1B: Jason Giambi, Yankees
The rejuvenation continues, as Jason Giambi is having yet another monstrous season at the plate (260/415/611), although that low batting average is a continuing trend that bears watching. Giambi's two main rivals come from Chicago and Boston: from Chicago comes Paul Konerko (313/384/559). While Konerko is a better fielder than Giambi (which isn't saying much), he just isn't as potent a hitter; and Konerko hits in a friendlier ballpark. The other challenger is Kevin Youkilis in Boston. Youkilis' first season as a regular has been quite fruitful; he's held his own with the glove and hit 297/407/467, the sort of high-OBP performance we expected.
Honorable mention goes to Justin Morneau, who has gone on a tear lately to raise his numbers to 300/352/587 and 23 HR. Morneau is an offensive juggernaut who will soon get his due.
Chris Shelton got off to a great start, but a lack of plate discipline has brought him earthward (282/348/508). Lyle Overbay has been good-but-not-great (294/363/494), as advertised.
The biggest surprise at first is Ben Broussard of the Indians. Formerly one of the weaker-hitting first basemen in the league, Broussard is belting 330/371/530 in 230 at bats so far this year. But that freakishly high batting average is a sign that it is indeed too good to be true.
There have also been some real disappointments at first. The biggest is Richie Sexson of the Mariners who, after a fine 2005 debut with the team, is hitting a paltry 218/288/418, not exactly earning his huge contract. Mark Teixeira has gotten off to a pretty slow start for the Rangers (275/353/445), but so long as he's healthy, Teixeira should regain his hitting stroke.
The worst everyday first baseman in the league is (no surprise) Travis Lee of the Devil Rays. Lee is hitting an abysmal 197/281/291. The D-Rays continue to show an inability to find a first baseman who can hit worth a damn.
2B: Mark Loretta, Red Sox
This choice is by default; no AL second baseman has been really good this year. Few have even been above-average. Loretta is the de facto All-Star, hitting a fair 305/353/385 (his power mysteriously gone), followed up by Yankee Robinson Cano (325/353/439). Cano has played better than Loretta, but has also missed a fair amount of time to injury, thus making Loretta my pick.
Next on the Wheel of Mediocrity we have Brian Roberts of the Orioles. No one expected Roberts to reproduce his near-MVP 2005, and he hasn't, with injuries hampering him to the tune of a 296/361/383 batting line. Cleveland's Ronnie Belliard (291/339/425) and Kansas City's Mark Grudzielanek (291/328/403) haven't been too awful, considering both are plus defenders. Ditto for Tadahito Iguchi (287/346/429), except without the good defense.
Jose Lopez of the Mariners was selected to the real-life All-Star team for reasons that escape me. Lopez has a good defensive reputation, which is belied by his -10 FRAA (worst among AL second basemen). He's hitting a paltry 280/316/454. Yes, pickens are slim among AL second basemen, but we could have done much better than this.
Two big disappointments are Placido Polanco of Detroit (285/318/361) and Luis Castillo of Minnesota (280/342/355). Both players are playing their first full season in the American League, so that could have something to do with it. But it's a big surprise to see them both struggle so unexpectedly.
The worst everyday second baseman in the AL is Oakland's Mark Ellis. Granted, Ellis has been hurt, but a 219/288/311 hitting line is still pretty shocking.
SS: Derek Jeter, Yankees
Jeter's edge? A .427 OBP that is nearly fifty points higher than any other AL SS (Carlos Guillen stands at .379). Add in a .345 batting average and another year of surprisingly adequate defense, and you've got someone who's earned his spot in the AL starting lineup.
It's hard to believe that Michael Young is 15 FRAA, this one year after he was one of the league's worst shortstops. Combine that with a potent bat (316/361/456), and you've got someone who's starting to legitimize his reputation. Props go to Miguel Tejada (who can hit 315/362/510 in an "off year") and Carlos Guillen of Detroit (298/379/497). If Guillen can stay healthy, he's an All-Star; but that's been a BIG "if" in recent years.
Orlando Cabrera has gotten a lot of attention for his streak of games reaching base safely; he's still a slightly above-average player (292/354/422 with an overrated glove) but one who's ripe for a trade, considering his big-time salary.
