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Big League Stew

We’re Going Streaking! Joey Votto has been Red hot

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.

Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

The Naked Truth: .324/.431/.522, 17 HR, 69 RBIs, 6 SB, 4 CS, 75 BB/82 K

Having a nice little Saturday: Joey Votto just won NL Player of the Week honors for his recent work: Since July 26, he's 16 for 37 with four homers, 10 RBIs, and a 1.392 OPS in nine games. He's followed up his MVP campaign with a season that's nearly as strong. Like Adrian Gonzalez, Votto's home runs are down this year, but Votto is still leading the league in walks and OBP, and he's still probably the best first baseman in the league. (His batting stats are pretty hard to distinguish from Prince Fielder's, but he's a much better defender.)

You're my boy, Blue!: Why is the Toronto native so much better at hitting than us puny Americans? His plate discipline is a pretty key reason why. His 15.2 percent walk rate is tied for fifth-best in baseball, and his 1.09 strikeout-to-walk ratio is 17th. For the second straight year, he has improved both his strikeout and walk rates; for the second straight year, he's swinging and missing less and making more contact. {YSP:MORE}

As I mentioned above, his power has slipped this year; he was fifth in the majors in Isolated Power last year, but is just 47th this year. That's a bit peculiar, since he plays in the bandbox of Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark, but it's not too worrisome. His homer per fly ball rate is just 9.4 percent this year, way down from his career rate of 12 percent, which suggests that he's simply gotten unlucky, and is likely to hit a homer hot streak at some point in the next two months. His Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) is a sky-high .369 -- but that's the kind of sky-high that Votto is used to, as his career BABIP is .356, and his BABIP from 2009-2010 was .366. So he can almost certainly keep up the high averages, even while it's likely that random chance will send a few more homers his way.

It's probably too late for the fourth-place Reds, who look unlikely to repeat as division champions this year, mired behind not only the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers but also the Pittsburgh Pirates. Votto is also unlikely to repeat as MVP, as he's comfortably behind Jose Reyes, Matt Kemp and Andrew McCutchen, among others, on the National League WAR leaderboard. But it's still another tremendous year for the Redlegs' best player.

Think KFC will still be open?: This is more or less Votto's established level of play. If anything, Votto's been slightly worse than expected, due to the homer drought, which will likely correct itself in short order. But, otherwise, this is who he is: the best first baseman in the league.

What other players are currently streaking?

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Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals .296/.376/.462, 13 HR, 58 RBIs, 1 SB, 1 CS, 51 BB/61 K
Billy Butler is a fine hitter. For years, the only knock on him has been his relative lack of power: He had just six homers through April, May and June this year. But he's picked up the slugging of late, with seven homers in his last 28 games, as he's put up numbers that look a more like Alfonso Soriano: .294/.322/.550. The trouble is, they don't look like him. Ever since the minor leagues, Butler has been known for his superlative plate discipline: His career K/BB is a superb 1.49, and this year it's a sensational 1.20. But in those last 28 games, it's an terrible 4.8. It looks an awful lot like he started swinging for the fences and stopped taking pitches. Butler needs to stop selling out for power; he's just 25, so as he gets older his line-drive swing will naturally produce a few more dingers. But as I noted with Votto, OBP is a lot more important than SLG. The walks are what make him elite. He needs to get them back.

Ervin Santana, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 7-8, 3.32 ERA, 157 IP, 3.63 FIP, 1.16 WHIP, 3.10 K/BB
Santana became an overnight sensation when he pitched a no-no on July 27. But if anything, it was a return to form for the mercurial Angel. After an All-Star 2008 season at age 25, in which he went 16-7 with a 3.49 ERA, he muddled through a terrible 2009 and a mediocre 2010. Now, at 28, he appears to have regained some of his brilliance from that year. But not all of it: His overall strikeout and walk rates are basically equal to his composite performance from 2008-2010, averaging across one awesome year, one awful year, and one decent year. But the streak he's on makes it look like he's much, much better than that. Through June 10, he had a 4.37 ERA; in nine starts since then, he has given up three or fewer runs in every single start, and he's 4-2 with a 1.90 ERA and two consecutive complete games and a 4.31 K/BB. He won't stay this good — among other things, his BABIP over his last nine starts is just .259, 34 points below his career average — but his command is the best it has been since his breakout 2008. With Johan on the shelf, Ervin's making a strong case as the best-pitching Santana in baseball.

Derek Holland, Texas Rangers 10-4, 4.14 ERA, 139 IP, 3.93 FIP, 1.36 WHIP, 2.24 K/BB
How hot is Derek Holland? He has three complete-game shutouts in his last five starts — no one else in the American League has more than three on the entire season. Holland has four overall, which puts him one behind Cliff Lee for the major league lead. He's had a bit of an up-and-down year overall: In his first start in July, he lasted just two-thirds of an inning, yielding five runs on four hits and two walks; he followed that with two straight shutouts, then a start in which he gave up seven earned runs in just five and one-third innings. Then a start with six shutout innings, and then another shutout. Basically, he's been either untouchable or mediocre to awful: In the last 2 1/2 months, he has either given up 0 runs or three or more. It's mainly due to inconsistent control. In his two worst starts this month, his K/BB ratio was a combined 1.0; in his four brilliant scoreless starts this month, his K/BB ratio was 6.0. When he hits the strike zone, he's spectacular. He just needs to do it more often.

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