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: .321/.400/.586, 33 HR, 98 RBI, 160 OPS+
Having a nice little Saturday: Paul Konerko is basically doing what Brett Favre did last year — having the best year of his life at an age when he should be over the hill. After a bad age 32 year in 2008, many worried that Konerko would start the quick slide into retirement. But he rebounded modestly in 2009 and has come back in 2010 to hit his most homers since 2006 while recording his highest batting average and OPS ever. Despite losing Jake Peavy(notes) for the season, and a lineup that features Juan Pierre(notes) and Omar Vizquel's(notes) sub-.700 OPSes at the top of the lineup, the White Sox are still just three and a half games behind the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central. Cleanup hitter Paul Konerko has a lot to do with that.
You're my boy, Blue!: This is the sixth time that Konerko has hit 30 homers, but just the third time he's hit .300 for a season. His .321 batting average is 41 points above his career .280 average, and — surprise! — it's aided by a career-high .337 BABIP, which is 52 points above his career BABIP. Along with the BABIP, there are other red flags. Other than the homers, he's actually making less contact than usual and is striking out at the highest rate of his career and his homer per flyball rate (HR/FB) is the second-highest of his career. It all adds up to one thing: this won't last. He may finish up with a strong September, but 2011 will probably be much closer to his 2007-2009 (.824 OPS) than his 2010.
Think KFC will still be open?: For the rest of this season? Sure. For the rest of his career? No. The power spike is nice, but those tend to be random and fleeting; the uptick in strikeouts is more worrisome. He may well have another 30-homer season or two from here on out. But if you want to know what the rest of his career looks like, look at his last three years, rather than the career year he posted as a 34-year old. By the time he's eligible to run for president, he won't be this good.
What other players are currently streaking?
Jay Bruce(notes), Cincinnati Reds .274/.343/.464, 18 HR, 58 RBI, 113 OPS+
Ever since Jay Bruce tore through three minor leagues in 2007, hitting 26 homers in 133 games, people have been waiting for Jay Bruce to break out. This is the best season of his three-year career, even though the biggest difference between 2009 and 2010 is a 108-point increase in BABIP, along with a decrease in HR/FB. I'm a lot more comfortable believing that this is the real Jay Bruce — he batted .300 in the minors, and a normal growth curve would indicate he should be getting better. He's hitting fewer flyballs this year, so he may be consciously trying to cut down on flyballs to increase his batting average, like Ryan Braun, but he has enough natural power to find a happy medium. He's been battling a rib issue all week, but Reds fans are hoping the hot Bruce shows up when the playoffs begin.
Roy Oswalt(notes), Philadelphia Phillies 10-13, 3.01 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 3.3 K/BB, 137 ERA+
The Texas Rangers picked up Cliff Lee(notes), but right now it looks like the Phillies were the true trade deadline winners. Oswalt is having his best season in three years — with his highest strikeout rate since his rookie season — and his Philly ERA is nearly half what it was in Houston. I still think the Braves will win the division, but right now the two Roys in Philadelphia might be the two best pitchers in the National League, and they'll be a tough team to beat for the rest of the season.
Max Scherzer(notes), Detroit Tigers 10-9, 3.45 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 2.5 K/BB, 124 ERA+
Of all the players in the big three-team deal over the offseason, Scherzer has had the best season so far. My Big League Stew comrade Curtis Granderson(notes) has had a tough year in the Bronx, and Edwin Jackson(notes) was having a pretty bad year in Arizona before getting traded to Chicago and pitching well over the last month. Outside of some struggles in May, Scherzer's been doing it all year, and he's been one of the best pitchers in his division. It helped him to get out of the desert; Arizona is one of the toughest places to pitch in baseball. He's actually got fewer strikeouts this year than last year, and his average fastball velocity is a full tick lower than when he was a rookie in 2008. But it's not so much that he's getting lucky this year as that he was unlucky last year. He's just a really good pitcher, pitching up to his capabilities. He'll be good for a while.