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Predicting Boom or Bust for MLB's Top 50 Stars in Pennant Race Action

Ely SussmanCorrespondent IOctober 21, 2016

Predicting Boom or Bust for MLB's Top 50 Stars in Pennant Race Action

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    Talent doesn't always correlate with performance at the MLB level, especially when tiny sample sizes are concerned. For all those stars in the 2013 pennant races who will "boom" and improve their teams' championship hopes, we can identify about as many who'll come up small in limited, high-leverage opportunities.

    Show some pity for the busts. Many of them face the adversity of returning from a serious injury with only a few weeks to play or the misfortune of a difficult remaining schedule.

    It's impossible to evaluate anyone's skills based on a single September, and even a full season doesn't necessarily provide an accurate representation. Although 2013 stats significantly influenced the following rankings, we recognize, for example, that Bruce Chen hasn't surpassed Justin Verlander despite the fact that he's been more productive lately.

    Contributions down the stretch—or lack thereof—could go a long way in determining whether or not players will have their managers' trust come playoff time and how they'll be valued in free agency/trade talks this offseason. 


    *Stats provided by FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. Updated through the games of Sept. 3.

    **Players with zero chance of returning to the field this year (e.g. Tim Hudson, Mark Teixeira) weren't considered.

Who's Actually in Contention?

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    As of this writing, only the Houston Astros and the Miami Marlins have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Nearly a dozen other teams could join them by the end of the week if everything breaks the wrong way from them.

    Beyond that, a couple of clubs with winning records—the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Washington Nationals—should no longer be considered relevant. Neither has shown any consistency this summer, and they were reluctant to add major league talent along with other top contenders in July and August.

    With all of that written, these are the legitimate 2013 pennant-race participants, each of which has representation in the following slides:

    Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Rays, St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers.

Honorable Mentions

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    If this list were expanded to 75 individuals, here are additional borderline stars whom you'd read about:

    Grant Balfour, Carlos Beltran, Jay Bruce, A.J. Burnett, Billy Butler, Marlon Byrd, Andre Ethier, Brett Gardner, J.J. Hardy, Eric Hosmer, Austin Jackson, Matt Kemp, John Lackey, Brian McCann, Mark Melancon, Joe Nathan, Ricky Nolasco, Jarrod Parker, Salvador Perez, Brandon Phillips, Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Julio Teheran, Justin Upton and Ben Zobrist.

50. Curtis Granderson (New York Yankees)

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    New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi has a surplus of veteran outfielders expecting to get their at-bats. That's why it was a big surprise to see Curtis Granderson go two entire weeks at the end of August without being removed from the starting lineup.

    Granderson's influence down the stretch should be limited by slightly diminished playing time, as well as the likelihood that his strikeout rate will inflate to resemble his 2012 performance.


    Boom or Bust?


49. Russell Martin (Pittsburgh Pirates)

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    Game-calling and catcher's defense in general often get overlooked in the baseball industry.

    That's not the case with the Pittsburgh Pirates. A pitiful season from Rod Barajas in 2012 was largely to blame for their second-half collapse, so they spared no expense to woo Russell Martin away from the New York Yankees.

    Under his guidance, Gerrit Cole has enjoyed a successful rookie season and Francisco Liriano has returned to prominence, while Jeff Locke squirmed his way out of countless jams to earn an All-Star nod.

    Martin will continue to masterfully manage the Pittsburgh pitching staff.


    Boom or Bust?


48. Torii Hunter (Detroit Tigers)

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    In 2012, Torii Hunter struck out more frequently than ever before. Doing the same this season would've inevitably resulted in a lower batting average and lesser overall value (assuming a big drop from a .389 BABIP).

    Instead, the Detroit Tigers have been able to keep Hunter entrenched in the No. 2 spot thanks to a dramatic improvement in his contact skills.

    He just needs to keep doing what he's been doing, and there's nothing to suggest that won't be the case.


    Boom or Bust?


