Early Returns on the 2024 MLB Season

April 5, 2024

Early Returns on the 2024 MLB Season

Baseball has been officially back for a week, and it’s time to break down some of the expected, the unexpected, and the downright surprising. We’re not going to waste much time here – let’s get right into it.

The Dodgers are 6-2, featuring one of the league’s most explosive batting orders and one of the most anticipated seasons for Dodgers fans in recent memory. Yet everything is slightly tainted by the ongoing Shohei Ohtani gambling scandal. For baseball, this is nearly a worst-case scenario already. One of their biggest stars, someone who was seemingly never in the spotlight outside of his insane gifts on-the-field, has now been involved in a gambling scandal. It’s a complicated situation, involving allegations of theft (of millions of dollars) by his now-former translator, not to mention accusations of fraud, statements being made and then retracted and revised, and a litany of mixed motives. 

Last week, Huddle’s VP of Trading Paul Moen referenced the insanity of the ongoing situation during a hypothetical: “Shohei Ohtani spent all of Wednesday night at the sportsbook and had a slip/fall accident in the bathroom, where he injured his back and right elbow. I know, this situation is ludicrous.” He’s not wrong – the situation is borderline absurd. But that was one of the potential pitfalls that the MLB knew was looming when it opened up to sports gambling. Players have always had to walk a tight line when it comes to sports betting. The Ohtani situation shows how blurry that line may have become. 

But it’s not all bad news. Some of the most unexpected things are the early season wins by the Pittsburgh Pirates (5-0) and Detroit Tigers (4-0). The Tigers haven’t lost yet, despite Spencer Torkelson (.176 BA), Javier Baez (.188 BA) and Riley Greene (.067 BA) hitting well below replacement-player levels. The reason that’s worked? The Tigers have received electric pitching performances from Jack Flaherty (7 K’s, 1 ER in his first start), Tarik Skubal (6 K’s, 0 ER in his first start) and Reese Olson (3 K’s, 2 BB’s, 0 ER in his first start). 

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates are relying on a series of contributions from some expected names and some unexpected ones. They have five players batting .315 or better to start the year, led by Michael A. Taylor’s absurd .471 batting average. Taylor, on his fourth team since 2020, has never hit better than .271, so regression is expected. But the Pirates should ride the wave right now, as he has 8 hits in 17 at-bats to kick off this season. 

And as if we were going to forget this… the very first article I ever wrote for Huddle was about Domingo German’s perfect game last season. So it feels fitting to mention that the Houston Astros threw a no-hitter in their first win of the season. Houston became only the fourth MLB team ever to get their first win of the season via a no-no, and the first team since the 2001 Boston Red Sox. The Astros pitcher who accomplished the feat, Ronel Blanco, did so in his eighth career start. Wild!

Now I know some of you might be wondering if any of this is sustainable. I think the Ohtani situation will get worked out sooner, rather than later. If he is found to have had any connection to gambling and placing the bets himself, it’s safe to assume his career is over. I do not think the Pirates and Tigers will finish 162-0. I don’t think Michael A. Taylor, career journeyman, will finish with the best single-season batting average since Tetelo Vargas (who finished batting .471 in a 30-game stint in 1943 for the New York Cubans). I also don’t think the Astros will finish 27-135, with all 27 wins coming via no-hitter. 

What I do think is that this is going to be a season for the ages, and you don’t want to miss any of the action (unless you’re a translator for Shohei Ohtani).