Triple Play: Mike Trout, Joe Mauer, Todd Helton

In this week’s Triple Play, we look at the best all-around player in baseball, the best rookie in baseball, a retiring Rockie, and more (including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch). Let’s dive in:

MikeTrout

Who’s Hot?

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

It’s become a popular theme this month, how well Trout continues to hit while Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera struggles (mostly due to injury). Specifically, Trout has hit .356/.540/.489 in September; Cabrera has hit just .179/.343/.214. However, that narrow-minded view completely ignores just how good Trout has been throughout the whole season. Trout’s 1.029 OPS in September is only his fourth highest mark this season. After leading the American League in stolen bases, runs scored and OPS+ as a rookie in 2012, Trout has been even better this year. He again leads the AL in runs scored (103 entering Sunday), walks (99) and his OPS+ is 181. He already has exceeded 2012’s RBI total and is all but certain to better the 315 total bases from last year.

In a year that has seen most everything go wrong for the Angels (horrible pitching, career-worst season for Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton’s awful first year in LA), Trout has been the only thing to go right. For the second straight year, Trout is worth 10 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), the only player to do that since Barry Bonds. He might not win the MVP this year, but he probably should. The Angels have been so bad this year, Trout is about the only thing separating the Angels from being the Milwaukee Brewers or the Minnesota Twins.

Who’s Not?

Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

Speaking of the Twins, they were officially eliminated from the postseason over the weekend. Unofficially, they were eliminated on Easter. Mauer certainly did his part, compiling a .324/.404/.476 slash line. So why is he in this section? Because of the concussion symptoms from which he continues to suffer. The injury supposedly occurred on August 19, when he took several foul tips off his catcher’s mask. But when you’re a catcher, absorbing foul tips and assorted other punishment is all part of a day’s work. Who really knows when the injury happened? He started light workouts several days ago, only to have the symptoms return and he was sent home on September 11. Is there any benefit to have their homegrown star rush back to the field this season? Absolutely not. Further, if there is any team in the majors that should be extra careful when it comes to a superstar with a concussion, it’s the Twins. Justin Morneau’s concussion issues were such that he has never returned to his MVP-caliber level once he sustained his. Here’s hoping that he is able to recover during the offseason and return to Target Field fully healthy for the 2014 season.

Playing the Name Numbers Game

Here are some interesting numbers from the 2013 season (entering Sunday’s games):

