This is the second installment of a new regular series that will run during the baseball season. It will highlight superlative or strikingly underwhelming performances that you may not realize are occurring. (Read last week’s edition here.)
In today’s installment, we look at the incredible second half being turned in by King Felix; the quick big league flameout of Orioles’ phenom Manny Machado; the resurgence of Nate McClouth; the mix bag of results turned in by Carlos Gomez; and why a baseball legend should probably sit the bench for his playoff-contending team when he returns from injury.
A King Without a Crown?
After hurling his 3rd complete game shutout in his last 5 starts, King Felix has vaulted himself into the thick of the AL Cy Young race.
Over the last 4 years, few things in life have been more predictable than Felix being among the AL’s best as the MLB calender rolls into September.
In fact, off the top of my head, the only two “more predictable things” I could come up with were 1) Amanda Bynes getting into a hit-and-run (she’s been in 3 since April) and 2) Carlton wearing a tacky sweater-vest at least once during each episode of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”.
Felix’s current stats are certainly Cy worthy:
- 13- 5
- 2.43 ERA
- 1.03 WHIP
- 184 Ks
But as good as these stats seem, they fail to capture the essence of how special Felix has been this year. So let me give you some “other” stats:
- Since 2000, only one pitcher has more complete game shutouts than the 5 Felix has amassed this year (Cliff Lee, 2011).
- Felix’s 3 complete game shutouts in the month of August are the most by any pitcher in a single month since 2000.
- Of Felix’s 5 complete game shutouts, 4 have come in games in which he has only gotten either 1 or 2 runs of support.
- And while we’re on the subject of poor run support, it’s significant to note that in 10 of Felix’s 27 starts the Mariners have failed to score more than 2 runs. More significant however are Felix’s statistics in those 10 starts: 4-2, 1.01 ERA, .87 WHIP, and 9.3 K/9. Not since Leonidas valiantly took on a Persian army that outnumbered his own by as many as a million men has a King performed so admirably with so little support.
- Since the All-Star break, Felix has been the best pitcher in baseball by a large margin. His second half stats are: 7-0. 1.23 ERA, 0.69 WHIP.
Over the next month, plenty of baseball experts will argue that David Price’s statistics are analogous to Felix Hernandez, and therefore he should be considered in the same light as the king.
I couldn’t disagree more.
While the King pitches his best with his back against the wall, Price hasn’t exactly been money with a lack of run support. In his 6 starts with 2 runs or less of support, Price is 0-3 with an ERA, WHIP, and K/BB rate that are all worse than his season totals
The King has also been able to pitch deeper into games than Price. On average, Felix has been able to pitch into the 8th inning whereas Price has generally only made it into the 7th. While this is a statistic that won’t get much (if any) recognition, you can bet that Eric Wedge cares a whole lot more about Felix’s 7+ innings per game than Joe Madden cares about Price’s 16 wins.
The bottom line is that while Price might indeed be the most important pitcher on a superior team, Hernandez has been the vastly more important pitcher to his team.
Just something to remember in case the Rays clinch the wildcard and you’re watching a segment on baseball tonight about why David Price should be the AL Cy Young.
Machado (About Nothing)
When the Baltimore Orioles’ 19-year old top prospect Manny Machado received a surprise August call-up, the comparisons to Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez began flying in. As it turns out, Machado’s play has indeed resembled a former 3B on the Yankees–the light-hitting Scott Brosius.
After going 6-16 (.375) with 3 home runs and 7 RBIs over the first 4 games of his major league career, Machado has come back down to earth in a big way. Machado has only 9 hits in his past 50 at bats (.180) with no home runs and only 3 RBI.
With Wilson Betemit nearing a return from a 15-day DL stint, it would appear that Machado’s days are numbered as the Orioles starting 3B.
Better luck next year, Manny…
On (M)cLouth 9
While Machado–an Orioles top prospect–has struggled to live up to the lofty expectations set for him, a former top prospect–Nate McLouth–has done exactly the opposite for the Orioles.
