Stock Up, Stock Down for MLB's Top 25 Stars at the Midseason Mark
It's been an eventful first half of the season for some of baseball's biggest stars. Some have been able to raise their games to new levels of excellence, while others have taken a step back from the top of the mountain as the best in the game at their respective position.
Unfortunately, some of baseball's premier talents, especially on the mound—Chicago's Chris Sale, Miami's Jose Fernandez and Philadelphia's Cliff Lee come to mind—have been impacted by injury, some more severely than others.
But that hasn't necessarily had a negative impact on all of their stocks as we head into the season's second half.
Based on Bleacher Report's rankings of the top-50 players in the game heading into Opening Day, here's a look at the midseason stock report for the 25 biggest names on that list.
25. Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins
After missing 82 games over the past two seasons due to a variety of leg ailments, including a knee injury that required surgery to repair, it was fair to label Giancarlo Stanton injury prone at the age of 24—and to wonder whether he'd ever stay healthy enough to deliver on his awesome potential.
He's answered that question with a resounding "yes" in 2014. Stanton has emerged as one of the game's most dynamic and dangerous sluggers, hitting the ball harder and farther than anyone else while leading the National League in home runs and RBI.
Stanton's play has been a major reason why the Miami Marlins find themselves in the thick of the playoff race, and regardless of how his team fares the rest of the way, a healthy Stanton is going to be a formidable opponent for anyone in the National League MVP voting.
24. Cliff Lee, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
When he's healthy, Cliff Lee remains one of the premier starting pitchers in baseball. A veteran with uncanny command and the ability to miss bats, the 35-year-old was in the midst of another excellent season before a strained muscle in his left elbow bought everything to a screeching halt.
Out of action since May 20, ESPN's Jayson Stark reports that Lee is on track to make his return right around the All-Star break. As Philadelphia's most valuable trade chip, whether or not Lee will be able to prove that he's healthy and back to his old self before the July 31 deadline remains to be seen.
While the MRI on Lee's elbow showed no structural damage, as noted by Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News, it's fair to wonder if Lee, who has logged 2,080.2 innings of work since becoming a full-time starter in 2004—the fourth-highest total in baseball over that span—isn't starting to feel the effects of such a heavy workload.
23. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies
- Tulowitzki is 92nd in the majors in road batting average (.252).
- He's 39th in road OBP (.355).
- He's 44th in road slugging percentage (.465), behind both Luis Valbuena and Lucas Duda. What if Duda played his home games in Coors Field?
Yes, Troy Tulowitzki's numbers are inflated by the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field, and, yes, his splits are pretty drastic:
|Splits (Through 6/25)||BA||OBP||SLG||XBH (HR)||RBI||wRC+|
While Tulowitzki's away numbers might not look all that bad, consider what ESPN's David Schoenfield recently noted about some of them:
So does the fact that Tulowitzki, widely considered to be one of the premier players in baseball, ranks behind the likes of Chicago's Luis Valbuena and New York's Lucas Duda in some categories make him any less of a ballplayer?
Not in my eyes.
Despite the disparity in his numbers, Tulo still leads all of baseball in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS (1.069) and wRC+. He's been solid defensively, too, tied for the third-most defensive runs saved (DRS) among qualified shortstops with eight.
Most importantly, he's stayed healthy, which is no small feat for a player who had appeared in only 173 games in 2012 and 2013 combined. More than any of the other numbers associated with him, that may be reason enough to give his stock a boost.
22. Chris Sale, SP, Chicago White Sox
Only one pitcher, Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto, has been tougher on opposing batters than Chicago's Chris Sale, who has held the opposition to a .520 OPS, the lowest mark in the American League by a substantial margin (Seattle's Felix Hernandez, with a .542 OPS against, is second).
Sale missed just over a month earlier this season with a strained flexor muscle in his left elbow, bringing concerns about his violent mechanics and long-term prospects back into view.