Random Thoughts

  • Todd Helton told Troy Renck of The Denver Post on Saturday that he intends to retire after the 2013. “It just seems like it’s time,” Helton said. He is right. Although he reached the 2,500 hit mark, it has become clear that Father Time has caught up to the 40-year-old lifetime Rockie. The power is mostly gone, as is the bat speed that helped produce ten straight seasons with a park-adjusted OPS+ of at least 118. Helton’s slash line this year is just .244/.315/.408, with 13 homers, 52 RBI and 34 runs scored.
  • In his career, Helton sports a lifetime .317 average, .415 on-base percentage, .539 slugging percentage, 367 home runs, 1,397 RBI, and 1,394 runs scored.
  • According to the Post, those 1,394 runs scored represent eight percent of all the runs scored in Rockies franchise history.
  • Think about that for a moment.
  • Although he tarnished his name with the cement-headed decision to drive drunk earlier this year, Helton’s career will be defined by two iconic moments: 1) Sept. 18, 2007, a walkoff home run off Dodgers closer Takashi Saito that jumpstarted the improbable “Rocktober” run of 21 wins in 22 games, culminating in the team’s only World Series appearance; 2) the image of Helton exulting, fists and head lifted toward the sky as he caught the final out of the 2007 NLCS.
  • Helton probably could elect to continue his career as a reserve/DH, much in the way Jason Giambi has, but the Post story indicates that such an idea never seriously crossed his mind. Helton seems weary and ready to step away from the game. He is fortunate that he gets to do so on his own terms.
  • Five years from now, his Hall of Fame case will be a compelling one to watch.
  • In the short term, this is the best thing for the Rockies. His big salary comes off the books, they can shift Michael Cuddyer to first base and use those funds to bolster the ghastly middle relief.
  • Earlier this year, I wrote that the NL Rookie of the Year award was Yasiel Puig’s to lose. I was wrong. That award should go to Miami’s Jose Fernandez.
  • In his final start of the season last Wednesday, Fernandez shackled the division-leading Braves for seven innings, lowering his ERA to 2.19, with the 0.98 WHIP. His 5.8 H/9 and 9.7 K/9 are tops in the National League. Since his electric appearance at the All-Star Game, Fernandez seemed to get better each start. In his final 10 starts, he averaged seven innings per starts with 1.32 ERA, 84 whiffs, three homers allowed. A whopping 68% of his pitches were strikes and opposing hitters slugged a paltry .239. Here are some other numbers to chew on from his inaugural season in the big leagues:
  1. Surrendered more than five runs just twice in 27 starts
  2. 20 quality starts (at least 6 IP and less than 3 ER allowed)
  3. 10 home runs allowed in 172 2/3 innings pitched
  4. 187/58 strikeout-to-walk ratio
  5. Four starts in which he gave up two hits or less
  •  With apologies to Puig, Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, and Hyun-Jin Ryu (all of whom would be strong contenders in any other year), this is a no-brainer. Fernandez is the Rookie of the Year. In fact, you could make a reasonable argument for him to win the Cy Young Award ahead of Clayton Kershaw.
  • 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. Last Friday, Wainwright spun another gem, an eight-inning, six-hit, one-run performance against Seattle (he did not factor in the decision). The outing lowered his ERA back below 3.00 (2.96), and his WHIP is down to 1.069. He has a 16-9 record, with 201 strikeouts and 33 walks. Although his K/BB ratio remains sterling at 6.09-to-1, he no longer leads the majors in that category. That honor now belongs to Matt Harvey (6.16). Wainwright likely has three more starts this season to raise that ratio and a favorable schedule in which to do so.
  • Which is more surprising, that the Kansas City Royals remain in the wild-card hunt on September 16, or that the Washington Nationals have crept to within four games of the Cincinnati Reds for the 2nd wild-card spot in the NL?
  • Texas’ Yu Darvish became the fourth pitcher in modern era to strike out at least 250 batters in his first two major-league seasons. The others: Herb Score, Dwight Gooden and Tim Lincecum. He has 12 starts this year in which he has fanned 10 or more batters.
  • Darvish has four 1-0 losses this year, including his past two decisions. Three of those losses have been at home, which is mind-boggling, given the hitters’ paradise in which the Rangers play.
  • Last Monday (Sept. 9), Darvish lost to Pittsburgh’s 23-year-old Gerrit Cole. Saturday, he lost to 40-year-old Bartolo Colon.
  • Saturday was the sixth time Colon did not allow a run in one of his starts.
  • The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw has done that eight times this season.
  • Raise your hand if you foresaw Ubaldo Jimenez stepping up to become the Indians’ stopper with Justin Masterson on the disabled list.
  • I wonder if Jimenez would be this effective if he were still pitching for the Rockies.
  • News: Dodgers allow 19 runs to the archrival Giants, the most the team has ever surrendered ever at Dodger Stadium. Views: San Francisco can celebrate that feat while watching Los Angeles play October baseball.
  • In news sure to enrage Crazy Brian Kenny: Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka wins his 25th straight start. He has won all 21 starts this season, plus his last four in 2012. Obviously, Japanese statistics do not count in the US, but 25 consecutive wins beats the major-league record of 24 straight starts without a loss set by Carl Hubbell in 1936-37.
  • At 24, Tanaka is a prime candidate to pitch in the majors in the next couple years.
  • Hopefully, Kenny will have to address this news on air.
  • We end this week with a feat achieved only once in baseball history: on September 14, 1990, the Mariners’ Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. became the only father-son duo to club home runs in the same game (off Kirk McCaskill of the then California Angels). Not only that, they did it back-to-back. The elder Griffey was 40, Junior was 20. Both teams finished below .500, out of the playoff picture. But, as is the greatest thing about baseball, history can happen at any time.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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