It is going to be very difficult for the Tigers to continue this pace, because Max Scherzer probably won't continue to strike out 12 hitters per 9 innings (staying above 10 will be a challenge). They still have a great shot at leading the league in strikeouts if Scherzer and Verlander stay healthy, although that won't mean very much if they continue to play like they've been playing.
Top 10 in H and R, since the beginning of the 2011 season
Melky Cabrera: #1 H, #6 R
Miguel Cabrera: #6 H, #7 R
Dustin Pedroia: #7 H, #10 R
Robinson Cano: #8 H, #8 R
Ryan Braun: #9 H, #4 R
In this group, we have the 2011 NL MVP (Braun), and the players who came in #5 (Cabrera), #6 Cano and #9 in the 2011 AL MVP vote. Beyond that, Cabrera and Cano came in the top 3 in the 2010 MVP vote and Pedroia has an MVP trophy from 2008.
This is clearly an elite category with only top offensive players, except that Melky Cabrera has never received an MVP vote (although he would if the season ended today, being #1 in H, #3 in R and #3 in BA in the NL). He is HR pace is down from last year, but that is not a big surprise playing in San Francisco. He is going to be a free agent after this season, and it seems unlikely that he'll sign with the Giants during the season.
100+ Starts, 9.20+ K/9, .590 W-L%, SO/BB 2.50 (by age 26, since 1900)
Gallardo, who turned 26 earlier this year, has struggled a bit this year, especially in April (2-3, 6.08 ERA in April, 1-3 3.00 ERA in May). He hasn't had a true breakout season yet (3.52 ERA is his lowest in a full season), but he is already piling up some impressive numbers and should have 1000 career strikeouts early next season.
It takes some pitchers a little bit longer to figure it all out (Justin Verlander had never finished a season with an ERA below 3.37 until last year despite some very impressive seasons), and Gallardo is a prime candidate to break out and win a Cy Young one of these years.
The Nationals have only gone from 27th in runs (April) to 16th (May) despite their improvement in OPS. They've needed those extra runs to keep up (9-6 in May) because their pitching has done downhill this month, sliding from #1 in team ERA in April to 13th in May.
One of the main reasons for the team OPS improving so much is that Roger Bernadina has an OPS of .995 in May (31 AB), up from .509 in April (42 AB). Rookie phenom Bryce Harper was called up on April 28th, and has struggled a bit (.222 BA, .726 OPS), although he has 2 HR in the last 3 games. It's possible his presence has provided a jolt to the rest of the lineup, even if he hasn't taken off himself yet.
When teams in Major League Baseball began employing the use of a fifth starter in the 1970s, it signified a major change in pitching philosophy. Bullpen specialists were also becoming popular, and no longer were the days when starting pitchers were required to work 300-plus innings each season.
As such, the role of the fifth starter became very important for each team. With travel days, oftentimes the fifth starter may miss turns in the rotation in order for their rotation mates to continue with their routines of pitching every fifth day. Here are the current fifth starters considered the best in baseball today.
5. Anibal Sanchez: Miami Marlins
Normally, Miami Marlins starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez would be the No. 3 pitcher in the rotation. However, with the offseason acquisitions of Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano, Sanchez slides into the final spot in the rotation.
Considering his body of work, Sanchez is certainly no slouch in that role, posting a 3.61 ERA in the past two seasons and registering over 200 strikeouts last season for the first time in his career.
4. Dillon Gee: New York Mets
In 2011, despite what was otherwise a gloomy season at Citi Field, New York Mets starting pitcher Dillon Gee was one of the lone bright spots, posting a 13-6 record and 4.45 ERA in his first full season.
Gee won’t blow anyone away with a blazing fastball, however, he has an excellent array of secondary pitches and has shown the ability to work out of jams. Considering the Mets’ current financial woes and declining attendance figures, Gee is a steal in the rotation at just $500K.
3. Neftali Feliz: Texas Rangers
Over the past three seasons, the Texas Rangers have mastered the art of turning relievers into starters, with C.J. Wilson successfully transitioning in 2010 and Alexi Ogando last year.
Now, the Rangers are pulling off that same trick for the third straight season, with former closer and 2010 Rookie of the Year Award winner Neftali Feliz making the transition to the rotation.
With Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish in place at the top of the rotation, Feliz will be given all the time he needs to make the successful transition. Judging from his start thus far (2.25 ERA, 1-0 in first two starts), the Rangers may have pulled off the trifecta.
2. Jeff Niemann: Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays are absolutely loaded with great homegrown starting pitching, and this past spring training the Rays had a unique problem that most teams would love to have.
With youngster Matt Moore entrenched as the fourth starter, the battle for the final spot in the rotation came down to Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, both of whom pitched well in starting roles in 2011. Niemann won the battle, and gives the Rays an outstanding core of starting pitching that rivals any in the majors.
1. Ryan Vogelsong: San Francisco Giants
Last season, San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong came out of nowhere to post a 13-7 record and 2.71 ERA, a remarkable feat considering he hadn’t posted a win in the majors since 2005.
Vogelsong at times last season was the best pitcher on a staff loaded with talent and was rewarded with an All-Star selection for his efforts. This season, Vogelsong is on the back end of a rotation that features two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and a rejuvenated Barry Zito. Not too shabby at all.