47. Coco Crisp (Oakland Athletics)

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    You're looking at baseball's leading home run hitter over the past two-and-a-half weeks. As a result, Coco Crisp has bumped his season total to 17, which represents a new career high.

    Truth be told, there aren't many more round-trippers stored up in the outfielder's bat.

    Crisp is considerably less productive versus left-handed pitchers (sub-.700 OPS in three straight years). Without someone to occasionally replace him against them, his overall stats will suffer.


    Boom or Bust?


46. Chris Johnson (Atlanta Braves)

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    Chris Johnson's line-drive swing predisposes him to an excellent BABIP—but .407? That's more than a little fluky.

    Don't put your money on him to win the NL batting title, and it's already well-documented that Johnson doesn't provide much power or defensive value.


    Boom or Bust?


45. Jason Heyward (Atlanta Braves)

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    A .259/.351/.443 career hitter with similar production in 2013, Jason Heyward doesn't have the offensive stats we typically associate with star corner outfielders. Rather, it's the 24-year-old's always stellar fielding and .871 OPS since June 1 that propel him onto this list.

    With that said, he's the most likely of these 50 players to bust.

    Heyward took a Jonathon Niese fastball to the jaw and landed on the disabled list. His determination to return quickly—as told to The Associated Press (via ESPN)—will be for naught so long as the Atlanta Braves don't establish a timetable. Besides, the moving parts in his swing will require a significant number of plate appearances to get coordinated, so rushing to participate wouldn't necessarily help the team.


    Boom or Bust?


44. Prince Fielder (Detroit Tigers)

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    It has quietly been a frustrating campaign for Prince Fielder. His 2013 strikeout-to-walk ratio is atypically pedestrian, while his extra-base hit total is far lower than that from any of his previous seven full seasons.

    Fielder's batting line has taken a huge tumble from .313/.412/.528 last summer to .269/.356/.442, and there's no legitimate sign of him turning things around.


    Boom or Bust?


43. Ian Kinsler (Texas Rangers)

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    In 2013, Ian Kinsler has sacrificed some power to make contact more frequently. This has become evident lately, as the second baseman struck out four times in 14 games from Aug. 19 to Sept. 3 and collected only one home run.

    We should see an uptick in his extra-base hits down the stretch as the Texas Rangers spend the majority of their remaining schedule at home. A transition from the leadoff spot to the middle of the order will provide Kinsler with more opportunities to drive in teammates.

    Moreover, defense doesn't slump, and the 31-year-old is extremely smooth with his glove.


    Boom or Bust?


42. Clay Buchholz (Boston Red Sox)

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    Evan Drellich of reports that Clay Buchholz's final minor league rehab start has been pushed back, but thankfully, it's not due to injury. He just wants to be a witness to the birth of his second child, and doing so wouldn't affect his tentative Sept. 10 return date to the Boston Red Sox.

    Buchholz flaunted an undefeated record and 1.71 earned run average prior to going on the disabled list in June. There's been virtually no difference in his lefty/righty splits in recent years, but his .535 OPS against both prior to the injury was simply unsustainable.

    He'll come back down to earth in the four starts he's scheduled to make down the stretch.


    Boom or Bust?


41. Adrian Gonzalez (Los Angeles Dodgers)

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    Adrian Gonzalez's once-elite power is irreversibly reduced. The first baseman who once homered 40 times in a single summer for the San Diego Padres—with home games at pitcher-friendly Petco Park—hasn't eclipsed 30 bombs in any of the past three healthy years.

    He still comfortably places on this list due to a combination of solid contact skills, durability and still-decent extra-base potential.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers will likely continue steamrolling their competition, but Gonzalez probably won't be a major part of that. He has noticeably pedestrian numbers versus left-handed pitching—both in 2013 and throughout his career—and facing Jorge De La Rosa and Patrick Corbin in the coming weeks won't help remedy that.


    Boom or Bust?


