Flyin' Under the Radar
While others are discussing the division and wild card races during the last week of the season, I thought it would be a welcomed relief to pay tribute to ten players who have been flyin' under the radar screen. None of these pitchers or hitters will receive a single vote for MVP or Cy Young honors, yet all of them have been among the most valuable players on their respective teams while earning at or near the minimum salary.
In alphabetical order, here are the Poor and Not So Famous . . .
Rafael Betancourt, RP, Cleveland Indians
W-L 5-1 | SV 2 | ERA 1.41 | WHIP .76
Betancourt has been one of the most effective relief pitchers in the majors this season, leading all non-starters with 27 Runs Saved Against Average through games of Saturday. As the set-up man for the Cleveland Indians, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound righthander has allowed only 58 baserunners in 76.1 IP while recording (for what it's worth) 29 holds, good for second in the American League.
Throwing almost exclusively fastballs, Betancourt has struck out 75 (or nearly one per inning) and walked only 9 batters (for a K/BB of 8.33). Opponents are "hitting" .183 against him while putting up an OPS of .488. Originally signed by the Boston Red Sox as an amateur free agent in 1993, the fifth-year MLB veteran has inherited 33 baserunners and prevented all but three from scoring. He ranks second in the majors (behind J.J. Putz) in Win Expectation above Replacement (WXRL).
Manuel Corpas, RP, Colorado Rockies
W-L 4-2 | SV 16 | ERA 1.85 | WHIP 1.03
Corpas, who spent the entire 2005 season pitching for the Modesto Nuts in the California League (A+), has been nothing short of brilliant working out of the bullpen for the Rockies this season. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound righthander earned his first save on July 7 when he struck out the side to preserve a 6-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. Promoted to the role of closer, Corpas has recorded 15 saves during the second half.
The fastball-slider pitcher throws strikes (2.34 BB/9) and induces about 2.5 groundballs for every flyball allowed. As reflected in his 1.64 ERA at home, his style suits Coors Field well. Corpas has been effective during the stretch run, allowing only one run over his last 12 appearances covering 13.2 innings and one earned run in his last 17 outings and 18.2 IP.
Jack Cust, DH, Oakland Athletics
AVG .261 | OBP .412 | SLG .520 | HR 26 | RBI 82
Cust is finally getting his first extensive action in the big leagues ten years after being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the 30th overall pick of the 1997 amateur draft. Prior to this season, Cust had played in a total of 70 games for Arizona, Colorado, Baltimore, and San Diego. The 6-foot-1, 231-pound lefthanded hitter has been everything his stathead fans have imagined, slugging 26 HR while posting an OBP over .400 and a SLG greater than .500. Over half of his plate appearances (486) have resulted in a walk (100) or strikeout (156). He ranks second in the majors (behind Reggie Willits) in the number of pitches per plate appearance (4.40).
Matt Diaz, LF, Atlanta Braves
AVG .338 | OBP .368 | SLG .504 | HR 12 | RBI 44
Diaz can flat out hit. He is mashing lefthanders to the tune of .360/.385/.586. The one drawback is that the preponderance of Diaz's OBP is made up via his AVG as the aggressive hitter has drawn a base on balls only 4% of the time. A relative unknown, the former Florida State star is far from a one-year fluke as he has now hit .333 with 19 HR in 640 AB and 691 PA over the past two seasons. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound outfielder has cooled of late, going homerless since jacking two against Florida late last month.
AVG .297 | OBP .355 | SLG .533 | HR 22 | RBI 76
Although overshadowed by MVP candidate Prince Fielder and ROY favorite Ryan Braun, Hart is experiencing a breakout season hitting nearly .300 with 22 HR and 23 SB. Playing everyday for the first time in his career, the 6-foot-6, 214-pound outfielder is torching southpaws (.333/.423/.622). He has stepped up his production in September (.350/.402/.638) although it may not be good enough to put Milwaukee into the playoffs next week.
Carlos Marmol, RP, Chicago Cubs
W-L 5-1 | SV 1 | ERA 1.22 | WHIP 1.11
Check out Marmol's ERA. Yes, that's not a typo. 1.22 it is. It's hard to believe that the second-year righthander spent the first month-and-a-half in the minors. Formerly a starting pitcher, Marmol has pitched exclusively in relief this season. He started strong, working 10 games before allowing his first run. And he is finishing even stronger, hurling 18 consecutive outings covering 22.1 IP without surrendering a run.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound righthander has struck out 94 batters in only 66.2 IP. His control is still problematic, providing 35 free passes or more than one every two innings. HIs ERA has never reached 2.00 this season and he has pitched well at home (1.53 ERA with a .172 BAA) and on the road (0.86 ERA, .162 BAA). Look for Marmol to play an important role for the Cubs in the postseason.
Peter Moylan, RP, Atlanta Braves
W-L 5-3 | SV 1 | ERA 1.85 | WHIP 1.06
Moylan has been a workhorse for Bobby Cox this season. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound righthander has been asked to pitch 76 games and 87.2 innings. He has put up stellar numbers although his relatively low strikeout rate (6.26 per 9 IP) for a reliever is cause for concern on a go forward basis. Born in Attadale, Australia, Moylan was originally signed by the Minnesota Twins as an amateur free agent in March 1996. He only lasted two years before deciding to return home as a pharmaceutical salesman.
The bespectacled Moylan continued pitching, dropping down to a sidearm motion while adding nearly 10 miles per hour to his fastball. He was a surprise pick for the Australian World Baseball Classic squad and opened eyes when whiffing four Venezuelans, including Bobby Abreu, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, and Magglio Ordonez in his only WBC outing. Moylan was subsequently invited by Atlanta to spring training camp prior to the 2006 season and made his debut in the majors last summer.
Cody Ross, CF, Florida Marlins
AVG .335 | OBP .409 | SLG .659 | HR 12 | RBI 35
Ross spent part of the 2007 season on the 60-day DL, missing most of May, all of June, and part of July. With increased playing time, Ross has been a monster in September, hitting .389/.411/.796 with 7 2B and 5 HR in 54 AB. For the season, the 5-foot-9, 203-pound sparkplug has slugged 17 2B and 12 HR with an OPS of 1.065. The jury is out, but the center fielder, who bats right and throws left, may finally be finding a home in Florida after various stints with the Tigers, Dodgers, and Reds.
Matt Stairs, LF, Toronto Blue Jays
AVG .292 | OBP .370 | SLG .553 | HR 20 | RBI 61
Stairs is not unknown, having played 1537 games since breaking into the big leagues with Montreal in 1992. But he is a bargain, putting up a .923 OPS for a rather meager salary of $850,000. Stairs has ripped 27 doubles and 20 homers in 342 at-bats this season. To my surprise, he has slugged at least 13 HR for 11 straight seasons and now has 240 over the course of his career.
Jayson Werth, RF, Philadelphia Phillies
AVG .303 | OBP .410 | SLG .455 | HR 7 | RBI 48
Werth is posting career highs in AVG, OBP, and OPS while playing part-time for the Phillies. After missing all of July with a sprained left wrist, Werth was put into the starting lineup upon his return and he responded with a .414/.500/.609 line in August. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder's performance has slowed considerably in September, and it remains to be seen what the future holds for the former first round draft pick and stepson of Dennis Werth, grandson of Dick Schofield, and nephew of Dick Schofield.