Jhonny Peralta is going through a huge sophomore slump. After ranking among the league's best in 2005, Peralta is hitting a measly 253/328/396 so far this year. He may have been hitting over his head last year, but he's still got to bounce back from this slump eventually. Other slumping shortstops include Oakland's Bobby Crosby (238/295/356), bitten again by the injury bug, and Chicago's Juan Uribe (whose 237/264/429 batting line is awful even for him.
The AL's worst everyday shortstop is Toronto's Russ Adams, who's hitting a bare 229/284/339, but can comfort himself in knowing that he's no longer awful defensively -- just adequate.
3B: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
If Robinson Cano hadn't gotten injured, my AL All-Star infield would be full of Yankees. What's the world coming to?
Clutch, smutch -- A-Rod is hitting 282/390/505, and the Yankees are lucky to have him.
Boston Mike Lowell has rebounded tremendously, just as I predicted; he's hitting .307, is showing a good glove, and his .516 SLG is second only to Troy Glaus' .518. Speaking of Glaus, he's slugging just like the Jays had hoped (.518, thanks to 23 HR), but they can't be pleased with his .241 batting average or .342 OBP. The ChiSox have to be pleased with Joe Crede, who's hitting a healthy 294/331/512 with great defense. Crede isn't really this good, but with his glove, the Sox will take all they can get.
Disappointments: Melvin Mora (Baltimore) is hitting just 283/348/419 with even worse defense than usual. It's no wonder the Orioles are hesitant to sign him to a contract extension. Eric Chavez (240/350/435) is suffering through more injuries in Oakland, and the A's have to wonder if they're ever going to get the big-time MVP season he has coming. On the plus side, both Texas' Hank Blalock (287/352/443) and Tampa Bay's Aubrey Huff (283/348/461) have rebounded from off years.
Brandon Inge is struggling in MoTown (221/281/463), making one wonder is he's going to be worth an extension when the time comes; Aaron Boone (254/314/360) still sucks in Cleveland (where is Andy Marte?); and Generalissimo Adrian Beltre (254/318/392) is still dead.
The worst everyday 3B in the AL? Surprise, surprise, it's the Twins' Tony Batista (236/303/388). I'm not the kind of guy to say, "I told you so" . . . oh wait, yes I am.
LF: Manny Ramirez, Red Sox
With David Ortiz around, I think people are starting to take Manny for granted. He's hitting 306/434/615. Don't take him for granted! Two other LFers doing fine for themselves are Raul Ibanez of the Mariners (who is prime trade bait, hitting 285/352/538) and Carl Crawford of the D-Rays (319/359/521, better than his norm). Super-honorable mention goes to the Blue Jays' left field platoon of Frank Catalanotto (327/433/500) and Reed Johnson (365/451/507). Put them together, and they've been nearly as good as Manny (although that won't last forever). Finally, there' Minnesota's Michael Cuddyer (269/364/496), who's hitting well, but way over his head.
Any disappointments in left field? The injury to Hideki Matsui means that the Yankees are forced to play Melky Cabrera (275/358/375), although it's partially the Yankees' fault for having such a crummy bunch of backup outfielders/DHs. Garret Anderson is continuing a slow fall down to mediocrity (261/308/405), making him perhaps the most prematurely old player in baseball (he's only 34, but is playing like 39). And the injury to Milton Bradley means more playing time for Oakland's Jay Payton (282/301/407), which isn't a good thing.
The worst everyday left fielder in the AL is Detroit's Craig Monroe, hitting 245/280/454. Monroe isn't any kind of superstar, but he's usually better than this. The only real holes in the Tiger lineup are here and at DH, making some wonder if the Tigers will make a deal for a corner outfielder at the trade deadline.
CF: Vernon Wells, Blue Jays
Wells has finally returned to his 2003 form with the bat, hitting 311/377/594, although he's been unusually weak with the glove (-11 FRAA, worst among AL CF). It's hard to say which is the true Vernon; is it the current Vernon, last seen in 2003 -- or is it the 2004 (272/337/472) - 2005 (269/320/463) Vernon? My guess is that it's somewhere in between -- close to his career averages of 288/336/493. Vernon is drawing more walks than usual this year, but I wouldn't count on him maintaining a batting average above .300 all year long.
