Baseball BeatAugust 12, 2006
Who's Hot, Who's Not
By Rich Lederer

We're all too familiar with the players who start the season hot or cold. Chris Shelton, anyone? How hitters and pitchers perform in April is tantamount to swimming in a fishbowl. Everything they do is highly visible.

By comparison, we sometimes fail to recognize the extent of how well or poorly a player is doing during one-month stretches in the middle of the season. With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to check out the hottest and coldest hitters and pitchers since the All-Star break.

Most teams have played about 26 games since Michael Young stroked a two-out, two-run triple in the ninth to lead the American League to a 3-2 victory over the National League in the All-Star bonanza. Using the MLB standard of 3.1 plate appearances per game, I chose 80 as the qualifier in determining Who's Hot and Who's Not.

Here are the top ten hottest players, as ranked by OPS:

  PLAYER           TEAM AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI BB  AVG  OBP  SLG   OPS 
1 Lance Berkman    Hou  65 17 24  4  0  7  19 18 .369 .512 .754 1.266 
2 Ryan Howard      Phi  97 18 33  6  0 11  31 30 .340 .500 .742 1.242 
3 Alfonso Soriano  Was  95 23 34  9  2  9  17 15 .358 .461 .779 1.240 
4 Troy Glaus       Tor  85 22 30  4  0  8  26 20 .353 .477 .682 1.159 
5 Aramis Ramirez   ChC  97 21 32  5  1 11  27 12 .330 .407 .742 1.149 
6 Adam LaRoche     Atl  79 18 26  5  0 10  22  5 .329 .364 .772 1.136 
7 Brian McCann     Atl  83 14 31  5  0  8  23  6 .373 .411 .723 1.134 
8 Luke Scott       Hou  75 10 31  8  1  3  11  7 .413 .463 .667 1.130 
9 David Ortiz      Bos 106 21 34  7  1 10  23 20 .321 .433 .689 1.122 
10 Manny Ramirez   Bos 105 19 40  8  0  8  28 14 .381 .435 .686 1.121 

Question: Is Lance Berkman the most underrated great player in the game today? The product of Rice University has a career batting average over .300 (.304), on-base percentage above .400 (.417), and a slugging average in excess of .500 (.565). He is younger than David Ortiz, yet has more hits (1070 to 1002) and walks (657 to 499) than Big Papi and almost the same number of home runs (211 to 218) in fewer AB (3516 to 3541).

Ryan Howard is leading the NL in HR this season and is tied with Aramis Ramirez since the ASG. Howard is also sitting atop the majors in BB during the second half. Furthermore, the Phantastic Phillie is leading the league during this period in RBI and is tied for first in MLB with...drumroll, please...Mark DeRosa. Yes, the latter has 31 ribbies while hitting .336 and slugging .636 during the past month. We hear a lot about the versatility of guys like Chone Figgins and Ryan Freel but how about DeRosa? The 31-year-old utilityman has played 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, LF, and RF for the Texas Rangers this year.

While on the subject of relative unknowns, what's up with Luke Scott (.413/.463/.667)? The 28-year-old outfielder had a total of 80 AB going into this season with a batting average of .188 and no HR. Since becoming a regular on July 22, Scott has had two four-hit and seven two-hit games. He has also flexed his muscles by going yard three times in the past dozen contests.

Here are the top ten coldest players:

1 Jonny Gomes      TB   81  8  7  1  0  2   4 11 .086 .194 .173 .366 
2 David Eckstein   StL 113 12 26  0  0  0   2  4 .230 .269 .230 .499 
3 Ramon Hernandez  Bal  72  6 14  3  0  0   5  9 .194 .289 .236 .525 
4 Joey Gathright   KC   74  9 15  1  2  0   6  7 .203 .282 .270 .553 
5 Brad Ausmus      Hou  78  7 17  2  0  1  11  6 .218 .274 .282 .556 
6 Cesar Izturis    ChC  82  5 17  5  0  1   7  7 .207 .286 .305 .591 
7 Chone Figgins    LAA 103 11 25  4  0  0   6 12 .243 .322 .282 .603 
8 Eric Chavez      Oak  78  9 16  4  0  1   4 12 .205 .311 .295 .606 
9 Mike Lowell      Bos  88 11 18  6  0  2   9  7 .205 .265 .341 .606 
10 Jorge Cantu     TB   97 10 20  2  1  3  14  9 .206 .274 .340 .614 

Jonny Gomes has reminded fantasy owners what it was like to own high-tech stocks in 2001 and 2002. Last year's shining star has all but crashed and burned since the All-Star break. Jonny's troubles may simply be related to a strained rotator cuff ligament in his right shoulder (which could require off-season surgery), but it is interesting to note that his BB rate is higher this year than last and his HR and SO rates are essentially the same. Well, by definition, that means his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) in 2006 (.249) is substantially below 2005 (.360). Luck or skill? You take your pick.

Teammate Jorge Cantu has also tanked this year. His 2005 season (.286 with 28 HR and 117 RBI) is beginning to look like a fluke. OK, it was a fluke. Lesson: don't get too enamored with RBI and be wary of players who have a low BB rate coupled with a less than outstanding minor league record.

