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: 17-6, 1.99 ERA, 0.970 WHIP, 3.76 K/BB, 203 ERA+
Having a nice little Saturday: Adam Wainwright finished third in the Cy Young voting last year (he even got one fifth-place MVP vote), establishing himself at age 27 as one of the best pitchers in the league and perhaps one of the top-10 pitchers in all of baseball. But as good as he was last year, that's how much he's improved this year.
You're my boy, Blue!: Honestly, everything is better with Wainwright this year. Across the board, his components show improvement. His walk rate, homer rate, hit rate, line-drive rate, contact rate, and pitches per start have all decreased. Meanwhile, his strikeout rate, strike rate, strikeout-to-walk ratio, innings pitched per start, and even his average fastball velocity have all increased in 2010.
But he's also getting a little lucky. His BABIP is 31 points below his career rate, which is related to the fact that his line-drive rate is 3 percent below his career average. His left-on-base percentage, or strand rate, is 5.6 percent higher than his career rate. In other words, fewer hits are falling, and fewer runners are scoring. There's no guarantee that will last, but even when those numbers come back to normal, he'll still be a fantastic pitcher — even though he'll probably have an ERA above 2.00.
Think KFC will still be open?: For the second year in a row, he's a Cy Young candidate, and he's pitching even better — unfortunately for him, so has everyone else, so he can't just run away with the thing (even though that's what he'd be doing in most years). Right now, he's third in the National League in pitcher WAR, behind Roy Halladay(notes) and Josh Johnson(notes). Who will win, who'll place, and who'll show? Don't bet against Wainwright right now.
What other players are currently streaking?
Pat Burrell(notes), San Francisco Giants .265/.355/.479, 12 HR, 41 RBIs
It's alive! Apparently, the American League REALLY didn't agree with him. Burrell's career was basically pronounced dead after he hit .218/.311/.361 a year during the first year and a half of a two-year, $16 million contract with the Rays. But the Giants gave him a minor league contract after he was DFAed, he hit a double in his first game in June, and he's been their regular left fielder ever since, hitting .299/.388/.558 in a Giants uniform with 10 HR and 28 RBIs in 53 games in San Francisco. The batting average is bound to come down, because he's always been a low-average hitter — career BA is .255 — but the power and on-base numbers are otherwise very reminiscent of what he did year in and year out in Philadelphia. Of course, considering how close he was to the precipice just a few months ago, it's hard to know how much more life his bat has in it. But for right now, he looks like the same slugger he used to be in the National League.
Trevor Cahill(notes), Oakland Athletics 12-4, 2.56 ERA, 0.980 WHIP, 1.85 K/BB, 160 ERA+
Last year, Trevor Cahill had a decent rookie season at the age of 21, going 10-13 with a 4.63 ERA for Oakland. This year, he shaved two full runs off the ERA, but his K/BB is just 1.85 and his BABIP is an outrageously low .205, so he's due for a major bruising sooner or later. Right now, though, he's gone 18 1/3 straight innings without allowing an earned run, and he's been a real workhorse, pitching 26 innings in his last three starts. He was a top prospect in the minors, so it isn't surprising that he's pitching well — the surprise is his low strikeout rate, considering that he averaged more than one K per inning on the farm. If he can kick up his strikeouts, I'll feel a lot better about his chances to keep pitching well.
Wandy Rodriguez(notes), Houston Astros 9-11, 4.18 ERA, 1.371 WHIP, 2.47 K/BB, 99 ERA+
Following the deadline firesale of Roy Oswalt(notes) and Lance Berkman(notes), the man with the magical name is the longest-tenured Houston Astro and he's also arguably their best player, though Brett Myers(notes) has had a better season on the mound. (Wandy is already 14th on the team's all-time wins list.) But Wandy is coming around, and he's been sensational in his last four starts, allowing two earned runs in 28 1/3 innings, with 32 strikeouts and just four walks. He lowed his ERA almost a full run over that stretch. He's not THAT good, obviously, but he's not as bad as he was before that. He's one of the better left-handed pitchers in the league, and as long as he can keep his strikeouts up, he'll continue to have success.