Big League Stew - MLB

The 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.

Dan Haren(notes), Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The Naked Truth: 4-2, 1.76 ERA, 51 IP, 2.12 FIP, 0.82 WHIP, 6.57 K/BB

Having a nice little Saturday: It's easy to forget that Dan Haren is only 30 years old. He's been one of the best and most durable starters in the majors since 2005, and he made three consecutive All-Star appearances from 2007-2009. Then 2010 happened. The Arizona Diamondbacks had a promising season torpedoed by a miserable bullpen —a fluky, mediocre first half by Haren didn't help — and they unwisely blew up the team, firing the GM and manager, and selling off many of their best players at bargain-basement prices. But the Snakes' loss was the Angels' gain. From the moment he touched down in Southern California, Haren has been one of the best pitchers in the American League, with a 2.48 ERA in 145 innings going back to last July. The cap on his head may have changed, but the success he's had his whole career has not.

You're my boy, Blue!: Why is Haren so good? It's because he gets strikeouts like a power pitcher but yields walks like a control pitcher. Every year, Haren is in the league leaders in strikeout-to-walk ratio, and this year he's leading the league in it, as well as fewest walks per nine innings. He has lost a couple miles off his fastball in the past few years, but it hasn't affected his ability to strike batters out and limit his walks. As recently as 2007 in Oakland, his fastball had an average velocity of 91.7 mph; so far this year, it has been 89.9, and on his last start on Tuesday, his max speed registered as 90.6. It's worth noting, because most pitchers have trouble maintaining strikeouts while losing velocity, but so far it hasn't caused Haren much trouble.

Like Curt Schilling, another pitcher who was always near the top of the K/BB leaderboards, Haren has historically had a weakness for giving up solo homers. But his home run totals have been lower in Anaheim than they were in Arizona and Oakland, and that could be a good sign for the future, as well as a credit to his new digs. When it comes to dingers, Angel Stadium is almost certainly a more pitcher-friendly stadium than Chase Field in Phoenix — by ESPN's Park Factors, Angel Stadium has tended to suppress home runs in three of the past four years while Chase Field has tended to increase home runs in each of the past four years.

He'll come back to earth a bit this year, of course. Haren is allowing just a .236 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), which is 57 points below his career average, and he'll probably allow more home runs than he has done so far, even if Angel Stadium keeps a few in the park that might have gone out in Arizona. Also, three of the 13 runs he's allowed have been unearned, which is much higher than the league average. Usually, somewhere over 90 percent of runs allowed are earned runs; if 90 percent of the runs Haren has allowed were scored as earned runs, his ERA would be 2.12 — exactly equal to his FIP. That's still a terrific year, but it's not quite as eye-popping as the current number.

Think KFC will still be open?: Haren never stopped dominating. Even during his frustrating first half in 2010, his components were brilliant as usual, and ever since donning an Angels uniform he has taken his rightful place on the pitching leaderboards. He hasn't quite been the best pitcher on his own team — that would be fellow Streaker Jered Weaver(notes) — but they form arguably the best one-two pitch in the AL, and perhaps the best outside of Philadelphia.

What other players are currently streaking?

Andre Ethier(notes), Los Angeles Dodgers .370/.436/.529, 3 HR, 17 RBIs, 14 BB/22
He took a day off Wednesday — something that Pete Rose and Joe DiMaggio never did during their 44- and 56-game hitting streaks — but Andre Ethier still has a 29-game hit streak going, and it's remarkable that he's been doing this while dealing with elbow pain. One possible measure of the elbow pain is the fact that he hasn't been hitting for as much power as usual: His homer-per-flyball ratio is nearly half of what it was in 2009-2010, and his isolated power is 41 points lower than it was last year. Instead, his average is being propped up by a .436 BABIP. He's always been a high-average hitter, with a career average of .295, but as soon as his streak ends it'll be good for him to rest that elbow so that he can hit for the power he's used to. It's hard to complain about a guy's production when he's hitting .370, but the bizarre thing about Ethier's season has been that he's been getting lucky on singles, but just the opposite on doubles and homers. Once he's healthy, his average might come down — but his bat will still be booming.

Brett Wallace(notes), Houston Astros .367/.431/.520, 2 HR, 10 RBIs, 10 BB/21 K
Brett Wallace is the Gio Gonzalez(notes) of hitting prospects. Both were famously well-traveled in the minors, traded three times as prospects before they were ever called up to the majors, and that means that they have palpable tools but also notable weaknesses: three different teams wanted them, but three different teams wanted to get rid of them. Last season notwithstanding, Wallace has always had a knack for hitting for a high average, but has been held back by suspect power production for a first baseman. Last year he couldn't hit for either average or power. This year he hasn't hit for much power — his isolated power is .153, below the major league average for first basemen, .167 — but he's hit for such a high average that it doesn't matter, and recently became the Astros' cleanup hitter.

He isn't this good, of course, but he's improved his strikeout and walk rates so substantially (in line with his minor league performance, which was far better than his bad 2010 season) as to suggest that some of this performance is beyond a fluke. But some of it clearly is just a fluke. His average largely relies on a .453 BABIP, which is too high for any hitter to maintain, even a hitter like Wallace, who hit a lot of line drives and maintained relatively high BABIPs in the minors, as Fangraphs' Jack Moore notes. Wallace could still hit for a relatively high average — .280 or .290 — but that looks pretty ordinary from a first baseman who struggles to hit more than 15 homers. Only time will tell whether Wallace can be more Mark Grace than James Loney(notes), but at least Astros fans have something to cheer for in the meantime.

Shaun Marcum(notes), Milwaukee Brewers 3-1, 2.21 ERA, 36 2/3 IP, 3.05 FIP, 1.06 WHIP, 3.09 K/BB
After spending his entire career in Toronto, the Brewers' biggest non-Greinke acquisition was relatively anonymous on this side of the Great Lakes. But that could change quickly, given the way he's been carving up the NL Central. Marcum's a junkballer — his average fastball is 86-87 mph — who dominates with a killer changeup, inducing a very healthy number of strikeouts and effectively limiting his walks so as to keep his K/BB well over 2.5. His control and K/BB aren't quite as good as Dan Haren's, but he's another pitcher who demonstrates that ability to control the strike zone is far more important than a blazing fastball.

A month ago, Fangraphs's Mike Podhorzer took a look at Marcum's swinging strike rate and suggested that "Marcum could be a darkhorse Cy Young candidate," though he noted that his frequent elbow troubles could stand in his way. Marcum was out of the majors for all of 2009 after Tommy John surgery, he missed 10 games in 2010 with elbow inflammation, and he missed a start in spring training this year with shoulder stiffness. That's all worrisome stuff, but when Marcum's been healthy he's been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last three years. Since 2008, he has made 62 starts, and he's gone 25-16 in 383 1/3 innings with a 3.40 ERA and a 3.10 strikeout to walk ratio. What he's doing this year is right in line with that: his ERA is likely to rise somewhat as his .258 BABIP rises, but Miller Park isn't nearly as homer-happy as Toronto's Rogers Centre, so his performance isn't likely to degrade much. He's just good.

Related Articles

Big League Stew

Add to My Yahoo RSS

Related Photo Gallery

Y! Sports Blog