Real or not? Mike Soroka the best rookie over first quarter of season

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Everything about Braves right-hander Mike Soroka is a little funky.

He’s Canadian, for starters. That’s a rarity. Only eight Canadians have played in the majors this season, and that’s if you generously include Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who was born in Montreal.

Soroka has an unusual delivery, in which he tilts back with his upper body as he brings his pitching arm behind him and then kind of slings the ball in what seems like an almost effortless delivery, at least compared to the all-max effort we see from so many pitchers these days. Unique deliveries are also rare these days, and Soroka’s is different enough that he’s going to be one of those guys with whom you catch a glance of his windup and immediately know who is pitching.

He doesn’t give up home runs. After pitching seven scoreless innings in the Braves’ 4-0 victory over the Cardinals on Wednesday, Soroka has pitched 36⅔ innings without allowing a home run (and 56⅓ innings going back to last season). Considering that you can’t run to the bathroom without missing two home runs these days (well, unless the Marlins are playing), that’s a remarkable achievement and a testament to the kind of movement he gets on his sinking fastball and the deception he has in his delivery that minimizes solid contact.

He’s 21 years old.

Soroka has allowed one earned run or fewer in all six of his starts to begin the season. The only other pitcher 21 or younger to do that in the live ball era since 1920 was another rookie, Fernando Valenzuela in 1981, when he had seven, five of which were shutouts.

The Braves had another big highlight Wednesday, as Austin Riley, who has been absolutely scorching the ball in Triple-A, made his major league and did this in his second at-bat:

Riley is a third baseman but will play left field with Ender Inciarte on the injured list. Riley played only four games in left in Triple-A, but after hitting .360 with 10 home runs in May, the Braves wanted to give him a shot even if he’s going to be a little raw in the outfield.

Anyway, Soroka’s hot start — he’s 4-1 with a 0.98 ERA — and the fact that most teams are now around the 40-game mark means it’s a good time for a quick snapshot of the first quarter of the season, starting with some of these young kids.

Most impressive rookies

1 and 1A: Soroka and Chris Paddack. It’s hard to separate these two, but I think they’re both future aces if they prove durable. Paddack has the better strikeout rate and throws a little harder, and Soroka gets all those grounders. Both are fun to watch and confident, with a great feel for pitching.

2. Fernando Tatis Jr. He’s still on the IL, but we saw all the talent in April: power, speed, plus defense at shortstop. He’s a future star and possible MVP candidate.

3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. OK, the numbers aren’t great so far, but with his two-homer game on Tuesday, look for him to relax and the hits to start falling.

4. Pete Alonso. He has 12 home runs while showcasing some of the best raw power in the game. The strikeouts (on pace for 198) are a concern, but there is some hit potential here, and I think he’ll eventually cut down on the K’s.

5. Victor Robles. He has flashed power and speed and can play center field, but that 46-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio is a big red flag. Strikeouts weren’t a big issue for him in the minors, so he might be selling out too much to get to that power.

Honorable mention: Dan Vogelbach. Hey, the guy is hitting .248/.390/.602 with 11 home runs.

Bottom line: It looks like another impressive year for rookies. Michael Chavis has been great in Boston, and Christian Walker is an unconventional rookie at 28, but he has big numbers for Arizona.

Alex Verdugo is finally getting playing time for the Dodgers and has impressed with his line-drive stroke. Brandon Lowe has hit for power for the Rays. Yusei Kikuchi has been as advertised in the Mariners’ rotation, a solid No. 3 starter. Willians Astudillo, everyone’s favorite pudgy contact hitter, has just two strikeouts in 70 plate appearances.

The ball

Yes, home runs are up, even more than in the record-setting year of 2017, so the ball has been a popular topic of discussion:

2017: 1.26 home runs per game (4.65 runs per game)
2018: 1.15 home runs per game (4.45 runs per game)
2019: 1.29 home runs per game (4.58 runs per game)

David Ross talked about this during Wednesday’s ESPN broadcast, and some players he talked with said the ball definitely seems different this year.

