Ordonez, Holliday banging out the hits
Originally Published: July 7, 2007By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com
We're halfway through another spectacular baseball season. And we know what you're thinking:Has anyone else hit his 500th home run in the past 15 minutes? Has George Steinbrenner fired anyone yet? And, of course, how do you spell O-k-a-j-i-m-a? Well, even if that's not what you're thinking, it's been a fun season, anyhow. Which sounds like as good an excuse as any to present our annual midseason awards:
Alex Rodriguez may have had a more eye-popping year, especially if you factor in home runs and back-page tabloid appearances. But the Yankees haven't been a factor in the division or wild-card races for more than about 20 minutes all season. Meanwhile, right there in the middle of the most lethal lineup in baseball, Ordonez is headed for a season that not even Ty Cobb ever duplicated in Detroit. And you can look that up. If Ordonez keeps mashing at his current clip, he'd finish with 68 doubles, a .369 average, 137 RBIs, 135 runs scored, 93 extra-base hits, a .445 on-base percentage and a 1.053 OPS. And even if we lower the doubles threshold to 50, no one has matched all those numbers since Hugh Duffy did it for the 1894 Boston Beaneaters. Oh, and we didn't even mention Ordonez is hitting .443 with runners in scoring position. Almost makes you want to run out and visit an Austrian knee surgeon, doesn't it? Apologies to: A-Rod, Vladimir Guerrero, Ichiro Suzuki, Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter.
How come most people look at Rockies hitters and automatically disqualify them from consideration for all honors, trophies, awards or emphatic high fives? All right, don't bother answering that. We know why. But anybody who thinks Holliday is just another figment of baseball's most pervasive altitude sickness clearly hasn't been paying attention. True, he's hitting more than 100 points higher at home (.405) than on the road (.301). But his road OPS (.828) is still higher than the road OPS of Chase Utley, Carlos Lee, Derrek Lee, Jason Bay, Torii Hunter or Grady Sizemore. Plus, it was hard not to notice that it was Holliday who got more votes in the players' All-Star balloting than any other big leaguer. We admit we were leaning toward Prince Fielder in this MVP race for a long time. But in reality, both Holliday and Utley have had more of an all-around impact on their teams than Fielder, who is batting just .232 with runners in scoring position and only .154 in those situations with two outs. So why Holliday over Utley? Because, among other reasons, Utley's home-road splits (.387 home average, .266 road) are even wider than Holliday's. Even though the Rockies may be only hanging around the periphery of the NL West and wild-card races, they do have a better record since May 15 than the Dodgers, Mets, Phillies or Brewers. You think that might have something to do with that left fielder of theirs who's hanging with the league leaders in batting, RBIs, slugging, doubles, multihit games, hits and OPS? We do. Apologies to: Utley, Fielder, Jose Reyes, Barry Bonds, Russell Martin, Adrian Gonzalez.
No full-time player in Red Sox history has ever made it through a season with a batting average below the Mendoza Line and an on-base percentage and slugging percentage under .300. But Lugo is working on it -- thanks to the 7-for-79 (.089) June debacle he just staggered through. That microscopic average made him just the third player in the past 44 seasons to bat under .100 in any calendar month. And the 0-for-33 funk he tossed into the middle of it was the longest 0-fer by a Red Sox position player in 16 years. And ohbytheway, out at shortstop, Lugo has already committed more errors (nine) than his predecessor, Alex Gonzalez, committed all of last season (seven). But hey, only three years left on his $9-million-a-year contract after this season. Sighs of relief for: Bobby Abreu, Jason Kendall, Bobby Crosby, Jermaine Dye, Jay Gibbons.
When a team is paying a man 13 million bucks a year, it would kind of like him to be one of the best players in the league. But in this case, the Phillies aren't asking that of Burrell anymore. They'd just settle for having the guy actually seem worthy of starting a game once in a while. That isn't how it's worked out, though. The one-time No. 1 pick in the whole 1998 draft has fallen so far; he recently endured a stretch in which he was benched nine times in a span of 13 games. That might have something to do with the fact that he's hitting .159 since April 26, with 42 strikeouts and only 26 hits. (Sheez, that means his missing average is 100 points higher than his batting average.) There's still hope, though. Burrell did have more homers and a higher slugging percentage last year than Magglio Ordonez, Prince Fielder or Adrian Gonzalez. And boy, do the Phillies need another productive right-handed bat. So since 13-million-dollar men tend to get lots and lots of chances, we're betting you won't be seeing Burrell slip into oblivion any time soon. Sighs of relief for: Nomar Garciaparra, Jacque Jones, Carlos Delgado, Andruw Jones.
