Predicting Boom or Bust for MLB's Top 40 Stars in Pennant Race Action

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistAugust 29, 2012

Predicting Boom or Bust for MLB's Top 40 Stars in Pennant Race Action

0 of 40

    When September rolls around in MLB, playoff contenders lean on their superstar players to help push them over the top and into the postseason.

    With that in mind, the following group of players represents the 40 biggest stars in this season's playoff push and my thoughts on whether they will be a boom or bust down the stretch.

    To clarify, this is not a list of the 40 best players in 2012, but instead the 40 biggest stars based on reputation—the idea being that this would serve as a snapshot of the top names in a position to make an impact down the stretch.

    After that, I took into account both this season's numbers and past performances to make my best guess on whether the players would boom or bust down the stretch. 

C Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves

1 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .234/.307/.413, 18 HR, 58 RBI, 39 R

     

    Outlook

    A career .286/.358/.486 hitter entering the season, McCann has long been one of the most reliable and productive offensive backstops in all of baseball.

    However, he's been terrible across the board this season, as he's actually gotten worse in the second half and is hitting a meager .170 with runners in scoring position on the season. The power is there, but McCann is clearly not himself this year.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Bust

C Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

2 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .325/.375/.511, 17 HR, 62 RBI, 51 R

     

    Outlook

    In the past few seasons, Molina has gone from defensive catcher to solid offensive contributor to perhaps the best offensive catcher in all of baseball.

    He's been clutch throughout his career and has shown no signs of slowing up in what has been a career year for him. Expect him to continue producing in September as the Cardinals look to make another late-season surge into the playoffs.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

C Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

3 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .327/.403/.535, 19 HR, 80 RBI, 58 R

     

    Outlook

    The Giants suffered greatly when Posey went down with a broken leg last season, as there is no doubt he is the catalyst of that offense and its most important player on that side of the ball.

    He's come back better than anyone could have hoped this season, and he has been on an absolute tear since the All-Star break, hitting .404 BA, 9 HR, 37 RBI. He's played 19 games at first base and three at DH this year, so he should be fresh down the stretch as well.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

1B Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers

4 of 40

    Player Stats

    .311/.407/.520, 23 HR, 91 RBI, 68 R

     

    Outlook

    While Fielder and the Tigers got off to a slow start, they have both heated up, as Fielder ranks among the leaders in a number of offensive categories and the Tigers have pulled within two games of the White Sox in the AL Central.

    Despite the prolific power numbers Fielder has put up over the course of his career, he's struggled in his brief postseason experience with a .192 BA, 4 HR, 8 RBI line over 52 at-bats. He'll be counted on to carry the Tigers down the stretch alongside Miguel Cabrera and will need to buck that trend of struggling in the clutch.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Bust

1B Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers

5 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .297/.343/.467, 16 HR, 90 RBI, 65 R

     

    Outlook

    While the grandiose scale of the Dodgers-Red Sox trade that brought Gonzalez to L.A. is almost hard to comprehend (roughly $270 million in salary moved to Los Angeles), there is little doubt that Gonzalez was the impact player of the deal.

    His power is down this season, but he still ranks among the top run producers in the game, and hitting in a lineup that features the likes of Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier should only help his production down the stretch. One thing's for sure: He's a major upgrade over James Loney.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

1B Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox

6 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .319/.390/.514, 21 HR, 60 RBI, 53 R

     

    Outlook

    Konerko continues to be among the AL's best run producers despite his age, and the 36-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down.

    He was recently sidelined with a concussion, but has shown no ill effects upon his return in hitting .351 BA, 3 HR, 6 RBI over 10 games. Really, there's no reason to think he'll be anything but rock solid for the White Sox down the stretch, as he has been for the past 14 seasons.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

1B Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees

7 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .255/.335/.478, 23 HR, 81 RBI, 65 R

     

    Outlook

    Teixeira has always been a slow starter with better numbers in the second half throughout his career, though this season the difference is negligible, as his numbers have been average all season long.

    He recently went down with a strained calf (h/t ESPN) and is expected to miss a week with Steve Pearce filling his slot in the lineup. It's unknown as of now how much time he will miss, but there is at least some reason to think the injury could interfere with his impact on the stretch run.

     

    Boom or Bust? 