40. Allen Craig (St. Louis Cardinals)

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    You don't amass 97 runs batted in without being an excellent player, but citing that stat to validate Allen Craig's overall worth is flat-out wrong.

    Who wouldn't put up big numbers batting behind Matt Carpenter, Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday?

    Craig's 15 strikeouts in the past 17 games show that the opposition has finally learned to exploit his impatience at the plate. Regardless of contact rate, his .366 BABIP is bound to come down a bit, anyway.


    Boom or Bust?


39. Derek Holland (Texas Rangers)

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    Overshadowed by Texas Rangers teammate Yu Darvish and his allegedly inappropriate conduct at a Counting Crows concert, Derek Holland quietly rocks. When adjusting for his ballpark and the current American League standards, he has a 134 ERA+, and he'll easily reach the 200-inning milestone for the first time ever.

    Holland has been remarkably consistent, as his monthly splits reveal. There should be zero doubt about him finishing strong following one of his worst performances of the summer.


    Boom or Bust?


38. Kenley Jansen (Los Angeles Dodgers)

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    On Labor Day, for only the third time since the All-Star break, Kenley Jansen allowed multiple baserunners to get on in the same inning.

    Even so, he didn't blow that save opportunity. Jansen has actually converted 18 consecutive chances dating back to late June.

    Appearing for a third day in a row probably had something to do with the right-hander's 15 minutes of shakiness. Thanks to a monstrous cushion in the NL West standings, the Los Angeles Dodgers won't feel pressured to use him in such a way again.

    Maxing out in the mid-90s with late and somewhat unpredictable movement is a winning formula out of the bullpen.


    Boom or Bust?


37. Shin-Soo Choo (Cincinnati Reds)

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    Opposing pitchers remarkably beaned Shin-Soo Choo 20 times prior to the All-Star break but have done so only thrice since. That explains the dip in his on-base percentage and why it will continue to spiral south toward .400.

    He's also more likely to be lifted for a defensive replacement now that speedster and top prospect Billy Hamilton has earned a September call-up.


    Boom or Bust?


36. Jason Kipnis (Cleveland Indians)

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    With a ton of upcoming games against non-contenders, Jason Kipnis is set to explode following an August power outage (1 HR, .681 OPS in 120 PA).

    The Cleveland Indians wrap up a series with the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday and later play six contests against the Kansas City Royals. However, all of their other remaining opponents are weak.


    Boom or Bust?


35. Hiroki Kuroda (New York Yankees)

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    Every other 38-year-old starting pitcher—there aren't many to begin with—envies what Hiroki Kuroda has accomplished in 2013. Even with a recent string of disappointing performances, he has a 2.99 ERA in 177.2 innings pitched—greatness summed up by a 3.5 WAR.

    Kuroda's slide will most likely continue as the 235-plus innings he threw during the 2012 regular season and playoffs take their physical toll. More pairings with rookie catcher Austin Romine, who's steadily stealing starts from defensive stud Chris Stewart, could also affect him negatively.


    Boom or Bust?


34. Greg Holland (Kansas City Royals)

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    There isn't a whole lot different between present-day Greg Holland (1.31 ERA in 55.0 IP) and the 2011 version (1.80 ERA in 60.0 IP). The world has only taken notice because of his saves total and the surprising relevance of the Kansas City Royals.

    However, Holland is in fact better than he used to be. Per FanGraphs, he ranks first among qualified relievers in WAR and second only to Aroldis Chapman in K/9. The 27-year-old has feasted on swings-and-misses rather than relying on the uncertainty of balls put in play.

    You'll grow old and bitter waiting for the bullpen star to regress.


    Boom or Bust?


33. Francisco Liriano (Pittsburgh Pirates)

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    Fascinating observation from Grantland about how Francisco Liriano has been pretty darn untouchable when given the platoon advantage (h/t Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review).

    Unfortunately, that won't help him much against the Milwaukee Brewers or the Texas Rangers, lineups led by right-handed batters.

