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Big League Stew

We’re Going Streaking! Adrian Gonzalez’s unbelievable June

Alex Remington
Big League Stew

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The Stew goes through the quad and into the gymnasium to look at some of the hottest players in baseball and their chances of keeping it going.

Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox

The Naked Truth: .359/.410/.609, 15 HR, 69 RBIs, 26 BB/54 K

Having a nice little Saturday: Adrian Gonzalez is stupid good at hitting. Everyone knew he was the best hitter on the free agent market, but no one quite knew that he would develop into the one of the top two hitters in the American League. (He's still a bit behind Jose Bautista, but there's really no one else in the league who comes remotely close to either of them.)

A-Gone's June has been particularly absurd: .447/.512/.803, with 23 RBI in 19 games. He's leading the majors in hits, doubles, RBI, batting average, and total bases. Is he out of his mind, or is this what happens when you replace PETCO with the Green Monster?{YSP:MORE}

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You're my boy, Blue!: The first thing that stands out is that his BABIP is .397, 81 points higher than his career average. It's not impossible for a hitter to sustain that for an entire season, but it's very unlikely, and the odds are good that his batting average will come back to earth as a few of his singles turn back into outs. But his power is not at all unexpected. His homer per flyball rate is almost exactly equal to his career rate, and his isolated power is just 25 points higher than his career rate. Both are eminently sustainable. His strikeouts are at exactly the level that they have been for the past two years.

The trouble is, his walks are actually way down. His walk rate is literally less than half of what it was in 2009, the best year of his career. Of course, it's hard to blame him for swinging rather than walking when the ball looks as big as a grapefruit, and plate discipline has never been a concern in the past: For his career, he has a walk rate well above league average. But this year he's making more contact than ever before, swinging and missing less than ever before, and relying on an extremely high batting average on balls in play. He's always been a successful hitter, but this year he's succeeding in a slightly different way, more by making contact and less by walking. When the BABIP starts to come down to career levels, Red Sox fans will have to hope that his walks will go back up to career levels. It's hard to complain about the walks when he's hitting well —but he won't keep hitting .447 forever, and it will be easier for him to keep getting on base if he controls the strike zone as well as he has in the past.

Think KFC will still be open?: Gonzalez is one of the best hitters in baseball, so it's no surprise that he's one of the best hitters in the American League. The diminished walk rate is likely a blip -- the overall hitting performance is not.

What other players are currently streaking?

Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox .327/.398/.603, 21 HR, 59 RBIs, 33 BB/45 K
Konerko just homered in five straight games from June 17-21, and he's batting .413/.486/.952 with 10 jacks this month. Last year was the best offensive performance of his career, and this year he's been even better. His BABIP is five points lower than it was last year — but it's still 35 points higher than his career average, because historically he's been a fairly low-BABIP hitter. His overall performance this year is exceptionally close to his performance last year — but last year was an anomaly in the context of his career, far better than he'd ever done before. And he was 34 then. He's 35 now. He's already shown that he can keep that up for an entire season. But, to put it mildly, hitters don't generally have the best performance of their career at age 34 and 35 and keep it up for very long. Konerko may be able to continue hitting at this clip. But sooner or later logic suggests that he'll return to his career averages, and then fall below them, because he's already in his mid-30s and is headed toward his late 30s with every passing day. He's a hell of a hitter right now, though.

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Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves .305/.380/.523, 13 HR, 43 RBIs, 30 BB/39
It's hard to avoid the conclusion: Brian McCann is the best catcher in baseball. That may seem unkind to say, as 2009 MVP Joe Mauer and 2010 Rookie of the Year Buster Posey have missed significant time due to injury. But in fact McCann is outhitting Posey and Mauer's performance from last year, when they were fully healthy. He's outhitting Carlos Santana, another of the best young catchers in baseball. A five-time All-Star (and reigning All-Star MVP), McCann has never been elected to start the Midsummer Classic, but it's hard to escape the conclusion that he will this year. His plate discipline and power are not that different from last year, or his career average, and his BABIP is a mere 13 points higher than his career average. He isn't performing that much better than he usually does, but during a year when offense is down throughout Major League Baseball, Brian McCann's usual is awfully good. He's been the best hitter and only consistent offensive force on the Braves, who nonetheless own the second-best record in the National League and fourth-best in baseball. If McCann keeps it up, he deserves dark horse MVP consideration.

Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers .328/.420/.620, 20 HR, 58 RBIs, 21 SBs, 3 CS, 42 BB/66 K
So that's what Rihanna saw in him. During a 2010 best forgotten, one of the most exciting young players in baseball led the league in games played and literally nothing else. His defense and plate discipline both plummeted, and there were whispers that the cash-strapped Dodgers might have to jettison their budding superstar. Good thing they didn't. This year, he's not just leading the NL in games played, he's also leading in homers, slugging, OPS, total bases, and intentional walks. Along with Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Bautista, Matt Kemp is one of the three best players in baseball by Wins Above Replacement (using an average of fWAR and rWAR), and he's a nearly certain bet for a 30-30 campaign. The advanced stats still disparage his defense, but that's small concern if he hits like this. Andrew McCutchen is a close second, but Matt Kemp is the best centerfielder in all of baseball. No wonder Mark Cuban is interested in buying the Dodgers.

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