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Where Kyle Lewis’ hot start ranks among Mariner rookies

Nothing like Bryan LaHair to really put things in perspective

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics
I wonder if my current level of production is sustainable or if I am merely—hey, shut up, brain. I’m Jeremey F’n Reed.

It’s been three games but admit it, you’re curious. I am curious and I am a fan, like you, and a person, probably like you as well. Kyle Lewis hit three home runs in his first three games, tying Trevor Story (kind of, he hit 4) for an MLB record, and we want to know more about that. That sounds very impressive. However, in order to see where that ranks, I wanted to take a step into the WayBackDepressionMachine to find the answer. Let us gently pull aside the Curtain of Time and view what lies behind.

Mariners Rookies First Three Games

Using Baseball Reference, I sorted by Mariners players’ first 3 games with 10 PAs or more—weeding out the Andrew Albers and such. This is what we find.

First Three Games by OPS

Name Year PA AB H 2B 3B HR OPS WPA
Name Year PA AB H 2B 3B HR OPS WPA
Bucky Jacobson 2004 13 8 5 0 0 2 2.144 0.3
Kyle Lewis 2019 11 11 5 1 0 3 1.818 0.6
Alvin Davis 1984 12 8 3 0 0 2 1.708 0.6
Kenji Johjima 2006 13 11 4 0 0 2 1.371 0.3
Tino Martinez 1990 13 11 5 1 0 0 1.084 0.3
Julio Cruz 1977 13 10 5 0 0 0 1.083 0
Mike Carp 2009 10 7 3 0 0 0 1.029 0.1
Dustin Ackley 2011 11 11 3 1 1 1 1,000 0.1
Mike Zunino 2013 11 10 3 0 1 1 0.964 0.2
Noted baseball player Bucky Jacobson Baseball Reference

Definitely some names in here. Kyle Lewis comes in second for his hot start only to Bucky Jacobson. Bucky had the opposite injury path as Kyle, having a great year in the PCL in 2004 (even winning the PCL Home Run Derby with Tacoma) and, after his call up, smashed 9 home runs in his 160 ABs before he injured his knee, which ultimately derailed his career.

The other assortment is a promising collection of names from Mariners past. Dustin Ackley and Mike Zunino? Oh boy I spent a lot of energy trying to make them good using only my cheers. Mr. Mariner? Acceptable-catcher Kenji Johjima? Mike Carp baseball player?

Just for fun, if we sort by Win Probability Added (which captures a players contribution to a team win), the list includes many of these same names above, except Alvin Davis and Kyle Lewis tie for first with .6 WPA. Kyle Lewis’ late home runs have made him the most impactful Mariner in history through his first three games. Cool!

Now let’s take a look at a slightly larger sample of First Impressions to see what Kyle Lewis would have to do to top that list.

Mariners Rookies First Ten Games

Same song different verse, this is sorted with a cut off of 30 PAs, or an average of 3 per game. Some notable cutoffs include Willie Bloomquist (29 PAs, 1.152 OPS), Wladimir Balentien (29 PAs, 1.025 OPS), and James Jones (27 PAs, .983 OPS). Oh, the memories. They are painful.

First Ten Games by OPS

Name Year PA AB H 2B 3B HR OPS WPA
Name Year PA AB H 2B 3B HR OPS WPA
Alvin Davis 1984 43 38 14 5 0 5 1.258 1.7
Bucky Jacobson 2004 43 34 9 0 0 4 1.036 0.2
Kenji Johjima 2006 38 33 11 3 0 2 1.027 0.6
Jose Cruz 1997 38 37 12 3 0 3 0.991 0.1
Edgar Martinez 1987 33 31 11 4 1 3 0.942 0.1
Jeremy Reed 2004 33 31 13 2 0 0 0.938 0.2
Dustin Ackley 2011 37 33 10 1 2 1 0.924 0.6
Mike Morse 2005 33 29 11 0 1 0 0.903 0
Bryan LaHair 2008 30 28 9 0 0 2 0.902 0

Alvin Davis had a hell of a rookie campaign (5.2 fWAR), we all know this, but it’s wild to see how quickly he made an impact on the league. His 1.7 WPA in ten games is first on this list by unbelievable margin. We can also see that the top three non-Kyle Lewis players (Davis, Jacobson, Johjima) hung on to their top spots, most of the others not named Dustin fell off. Others, like Jeremy Reed and Bryan LaHair, who started about as poorly as possible, quickly made up ground to raise the hopes of the M’s fanbase perilously high. It’s a sample size of 30 PAs. It’s bound to be goofy.

Yet, I am surprised at just how these names stick in my memory—these are names Mariners fans know. These are the names you guess on a Sporcle quiz before fizzling out. This list now features Edgar Martinez, which provides it instant credibility.

If Kyle Lewis wanted to remain on this leaderboard (who wouldn’t want to share a leaderboard with Bryan LaHair?) he’d need to keep his OPS from dropping more than 876 points. With the start he had it will make it easier for him. He would only need 2 more home runs to equal Alvin Davis in a tie for first through the first ten games. That’s impressive, in a way.

Hot starts by rookie position players does not tell us is the shape or trajectory of their careers. I thought Dustin Ackley was not the best Mariner of my adult life. Edgar Martinez was not a below average third baseman. Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez had OPSs of .664 and .589 respectively to start off their big league careers. The first three or ten games of a career tells us almost nothing about the future.

Yet when I look at the list of best Mariner debuts, I am flooded with memories. Visions of Ackley line drives, Johjima pulled dingers, Morse being weirdly tall. Before they failed, each was invincible. Even though Carp never became a Trout or a Salmon, I remember watching his at bats eagerly waiting for him to ascend into something more. Hoping.

Three games won’t tell the story of Kyle Lewis’ career. Three games? That doesn’t predict anything except that I will remember his debut years from now. But feeling hope in the face of that fact? That’s baseball.