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.
Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins
The Naked Truth: 3-0, 0.93 ERA, 0.966 WHIP, 2.70 K/BB
Having a nice little Saturday: A lot of people predicted great things for Liriano this year after watching his dominant spring training in which he had a 2.70 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 20 innings. But Liriano he has done us all one better out of the gate, hurling 23 straight scoreless innings over the past three weeks. His average fastball is 93.3 mph, much closer to the 94.7 in his 2006 heyday than his 2008-2009 fastball, which averaged around 91 mph. He's throwing more strikes and getting more strikeouts than he did the last few years. So, stuff-wise and results-wise, he's back.
You're my boy, Blue!: That said, he may be getting a little lucky. A 2.7 K/BB is nice, but it's not world-beating, and his 3.1 walks per nine innings is a little high; concurrently, his .247 BABIP is unsustainably low. Sooner or later, some of those hits will fall, and a few more of those free baserunners will come around to score. Still, there's not much to nitpick: Liriano has always had this talent, but he hasn't had this kind of arm strength in four years. Hopefully, this time it will last. You can bet that the Twins will be monitoring his arm carefully, especially considering that the Joe Nathan situation shows that even the most cautiously handled of pitchers can break down.
Think KFC will still be open?: Definitely. He's a lefty with a mid-90s fastball and a terrific slider; he doesn't give up many home runs and has a good defense behind him. As long as he stays healthy, his track record in 2006 shows that this isn't far off his true talent level.
What other players are currently streaking through the quad?
Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets 4-0, 0.69 ERA, 1.192 WHIP
It's a little bit hard to believe, but Mike Pelfrey has a 24-inning scoreless streak going. The only question is: How? He's striking out more people than in years past, 6.6 K/9, but he's also walking more, a dangerous 4.5 BB/9. That's a good reason his WHIP is nearly twice as high as his ERA, another bad sign. His .254 BABIP won't stay that low, and even a sinkerballer like Pelfrey will give up a homer eventually. Once the balls start to go over the fence, those free passes will take a bite out of his ERA in a hurry. He isn't a bad back-of-the-rotation starter, but he isn't an ace, scoreless streak notwithstanding.
Colby Rasmus, St. Louis Cardinals .344/.487/.754, 6 HR, 12 RBI
He's second in the NL in slugging behind the remarkable Kelly Johnson, and he's leading the majors in OPS. All while playing a pretty nifty center field. A 23-year-old center fielder who can hit like that is among the most valuable players in the game. He won't OPS 1.000 all year, but he certainly has the talent for .900, and he'll probably get there either this year or the next. Even if he falls off, it'll only be temporary. The talent has arrived.
Robinson Cano, New York Yankees .407/.444/.790, 8 HR, 17 RBI
Robinson Cano had a year from hell in 2008. It didn't look awful at first blush, because a .271 average from a middle infielder seems decent. But Cano rarely walks, and his power was down, and so his .305 OBP made that .271 average seem awfully empty. But he rebounded with the best season of his career at age 26, setting a career high in homers with 25. Now that he's 27, it looks like his power's continuing to grow. He's already third in baseball with eight homers, and he's comfortably leading all other players with a .407 batting average. Amazingly, he has more homers than walks, eight to six. (Last year, he had 25 HR to 30 walks.) Few power hitters can sustain that kind of walk-averse approach other than Cano's predecessor, Alfonso Soriano, who has out-homered his own walk total three different times. Naturally, both hail from the same hometown, San Pedro de Macoris, one of the most storied baseball towns in the world. I don't know how he does it, but he's the best second baseman not named Utley. What else can you say?