This means that our #2, Cleveland's Grady Sizemore (291/363/516) could likely end up as the best come season's end. You could arguably choose Sizemore as better than Wells now -- Wells' advantage in hitting can be in part attributed to ballpark effects and luck, and Sizemore has been a much better defender (4 FRAA) with a better stolen base record (13/15, compared to Wells' 10/13).
A surprise addition to this year's list is Detroit's Curtis Granderson (278/366/462), yet another reason for the Tigers' rejuvenation. Granderson's track record suggests that he's for real -- a fine hitter and defender (8 FRAA) who should anchor the Detroit outfield for the foreseeable future.
After that, we have some familiar names fallen on hard times. There's Johnny Damon (291/367/471) of the Yankees. Damon hasn't fallen on hard times; he's just as good as he was last year, except he's a year older and much more expensive (which doesn't bode well). Torii Hunter of the Twins (264/345/443) just isn't the hitter that people think he is. People get distracted by his HR and RBI and miss out on his unsightly career .323 OBP. He's sort of a modern-day Andre Dawson, except with more acrobatics. Speaking of which, there's little evidence that Hunter's highlight-reel catches make him some sort of elite outfielder; he appears to be just a plain old good outfielder (4 FRAA, although he's done better in the past). The Twins would be well served to dump him on some unsuspecting GM who doesn't pay attention to OBP.
The list of disappointments here is pretty extensive: Brad Wilkerson (238/337/456) hasn't taken to Texas like many thought he would; Chone Figgins (267/333/367) has run out of magic pixie dust out in Anaheim and Mark Kotsay (246/301/358) isn't making Billy Beane look too smart in Oakland. Coco Crisp has had a rough start in Boston (268/323/388), but that's mainly due to injuries. And rookie Brian Anderson of the White Sox has been stellar on defense (13 FRAA), but much less so on offense (192/280/324).
The biggest surprise among AL CFers is Baltimore's Corey Patterson. It's unfair that people thought of Patterson as some sort of worthless ballplayer; he's better than that, as his current performance (278/315/426) would suggest. He's not great, or even perhaps very good, but he's not quite as worthless as he looked last year.
The worst everyday center fielder in the league is probably Seattle's Jeremy Reed (217/260/377). It's a tough call between him and Anderson in Chicago, but Anderson at least has the stellar defense, whereas injuries have kept Reed to an uncharacteristic -6 FRAA.
RF: Jermaine Dye, White Sox
Dye is off to a fantastic start, thanks mainly to his good health and a .318 batting average. But before we start anointing his head with oil, let's recall that Dye is a .275 career hitter, and not likely to keep the batting average up over the course of the season. His 25 HR are equally uncharacteristic (his career high is 33, set in 2000 with Kansas City), but not completely out of line, considering the circumstances.
People continue to heap globs of praise upon Ichiro Suzuki (343/398/447), as they always do upon anyone who is such a "pure hitter." The problem is that while Ichiro is the greatest slap hitter of our time, that doesn't necessarily make him the greatest hitter of our time. He's sort of a modern-day Pete Rose (hitting-wise, otherwise not so much), who is a valuable guy to have around and might earn an MVP on year, but just isn't as valuable as your Mike Schmidt/Albert Pujols types. Ichiro may excite the more "intellectual" old-fashioned fans to talk about scientific baseball, but it doesn't make him a more valuable player than Travis Hafner.
Honorable mention goes to Alexis Rios (330/383/585) is having a breakout year in Toronto and while I doubt he's really as good as all that, it's certainly much better than anything he's done so far. Ditto to Trot Nixon (311/415/455) continues to wow us in Boston, but can he stay healthy for more than 15 minutes at a time?
There are a LOT of good AL right fielders this year. In short: Nick Swisher (258/378/510) is succeeding despite the low batting average in Oakland . . . Magglio Ordonez (312/362/511) is having a good full season for the first time since 2003 -- and still isn't earning his monster salary . . . Texas' Gary Matthews, Jr. (328/374/539) is a complete and utter mirage . . . Casey Blake is having an equally improbably year in Cleveland (304/388/519) . . . and Gary Sheffield was doing fine (309/372/439) before he got injured, and should have some good hitting left in him when he comes back.