    Liriano has a tendency to be either terrific or terrible when he takes the mound. It won't prevent the Pittsburgh Pirates from realizing their goal of a playoff berth, but he'll almost certainly endure an unpleasant experience before the regular season wraps up.


    Boom or Bust?


32. Mat Latos (Cincinnati Reds)

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    As a result of off days, the Cincinnati Reds will probably use their emerging ace only four more times this month.

    Per, Mat Latos hasn't been as effective in 2013 when given extra time to prepare. Then again, looking at his entire five-year MLB career, that doesn't hold true.

    Besides, the relative ease of his upcoming opponents—the exception being the Los Angeles Dodgers—will undoubtedly bolster his chances of dominating.


    Boom or Bust?


31. Andrelton Simmons (Atlanta Braves)

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    So much of Andrelton Simmons' value is tied to his defensive prowess. The shortstop has achieved an all-time record with 37 defensive runs saved in his first full major league season.

    Expect more brilliance down the stretch.

    A .249/.295/.380 batting line is underwhelming however you look at it, but at least an excellent contact rate protects him from extended slumps at the plate.


    Boom or Bust?


30. Adam Jones (Baltimore Orioles)

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    Adam Jones possesses power rarely seen from a center fielder. He's closing in on a second straight year of 30-plus home runs, and a third straight with at least 25.

    The glaring flaw in his offensive game, however, is an uncontrollable urge to chase undesirable pitches. FanGraphs ranks him third among 149 qualified MLB batters this season in terms of swing percentage at offerings outside the strike zone.

    Although the Baltimore Orioles catch a fortunate break by battling the pitiful Chicago White Sox Sept. 5-8, they then spend the rest of the month facing AL East foes.

    That could mean dates with closers Mariano Rivera and Koji Uehara, both of whom inducing chasing better than any other American League pitchers, per FanGraphs (min. 50.0 IP). John Lackey and Ivan Nova, both of whom also place near the top of that list, remain on schedule to oppose the O's down the stretch.


    Boom or Bust?


29. Shane Victorino (Boston Red Sox)

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    The Boston Red Sox took some criticism for guaranteeing $39 million to Shane Victorino coming off a weak season that many deemed the beginning of his decline.

    So much for that! Not only is he batting .293/.347/.444 with 12 home runs, but shifting to right field full time has made him extremely valuable in the field.

    Gordon Edes of wrote a puff piece about how the veteran switch-hitter won't have any difficulties hitting exclusively from the right side as he protects a nagging hamstring. In reality, it will be near-impossible to maintain this star-caliber level of performance without picking up the ball out of the hand as quickly as he's grown accustomed to.


    Boom or Bust?


28. Matt Carpenter (St. Louis Cardinals)

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    Matt Carpenter boasts a tidy 1.000 OPS at Busch Stadium this season. Conveniently, after wrapping up their series against the Cincinnati Reds, the St. Louis Cardinals will have the most remaining home games of any contending team in the sport.

    Although Carpenter lacks the range we expect from a good defensive middle infielder, he still rates above average thanks to a strong, accurate throwing arm. That won't desert him regardless of the magnitude of a situation.


    Boom or Bust?


27. Josh Donaldson (Oakland Athletics)

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    Josh Donaldson is a safe bet to reach base constantly and impress with his glove work at the hot corner. shares his latest athletic grab.

    Those contributions alone will be appreciated by the Oakland Athletics.

    For what it's worth, he has batted .271/.372/.492 during day games in 2013, and the A's participate in a bunch of those down the stretch.


    Boom or Bust?


26. Justin Verlander (Detroit Tigers)

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    Are you ready to strip Justin Verlander of his elite status because his earned run average has "bloated" to 3.59 this season? Yeah, neither are we.

    Regardless of how dominant the former AL MVP is in his five remaining starts, he'll fail to repeat as the league's leader in innings pitched and strikeouts. That doesn't mean he won't bust his butt in pursuit of those distinctions.