The other big contenders for this award -- C.C. Sabathia, Johan Santana, Justin Verlander and Josh Beckett -- are as recognizable as Tom Cruise. But the pitcher who has outpitched every one of them is a guy who's so anonymous that if about 96 percent of all Americans saw him heading for their front door, they'd guess he was the mailman before they'd guess he was Cy Young. Well, Haren may have a lower profile than most of his All-Star teammates. But Haren has had such a tremendous year that he's made the exit of Barry Zito seem like no big deal in Oakland. Haren ripped off 13 straight quality starts in one stretch. He has made just five starts all year in which he's given up more than two earned runs. And here's his greatest feat of all: He was the first AL pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 2000 to take a sub-2.00 ERA into July. So how's that Mark Mulder deal looking now, huh? Apologies to: Santana, Sabathia, Verlander, Beckett, J.J. Putz.
All around him, Dodgers starters keep going down like the Titanic. But Penny just keeps getting better. So after all those years when people wondered whether this guy's light bulb would ever go on, this just in: It's burning brighter than the Dodger Stadium light towers. There are Cy Young arguments to be made down the freeway for Jake Peavy and Chris Young. But although Peavy pulled even with Penny in quality starts Thursday night (both have 15 in 18 appearances) and passed him in ERA (2.19 to 2.39), we'd still give Penny a microscopic edge. Nobody can match those 13 starts in which Penny has given up or no earned runs. Or the three extra-base hits he's allowed all year with runners in scoring position. Or his most astounding feat of all -- giving up a home run in only one of his first 17 starts (June 3 in Pittsburgh, when Jason Bay and Adam LaRoche got him). People may have scratched their heads when this guy was picked to start last year's All Star Game. But nobody deserves to start this year's edition more than Penny. Apologies to: Peavy, Young, Cole Hamels, John Smoltz, Francisco Cordero.
After the Rangers signed Padilla for three years, $33.75 million, that sound you may have heard was the grand baseball chorus singing its favorite second-guess hit: "Uh-Ohhhhhh." Padilla always did have a reputation for not being, well, driven. And he's living down to that rep this year, with his 6.69 ERA, four quality starts out of 15 trips to the mound, no wins in games in which the Rangers have scored less than seven runs for him, 42 hits allowed in 16 2/3 innings over his last four starts and the worst WHIP (1.81 baserunners per inning) of any starter in baseball with as many innings as he's pitched. Suffice it to say he had to do all of that to hold off his own teammate, Kevin Millwood (6.54 ERA) and a loaded field of AL Cy Yuk contenders. Cys of relief for: Millwood, Edwin Jackson, Jeff Weaver, Kei Igawa.
It's actually kind of amazing that Wells has never won one of these Cy Yuks before, especially when you consider: that he's 8-30 in his last 44 starts; that his ERA since Opening Day 2006 is 6.20; and that he has the second-highest career WHIP (1.49 baserunners per inning) of any active big league starter (ahead of only Jamey Wright). But Wells finally made his big charge this year, by losing his first 11 games faster than all but one pitcher in the last half-century (Denny McLain in 1971). And that at least earned the Kipper a midseason Cy-Half-Yuk. But now that he's been yanked out of the rotation, his full-season bid for Cy Yukdom is in jeopardy. So stay tuned. Cys of relief for: Anthony Reyes, Tony Armas Jr., Wes Obermueller, Zach Duke.
The Red Sox gift shop in Fort Myers, Fla., sold four different T-shirts this spring in honor of their unhittable new pitcher from the other side of the Pacific. But who knew at the time they were selling the wrong guy's shirt? If you haven't checked those middle-reliever stat sheets lately, then maybe you haven't noticed that the little-known Okajima has actually outpitched his megahyped countryman, Daisuke Matsuzaka, in the first half. But if that's you, here's what you've missed: A fellow who gave up a home run on the first pitch he threw this season -- and hasn't served up any home runs to the 152 hitters he has faced since. A fellow who has given up 22 hits in 41 innings -- only eight of them to left-handed hitters. And a fellow whose opponent slugging percentage is under .200 (.191). We don't know if he can keep this up. But Okajima is on pace to have an ERA under 1.00 and allow just four extra-base hits all season. We can't find any reliever in history who has done that in a season. So get this man a T-shirt deal. Apologies to: Matsuzaka, Reggie Willits, Jeremy Guthrie, Dustin Pedroia.
After seven years of making some of the worst rookie-of-the-year predictions in the history of the Internet, we might finally have gotten one right this year. It definitely seemed risky, back in spring training, to pick a member of the Round Rock Express to win any kind of award in the major leagues. But there was just something about the energy units Pence emitted all spring that caught our eye. Now here we are, three months later, and this guy is making a charge at leading the league in hitting and slugging. And if he can maintain his .347 batting average, it would be the highest by any first-year National League hitter since the immortal George Watkins in 1930. So Hunter Pence isn't just the rookie of the year. He's the future of the Astros. Apologies to: Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton, Troy Tulowitzki. Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is now available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.