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: 9-6, 3.75 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 1.74 K/BB
Having a nice little Saturday: YOU KNOW WHAT'S CRAZY??? Carlos Zambrano has rebounded from that insane first half to actually post some nice stats this year. Since returning from his second bullpen demotion of the season, Zambrano has actually been one of the best starters in the National League with a 6-0 record and a 1.59 ERA over eight starts. He is still owed nearly $36 million over the next two years, so it must be reassuring to Cubs officials — who bumped him from the rotation twice and placed him on an indefinite suspension after he wigged out on his team at the end of June — to see that he's still able to perform at an elite level.
You're my boy, Blue!: So here's the thing: Zambrano isn't a good reliever. For his career, he has a 3.49 ERA as a starter and a 5.05 ERA as a reliever. That last number was recorded in just 35 2/3 innings, but it's enough of a difference to suggest to me that he shouldn't be in the pen. In any event, he walks too many people to be effective in short stints, and he makes way too much money to be in the pen, anyway.
This year, despite all the problems and the two demotions, he still has a 3.65 ERA as a starter. Maybe the Cubs should just let him stay in the rotation. He still walks too many people — even in his recent hot stretch, he's walking an unacceptable 4.9 men per nine innings, and his success is bolstered by an unsustainably low homer rate and BABIP. But he's a better pitcher than Cubs management were giving him credit for, and pretty much the same pitcher he's been for half a decade. His 3.75 ERA this year is virtually identical to his cumulative 3.76 ERA from 2006-2009.
Think KFC will still be open?: Zambrano has been doing this for a long time, and his level of performance is pretty well-established at this point. He isn't an ace, but he's a pretty good pitcher who walks too many people, occasionally gets blown out and sometimes loses his temper at record levels. He isn't worth $18 million a year, so his contract might not be immovable in 2011 or 2012 if the Cubs aren't willing to pick up much of the tab. If they plan on keeping him, they should stop yanking him around. The only way he'll ever come close to earning his money for them is if they let him pitch 200 innings a season.
Who else is currently streaking?
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers .306/.362/.494, 22 HR, 89 RBIs
Braun's power numbers are way down this year, and some have speculated that he sacrificed some power by consciously trying to cut down on strikeouts. However, he's been spectacular lately. In 39 games since Aug. 1, he has a .395 average and a 1.041 OPS, and just 22 strikeouts against 17 walks. If he can continue to walk nearly as often as he strikes out, he could be on the verge of serious offensive improvement.
Ryan Raburn(notes), Detroit Tigers .273/.335/.482, 13 HR, 54 RBIs
Not many people may have heard of him outside Michigan, but over the past two seasons, Ryan Raburn has amassed around a season's worth of plate appearances, and he's hit .281/.346/.505 with 29 HR and 99 RBIs. Those are the kind of numbers that'll get you $30-$40 million on the free agent market. Also, he's done it while playing first base, second base, third base, and all three outfield positions. Finally, we have our new Zorilla! Raburn's walk rate is subpar, but he has good pop, especially for an infielder. At 29 years old, this may be his absolute offensive peak. But he's been terrific for the Tigers.
Hideki Matsui(notes), Anaheim Angels .272/.360/.460, 20 HR, 78 RBIs
The man Matsui replaced, Vladimir Guerrero(notes), has had a fine year in Texas, and Angels fans were worried when Matsui put up a .732 first-half OPS from the DH spot. But, like Braun, he's been much hotter of late, with a .340 average and 1.044 OPS in 33 games since Aug. 1, and exactly 22 walks to go with 22 strikeouts. His 124 OPS+ this year is almost exactly equal to his 123 OPS+ from 2005-2009. So while Vlad the Impaler is working out in Texas, the Angels wound up getting exactly what they were expecting from Matsui.