Big League Stew goes through the quad and into the gymnasium to look at five of the hottest players in baseball and their chances of keeping it going.
The Naked Truth: .357/.408/.608, 8 HR, 26 RBI
Having a nice little Saturday: Zimmerman had his 30-game hitting streak snapped in San Fran on Wednesday, but he still drew two walks, one of them intentional. The weirdest part? Twenty of the games during the streak occured after he signed a five-year, $45 million contract extension. Doesn't he know the meaning of the phrase "contract year"?
You're my boy, Blue!: A lot of people predicted a major Zimmerman breakout after his strong 2006 rookie campaign, when he had an .822 OPS, with 20 homers and 110 RBI, but his OPS declined in each successive campaign following that, and he missed a lot of time last year with a shoulder injury. This is the Zimmerman we've been waiting to see, the guy who hits like hell and always says the right thing:
"I'm not relieved it's over because I would have liked to keep it going for as long as I can," Zimmerman told reporters. "But it'll be good to go back to the usual routine ... I've said every day that I'd rather win."
Think KFC will still be open?: He's getting lucky, obviously, but his talent has always been real and this isn't too far above what could have been expected based on his prodigious bat as a 21-year-old. His Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) is 70 points above his career mark, and his line drive rate is 4 percent above his career mark. His numbers will come down — he won't finish the year batting .350, or even .330 — but it's likely he'll finally climb above an .800 OPS again, and .850 or .900 aren't out of the question. Next up is the always-hittable Joe Blanton(notes) on Friday and he's 5-11 with two homers against the Philadelphia pitcher. Perhaps he'll start another streak?
Which four other players will be streaking into the weekend?
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The Naked Truth: .343/.396/.701, 11 HR, 45 RBI
Having a nice little Saturday: As reigning prince of the game's young third basemen, Evan Longoria is actually doing better than Zimmerman, mostly thanks to an elevated home run rate. He leads the majors in RBI by seven over Jason Bay(notes) and he already has five homers and 21 RBI over 13 games in May. He won't turn 24 until October and he's signed to man the hot corner in Tampa through 2016. Good Lord.
You're my boy, Blue!: His BABIP is elevated, but not as high as Zimmerman's. Still, through Wednesday's games, it was 63 points higher than it was last year, which means his average will come down. His line drive rate is exactly the same as last year, though, and he's cut down a bit on his strikeouts. And he was a monster last year. In other words: most of this is legit. Most people think of Albert Pujols(notes) as the best player in the game, but Evan is busy knocking on his door.
Think KFC will still be open?: As David Ortiz said about Longoria's ability to hit: "I don't know how to explain it — it's not even fair." Tonight Longoria will face Cleveland right-hander Anthony Reyes(notes), who's currently sitting on a 7.20 ERA, with five homers allowed in 30 innings. Yeah. Not even fair, I tell you.
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The Naked Truth: .336/.403/.672, 10 HR, 26 RBI
Having a nice little Saturday: He was supposed to be worse than the guy he replaced, Pat Burrell(notes), but right now he has an OPS 400 points higher than him. With Jimmy Rollins(notes) looking lost at the plate, the Phillies need Ibanez to keep it up.
You're my boy, Blue!: Since becoming a full-time player at 30, Ibanez has been a wonderfully reliable player, averaging 22 homers, 97 RBI, and an .833 OPS from 2002-2008. Other than Barry Bonds(notes), hitters don't usually smash previous personal bests at the age of 36. (He'll celebrate his 37th in three weeks.) Weirdly enough, though, his BABIP is almost exactly what it was last year, and his line drive rate is actually lower than last year. The one number that's way out of whack is his home run rate. He won't stay on pace for 50.
Think KFC will still be open?: The National League and Citizens Bank Park are treating Raul rather well indeed. His homers will come down, and his slugging with them, but barring injury or a precipitous erosion in skills he'll continue to hit. Tonight he'll face Nats lefty John Lannan(notes) in Washington, DC. He's been a bit more human on the road, where he's only batting .275/.309/.471— still not bad, but not as superhuman as he's been at home.
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The Naked Truth: .300/.406/.567, 6 HR, 17 RBI
Having a nice little Saturday: By most reasonable measures (including OPS), Mike Napoli is the second-best hitting catcher in all of baseball. Victor Martinez(notes) is still out of his mind — he's hitting .385 — but Napoli's the best of the rest.
You're my boy, Blue!: Mike Napoli? Yeah, Mike Napoli. In part-time play last year, he hit 20 homers in just 227 at-bats, and he's on pace for 29 this year. Frankly, it's a little hard to figure why it took so long for Napoli to become a full-timer. At age 27, his career OPS is .872. Former platoonmate Jeff Mathis(notes) owns a career OPS of .598. He probably won't keep hitting .300 — he never even did that in the minors — but a lot of the power is legit.
Think KFC will still be open?: Through Wednesday's games, his BABIP was 60 points higher than his career mark, so the batting average will definitely come down. He doesn't hit a lot of line drives, so his low line drive rate isn't worrisome. He has cut his K rate and improved his walk rate over last year. He's also looking forward to tonight. In three games against Rangers right-hander Kevin Millwood(notes), he's 4-for-9 with a homer, two doubles, and four RBI.
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The Naked Truth: 4-1, 1.93 ERA, 1.007 WHIP
Having a nice little Saturday: Cueto raced out of the gate last year, turning in a seven-inning one-hitter for his first major league start. He stumbled the rest of the way, though, showing flashes of brilliance but also proving prone to gopherballs and bouts of wildness. This year, he's been strong throughout, and has yet to allow more than one run in any inning over the course of seven starts.
You're my boy, Blue!: Cueto has cut down on the homers — and the four he's given up have just been solo shots. He has also cut down on his walks, so while his strikeouts are down, he's allowing many fewer baserunners and his overall strikeout to walk ratio has improved to a very good 2.77. Hitters only have a .238 BABIP against him, so he's been getting lucky on balls in play, but if he can maintain his control then he'll continue to have success.
Think KFC will still be open?: As Ron Shandler writes in USA Today, "The sub-2.00 ERA is a fluke, but it's a fact the 23-year-old belongs in the conversation as one of the best young pitchers in baseball." That is, as long as Dusty Baker doesn't saw off his arm first.