Matt Cain, Giants
One month ago, I noted that Cain had posted middling peripherals to start the 2009 season, with his ERA far surpassing his FIP. Since that point, the 24 year-old has pitched up to his capabilities, blowing opposing batters away to the tune of a 30/10 K/BB ratio in 28.1 frames during the month of June. Cain’s K and walk ratios are now right in line with his career totals: 7.23 K/9 (7.61 career) and 3.52 BB/9 (3.76 career). The 6-3, 245 pounder is getting the job done with his 92 MPH fastball (+1.44 runs per 100 pitches) and 86 MPH changeup (+2.90).
Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
Tulo posted OPS marks in the low-.700’s in April and May, the product of a low Batting Average on Balls In Play (.225 BABIP in April, .262 in May). The Long Beach State Product has demolished pitchers to the tune of a 1.073 OPS with 5 homers in June (.303 BABIP), as the rolling Rockies creep into wild card contention. Tuloitzki’s 15.1 LD% is about 5 points lower than last season, but he’s arguably enjoying his finest offensive season yet. The 24 year-old’s walk rate is a career high 13.5%, and his .213 ISO is also a career best. Tulowitzki’s flyball percentage is up to 45.3% (38.5% career average), a positive indicator in the power department.
Pablo Sandoval, Giants
A switch-hitting, ambidextrous fellow with the ability to passably man three positions, Sandoval is fast becoming one of the most enjoyable players to watch. “Kung-Fu Panda” might not fit into a neat archetype or frame of reference, but he’s turning in one heck of an age-22 season.
A noted free-swinger, Sandoval has made some gains in the plate discipline department: his walk rate is up to 6.4% (2.7% last year), with his Outside-Swing% falling from 53.8% in ’08 to 46% this season. That’s still 21.2 points above the major league average and is surpassed only by teammate Bengie Molina among all qualified hitters, but Sandoval does not need to be a walk machine to be a highly effective hitter. Blessed with great hand-eye coordination and contact skills, Pablo has a reasonable K rate (15 percent), has made contact with about 3 percent more pitches than the major league average and boasts a .205 ISO.
Josh Beckett, Red Sox
Victimized by a Boston defense that has tumbled from 5th in team Ultimate Zone Rating in 2008 to 29th in 2009, Beckett had a .364 BABIP during the month of April. He also didn’t control the zone as well as he usually does during the opening month of the season (1.94 K/BB), resulting in a grisly 7.22 ERA. Beckett’s BABIP is down to .309 now, and he has a 3.56 K/BB ratio over the past two months. After getting himself into hitter’s counts all too frequently in April, Josh has painted the corners in recent starts:
April: 43.5 Zone%, 60.3 First-Pitch Strike%
May: 47.4 Zone%, 63.1 First-Pitch Strike%
June: 54.4 Zone%, 68.5 First-Pitch Strike%
(the MLB averages are 49.1 for Zone% and 58 for F-Strike%; Beckett’s career averages are 53.3% and 61.8%, respectively)
Hunter Pence, Astros
During the offseason, I discussed Pence’s proclivity for chasing pitches off the plate in 2008. Hunter fished at 31.1 percent of offerings outside of the zone, leading to a 6.3% walk rate. Pence’s OBP fell to .318, as the batting average spike he enjoyed in 2007 (.322, with a .378 BABIP) came back down to earth (.269 AVG, with a .303 BABIP).
Pence is again garnering some good fortune on balls put in play (.364 BABIP), which has led to a .331 average. However, he has made some major strides in terms of controlling the zone. His rate of free passes taken has nearly doubled (11.9%), as his O-Swing% has fallen to 26.8%.
