Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Storybook baseball

This is why 'they' say baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. This is why no one makes rash or impulsive decisions in the majors. This is why the sport of baseball is such a sweet science. 2010: The Year of the Pitcher has officially turned into a year of hitters. And it only took a month.

With pitchers dominating the headlines throughout the first four months of the season, with no-hitter after no-hitter being thrown, with only one player on pace for 40 home runs, 2010 was shaping up to be historic. It still is, but for reasons that have nothing to do with any of those things. For you see, all the stud pitchers have fallen off.

Cliff Lee's epic season is still statistically heroic, yet terribly disappointing. He still currently is on pace to record the greatest K/BB rate in any season in the history of baseball. Lee has struck out 161 batters and only walked 12 thus far, for roughly a 13.5 to 1 ratio. The record, as I've stated many times, is 11/1 by Bret Saberhagen in 1994. And yet, Lee's season has fallen off. He just missed his last start because of nagging injury. He only had one good start in the entire month of August. In fact, since coming to the Rangers, Lee is 2-5 with a 4.69 ERA. And I thought he was a shoe-in to win the AL Cy Young just a few weeks ago.

But Cliff Lee isn't the only one. Ubaldo Jimenez, after starting the season 15-1, only won three games in his next 10 starts. His season totals still look superb, and yet his dominance is apparently still on break. Jimenez has been plain mediocre since the mid-July all-star break.

The dog days of summer got to Josh Johnson as well. Posting a 4.46 ERA in the month of August, Johnson allowed more runs in that single month than he had in the previous three months combined. The three clear favorites to win the Cy Young awards all fell on hard times and put the award back up for grabs.

But they did more than just that. They allowed for the hitters to reclaim the sport. For you see, 2010 now has a chance to be an epic hitters season. Four players have a chance to hit for the Triple Crown. Yes, four. Not a single player has reached that achievement in the past 40 years. The last, Carl Yastrzemski, did so in 1967. But this year, Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto, and Albert Pujols all have a reasonable shot at winning the NL Triple Crown, as does Miguel Cabrera in the american league.

There are only about 25 games to play in the season. To have a shot at leading the league in home runs, RBI's, and batting average, you must be within striking distance or currently hold the lead in all three. And, very obviously, only one guy in each league can hit for the crown, so the competition hurts in some respects. The lone AL competitor, Miguel Cabrera, currently ranks second in the league in average, tied for second in home runs, and first in RBI's. Not bad. However, he is not as close as we'd wish with so few games left. Even though he ranks second in batting average, he is still nearly 30 points behind Josh Hamilton in first place. Add the fact that Hamilton is injured and may take a bunch of games off, Cabrera knows he'd have to reach Hamilton, rather than Hamilton falling back to him. Also, with a second place rank in home runs, you would think Miggy would be in great shape. And yet, Jose Bautista is 10 home runs ahead of the rest of the league and the only man in either league over 40 for the season. The Tigers have 23 games remaining, and Cabrera, after getting some tendinitis last night, will probably not play in all of them. Hitting for the AL Triple Crown seems unlikely, but ranking in the top two in each category approaching the middle of September a'int too shabby.

So what about the chances of an NL Triple Crown being hit? The chances are better with three players 'in the running' but how likely is it anyone will do it? Albert Pujols probably won't. Although he ranks first in the league in home runs and is only three RBI's behind the leader, he has dropped to 7th in batting average, 32 points out of first. You would say, by the stats alone, he has a better shot than Cabrera being roughly the same amount out of the batting average lead, except while Cabrera has only that one man ahead of him to grab the lead, Pujols has six different players ahead of him in chase of the batting title. A monster month is possible for the best hitter in the bigs, but the numbers make it unlikely.

So what about Joey Votto? This man has been in contention for the Triple Crown and league MVP since the first month of the season. He got snubbed for the original all-star roster even though he was probably the favorite to take home the NL MVP at that point. The fans added him in on the final ballot, but perhaps that fueled him to keep his career year going. Votto currently ranks second in batting average, tied for third in home runs, and second in RBI's. He has a much better shot than either of the previous two players. Being only two RBI's and three home runs off the leader, Votto could make up that ground in one good series. The problem, again, is batting average. Votto is 19 points out of first. Especially since his average has stayed pretty consistent since May, jumping 20 more points this late seems unlikely.

That leaves one man. Four players with a reasonable shot this late in a season is rare. But this man is the clear favorite. It might be better odds that he wins the Triple Crown than that he doesn't! This man is Carlos Gonzalez. This is his first full season in the majors and he is making the most of it. The year's best fantasy bargain is currently first in the NL in batting average (by 19 points remember), tied for third in home runs and only three back of the leader, and leads the league in RBI's. He has it all: a rather comfortable lead in average, a very short deficit in home runs with only two players ahead of him, and a current lead in RBI's. Carlos Gonzalez may very well win the Triple Crown.

Whether he does or he doesn't, and even if no one wins the Triple Crown, these four men, along with Josh Hamilton and Jose Bautista I suppose, have turned 2010 into the year of the hitters.

(Image taken from

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