Improbable Leaders: Who Will Keep It Up?

Theo GeromeCorrespondent IIIJune 9, 2009

DENVER - MAY 07:  Starting pitcher Jason Marquis #21 of the Colorado Rockies delivers against the San Francisco Giants during MLB action at Coors Field on May 7, 2009 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

I was reading the paper this morning when I came across shocking news. As you might or might not know, Colorado’s Jason Marquis now leads the National League in wins. This piqued my curiosity. Is he lucky, or is he legitimately good? My first thought was to check the Rockies’ record, as most teams I follow play east of the Rocky Mountains. In any case, the Rockies are barely out of last place in the NL West. Marquis accounts for almost a third of their wins. So, I decided to check his stats on Baseball Reference. As a Cardinal fan, I primarily remember Jason for his work in 2004 and how much he fell apart afterwards. After checking that, I determined this is actually very close to his 2004 breakthrough year:

2004: 15-7, 3.71 ERA, 201.1 innings in 32 starts, 138 K’s, 1.416 WHIP, 115 ERA+

2009: 8-4, 3.98 ERA, 81.1 innings in 12 starts, 39 K’s, 1.340 WHIP, 114 ERA+

He’s doing better than I expected, and probably better than Colorado expected, as I can’t imagine them seeing him as higher than a no. 3 starter behind Jeff Francis and Ubaldo Jimenez. He has stepped up nicely in the wake of the pair’s issues. In the end, though, I don’t expect him to keep up pace.

After this, I decided to examine some other improbable stat leaders’ chances.

Miguel Tejada leads the NL in batting average and hits. This struck me as odd following last year, as he showed signs of decline. He is set to pass last year’s totals in home runs, RBI’s, and doubles. Additionally, his batting average is .071 higher than last year, and his OPS and OPS+ both show a sharp increase. In fact, most of these percentages seem above his career average. When broken down, though, this may be less incredible. Upon last year’s trade to Houston, I predicted Tejada’s numbers should rise, with him being a right-handed hitter in Houston and facing National League pitching that is assumed to be weaker. However, his stats declined. While initially attributed to age, it may have been a down year, and this might be a rebound to his standard level. The only difference is he moved to a more hitter friendly environment. He’s never been a batting champ, though, so I doubt he’ll keep up his pace, especially at 35. He’s definitely going to have a good year, though.

On a last note, Adrian Gonzalez leading in home runs seemed interesting, not because I don’t think he can do it, but rather, because he plays in Petco. One thing I guessed is his OPS+ must be incredible, and it is, at an astounding 189 – yes, he is 89 percent better than league average. Unfortunately for him, he does not lead  in OPS+. He doesn’t even lead all NL first basemen. That would be Albert Pujols, who leads all majors with an OPS+ of 191. For reference, moving the AL OPS+ leader into the NL would rank him third among his position, as the AL OPS+ leader in Kevin Youkilis. Actually, first basemen are dominating OPS+ this year; there are five in the top six, and seven in the top 10 for the majors. 

In order:

1. Pujols, 191

2. Gonzalez, 189

3. Youkilis, 179

 4. Russell Branyan*, 177

 6. Justin Morneau, 175

 9. Prince Fielder, 168

10. Mark Teixeira, 162

If you had told me in the preseason Russell Branyan would be the second best player in the AL at any point, I would have called you crazy. Anyway, in short, Gonzalez can probably follow up.


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