    Verlander has upcoming matchups at the spacious confines of Comerica Park and Kauffman Stadium, then appointments with the Seattle Mariners, the Minnesota Twins and the Miami Marlins. Those seem like fabulous opportunities for the right-hander to shine down the stretch.


    Boom or Bust?


25. Koji Uehara (Boston Red Sox)

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    Koji Uehara is the second-highest ranking reliever involved in the 2013 pennant races, and even keeping him behind Craig Kimbrel will invite some of your criticism.

    He has flourished since being named closer of the Boston Red Sox midway through the season. The right-hander is riding a streak of 26 straight appearances without an earned run, and Tim Britton of The Providence Journal tweets that his knack for limiting baserunners has been historically significant.

    Yeah, he's 38 years old, but Uehara's enthusiasm won't allow him to become complacent or fatigued in September or October, courtesy of


    Boom or Bust?


24. Freddie Freeman (Atlanta Braves)

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    Freddie Freeman was already a very good, young player entering this season. His breakthrough to stardom has been attributable to offensive tweaks, and it's tough to imagine dropping temperatures or pressured situations negating the tangible improvements he's made.

    The first baseman continues swinging hard while maintaining an acceptable strikeout rate.


    Boom or Bust?


23. David Ortiz (Boston Red Sox)

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    Coming off a serious Achilles injury, David Ortiz has obliterated all expectations with All-Star-caliber performances at age 37.

    He cannot, however, continue fooling Father Time. Ortiz batted .269/.352/.430 in August with only six extra-base hits. That made it easily the least productive full month of his 2013 season.

    The Boston Red Sox have one remaining series at Coors Field from Sept. 24-25. Big Papi will presumably spend those contests on the bench or stay on the field as a blatant defensive liability.


    Boom or Bust?


22. Manny Machado (Baltimore Orioles)

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    If you stopped by the Andrelton Simmons slide, you already know Manny Machado's outlook for these next few weeks.

    The 21-year-old won't be challenged for starts at third base, where his glove will continue to provide terrific value for the Baltimore Orioles.

    His team has the good fortune of facing the shaky starting pitching of the Chicago White Sox, the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays. The schedule also calls for six games against the Boston Red Sox, but Machado won't necessarily face their top hurlers—particularly from Sept. 27-29—considering how they're closing in on a division title.


    Boom or Bust?


21. Chris Davis (Baltimore Orioles)

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    Chris Davis has been on the decline since the All-Star break. His 55 strikeouts since the start of the second half is one of the highest totals in baseball.

    He's still a excellent power source. Surpassing 50 home runs is a given, and even 55 seems attainable.

    The problem is the increasing frequency of his unproductive outs, particularly against southpaws.


    Boom or Bust?


20. Anibal Sanchez (Detroit Tigers)

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    The schedule has lined up beautifully for American League ERA leader Anibal Sanchez.

    The right-hander has avoided potent offenses like the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox, and obviously the Senior Circuit's Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals.

    More importantly, however, he's benefiting from a fluky home run rate (8 HR in 151.1 IP). Even his performance against lower-tier teams is deceptive.

    Regression is unavoidable.


    Boom or Bust?


19. Dustin Pedroia (Boston Red Sox)

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    Dustin Pedroia has played in all but one game for the Boston Red Sox this season. That might wear down most players, but this pesky second baseman would probably bust it down the first-base line even while suffering a stroke.

    You cannot take away his insane hand-eye coordination, and so long as there's no injury affecting his wrists, it wouldn't be a surprise to witness a power demonstration down the stretch.


    Boom or Bust?


18. Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay Rays)

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    The Tampa Bay Rays finish the 2013 regular season with a brutal stretch of 25 games in 26 days. The only off day exists to accommodate a cross-country flight from Seattle to Florida.

    That workload—combined with the unforgiving artificial surface of Tropicana Field—does not bode well for Evan Longoria, who has suffered from several significant lower-body injuries in the recent past.


    Boom or Bust?


17. Adam Wainwright (St. Louis Cardinals)

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    Historically, Adam Wainwright has struggled in September. His walk rate rises and average start length heads in the opposite direction.

