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: 10-9, 4.07 ERA, 1.266 WHIP
Having a nice little Saturday: This was shaping up to be a forgettable season for Colbert Richard Hamels; despite a late-season charge, he's still likely to finish with his highest ERA since the 4.08 mark he posted in his rookie year. However, his mediocre results earlier in the season belied his stellar components, and as a result he's finishing strong, with a 2.22 ERA and 46 strikeouts against just 11 walks in his last seven starts.
You're my boy, Blue!: Despite the pedestrian ERA, Cole actually has the lowest home run rate, lowest walk rate, and best K/BB ratio of his career. Considering how sharp his control has been, it was only a matter of time before his results would come around, as I wrote back in April. But it has been a long time coming. He stumbled out of the gate amid concerns about elbow tightness, and he hasn't spent a day all year with an ERA under 4.00 — after having never had an ERA over 4.00 at any time in 2007 or 2008. The one stat that significantly increased this year is his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), which is largely outside a pitcher's control. His career mark is .287, and last year it was .262, but this year it's .319. As a result, his Batting Average Against is 43 points higher, which accounts for much of the reason that he's given up a lot more hits, and therefore a lot more runs. Call it an almost yearlong case of bad luck.
Think KFC will still be open?: Hamels recently admitted that he was hurting earlier in the year, but says his arm has gotten stronger as the year has gone on: "Early in the season, I couldn't turn my elbow over because it was sore," he said. "That's what it takes to throw my change-up." (How good is that pitch? Cole Hamels once struck somebody out with a 3-1 changeup.) A strong Cole Hamels is a major weapon for the World Champs, who have handily wrapped up their division and are already looking toward October. Lucky for them, it's looking like their World Series MVP is ready for an encore.
What other players are currently hot to the touch?
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The Naked Truth: .298/.338/.452, 10 HR, 60 RBI (.385/.409/.594 in the second half)
Having a nice little Saturday: Howie Kendrick had an absolutely awful first half. A career .300 hitter, he hit .239 with a .644 OPS, earning himself a demotion to AAA in mid-June. Like most of his fellow Halos, he basically never walks — this year is his career high, 18 and counting — so if he's not hitting he's essentially worthless at the dish. Something seems to have clicked during his three weeks in purgatory, though, because ever since then he's been tearing the cover off the ball, with a .963 OPS in 47 games since his recall from the minors. He still isn't walking, but the way he's hitting, it doesn't matter.
You're my boy, Blue!: The Angels have an organizational philosophy that is simply beyond me: They swing a lot, they almost never walk, and they're always extremely good and score a bunch of runs. I certainly can't complain about success, but I wouldn't advise others to follow in their footsteps, either. And Howie is possibly the worst walker on the team: he's tied with Vladimir Guerrero(notes) for last in walks among all the regulars. During his offensive resurgence, he's walked even less, taking a free pass in 4.6 percent of plate appearances since July, compared with 5.0 before his demotion. As with Hamels, a lot of his problems early in the year may have been BABIP-related. His BABIP prior to the demotion was just .269, compared to a career average of .352. Since his callup, it's been a scorching .418. He's also hit more homers since his callup than in any other full season of his career — the uncharacteristic power surge may be a fluke, but the high BABIP is completely characteristic.
Think KFC will still be open?: It's been a tale of two half-seasons for Howie, but, remarkably, his overall numbers are almost indistinguishable from his 2007-2008 production. He's a guy who'll hit around .300 with an OPS in the high .700s. That's mighty nice from a middle infielder. Was the demotion necessary? Was it all just bad luck that got canceled out by a run of good luck? Either way, he's back to the man he was before.
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The Naked Truth: 5-5, 5.15 ERA, 1.505 WHIP
Having a nice little Saturday: The Reds have been trying to break Bailey into their rotation for two years running. The other three of their four can't miss prospects (Jay Bruce(notes), Johnny Cueto(notes), Joey Votto(notes)) have managed up and down success in the bigs, but Bailey's still trying to break through. He may have turned a corner over the past month, though. In his last 6 starts, he's 3-1 with a 1.83 ERA and 39 K against 17 BB in 39 1/3 innings.
You're my boy, Blue!: Bailey is convinced his earlier problems were mechanical. After dropping significant velocity on his fastball, he went to see the pitching coach at the University of Texas and apparently his heater went back up from 94 to 98 mph. A mechanical change may have been necessary. As far as Kyle Boddy of Driveline Mechanics was concerned, Bailey's old delivery was a sure ticket to disaster: "Homer Bailey is a textbook example of how not to throw a baseball, right up there with Anthony Reyes(notes), B.J. Ryan(notes) and Mark Prior(notes)."
Think KFC will still be open?: Bailey's velocity isn't the only thing that's improved as the year has worn on. His 2.3 K/BB ratio in his last six starts is significantly better than the 1.17 mark he posted in his first 11 starts. And his 8.9 K/9 in his last six is worlds better than the 5.4 of his first 11. Basically, his stuff and command seem to have improved at the exact same moment. If he can keep both, he'll be able to have long-term success in this league. Command is everything.
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Elijah Dukes(notes), Washington Nationals Elijah Dukes is a frustrating guy. He's a five-tool player, but he has had trouble staying on the field, and even when he's played, he's been awfully inconsistent. Still, over the past month, he's been showing why he can be a true impact bat. He's 24 for his last 73, with 17 walks against just eight strikeouts, and a .329/.467/.479 line. Is this just a brief hot streak, or a sign of things to come? Will he ever be able to produce consistently over the course of a whole year? Tune in next year, as the world turns ...
Jason Bay(notes), Boston Red Sox Bay sure has worked out in Boston, hasn't he? His last two months in his contract year have been rather, dare I say, Mannyesque: .308/.400/.699 with 16 homers since August 1. He isn't Manny — his career OPS is 100 points lower — but he's a solid middle-of-the-order hitter, and he's almost guaranteed to get a more reasonable contract this offseason than Manny's $22.5 million a year.
Jorge De La Rosa(notes), Colorado Rockies Like the rest of his playoff-bound team, Jorge De La Rosa has improved from struggling to starring. In June, I wrote, "Over his past six starts, De La Rosa is 2-4 with a cool 10.00 ERA ... Maybe they should find something else for him to do." Maybe I spoke too soon. Since then, he's 13-2 with a 3.52 ERA. He hasn't been completely spotless — he got scorched last night, giving up six runs in only two and a third innings — but he's been damn good, reliably pitching deep into games, getting a ton of strikeouts, and keeping runs down. Maybe the Rockies know him a little better than I do.