The only real disappointment among AL RFers is Vladimir Guerrero (299/340/503). The good news is that a slump by Vlad's standards isn't so bad, and he should be back to his normal self, provided he's healthy. (I could call Reggie Sanders (250/311/433) a disappointment, but that would imply that I'm surprised at his poor performance).
The AL's worst right fielder is Minnesota's Lew Ford (234/304/324), who is just not as good as he looked as a rookie in 2004. Luckily, the Twins have a replacement for him in Jason Kubel (291/324/485), and they also have the quality, yet injury-prone Shannon Stewart (299/355/377).
C: Joe Mauer, Twins
Joe Mauer is a phenomenon, and it's a shame that he's not getting more attention. He was (thankfully) selected to the All-Star team, albeit as a reserve; the fans decided to select Ivan Rodriguez (308/335/450) on a nostalgia trip.
Keep in mind that Mauer hit 294/372/411 last year and was the league's best catcher, even though no one noticed. He also has the minor league track record to suggest that he's for real. And while I don't expect him to keep hitting as well as he has this year, let's just talk about it anyway: .446 OBP, highest among AL catchers by over 50 points; .535 SLG, again the highest, this time by over 40 points. But the SLG doesn't represent a lot of actual power -- Joe's hit just 7 HR, albeit with 22 doubles -- no, the SLG consists mostly of singles. These singles have pumped his batting average up to .378. Yes, I know that Mauer isn't "truly" a .378 hitter, and yes, I know that he won't keep hitting this well over the rest of the season (it's already fell from .392 a couple weeks ago). But still -- a list of players who've managed a .378 batting average at the All-Star break is a short one. Yes, it's a fluke in the sense that Mauer isn't really a .378 hitter -- but it's not really a fluke, because Mauer really is this good, and he's the best catcher in baseball by a few lengths. Oh, and by the way -- he's 23.
I'm inclined to go with Jorge Posada of the Yankees as my #2 pick. He's not been as durable as some of the other catchers, but he's hitting 279/389/466 and is still a capable backstop. He's one of the most underrated players of his generation, in my book. The other option for #2 is Cleveland's Victor Martinez. Martinez (316/381/486) is hitting better than Posada and has been the most durable catcher in the AL; his 346 PAs is tops in the circuit. But Martinez has some serious shortcomings defensively; he's credited for -8 FRAA (compared to +4 for Mauer and +6 for Posada), but FRAA isn't as good a measure of a catcher's defense. Still, it's hard for me to go for Martinez, excellent hitter though he is, when he has such defensive issues.
Other catchers off to a good start in the AL include A.J. Pierzynski (320/365/444), who is a gigantic mirage, as will become evident when his .320 batting average starts trending closer to his .290 career mark. I mentioned Ivan Rodriguez earlier; he is having a good season, but does not deserve a starting All-Star spot ahead of Mauer. Ramon Hernandez is doing fine in Baltimore (273/333/487) and Kenji Johjima is having a pretty good rookie year with Seattle (287/338/460). Another big debut has come from Mike Napoli of the Angels (286/412/579) who has thankfully come along to replace the woeful Jose Molina.
The biggest disappointment among AL catchers is Jason Varitek in Boston. Varitek is hitting a bare 232/316/386 after hitting 281/366/489 last year. It's probably not just a "slump," though -- Varitek is 34 years old, and he's soon going to make the Red Sox regret signing that long-term deal. Bengie Molina has also been disappointing in Toronto, not so much offensively (283/329/420) but defensively (-6 FRAA).
The worst starting catcher in the AL? It's a tough call. Tampa Bay's Dioner Navarro has been pretty good (270/360/360), but it's hard to rank him ahead of other catchers, since he's managed just 100 ABs. But the player I'll select as the worst is Texas' Rod Barajas (265/304/413). Barajas has some power -- 7 HR -- and nothing else.
DH -- Travis Hafner, Indians
Since the All-Star Game is in an NL park this year, the DH won't be used. Unfortunately, that means that all the good DHs have to compete with all the good first basemen for just one starting spot and only a couple more roster spots. This is a shame, especially because so many DHs are having MVP-caliber years.
