Triple Play: Clayton Kershaw, Edinson Volquez, Ichiro

In this edition of the Triple Play, we look at the best starting pitcher in baseball, an amazing career achievement that unexpectedly is drawing some controversy, and more (including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch). Off we go:

IchiroSuzuki

Who’s Hot?

Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Just as people are running out of superlatives for Miguel Cabrera’s hitting; so too are we struggling to find the words to accurately describe just how sensational Kershaw has been for the Dodgers this season. You’ve seen the ERA (1.72) that is far and away the best in baseball, but Kershaw also leads the National League in the following categories:

  • Games started (27)
  • Shutouts (2, tied with Adam Wainwright)
  • WHIP (0.857)
  • Hits per nine innings (5.8)
  • ERA+ (207)

He has surrendered just nine home runs in 198 1/3 innings pitched and is on pace for 240 strikeouts. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 188/32. The last time he allowed more than two runs in a start was July 10 against the Rockies. His ERA hasn’t been above two since June 26. The only thing separating him from a second 20-win season in three years is the Dodgers’ slow start to the season. Barring an incomprehensible late-season collapse, he looks like a shoo-in to win the NL Cy Young Award. The only questions left are whether the voting will be unanimous, and if he will win the MVP award as well.

Who’s Not?

Edinson Volquez, San Diego Padres

Edinson Volquez has been part of two major trades in his career. The first saw him dealt from the Rangers to the Reds in the Josh Hamilton deal; he was traded from the Reds to the Padres as part of the package for Mat Latos. He teased everyone with an impressive rookie year in 2008, going 17-6, with a 3.21 ERA and 206 strikeouts. But the warning signs were there even then: he walked 93 batters, hit 14 more (which led the NL), and threw 10 wild pitches. His WHIP was a career-best 1.327 and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was just 2.22-to-1.

After being plagued by injuries for several years, Volquez made 32 starts with San Diego in 2012. He was credited with 11 wins, but led the league with a staggering 105 walks. If you owned him in your fantasy league, you either dropped him or watched your ERA/WHIP categories sink lower and lower thanks to his lack of control.

The Padres finally ran out of patience with Volquez on Saturday, designating him for assignment one day after failing a ghastly start that saw him fail to make it out of the first inning in a no-decision versus the anemic Cubs. This season, he went 9-10 with a 6.01 ERA, 1.67 WHIP and 95 earned runs allowed (worst in the NL). He averaged less than 5 1/3 innings per start this season. There are a few teams out there desperate for pitching, but they would be wise to look elsewhere.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .266/.358/.484, 24 HR, 64 RBI, 80 runs, 7 SB, 128 OPS+

Player B: .182/.263/.292, 8 HR, 21 RBI, 27 runs, 11 SB, 52 OPS+

Player C: .253/.347/.423, 13 HR, 37 RBI, 60 runs, 2 SB, 109 OPS+

Player A started the 2013 like a house afire, leading his league in home runs. Then he fell into a two and a half-month slump that had fantasy owners wondering if they should sell low on him just to rid themselves of the headache. Since the All-Star break, though, he has been much better; not quite the beast he was in April, but still an elite outfielder. In a recent game, he was tossed out of a game while running out a ground ball to first base.

Player B has had a season to forget, despite being one of the big free-agent signings of this past offseason. Never one to hit for a high average, he had always been able to provide power and great speed for fantasy owners. This season, he hasn’t provided much of either. His struggles have resulted in more frequent days off, even when healthy. The extra rest hasn’t helped, however, as he has 1-for-34 in his past 13 games.

Player C is the player who was recently injured, and may miss the rest of the regular season. The timing couldn’t be worse, either, as he was punishing the ball to the tune of a .348/.419/.621 slash line this month. In his place is a player who has never produced an OPS+ greater than 75 nor had more than 360 at-bats for the season.

Player A is Justin Upton, Player B is B.J. Upton, and Player C is Jason Heyward. Their up-and-down seasons (or in BJ’s case, just down) illustrate just how good Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson, and Brian McCann have been in anchoring the Braves lineup this season. The bullpen has been stellar as well, despite the injuries to stalwarts Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters. The Braves’ biggest benefactor, though, has been the putrid NL East division. If they were in any other division, they would be in a dogfight for first place. Instead, though, the Braves can worry about getting their players healthy and ready for October baseball.

