This is the first 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.
In today’s installment, we look at how Derek Jeter has somehow become underrated; how Adrian Beltre is putting himself on a fast track to Cooperstown; how Ryan Braun is, well, Ryan Braun; how Fernando Rodney has been downright Eckersley-esque; and much, much more.
Adrian Beltre: Future First Ballot HoFer?
With yesterday’s 3-homer game, Adrian Beltre remains firmly on pace to hit .295+ with at least 28 home runs and 100 RBIs for the third straight year. Once the poster child for untapped offensive potential, Beltre has become a staple of consistency as he’s cemented himself as one of the game’s elite players.
As improbable as it once seemed, it shouldn’t be long before we’re talking about Beltre as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Beltre’s year-to-date stats leave him on pace to finish the season with over 2,200 career hits and around 340 home runs, which realistically puts him about 5 years away from 3,000 hits and 6 years away from 500 home runs.
Given that (1) Beltre is one of the top defensive players at a position which allows for greater longevity than is typically the case (see: Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken, Chipper Jones…); (2) Beltre is at the top of his game offensively and showing no signs of slowing down; and (3) Beltre has proven remarkably durable throughout his 15-year major league career, Beltre has a very realistic chance of becoming just the 5th member of the 3,000 hit / 500 home run club.
But unlike my membership with AAA, I don’t think being part of that club gets you discounts to stay in the Comfort Inn…
After hitting his third home run in as many games, Derek Jeter (.324/13/43) has continued to defy his critics, his age, and the physics of a fundamentally sound inside-out swing.
Remember when people were upset that he “undeservedly” made the AL all-star team? Even Jeter’s heavily scrutinized “lack of range” at shortstop has been better than advertised as his current range factor is actually .12 HIGHER than his gold-glove winning 2010 season.
And while I don’t mean to suggest that Jeter is an elite-fielding shortstop at this point of his career, his defensive metrics appear to vindicate him from the misconception that his fielding is going downhill. At best, his fielding is actually improving, and at worst it remains consistent (albeit underwhelming).
Ryan Braun continued his MVP-caliber campaign last night after going 3-for-4 with his NL leading 34th home run, which pushed his NL-leading RBI total to 84 and his batting average to .308. It is also notable that Braun’s current OPS of .986 is just .08 away from the .994 figure of his 2011 MVP season.
Braun’s critics may continue to stigmatize him for the murky details concerning his overturned suspension athis past offseason, but the bottom line is that actions speak louder than words and Braun’s “actions” at the dish have him on pace to hit a career high, 45 home runs this season.
At what point do we start talking about Fernando Rodney as a legitimate Cy Young candidate in the AL?
Until the beginning of this season, Rodney was known primarily as a stop-gap option at closer, which is precisely what the Rays had in mind when they signed him. The idea was that he would be an experienced and serviceable option in the 9th inning until Kyle Farnsworth was healthy enough to reclaim the role.
It appears, however, that Rodney had other plans.
Rodney’s stats are almost incomprehensible: 0.78 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, an almost 6-to-1 K/BB ratio, and an MLB-leading 38 saves. And Rodney’s saves have been of the utmost importance to the Rays, who despite sporting one of the AL’s most deficient offenses, have been able to maintain a continuous lead in the AL wild card race thanks to Rodney’s late inning dominance.
The last time an AL closer won the Cy Young Award was in 1992 when Dennis Eckersley posted a 1.91 ERA and an 0.91 WHIP–numbers that are pedestrian compared to Rodney’s current stats.
Eckersly also won the MVP that year…with far inferior numbers. Just saying…
Cain Not Able in August
Lorenzo Cain’s horrific August dragged forward yesterday as he went hitless (yet again) in 4 at bats to lower his batting average to .255 and his on base percentage to a cringe-worthy .299.
After hitting .302 in July, Cain appeared to finally be living up to his sizable talent and was dubbed by Kansas City media as a future fixture in the Royals outfield. But ultimately Cain’s July, which featured only 63 at bats, appears to have been an outlier. Through 72 August at bats, Cain is sporting an alarmingly low .599 OPS.
Cain’s future with the Royals will likely come down to his September performance. KC fans can only hope that, at the very least, Cain is able to maintain an OPS that is higher than that of an average utlility infielder.