If you take "clutch" and shove it up your ass (as you should), you'll recognize David Ortiz as a great hitter who is unfortunately just the 3rd-best DH in the AL so far this year. It's hard to admit that he doesn't carry the special stamp of the almighty (hard to admit for Red Sox fans and media broadcasters, at least), but it's the unfortunate truth. Instead, I give you Travis Hafner (322/461/650) -- the best hitter in the American League.
Behind Hafner (closely) is Chicago's Jim Thome. An early favorite for comeback player of the year, Thome has been hitting like an MVP (298/414/651), and his DH role insures that he'll be in the lineup more often, which is definitely a good thing. The aforementioned Ortiz (278/388/609) comes in at #3. A fine hitter, but yet another case of sportswriters falling for the date-rape drug known as "RBIs." The next thing you know, you wake up the next morning, and you've named George Bell the MVP.
Two other star DHs: Jonny Gomes (250/352/511) of Tampa Bay. So far, Gomes has turned into a better hitter than any of the D-Rays young outfielders (Crawford, Baldelli, Gathright, et al), which I think is just hysterical. It shows you how little sportswriters are in touch with reality, even today. The other star DH is none other than Frank Thomas (238/367/523). Don't let the batting average fool you; Thomas is a much-needed offensive boost to the Oakland lineup, and he's coming at discount prices. Great move by Billy Beane; it almost makes you forget Esteban Loaiza (almost).
I couldn't end this entry without mentioning Tim Salmon of the Angels. After a fine 2003 (275/374/464), this all-time Angel great suffered an injury that limited him to 60 non-productive games in 2004 (253/306/323). He didn't play at all in 2005, and I thought his career was over. Really. I read early in the off-season that the Angels had signed the 37-year-old to a minor league contract. I thought that was nice of them, but I doubted anything would come of it; Salmon turns 38 in August, and how many people his age can come back from such a long absence and be worth a damn?
Well, Tim Salmon can. He's hitting 267/368/459 so far this year, which has to be considered one of the best of the warm, snuggly, human-interest stories of the year. Salmon currently has 296 career home runs, and it's now pretty much a certainty that he'll make it to 300.
The AL's worst DH is also its biggest disappointment, by a long shot: Rondell White of the Twins, who's currently hitting 182/209/215. That has to go down as one of the worst performances ever by someone who actually got 181 ABs. Ouch.
SP: Johan Santana, Twins
Here are my top 10 AL starting pitchers:
1. Johan Santana, Twins
2. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays
3. Francisco Liriano, Twins
4. John Lackey, Angels
5. Mike Mussina, Yankees
6. Curt Schilling, Red Sox
7. Scott Kazmir, Devil Rays
8. Justin Verlander, Tigers
9. Jeremy Bonderman, Tigers
10. Jose Contreras, White Sox
Some interesting/amazing facts about the top 10 (all of which are very meaningful): Of the top 10 pitchers, only 3 are over 30 years old -- Schilling (39), Mussina (37) and Contreras (34). 6 of the top 10 are 27 or younger, and 4 of them are 25 or younger.
What does this mean? It means there is a damn fine crop of young pitching talent in baseball today. And the above list doesn't even include all of the highlights, such as: Seattle's King Felix Hernandez (20), LA's Jered Weaver (23), and relief pitchers Joel Zumaya (21) of the Tigers and Jon Papelbon (25) in Boston.
But on to the top 10. Why did I pick Johan over Halladay and Liriano? Johan leads the league in strikeouts (138) and innings pitched (131). His 2.95 ERA is excellent, and he's allowed only 14 HR and 24 BB. Halladay does have a slightly better ERA (2.92), and has allowed fewer HR (11) and walks (16). But he's "only" struck out 72, so I let Johan's 66 extra K's do the talking. And while Liriano has, indeed, been a better pitcher (1.83 ERA, 23:102 BB:K ratio, 5 HR allowed), he's only thrown 88.1 IP, so he's not yet matched Santana's quantity. But he has managed to make the Rookie of the Year race a farce (although Papelbon could get the Boston sympathy/ non-sensical relief pitcher vote). He could also win the Cy Young, something no pitcher has managed in their rookie year since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981.