This is a guest post submitted by Mike Wright. Mike played all kinds of sports growing up and adamantly follows everything sports. He works with Phoenix Bats, a company that creates world-class wood bats, such as their premier custom wood bats, for amateur and professional ball players around the world. Mike loves writing on different sports topics and is honored to contribute here.
The Orioles currently (and shockingly) have the best record in baseball after 28 games, with a 19-9 record (the Nats could tie them with a win tonight). Since their last winning season in 1997, they have generally overperformed over the first 28 games, although they usually weren't exactly setting the world on fire.
The one notable exception was 2005, when they jumped out to a great start and were leading the division by 4 games on June 11 before beginning their decline. The 2005 collapse is undoubtedly on the minds of people connected with the Orioles, but this is a different type of team. In 2005, they were 16-7 in April despite being ranked #23 in ERA.
They overcame their awful pitching by scoring the most runs of any team. They had some talented hitters (Miguel Tejada, Melvin Mora, Javy Lopez), but that wasn't sustainable. Sure enough, their offense dropped off in May and they ended up 15th in runs scored at the end of the season.
This year, they are 2nd in ERA and 10th in runs scored. It is a more balanced attack, but the main concern has to be that their excellent pitching isn't sustainable (they were 27th in bullpen ERA last year, and 1st this year).
Can they sustain this (or stay somewhat close)? The bullpen seems solid, anchored by Jim Johnson, who has been lights out. They probably won't be the best, but it should remain a big improvement over previous years. The starting rotation won't scare anyone, and it remains to be seen if Jason Hammel can continue his torrid start.
Even if the Orioles don't make the playoffs, it's possible that they're like the 2001 Twins, who came out of nowhere with a bunch of young players but struggled to compete against the mighty Indians and trailed off as the season went along. They came back and won the division the next 3 years and remained a contender for years after.
They could also be the 2005 Orioles, but it doesn't feel that way, especially after seeing them win a 17 inning game at Fenway that they almost certainly would have lost at any other point since 1997.
Major League Baseball has long been enamored with starting pitchers who possess the blazing fastball—the high-90s four-seamer that induces countless swings and misses, and the two-seamer with late break that beguiles hitters in mid-swing.
However, not only is the fastball a prized possession, but a vast array of secondary pitches that are equally unhittable are hot commodities as well.
Here are five current MLB pitchers who have in their arsenal an array of secondary pitches that have become legendary.
1. Cliff Lee: Philadelphia Phillies
Since 2008, Cliff Lee has become one of the most dominant left-handed pitchers in baseball, and it’s not because of his fastball.
Lee, the 2008 AL Cy Young Award Winner, has been downright nasty, and it’s his cutter and signature curveball that give hitters fits more than anything else. Lee struck out a career-high 238 batters in 2011, and while many would naturally assume his fastball did the talking, for Lee, it’s his great assortment of secondary pitches that did the trick.
2. Cole Hamels: Philadelphia Phillies
Cole Hamels is another Philadelphia Phillies left-hander who doesn’t rely on his fastball to get hitters out. Rather, it’s his changeup that many consider the best in baseball.
Hamels threw his changeup for strikes 72.0 percent of the time in 2011 and led the league in swinging strike percentage for that pitch (27.1 percent) as well. For Hamels, it’s not just a devastating pitch, it’s his go-to pitch.
3. Jered Weaver: Los Angeles Angels
For Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Jered Weaver, the fastball is used to set up what many consider to be the best changeup of any right-handed pitcher in baseball.
Weaver’s heater only averages just above 89 MPH, yet he consistently strikes out close to 200 batters each year. Weaver’s changeup and curveball are stellar secondary pitches, and he uses them with regularity and great precision.
4. Jamie Moyer: Colorado Rockies
There is a very good reason that Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Jamie Moyer has lasted for 24-plus seasons in Major League Baseball, and why he became the oldest man in baseball history to win a game.
At 49 years of age, Moyer won’t even touch 80 MPH on the radar gun with his fastball anymore. However, he uses an array of secondary pitches, including a drop-off-the-shelf cutter, straight change and terrific curveball to continue keeping hitters off balance. After 268 victories, Moyer has proven that pure heat isn’t the reason for his longevity.
5. Roy Halladay: Philadelphia Phillies
There is a very good reason why the Philadelphia Phillies have what many consider to be the top rotation in baseball—their top three starting pitchers, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay, all have some of the best secondary pitches in baseball.
In Halladay’s case, it’s his devastating curveball that constantly beguiles hitters. He threw his signature curveball for a strike 68.7 percent of the time in 2011, with a swing-and-miss percentage of 18.27 percentage that was tops among all starters in baseball. Halladay also features a cut fastball that rides in on right-handed hitters, preventing them from getting a full extension on their swing.
Statistical source: Fangraphs.com
This is a guest post submitted by Mike Wright. Mike played all kinds of sports growing up and adamantly follows everything sports. He works with Phoenix Bats, a company that creates world-class wood baseball bats, such as their premier custom wood bats, for amateur and professional ball players around the world. Mike loves writing on different sports topics and is honored to contribute here.