July 31, 2009
With the last two months of the season upon us, as of tomorrow it may be time to reassess your offense for your last set of major changes. To lend you a hand in that endeavor, we're taking a look at some the best hitters of the past two months to see who is capable of keeping it up, and who you may want to ditch by the wayside or deal so that someone else gets stuck with the check. This isn't a comprehensive, ranked list, but will instead of focus on some of the more surprising names at or near the top.
Player HR RBI R SB AVG/ OBP/ SLG Jason Kubel 13 33 19 1 .296/.389/.612 Troy Tulowitzki 14 32 36 10 .299/.385/.616 Kendry Morales 12 30 30 1 .310/.362/.625 Adam Lind 13 29 30 1 .303/.359/.601 Juan Rivera 12 37 26 0 .310/.349/.595 Ben Zobrist 10 31 38 7 .298/.407/.526 Bobby Abreu 6 47 38 7 .337/.431/.500 Franklin Gutierrez 9 26 25 5 .333/.382/.545 Marcus Thames 11 22 23 0 .279/.354/.550 Garret Anderson 8 25 19 1 .325/.360/.536 Maicer Izturis 4 23 30 4 .326/.376/.518 David Ortiz 12 37 23 0 .268/.343/.548 Martin Prado 4 20 27 0 .341/.399/.488 Jose Lopez 8 27 20 2 .305/.319/.534 Mark DeRosa 11 27 24 1 .259/.325/.524
It's taken long enough, but it looks like Jason Kubel is finally having a season that fulfills the promise he showed years ago. It's not just his batting average that has jumped up, but also his power has improved, as his ISO is at a career-high .246. He's been even better than that the past two months, and is one of eight players in the majors to post an OPS over 1.000 over June and July. Kubel's additional power has come out of nowhere though, as he has not changed his approach much, and his batted-ball data is consistent with the previous years of his career. He's even taking the same number of pitches per plate appearance as last year; the one difference is a higher HR/FB. Looking at Hit Tracker confirms that his power is for real though, as he hasn't had a single homer designated as "Lucky" and has just three "Just Enough" shots out of his 18 bombs-most of them have been "Plenty" or "No Doubts", with his average distance at nearly 411 feet. Don't wait around for the other shoe to drop, because Kubel is a legitimate power bat.
Kendry Morales has turned it on after a promising winter ball made us think he would finally do something worthwhile for the Halos. He just missed posting a 1.000 OPS over the past two months, but it's hard to argue with 12 homers and a .625 slugging percentage over that span of time. Unlike Kubel, Morales has changed his approach significantly. He swings at pitches outside and inside the zone at about the same rate, but he's waiting on more pitches overall; his P/PA jumped from 3.5 in 2008 to 4.0 this year, and pitchers have recognized his willingness to wait. They are throwing many more first-pitch strikes to him now so they don't waste a ball on one he isn't chasing, but it hasn't slowed Morales down. He does have six "Just Enough" homers this year, tied for the seventh most in the AL, but he's also got his share of deep shots, so you can be assured that Morales' power isn't going anywhere, especially since much of his power is to deep center.
Franklin Gutierrez was acquired for his defense, but he's given the Mariners plenty to love at the plate the past two months as well. His year started slow (.258/.329/.348 in April/May) but he's picked it up and is now at .296/.355/.448. Which two-month split is on the money, or is the real answer more in line with his full season's work? PECOTA had him topping out at .287/.351/.474 this year, and a 169 at-bat sample from the middle of the year wasn't enough to sway his adjusted forecast (.273/.331/.421). Then again, that forecast also includes the time he was much worse from the first two months, so I would manually adjust and put him right near his current line for the year. While his line doesn't look too amazing, his .283 EqA is well above the positional average at center, as well as in the corners and the outfield overall. Even if he doesn't blow the league away down the stretch like he just did these past two months, he'll be useful for you the rest of the season.
You have to give the Braves credit for making major changes to their team this year, cutting and benching players that were getting in the way of their winning. Martin Prado was a benefactor of this right-minded ruthless, as he is now the starting second baseman. He's done this by making contact with a very high rate of pitches thrown in the zone (95.2 percent; if he qualified, he would rank 11th in the majors) while avoiding strikeouts (10 percent) and drawing walks (9.3 percent). His .160 ISO is a bit above last year's .140 mark, but given his skills controlling the strike zone and working the count (4.0 P/PA to go along with the great contact skills) and it's easy to see why Prado has turned himself into a pretty solid hitter. PECOTA likes him to keep it up, with a .292/.357/.432 rest-of-season forecast that complements his 90th-percentile forecast of .310/.367/.439 well. Given Kelly Johnson's regression as a hitter the past two years, it wouldn't be surprising to see Prado dominate the play at second base from here on out.
Mark DeRosa has shown quite a bit of power this year; even during the past two months when his average was down, he was still going yard with regularity. He's picked up six homers with the Cardinals in just 61 at-bats, but based on his own ability and the Cards' home park, you may not want to expect more of that. DeRosa averages 396.3 feet on his homers (adjusted for temperature, wind, environment, etc., he averages 395.1). St. Louis has one of the tougher parks in the majors for homers, with just 1.63 hit there per game, and for an average distance of 402.4 feet. It's the third-toughest park in the majors to hit homers in for right-handers according to pre-2009 park factors, so DeRosa may lose that bit of production that helps him stand out at second base. Given how low his average and OBP have been this year, losing out on the homers might be a problem for your production at second.