But ESPN Chicago's Doug Padilla reported that there was no structural damage to the joint, and Sale has been terrific since his return, pitching to a 2.25 ERA and 0.86 WHIP—numbers that are nearly identical to his season totals.
While he's on track to log the fewest number of innings since becoming a full-time starter in 2012, Sale is poised to post some of the best numbers of his young career, especially when it comes to ERA and WHIP.
21. Adam Wainwright, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
Tendinitis in his left elbow may have forced Adam Wainwright to miss a start in early June, but that slight setback hasn't been able to derail the ace of one of baseball's best rotations from putting up some of the best numbers of his career.
On pace for the second 20-win season of his career (and first since 2010), Wainwright is posting career bests in H/9 (6.4) and HR/9 (0.30)—the latter being the lowest among qualified starters—while walking fewer than two batters per nine innings of work (1.7) for the second straight season.
20. Yu Darvish, SP, Texas Rangers
Yu Darvish may not be pitching quite well enough to garner another second-place finish in the race for the American League Cy Young Award as he did in 2013, but that doesn't mean that the 27-year-old is no longer one of baseball's most electrifying and dominant starters.
Darvish was one out away from his first career no-hitter against Houston on April 8, and he took a perfect game into the sixth inning against Boston just over a month later on May 9. He sits fourth in the American League in ERA and sixth in strikeouts, while his 11.02 K/9 leads all qualified starting pitchers.
Only two pitchers, Tampa Bay's David Price (eight) and New York's Masahiro Tanaka (five) have recorded more double-digit strikeout performances this season than Darvish's four, which puts him on par with Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto, Seattle's Felix Hernandez and Washington's Stephen Strasburg.
While he's struggled mightily in his last two starts, allowing 13 hits and eight earned runs in 11 innings of work, Darvish has put together another spectacular season despite the crumbling team around him, which has lost more players to injury than any other club by a wide margin.
19. Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles
A year after leading baseball in home runs (53) and RBI (138), Baltimore's Chris Davis is completely lost at the plate.
He admitted as much after being benched—and subsequently hitting a pinch-hit, three-run home run against Chicago on Monday—via The Associated Press (h/t ESPN):
If you'd have asked me in the offseason or during spring training if I thought I was going to struggle like I'm doing this year, I'd have told you that you were crazy.
I'm trying to figure it out. I know it's frustrating for people to watch me go through it, but can you imagine how much more frustrating it is to actually go through it? At the same time, we still have a lot of baseball left to play and I know I'm going to get an opportunity to come out of it. I know I'll come out of it.
When you're hitting .330, it feels like you hit every hole, every pitch you take is a ball. When you're hitting just over .200, it feels like every pitch you take is a strike and every time you hit a ball hard somebody is standing there.
Davis might be on to something. He's hitting more line drives and ground balls while putting fewer balls in the air than he did last year, which helps to explain why his BABIP has dropped 60 points, from .336 to .276.
That said, bad luck doesn't change those numbers, which are pretty brutal for a player considered to be one of the 20 best in the game heading into the season.
18. David Price, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
If you're one of those people who think that ERA is a useless statistic, then you're in for a treat, because I'm completely ignoring David Price's 3.63 mark and focusing more on the fact that Tampa Bay's ace has performed far better than that number would indicate.
The first starter since Minnesota's Johan Santana in 2004 to record at least 10 strikeouts in five consecutive starts, Price's combination of control and swing-and-miss stuff is working as well as it ever has for nearly any other pitcher in history.
Since 1901, Price's 10.29 K/9 ranks fourth all time among pitchers with at least 10 starts in a season, behind Brett Saberhagen in 1994 (11.00), Ben Sheets in 2006 (10.55) and Clayton Kershaw, who is currently putting up a 10.44 mark in Los Angeles.
While he's allowing more home runs than ever before and his velocity continues to tick downward, Price still leads baseball in innings pitched and strikeouts. His stock is as high as it's ever been, which bodes well for a Rays team that figures to be moving him at some point over the next month.