John Lackey continues his development into a top-tier pitcher which, according to Baseball Prospectus and The Hardball Times, seems to be legitimate. Lackey is currently 8th in the league with 97 strikeouts, allowing only 38 BB and 10 HR, despite pitching 121.2 IP with a brilliant 2.88 ERA. I thought the last two years meant that Mike Mussina was on the way out, but he's been a one-man savior of the Yankees pitching staff (3.24 ERA, 23:108 BB:K ratio). The exact same could be said of Curt Schilling, who is almost single-handedly keeping the Boston rotation afloat (3.60 ERA, 15:115 BB:K ratio!).
The good news is that Scott Kazmir continues to pitch well for the Devil Rays (3.27 ERA, 125 K in 115.2 IP). The even better news is that Kazmir's walk rate is down (just 44 so far this season). After leading the league in walks last year, some thought this could be an issue for the young superstar. But if 2006 is any indication, Kazmir is set right on track to be an ace. Now if they could just find four warm bodies to support him down in Tampa Bay . . .
Support hasn't been a problem for Justin Verlander in Detroit. All 5 Detroit starting pitchers have ERAs under 4.00, with Kenny Rogers' 3.85 mark the highest. Granted, a low strikeout rate could come back to plague most of them, but Verlander is an exception. He's paired a 3.01 ERA with a 33:69 BB:K ratio. That's not bad, but Verlander's minor league numbers suggest that he would notch a lot more than that over 110.2 IP. Hopefully (for the Tigers), this is just a bump in the road. Right behind Verlander is Jeremy Bonderman, the only Tiger whose BB:K ratio is truly excellent (30:111, to go with a 3.46 ERA).
Coming in at #10 is Jose Contreras of the White Sox, who is overrated this year because announcers still have a bizarre fetish for a pitcher's W-L record. Contreras has been good (3.38 ERA), but the entire Chicago rotation has taken a step back from last year. Contreras and Buehrle (4.02 ERA) are still doing well, but Freddy Garcia (4.91 ERA, 20 HR allowed) and Jon Garland (5.37 ERA) have been awful. Garcia should bounce back; Garland, I don't think so.
Short notes on starting pitchers . . .
Speaking of rotations gone to pot, the Athletics aren't nearly as strong as we expected. Dan Haren (3.52 ERA) and the soon-to-be-playing-elsewhere Barry Zito (3.29 ERA) have done well, but Joe Blanton has struggled (4.95 ERA, 36:59 BB:K ratio), Rich Harden is injured, and Esteban Loaiza sucks (6.43 ERA, DUI). I'm a little surprised about Blanton; the other two, not so much . . . Young Jered Weaver has looked just great so far for the Angels (6-0, 1.13 ERA, 7:36 BB:K ratio and 2 HR allowed in 40.1 IP). He won't always be this good, but he's a far cry better than his brother, Jeff (now sucking with the Cardinals) . . . The only really good starting pitcher the Indians have, C.C. Sabathia (3.51 ERA), got injured on Opening Day and had to go on the DL. It's just par for the course in Cleveland these days . . . How unlikely is Tim Wakefield? He enters every season not sure if he's going to be in the starting rotation, and then he's the guy they call on to save the ship (4.09 ERA so far, only Schilling's been better) . . . Along with John Lackey, the Angels need to thank Kelvim Escobar (3.88 ERA, 32:79 BB:K ratio) and Ervin Santana (3.96 ERA) for keeping them in contention while everybody else stinks . . . I predicted before the season that the Tigers' two free agent signees, Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones, would both be disasters. Jones was (and is), but Rogers surprised me by pulling out another good season against all odds. But even still, choosing him to start the All-Star game is another sign that Ozzie Guillen is more than a little goofy . . . The Phillies probably wish they'd kept Vicente Padilla (4.44 ERA -- in Texas, that's not bad -- just 10 HR and 90 K in 107.1 IP), instead of trading him for David Dellucci. Dellucci's a good hitter, but