Big League Stew

We’re Going Streaking! Phillies’ Lee, Jays’ Lawrie sizzling along

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.

Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies

The Naked Truth: 15-7, 2.59 ERA, 194 2/3 IP, 2.67 FIP, 1.05 WHIP, 4.95 K/BB

Having a nice little Saturday: Roy Halladay probably will, and probably should, win the Cy Young Award again. But Lee's been coming on strong to make it a real race. In August, Lee has made five starts, pitched 39 2/3 innings and allowed two earned runs — that's a 0.45 ERA, if you're counting. While Halladay leads the league with seven complete games, Lee is leading the majors with five complete-game shutouts.

At this point, Halladay's still better, but not by as much:

Halladay 16-5 2.47 ERA 196 2/3 IP 2.10 FIP 1.04 WHIP 7.4 K/BB
Lee 15-7 2.59 ERA 194 2/3 IP 2.67 FIP 1.05 WHIP 4.95 K/BB

Lee might not be the best pitcher in the league, but he's getting closer. {YSP:MORE}

You're my boy, Blue!: It's not exactly surprising that Lee has been dominant. He was pretty great the last time he was in Philly, going 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 12 starts in 2009, and then went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in the playoffs that year. And it isn't even the first time this year that he's had a month like this: Back in June, he gave up just one earned run in the entire month. But he had a 4.18 ERA in April, 3.78 ERA in May, and a 4.91 ERA in July. So he's been a little up and down. But when he's at his best, there's no one better.

Whatever his results, Lee always has precise control and one of the best strikeout-to-walk ratios in all of baseball. That was as true during his struggles in Texas in the fall as it is now. But since he throws a ton of strikes, sometimes those strikes get hit. I characterized his September problems as follows:

"His lack of walks is helping him challenge the all-time record for strikeout-to-walk ratio, but he's still giving up a ton of hits and homers." That's exactly what happened to him this July, when he gave up 39 hits including six homers in 33 innings, while maintaining an amazing 40-to-five strikeout to walk ratio.

So, he's sort of streaky, but he's basically a good pitcher who occasionally has bad results despite pitching well. Happens to the best of them. He's isn't quite Halladay, but neither is anyone else. If Halladay's a right-handed Randy Johnson, then Lee is basically a left-handed Curt Schilling.

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Think KFC will still be open?: I mean, he probably won't have another 0.45 ERA next month, but considering that he's already done it twice this year, you never know. The Phillies will certainly want him to take it easy, however. Their playoff spot is all-but assured, and they're looking forward to the postseason. They loved what Lee did for them last time, and they'd appreciate it if he could do it again.

Which other players are currently streaking?

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Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays .340/.392/.713, 7 HR, 20 RBIs, 4 SB, 0 CS, 7 BB/21 K

Lawrie has been in the major leagues for a little less than a month, and he must be amused by the simplicity of this American game. The 21-year-old British Columbian has just been hitting everything in sight. (For what it's worth, over the past 30 days, his OPS is nearly indistinguishable from that of Albert Pujols: Albert's is at 1.108 and Lawrie's at 1.105.) This isn't a total surprise; he was one of the top hitting prospects in baseball, he blew through the minors in three years, and he's showed no signs of stopping since his being promoted to the majors. In May, prospect analyst John Sickels wrote:

"I am convinced that Brett Lawrie has everything needed to be a superstar."

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There are a few red flags, though. First of all, his batting average on balls in play — BABIP — is .379, which certainly seems unsustainable; it's 85 points above the major league average, it's also equal to the highest BABIP in recorded history, Ty Cobb's career .379 BABIP. (Rogers Hornsby is in second place at .365, Shoeless Joe Jackson is in third at .361.) So it's safe to predict that his BABIP and batting average will come down. The second problem is that his strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) is 3.0, and it's awfully hard to maintain success with plate discipline that questionable.

He has a less-than-average contact rate, and while his strikeout rate is slightly higher than average, his 6.9 percent walk rate is well below the 8.1 percent league average. Plate discipline has always been one of the issues with Lawrie, who has always mashed when he's gotten hold of one, but hasn't always kept his K/BB in check. Thus far, it hasn't hurt him, but he won't be able to keep hitting this well forever. If he can improve his K/BB as he did in the minors, he truly will be the superstar most believe he can be.

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Josh Collmenter, Arizona Diamondbacks 9-8, 3.18 ERA, 130 IP, 3.50 FIP, 1.05 WHIP, 3.67 K/BB

Josh Collmenter is a righty with a nothing fastball — 87.4 miles per hour, on average — who emerged from nowhere to become one of the better pitchers in the National League, and one of the key reasons the Diamondbacks are headed back to the playoffs. How does he do it? As Dr. Rany Jazayerli explains:

When most pitchers release the ball, their pitching arm is somewhere between 10 and 11 o'clock on a watch dial from the catcher's perspective. Collmenter contorts his body at the last moment to release the ball from around the one o'clock position — basically, he's a right-handed pitcher with a left-hander's release point.

Pitchers who rely on an unusual delivery to make up for a lack of stuff tend to get bombed sooner or later. But Collmenter's been playing with house money his entire career, a middling prospect who got a starting shot and just ran with it. He might be able to hang around as an innings eater, as Sickels predicts, but he won't be elite for much longer. The clock is ticking.

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Andruw Jones, New York Yankees .252/.363/.510, 11 HR, 28 RBIs, 0 SB, 0 CS, 23 BB/46 K

It's hard to believe that he's only 34, but Andruw Jones is actually having a fine year as the Yankees' backup LF/RF and sometimes DH — easily his best since leaving the Atlanta Braves, four years and seemingly a lifetime ago. And he's having a scorching month. Since Aug. 1, he's hitting .333/.500/.727 with four homers and seven RBIs in 10 starts, along with six appearances as a pinch hitter, pinch runner, or defensive sub. His walk rate is tied for the best of his career; his OBP is the highest it has been since 2006 and is tied for fourth-highest of his career. The number of pitches he sees can be astonishing.

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Is he getting lucky? A little bit, yeah. His BABIP is .291, 16 points higher than his career rate and his home run-per-fly ball rate is nearly 10 percent higher than his career average (and more than three times higher than the league average — though Andruw always has been well above that).

However, it might be that Andruw's body is happy yo no longer be playing all of the time. For 10 seasons as Atlanta's regular center fielder from 1998 to 2007, Andruw played 1630 out of a possible 1672 games — that's 97.5 percent of all their games, for a decade — including all 53 of Atlanta's playoff games.

After all of that, he probably was just a little tired. (His first DL trip occurred in 2008 — that miserable season with the Dodgers, which was his first post-Braves.) Outside of '08, when he simply couldn't do anything, he was a decent-enough part-timer in 2009 and 2010. This year, it's the same-old tune. He's just sung it better.

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