Yu Better Recognize Hisashi Iwakuma
Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma has been nothing short of brilliant through the month of August and last night’s start was no exception.
Iwakuma, who gave up only 1 ER over 5.2 innings last night, lowered his August ERA to 2.55 and has seemingly solidified the #3 spot in the Mariners rotation behind King Felix and Jason Vargas.
Oh, you haven’t heard of Hisashi? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
The 31-year old Japanese “rookie,” who didn’t make his first major league start until July 2nd, has been a pleasant surprise to the Mariners through his first 9 major league starts. He has put together a 3.02 ERA, pitched at least 5 innings in every start, and given up more than 3 runs just once. It’s not a stretch to say that he’s been better than Yu Darvish for two months now and may prove to be a fixture in the M’s rotation for years to come.
He also comes a little bit cheaper than Darvish…by about $100 million dollars or so…
Real Deal Ruggiano
Those of you who are waiting for Justin Ruggiano to turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight (or September) might need to reconsider their position.
After hitting his 12th homer for the Miami Guillens (I mean Marlins) yesterday, Ruggiano is now hitting a robust .328 to go along with 12 HRs, 10 SBs, and an over 1000 OPS through his first 192 at bats.
Just how good has Ruggiano been? Despite spending the first two months of the season in the minors, Ruggiano still has an outside shot to finish the season with 20 home runs and 20 SBs.
But even if Ruggiano only ends up a member of the 10/10 club, consider this: as of today, only 40 MLB players currently have at least ten home runs and at least 10 stolen bases. But whereas those 40 batters are averaging 400+ ABs a piece, Ruggiano has yet to even reach 200.
And for those of you who are skeptical that Ruggiano will be able to sustain his offensive prowess, I suggest looking at his minor league stats.
In 6 AAA seasons, dating back to 2007, Ruggiano has hit .291 with an 844 OPS and has stolen 110 bases. And in the 39 games with the Marlins AAA affiliate in Oklahoma City before Ruggiano’s call up, he was hitting .325 with a 990 OPS.
So while many baseball analysts may peg Ruggiano as a “late-bloomer,” the reality is that Ruggiano has been good for quite some time. He just needed needed an opportunity.
And speaking of “late-blooming” National League outfielders standing 6 foot 2 or taller and having career years…
Garrett Jones has seemingly recaptured the magic of his storybook 2009 season in which he hit over 20 home runs despite only playing in the final 82 games of the season. Jones, whose year-to-date triple slash of .287/21/69 is nothing to sneeze at, has been downright lethal since the beginning of June. He’s hit a scorching .313 to go along with 16 home runs and 54 RBI.
Make no mistake about it: Jones is a big reason why the Pirates have stuck around in the thick of the NL Pennant race, and they’ll need him to keep producing at a high level if they expect to make their first postseason appearance since 1992.
No Middling From Medlen
After shutting down the surging Nationals last night, Kris Medlen moved to 4-0 as a starter through his first 5 starts this season. But as impressive as Medlen’s 0.83 ERA as a starter has been, it seems far too early to anoint Medlen as the team’s future ace after just 32 innings, right?
Medlen, who sat out most of 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery the year prior, was also successful in his stint as a starter during the 2010 season where he compiled a 5-0 record and a respectable 3.86 ERA. Thus, over his past 19 starts (and 110+ innings), Medlen has gone 9-0 with a 3.01 ERA.
And with a four pitch arsenal that constantly keeps hitters off balance thanks to great arm action and constantly changing pitch-speeds, there’s no reason Medlen can’t continue pitching like an ace. Atlanta certainly hopes he will as their postseason success may depend on it.
Scotty Pods Keeps On Hitting, Stealing
It boggles my mind that Scott Podsednik has so much trouble finding consistent MLB playing time.
With 5 hits in his last 9 ABs, the “Podfather” is now hitting .370 on the year with 7 stolen bases through his first 92 ABs. But it’s not like this should come as any sort of surprise. Despite bouncing around between 6 MLB teams since 2009, and spending the entire 2011 season toiling away at AAA, Scotty-P has hit an impressive .306 over his last 1,168 at bats with 72 stolen bases.
Maybe next year he’ll finally be able to find a semi-permanent home, or at least a guaranteed major league contract.
What other recent MLB performances have stood out to you?