Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks
The USC product mowed down hitters in the minors (9.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9) and posted solid Major League Equivalent lines in 2007 and 2008, but modest stuff and a lost 2009 season dented Kennedy’s value. Last year, surgery to repair an aneurysm under his right armpit limited him to one big league inning and 22.2 frames at Triple-A.
Picked up from the Yankees as part of a three-team deal over the winter, Kennedy has settled in quite nicely in the desert. He has been fortunate on balls put in play (.252 BABIP) and his 82.9 percent strand rate will likely fall, so the 3.48 ERA will rise. But in 44 innings, the 25-year-old righty has 7.16 K/9, 2.25 BB/9 and a 4.11 xFIP.
Throwing high-70’s curves, low-80’s changeups and occasional mid-80’s sliders to supplement an 89-90 MPH fastball, Kennedy is holding his own with an 8.9 percent swinging strike rate (8.3% MLB average). He’s pounding the zone, with 52.7 percent of his pitches crossing the plate (48% MLB average) and has an impressive 65.9 first pitch strike percentage (57.7% MLB average).
Kennedy is a fly ball pitcher in a park that inflates homer production, and he’s not keeping the near-.250 BABIP. Even so, he’s owned in just 17% of Yahoo leagues and seems capable of posting a low-four’s ERA with a solid K/BB ratio from here on out.
Vladimir Guerrero, Rangers
Hampered by knee, pectoral and calf injuries, Vlad had a tame .343 wOBA in 2009. His Isolated Power, typically in the low-to-mid-.200’s, was .164. At 35, with his body seemingly failing him, Guerrero looked to be firmly on the decline.
Instead, The Impaler is hitting .339/.375/.539 (.390 wOBA), and his ISO is back up to an even .200. Guerrero is pulling the ball more often this year, and he’s hitting the ball with a little more authority to the middle field as well (data from Baseball-Reference):
And, would you believe that Vlad is actually hacking more than usual this year? Famous for a Lone star state-sized strike zone, Guerrero has chased 49 percent of pitches thrown off the plate, his highest rate dating back to 2002. He’s not human.
Jaime Garcia, Cardinals
Featuring a cornucopia of pitches (fastball, two-seamer, curve, slider, cutter, changeup), Garcia has whiffed 7.11 batters per nine innings, walked 3.55 and has induced ground balls at a 62 percent clip.
St. Louis’ 22nd round pick in the ’05 draft will eventually surrender a dinger, his .252 BABIP will rise and he’ll strand less than 83 percent of base runners (those numbers help explain the 1.18 ERA). But Garcia’s xFIP is a stellar 3.59. He’s getting swinging strikes 9.6 percent, and has gotten batters to chase pitches out of the zone 28.5 percent (27.2% MLB average in 2010). Durability is a concern, but with solid K rates and ground ball tendencies, Garcia is well worth a roster spot.
Adam Jones, Orioles
Baltimore’s center fielder appeared headed for bigger and better things this season, coming off of a 2009 campaign in which he improved his walk rate, ISO and wOBA.
Instead of building off of 2009’s .343 wOBA, Jones holds a brutal .265 wOBA in 2010. After compiling a .180 ISO last year, he’s at .126 this season. He’s chasing more pitches out of the zone than ever (40.7%, compared to an already-high 35.9% career rate) and he’s taking a cut at fewer pitches within the zone (64.5% – his career mark is 70.6%). Swinging at more junk pitches and letting more strikes go by – that’s a recipe for a lot of pitcher’s counts. Indeed, Jones’ first pitch strike percentage is 66.4. Not surprisingly, he’s drawing walks at a career-worst 2.9 percent rate.
Scott Kazmir, Angels
The 26-year-old lefty, slowed by elbow, quad and shoulder problems in recent years, has 7.82 K/9, 5.68 BB/9, a 32.9% ground ball rate and an ugly 5.51 xFIP in 25.1 innings this season. Though his swinging strike and contact rates have bounced back somewhat from last year’s career-worst levels, they fall short of his Rays glory days. And, he has placed just 42.9 percent of his pitches within the strike zone. Kazmir’s xFIPs from 2007-2009? 3.79, 4.13, and 4.88. He has been in gradual decline for a while – this isn’t the same electric starter who broke in with Tampa.
Aramis Ramirez, Cubs
Is it time to get concerned here? The 31-year-old Ramirez, who missed time last season with a dislocated left shoulder, is hitting just .163/.226/.260. Among batters with at least 80 trips to the plate, only Brandon Wood and Jerry Hairston have posted worse wOBA’s than A-Ram’s .218.
While Ramirez has an insanely low .183 BABIP, he hasn’t hit for any power (.098 ISO) and he’s whiffing much more than usual (24.4 K%, 15.4% career average). His percentage of in-zone contact is just 81.3, well below his 87.5% average since 2002 and the 87-88% big league average.
Ramirez usually rakes against fastballs. Per 100 pitches seen, he posted +1.3, +1.38 and +1.36 run values versus heaters from 2007-2009. This season, he’s at a MLB-worst -4.24. Maybe it’s just a timing issue, but Ramirez’s bat looks slow.