17. Max Scherzer, SP, Detroit Tigers
Max Scherzer looks a lot more like the pitcher who averaged a 3.86 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over his first three seasons in Detroit than the one that won the AL Cy Young Award last year. While his numbers this season aren't terrible, they certainly aren't befitting of a player ranked this high on our list.
The biggest problem with Scherzer has been that his fastball and slider, a combination that was nearly unhittable a season ago, has suddenly become no challenge for the opposition to figure out, via Brooks Baseball:
|Pitch||2013 Velocity (mph)||2014 Velocity (mph)||Difference (mph)||2013 BAA||2014 BAA||Difference|
Whether it's a flaw in his mechanics, the fact that he's tipping his pitches or something else entirely (his pending free agency, perhaps?), Scherzer has some work to do if he wants to raise his stock over the second half of the season.
16. Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers
If Max Scherzer's stock is down, then Justin Verlander's stock has hit rock bottom.
At least that's what Detroit's one-time ace is hoping, as he recently told MLive.com's James Schmehl: "Maybe I'm just getting it all out of my system now, and I can turn the page and never look back. That's what I plan on doing."
Bleacher Report's Jason Catania recently took an in-depth look at what's troubling Verlander, but the general theme is this: Nothing that Verlander is currently doing is working. Nothing at all.
Verlander knows that his stuff is all up in the zone, and he's convinced that the reason behind it lies in his mechanics and not something else. Reinventing himself isn't something that he's even thinking of.
"I think there's a reason all my stuff is up right now, and I've got to fix that," he told Schmehl. "You shouldn't feel forced to have to execute pitches. It should happen naturally."
15. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves
One of the few consistent contributors in a wildly inconsistent Atlanta lineup, Freddie Freeman continues to establish himself as one of the premier first basemen in baseball.
While his power numbers may not be impressive, the 24-year-old has the seventh-highest wRC+ among qualified first basemen and ranks eighth in the National League with 50 runs scored. His defense may have taken a step back, but Freeman's bat is as dangerous as it was a season ago, when he finished fifth in the NL MVP voting.
14. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers
Adrian Beltre's three-year run of hitting at least 30 home runs is in danger of ending, but even without the power, the veteran third baseman is still producing at nearly the same rate for the Texas Rangers as he has since joining the club in 2011:
Beltre's defense, which began to decline last year, continues to trend in the wrong direction, with the veteran ranking near the bottom of the defensive rankings in both UZR/150 (minus-4.3) and DRS (minus-3).
Given the state of things in Texas, however, Beltre's lack of power and shaky defense isn't enough to send his stock into a downward spiral.
13. Jose Fernandez, SP, Miami Marlins
One of baseball's brightest young stars, Miami's Jose Fernandez saw his sophomore campaign come crashing down around him in mid-May, when he tore ligaments in his right elbow and headed under the knife for season-ending Tommy John surgery.
If what his attorney Ralph Fernandez said in a statement he released to the press shortly after the surgery is true, it sure sounds as if this entire episode could have been avoided, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN):
After the game we spoke as we always do. Jose was concerned about his arm. Despite many exchanges on the subject in the days that followed he felt that with the Marlins regaining first place in the division he could not let his team down. Apparently the injury was worse than he believed. In San Diego in the third ending he suffered a traumatic event, tossed a couple of more innings and the rest is history.
It's an expensive and painful learning opportunity for Fernandez, and really, all young pitchers. If you feel something isn't right with your arm, say something. Being loyal to your teammates and toughing it out can have catastrophic results.
12. Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay Rays
Pick an adjective, any adjective: Disappointing. Mediocre. Underwhelming. Not only are they all applicable to the Tampa Bay Rays, but they apply to the team's All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria as well.
While he's never been one to hit for an insanely high average, Longoria's power has waned and with it, so has his productivity. His 108 wRC+, the lowest of his career since posting a 128 wRC+ as a rookie in 2008, ranks 11th among qualified third basemen, behind the likes of Yangervis Solarte and Luis Valbuena.
