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. Today's edition focuses on four players who are red-hot as their head to next week's All-Star Game in Anaheim.
The Naked Truth: .314/.417/.595, 22 HR, 60 RBI
Having a nice little Saturday: Go figure. The National League's last All-Star is one of its most deserving: NL OPS and home run leader Joey Votto, who was snubbed by manager Charlie Manuel in favor of Ryan Howard(notes) and Adrian Gonzalez(notes) despite outhitting both of them this year. Votto has been the best player on the Reds this year, leading the team with 4.0 WAR, and is the single biggest reason the Reds are leading the NL Central.
You're my boy, Blue!: Votto's numbers aren't that different from last year's, when he quietly hit .322 with a .981 OPS, but the reason everyone's taking notice in 2010 is his prodigious spike in homers. Last year he had a grand total of 25; this year he's on pace to nearly double that total, though a little deceleration in the second half would be understandable. His homer to flyball ratio has spiked too, from 11.8 percent last year to 18.5 percent this year, and it's a safe bet that will decline slightly. He's 26 and entering his offensive prime, but HR/FB ratios tend to regress to career norms.
Otherwise, there's little to nitpick: Votto's BABIP and line drive rate have actually decreased 28 points this year compared to last year, so if anything his batting average might be in line to increase. His contact and swinging strike rates are exactly in line with career norms. In other words, nothing screams fluke. Yes, he plays in a bandbox, but the bat is entirely legit.
Think KFC will still be open?: Over the past two years, Votto has the second-highest OPS and the third-highest OPS+ in the majors, and he's the youngest hitter on the list, so he could still be improving. The Final Voters got this one right: this guy deserves to be in Anaheim. He's one of the three or four best hitters in the league right now, and he could be even better in a year or two. This is madness! This is Joey Votto!
What other All-Stars are currently streaking?
Evan Meek(notes), Pittsburgh Pirates 4-2, 0.94 ERA, 0.896 WHIP, 3.38 K/BB, 48.0 IP
The Pirates actaully had two All-Stars last year — Freddy Sanchez(notes) and Zach Duke(notes) — but this year they're back to just one. Meek isn't a charity selection, though. Even though he isn't a closer, Meek has been one of the top five relievers in baseball this year. He's fourth in the majors in innings pitched, second in ERA, and third in ERA+. He was good last year, with a 3.45 ERA in 47 innings, but he's been far better this year, after slightly increasing his strikeouts and cutting his walk rate in half. For some reason, he's still behind Octavio Dotel(notes) — he of the 4.28 ERA — on the Pirates' depth chart.
Josh Johnson(notes), Florida Marlins 9-3, 1.70 ERA, 0.959 WHIP, 4.39 K/BB
Ubaldo Jimenez(notes) has a no-hitter and leads the majors with 15 wins, but the best pitcher in the league has been Josh Johnson, who leads the league in WHIP and leads the majors in ERA. Johnson was an All-Star last year, so it's not like he came out of nowhere, but he's improved his strikeout, homer, and walk rates for two seasons running, and the 26-year-old might just be the best pitcher in baseball right now. He deserves to start the All-Star Game.
Martin Prado(notes), Atlanta Braves .336/.375/.500, 10 HR, 39 RBI
After Kelly Johnson(notes) went into a monstrous slump last year, Prado took his job and basically Wally Pipped him, hitting .307 on the year. This year, Prado is once again proving the Braves right for choosing him. He's upped his power production considerably, nearly equalling last year's career high of 11 HR in half a season as a starter, but he was already a doubles machine and the extra homers aren't out of line with normal career development. The .363 BABIP is 19 points above his career average, indicating that his batting average will likely come down a bit — but he's leading the league in batting by 18 points, so he could come back to earth and still be one of the best hitters in the league.