Joe Mauer, Twins
I know, everyone reading this site is well aware of Mr. Mauer’s exploits this season. But as Dave Cameron recently noted, we’re entering historic territory here; Joe could be having the best offensive season of any backstop, ever.
The 26 year-old with the silky-smooth lefty swing has performed like a Ted Williams/Josh Gibson hybrid, batting an unfathomable .378/.449/.638, with a .457 wOBA. Despite not making his 2009 debut until May 1st, Mauer has accumulated 6.6 Wins Above Replacement. That leads all major league players. That’s like a sprinter giving his competition a head start, and then dusting them all anyway, running the last quarter of the race backwards for kicks.
I’m not going to delve too deeply into MVP voting philosophy here-the reason for an ostensibly individual award being tethered to team performance has always evaded me. Should we penalize Mauer for not being able to put Delmon Young on base via telekinesis? But, here’s a quick Mauer/Teixeira comparison, with their respective ranks in WAR among hitters:
Mauer: 6.6 WAR, 1st
Teixeira: 4.1 WAR, 24th
Chris Carpenter, Cardinals
Carp essentially didn’t pitch the past two seasons, yet he has returned with a vengeance in 2009. He has been fortunate with a .268 BABIP and a 5.8 HR/FB%, but even when one corrects for those numbers, the 34 year-old is among the very best in the game. In 145.2 IP, Carpenter owns a 3.38 XFIP (based on a pitcher’s walks, strikeouts and a normalized HR/FB rate). Only Lincecum, Vazquez and Haren can top that mark in the NL.
Carpenter does everything that one desires from a starter: he misses a decent amount of bats (6.86 K/9), is extremely stingy with the walks (1.42 BB/9) and wages a ground-based assault on opposing batters (54.7 GB%). Everything in Carp’s bag of tricks is working: his 93 MPH fastball (+2.13 runs/100 pitches), 87 MPH slider/cutter (+1.89 runs/100) and 75 MPH curve (+1.82) give hitters fits.
Matt LaPorta, Indians
What’s a guy got to do to get a promotion around here? LaPorta (the centerpiece of last summer’s Sabathia blockbuster with Milwaukee) posted a robust .299/.380/.530 at AAA Columbus. The 6-2 right-handed batter worked the count well (11.1 BB%), lowered his whiff rate (16.6%) and also posted a .231 ISO. Yet, LaPorta received only a small cameo with the big club earlier in the year. Manager Eric Wedge also made some mildly alarming comments about the slugger back in April:
“LaPorta is so young, just out of college. He’s off to a good start, and his day will come.” (Ohio.com)
Why is that alarming? Well, 1). LaPorta is 24 years old, 2). he’s a polished hitter out of the University of Florida, and 3). he was a senior sign, as an injury during his junior season caused him to slip in the draft, and 4). LaPorta has a career .291/.384/.557 line in the minors. That profile looks about as major league-ready as possible.
LaPorta’s ultimate position has yet to be determined, but he should provide plenty in the secondary skills department (walks and power) for Cleveland and fantasy owners alike.
Charlie Haeger, Dodgers
Perhaps more than any other sport, baseball features an eclectic mix of human beings. Within the confines of one clubhouse, you may well find a guy tall enough to play power forward in the NBA, and another who couldn’t scrape the “You Must Be This Tall To Ride” sign at an amusement park. There are ivy-league educated players, guys signed out of Latin America at age 16 and Far East Imports. That clubhouse likely has a bonus baby with a seven-figure bank account, and a minor league journeyman used to crashing at Motel 8’s and chowing down on peanut butter sandwiches.
In short, baseball is a sport full of atypical people. And flutterball specialists have a special place in the hears of most fans. Haeger, a former White Sox prospect who also briefly appeared with the Padres, has made two pretty successful starts for the Dodgers. The soon-to-be 26 year-old did posted a 4.67 FIP at AAA Albuquerque, and has allowed 3 runs with a 9/4 K/BB with the Dodgers in 14 frames. For more on Haeger, check out Erik Manning’s post here.
Matt Holliday, Cardinals
So much for the whole..”can’t hit outside of Coors” thing. Holliday has long been a quality hitter, cozy home ballpark or no. He posted an average of +41.8 Batting Runs per season from 2006-2008 (that’s park-adjusted), and his obscene hitting with the Cardinals has boosted his 2009 Batting Runs total to 28.6. He’ll likely finish the season somewhere around +35 to +37 Batting Runs, pretty close to his production in the sudsy wonderland of the Rockies. The pending free agent is a superstar, no matter where he plays his ball games.