    This month should play out much differently, however.

    The further he distances himself from 2011 Tommy John surgery, the better, and the schedule starts to cooperate with him following a Sept. 7 matchup with the Pittsburgh Pirates.


    Boom or Bust?


16. Yasiel Puig (Los Angeles Dodgers)

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    There was supposed to be some clutter in the Los Angeles Dodgers outfield with Matt Kemp nearing a return from the disabled list.

    Not so fast, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reports. The veteran center fielder is extending his rehab assignment for another few days to help his timing at the plate.

    That means more Yasiel Puig for the rest of us. He'll be unstoppable with this new walk-up song.

    As his critics conveniently ignore, the 22-year-old has made fewer silly blunders as the season has progressed. Also, a .320/.405/.515 batting line in August confirms that the league hasn't yet figured him out.


    Boom or Bust?


15. James Shields (Kansas City Royals)

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    James Shields is on pace for a third straight season with more than 220 innings pitched. Nobody could blame him for wearing down a bit because of the workload. 

    Three of his remaining five starts will come in road environments, which hasn't phased him at all in 2013 (2.11 ERA, 7.5 K/9 away from Kauffman Stadium).

    On the other hand, he'll face several red-hot individuals, like Avisail Garcia and Victor Martinez. Batting from the right side actually gives them an advantage against Shields' lethal changeup.


    Boom or Bust?


14. Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta Braves)

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    Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez learned his lesson in 2011. He overworked then-Rookie of the Year frontrunner Craig Kimbrel, who couldn't continuing performing at a high standard down the stretch.

    Do not doubt that the closer can maintain or even improve upon his 0.94 earned run average and .159 batting average against. Gonzalez will restrict his usage once the NL East is officially clinched, so Kimbrel will be particularly crisp in the few appearances he does make.


    Boom or Bust?


13. David Price (Tampa Bay Rays)

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    David Price is firmly established as a workhorse atop the rotation, but no one should confuse him for a control artist.

    As previously mentioned, the Tampa Bay Rays rarely have a moment to relax this September. Price will mostly pitch on four days' rest, and that's not going to allow him to maintain the American League's finest strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner will step down from his throne...and still be a major asset.


    Boom or Bust?


12. Hanley Ramirez (Los Angeles Dodgers)

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    This one is a no-brainer.

    Again, the "bust" label doesn't serve as an indictment. Hanley Ramirez is still a special player (albeit exclusively at the plate).

    We simply shouldn't get charmed by a tiny sample size (71 games played in 2013). Ramirez belongs with Jose Reyes and Troy Tulowitzki in the discussion of best offensive shortstops, but he certainly isn't a .336/.384/.617 hitter.


    Boom or Bust?


11. Zack Greinke (Los Angeles Dodgers)

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    This has been a weird year for Zack Greinke.

    You could look at his broken collarbone, or his .347/.429/.388 batting line or the sixth-tenths of a run difference between his ERA and FIP.

    That last part is most significant for our purposes. It's been nearly a decade since Greinke has outperformed his peripherals by such a large margin.

    Given his modest 7.2 K/9, he won't continue doing so.


    Boom or Bust?


10. Yu Darvish (Texas Rangers)

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    Yu Darvish has feasted on weak opponents recently as he has begun to lap the field in strikeout rate while pitching deep into his starts.

    It was fun while it lasted.

    Here's who he'll oppose in the coming weeks: the Oakland Athletics, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Kansas City Royals and the Los Angeles Angels. The good news is that he could have several uneven performances and still make a legitimate AL Cy Young Award case.


    Boom or Bust?


9. Jacoby Ellsbury (Boston Red Sox)

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    Funny how contract years can bring out the best in players.

    So long as Scott Boras isn't in Jacoby Ellsbury's ear, pressuring him to hit more home runs in an attempt to validate his 2011 stats, the Boston Red Sox will ride him into October.