Random Thoughts

  • Wainwright Walk Watch: Once Adam Wainwright started the 2013 season by pitching 37 innings before allowing his first walk of the season, we started a weekly tracker to keep track of how few free passes the Cardinals’ ace hands out this season. He has led the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio all season, and it hasn’t been close. After handcuffing the Cubs last week, Wainwright was even better last Friday night versus the Braves: he spun a six-hit, complete-game victory in which he walked no one and fanned nine. The start was Wainwright’s ninth this season in which he hasn’t issued a free pass (by comparison, Kershaw has six starts where he didn’t allow a walk). It also was his fifth complete game this season, most in the majors (Kershaw has three). Wainwright’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is back up to 7.24-to-1, still far and away the best in the majors. He is on a big-time roll at the perfect time, as the Cardinals go into a crucial stretch where their next 13 games are against the Reds and Pirates.
  • Jose Fernandez has allowed a total of eight runs in his seven starts since the All-Star break, with an ERA of 1.31. Opponents are slugging .225 against him in those games, and he has a 62-to-11 strikeout/walk ratio. He turned 21 on July 31. Mercy.
  • Meanwhile, the clock has struck midnight for Royals pitcher Bruce Chen. From July 12-August 13, he turned in six consecutive quality starts as the Royals elevated themselves into wild-card contention. His past two starts, however, have been brutal. After allowing just four runs total in those previous six starts, he has allowed 13 runs in just nine innings. Detroit and Washington both knocked him around like a piñata. He may get another opportunity or two, but Kansas City can’t afford any more clunkers if they want to hang in the wild card race.
  • If Miguel Cabrera is still feeling the effects of his abdominal injury, he’s doing a whale of a job covering it up. The past two weeks, he’s bashed seven home runs, with 19 RBI and .689 slugging percentage. For the season, his batting line is a ridiculous .360/.450/.685 (all of which lead the AL). He is on pace for 51 homers, 159 RBI, and 115 runs scored. If Chris Davis slows down at all, Cabrera has a terrific chance to become the major leagues’ first back-to-back Triple Crown winner.
  • The aforementioned Davis is showing little signs of slowing down, however. He has 46 homers on the season (five more than Cabrera), to go with 117 RBI. After seeing his strikeout totals soar in June and July, Davis is back to being more selective at the plate and he is reaping the benefits, as shown by his 1.119 OPS this month.
  • Then there’s the other Davis – Khris Davis, that is. The Brewers’ rookie outfielder is having himself a fine August as well. He entered August with a .231/.310/.538 slash line; now it looks like this: .338/.416/.727. It’s a small sample size, to be sure, but the Brewers will take any bright spot they can get right now.
  • Boston’s win over the Dodgers yesterday marked the first time that a team has beaten the Dodgers in a series since June 14-16, when Pittsburgh won two of three from L.A.
  • Jordan Danks hit a home run Sunday in a game that his brother John started. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that was the first time a player hit a home run in support of his brother since Billy and Bobby Shantz achieved the feat for the Kansas City A’s in 1955.
  • Sadly, that is probably the highlight of the White Sox’s season.
  • Sunday’s Diamondbacks-Phillies day game started just 11 ½ hours after Saturday’s 18-inning marathon ended. Casper Wells was unavailable to pitch.
  • Welcome back, Roy Halladay.
  • If you haven’t read the story about the eight-year-old Indians fan with cerebral palsy who asked Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis to hit home runs for him Sunday (they both did, by the way), do yourself a favor and read it. Here’s to you, Niko Lanzarotta.
  • We wrap up this week with our final Ichiro Hit Tracker. On Wednesday, Aug. 21, Ichiro collected career hit #4,000, a single off Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey. As more and more national writers started taking note of this milestone (AFTER I started noting it in the Triple Play), there was a major backlash by many fans and media members. While the 1,872 hits from his career in Japan obviously don’t count towards the major-league numbers, it is still a noteworthy achievement. Some writers grumbled that Japanese baseball was of no better quality than the minor leagues, which is an apples-to-oranges argument. The point that Ichiro is one of the greatest pure hitters ever to play the game still holds. As such, here are a few more numbers that illustrate just that:
    • He has compiled ten 200-hit seasons. The only other player to do that? Pete Rose.
    • Ichiro has done that in 13 years. It took Rose 17 years to do that.
    • Ichiro has five seasons with more than 220 hits. Rogers Hornsby has four. Rose has one.
    • With 2,533 hits, Ichiro is the all-time leader in Mariners history (more than Edgar Martinez or Ken Griffey Jr.)
    • Ichiro has hit successfully off 756 pitchers in his major-league career.
    • Since 2001, the player with the second-most hits is Albert Pujols (2,347).

Let’s just appreciate the greatness we have had the privilege of watching for the past 13 seasons. There will be plenty of time to debate Ichiro’s place in history after he has retired.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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