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: 28 games, .414/.500/.838, 11 HR and 32 RBI
Having a nice little Saturday: Joe Mauer's career high in homers is 13 and he nearly equalled that in one month of work. He had surgery in the offseason and missed spring training and the month of April with back problems.
Needless to say, it looks like he healed up just fine.
You're my boy, Blue!: Even the great Joe Mauer gets lucky — that .414 average is coming on a .400 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), which is about 60 points higher than his career mark — but we've come to expect him to hit for a high average.
Think KFC will still be open?: Ron Coomer thinks the extra power comes from a mechanical improvement in his weight shift. Rob Neyer is skeptical that the power surge will continue because he isn't pulling the ball very often, and writes that "it's hard to make a living as a power hitter that way." So, yes, the slugging may come down, but it doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to think that Joe will stay well north of .300 from wire to wire.
What other players are currently tearing the cover off the ball?
* * *
The Naked Truth: .322/.396/.592, 9 HR, 29 RBI
Having a nice little Saturday: Upton started slow, but in 28 games in the month of May he racked up 7 HR and 21 RBI, and batted .373/.444/.709 — practically Mauerian numbers. People have been wondering for a long time when Justin would be as good a hitter as his brother B.J. and, well, that day has arrived. Justin has nearly doubled his slumping brother's OPS, which stands at a dismal .587
You're my boy, Blue!: None of this is surprising. Justin Upton was such a monstrously talented hitter in the minors that he forced his way into the majors at age 19. In a full season in 2008 at the age of 20, he was already an above-average major league hitter. This year, he looks like he's making a leap to the elite.
There are some red flags, though: His walk rate is down from last year (from 13 percent to 10.9 percent of plate appearances) and his BABIP is wildly elevated at .466 for the month of May. He has prodigious offensive gifts, but he's not quite this good — at least not yet.
Think KFC will still be open?: Wouldn't we like to know! Last year, he had a tremendous April but then fell off in May and June, then got injured and rehabbed in the minors before returning strong in September. His cold April (and 0-for-4 start to June) indicates that he may have a few more ups and downs left in him, but at worst he's a very good hitter, and if this isn't a mirage, he's one of the best right-handed hitters in the game. Yes, at age 21.
* * *
The Naked Truth: 2-0, 27 1/3 IP, 1.65 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
Having a nice little Saturday: Vargas missed the 2008 season with a torn hip labrum — the same injury that caused Alex Rodriguez(notes) to undergo surgery earlier this year. Prior to that, he had a career ERA of 4.13 in the minors and 5.81 in the majors. An injury to Carlos Silva(notes) gave him a chance, and he made his first appearance May 3. Since then, he's only allowed five runs in four starts and two relief appearances. For one glorious, improbable, unsustainable month, Vargas is pitching like an ace.
You're my boy, Blue!: It's hard to say exactly what the 26-year-old lefty does well. He's vulnerable to the homer (1.3 HR/9 IP in '09), he walks too many people (3 BB/9 )and he doesn't strike out as many people as he did in the minors (only 5.6 K/9). Meanwhile, his fastball tops out in the high 80s and he's getting by on a red-flagged .215 BABIP. So will it last? Of course not. But you have to root for him, don't you?
Think KFC will still be open?: Unfortunately, not a chance in the world. Dave Cameron of the blog USS Mariner praised one of Vargas' recent starts by calling it "a smart, well-pitched game by a guy who really had no business succeeding in that environment." Vargas put it even more simply: "I threw fastballs until it seemed they were on them, then tried another pitch." Remember, his fastball sits around 87, so there's no way he should be doing this well without a little divine intervention or Jamie Moyer(notes)-like offspeed stuff.
Sometimes Lady Luck is a wonderful mistress to have.
* * *
They're not the only guys who are going streaking ...
Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees: Was so emotionally affected by Selena Roberts' book, his own steroid confession, and offseason surgery, that he came back on May 8 and racked up 19 RBI in 23 games with a .980 OPS. The Yanks are 17-6 since his return.
Luke Scott(notes), Baltimore Orioles: A little more than a year after being traded for Miguel Tejada(notes), he's already significantly outhitting him. From May 27-30, he had 6 homers and 14 RBI in 15 at-bats. That's hard to do.