SEATTLE, WA: Prince Fielder #28 of the Detroit Tigers watches his solo home run in the seventh inning against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
If you were watching the first week of the season too closely, you might have guessed that only a team of nine David Freeses could beat the Detroit Tigers. Lately, though? Not so much.
Friends! Welcome to your semi-annual lesson in the misleading nature of early-season baseball statistics!
Our first exhibit is David Freese.
You might recall that David Freese was (and is) an oft-injured third baseman who exploded upon the national consciousness last October. First he drove in nine runs to help the Cardinals past the Brewers in the National League Championship Series. Then he almost single-handedly destroyed the World's Championship dreams of millions of Texans. If George W. Bush were still governor, he would have declared war on Missouri and sent the Texas Military Forces streaming northeastward.
Anyway, in those two series, Freese batted .444/.528/.889 in 13 games.
In his first six games this season, Freese batted .444/.464/.778.
Which led, perhaps inevitably, to a fair number of breathless tweets. Maybe he's really a .444 hitter! Maybe now that he's finally healthy, he'll be one of the best players in the game! Maybe he's the best player, ever!
Or maybe he's not. Since those first six games, Freese is batting .216/.287/.397 and is currently mired in a 3-for-34 slump.
He's a lot better than that, and a lot worse than those other 19 games. Sample sizes, my friends.
Our second exhibit is the Detroit Tigers.
Last winter the Tigers signed Prince Fielder. Not long afterward, the Tigers lost Victor Martinez.
These two events might have been expected to essentially cancel each other out. Fielder's a better hitter than Martinez; he's not that much better.
But after beating the Red Sox 3-2 on Opening Day, the Tigers pounded the Sox for 25 runs in their next two games. Prince Fielder hit two homers in one of the games and Miguel Cabrera drove in five runs in the other, and Oh My God you'd have thought they were going to be score one thousand runs this season. Maybe two thousand.
They're probably not going to score two thousand runs. Or one thousand. Or 800.
Since starting out with all those runs and winning their first four games and presumably demoralizing the whole rest of the American League Central, the Tigers have gone 16-21 while averaging four runs per game.
Overall, the Tigers rank sixth in on-base percentage, sixth in slugging percentage, and seventh in scoring. Miguel Cabrera's been excellent, Prince Fielder's been exactly as good as Victor Martinez was last year, and a bunch of other guys have been all over the map. Oddly, the Tigers' best hitters haven't been Cabrera and Fielder, but rather Andy Dirks and (especially) Austin Jackson, who seems to have vastly improved his ability to control the strike zone.
Or maybe he hasn't. It's only May, still. We just remain ever-vigilant.