Hot April can be inconsistent indicator for players

Hot April can be inconsistent indicator for players

April is a strange month for baseball's stats junkies.

When it comes to players off to unusually torrid starts, the sample size is far too small to know whether the numbers mark the beginning of a breakout season or a statistical anomaly that will regress back to the mean by season's end.

Past Aprils have produced both ends of the spectrum.

Detroit's Chris Shelton hit nine homers in the first 13 games in 2006, but his production fell off and he was eventually demoted to the Minors. Zack Greinke, on the other hand, pitched a scoreless April for the Royals in '09, and he went on to one of the best seasons for any pitcher in the past decade.

This year, we've seen several breakout candidates emerge, but we're equally unclear as to how they'll finish. Still, it's worth appreciating the historic starts to the season from some of the players who have conquered the baseball mystery that is early April.

Orioles infielder Chris Davis hit homers in each of his club's first four games, a feat that puts him in the same company as Willie Mays, Mark McGwire and Nelson Cruz -- the only others to do so. Davis also became the first player in the live-ball era to notch 19 RBIs in his team's first nine games.

"I feel like that's really my role on the team -- to drive in runs," Davis said. "You can't do that without guys getting on base in front of you. I've been very fortunate the first few games to come up with guys on second and third."

Obviously, Davis, 27, won't reach the 257 RBIs he's projected for at his current pace. But it remains to be seen whether the lifetime .261 hitter, who has never knocked in more than 85 runs, will entrench himself as a consistently reliable run producer in the O's lineup.

The same question has arisen with Mets catcher John Buck, whose 19 RBIs set a new record for the most in the first 10 games with a new team.

"Right now, you're almost starting to take it for granted," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "When you need a big hit, he's going to get it, and he's going to drive in runs when he gets his hit. It's just amazing. It's one night after the next. While he's hot, you ride it."

The 32-year-old Buck is producing at a pace unparalleled by any in his career, during which he has only driven in more than 50 runs twice and never more than 66.

"I'm benefiting from last year when I tried too hard," Buck said. "Now I'm just going up there and trying to hit the ball solid, and good things are happening."

Mets starter Matt Harvey, Buck's battery mate, has been enjoying similar success in the pitching department. He was recently named National League Player of the Week for a week in which he outdueled Roy Halladay, then no-hit the Twins into the seventh inning.

Harvey became the first pitcher in the last 100 years to win each of his first three starts, while striking out at least 25 hitters and allowing only six hits.

Harvey's success may be grounded in a bit of reality. He was the Mets' most highly touted pitching prospect heading into the season, and thus far, it looks as though all the pundits were right about him. Of course, the season remains very, very young, as we so often forget in April.

Milwaukee's Jean Segura, who similarly received high praise before his 2012 debut, is also a youngster off to a quick start and showing big-time promise for the future. His .417 batting average leads the Majors.

Tampa Bay's Matt Moore is yet another, as he has not allowed a run in two starts. In the NL, 25-year-old Mike Minor has allowed just one run in his two outings.

Offensively, Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario (.361, four homers) and Pirates outfielder Starling Marte (.370 average and a league-leading 20 hits) are youngsters off to equally hot starts.

And it's not just the young guns -- as evidenced by Buck and Davis. We've seen similar early-season form from others like, St. Louis' Jake Westbrook (no earned runs allowed in 15 2/3 innings) and Atlanta's Paul Maholm (no earned runs allowed in 20 1/3 innings).

Last season, Colorado's Dexter Fowler set a career high with 13 home runs in 143 games. Well, he's almost halfway there in '13 with six long balls in 12 games.

Of course, none of the aforementioned players will come anywhere close to continuing the otherworldly paces they're currently setting for themselves. If they do, you can book their tickets to Cooperstown.

But just as certainly as some players will fall back to their modest preseason expectations, others will emerge as the breakout stories of 2013.

We've got five and a half months to sort out which is which.

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.