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Big League Stew

We’re Going Streaking! David Ortiz hammers on

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.

David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox

The Naked Truth: .301/.387/.562, 20 HR, 68 RBIs, 1 SB, 1 CS, 48 BB/50 K

Having a nice little Saturday: Who is this guy, the Energizer Bunny? After a pedestrian April — which he often posts — Ortiz has turned on the afterburner, and he's been hitting .313/.392/.618 since May Day. We've all gotten pretty used to the drill by now: David Ortiz starts the year slow, leading critics to pronounce that he's done, then he gets hot and stays hot through October. I've learned to stop counting the man out. He's still one of the best hitters in baseball; his .950 OPS is fourth in the AL, behind only Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, and his teammate Adrian Gonzalez. Yowza. {YSP:MORE}

You're my boy, Blue!: Ortiz's home run power has declined from his absolute prime, but his overall numbers are his best since his 2003-2007 era, when he first arrived with Boston and averaged 42 homers, 128 RBI, and a .302/.402/.612 batting line over five seasons that included two world championships. And while he's getting older, the 35-year old Ortiz has been relatively durable as the Red Sox's DH (and occasional interleague first baseman). He hasn't been on the DL since 2008, and undoubtedly his batting-only duties have helped to keep him healthy. (He recently served a three-game suspension for his role in a brawl withe the Baltimore Orioles two weeks ago. It was the first time he'd been forced to miss multiple games in a row since 2008. {YSP:MORE}

His batting average, OBP and slugging look look pretty similar to the stats from his prime that I posted above. But he's doing it in a very different way. He's cut down markedly on his strikeouts, from a career average of 18.5 percent to just 12.2 percent this year. He's making far more contact, but he hasn't actually sacrificed his power; his Isolated Power (ISO) is .261 this year, virtually equal to his .262 career rate. But he's got nearly as many walks as strikeouts, which indicates that he's been consciously working on making himself an even tougher out.

What's more, his success does not appear to be luck-based. Two of the most common indicators of luck are Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) and homer per flyball rate (HR/FB). His BABIP this year is .304, barely distinguishable from his .301 career mark; similarly his homer per flyball rate is 12.7 percent, actually lower than his 13.7 percent career rate. So he isn't getting lucky. He's just staying good.

Think KFC will still be open?: It's hard to know exactly how much longer Ortiz can keep this up: by Ortiz's current age, Mo Vaughn was already out of baseball. But as long as Ortiz can stay in shape and keep his eyesight and bat speed where they are, it's only reasonable to assume that he'll keep doing what he always does. Rake.

What other players are currently streaking?

Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves .205/.278/.390, 18 HR, 41 RBIs, 1 SB, 2 CS, 37 BB/93 K
Dan Uggla had one of the most famous slumps in baseball this year, but he finally appears to be breaking out of it. He has been above .200 for exactly 17 of his 105 games this year — but two of them have been in a row. When July started, he was hitting .176, so his average has climbed 30 points; overall in the month, he's hitting .299/.384/.563 with six homers and 13 RBI in 23 games, exactly the kind of middle-of-the-order production the Braves thought they'd be getting from him. When I examined his struggles in late May, I concluded, "He has had rotten luck... [and] he's clearly pressing." So this turnaround isn't surprising; he's a good hitter with pretty good plate discipline and good power, and though slumps of that ferocity don't come around very often, it is possible to snap out of them. The Braves will have to hope that Uggla stays hot, though, because he still has a long way to climb before those season stats look respectable. I still believe that he'll hit 30 homers with an average under .230.

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Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres .279/.331/.409, 6 HR, 27 RBIs, 23 SB, 2 CS, 26 BB/80 K
Believe it or not, he's still just 24 years old. He was the 10th overall pick in the 2005 draft — nine picks after Justin Upton, the man with whom he just shared Player of the Week honors. Maybin was one of the major returns in the Miguel Cabrera trade, but in his three seasons in Miami he could never manage to stay in the big leagues, raking in Triple-A but scuffling whenever he was called up. It looks like all he needed to get untracked was a trade to the worst hitter's park in the National League. However, his biggest offensive weakness was always his propensity to strike out, and he's cut down substantially on his K's. His walk rate and power are both below average; his walk rate is 7.4 percent and ISO is .132, compared to league averages this year of 8.6 percent and .139. But both should improve with time; in the minors his walk rate was a much more robust 11.9 percent, and his ISO was .172. The fact that he's cut down on his strikeouts without seeing a noticeable drop in his power production — it's not like he's choking up on the bat or swinging for a Baltimore chop just to make more contact — bodes well for the future. So does his 23-for-25 stolen base success rate, which indicates that he's not just blazingly fast, he's also an extremely smart runner who knows how to make the most of his speed. He may have some air in his stats, as he currently has a .353 BABIP; that could come down. But it's nice to see a former top prospect finally making some of the adjustments he needs to be the player we always thought he could be.

Hideki Matsui, Oakland Athletics .244/.320/.389, 9 HR, 51 RBIs, 1 SB, 1 CS, 37 BB/57 K
This week, after hitting his "500th" career home run, Hideki Matsui was named AL Player of the Week. It was actually his 168th in the United States, and he had already hit 332 in Japan, so that gave him 500 for his career. (Similar applause greeted Ichiro Suzuki when he got his 3,000th hit as a pro, back in 2008.) On the whole, Matsui has been having a rough year, by far his worst in the majors. But he's been torrid in July, hitting .338/.424/.541 with three homers and 21 RBI in 21 games. This appears to be a correction for some rotten luck of his own; his BABIP is still just .268, 33 points below his career average. But while BABIP tends to bounce back, power does not. He's 37, and seems to have lost some of his strength: his ISO is just .145, 41 points below his career average. So even if his average continues to climb, he's not likely to hit many more home runs; at this rate, he's unlikely to reach 16, the number he hit as a rookie, and the lowest number of home runs that he's ever hit in a full season. But he's still been useful, as he's outhitting everyone on the Athletics other than Josh Willingham, who may not remain with the team past the trade deadline. The A's will have to hope that Matsui's bounceback continues.

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