the Phillies needed pitching, not another outfielder. Pat Gillick said that he felt his pitching was better than everyone else thought it was, which is why he traded Padilla. Is he lying, or just stupid (or both)? . . . Josh Beckett hasn't exactly been what the doctor ordered for Boston, thanks mainly to 26 HR allowed. He's better than his 4.75 ERA, but maybe not as much as you'd think. Fenway is much tougher than Pro Player, and the AL is much tougher than the NL . . . The Mazzone magic hasn't worked yet in Baltimore; only the Royals (5.79) have a worse ERA than the Orioles (5.29), and only the Cubs have allowed more walks (363 for Chicago; 359 for Baltimore). Their 539 strikeouts are 20th-best among all 30 ML teams. That's not so bad, is it . . .? While Erik Bedard has pitched fairly well (4.28 ERA, 39:88 BB:K ratio), the "magical" turnarounds predicted for Kris Benson (4.79 ERA) and Daniel Cabrera (5.15 ERA, 70:88 BB:K ratio) have yet to materialize . . . Randy Johnson can still strike them out (97 in 114 IP), but he's also allowing a fair number of HR (17), which account for his 5.13 ERA. I think he's probably done . . . Just to note, I have Mark Redman ranked as the Royals' best pitcher. He ranks 51st out of the 70 pitchers I rank -- and he's their best . . . You can't really call Matt Clement's troubles a slump any more; not when he starts a season with a 6.61 ERA and a 38:43 BB:K ratio in 65.1 IP . . . Carlos Silva lives and dies by the batted ball. Last year, it made him a star. This year, he's in rigor mortis (7.00 ERA, 19 HR in 90 IP) . . . I don't have a clue what happened to Toronto's Josh Towers (9.11 ERA with 16 HR in 54.1 IP), but I sure hope they find out before he explodes.
CL: B.J. Ryan, Blue Jays
Everyone else on the planet would pick Jon Papelbon, who's being fitted for a crown even as we speak. But let's compare:
B.J. RYAN: 1-0, 0.84 ERA, 24/25 in SV, 42.2 IP, 0 HR, 9:54 BB:K ratio
PAPELBON: 2-1, 0.59 ERA, 26/29 in SV, 46 IP, 2 HR, 8:47 BB:K ratio
That's very, very close, and they're both brilliant, of course. The difference in ERA? Papelbon's allowed 3 ER; Ryan's allowed 4. That's not really a statistically significant difference. The difference I look for is in saves (Ryan has a better save percentage), and in peripherals (Ryan has allowed fewer homers and has a better BB:K ratio). I don't have any figures on "leverage," i.e. which any way to measure which pitcher was used in the most important situations. But based on the knowledge I do have, I'm going for B.J. and calling Papelbon a very close second.
Third and fourth place are equally close:
Joe Nathan (MIN): 1.75 ERA, 15/16 in SV, 36 IP, 2 HR, 5:52 BB:K ratio
M. Rivera (NYY): 1.76 ERA, 19/21 in SV, 46 IP, 0 HR, 8:35 BB:K ratio
This could go either way, depending on what stat you value most. While I'm very conscious of Rivera's 10 more IP, I have to go with Nathan's BB:K dominance (the 2 HR at least partially attributable to ballparks).
After them, you have several closers doing a fine job. Seattle's J.J. Putz (2.11 ERA, 7:58 BB:K ratio) has taken over admirably for Eddie Guardado (who was foisted off on the clueless Reds in a trade) . . . Texas' Akinori Otsuka (2.13 ERA, 5:30 BB:K ratio) has taken to Ameriquest Field, at least thus far . . . Bobby Jenks in Chicago (2.83 ERA, 26/27 in SV) and K-Rod of the Angels (2.89 ERA, 21/23 in SV) are also doing well . . . Young Chris Ray is taking quickly to the closer's role in Baltimore (3.19 ERA, 22/23 in SV), but Huston Street is having a much tougher time in Oakland this year (3.26 ERA, 6 blown saves(BS), 4 HR allowed) . . . Bob Wickman is detonating in Cleveland (4.50 ERA), as is Todd Jones in Detroit (5.82 ERA). Unfortunately, though, I have to save last place for Kansas City's Ambiorix Burgos. Burgos has managed to fan 43 batters in just 40.2 IP, but that's off-set by 10 HR allowed and 8 blown saves. That makes for a 5.98 ERA and a nice dose of Maalox for the manager.