Are early season hitting stars real or mirage?

Marco Scutaro (shown) and Jason Bartlett lead all shortstops in OPS.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Have you looked at the hitting statistics for the first three weeks of the 2009 baseball season? Seven players hitting over .400, 29 batters over .350 and a whopping 39 hitters with an OPS over 1.000 led by Ian Kinsler with a stunning OPS of 1.398.

Now Kinsler, Kevin Youkilis (1.335) and Miguel Cabrera (1.325) you might have expected near the top of the list, but how about Raul Ibanez after changing leagues? Or Kosuke Fukudome who was a huge disappointment in his first season after starring in Japan?

Even Ibanez and Fukudome aren't as much of a surprise as Mike Cameron, Jason Bartlett, perennial slow starter Robinson Cano, Travis Hafner, Adam Lind or the immortal Marco Scutaro!

Bartlett and Scutaro lead all shortstops in OPS, which by the way, shows Jose Reyes fourth, Hanley Ramirez 10th and Jimmy Rollins 21st.

Scutaro, in his eighth year and on his third major league club (New York Mets 2002-03, Oakland 2004-07, Toronto 2008-current), has a lifetime OPS of .710 so I wouldn't expect this streak to continue, but you might as well ride it out to it's completion before finding another shortstop. Last season's numbers were pedestrian - 76 runs, seven HRs, 60 RBIs, batting .267 and an OPS of .697 in 517 at-bats.

Bartlett is in his second year with Tampa Bay after spending four seasons in Minnesota. He has 13 lifetime homers and 133 RBIs and like Scutaro has a career OPS around .700 (.711 to be exact).

So neither shortstop can be expected to continue to produce at the pace they have over their first 40+ at-bats.

On the other hand, Ibanez has a solid track record over the past seven years and should continue to produce in the Phillies lineup. Before the season began I was concerned about how he would fit into the Philadelphia lineup because of two major issues.

The first concern was that changing leagues and seeing pitchers for basically the first time (interleague play may show small glimpses of a pitcher, but it's nothing like seeing a team 18 times and getting to known their tendencies). Just remember how much Cabrera struggled last season in Detroit batting just .270 in April. Up until this year, Ibanez had spent his entire career in the American League.

My second concern was because the Phillies lineup is so "left-hand hitting oriented" that I thought he would struggle as opposing teams threw every lefty they had at the Phils lineup. Ibanez's career numbers show a distinct drop against lefties - batting 26 points lower (.268 - .294) and an OPS 121 points lower (.733 - .854). Interestingly, to date he has faced a lefty just four times in 48 at-bats.

As for Fukudome, I'm impressed that he has bounced back from a horrible 2008, but the jury is still out as far as I'm concerned. He also started last season very well, hitting .327 in April and .293 in May before his batting eye went into the toilet (June - .264, July - .236, August - .193, September - .178).

My advice to all who hold the rights to these guys, enjoy it while you can. Or possibly trade them now while their value is at it's peak, because the party won't last forever.

Raul IbanezPHI44121751010.3860.8641.302
Kosuke FukudomeCHC40101531010.3750.7501.230
Jason BartlettTB429182450.4290.6431.121
Marco ScutaroTOR53151541010.2830.5851.003

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