It’s worth mentioning that home runs are down slightly in May — one home run every 25.79 at-bats in April and one every 26.92 at-bats in May — but here’s another example of the ball contributing to all the home runs. The Triple-A leagues switched to the major league ball this season, and look at the impact on offense there:

Pacific Coast League
2018: .270/.340/.423, 4.97 runs per game, 0.94 HR/game
2019: .270/.351/.466, 5.61 runs per game, 1.42 HR/game

Home runs are up 50 percent. Wow.

International League
2018: .252/.320/.389, 4.16 runs per game, 0.80 HR/game
2019: .264/.343/.439, 5.24 runs per game, 1.18 HR/game

Home runs are up almost 50 percent here as well.

Keep that in mind when you see some of those gaudy Triple-A numbers from hitters this season. The numbers are going to look a lot more impressive than in recent years.

The good

1. Cody Bellinger‘s Ted Williams-like start. Actually, he’s on pace for 55 home runs. Williams hit more than 40 just once (43 in 1949).

2. Christian Yelich. Yeah, .333/.451/.716 could be the start of another MVP season.

3. Hyun-Jin Ryu‘s 54-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Nolan Ryan had 118 innings in his career with at least three walks.

4. The Astros. They are riding an eight-game win streak. They’re the only team with an eight-game streak so far … and they’ve had two of them.

5. Twins catchers. When behind the plate, Mitch Garver, Jason Castro and Astudillo are hitting a combined .322/.404/.748 with 16 home runs, 38 runs and 37 RBIs. Incredible.

The bad

1. All those Yankees injuries, yet New York is just a half-game back of the Rays.

2. Jose Ramirez. He has finished third in the past two AL MVP votes but is off to a .195/.290/.312 start on the heels of a huge slump the final seven weeks last year.

3. Bryce Harper. He’s drawing his walks but hitting .220 with an absurd 57 strikeouts in 42 games, putting him on track for 200-plus whiffs.

4. The Nationals. Harper’s former team clearly has been the most disappointing so far, with a 17-25 start.

5. The closer carousel. With some teams going to closer by committee and others revolving through guys losing their jobs, it has been a frustrating start for fantasy owners (not to mention managers trying to stabilize the late innings of games).

The ugly

1. The Marlins’ offense. The 1906 White Sox were called the Hitless Wonders. But they won the World Series! The Marlins will not win the World Series. They’ve scored two runs or fewer in seven straight games after being shut out again Wednesday. They’re averaging 2.56 runs per game. Maybe we need relegation like European soccer leagues.

2. The Orioles’ pitching. They’ve allowed 89 home runs in 42 games, a stunning pace of 343 over a full season. That would break the previous record by nearly 100 home runs.

3. The Mariners’ defense. What a travesty. They’ve made 47 errors, 12 more than any other team, and their .972 fielding percentage would be the lowest since the 1981 Mets. Errors aren’t everything, but this defense is also lacking in aesthetic quality and advanced metrics. At one point last week, the M’s had an infield of Ryon Healy, Tim Beckham, Edwin Encarnacion (at second base!) and Jay Bruce.

4. Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel, still unsigned.

5. Tyler O’Neill’s throw. Oops.

Home run robberies are fun!

There were 65 last season, the most in the 15 seasons that Sports Info Solutions had tracked robberies. We already have had 21 this year, so we might top that mark. Really, this was just an excuse to run Jackie Bradley Jr.’s catch again:

And Kevin Pillar‘s:

And Lorenzo Cain‘s to save the win on Opening Day:

And another one from Cain:

Please, can we get this man a Gold Glove this year?

Edwin Jackson

The well-traveled Jackson started Wednesday for the Blue Jays, his 14th major league team.

Congrats, Edwin. Maybe you deserve the Iron Throne. Surviving is half the battle.

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