Sunday, June 30, 2013
June report card: Grades, good and bad
By David Schoenfield
On the final day of June, on the final day of his first month in the major leagues, the 22-year-old Cuban named Yasiel Puig went 4-for-5 and Los Angeles Dodgers fans cried with joy and poets penned sonnets and the baseball gods shook hands and toasted their work with a cold beverage.
In truth, Puig was a little lucky on this day. Two hits were infield singles off the glove of Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Michael Young, plays that a better third baseman could have made. The triple was blooped to right field, a play that a more agile fielder than Delmon Young could have caught. Then he drilled a line drive between first and second and made it to second base as Young must have been stationed in San Bernadino.
But study those plays: That triple. Do most players make it to third base so easily? That double. The ball never reached the wall and Puig coasted into second like a passenger in a buffet line on a cruise. He added two steals on the day, and in case he hadn't yet fully showcased all his tools this day was a testament to his speed. Hit, hit for power, field, throw, run. The five tools. "He's something special," as my friend Eric e-mailed me Sunday night.
Thank you, baseball gods. We toast as well.
Puig earns our first grade of June, and it's an A+. Can we go higher? He has electrified not only Los Angeles, but baseball fans across the country. He ripped out 44 hits in June, the second-most for a rookie in his first month in the majors behind only Joe DiMaggio's 48 in May of 1936.
It's not that Puig's total of 44 hits in a month are all that unusual in itself -- Adrian Beltre, Manny Machado and Miguel Cabrera each had 44 in May, for example -- but he also hit .436 and the only other players since 2010 to finish a month with at least 44 hits and a .425 average were Josh Hamilton in June of 2010, the aforementioned Young in July of 2010, and Melky Cabrera last May. But those three weren't rookies with essentially two months of minor league action and they didn't have the same out-of-nowhere exhilaration behind them. Puig was the story of June and what a story it was.
More grades for June efforts:
Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: A+. He hit .378/.492/.704 in June with nine home runs and 21 RBIs. Cabrera's wRC+ -- an advanced hitting metric that compares him to a league average hitter of 100 (adjusted for home park) -- is 207. That currently ranks as the eighth-highest wRC+ since World War II ended, with three guys named Bonds, Williams and Mantle ahead of him. It's an all-time great season at the plate in progress, even better than his Triple Crown numbers of last year, and there's nothing unsustainable here going on. Cabrera, for example, had 31 "well-hit" balls in June compared to 19 for Puig.
Mike Trout, Angels: A. Trout matched Cabrera's MLB-leading total of 31 well-hit balls and hit .358/.433/.541, just in case you were forgetting that he's still pretty good. Despite Trout's big month, the Angels still earn just a C- for going 14-13 in June, a record gained only by winning their final six games of the month. They're still nine games behind the division-leading Rangers (and 8.5 behind the A's) at 39-43, but if there's one hope for Angels fans it's that they still have 13 games left against both teams.
Jason Kipnis, Indians: A+. After an eight-game losing streak early in June, the Indians went on a 14-5 run thanks in large part to Kipnis, who hit .419/.517/.699 for June -- with four home runs and 25 RBIs. As with Puig, the "well-hit" average suggests some luck involved but that luck may have earned Kipnis a trip to the All-Star Game.
After a hot start, the Yankees have cooled off and had one of the worst records in baseball during June.
New York Yankees: D-. The Yankees went 11-16 -- only the White Sox and Giants had a worse record in June -- but that doesn't tell how poorly the Yankees played. Or shall we say how poorly the Yankees hit. At minus-34 runs, they had the worst run differential thanks to a .223 average (29th in the majors) and .330 slugging percentage (last). They hit three home runs against left-handed pitchers in 301 at-bats.
San Francisco Giants: F. The Giants went 10-17 and scored the fewest runs in the National League. They hit 14 home runs, fewest in the majors, and drew 57 walks, 27th in the majors. No power and not getting on base via walks equals a bad combo. But in the NL West they're still just 3 games out.
Chase Headley, Padres: D-. Last year's NL RBI leader continued to struggle, hitting .183/.270/.257 with one home run. The Padres have a shot in the wide-open NL West but need Headley to go on a second-half tear like he did a year ago.
Jeff Locke, Pirates: A-. At 17-9, the Pirates tied the Blue Jays for the best record in June (including winning their ninth in a row on Sunday). Locke was just 2-0 but with a 1.67 ERA in five starts. He has been the stabilizing influence in the rotation as he has held opponents to a .199 average on the season. OK, his .228 BABIP is second-lowest among starters and maybe he'll regress, but he's proving to be a better pitcher than anyone projected, relying on a sinking fastball (he throws his fastball 67 percent of the time, ninth-most among starters).
Justin Verlander, Tigers: C. A 3.92 ERA in June, following a 6.41 ERA in May. Over the past two months, batters are hitting .382 off his fastball and has 21 walks and just 15 strikeouts in plate appearances ending with the pitch. Last year, batters hit .253 off it and he had more than twice as many K's as walks.
Jose Fernandez, Marlins: A.Shelby Miller got the early hype for rookie pitchers, but Fernandez quietly posted a 1.67 in June -- tied with Locke for best in the majors. He allowed just two doubles and no home runs in the month. His team is going nowhere but he may end up as the best rookie pitcher in the majors this year.
Michael Cuddyer, Rockies: A-. He played 23 games in June and hit in all 23, extending his hitting streak to 27 games.
Pedro Alvarez, Pirates: B+. He hit .309 with 10 home runs and knocked in 24 runs and his defense is drawing improved reviews. The strikeouts are still extreme -- 35 in 26 games -- so I'm not saying he has turned a corner just yet. But when he goes on a streak he can help carry a team like he did in June. Plus, his home runs can go a long way, like this one from Saturday. (He leads the majors with nine "no doubt" home runs via the ESPN Home Run Tracker.)
Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks: D. Kennedy's 6.83 ERA was second-worst among starters and he continues to fall further away from the guy who won 21 games in 2011.
Jay Bruce, Reds: B+. He got off to a slow start with one home run in April but hit seven in May and 10 in June, including this 472-foot blast, the longest of the month. He's now sixth in the majors with 43 extra-base hits.