McLouth, a former All-Star CF who seemed destined for stardom after putting together a 20-20 season in 2008, found himself toiling away in the minors earlier this season after hitting only .228 in over 1,000 at bats since his All-Star campaign.
Called up by the Orioles in early August to serve as the team’s 4th outfielder, McClouth has inexplicably recaptured some of the magic that made him one of the MLB’s most promising young players just 4 years ago. In the process, he has cemented himself as the Orioles’ starting left fielder for their stretch run (and possibly for next year as well).
In the 21 August games McLouth has started, the Orioles have gone 15-6; and make no mistake, McLouth is a big reason why. Over that 21-game period, McLouth is hitting .267 with 8 extra base hits, 6 steals, and 14 runs scored. He has been particularly hot of late, hitting .297 over his last 10 games with 2 HR, 7 RBI, 3 SB, and 10 runs scored (including runs in 9 of his last 10 games). In short, he has been a godsend to an Orioles offense, which has been among the AL’s worst all season.
Based on McLouth’s defensive metrics, he’s been even better defensively than he has been offensively, with a range factor per 9 innings that is .2 higher than the league average for corner outfielders (which is a sizable margin).
So while I can’t believe I’m saying this, the Orioles playoff chances may be directly correlated with McLouth’s ability to keep playing at a high level. And while that doesn’t exactly seem likely, it still seems far more likely than Baltimore being three games out of first in the AL east going into September with a -44 run differential.
The Next Member of the 30-50 Club?
Meanwhile in Milwaukee, Carlos Gomez is finally showing signs of living up to the sizable potential that once made him the centerpiece of a trade for Johan Santana (in Santana’s prime).
While Gomez’s year-to-date statistics are nothing to write home about, his production since the All Star break is startlingly good. In only 141 at bats since the mid-summer classic, Gomez is hitting .284 with 9 HRs, 20 RBI, and 16 SB. If Gomez were able to produce anywhere near this level as a full time starter, we’d be talking about him as a guy who could very realistically become only the 3rd member of the 30 HR, 50 SB club (the other two being Eric Davis and Barry Bonds).
But these stats should also be taken with a grain of salt.
Despite how productive Gomez has been over his last 141 at bats, he is still striking out too frequently (29 K’s in his past 141 AB) and getting on base too infrequently (.329 OBP). 120+ Ks and a .330 OBP sound dangerously similar to the statistics of another former 5-tool top prospect who hit leadoff and played centerfield–Corey Patterson. I don’t mean that as a compliment…
Taking a page out of the Matthew Berry playbook I’m going to list the statistics of two players who play the same position on the same team. Based solely on these statistics, I want you to consider which player is having a better year:
- Player A (229 AB): .293, 13 HR, 32 RBI, .857 OPS
- Player B (352 AB): .276, 15 HR, 44 RBI, .806 OPS
And here are some other facts to consider:
- Player A has started 2/3rds of his team’s games in August and in 59 ABs during that time period, he is hitting .373 with an OPS over 1.000.
- Player A has been a much better fielder than Player B this year based based on their relative fielding percentages and range factors per nine innings–MUCH better…
- Player A has been a much better fielder than Player B over the course of each of their relative careers. In fact, Player A is a 6-time former gold-glove winner.
Given these statistics and facts, I don’t think its a stretch to assert that Team X would be better off with Player A starting over Player B. In fact, based on everything I’ve told you, you’d be a fool to think differently. But here’s the thing, if you walked up to any self-proclaimed baseball fan on the street and asserted that Player A should be starting over Player B (and you used their actual identities), you’d probably be laughed at.
That’s because Player B is Alex Rodriguez who is widely considered to be one of the top 5 players of all time, and Player A is Eric Chavez, an injury-prone veteran who hasn’t had a truly productive season since 2005.
But facts are facts and this season, the Yankees have simply been a better team with Chavez in the lineup. With Mark Texiera’s recent injury, there will be room for both of them in the lineup for the foreseeable future, but when the postseason rolls around and Texiera has recovered from his pulled calf, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Chavez getting the bulk of PT at 3B for the Yankees. You shouldn’t be either.