Big League Stew - MLB

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.

John Lannan(notes), Washington Nationals

The Naked Truth: 7-7, 3.25 ERA, 1.31 WHIP

Having a nice little Saturday: If he weren't a Washington National, you'd hear a lot more about Lannan, who is 15th in the NL in ERA — right behind No. 14 Johan Santana(notes). His strikeout rate (3.6 K/9) and 1.34 K/BB are frighteningly low, but he's 7-3 with a 2.44 ERA over the last two weeks despite pitching for the worst team in the majors, a performance worthy of vintage Steve Carlton.

You're my boy, Blue!: When I said his strikeout rate and K/BB were frighteningly low, I meant it. His K/9 is nearly half the major league average of 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings, and his K/BB is well below the major league average of 1.97. Like Mark Buehrle(notes), Lannan gets by on an incredibly low career BABIP, but it's been incredibly consistent over his career — .277 in 2007, .272 in 2008, .277 this year, versus a major league average of .296.

Lannan is a groundball pitcher, getting 1.5 times as many outs on the ground as in the air. He also strands a lot of runners, with a left on base percentage of 75.3 for his career. This year, it's 77.1 percent, well above the major league average of 71.8.

Think KFC will still be open?: Because top draft pick Stephen Strasburg remains unsigned, Lannan remains the Nationals ace of the present and future and he made a major statement when he pitched a complete game shutout against the Mets on July 21. It's easy to root for Lannan, because if Crash Davis is right that strikeouts are fascist, then Lannan is one of the most democratic pitchers in baseball.

Who else is having a streak of streaks?

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Mark Buehrle, Chicago White Sox

The Naked Truth: 11-3, 3.28 ERA, 1.102 WHIP

Having a nice little Saturday: Perhaps you've heard of this gentleman? He just pitched the 18th perfect game in baseball history the and second no-hitter of his career, earning AL player of the week honors in the process. It's a good thing he did, too. He's always good but never flashy, so if he didn't pitch a no-hitter every so often it would be easy to forget that he's one of the best pitchers in baseball.

You're my boy, Blue!: Buehrle is having one of the best seasons of his very consistent career. With the exception of his bad 2006, he's put up an ERA between 3.12 and 4.14 in every years of his career, always with over 200 innings pitched and between 40 and 61 walks. This year he appears to be getting a bit lucky, though, with a BABIP of .259, 30 points below his career average. (His career BABIP is .289, well below league average, which allows him to succeed despite a subpar strikeout rate.) His BABIP is generally as consistent as the rest of his game — except for his first full season, when it was .245, it's been between .281 and .313 every year of his career. It's possible that it stays this low all year, but not likely.

Think KFC will still be open?: If he starts giving up more hits, his ERA will creep back toward his career mark of 3.76, but he'd still one of the best pitchers in the league. Right now, though, he's pitching as well as he possibly can pitch — and swinging a pretty good stick too, as he just hit his first career homer on June 14.

Buehrle's just enjoying the ride, as he told MLB.com:

"I never thought I'd throw a no-hitter, I never thought I'd throw a perfect game, I never thought I'd hit a home run. Never say never in this game because crazy stuff can happen."
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Garrett Jones(notes), Pittsburgh Pirates

The Naked Truth: .330/.379/.761, 10 HR, 16 RBI, 4 SB (22 games)

Having a nice little Saturday: It's been a while since a Pittsburgh Pirate has gotten hot enough to get his name on We're Going Streaking!, but Jones has been unconscious since his AAA callup. He's already 28, spending the last five years at AAA. His last cup of coffee was a brief, disappointing stint with the Twins in 2007, but right now, with the Pirates trying to trade nearly every starting position player out of their lineup, he's making the most of his second chance.

You're my boy, Blue!: When a guy like this comes out of nowhere, you almost have to wonder when the other shoe will drop. It's not unusual for minor league sluggers to emerge for a few good years from their late 20s to early 30s, like Shane Spencer and Luke Scott(notes). Spencer had a major dropoff after his stellar September 1998, but continued playing as a part-timer for the next seven years. On the flip side, Scott kept hitting enough to retain a starting role. "I would advise [the Pirates] to expect a Spencer-like dropoff, and be pleasantly surprised if you get a Scott-like player instead," writes prospect analyst John Sickels.

Think KFC will still be open?: BABIP analysis actually doesn't work well with this guy, because right now everything he touches is going over the fence, and therefore isn't landing in play — more than a third of his 29 hits are home runs. He isn't walking much, but he also isn't striking out too much, which is good, because it means that he's not just swinging from his shoetops and praying. He's always had power, but strike zone judgment has been a big minor league Achilles' heel; the more he can avoid strikeouts, and leverage his power into working the count and walking more, the more he'll be able to stick around at the major league level.

We'll just have to wait and see — but for the sake of the long-suffering Pirates fans who need something to cheer for, I hope he makes it.

* * *

Who else is having a nice litle week? 

Andre Ethier(notes), Los Angeles Dodgers: Ethier was NL player of the week for the second time this year and is the only Dodger to win the award. He's already matched his career high in homers (20), and it isn't even August. With Kemp, Ethier, and Manny, the Dodgers may have the best outfield in baseball.

Miguel Montero(notes), Arizona Diamondbacks: Montero started to show that he could play last year, when he held his own as Chris Snyder's(notes) backup. This year, Montero is the first-stringer and probably the best hitter on the team other than Mark Reynolds(notes) and Justin Upton(notes). John Sickels writes, "I think Montero will have a very good age 27/28 year in 2010... then fall back to earth in 2011 and hang around for awhile as a left-handed hitting catcher with some pop and an okay glove."

Matt Holliday(notes), St. Louis Cardinals: Holliday had a pretty mediocre start to 2009 with an OPS under .800 for much of the year. But he's been hot of late, with three homers and 15 RBI in his last 14 games, a 1.260 OPS over that span, and enough to command the Cardinals' top hitting prospect in a trade. He's a Boras client, so he might be gone after the year, which means the Cards think they have a good chance this year. For them to have a chance of that, they'll need him to hit like he did in Denver for the Rockies (especially down the stretch in '07).

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