David Eckstein has ZERO extra-base hits in the second half. Yes, his .230 batting and slugging averages are one and the same. But do not despair Cardinals fans, the X-Man has drawn four walks in 113 AB. As such, his OBP is a robust .269. Let's not forget, those gritty, hustling, over-achieving types are fun to watch but they still need to produce to be effective.

Jason Tyner has one XBH this year. He is batting .294 with a slugging average of .303. Hard to believe in this day and age but Tyner has yet to hit a home run in 943 career at-bats. Given the fact that he doesn't walk too often (.047 BB/PA), the guy is pretty much worthless offensively.

Catchers Ramon Hernandez and Brad Ausmus have hit the skids after strong starts. Hernandez and Ausmus were hitting .286 and .298, respectively, at the end of May with the former having slugged eight HR during the first two months.

Shea Hillenbrand has not walked in 74 at-bats since the All-Star break. Prior to this year, Hillenbrand had averaged 555 AB and only 22 BB in his five big league seasons. The well-traveled 3B-turned-DH-and-1B can hit but he also makes lots of outs.

* * * * *

With respect to pitchers, I'm using one inning per game (or 26 IP) as the qualifier.

Here are the ten hottest hurlers since the All-Star game, as determined by ERA:

  PLAYER             TEAM   IP   H  R  ER  BB  SO  W L   ERA 
1 Joe Saunders       LAA  27.0  18  7   5  10  18  4 0  1.67 
2 Roger Clemens      Hou  38.0  31  9   8   6  35  3 2  1.89
3 Jeff Francis       Col  44.1  35 13  10  11  25  3 2  2.03  
4 Ricky Nolasco      Fla  30.0  23  9   7   8  20  4 1  2.10 
5 Chad Billingsley   LA   34.0  28  9   8  26  24  3 1  2.12 
6 Felix Hernandez    Sea  32.2  24  8   8  16  24  2 1  2.20 
7 Jeremy Sowers      Cle  37.0  34 11  10   4  15  2 1  2.43
8 Chien-Ming Wang    NYY  35.0  30 10  10  10   7  4 0  2.57  
9 Erik Bedard        Bal  33.1  28 11  10  10  31  2 2  2.70 
10 Justin Verlander  Det  29.2  35 10   9   5  27  4 1  2.73 

Joe Saunders has won his first four starts in 2006, never allowing more than two earned runs in any game while lasting seven innings three times and six innings in his most recent outing vs. the Yankees at The Stadium (as they say in New York). For those readers who may not be familiar with Saunders, he is Jeremy Sowers without the pinpoint control. The latter tossed back-to-back shutouts against the Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners last month. With a strikeout rate of just 3.76 per 9 IP, Sowers will need to keep the ball down and in the ballpark if he is to succeed beyond this year.

Speaking of youngsters, take a second look at the pitchers in the table above. All but Roger Clemens are in their early- to mid-20s. While not quite the same pitcher as the one we saw last year, Felix Hernandez, the baby of 'em all, is once again limiting opponents to about two runs per nine innings. His walk and strikeout rates aren't where you'd like them to be but King Felix should be just fine longer term.

Chad Billingsley is getting better results than he deserves in the early going. His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) this year is 5.65 vs. an actual ERA of 3.52. Billingsley has been living on the edge in the second half, walking 26 while striking out 24 in 34 innings of work. He has the stuff but needs to exhibit better command in order to become the pitcher prospect analysts have been forecasting now for a couple of years.

Chien-Ming Wang is the talk of the Bronx but with only seven Ks in his last 35 innings, one can't help but wonder how the groundball pitcher will fare with an infield of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Jason Giambi behind him. I think what we've seen the past month is about as good as it's going to get. Don't get me wrong, Wang can still be an effective pitcher as long as he keeps the ball in the yard. However, I will be surprised if the sinkerballer ever becomes an elite pitcher.

Despite getting knocked around by the White Sox on Friday night, Justin Verlander has been a stud all year long. Including his most recent outing, the fireballer is 4-1 with a 2.73 ERA since the ASG. It will be interesting to see how the rookie from Old Dominion, who missed his previous start with what was termed as a "fatigued shoulder," fares down the stretch.

What can be said about Clemens that hasn't already been said? Not much. The guy is the best pitcher of his era for sure and maybe the best ever. Enjoy watching him while you can.