Pence wasn’t a particularly good hitter against sliders in 2007 (-0.50 runs per 100 pitches) or 2008 (-0.02), so pitchers threw him the pitch nearly a quarter of the time over those seasons. Advance scouts might need to file a new report on Hunter: hurlers are still feeding him plenty of sliders (26.9%, the third-highest percentage in the bigs), but Pence is pummeling the pitch for a +3.07 run value per 100 pitches. That’s the 13th-highest rate among qualified batters. Houston may be wallowing in mediocrity, and the future looks rather bleak with a fallow farm system, but Pence is looking like a long-term building block.
Dave Bush, Brewers
Bushwhacked: the Milwaukee starter has an inflated 2.00 HR/9 figure (the result of a 16.8 HR/FB% that’s well over his career 12.1% mark), but Bush is allowing hitters to loft the ball at the highest rate of his career. The former Jay has seen his groundball percentage dip from 46.6% in 2006 to 35.1% in 2009. That’s the ninth-highest rate among qualified starters. Lacking an out-pitch, Bush takes a “kitchen sink” approach to the mound by throwing a fastball, cutter, curve, slider and changeup. Out of all those options, only his cutter (thrown 7.6% of the time) has a positive run value in 2009.
Kyle Davies, Royals
Under GM Dayton Moore, the Royals have seemingly collected former Braves farmhands like some people collect bottle caps or stamps. The acquisition of Davies (in July of ’07 for Octavio Dotel) has largely been a bust, however. The 6-2, 205 pound righty pitched decently for K.C. in 2008 (4.22 FIP, with 5.65 K/9 and 3.42 BB/9), but his walk rate ballooned to 4.63 per nine innings in 2009.
Locating just 44.2 percent of his pitches within the strike zone and posting a 52 First-Pitch Strike%, Davies was demoted to AAA Omaha over the weekend.
Casey Kotchman, Braves
The Braves rank just 13th in National League team wOBA in 2009. While the banjo-hitting of Atlanta’s corner outfielders has been discussed extensively, the club is also receiving subpar production from the per-eminent power position on the diamond. Kotchman’s ISO has dropped in each of the past three seasons: .172 in 2007, .137 in 2008 and a middle infielder-like .113 in 2009. For comparison, the MLB average at the position is .213. The 26 year-old has devolved from intriguing prospect to liability.
Magglio Ordonez, Tigers
Speaking of power outages, Ordonez is experiencing one that would put the ’77 Bronx Blackout to shame. Magglio’s ISO has fallen off a cliff, from .176 in 2008 to .069 in 2009. The 35 year-old’s groundball percentage has skyrocketed from 43.6% in ’08 to 59.8% in 2009. Among qualified hitters, only Luis Castillo and Skip Schumaker have put the ball on the ground more often. Considering that Ordonez would have a difficult time dusting manager Jim Leyland in a footrace (2.7 Speed Score, way below the 5.1 MLB average), that’s an unhappy development.
Speaking of Leyland, the Tigers skipper recently intimated that Magglio could be grabbing pine more often in the coming months. That decision may well have financial motivations (Ordonez has a hefty $18M option for 2010 based on accumulated playing time), but the former White Sox slugger seems to be losing bat speed. Over the last three seasons, Odronez’s run value per 100 pitches versus the fastball has fallen from +1.81 in ’07, +0.24 in ’08 and just -1.28 in ’09.
Ross Ohlendorf, Pirates
The one where Ross can’t fool anybody: Part of the Bronx swag for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte last summer, Ohlendorf posted a 3.24 ERA in April while benefitting from a .260 BABIP. Since that point, the Princeton product has gotten battered to the tune of a 5.20 ERA in May and a 6.33 mark in June.
Ohlendorf has exhibited good control (2.41 BB/9), but his 4.61 K’s per nine innings is the 12th-lowest rate among qualified starters. While many of those with similar K rates compensate with a boatload of groundballs (think Cook, Pineiro, Marquis and Pelfrey), Ross has a 44.7 GB% that’s right around the MLB average. Lefties have teed off against Ohlendorf (.325/.380/.530), continuing a trend of getting smashed by southpaws (.342/.404/.569 in the majors).
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