SweetSpot: Jonathan Herrera

The SweetSpot blog network weighs in with April's best surprises ...

Beachy
Atlanta Braves
Simply put, the Braves' most pleasant surprise has been Brandon Beachy. At this time last year, Beachy was a virtually unknown prospect at Double-A Mississippi. Now he's leading the Atlanta starting staff in strikeout per nine innings (9.51) and is a prime candidate for the NL Rookie of the Month award for April. At this pace, it's going to be impossible for Mike Minor to unseat him for the fifth-starter role, regardless of his dominance in Triple-A.
--Kevin Orris. Capitol Avenue Club

Florida Marlins
It is absolutely amazing that the Marlins are just a half-game out of first place, especially considering the rough start of Hanley Ramirez (.197/.299/.250). In another amazing twist, given the shaky outfield defense that was expected of them, the Fish have the best defensive efficiency in the National League, turning almost 73 percent of balls in play into outs, and understandably have given up the fewest runs in the Senior Circuit.
--The Common Man, The Platoon Advantage

New York Mets
Though the hot starts of Ike Davis and Jose Reyes have been greatly appreciated by Mets fans, they are not necessarily surprises -- at least, not compared to Pedro Beato. A Rule 5 pick, the hard-throwing Beato began the season as the last man out of the bullpen but has quickly emerged as arguably the Mets' most reliable reliever. Through 12 innings, Beato has yet to allow an earned run, has struck out eight and boasts a 0.75 WHIP. Perhaps most impressive, the youngster is now being called upon in high-leverage, late-inning situations.
--Joe Janish, Mets Today

Bastardo
Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies' most pleasant surprise has been Antonio Bastardo. As Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero and Jose Contreras succumbed to injury, Bastardo emerged as a legitimate late-innings option, striking out 15 and allowing just one run in 10 1/3 innings.
--Bill Baer, Crashburn Alley

Washington Nationals
Wilson Ramos has been the Nats' pleasant (yet probably unsustainable) surprise. He is hitting a cool .375/.426/.563, while playing acceptably behind the plate, gunning down three of eight attempted base stealers. Given that he has a batting average on balls in play of around .450, he's sure to cool off a lot, but we're grateful for each additional day he keeps the corpse of Pudge Rodriguez from getting up to bat.
--Harper Gordek, Nationals Baseball

Chicago Cubs
Darwin Barney came into spring training fighting to make the roster. One month into the season, he’s a viable No. 2 hitter in the lineup and deserving of the spot on the All-Star ballot Blake DeWitt is hoarding.
--Joe Aiello, View from the Bleachers

Gomes
Cincinnati Reds
The plate discipline shown by Jonny Gomes has been the most pleasant surprise, by far. Gomes has drawn 19 walks in the first month (second in the league, behind teammate Joey Votto), after walking only 39 times in the entire 2010 season. Because of Gomes' patience, his OPS remains over .900, despite a batting average hovering around the Mendoza line.
--Chad Dotson, Redleg Nation

Houston Astros
As the last-place team in the NL Central, there's been very little for the Astros to be pleasantly surprised about. But for the team that won one series in April (a distinction the Mets would rather forget), its lone pleasant surprise is Brett Wallace, who is hitting great despite having the unfortunate situation of being sandwiched between Carlos Lee and Bill Hall. He leads the team in batting average (.373), on-base percentage (.441) and slugging (.518).
--Austin Swafford, Austin's Astros 290 Blog

Milwaukee Brewers
The best surprise for the Brewers is they're 12-12 despite Zack Greinke not making a start, Corey Hart missing nearly the entire month and the bullpen leading the majors with seven losses. They can thank the hot starts of Ryan Braun (.356/.454/.689), Prince Fielder (leading the NL with 23 RBIs) and Rickie Weeks (21 runs scored).
--David Schoenfield

Morton
Pittsburgh Pirates
In five starts, Charlie Morton already has as many wins as he did in 2010, and his ERA is 60 percent lower. Don't buy into it, though. His 18:18 strikeout-to-walk ratio is highly troubling, and his .253 BABIP is completely unsustainable, even though he's getting 2.25 grounders for every fly ball so far. The Pirates will have to hope the coming regression is accompanied by a return to form for James McDonald, who has been terrible.
--The Common Man, The Platoon Advantage

St. Louis Cardinals
When the Cardinals lost ace Adam Wainwright for the season, the pressure suddenly shifted to their starting rotation. In particular, to Kyle Lohse, the righty who made only 40 starts in the two seasons since signing a hefty 4-year, $41 million contract extension. Given that from 2009-10 his ERA was indistinguishable from his strikeout rate (though, to be fair, his expected Fielding Independent Pitching was much lower), expectations were tempered. So his 2011 campaign thus far -- five Wainwright-like starts with an ERA of 1.64 -- has been the most pleasant surprise for the Cardinals. He is inducing ground balls like never before (48.6 percent) and limiting self-inflicted damage with a walk rate (1.17 walks per nine innings) that Cliff Lee would be proud of. And he's tied for fourth among NL pitchers in Wins Above Replacement.
--Matt Philip, Fungoes.net

Arizona Diamondbacks
Bright spots are fairly few and far between for the D-backs. The starting pitching has been atrocious, but the hitters have proven solid. The most shocking performance has been from Ryan Roberts, a minor league lifer who has seemingly taken over the third-base job by hitting .311/.408/.607 through 20 games. It's not a mirage. Roberts is a legitimate hitter, and as long as his defense holds up, he'll be a very productive and cheap option for the near future.
--The Common Man, The Platoon Advantage