    Bust

1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

8 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .342/.465/.604, 14 HR, 49 RBI, 52 R

     

    Outlook

    Votto was well on his way to another MVP-caliber season when he went down with a knee injury back on July 15. He's been slow to recover from surgery, although with a seven-game lead in the division, the Reds have not exactly tried to rush him back.

    He made his first rehab appearance on Tuesday night for Single-A Dayton, and if all goes well, he could be back as soon as the Astros series this weekend (h/t Cincinnati.com). With the long layoff, expect him to need some time to shake off the rust.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Bust down the stretch, boom once the playoffs start.

2B Robinson Cano, New York Yankees

9 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .310/.376/.553, 27 HR, 70 RBI, 78 R

     

    Outlook

    Cano has been one of the most consistent hitters in the league this season, hitting at least .312 every month since May.

    He's capable of putting together a monster month, evident by his .340 BA, 11 HR, 21 RBI performance in June. For his career, he's hit for the highest average in September/October at .329.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

2B Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds

10 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .297/.336/.453, 14 HR, 68 RBI, 73 R

     

    Outlook

    A number of players have stepped up in Joey Votto's absence. Guys like Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier are making a big impact offensively, but Phillips remains the biggest name in the team's lineup right now, and he'll be looked to down the stretch to step up.

    He's capable of going on a tear, as he did with a .313 BA, 5 HR, 21 RBI line in the month of June, and if he can make a consistent impact along with the team's surprise contributors, the Reds should be in good shape come October.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

SS Derek Jeter, New York Yankees

11 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .322/.363/.451, 14 HR, 45 RBI, 83 R

     

    Outlook

    Jeter's performance was a big surprise in the first half, but he's been even better after the All-Star break and particularly in August with a .360 BA, 6 HR, 16 RBI, 24 RBI.

    The 38-year-old has a legendary track record when the lights are shining brightest, and there is no reason to think he'll slow down as the season wraps up.

     

    Boom or Bust? 

    Boom

SS Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers

12 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .256/.327/.452, 21 HR, 80 RBI, 68 R

     

    Outlook

    Ramirez has thrived since joining the Dodgers, hitting .283 BA, 7 HR, 32 RBI in 32 games. He has also been able to move back to his preferred position of shortstop.

    However, the luster of playing for a new team has begun to fade and he's batted just .167 over his past nine games. His production could very well level back off to where it was at during his time with the Marlins.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Bust

3B Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers

13 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .313/.351/.528, 25 HR, 81 RBI, 74 R

     

    Outlook

    There is no hotter player in baseball right now than Beltre, as he has hit .431 BA, 6 HR, 16 RBI over his past 13 games and is well on his way to a third straight 100 RBI season.

    He's managed to stay healthy this season, as he has already matched the 124 games he played last season. As long as he is hitting in the middle of a stacked Rangers lineup, there is no reason he shouldn't continue to produce.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

38 Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

14 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .324/.391/.586, 32 HR, 106 RBI, 83 R

     

    Outlook

    We are still in August, and Cabrera already has two more home runs and one more RBI than he did over a full season's worth of at-bats last season. There is no question he has benefited from hitting ahead of Prince Fielder in the order.

    With seven more home runs and 21 more RBI, he'll set new personal bests in both categories. After finishing in the top five in MVP voting five times in the last seven years, this could finally be the year he takes home the honor.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

3B Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves

15 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .302/.382/.500, 13 HR, 54 RBI, 47 R

     

    Outlook

    For a 40-year-old playing in the final season of his career, Jones has been fantastic. While he's played just 84 games, the team is clearly much better with him in the lineup, evident by a 49-35 record with him versus a 26-21 record without him.

    Jones has always hit well down the stretch throughout his Hall of Fame career. If he's looking to go out with a bang, there is no reason to expect anything less this season.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

3B Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

16 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .297/.380/.493, 7 HR, 31 RBI, 21 R

     

    Outlook

    The impact that Longoria has had on the Rays this season has been startling, as the team has gone 27-14 with him in the lineup, compared to 43-44 when he has not been in the lineup.

    He's hit just .258 BA, 3 HR, 12 RBI in 18 games since returning from a hamstring injury, but his presence alone has helped the Rays turn their season around. After hitting a walk-off bomb to send the Rays to the playoffs last season, I certainly wouldn't bet against Longoria down the stretch.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

3B Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

17 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .280/.349/.449, 16 HR, 67 RBI, 73 R

     

    Outlook

    The Nationals got very little from their $100 million man in the first half, as he hit just .243 BA, 8 HR, 40 RBI and missed a significant chunk of playing time with injury.

