isn’t good. Gerrit Cole has been outstanding and the bullpen has been solid, but the rest of the rotation has been mediocre, at best.
But the Yankees have only played 17 of their 162 games this year. Pennants are not won or lost in April. Patience. It feels unlikely that Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier all finish the season with batting averages of .186 or lower and OPSes of .571, which is where all four currently reside. And rotation projects Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon were always just that, projects. Plus, there are young arms that will be up at some point. Upgrades and/or changes might need to be made, but there is time for that, too.
Marco Gonzales, Mariners
Troubling numbers: 6.04 ERA, 6.07 FIP
Panic or Patience? Maybe it’s not fair to include Gonzales — even though those ERA/FIP numbers are pretty ugly — because it’s pretty clear that he’s already turned the corner. The lefty gave up 12 earned runs on 17 hits and five walks in his first two starts, covering 10 1/3 innings. Bleh. In his third start, though, he allowed three hits and two runs in five innings of a game the Mariners won 4-2.
The fourth start? That’s the gem. Facing the juggernaut Dodgers, Gonzales allowed just two hits and one run in seven stellar innings, striking out six on 101 pitches. Shutting down the best team in baseball like that is pretty encouraging, eh? Worth a little more patience, even if his next outing isn’t as stellar.
Troubling numbers: 6-11 record
Panic or Patience? The Yankees and Twins have the same record, but at least the Twins have a few bright spots. Byron Buxton has been demolishing the baseball when healthy, and the eternal slugger Nelson Cruz has matched Buxton’s six homers this year. Michael Pineda has a 1.00 ERA in three starts, and ace Jose Berrios is rolling along, with 30 strikeouts and a 3.00 ERA in 21 innings covering four starts. In the bullpen, Taylor Rogers has yet to allow an earned run in 7 2/3 innings.
The problem? Not much help. Buxton and Cruz each have six homers (in 95 total ABs), and all the other players on the team have combined for six homers (in 477 ABs). Berrios and Pineda have been great in their seven starts, but Kenta Maeda and Matt Shoemaker have a combined 6.19 ERA in their seven outings. Rogers has been stellar in relief, but Alex Colome, Randy Dobnak and Hansel Robles have a combined 7.77 ERA in 24 1/3 innings out of the bullpen. Oh, and stuff like this.
Still, patience. Again, the Twins are just 17 games into the season.
Madison Bumgarner, Diamondbacks
Troubling numbers: 8.48 ERA, 4.3 BB/9
Panic or Patience? Bumgarner signed a five-year, $85 million deal with the Diamondbacks prior to the start of the 2020 season. The return hasn’t been good. In nine starts in the shortened 2020 season, MadBum posted a 6.48 ERA. In his first three starts of 2021, that ERA sat in double-digits, at 11.20. Yikes.
But maybe there is hope. In his most recent start, against the Nationals, he allowed just one run in five innings, striking out five. A simplified mental approach, he said after the game, helped. “There’s a lot of little stuff that goes on inside our heads and, obviously, I’d like to keep a lot of it to myself,” Bumgarner said, as reported by MLB.com. “I’m going to probably choose to do that for now. Maybe down the road, I’ll divulge a little more of it, but that was a key driver, I think — the mental side and kind of how we went about it.” A bit more patience is needed.
By now you’ve probably noticed that we chose patience for all five struggling teams/players. We are roughly 12 percent of the way through a 162-game schedule, so yeah, a little more patience is called for. If this was the 2020 season, with only 60 games? Sure, get worried. But we’re back to the long-haul season. It’s a long ride, and a couple of small-sample-size bumps — that’s what a 20-game stretch is — are not cause for panic.