Let’s check in on Harper, Machado and the other big catches of the winter

Image result for bryce harper
Bryce Harper got booed in Philly. Yawn.

We won’t rehash the offseason, but it wasn’t much fun. Lots of sitting around and theorizing about why Manny Machado and Bryce Harper hadn’t signed, what it meant for Nolan Arenado and Francisco Lindor‘s future, etc. Ah. Fun times.

Eventually, the dust settled (except for Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel, who continue to have plenty of free time, thank you very much). Machado headed to San Diego and Harper to the friendly streets of Philadelphia. But those weren’t the only big moves of the winter, so let’s check in on how some of the big acquisitions are doing with a few random observations.

Bryce Harper

ESPN and MLB Network and the rest clutched their collective pearls about Phillies fans booing Harper. A quick list of other thoroughly mundane events that would surely upset ESPN and MLB Network:

  • Snow falling in December
  • Rain falling in April
  • Milk going bad in the fridge

You get the picture. Look, Philadelphia fans booing something just isn’t interesting to talk about anymore. Frankly, almost all of the attention paid Harper bores me. He’s a really good and exciting player, capable of thrilling moments. He also can be frustrating, as any power hitter can be. He strikes out. It looks bad sometimes. This is baseball.

Harper’s hitting .231 with plenty of walks and solid power. It adds up to a 122 wRC+, which is hardly world-beating, but hey, it’s a far cry from bad. He’s streaky and would probably benefit from a slight change in approach; that’s true of virtually every hitter alive except for Mike Trout (and Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger for the moment).

So, yes, Harper will at times frustrate, but he’s at all times capable of a ferocious month of production. It would make for quite a fun baseball summer to have the Phils, led by Harper on a tear, battling, say, the Atlanta Braves led by Ronald Acuna. Who wouldn’t love that?

As of now, the Phillies are in first place in the NL East. Second? Atlanta.

Manny Machado

The Machado – Fernando Tatis Jr. pairing is thrilling to me. I love it. If I were a Padres fan, I’d probably think about it every single day. You’re on your way to a championship core with those two on the left side of your infield.

For now, though, Machado has slid back to shortstop while his younger teammate nurses an injured hamstring. His team has looked perhaps a bit better than expected, sitting 3rd in the NL West and a few games north of .500. With Chris Paddack causing a fervor each time he’s on the mound — he’s like a Baseball Twitter aphrodisiac — the Padres have an exciting future.

It could easily just be a blip — it’s May, my dudes — but Machado’s strikeout rate has climbed quite a bit as a Padre. Again, blip? Probably. I’m not drawing any major conclusions.

Here’s to more Machado and Tatis moments. I remain very optimistic about that pairing and the Pads overall.

Patrick Corbin

The Nationals are eight games below .500. Their injury list isn’t quite to the level of the Yankees, but it’s a damned impressive group all its own: Juan Soto (back, could return around May 11); Trea Turner (fractured finger, probably in a few weeks); Ryan Zimmerman (plantar fasciitis, TBD). Anthony Rendon just returned from an injured stint.

It hasn’t been great. But Corbin, mostly, has delivered. The slider, still his most utilized offering, continues to generate tons of swings and misses and very little else (.246 xwOBA). Everything else he throws is far more hittable (at least 100 points of xwOBA higher) and that, in my mind’s eye, makes his 3.71 ERA feel right. That’s probably about who he is, and hey, that’s a valuable guy.

I think he’s a treat to watch. Everyone knows he relies on that breaking ball and yet, the results are the results. Lord only knows if the Nationals will even make the playoffs, and maybe I’m being old-fashioned in thinking this way, but throwing out Max ScherzerStephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin in a playoff series is, um, ideal.

Paul Goldschmidt

Should we freak out? Last year we all freaked about Goldy’s slow start. Remember? It was fun. Then, he eventually torched the league for a few months and ended up with a hell of a season. This is baseball.

Goldschmidt in such a passionate baseball city makes me smile. It feels right. This is no disrespect at all to Arizona, but the Diamondbacks don’t have the historical cache of the Cardinals. (What, maybe three teams do?) He has a stage now that he didn’t before, and I hope he can capitalize on it.

The BABIP is low (for him). The walk rate is down, but it’s May. Things balance out. Paul Goldschmidt is awesome and he’ll be awesome. The Cards are five games over .500 and remain close to both the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers: the hitting has been good and the run prevention okay. That’s about right.

James Paxton

As was decided long ago by blood ritual, James Paxton, now a Yankee, must do his penance on the injured list, much like all of his talented and established teammates short of Gleyber Torres, Luke Voit, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman.

You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.

Paxton was really frustrating at launch, particularly in a start against the Houston Astros (that feels like 5 years ago … ). Then, he rattled off consecutive 12-strikeout starts, drumming up plenty of excitement in New York (especially with Luis Severino serving his aforementioned time in purgatory). However, as we know, nothing good lasts forever, and Paxton is nursing a left knee issue. It’s not expected to keep him down too long.

He’s basically been James Paxton so far. Lots of strikeouts, solid-to-good ERA, injuries.

Sonny Gray

Oh, Sonny. He’s truly one of my favorite pitchers to watch, in an almost masochistic way. When Sonny Gray is on, he’s marvelous; when he’s nibbling and missing, he’s maddening.

He’s been pretty decent in Cincinnati. The normal stats tell us he’s been okay (ERA sits in the low 4s); the fancier stats suggest he’s been better (his FIP is in the low 3s). His fastball, despite nice spin and okay-ish velocity, continues to be a sore spot (but not an outright atrocity like last season). The Reds are having a frustrating season, but the pitching has been a triumph, led of course by Luis Castillo. Gray has been a positive.

Yasiel Puig

Yasiel Puig isn’t hitting. His wRC+ is 56. That’s bad. Puig will eventually hit. That’s a familiar theme in today’s piece and for good reason, because baseball moves in cycles and deep sample sizes. He’s a good hitter with a weird platoon split. He’s solid in the field. He’s at times maddening to manage and root for, but also, and this has to be mentioned too, he’s thrilling. The Puig experience is nothing if not memorable.

For the Reds, I think the optimal outfield alignment is somewhat obvious. Jesse Winker in left, Nick Senzel in center and Puig over in right. Let them play, especially the first two, and even more especially, Senzel. That could be a heck of a trio if things break the right way. The Reds might as well find out.

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