Triple Play: Jason Kipnis, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Howard

Jason Kipnis

In this week’s edition, we look at a record-setting month for an Indians player, another speed bump for a Nationals pitcher, and our ridiculously early award nominations. Let’s dive in (stats entering Sunday’s games).

Who’s Hot?

Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians

In 2014, Kipnis was expected to emerge as one of the four or five best second basemen in the game, but he struggled injuries and never got untracked. Some impatient fantasy owners bailed on Kipnis and turned their attention elsewhere. They are probably regretting that choice now, as Kipnis just wrapped up an historic month for the Tribe. How good was he? He rapped 50 hits in May, breaking Shoeless Joe Jackson’s franchise record for the month of May. He also scored 29 runs and smacked 20 extra-base hits, making him the first Indians player to achieve that since July 1936. The Indians have had some decent hitters over the years, but none of them can match what Kipnis did this month. His slash line was an eye-popping .430/.515/.702, with a 1.217 OPS. According to Baseball Reference, Kipnis’ offense was worth 2.23 Win Probability Added during the month. His ridiculously hot month has him on pace for 18 home runs, 75 RBI, 28 steals and 82 runs. CBS Sports lists him as the 10th-highest rated player in the American League thus far in 2015. Numbers like that would make him not only a top second baseman, but a Top-20 player overall. This is more what people expected last year. Better a year late than never, right?

Who’s Not?

Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

It’s been a season to forget for Strasburg, who had to leave his start over the weekend due to neck tightness. Now the former top draft pick is on the disabled list. Over the past month, Strasburg has had multiple starts where he looked noticeably uncomfortable on the mound and generally out of sorts. Obviously, he has been unable to pitch through whatever is ailing him and the stat sheet is ugly: 3-5 record, 6.55 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, a ghastly 12.7 H/9, plus career worsts in strikeouts and walks per start.  Maybe this break will give him time to straighten things out. Both fantasy owners and the Nationals hope so. Strasburg was being counted on to be the number two starter (behind Max Scherzer) and help lead Washington back to the playoffs. He is showing that he cannot make adjustments during the season and pitch through any difficulties. At this point, he has barely been worthy of being one of their top five starters. While he is on the shelf, either AJ Cole or Tanner Roark will fill in for Strasburg.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: 0-5, 5.04 ERA, 44 2/3 IP, 46 K, 11 BB, 4 HR allowed

Player B: 3-0, 1.41 ERA, 32 IP, 50 K, 2 BB, 2 HR allowed

Player A is Corey Kluber in his first seven starts. Player B is Corey Kluber in his past four starts. That’s not a typo. Fifty strikeouts and two walks in his past four starts. Yowza.

Player A: .243/.281/.375, 4 HR, 20 RBI, 12 R, 78 OPS+

Player B: .248/.319/.390, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 10 R, 93 OPS+

Player C: .250/.290/.506, 10 HR, 25 RBI, 16 R, 117 OPS+

Player A is Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams, who is likely out for the year with a torn quad muscle that required surgery. Player B is his replacement, Mark Reynolds. Player C is Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard, who Ken Rosenthal, Jon Heyman and countless other writers assume will be acquired by St. Louis to replace Adams. Reynolds might prove to be an unsuitable everyday player (as he has in previous years), but he is eminently preferable to paying Howard $25 million a year. Howard is off to a nice start this season, but he is averaging 101 games played the past three seasons, hasn’t hit above .250 since 2011 and hasn’t slugged over .500 since 2010. It seems foolhardy to assume Howard has rediscovered his All-Star form. Given St. Louis GM John Mozeliak’s history, I can’t believe he would give up anything of value for the 35-year-old Howard. And he’s right.

Clearing the Bases

Some way-too-early award pronouncements:

NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals. No Anthony Rendon, no Jayson Werth, no problem. Okay, not exactly “no problem”, but Harper is making up for their absence and then some. Tied for the major-league lead in home runs, leading in RBI, carrying the offense on his back. It’s hard to forget he’s only 22. He’s got plenty of time to get better, too.

AL MVP: Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays. New team, same Donaldson. He received serious MVP consideration last year and should this year too. Same stellar defense, same big bat. If only he could pitch….

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners. Dallas Keuchel is the trendy pick, but the King is still the best pitcher in the league.

NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals. Even better than he was last year in Detroit. And much needed too, with Strasburg’s ineffectiveness and Jordan Zimmermann’s occasional struggles.

NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs. Lived up to the hype and then some.

AL Rookie of the Year: Nick Martinez, Texas Rangers. His 2.03 ERA and 1.26 WHIP have been a huge boost to a team missing Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Martin Perez.

NL LVP (Least Valuable Player): Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies. A shell of his former self. Easy to say now, but it turns out that Ruben Amaro should have traded him last year while he still had some value.

AL LVP: Allen Craig, Boston Red Sox. Physically, he looks like the same guy who was such a critical part of the Cardinals’ 2011 world championship team. That’s about all I can say.

NL MUP (Most Useless Pitcher): Kyle Kendrick, Colorado Rockies. Signing a flyball pitcher with control issues to pitch his home games at Coors Field. What could possibly go wrong? Um, pretty much everything.

AL MUP: Justin Masterson, Boston Red Sox. Those days in Cleveland where he was a top-of-the-rotation starter seem like years ago. If baseball had a “he’s not hurt, he just stinks” list, he’d be on there instead of the DL.

NL Surprise Player: Mike Bolsinger, Los Angeles Dodgers. He might turn out to be a critical member of their rotation with Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy out for the year. Five starts, three quality starts, 1.15 ERA, 0.96 WHIP.

AL Surprise Player: Stephen Vogt, Oakland Athletics. Already reached career highs in home runs and RBI. The A’s might be missing Josh Donaldson, but Vogt is making sure they don’t miss Derek Norris.

Good guy of the year: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates. Little things like him giving his batting gloves to two young Bucs fans in San Diego make him impossible to dislike. Now that he’s back on track, Pittsburgh is rolling again.

Dunce of the year award: Matt Joyce, Los Angeles Angels. Never heard of a player forgetting what time the game started and showing up halfway into it like Joyce did earlier this month. At least he had a sense of humor about it, though.

Don’t read too much into these now. We’ll revisit them after the July 31 trade deadline and see what has changed.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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