It's not just at the plate where Longoria has been disappointing, as the perennial Gold Glove Award contender has scuffled in the field as well. Among the 22 qualified third basemen in baseball, Longoria ranks 13th in UZR/150 (2.2) and 19th in DRS (minus-5), both easily the lowest marks of his career.
Like the Rays, it wouldn't surprise anyone to see Longoria's stock rise over the second half of the season.
It certainly can't drop much lower than it already has.
11. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants
After a rough start to the season that saw him hit only .254 with a .730 OPS in April and May, Buster Posey's bat has begun to wake up.
Posey is hitting .376 with a .942 OPS in June, picking up 11 of his 21 extra-base hits on the year in the process. He's still one of the game's premier catchers, but he's not hitting for power like he used to and one month of stellar production doesn't erase two months of mediocrity.
10. Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners
Robinson Cano's power numbers are down, as many expected they would be considering that he moved from a hitter's park (Yankee Stadium) to a pitcher's park (Safeco Field), but nobody expected things to drop off quite this much.
Even with an absence of power, Cano's impact on a once-again-mediocre Seattle offense cannot be overstated, as he's been one of the primary reasons why the club remains on the outskirts of the playoff picture.
It's still far too early to say whether Cano was worth the 10-year, $240 million deal that he signed with the Mariners, but there's no question that without him in the lineup, the Mariners would have fallen out of contention well before the season's halfway point.
9. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
It takes a special kind of player to make the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera and Derek Jeter look like above-average defenders at a premium position like shortstop.
Hanley Ramirez is that special guy, though, sitting with the second-worst DRS (minus-10) and third-worst UZR/150 (minus-17.1) at the position, leaving little doubt that he's become one of the game's biggest defensive liabilities.
While he ranks ninth in the National League with 46 RBI, Ramirez hasn't been the spectacular force at the plate that many expected him to be, either. According to the Los Angeles Times' Bill Shaikin, Han-Ram is battling another injury, this time to his shoulder, which has acted up once before this year already.
Perhaps his bum shoulder explains his less-than-stellar performance at the plate and in the field, but there's no question that Ramirez, who is in the final year of his contract, has done little to boost his earning power after the season.
8. Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle Mariners
Only one pitcher this season—Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto (9)—has had a longer streak of consecutive starts in which he went at least seven innings and allowed two earned runs or fewer than the eight-start roll that Felix Hernandez finds himself on heading into the season's halfway point.
What do Hernandez's numbers look like during this remarkable run? Impressive. Really impressive: A 1.48 ERA and 0.84 WHIP with seven walks and 68 strikeouts over 61 innings of work, holding the opposition to a .192 batting average and .446 OPS in the process.
Did I mention that King Felix has been impressive?
Owner of the American League's lowest WHIP, Hernandez ranks second in ERA, innings pitched and strikeouts and is perhaps making the strongest case of his career for a second AL Cy Young Award.
7. Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals
Like many of his teammates in St. Louis, Yadier Molina isn't finding the kind of success at the plate that he did a year ago, especially when he steps up to the plate with runners in scoring position.
Molina, who hit .373 with a .950 OPS in that situation in 2013, is hitting .288 with a .734 OPS in the same situation this season. While those numbers are still decent, that's a mighty large drop—nearly 100 points in batting average and more than 200 points in OPS.
Perhaps even more troubling is that Molina has been a shell of himself at the plate since the first month of the season:
|Split (G)||BA||OPS||XBH (HR)||RBI||BB/K|
|March/April (25)||.350||.917||11 (4)||15||4/15|
|May/June (45)||.244||.627||8 (2)||12||15/19|
That said, Molina remains the gold standard behind the plate and one of the game's most successful game-callers and pitch-framers. But his struggles at the plate are too big to be ignored, and they knock his stock down a few pegs.
6. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
One of the few bright spots in what has been a dismal season for Arizona has been the steady play of the team's All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
The 26-year-old continues to prove that he's one of baseball's premier hitters and the best first baseman in the National League. Goldschmidt has the National League's third-highest RBI total, fourth-highest slugging percentage and sixth-highest OPS (.918),
He's done that despite seeing a dip in his walk rate (13.9 percent to 11.2 percent) and an increase in his strikeout rate (20.4 percent to 23.6 percent) from his MVP-caliber campaign a season ago.
5. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
While still adept at getting on base with consistency, Joey Votto's power has all but disappeared.
Cincinnati's first baseman sits tied with Washington's Ian Desmond for baseball's 73rd-highest slugging percentage, behind the likes of Houston's Jose Altuve, New York's Lucas Duda and San Francisco's Brandon Crawford.
No offense to that threesome, but Votto is supposed to be the superior player.
Not only is Votto not hitting for power, but he's not hitting for average, either, with a pedestrian .260 mark that sits nearly 60 points below his career average of .314 heading into the season.
4. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Things might not be going as well as anyone in Pittsburgh had hoped this season, but blame can't be placed on Andrew McCutchen, who is producing at a higher rate than he did a season ago, when he became the team's first NL MVP-winner since Barry Bonds in 1992.
He's seeing fewer pitches in the strike zone, which comes as no surprise as pitchers try to not give him something to hit. But he's also chasing fewer pitches outside the strike zone and drawing more walks than he ever has before, which are both major factors in his MLB-best .420 on-base percentage.
While his defense in center field has fallen off, McCutchen remains one of baseball's most productive hitters and a legitimate contender to bring home his second consecutive MVP Award.
3. Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Is it possible that the best pitcher on the planet has somehow gotten better?
A quick look at Clayton Kershaw's numbers allows us to answer that with a resounding "yes." Check out how Kershaw's season thus far stacks up against his two Cy Young Award-winning campaigns in 2011 and 2013:
While he's surrendering slightly more hits per nine innings of work (ironic given that he recently threw the first no-hitter of his career), Kershaw has been more dominating than his usual dominant self, a scary thought for the rest of baseball.
Of all the numbers, the most impressive may be that he's lowered an already low walk rate while seeing a huge jump in strikeouts.
2. Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels
Two of the first things that people notice about Mike Trout in 2014 is a decrease in his stolen bases and an increase in his strikeouts.
With Mike, you want to open him up a little bit when he gets the opportunity. But I don't know if I can count on one hand the times he's been on first and a pitcher has been over 1.2 seconds [delivering the ball] to the plate. That's what we're running into, so you need to pick your spots.
The latter, as Bleacher Report's Zachary D. Rymer examined back in May, is a result of a number of factors that, as Rymer accurately noted, was a trend that Trout was certainly capable of snapping out of. He was correct, as Trout, who sits on pace to fan a career-high 160 times, has more walks (15) than strikeouts (13) in June.
He leads the American League with a 1.008 OPS and 178 wRC+ and is on pace to set new career bests in doubles (44), triples (11), home runs (36), slugging percentage and RBI (122).
His defense in center field has improved from a season ago, when advanced metrics graded him as a well below-average defender.
The MVP award that has eluded Trout in each of the last two seasons may finally be within his grasp.
1. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers
After hitting a rather pedestrian .275 with a .755 OPS in April, Miguel Cabrera has gotten back to putting up Cabrera-esque numbers, with a .337 batting average and 1.009 OPS over his last 51 games.
His move back across the diamond to first base has paid dividends defensively, as Cabrera has played to the third-highest UZR/150 (9.8) and sits in a five-way tie for the seventh most DRS at the position (two), far greater numbers than he'd ever put up as a third baseman.
While he's tied for the MLB lead with 28 doubles and 64 RBI, Cabrera's power numbers are down. The slugger finds himself on track for 28 home runs, which would end a seven-year streak that saw him hit at least 30 home runs and a two-year streak where he went deep at least 40 times.
Still, Cabrera sits third in the American League with a .325 batting average, keeping himself in contention for his fourth-consecutive AL batting crown. All things considered, Miguel Cabrera is who we thought he was—one of, if not the most, prolific players in baseball.