Shin-Soo Choo, Indians
Pilfered from the Mariners in the summer of 2006 for the low, low price of Ben Broussard (Asdrubal Cabrera for Eduardo Perez, too? You’re the best, Mr. Bavasi!), Choo is quietly raking in Cleveland. The 26 year-old South Korean hit a searing .309/.397/.549 (.402 wOBA) in 2008, and he has followed that up with a .298/.410/.468 line (.398 wOBA) in 2009. Mr. Choo is drawing walks at a 15.3% clip, the 17th-highest rate among qualified batters. He might not show a whole lot of sock versus southpaws (career .387 SLG% vs. LHP), but Choo crushes righties (.515).
Jon Lester, Red Sox
Lester’s early season “struggles” appeared to be more the product of poor luck on balls in play and a sky-high HR/FB rate, and sure enough, the 25 year-old lefty has been dealing lately. Lester punched out 12 batters versus the Blue Jays on May 31st, and followed that up with 11 whiffs against the Rangers on June 6th. His K rate sits at a whopping 10.29 per nine innings, 5th among starting pitchers. Jon’s 89 MPH cutter has been devastating, with a +2.22 run value per 100 pitches.
Edwin Jackson, Tigers
Jackson’s improvement from strong-armed enigma to polished pitcher has been stunning. His K/BB ratio, just 1.4 last season, is up to 3.26. His FIP (3.10) is boosted by a low HR rate (0.54 per nine innings), but his Expected Fielding Independent ERA (based on K’s, BB’s, and a normalized HR/FB rate) is a still-solid 4.35. Jackson has been getting it done with a 94 MPH heater (+1.42 runs per 100 pitches), an 86 MPH slider (+1.33) and the rare 85.5 MPH changeup (+0.78).
Andy LaRoche, Pirates
All of the sudden, Andy looks an awful lot like the highly-touted youngster the Pirates thought they were receiving last summer. His introduction to the ‘Burgh was turbulent, but the former Dodgers prospect is batting .301/.372/.420, with a .356 wOBA. LaRoche will likely never be a huge over-the-fence threat, but his combination of plate discipline and doubles power could prove mighty valuable to the Bucs.
Gavin Floyd, White Sox
Floyd has been on a roll, with 31 K’s and 7 runs allowed in his last 29.2 innings. While Gavin’s ERA far surpassed his peripherals in 2008, it’s been the opposite story in 2009. Floyd’s ERA sits at an abominable 5.35, but his FIP is pretty good at 3.91. The 26 year-old righty has increased his strikeout rate from 6.32 to 8.03, though he hasn’t hit his spots as well (3.77 BB/9 in 2009, 3.05 in 2008).
Wandy Rodriguez, Astros
Wandy has been bushwhacked over his past three starts, coughing up 18 runs in 13.2 frames. After giving up just one round-tripper during his first 11 starts, Rodriguez was taken deep on four occasions against the Rockies on June 4th. His numbers for the year are still solid (3.15 FIP, 8.55 K/9), but his vaunted curveball was absolutely crushed against Colorado (-3.1 runs for the evening).
CC Sabathia, Yankees
A less-than-optimal CC is still better than 95% of the pitchers in the majors, but New York’s new ace hasn’t quite been himself in 2009. CC’s K rate checks in at just 6.38 per nine innings, down considerably from his 8.93 mark in 2008 and his 7.5 career average. Opposing batters aren’t fishing at Sabathia’s sliders and changeups off the plate, with a 26.1 Outside-Swing% that’s nearly 6 percent lower than in 2008. Again, he’s been pretty darned good (3.76 FIP), and if he were just about any hurler, we’d all be saying he was turning in a nice season. It’s just that we have come to expect greatness from Sabathia.
Corey Hart, Brewers
Hart’s three-year slide continues. After posting a .380 wOBA in 2007, the lanky, tattooed right fielder posted a .327 mark in 2008 and just .309 this season. Over that same time period, Hart’s ISO has plummeted from .244 in ’07 to .191 in 2008 and just .150 in 2009. Hart isn’t chasing as many pitches off the plate this season (24.8 O-Swing%, compared to 31.7% last year), but he’s also whiffing at a career-high 27.2% clip with a career-worst contact rate (71.5%; 80.6% MLB average).
Manny Parra, Brewers
Coming off of a 2008 season in which he struck out 7.86 batters per nine innings with a 4.16 FIP, Parra looked like an intriguing, covert pitcher to target. Unfortunately, his already-scattershot control has taken another step backward: after issuing 4.07 BB/9 in ’08, the 26 year-old port-sider has walked 5.43 per nine innings in 2009. Only Fausto Carmona (currently plying his trade in Rookie Ball) has a higher rate of free passes among starters.
Bengie Molina, Giants
What happens when a guy who never walks doesn’t have those base hits fall in? Just ask the eldest Molina brother. Bengie enjoyed a piping hot April (.913 OPS and a .328 BABIP), but he fell apart in May (.559 OPS, .189 BABIP) and is off the a rough start in June (.606 OPS). Molina makes plenty of contact and he has ample pop for a backstop, but batting average-dependent players can go through stretches like this. When the hits aren’t falling, there’s nothing to fall back on.