    He righted the ship with a terrific July (.366 BA, 10 HR, 24 RBI) and is back to making a significant impact in the middle of the Nationals order. Their pitching is what got them this far, but some clutch run-producing could push the Nats over the top.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

LF Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics

18 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .294/.355/.500, 16 HR, 62 RBI, 45 R

     

    Outlook

    After trading Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill this past offseason, the A's looked like they were going to enter the season lacking a true star player. That was until the team signed Cuban phenom Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36 million deal.

    The signing came with a good deal of hype, and he lived up to it immediately with three HR and seven RBI in his first four games. After cooling off to hit just .263 before the All-Star break, he's hit .344 BA, 7 HR, 26 RBI with a .967 OPS in the second half to lead the charge in Oakland.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

LF Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals

19 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .309/.383/.530, 24 HR, 90 RBI, 83 R

     

    Outlook

    The Cardinals have battled injury all season, but for once Holliday has not been among those players spending time on the DL, as he's played in 126 of the team's 129 games.

    He's seen a spike in his power this season and has stepped up nicely into the premier run-producer role vacated by Albert Pujols. With everyone around him now healthy, he has no reason to put pressure on himself and he should continue putting up one of the best seasons of his career.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

CF Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees

20 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .236/.330/.482, 33 HR, 74 RBI, 82 R

     

    Outlook

    Granderson has continued his ascent to the ranking of the power-hitting elite this season, as his 33 long balls lead the team and are tied for fourth in the American League.

    However, he's hitting just .212/.282/.442 in the second half and has been bumped down to fifth in the lineup of late, with Nick Swisher moving up to No. 2 in the lineup.

     

    Boom or Bust? 

    Bust

CF Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers

21 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .290/.353/.578, 35 HR, 111 RBI, 84 R

     

    Outlook

    Hamilton was arguably the best player in all of baseball during the season's first two months, as he hit .368 BA, 21 HR, 57 RBI over the first 47 games.

    He slumped badly to open the second half but has bounced back with a .308 BA, 6 HR, 27 RBI month of August, as he appears to have righted the ship for the stretch run.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

CF Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles

22 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .288/.335/.502, 24 HR, 65 RBI, 75 R

     

    Outlook

    Jones was one of the breakout stars of the season's first half, hitting .289 BA, 20 HR, 44 RBI before the All-Star break and earning a six-year, $85.5 million extension.

    His power has diminished in the second half, though, as he has just four home runs and 21 RBI in 165 at-bats. He's an important part of the Orioles' push toward the postseason, but he may not have quite the impact he did in the first half.

     

    Boom or Bust? 

    Bust

CF Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

23 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .337/.404/.584, 17 HR, 54 RBI, 60 R

     

    Outlook

    One can't help but wonder what kind of season Kemp could have put together had he not been injured, as he was hitting a ridiculous .355 BA, 12 HR, 28 RBI with a 1.163 OPS through his first 36 games before missing a month and a half.

    He's continued to produce since coming back and should benefit from the addition of Adrian Gonzalez to the team's lineup. If he can stay healthy, which is admittedly a big if, then there is no reason to believe he won't put up great numbers down the stretch.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

CF Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

24 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .345/.410/.568, 24 HR, 79 RBI, 90 R

     

    Outlook

    McCutchen single-handedly carried the Pirates offense in the first half, and now that guys like Garrett Jones and Neil Walker have begun to do their part with the bat, it has taken a lot of pressure off of him.

    At the same time, he has struggled of late, hitting just .245 BA, 2 HR, 13 RBI as he appears to be wearing down a bit after such a phenomenal stretch. It's hard to call him a bust, but I don't think he can be expected to make the same impact he has to this point down the stretch.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Bust

RF Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals

25 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .269/.341/.509, 28 HR, 85 RBI, 71 R

     

    Outlook

    Beltran was among the most productive sluggers in baseball during the first half of the season, earning an All-Star Game start by hitting .296 BA, 20 HR, 65 RBI.

