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: 12 HR, 52 RBI, 11 SB, .339/.404/.555
Having a nice little Saturday: Hanley Ramirez is no longer underrated — the former Rookie of the Year just won the NL Player of the Week award for belting two grand slams and driving in 15 runs last week — but it's still easy to miss just how historically great he is. He's enjoying his third straight season with an OPS over .940. Only three shortstops have ever played more than 500 games before turning 26 and put up a .900 career OPS — Alex Rodriguez(notes), Arky Vaughn, and Hanley. If he keeps this up, he wouldn't be just a Hall of Famer — he'd be an inner-circle Hall of Famer.
You're my boy, Blue!: Hanley's homers are a bit down this year from last year, when he slugged 33 as the regular leadoff hitter. But this year, he's getting more RBIs, as he's been hitting third. His strikeout rate, walk rate, and homer rate are all down this year, and more similar to 2007 than 2008. His line drive rate is up, however, and his Batting Average on Balls in Play is extremely high — .368, compared to a league average around .300 — but that's not too far above his career BABIP of .344. (By comparison, Miguel Cabrera's(notes) career BABIP is .345.) A few of last year's homers seem to have become doubles this year, but that's not too much of a concern. Of some concern is the apparently tight groin he complained about in early June, which has limited his steals. He also went nearly a month between homers and perhaps the groin had something to do with that, too.
Think KFC will still be open?: It's frightening to think that his stats might actually be suppressed by injury. His recent steals and homers suggest that he's feeling better. He's hitting so well that cleanup hitter Jorge Cantu(notes) is getting mock-jealous:
"Cantu said I've got to leave some RBIs out there," Ramirez joked to MLB.com. "But I've just got to do my job."
With 18 RBIs in his last eight games, yeah, I'd say he's been doing his job.
Who else is streaking through MLB's quad?
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The Naked Truth: 1-2, 18 saves, 1 BS, 2.93 ERA, 1.011 WHIP, 39/3 K/BB
Having a nice little Saturday: Mariano Rivera just recorded his 500th save (and first career RBI, a bases-loaded ninth inning walk against the hapless Mets), so you might think that his AL Player of the Week award was just for old times' sake. But don't you believe it. At age 39, and after offseason shoulder surgery, he's currently posting the highest strikeout rate and best strikeout-to-walk rate of his rather illustrious career. Will this guy ever stop being good?
You're my boy, Blue!: Mo only looks human this season by comparison to last season, which was in some ways the most dominant of his career. However, he's already tied his career high in homers allowed — he's given up five longballs, which is remarkable considering he's only issued three walks — less than halfway through the season, Still, he's been so pinpoint with his control and so stingy with the walk that the occasional dinger won't be the end of the world. That's been the only blemish on yet another remarkable campaign.
Think KFC will still be open?: Matthew Carruth at Fangraphs cautions that Rivera's good fortune may not continue, because he's not inducing as many swinging strikes and his ground ball rate has lessened. However, Carruth also notes that the home run rate is also likely to come down, so while he probably won't end up with numbers as good as last year, he's almost assured to finish with good-looking numbers by any standard other than his own.
Regardless of his final numbers at the end of the year, he'll always be a true Yankee, telling the NYT: "I'm a team player. My team fought hard today to give me that opportunity to be there. I tried to do my job. Really, all the 500 saves belong to my teammates."
Is this guy a ballplayer or what?
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The Naked Truth: 5-7, 3.04 ERA, 1.059 WHIP, 125/23 K/BB
Having a nice little Saturday: Entering Monday's games, Javier Vazquez was leading the world in strikeouts, but Tim Lincecum(notes) zoomed past him with an 8K shutout of St. Louis. Vazquez is now second in the NL in Ks, second in strikeouts per walk and first in strikeouts per 9 innings. But despite all that, he's 1-6 in his last seven starts in large part because his team scored 10 total runs for him in those seven games.
You're my boy, Blue!: Vazquez has long been a frustrating pitcher whose great strikeout numbers have been done in by a propensity to the long ball that was not helped by pitching in the American League or in Arizona. In his return to an NL pitchers' park, he's having a career year, with career bests in nearly every stat you could think of: ERA, WHIP, hits per 9 innings, K/9, HR/9, SO/9, BB/9, and K/BB. He isn't getting overly lucky, either: his BABIP is .305, slightly higher than his career average and his great strikeout numbers are bolstered by a career-high 20 percent swinging strike rate. He's got his mojo working and it shows.
Think KFC will still be open?: Javy Vazquez is no relation to mixed martial artist Javier "Showtime" Vazquez, but both have been kicking ass and taking names this year. The former Expo has been philosophical about being so frequently let down by his offense, saying, "It has happened to me so much that I don't get frustrated anymore." If there's any justice, he'll be selected to his second career All-Star Game, so he can finally get the privilege of pitching for a team that can actually hit.
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Here's an additional trio of players who are hotter than hot ...
Casey McGehee(notes), Milwaukee Brewers: Dumped by the Cubs, who felt they didn't need organizational depth at third base (oops!), McGehee has been platooning at second and third base for the Brew Crew, and making the most of it. In 22 games in the month of June, he's batting .389/.450/.708 with five homers and 18 RBI, including a game-winning grand slam against the Mets last night.
Jason Kubel(notes), Minnesota Twins: Jason Kubel is quietly having a terrific year as the Twins' DH, batting .313 with 13 HR, 42 RBI, and a .925 OPS. He's been especially hot in June, when he hit eight homers and put up an OPS of 1.077. Mauer and Morneau get all the ink, but Kubel's been the Twins' third-best hitter, and he's not far behind Morneau either.
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants: Perhaps you've heard of this gentleman. He's had at least 7 strikeouts in all but three starts this year, and in his last four starts has three complete games, two of them shutouts and one giving up only one run. In those four games, he's pitched 35 innings and racked up 37 strikeouts against three walks — That's basically Mariano Rivera's entire season. Yikes.