Justin Verlander Saves Detroit; Enjoys Breakout Season

Justin Verlander’s gem last night put the Tigers back to two games over the Twins, preserving Detroit’s spot atop the American League Central. The 129 pitch effort saw him toss eight solid innings of four-run ball, striking out eight and walking none.

This is Justin Verlander’s breakout season. Yes, he was the Rookie of the Year in 2006. Yes, he had made the All-Star team before this season. Yes, he’s been great before. But, this season, he has taken it to a new level.

This is his first season of over 201.2 innings (232.1). This is his first season of over 200 strikeouts; he has 264, the major league lead. This is his first season with an ERA under 3.50 (3.45). His SO/BB is at an all-time high for him: 4.33. And this is his first season with more than one complete game (three).

That being said, Verlander’s WHIP is still pretty high (1.18)–a product of his giving up too many hits (213).

But Verlander is still young, very young (26 years old). He consistently reaches the upper-90’s on radar guns. His stuff is as filthy as ever. And he’s only going to get better. With him and Rick Porcello in the rotation, Detroit has some great years ahead of them.

Ryan Howard Is Having A Tremendous Season Quietly

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is tied for the major league lead in RBI with Prince Fielder with 137. He is also tied for third with the same man in home runs with 43. The former MVP is batting .277/.355/.569 on the season, with 37 doubles and 99 runs scored. So why is not much being made about Howard’s monster year?

The answer, it would seem, is two-fold. One: Albert Pujols. Two: Prince Fielder.

Pujols is having the best season of his almost-unthinkable career; Fielder is also enjoying a terrific campaign. Their overall numbers are better than Howard’s, making him the third best hitting first baseman in the National League. He has been in their shadow all season.

What strikes me as curious, however, is that Howard made the All-Star team this year (Pujols and Fielder did as well). In 2008 and 2007, he did not. (His 2009 numbers are not that much better than in those years: a higher batting average and a few more stolen bases.) Guys like Lance Berkman and Adrian Gonzalez were taking his place.

What does this mean? He is undervalued. You can pencil him in for at least 40 HR and 120 RBI each season. He’ll give you at least 150 games and he’ll play solid first base. And occasionally he’ll help bring a World Series title to his city.

A-Rod Has A Shot at 30 HR, 100 RBI

In last night’s victory over the Red Sox, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez went 3-3 with a home run, two walks, a double and 4 RBI. He is now batting .288/.407/.532 with 28 home runs and 93 RBI. With eight games left, A-Rod has a good shot at reaching 30 home runs and an outside shot at reaching 100 RBI; just two and seven to go, respectively. Considering he rushed back from rehabilitation of his right hip and did not make his season debut until May 8–and struggled mightily very early–he is having one hell of a season.

I already wrote an article on this subject last week (September 17), but I think that A-Rod’s season is so miraculous (yes, I’m a Yankees fan; yes, I’m subjective; no, I don’t care what you think) that it is worthy of further elaboration.

Aside from the whole steroids scandal, this has been, to put it lightly, a tumultuous season for A-Rod. A .260 average in May and a .207 average in June did not get the prolific slugger off to a good start. To be at .288 going into September 26 is nothing short of, as I said, miraculous.

It’s not just that he got off to a slow start and then starting heating up. This guy has not been healthy all season long. He is still not healthy. He is so unhealthy that he may require a second surgery over the winter. Healthy players don’t have surgery. He rushed back from rehab. Again, he rushed back from rehab. Hate on him if you will, say of what you want: he’s overpaid, he’s a prima donna, he loves the spotlight. All of these are true. But nobody can question this man’s work ethic. It is that determination and his pure love of the game (not to mention, his want for a ring) that have allowed him to have the season he is currently having.

Rick Porcello Makes History

Rick Porcello is the American League Rookie of the Year. Last night, he earned his 14th win, becoming the first AL pitcher under 21 years of age since Bert Blyleven in 1971 to accomplish the feat. His ERA is a respectable 4.14 over an impressive 158.2 innings.

The 20 year-old is now 14-9 in MLB’s toughest offensive league. He has started 29 games thus far, sporting a 1.35 WHIP. Some of his numbers, like his WHIP, are not as impressive as his ERA or winning percentage (.609).

Batters are hitting .268 off him, while slugging .419. He allows 1.2 home runs per nine innings, while striking out just 4.5. In fact, his SO/BB is a dismal 1.63. He has allowed more than a hit per inning: 165 in 158.2. And he only has one start of more than 7.0 innings.

All that being said, Porcello is still my vote for Rookie of the Year. I know everyone will say Jeff Niemann of the Rays deserves it, and perhaps he does: a lower ERA over more innings with almost universally more impressive statistics. And people will make cases for Andrew Bailey out in Oakland, with his All-Star appearance (as if that means something) and his plethora of saves (again, as if that means something). And then there’s Elvis Andrus and Gordon Beckham who have cute, little seasons going. But it’s still Porcello.

