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A Closer Look At Early-Season Intriguing Stories

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It’s too early in the season to make judgments on predictability or sustainability for most statistics. Who you play, who you don’t play and an abundance or lack of flukish plays can wreak havoc on early-season numbers.

But within the smallest of sample sizes are interesting stories from the first two weeks of the season. Here are a few that we’ve noted:

The story of a shift in strategy

In the first week of the season, the Twins used shifts at a pace that would double their 2017 total. Several teams can say that, but the Twins have shifted with a great amount of effectiveness. The Twins didn’t give up a ground ball or short liner hit in a shifted defense until their sixth game of the season.

The Twins have recorded outs on ground balls when in any defensive alignment at the second-highest rate in the majors through eight games (81 percent), and their successful shifts have been a big reason why. Opponents are 3-for-39 when hitting a ground ball or short liner against a shifted Twins defense.

-- Mark Simon

The story of a different approach to defending a hitter

Before this season, J.D. Martinez had seen a Full Ted Williams shift (three or more infielders on one side of the field) on 6 percent of his batted balls for his career. That number isn’t unusual, as teams are often reluctant to place three infielders on the left side of second base.

This season, though, he’s seen a full shift on 17 of the 23 balls he’s put into play. His 74 percent shift rate is second-highest among right-handed batters this season. The Red Sox played the Rays seven times in the first nine games of the season, so that may have influenced these numbers.

That number is the highest among right-handed hitters in 2018, but it’s interesting for another reason as well. Martinez entered the season with a Batting Average on Grounders and Short Liners (BAGSL) of .383 against full shifts, more than 80 points higher than his BAGSL against non-shifted defenses (.302) or partially-shifted defenses (.295).

-- Brian Reiff

The story of surprising defensive starts

A couple of teams are off to surprising starts defensively. The Red Sox finished second in the AL in DRS each of the past two years, but they currently sit in last with nine runs cost. This has not cost the team any wins. The Red Sox are off to their best start in franchise history.

In the National League, the Padres have cost themselves runs defensively each of the last three seasons, but are currently pacing the major leagues by two runs with 12 runs saved so far (a missed infield popup against the Astros notwithstanding).

That includes a combined five runs saved by their top three outfielders (Jose Pirela, Manuel Margot, and Hunter Renfroe).

-- Alex Vigderman

The story of overachieving and underachieving

Even this early in the season, the effects of defense and luck have made their mark on the seasons of several batters.

Two shortstops, Didi Gregorius and Addison Russell, find themselves on opposite ends of the spectrum in that regard.

Gregorius has outperformed his Defense-Independent Batting Statistics considerably thus far, finding himself with three doubles and a home run more than we would expect based on his batted balls, in addition to an OPS 429 points higher than we expect. This was a theme in 2017 too, as he outperformed his expected home runs by 7.7, the highest amount in the majors. The short right field porch in Yankee Stadium is likely aiding those numbers.

Addison Russell, on the other hand, has been shorted three hits and a home run thus far and has posted an OPS 324 points lower than we would expect.

-- Spencer Harrison

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