Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
21 year-olds aren’t supposed to go all Barry Bonds on the league, but Upton now holds a scalding .329/.404/.606 line with a .434 wOBA that places ninth among major league hitters. The .329 average likely won’t persist- Upton is still whiffing frequently (27.6% of his AB’s) and his BABIP sits at .412- but I’m nitpicking. He’s working the count well (11 BB%) and beating the bejesus out of the baseball (.276 Isolated Power). Upton is dominating at the highest level, yet he’s younger than some guys who will go in the first round of this month’s amateur draft. Suffice it to say, he’s among some exclusive, rarified company.
Nelson Cruz, Rangers
Last fall, I examined Cruz’s crushing of PCL pitching and its ramifications for his career prospects. Regarding his Jake Fox-like reign of terror in the high minors and his equally impressive work in a small sample for Texas last summer, I said: “Cruz has his uses on a major league roster as a power bat, but keep in mind that he’s a 28 year-old minor league slugger, not a hot young prospect. Don’t be fooled by that small sample size.”
So far, I can file that one in the “D’oh!” department. Formerly of the A’s and Brewers organizations, Cruz has translated his “Hulk Smash” act to the majors, with a .410 wOBA. His control of the strike zone isn’t impeccable, but there’s nothing wrong with drawing a free pass 9.6% of the time with a 24% strikeout rate. His ISO is nearing .300, to boot (.296). Cruz has seen fastballs just 53 percent of the time (one of the lowest rates in the bigs), but evidently he’s doing just fine against breaking stuff, thank you very much.
Even taking the cozy environs of Arlington into account, Cruz has been a stud: with 11.9 Batting Runs (park-adjusted), he ranks 13th among outfielders. Throw in 9 steals in 10 tries, and you have a guy who’s looking anything but a minor league mirage.
Carl Pavano, Indians
Pavano has been the butt of countless jokes for his fruitless Yankee tenure and propensity to turn his training room visits into an episode of House, but let’s give the man some credit. As Dave Cameron has pointed out, Pavano’s FIP (3.78) is far better than his 5.29 ERA. Carl is punching out 7.14 batters per nine innings, his highest rate since 2001 with the Expos, and he holds a 29.5 Outside-Swing% (by far his highest since 2002, and five percent above the league average).
Randy Wolf, Dodgers
The Wolf-Man inked a 1-year, $5 million deal with L.A. this winter, with performance incentives based on innings pitched. With 1.2 WAR, Wolf has already provided $5.3M in value for the Dodgers. His 2.85 K/BB ratio (7.36 K/9, 2.58 BB/9) is his highest since 2001 with the Phillies. The 2.84 ERA is something of a misnomer- his FIP is 3.88- but Wolf has still been one of the best free agent signings of the off-season.
Luke Scott, Orioles
Having recovered from a bum shoulder that put him on the DL, Scott cracked 6 homers in a four-game span from May 27th to the 30th. Posting a 1.479 OPS during an abbreviated month of May, Scott now holds a blistering .445 wOBA for the season, with 11 taters in 133 PA. The O’s are an awfully interesting club, what with their collection of blue-chip talent, but contention certainly isn’t in the cards in ’09. The soon-to-be 31 year-old Scott could do wonders for an Atlanta outfield that holds a collective .291 wOBA (dead-last in the majors).
Shairon Martis, Nationals
Martis racked up five early wins despite mediocre peripherals, but things have quickly gone south for the former Dutch ace. Martis isn’t fooling much of anyone (4.06 K/9, 6th-lowest among qualified starters) and isn’t painting the corners (3.59 BB/9). The result is a 5.14 FIP. The 22 year-old is one of many Nats starters who put the ball in play often, a problem given Washington’s wretched fielding. Nationals starters rank 26th in K/9, behind a defensive unit that ranks last the in the majors in UZR/150.
Ervin Santana, Angels
No sweeping conclusions can be derived from 4 starts and 18 innings of pitching, but Santana’s return from an elbow ailment has been an unhappy one. After two passable starts against the Red Sox and Mariners, Santana was taken to the woodshed by the light-hitting White Sox (1 IP, 7 R on the 25th), and his second start against the M’s last night was also grim (5.1 IP, 8 R).
The 2009 version of Santana has not yet resembled the 2008 model that came equipped with blazing 94.4 MPH heat and a sinister 83 MPH slider. So far, his average fastball velocity sits at 90.7 MPH, with an 81 MPH breaker. Opposing batters made contact against Santana’s stuff just 77.1% of the time in ’08, but have put the bat on the ball 86.4% in ’09 (80.7% MLB average). It wouldn’t be wise to do anything rash like dropping him or trading him for 50 cents on the dollar, but Santana should probably be benched until he works through these kinks.
Willy Taveras, Reds
Taveras was surprisingly competent during the month of April, playing the leadoff-man’s game with aplomb (12.3 BB%, 12.3 K%), but the former Astro and Rockie reverted to his batting average-dependent ways in May (5.5 BB%, 16.7 K%). The result was a hollow .269/.307/.333 line after April’s .262/.351/.228 showing.
Taveras has just about the least amount of extra-base thump in the majors and he generally doesn’t work the count, so he’s an offensive liability when those singles aren’t finding holes. Unfortunately, the 27 year-old has been hitting fewer grounders as the years have gone by: 55.6% in 2006, 51.5% in ’07 and ’08, and 46.3% this season. Nothing good comes from a Taveras flyball, which makes his 35.3% flyball rate (28.6% career average) troubling. Yes, he swipes a lot of bags, but those employing Taveras as an everyday outfielder in fantasy circles lose out on production in other categories.
James Loney, Dodgers
The 25 year-old lefty continues to control the strike zone (9.5 BB%, 10.4 K%), but he’s been showing less power than Juan Castro, for goodness sakes. Loney’s ISO sits at a sickly .085, this after a disappointing 2008 showing (.145 ISO) that would look downright Herculean compared to his current mark. Loney is hitting plenty of line drives (23.5%), but he’s not getting terribly unlucky on balls put in play (.315 BABIP).
In 2009, the average first baseman is slugging .492 with a .364 OBP; Loney holds a .373 SLG% with a .351 OBP. The 6-3, 220 pounder is still relatively young, but singles hitters just aren’t that valuable at a position where power tends to rule the day.
Andy Pettitte, Yankees
Pettitte has long been an underappreciated piece of New York’s tremendous run of success, and he posted a fine 3.71 FIP in 2008. However, the 2009 version hasn’t been as productive. Yes, his ERA (4.10 in ’09) is lower than last year (4.54) and his record is better, but that’s more the product of performance on balls put in play. Pettitte had a .339 BABIP last season, compared to .299 this season. Lead-footed in the field last season (-5.4 team UZR/150, 25th in the majors), the Bombers are slightly in the black this year (+0.4 UZR/150, 14th).
In terms of things that Pettitte has more direct control over, he’s taken a step backward in 2009. His K rate, nearly seven last season, has fallen to just 4.81 (making New York’s defensive improvement all the more important for Pettitte). He has also issued 3.25 walks per nine innings, his highest mark since 2004. The result is a middling 4.86 FIP, the highest mark of his distinguished career.
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at email@example.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.