    The 29-year-old runs down long fly balls and steals bases, and he's arguably better at those two things than anyone else.


    Boom or Bust?


8. Adrian Beltre (Texas Rangers)

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    If Adrian Beltre's brilliant campaign at age 34 doesn't elevate him into the potential Hall of Famer discussion, nothing will.

    The only threat to his .910 OPS is his own over-aggressive mindset at the plate. With Nelson Cruz still suspended and no other Texas Rangers swinging the bat particularly well, he'll be a candidate for lots of "unintentional, intentional" walks.

    Don't trust him to lay off of those unreachable pitches.


    Boom or Bust?


7. Joey Votto (Cincinnati Reds)

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    It's been a quietly outstanding season for Joey Votto.

    The one surprise is his lack of extra-base hits. If the past week-and-a-half is any indication (3 HR in 45 PA), he'll be just fine.

    The friendly Cincinnati Reds schedule—which includes only one more road trip, plus off days on three consecutive Thursdays—will keep him fresh.


    Boom or Bust?


6. Robinson Cano (New York Yankees)

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    Robinson Cano batted .615/.628/.1026 during the final nine games of the 2012 regular season.

    Imagine him heating up in a slightly different manner this time. We've seen him modify his plate approach and actually take pitches that aren't in desirable locations, so he'll walk more down the stretch.

    The star second baseman is accustomed to 160-game seasons. He won't abruptly break down this September.

    The playoffs, on the other hand, could be a different story.


    Boom or Bust?


5. Max Scherzer (Detroit Tigers)

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    It's obviously out of his control, but Max Scherzer shouldn't lose another decision for the rest of the season.

    He prides himself on expanding the strike zone and making batters swing and miss. The Chicago White Sox, the Kansas City Royals and the Minnesota Twins will allow him to do that.

    World Series or not, the Detroit Tigers better make a sizable contract extension offer to the right-hander this winter.


    Boom or Bust?


4. Yadier Molina (St. Louis Cardinals)

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    That two-week break that allowed Yadier Molina to rest his knees will be a key to his individual success in the near future as well as that of the entire St. Louis Cardinals.

    Molina has nine extra-base hits in 16 games since returning. His .797 OPS in that span is only dragged down by a strange reluctance to draw walks.

    An improved team earned run average has not-so-mysteriously coincided with his activation from the disabled list.


    Boom or Bust?


3. Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh Pirates)

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates can taste it now; the franchise's first playoff berth in more than two decades awaits.

    Andrew McCutchen's .358/.443/.588 batting line in the second half is akin to Buster Posey's well-timed hot streak that led to NL MVP honors.

    The phenomenal center fielder hasn't been quite as active on the base paths, and that's to be expected. McCutchen needs to conserve his energy for more important baseball activities.

    That sort of subtle trade-off will ensure he stays productive when the Bucs truly need him.


    Boom or Bust?


2. Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers)

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    Nearly half of Clayton Kershaw's starts this season have included at least eight innings pitched and two or fewer runs allowed. That's why he's the best in the business.

    Of course, we've seen other Hall of Fame-caliber starting pitchers fail to post a sub-2.00 earned run average in a full season. That's because just a few poor performances across the sport's six-month, regular-season marathon disqualifies you from accomplishing that feat.

    Kershaw is still the best option any starting rotation could hope to have, but he'll get tripped up during this September victory lap, likely while visiting the Cincinnati Reds.


    Boom or Bust?


1. Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers)

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    Miguel Cabrera at 75 percent health is still an AL Triple Crown contender.

    In fact, he could probably bat .300 with one eye or average 20 home runs per year on one leg.

    Seriously, though, the abdominal injury he's currently dealing with compromises his defensive ability and therefore his overall contribution. Whatever agility Cabrera previously had on the bases is also diminished.

    At this pivotal juncture of the summer, the Detroit Tigers cannot expect their brightest star to be at his absolute best. Jim Leyland must adjust accordingly to capture another pennant.


    Boom or Bust?



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