To come into the American League at 20 years old, immediately join the rotation, put up more-than-respectable numbers, have a
record five games over .500, take down Kevin Youkilis and pitch for a playoff-bound team in meaningful games is an unparalleled feat in 2009. Granted, a tad subjective, but you get the point. He probably won’t win the award, as you can make better cases for others. But you cannot make a case against him.

Zack Greinke Secures AL Cy Young

The Kansas City ace earned his 15th win last night, going six strong against the Red Sox. He lowered his Major league-leading ERA to 2.08. With a sub-2.10 ERA and 15 wins, Greinke has more or less wrapped up the Cy Young award.

Felix Hernandez’s statistics just do not compare to Greinke’s. There is a huge difference between 2.08 and 2.45 (Hernandez’s ERA). Throw in the fact that Greinke has three times as many complete games as Hernandez (6:2) and a significantly superior SO/BB ratio (4.67:3.06) and it’s just beyond comparison.

Let’s move on to WHIP: Hernandez has a solid 1.14. Greinke, however, is 1.06. Greinke has three times as many shutouts as Hernandez (3:1). Greinke has allowed less home runs than Hernandez.

Let’s throw in some stats that make my case even further (although are relatively pointless when determining the Cy Young):

Hernandez has a 1.90 ERA on the road, but a 3.13 ERA at home. Greinke has a 2.48 ERA on the road, and a 1.73 ERA at home. It appears as though Greinke is a little more consistent. Hernandez has a 1.18 ERA in wins, and a 8.89 ERA in losses. Greinke has a .98 ERA in wins, and a 4.62 ERA in losses. When King Felix is bad, he’s bad. When Greinke is bad, he still gives his a team a shot to win.

Do these stats really mean much? In the grand scheme of things, no. But they go to show just how much of a better season Greinke is having than Hernandez. King Felix is doing great. Really great. If Greinke were his old self this season, the Seattle ace would win it hands down. But Greinke is approaching a 2.00 ERA… in the American League. We haven’t seen a season this thoroughly dominant in years.

Milton Bradley Suspended for Rest of Season

So it looks like Milton Bradley’s days as a Chicago Cub are all but over. The clubhouse cancer was suspended yesterday for the final two weeks of the season following comments he made about playing in Chicago:

“It’s just not a positive environment… There’s too many people everywhere in your face with a microphone asking the same questions repeatedly. Everyone is just bashing you. You go out there and play harder than anybody on the field and never get credit for it. It’s just negativity… And you understand why they haven’t won in 100 years here, because it’s negative. It’s what it is.”

Classic Milton Bradley. Remember in 2007 when he actually tore a muscle in his leg during a run-in with an umpire? Or in 2008 when he tried to gain access to the Kansas City press box to ’speak’ to Ryan Lefebvre over comments he had made? Oh! How about earlier this year when manager Lou Piniella asked Bradley to leave the stadium and go home during a game? Great stuff.

Milton Bradley has got to be one of the most delusional people I have ever come across. To actually think, at this point in your
career, that everyone else is always wrong and you are always right is beyond comprehension. You tried to attack an announcer! You called the city you currently play in a “negative” environment and poked fun at the fact that it has not won a championship in 100 years! You can’t really do that and expect to be a fan favorite.

Oh, and Chicago signed Bradley to a three-year, $30 million deal over the winter. Good luck trying to trade damaged goods.

Where Did Adam Wainwright Come from?

Adam Wainwright is enjoying a Cy Young-caliber season (although

he will not win it), sporting a 2.59 ERA and a major league-best 18 wins. At 28
years old, this is just his second season of 200+ innings, having been a
reliever until 2007. In the 2006 Cardinals World Series run, he closed out the
final game against the Tigers. His career ERA is 3.18 and his career winning
percentage, .652.

2007–his first season of starting–saw Wainwright log 202
innings and post a respectable 3.70 ERA. That being said, he did have a 1.39
WHIP–a tad high. In 2008 he suffered a finger injury that cut his season short
two and a half months. He still put up solid numbers, however: a 3.20 ERA in 20
starts, logging 132 innings with an improved WHIP of 1.18.

Wainwright’s 2009 emergence as one of the top five pitchers
in the National League seems to be a combination of two factors: first, he has
gained experience (and having a healthy Chris Carpenter to take the ‘ace’ role
doesn’t hurt either). Second, his strikeout numbers are up considerably.
2007–his only full season of
starting–saw 136 strikeouts in 202 innings. 2009 is seeing 183 strikeouts in
212 innings. That ability to put batters away more often and strand runners has
allowed him to get away with putting too many men on base: 196 hits, 61 walks,
16 home runs.

Wainwright is locked up with a four-year deal, with club
options for 2012 and 2013. With a revitalized Chris Carpenter and a now-dominant Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals have one of, if not the, best 1-2 punches in all of baseball.