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Big League Stew

We’re Going Streaking! Curtis Granderson’s eye-popping season

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.

Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees

The Naked Truth: .281/.374/.593, 34 HR, 95 RBIs, 22 SB, 10 CS, 63 BB/129 K

Having a nice little Saturday: And boom goes the dynamite. Granderson is having by far his best offensive season in the majors, leading the majors in RBIs, runs scored, and total bases, while definitively answering my 2010 question: "Can Granderson solve his lefty pitcher problems?" The answer: Yes, he can.

Well, at least for now. Is it permanent or is it a fluke?

You're my boy, Blue!: When it comes to Granderson, the numbers against lefties are everything. In 2010 I wrote that he was a "platoon player," and in previous years, his OPSes against lefties have been the following: .647, .484, .739, .494, .671. This year, it's a stunning .965, virtually indistinguishable from his .967 OPS against righties. The OPS against righties isn't surprising at all, Grandy has always crushed them maintaining a lifetime .899 OPS against them. But lefties have always bedeviled him. And peeking at the numbers, it looks like he hasn't completely solved his problems against them. {YSP:MORE}

BABIP HR/FB% BB% K%
vs Righties, 2011 .306 20.4% 13.8% 22.3%
vs Lefties, 2011 .333 26.1% 7.6% 28.1%
vs Righties, career .327 14.6% 10.9% 20.7%
vs Lefties, career .277 11.3% 6.9% 25.0%

Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) and homer per flyball ratio (HR/FB) are two of the most reliable indicators of luck in a batter, because hitters don't have a great deal of control over their career averages; generally, when they're above their career average in a given season, they'll tend to regress, and when they're below their career average they'll tend to improve. What Granderson has done against lefties this year is way, way better than anything he's ever done before, and his BABIP and HR/FB rates would seem to indicate that he has benefited from extraordinarily good luck while doing so. (He's also hitting more homers than before because the new Yankee Stadium is a great place for lefthanded power hitters. But a lot of it is luck.)

Granderson's a better hitter against righties, too, but not by nearly as much. But while he's not likely to continue to maintain an OPS over .900 against lefties, .700 may be possible, as he did in 2008. Overall, he's got the best walk rate of his career, so he may just be improving as a hitter all around.

Think KFC will still be open?: After great years in 2007 and 2008, Granderson hit something of an offensive wall in 2009 and 2010, severely declining offensively in his last year as a Tiger and first year as a Yankee. This year he's not only repeated his early success in Detroit, he's far surpassed it. The chief difference between this year and his stellar 2007-8 is his success against lefties, which appears to be at least partly fluky, as does his 45-homer pace. But he's proven that he's still the hitter he was then. That appears sustainable.

What other players are currently streaking?

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Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies .305/.372/.547, 25 HR, 85 RBIs, 9 SB, 3 CS, 49 BB/56 K
No surprise here: Troy Tulowitzki is having another killer second half. Since the All-Star Break, he's hitting .402/.462/.701 with eight homers and 28 RBI in 34 games. But it hasn't been quite enough to right the moribund Rockies, who are just 14-19 in the second half despite Tulo's hot hitting.

But Tulowitzki isn't just as good as he's been in previous seasons. In some ways, he's better. While his power is slightly down — as it is across baseball — he's significantly cut his strikeouts while improving his walk rate over last year. He continues to play killer defense, and with the decline of Hanley Ramirez and continually iffy health of Jose Reyes, he is the undisputed best shortstop in baseball, easily the best-hitting shortstop and arguably the best-fielding shortstop. (By UZR, Alexei Ramirez has been slightly better this year, but the difference is in the range of statistical error.) The key is just keeping him on the field. In his previous five big league seasons, he has only played 130 games twice. This year, he's on pace for 155. As long as he's on the field, he combines plate discipline, average, and power as well as nearly any hitter in the game, and he does it while remaining one of the best defensive players in the game.

Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays .286/.347/.471, 12 HR, 38 RBIs, 4 SB, 1 CS, 31 BB/54 K
Believe it or not, Edwin Encarnacion is still just 28. It seems like he's been breaking hearts for a decade or more, but the man has finally been tapping into his talent, and over his last two and a half months, he's been one of the best hitters in the American League, with a .313/.396/.555 batting line, hitting 11 homers while maintaining a very good 27/33 walk to strikeout ratio. He always had good power, but he's cut down on his strikeouts while maintaining the same walk rate as last year. If anything, he has been slightly unlucky on home runs this year, as his homer per flyball rate is several points lower than his career average. It's possible he's been slightly lucky on batting average, however, as his .308 Batting Average on Balls in Play is 24 points higher than his career average.

Encarnacion has been such an inconsistent player that he was outrighted to Triple-A by the Jays last year, then waived after the season, claimed by the Oakland Athletics then non-tendered three weeks later, then finally re-signed by the Jays. But he's well on pace for his best season in the majors, finally putting together his power with better plate discipline and a sustained enough streak of success to stay on the team. With teammates like Yunel Escobar and Jose Bautista, Encarnacion is hardly the only Blue Jay to thrive in Canada after struggling in America. Must be a nice place to play, eh?

Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves 3-2, 37 Saves, 1.78 ERA, 60 2/3 IP, 1.24 FIP, 0.97 WHIP, 4.17 K/BB
Jonny Venters, Atlanta Braves 6-1, 25 Holds, 1.15 ERA, 70 2/3 IP, 2.38 FIP, 0.95 WHIP, 2.60 K/BB
The best one-two bullpen punch in baseball, Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters, is working on a collective scoreless innings streak of 49 1/3 innings, 29 1/3 for Kimbrel and 20 for Venters. They are, by some statistical measures (FIP, xFIP, SIERA), the two best relief pitchers in all of baseball. They succeed in different ways — while they have similar walk rates, and both strike out more than a man an inning, Kimbrel strikes out more men (leading the majors in K-rate) and induces a lot more fly balls, while Venters is the most extreme groundballer in the majors. Both are fastball/slider pitchers who work in the mid- to upper 90s with their heaters, but Kimbrel's fastball is straighter, with slight lateral movement, while Venters's has a devastating sinking action. Both pitchers get a ton of swinging strikes, as they have respectively the fifth- and third- best swinging strike rates in baseball. They're not getting lucky. They're simply unhittable.

They're also being used constantly. Venters has more appearances and more innings than any other reliever in baseball, and Kimbrel is fourth and seventh. (The third man in the Braves bullpen, Eric O'Flaherty, is seventh and 24th, with a 1.29 ERA in 56 innings.) So while the Braves have perhaps the best closer and setup man in baseball, their bullpen has been worked hard, having already pitched a season's worth of innings with a month and a half left in the stretch run. Their scoreless streaks haven't gotten quite as much ink as Dan Uggla's 33-game hitting streak, but they're still remarkable. If the Braves make it to October, and Venters and Kimbrel's arms haven't fallen off, they have the ability to make every game a seven-inning affair.

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