April is baseball's weird uncle. Though it is a necessary element of this family gathering we call a season, it is bizarre, it is awkward and you try not to take it too seriously. Eric Thames might be digging April right now, but there are scores of others who look up at that lowly, lonely batting average staring back at them from the scoreboard and know it's no indication of the level they can reach.
Thankfully, for these guys, April is just about over. And for the 10 guys on this list, there is objective data to support the idea that May and beyond might just be more to their liking.
Carlos Correa, Astros
Correa is not yet on the Hall of Fame-type track prescribed for him when he won the American League Rookie of the Year Award with 22 homers and 22 doubles in 99 games, but his sophomore season in '16 (20 homers, 36 doubles, 125 OPS+) was still stellar by the standards of a 21-year-old shortstop. Here in '17, some batted-ball luck has betrayed him in the early going. Correa entered Wednesday with the game's fourth-largest gap (min. 50 at-bats) between his expected weighted on-base average (.391) and his actual weighted on-base average (.276).*
*I'll be citing this stat elsewhere, so, for the uninitiated (or simply confused), Statcast™'s new Hit Probability metric tells us the likelihood of a ball falling in for a hit based on its exit velocity and launch angle and how comparable batted balls fared. Basically, we know when a guy got robbed, and we can use that data to remove luck (or lack thereof) from the equation. Weighted on-base average (wOBA) already measures a player's overall offensive contributions, and xwOBA takes defense out of the equation.
Correa missed a few games with a bruised hand after getting plunked by a pitch, so that didn't help matters.
"He's probably going to be the Player of the Week one of these weeks really soon," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "When he is, everything will correct itself."
Danny Salazar, Indians
Salazar's return from the flexor strain that kept him out of all but three innings of October is one of the reasons people were so high on the Tribe's chances of repeating. Through four starts, Salazar's 4.37 ERA isn't terrible, but it is a far cry from the fantastic start to '16 (he had a 2.75 ERA and .613 opponents' OPS at the break) that earned him an All-Star nod.
Salazar could be off to an All-Star-worthy start again with better batted-ball luck. He's currently carrying the highest opponents' batting average on balls in play (.431), which is due to come down. His Fielding Independent Pitching mark, which analyzes a pitcher based on the stuff he can control (strikeouts, walks and homers allowed), is just 2.06, giving him one of the largest ERA and FIP differentials in the game.
Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox
Ramirez's xwOBA is .388. To put that in perspective, his actual full-season wOBA in his 30-homer, 28-double 2016 was .367. So there's a statistical indicator that Hanley's uninspiring .210/.269/.306 slash is deceptive. Hanley had barreled -- or, in other words, "ideally struck" -- eight balls entering Wednesday and had only four of them land for hits. He's been the victim of a couple plays like this great over-the-shoulder grab by Kevin Pillar:
It's easy to assume the shoulder injury that has limited Ramirez to DH duties has also affected his swing, but the data doesn't support this.
Maikel Franco, Phillies
There are a lot of Francophiles out there who see a 24-year-old kid with a low strikeout rate, a lot of power and good defense and see a star in the making. Their patience was profoundly tested by a recent 0-for-21, and the bottom line that is a .171/.244/.329 slash.
Hang tight, people. Franco's average exit velocity (91.7) is actually higher than it was in his 25-homer 2016 (90.3), but his batting average on balls in play (.155) has been depressingly low. Franco did hit a game-winning double against the Braves the other day, and perhaps that's a sign of better things and swings to come. A strong guy who strikes out less than 13 percent of the time and walks 9 percent of the time is in good position to produce.
(Let the record show this was written before Franco's second grand slam of the season Wednesday night. Things are looking up already!)
Dansby Swanson, Braves
Mentioned last week that 41 out of 48 MLB.com scribes picked Swanson to be the National League Rookie of the Year in 2017. He is not rewarding our collective faith just yet. In what is basically his sophomore season (Swanson missed the cutoff by just two at-bats), he's been tested by the ol' adjustment with the kind of numbers (.139/.162/.194) that have "Triple-A Gwinnett" written all over them.
But while Swanson's strikeout-to-walk ratio is definitely an area of concern, the Braves do have analytical reason to remain patient. Swanson's line-drive rate (20.8) is pretty consistent with 2016 (22.7), and his flyball (43.4) and groundball rates (35.8) are improvements on last year's marks. Just seven of his 15 batted balls with an exit velocity of 100 mph or more have resulted in him reaching base.
You always wonder about young, developing kids for whom much (perhaps too much) is expected, but let's not bail from the Dansby bandwagon just yet.
Neil Ramirez, Giants
Despite a rough first few days, the Giants' bullpen isn't the game-blowing disaster it was too often in 2016. But it could still use some upside. And here's a guy striking out 34.2 percent of batters he faces, walking just 4.9 percent of batters he faces … and lugging around a 9.72 ERA. Pretty much everything put in play against him has been deadly, and five of Ramirez's 14 hits allowed were classified by Statcast™ as poorly or weakly hit.
Manny Machado, Orioles
If Matt Barnes had just hit Machado in the derriere instead of going head-hunting, at least he would have helped Machado's surprisingly low on-base percentage (.288).
Machado's slow start (.650 OPS) stands in direct contrast to what we saw from him last April (1.061), when he was looking like an early MVP candidate. But he has the seventh-highest average exit velocity (95.5), and there is a .084 differential between his xwOBA (.372), which is higher than last year's mark (.366), and his actual wOBA (.288). Machado's also carrying what would be a career-low groundball rate (36.4).
Perhaps his recover will be so resounding that we'll refer to him as May-ny May-chado.
Zack Wheeler, Mets
Great to see him back in the Mets' rotation after the long road back from 2014 Tommy John. Not great to see him attached to that 5.40 ERA through four starts -- a number inflated by a Tuesday grand slam from (who else?) Daniel Murphy.
But Wheeler pitched pretty well after that first-inning blast, and his peripherals speak to a better profile than the ERA would indicate. His FIP is 3.77, and his SIERA (which takes into account a little more complexity with regard to balls in play) is even better, at 3.50. Wheeler's stuff has come back intact. His velocity numbers are all in line with what we saw pre-surgery, and he's actually getting more vertical movement from his sinker and a little more sweeping action with his slider.
Fundamentally, this is a guy who missed a mountain of time, so the rust was inevitable, as might be a steady progression in performance.
Trevor Story, Rockies
What a plot twist in this Story (sorry). Last year, it was a 1.019 OPS and 10 homers in the first month before he cooled off in May. This year, it's a .683 OPS and four homers, but reason to believe May will be a bit better. Story has registered a barreled ball in 13.6 percent of his plate appearances, with little to show for it. You combine his average exit velocity (91.5) with his insane 72.7-percent fly ball rate and, yes, his home launching pad, and this Story should get better (again, sorry).
Kevin Gausman, Orioles
Gausman had a 3.10 ERA in the second half last season, getting better feel and results with his split-changeup and leading to plenty of predictions that he was due to break out here in 2017, at the age of 26, and provide big upside to an O's rotation that needs it.
Hasn't happened yet. Gausman had a messy month in which he's logged the highest ERA (7.50) among qualified starters. But the batted-ball profile -- ground-ball, fly-ball and line-drive rate -- against Gausman is pretty much identical to last year. He's getting fewer swings outside the zone but more contact outside the zone, and the splitter is getting torched so far (.722 SLG against).
But according to the Statcast™ data, only 50.8 percent of the run-scoring balls put in play against Gausman should have fallen in. And while his 5.69 FIP is nothing to get excited about, either, it does speak to a situation that's probably not as bad as it looks so far.
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.