Here are the ten coldest pitchers:

  PLAYER             TEAM   IP   H  R  ER  BB  SO  W L   ERA 
1 Runelvys Hernandez KC   27.0  34 28  27  17  13  1 3  9.00 
2 Mark Buehrle       CWS  28.0  36 28  27   8  13  0 4  8.68
3 Jamie Moyer        Sea  26.1  40 24  23  10  14  1 2  7.86 
4 Gil Meche          Sea  27.1  37 30  23  18  24  1 3  7.57 
5 Jason Marquis      StL  33.1  50 28  25  11  15  1 4  6.75 
6 Tim Hudson         Atl  33.0  44 26  24  13  22  3 2  6.55 
7 Matt Morris        SF   32.1  38 24  23   8  15  1 3  6.40 
8 Esteban Loaiza     Oak  31.0  47 25  22  11  23  2 2  6.39 
9 Dave Bush          Mil  26.0  29 20  18   5  17  3 1  6.23 
10 Mark Redman       KC   32.2  43 23  22  16  18  1 2  6.06 

Kenny Rogers missed qualifying by a few innings but would have placed between Mark Buehrle and Jamie Moyer. Three peas in a pod. Mark Redman fits into that camp, too. He has never been as successful as the other three but perhaps he serves as a reminder for who Rogers, Buehrle, and Moyer could become if they don't get their mojo back. Given his age, Buehrle is probably the best bet to return to form. However, to be successful, he will need to increase his strikeout rate to a more acceptable level. Whiffing fewer than four per nine innings means the southpaw is not missing enough bats to post a more Buehrle-like sub-4.00 ERA.

Jason Marquis, WHIP it good! Fifty hits in 33 1/3 IP? Yikes! The reality is that Marquis isn't as good as his 12-10 record or as bad as his 5.82 ERA. The latter has been negatively affected by two games in which he gave up a total of 25 earned runs in 10 innings. Without those outings, Marquis' ERA would be 4.63.

How are those Matt Morris and Esteban Loaiza contracts looking right about now? The Bay Area's economy has been aided by the arrival of these two pitchers but the fortunes of the Giants and A's are none the better.

Chris Young (24.0-29-19-19-14-14, 1-1, 7.13) is also struggling of late. However, watching the tall right-hander isn't quite as painful as taking in a Mark Prior (22.2-19-19-17-18-16, 1-2, 6.75) game. More walks than strikeouts. Think something might be wrong with him? It would be a shame if Prior ended up being the modern day's coulda, shoulda, woulda pitcher.

Note: All stats are through games of Friday, August 11.


Its interesting that 7 of the 10 of the top OPS guys are all from the NL. If I had to guess, I'd probably have it 7:3 AL. Most of the names up there are likely candidates that I would expect to see on such a list, with two exceptions:
#8 Luke Scott
~Could this kid be for real? He's hitting a beefy .418 today. I'd guess the league figures him out here pretty soon.
#6 Adam LaRoche
~Finally in gear after a horrible almost lackadaisical first half. Is the bigger brother the better player?

My own personal baseball coverage has started to dominante my free time as these races tighten up headed to the wire and I have so many options available to me. Ten years ago I didnt have the ability to watch every single game of every team. Im like a kid in a candy store. Live updating box scores, streaming video and audio on top of cable tv coverage is enough to end a relationship with the outside world.
Saturdays are the only time I can not watch a White Sox game 1000 miles away from the city. Thats pretty amazing, but why cant I watch ALL the games? Thanks to the FOX stranglehold on Saturdays and the scary but true east coast bias, I click into my MLBaudio pass. The audio pass is nice because you get some pre-game and post-game show, where as the and cable packages cut it off ASAP. Im in time to hear Ed Farmer blasting Jeff Brantley. Apparently Brantley the former RHP had on a left handers glove and was showing what Mark Buerhle needed to do to fix his wind up on ESPN. I dont know if you ever tried throwing a ball with your other hand, but its not pretty. Farmer wasnt having it. He was killing 'Cowboy'. Good radio.
Sox win, Yankees win on the tube and Im dealing like crazy with guys in my Fantasy League(today is the trade deadline). I bring in Zito and Bill Hall in my keeper head to head league and the only guy I lose that was slated to be around next season is Capuano. Bill Hall cost me Freddy Garcia but the thought of Zito in pinstripes next year makes me fill like a big winner for both short and long term. These two join four guys on the above top ten hot lists: Berkman, Hafner, Clemens, Felix. Im feeling good about my chances to make the play-offs clinging to the 6th and final spot with 3 weeks to go. Two of my 3 remaining opponents are at the bottom of the standings but theres atleast three teams in striking distance behind me.
I close the deals with the Dodgers beating up Barry's Giants in the background on my monitor. On the t.v. its Fox sports East/West game, Im taking notes about the high schoolers since the aforementioned league drafts minor leaguers as well. Baseball day was still in full swing with the evening games cranking up and I plan on bouncing around those. The mosaic is still real buggy, but navigating game to game is fast and easy without it. Around this time I notice the annoying back ground noise the last few hours has actually been a bummed out beautiful woman feeling sad and neglected. Sorry baby, I was in love with the game WAY before I met you. Baseball day is cut short by a conciliatory dinner out at her favorite Thai restaurant. We were home in time to catch some west coast finals but I thought better of it.

Lance Berkman born Feb. 10, 1976
Vlad Guerrero born Feb 9, 1976

Wang will be a interesting case, he could really go a lot of different ways.

He struck out a bit more this most recent game, 3 in 5 inning, but the balls found many holes (And helped by many questionable fielding) that he got rocked for 13 hits (although 12 were singles) in 5.1 inning.