    However, he's slumped badly in the second half with a line of just .219 BA, 8 HR, 20 RBI. While his numbers are up a bit in August, he has not looked like the same hitter who carried the team's offense in the first half.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Bust

RF Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles

26 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .293/.356/.475, 13 HR, 46 RBI, 53 R

     

    Outlook

    A wrist injury shelved Markakis for 35 games earlier this season, and he was hitting just .256 BA, 8 HR, 26 RBI over 199 at-bats before hitting the DL.

    However, since returning, he's hit .335 BA, 5 HR, 20 RBI with an .881 OPS in 176 at-bats, as he has spent a good amount of time hitting in the leadoff spot of a lineup in which his on-base skills are more of an asset.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

DH Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox

27 of 40

    2012 Stats

    .204/.334/.490, 38 HR, 88 RBI, 75 R

     

    Outlook

    Dunn endured a horrendous first season in Chicago last year, as he hit .159 BA, 11 HR, 42 RBI and a resulting -3.1 WAR. His four-year, $56 million contract immediately looked like a disastrous mistake.

    He's bounced back this season and leads all of baseball with 38 home runs. His stat line is a puzzling one, though, as he leads the league in strikeouts (183) and walks (89) and has an on-base percentage a whopping 130 points higher than his average.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    He'll continue to do what he's done all season...whether that should be considered boom or bust is up for debate.

SP Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

28 of 40

    2012 Stats

    26 GS, 13-5, 2.82 ERA, 164 Ks, 182 IP

     

    Outlook

    With Tim Lincecum struggling, and even with as good as Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong have been, there is little question that Matt Cain is the ace of the Giants staff.

    He's been great all season long and has never been one to slump in any given month, so expect him to keep it up for the stretch run. He didn't allow an earned run in 21.1 innings of work during the 2010 postseason, and it will be interesting to see how he fares this time around if the Giants can reach the postseason.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

SP Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

29 of 40

    2012 Stats

    26 GS, 16-7, 3.28 ERA, 168 Ks, 159.1 IP

     

    Outlook

    While you can argue that Gonzalez is the third-best pitcher on his own team, he is no doubt the about to be the face of the rotation with Stephen Strasburg to be shut down soon.

    It cost the Nationals a lot to get him from the A's this past winter, and he's been great all season. However, he'll be leaned on hard down the stretch as the ace of the staff, and for the first time in his career, he is actually pitching for something in September. We'll see how he handles those pressures. 

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Bust

SP Tim Hudson, Atlanta Braves

30 of 40

    2012 Stats

    22 GS, 13-4, 3.57 ERA, 85 Ks, 141 IP

     

    Outlook

    While he tends to fly under the radar a bit, Hudson continues to be an ace at the age of 36, as he anchors a young and inexperienced Braves rotation and has gone 46-23 with a 3.16 ERA since the start of 2010.

    He'll be relied on as heavily as any starter in baseball down the stretch, and it will be interesting to see how he responds to that pressure. As a savvy veteran with his share of pennant chase experience, I think he'll thrive in the role.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

SP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

31 of 40

    2012 Stats

    27 GS, 12-7, 2.84 ERA, 183 Ks, 186.2 IP

     

    Outlook

    While the recent additions of Joe Blanton and more so Josh Beckett have grabbed headlines, there is little doubt that Kershaw is the team's best and most important pitcher down the stretch.

    He's not quite matched his Cy Young season from last year, but he's been phenomenal nonetheless, as he leads the NL in innings pitched (186.2), WHIP (0.986) and H/9 (6.8). This will be his first taste of a pennant run since he was 21 back in 2009, and he seems poised to make a major impact.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

SP David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

32 of 40

    2012 Stats

    26 GS, 16-5, 2.53 ERA, 170 Ks, 174 IP

     

    Outlook

    Price has emerged as one of the game's best young pitchers over the past few seasons, but he has taken his game to the next level this year and is undoubtedly one of the best starters in all of baseball.

    He was shelled in his last start, allowing six runs on 10 hits in four innings of work against the Rangers. That snapped a streak of 12 straight quality starts, a span in which he went 8-0 with a 1.56 ERA. In other words, one start does not cancel out two fantastic months.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

SP CC Sabathia, New York Yankees

33 of 40

    2012 Stats

    21 GS, 13-3, 3.44 ERA, 149 Ks, 149 IP

     

    Outlook

    Sabathia has landed on the DL twice this season, as he has not been the durable workhorse the Yankees have come to rely on in the past few seasons.

