Big League 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.
The Naked Truth: 4-0, 0.71 ERA, 0.63 WHIP, 38 IP, 31 Ks, 5 walks
Having a nice little Saturday: Carpenter has had a career of ups and downs. He missed much of 2002 and all of 2003 with a torn labrum, then returned and won the 2005 Cy Young, then missed virtually all of 2007 and 2008 with reconstructive elbow surgery and then nerve surgery. Despite a DL stint with a rib injury, he started 2009 with 25 2/3 scoreless innings and he's clearly pitching like his old Cy Young self. He'll look to keep it rolling when he starts against the Marlins in Florida tonight.
You're my boy, Blue!: Since 2004, Carpenter is 55-20 with a 2.98 ERA. When we last saw him, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball. It's just remarkable that he's picked up even better than he left off. He's getting a little lucky — his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) is .184, quite a bit below his career mark of .302, and his 1.2 walks per 9 innings is far below even the 1.8 BB/9 that he averaged from 2004-2006. But even if his walk rate and hit rate both rise to career levels, he'll still be a heck of a pitcher. He has great control and strikeout stuff, a nearly unbeatable combination. If anything, his low-90s fastball may even be slightly faster than it was before he went in for surgery.
Think KFC will still be open?: You bet. After his surgery this offseason, Carpenter said, "The problems I was having are gone — not a lot of them are, but all of them are." That's good news for Cardinals fans, and bad news for everyone else in the Central.
Which other players are currently streaking through baseball?
* * *
The Naked Truth: .281/.421/.638, 22 HR, 43 RBI
Having a nice little Saturday: He might have to tell you himself, but your major league home run leader plays half his games in Petco Park — shudder to think how many he'd have if he played in the new Yankee Stadium. He's been even hotter recently: He was just named co-player of the week with Ryan Howard(notes), after putting up four homers, 10 RBIs, a .500 OBP, and a 1.000 SLG over the last week.
You're my boy, Blue!: Is this guy for real? He's been a good player for a while, though his stats were depressed by Petco. From 2006-2008, he put up a 130 OPS+ (a measure of OPS neutralized for differences between parks and leagues; average is 100, so 130 is 30 percent better than league average). That was good for 29th best in baseball. This year, by OPS+, he's second-best, behind only Albert Pujols(notes). Just a month past his 27th birthday, he's having an insanely good year. The one blight on his season is his relatively low batting average, the result of a BABIP 60 points below his career average, which suggests he's actually been getting unlucky at the plate.
Think KFC will still be open?: Yup. His extra base hit rate is actually right around his career average, so it's just his home run rate that's increased. Some of the extra homers may be a fluke — he's on pace for 63, and even if he hits 50 homers this year, he probably won't hit 50 next year — but it's possible that much of his power growth is legit, as he's traded doubles for homers and players often tend to hit their peak around age 27. Even as he's hitting more homers, his homers are going further this year than they did last year. So what does a pitcher do when they see him striding to the plate? Easy: "Walk him," says Phillies ace Cole Hamels. "Personally, I say, just don't pitch to him. Walk him. Every time, I'd walk him."
* * *
The Naked Truth: 6-3, 2.16 ERA, 0.984 WHIP
Having a nice little Saturday: Many criticized Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski for trading promising young outfielder Matt Joyce(notes) for enigmatic prospect Edwin Jackson, a former hot prospect who had tantalized and frustrated since his first cup of coffee at age 19 with the Dodgers. But after a World Series appearance with the Rays in '08, the 25-year old seems to have finally clicked, as he and Justin Verlander(notes) are forming arguably the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball.
You're my boy, Blue!: Jackson's control was always shaky before this year, but he kept getting chances because his stuff is just unfair. Mid-upper 90s fastball, curveball around 80, mid-80s changeup and slider. Aubrey Huff(notes) calls it "probably some of the nastiest stuff in the big leagues this year." The key has been his control, as his walk rate is half his career mark: 2.1 BB/9 this year, after averaging 4.5 BB/9 from 2003-2008. With a fastball that flirts with 100, if he can be that pinpoint with his control, he'll be an ace for years to come.
Think KFC will still be open?: Well... as good of a story as he's been, he's put together two good months after six disappointing years, so it might be good to make sure that he can keep it up before anointing him the next big thing. But he's finally addressed the one part of his game that held him back from realizing his potential, and his potential is awesome. He's a fun one to watch.
* * *
A few others who are hot to the touch ...
Roy Halladay(notes), Toronto Blue Jays: In case you hadn't noticed, Halladay is a close second to Zack Greinke(notes) in the AL Cy Young race. In 13 starts, he's 10-1 with 3 complete games, averaging an absurd 7 2/3 innings per game.
Trevor Hoffman(notes), Milwaukee Brewers: The old man may not be done just yet. He was shaky for much of last year, with an ERA above 5 at the All-Star Break, and the Padres let him go. The Brewers are benefiting from that decision. Seventeen innings and 15 saves later, he still has yet to give up a run, and he has 15 strikeouts against just one walk. Not bad for a 41-year-old, right?