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
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
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.