    He looked good in his return on Friday, as he went 7.1 innings and allowed just four hits and one run. Alongside impressive free-agent signing Hiroki Kuroda, Sabathia will be relied on heavily down the stretch.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

SP Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

34 of 40

    2012 Stats

    23 G, 22 GS, 15-4, 2.65 ERA, 150 Ks, 153 IP

     

    Outlook

    After spending the first two seasons of his career pitching in a setup role, Sale has announced himself as one of the game's top arms in his first season in the White Sox rotation.

    The 23-year-old is entering uncharted territory in innings pitched, as he was already shut down for a 10-day stretch earlier this season with a case of "dead arm." However, he returned strong and looked great against the Yankees last time out (7.2 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 13 Ks), as he continues to make his case as an AL Cy Young contender.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

SP James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays

35 of 40

    2012 Stats

    26 GS, 12-7, 4.01 ERA, 168 Ks, 175 IP

     

    Outlook

    Shields was heavily rumored to be on the move both this past offseason and at the trade deadline, and it appeared to take its toll on him during the month of July, as he went 1-2 with a 6.06 ERA in five starts before tossing a shutout on the month's final day.

    He's pitched better since and has certainly done his part in helping the Rays turn their fortunes around. However, he's never been great in the month of September and has been rocked in his last two postseason starts. That's certainly reason for concern as we enter the home stretch.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Bust


SP Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

36 of 40

    2012 Stats

    26 GS, 12-7, 2.50 ERA, 192 Ks, 190.2 IP

     

    Outlook

    While he is not having quite the dominant year he did last season, a strong case can still be made that Verlander is the best pitcher in the game today.

    He's an absolute horse, capable of giving the Tigers a quality start every time he takes the ball. The Tigers could lean on him in a manner similar to what the Cardinals did down the stretch with Chris Carpenter last season, as they lack a true No. 2 starter to take some of the pressure off of him.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

SP Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

37 of 40

    2012 Stats

    26 GS, 13-10, 3.63 ERA, 156 Ks, 166 IP

     

    Outlook

    After missing all of last season with Tommy John surgery, Wainwright did not look like himself to open the season, as he was 6-8 with a 4.75 ERA heading into the month of July.

    Since then, however, he's been great with a 7-2 record and 2.08 ERA, as he has begun to look like his dominant self once again. However, he's thrown a lot of innings already this year, and coming back from surgery, there is reason to believe he'll tire down the stretch.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Bust

RP Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds

38 of 40

    2012 Stats

    60 G, 33-of-37 Sv, 1.27 ERA, 113 Ks, 64 IP

     

    Outlook

    Forget his numbers for a second. In terms of pure stuff, Chapman is the most dominant pitcher in MLB right now, and he's been fantastic since being forced into the closer's role early this season.

    Now let's look at the numbers. Since the beginning of June, he's 23-for-23 on save chances and has allowed one earned run and a total of 14 hits while striking out 48 in 26.2 innings of work. Wow.

    He's as inexperienced as any closer in baseball as far as the pennant race is concerned, but I just can't bet against those numbers right now.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

RP Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

39 of 40

    2012 Stats

    48 G, 32-of-34 Sv, 1.13 ERA, 86 Ks, 48 IP

     

    Outlook

    After setting the rookie saves record last season with an NL-high 46, Kimbrel has continued his ascent into the ranks of baseball's elite closers this season with another dominant campaign.

    However, his blown save on the season's final day last year to keep Atlanta out of the postseason is still hanging over his career, and he will be pitching with a chip on his shoulder this September as he looks to redeem himself.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom

RP Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers

40 of 40

    2012 Stats

    50 G, 26-of-27 Sv, 2.54 ERA, 61 Ks, 49.2 IP

     

    Outlook

    After missing all of 2010 with Tommy John surgery, Nathan did not look like himself last season, as he posted a 4.84 ERA and spent much of the season as a setup man.

    The Twins let him walk in free agency in the offseason, and the Rangers took a chance on him with a two-year, $14.5 million deal. At 37, he's returned to his dominant form and anchors the back end of a terrific Rangers bullpen. It is worth noting, though, that he's 1-for-3 on save chances with a 7.88 ERA in his postseason career.

     

    Boom or Bust?

    Boom