Kyle Lohse, Cardinals
Lohse did not appear fully healthy upon returning from a forearm strain. He was blasted for.320/.353/.547 opponent line in August, and now heads back to the DL with a groin strain. In the first year of a 4-year, $41 M deal, Lohse has provided 0.8 WAR ($3.7 M worth of value). The Cardinals have to hope he’ll bounce back, as Kyle is owed about $8.9M in 2010 and roughly $11.9M in both 2011 and 2012.
Alfonso Soriano, Cubs
There’s a laundry list of reasons as to why the Cubs currently have less than a 1-in-17 chance of making the playoffs. Aramis Ramirez and Geovany Soto suffered injuries. Milton Bradley’s power was abducted by aliens on the way to Wrigley. The mileage on Big Z’s arm at a young age appears to be making him increasingly fragile.
Soriano’s sordid 2009 season has contributed to the mess as well. After posting wOBA’s of .380 and .374 during his first two seasons with the Cubs, Soriano has fallen off a cliff to .313 this year. Some of that dip might be poor luck on balls put in play- Soriano’s BABIP is .278, and according to this expected BABIP calculator, Alfonso’s BABIP “should” be around .305.
That still doesn’t fully explain Soriano’s season, though. His HR/FB% has fallen from 17.1% in 2008 to 11.4% in 2009. He’s still hitting fastballs well (+0.67 runs/100 pitches), though not at his usual prolific level (+1.93 career). However, Soriano has posted negative run values (curves and changeups have been particularly poisonous) against every other pitch except for cutters.
Soriano will make $18 million annually from 2010-2014, his age 34-38 seasons. If a win above replacement is worth roughly $4.5M on the free agent market, then Alfonso must produce a full 4 WAR per season for the Cubs to break even on the exchange. Color me skeptical that he’ll come anywhere near that level.
Michael Bowden, Red Sox
Bowden’s placement here isn’t really about his debacle of a relief appearance against the Yankees on August 21st (though I’m sure he would like to erase the 2-inning, 7 R disaster from his memory bank, Men In Black-style). Rather, it’s about his larger body of work in the minors this season.
The 2005 supplemental first-rounder wreaked havoc on batters in a 2008 season split between AA Portland and AAA Pawtucket (144.1 IP, 8.1 K/9, 1.8 BB/9), but 2009 has been more of a shrug-inducing effort. That’s not to say that Bowden has been bad, but his numbers with the Paw Sox (115.1 IP, 6.4 K/9, 3.4 BB/9) are a little underwhelming.
The 6-3, 215 pound righty has a quality curve and changeup, but he tends to use a fastball of modest velocity and movement up in the zone. That leads to boat loads of flyballs- Bowden’s GB% in AAA was just 31 percent. An extreme flyball pitcher, in the AL, is going to need more than average control to perform well (Bowden’s Major League Equivalent FIP in his time with Pawtucket was 5.13).
John Lannan, Nationals
Lannan’s ERA in 2008 (3.91) was considerably lower than his XFIP (4.47), and he has outdone his XFIP again this season (4.03 ERA, 4.74 XFIP). However, the gap is closing, with the lefty getting drubbed for 19 runs in 18 August frames. He has issued 11 walks, while punching out nine batters.
The 24 year-old boasts above-average control (2.97 BB/9 in 2009) and groundball tendencies (51.3 GB%). However, his strikeout rate has dipped from slightly below average in 2008 (5.79 K/9) to an untenable 3.75 per nine frames. Compared to last season, hitters are chasing fewer of his pitches (26.1% in ’08, 21.3% in ’09; 25% MLB avg.) and are making more contact (83.1 contact% in ’08, 89% in ’09; 80.6% MLB avg). He’s certainly a serviceable back-rotation hurler, but Lannan is more of a 4.50 ERA+ guy than the high-3, low 4 ERA pitcher that we have seen so far.
Alex Gordon, Royals
The ethics of service time manipulation has become a hot topic of late. We have seen potential “Super Two” players down the road (guys with more than two but less than three years of service time, in the top 17% of service time among players in the class) being kept down until the financial coast is clear (think Travis Snider) and other established young vets like J.J. Hardy being farmed out in order to push back free agency by a year.
Gordon falls into the discussion now. By sending the former Nebraska star back to AAA, the Royals delay Gordon’s free agency by a season. While the timing is awfully convenient, the 25 year-old has endured a nightmarish season. He missed a considerable chunk of the year following hip surgery, and has posted a paltry .290 wOBA in 110 PA. He often rolled over on the ball, hitting grounders at a 51.5% clip. Gordon was supposed to be a star by now, and he appeared to make progress in 2008 by upping his walk rate considerably. He’s no sure-fire stud anymore, but I don’t think it’s time to write him off, either.