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: .334/.366/.548, 14 HR, 79 RBI
Having a nice little Saturday: Delmon Young has been struggling to live up to expectations ever since he was taken with the first pick in the 2003 draft, or traded for Matt Garza(notes) in 2007. After three remarkably similar full seasons in the majors, we seemed to know exactly who he was as he entered 2010: A guy who hit for high average and low power, with few walks and many strikeouts. From August 2006 to April 2010, he hit .288/.321/.415, with remarkably little variance from year to year. Then — at the age of 24 and a half — a switch flipped on, and he's been hitting the cover off the ball.
You're my boy, Blue!: Young is having a terrific season, but he isn't a totally different player. He is hitting for a lot more power — his 14 home runs are already a career high, as is his .214 Isolated Power mark — and he has cut his strikeout rate nearly in half. However, he still isn't walking, as his 4.6 percent walk rate is just over half the major league average. Also, his BABIP of .340 is exactly equal to his career rate, and his line drive rate of 17 percent is one point below his career average and two points below the major league average.
Young is actually seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance than usual, but he's taking better swings, making much more contact and experiencing many fewer swings and misses. Basically, because he's putting good wood on pitches he used to wave at those strikeouts have turned into singles.
Think KFC will still be open?: Young's approach at the plate makes him slump-prone. He doesn't walk, so he can't contribute if he can't maintain a high batting average. But his increased power and plate coverage bode well for his future performance, and if he could ever add plate discipline to his game he could be the superstar the then-Devil Rays expected when they drafted him in 2003. As it is, he's a very solid player who also happens to be very affordable, as he won't be a free agent until 2013. And he's still just 24.
What other players are currently streaking?
Aramis Ramirez(notes), Chicago Cubs .224/.279/.428, 15 HR, 48 RBI
One look at the numbers is enough to tell you that it's been a tough year for the Cubs' third baseman, who has struggled most of the season with a thumb injury, missing games in May and spending much of June on the disabled list. But since his return he's actually been on fire, posting a 1.013 OPS with 10 homers and 26 RBIs in 28 games. It has largely been a lost season on the North Side, amid major slumps from Ramirez and Derrek Lee(notes) and Lou Piniella's recent retirement announcement. But Ramirez is finally performing like the type of hitter he has usually been when healthy.
Andres Torres(notes), San Francisco Giants .283/.372/.505, 10 HR, 42 RBI
One of the best stories in baseball this year, the 32-year old Torres is getting his first chance as an everyday player and is doing his best Dale Murphy impression. He has provided terrific defense in center field, and has combined good plate discipline with surprising pop to be the Giants' third-best hitter behind Buster Posey and Aubrey Huff(notes). It's hard to project just how much of this is legit. Between 2009 and 2010, he has about a season's worth of games at this high level, but he was basically a career minor leaguer till his 30th birthday, and for much of his minor league career he struggled to hit for much average or power. On Fangraphs, Matt Klaasen notes that he's been "the NL's second best outfielder," but also notes that we have little in the way of defensive or offensive statistics to predict whether he can keep this up. I think we'll see a bit of an offensive dropoff in the power department, but his solid plate discipline bodes well for the next year or two. Late bloomers often tend to be early wilters, but for now I'm rooting for Torres to continue his torrid tear.
Gordon Beckham(notes), Chicago White Sox .245/.300/.359, 5 HR, 31 RBI
Providing solid production just a year after being drafted in 2008, Beckham was one of the best rookies in baseball last year. Then the sophomore jinx hit hard, and he spent much of this year around the Mendoza Line. But it finally looks like the old Gordon Beckham is coming around. In 14 games since the All-Star Break, he's 20-for-50, and nine of those twenty hits have gone for extra bases (two homers and seven doubles). He has raised his batting average by 29 points and his OPS by 78 points. Yes, it's just three weeks, but it's three weeks that make him look a lot more like the guy who thrilled the South Side last year than the one who struggled this year. Sometimes all you can do with a slump is ride it out.