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: .290/.392/.468, 20 HR, 82 RBIs, 20 SB, 6 CS
Having a nice little Saturday: The best way to describe Shin-Soo Choo is to say that he's pretty much what Grady Sizemore(notes) was a few years back, before injuries sapped his power and playing time. He's an Indian outfielder with power, speed, and solid defense. Although he's 28, this is just his second full season and it's his second straight 20-20 campaign. (Sizemore posted four in a row from 2005-2008.) He may fly under the radar because his Indians aren't very good, but he isn't just the team's best player, he's already the best Korean major leaguer ever.
You're my boy, Blue!: This year, Choo has significantly cut down on his strikeouts and incrementally increased his walks. His power didn't actually increase this year, but his improved plate discipline is a good sign going forward as he enters his physical prime in his late 20s. He isn't particularly streaky: Every month this season, he has posted an OPS between .754 and .949. In fact, in all respects, this is a remarkably similar season to what he posted last year, despite missing nearly 16 games in July with a thumb injury, as he has nearly or exactly identical numbers in homers, RBIs, stolen bases, walks, BA, OBP, and SLG. This is who he is. This is who he will be.
Think KFC will still be open?: By WAR, he's been the fourth-most valuable outfielder in the American League this year, and he was the fifth-most valuable last year. He may not be very well known, but he's one of the five best outfielders in the league, and he should be an All-Star every year. About the only thing that may be able to stop him is his military obligations back home, but he might be able to receive an exemption if he and the Korean team wins the gold medal at the Asian Games this November. Keep your fingers crossed, Indians fans.
What other players are currently streaking?
Cole Hamels(notes), Philadelphia Phillies 12-10, 2.93 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 3.6 K/BB
Hamels may be having the best year of his career, and all it took was him being pushed from the top of the rotation. (Of course, the Phillies acquired Roy Halladay(notes) because "Roy Halladay wanted Cole Hamels as a mentor.") Hamels was clearly the staff ace in 2007 and 2008, and one of the team's biggest relative disappointments in 2009. But this year he's got a new edge, setting a personal best in strikeouts and cementing his position as a top-three left-hander in the National League. After having watched him dominate from 2006-2008, it was easy to see that 2009 was a momentary hiccup, not a true loss of talent, but now we see firsthand: Cole Hamels is really, really, ridiculously good.
Brett Anderson(notes), Oakland Athletics 6-6, 2.73 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 3.5 K/BB
After a very promising rookie season, in which Anderson won 11 games with a 4.06 ERA at age 21, many predicted the southpaw as a dark-horse candidate for the Cy Young. He actually has pitched at an award level for most of the season, but won't be mentioned at the end of the season because of two different DL stints for inflammation in his pitching elbow. Somehow, though, Anderson managed not only to avoid surgery but to return to the rotation and immediately post a 2.90 ERA in 11 following starts. The condition of his arm will need to be re-evaluated in the offseason, but as long as it's attached to his body it looks like it will be an effective weapon in the league.
Billy Butler(notes), Kansas City Royals .320/.387/.476, 15 HR, 75 RBIs
Butler isn't a perfect player — ideally, you'd like your first baseman to hit more than 15 homers, and he's currently leading the majors in GIDP with an incredible 30, the 11th-highest total of all time. Still... he's hitting .320, and there are few ills that can't cure. Fortunately, he's been especially hot of late, as he's batting .389/.451/.625 in the month of September, with four homers and five doubles. A four-homer month still isn't much for a first baseman -- but if he can keep his batting average high, it won't matter.