Colorado Rockies
Where in the world did Jonathan Herrera (.317/.442/.429) come from? The 26-year-old has never really done anything like this before and is a good bet to regress. Still, he's done a terrific job of making up for the disappointing, but totally predictable, performances of Ty Wigginton (.233/.309/.383) and Jose Lopez (.143/.169/.254).
--The Common Man, The Platoon Advantage

Kemp
Los Angeles Dodgers
The return -- and then some -- of Matt Kemp has been the biggest surprise. Even though he has tapered off in his past 10 games, going 10-for-41 with 15 strikeouts, he still has walked six times in that stretch and has had a superb start overall (1.072 OPS). One question is whether his walks reflect better plate discipline or the horrors of the Dodgers lineup after his spot in the order.
--Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts

San Diego Padres
In a month of unpleasant surprises, one exception for San Diego has been the performance of catcher Nick Hundley. After splitting duties with veterans Henry Blanco and Yorvit Torrealba the past two seasons, Hundley has assumed a larger role this year and responded. He is hitting .286/.356/.481 and providing the bulk of what little offense the Padres have been able to muster.
--Geoff Young, Ducksnorts

San Francisco Giants
The Giants' most pleasant surprise is this: They're still around .500 despite going through a month bereft of actual pleasant surprises. That's not to say the Giants haven't had good performances, but what's been good hasn't been surprising and what's been surprising hasn't been good. Pablo Sandoval shouldn't surprise anyone when he hits .330 in a month; he'll do that. Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum have played well, yes. They're good, you know. The bad surprises on the other hand: a bushel of injuries, month-long slumps from key regulars and defense that has had fans saying to each other, "You know, I don't think that fellow can really play that position."
--Otis Anderson, Bay City Ball
Eric and Keith discuss some big issues on Wednesday's Baseball Today podcast , including:
  • Joe Mauer's value as a catcher and whether the Twins should move him to a new position.
  • Is Josh Johnson the most dominant pitcher right now? Would you take Johnson or Roy Halladay?
  • Keith says the Indians aren't making the playoffs and aren't the Padres of last season.
  • Who should close for the Cardinals?
  • Ian Stewart sent to the minors and thoughts on Jonathan Herrera hitting well.
  • Eric is upset with the Mets designating Brad Emaus for assignment.
  • Plus: Wrapping up the Carl Crawford debate, the 20-80 scale for scouts, Jason Varitek and a preview of Wednesday's game.
Maybe we'll make this a regular Monday feature. I'll spend a few minutes and report back with some of the interesting nuggets that pop out to me.
  • I love looking at a hitter's walk-to-strikeout ratio early on because I think it's indicator on whether a player has had a good approach or is just on a hot streak. Matt Kemp is hitting .474/.545/.719 and has more walks (9) than strikeouts (8). That's a big change from a guy who had a 170/53 SO/BB ratio in 2010. Look, Kemp could go backwards the first week the hits don't start falling and start swinging at pitches out of the zone, but so far the improvement looks real.
  • Who is Jonathan Herrera and why is he hitting .400? Colorado's little second baseman (5-foot-9, 150 pounds) is winning the everyday job from Jose Lopez ... and deserves to. Lopez is a bad major league baseball player. Herrera has 11 walks against only three strikeouts and is 4-for-4 in stolen bases. Lopez played 150 games last year and drew 23 walks. Herrera never walked much in the minors, so I'm not sure if this is a new skill or a two-week fluke.
  • One last note here: Troy Tulowitzki is starting to receive a lot more respect from pitchers. He had a 48/78 BB/SO ratio in 2010, but is already at 14/5 this season. It's no surprise that the Rockies lead the NL in walks so far.
  • American League teams averaged 4.45 runs per game in 2010, the lowest average since 4.32 in 1992. So far, scoring is down again, to 4.33 runs per game. Home runs aren't down that much (and are higher than 1992), but the league average is just .247. The AL hasn't hit that low since a .239 mark in 1972 -- the last season before the designated hitter rule.
  • A lot of people pointed to a high BABIP (batting average on balls in play) as a reason Detroit's second-year center fielder Austin Jackson was unlikely to repeat his excellent rookie season (.293/.345/.400). So far they've been proved right, as Jackson continues to whiff at astronomical rates (19 K's in 65 PA's) and is hitting just .175. The Tigers don't really have another good center-field option, as Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn are best suited for left field.
  • Good news for the White Sox: Carlos Quentin is mashing again, with nine doubles and three homers through 15 games. If Quentin can approach his 2008 numbers, when he was an MVP candidate before getting injured early in September, that lineup looks even more dangerous.
  • Have pitchers figured out Brett Gardner? His basic plan last year was "don't swing." He worked that approach for 79 walks and a .383 OBP. This season, he's hitting .140/.213/.209 with four walks and 14 strikeouts. With no power, pitchers may as well throw him strikes.
  • Ryan Franklin and Matt Thornton each have four blown saves already. The single-season record is 14, shared by five pitchers -- Bruce Sutter, Bob Stanley, Gerry Staley, Rollie Fingers and Ron Davis. But those guys did that in a different time, when the closer often came in in the seventh or eighth inning. The most blown saves since 2000 is Ambiorix Burgos of the 2006 Royals. Wow, his numbers that year were pretty astonishing: 16 home runs allowed in 73 innings. Some of those blown saves came as a setup man. Brad Lidge had 11 blown saves in 2009 for the Phillies and Huston Street had 11 for the A's in 2006.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.

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