With the All-Star break upon us, I thought it would be a good time to review five youngish players. One of them, a hurler returning from a head injury in Florida, is nearing a return to game action. Another is an injured speedster from Philly who was tearing it up at the dish. A first sacker, who was awful last season and for a good portion of the start of this year, is finally producing like the player many of us thought he would be for the Royals. An Astros hurler might be dealt at the deadline, one who has performed very consistently in 2013. Finally, I'll touch on my favorite whipping boy from before the season began, you know the dynamic talent of the Angels who has been terrorizing pitchers yet again in 2013.
Alex Cobb threw live batting practice Sunday, and he did so without the protective net in front of him, a huge step in his recovery (Cobb has been sidelined since June 15th when he took a liner off his head off the bat of Eric Hosmer). You never now how a guy will be when he returns, will he be gun shy or unable to overcome his fear, but it sounds as if Cobb passes this first test with flying colors. Now he'll have to ramp up the physical activities to that he can get his body and arm back in shape. There's no timetable for his return, but early August seems like a reachable goal for the righty from Tampa Bay. Cobb was having a great season going 6-2 with a 3.01 ERA and 1.16 WHIP through 13 starts. More impressively, he'd added a K to his K/9 mark from last season (up from 7.00 to 8.18) while at the same time dropping his walk rate a tad to 2.47. Add in his 57 percent ground ball rate, leaving him with a 2.67 GB/FB mark, and you have a near elite skill set.
Earlier I mentioned Eric Hosmer, so let me address his situation right here. Through 90 games he is batting .285 with nine homers, 40 RBIs, 46 runs scored and seven steals. If we let him maintain that pace over 150 games we would end up with a first sacker who would produce a 5x5 fantasy line of .285-15-67-77-12. As a rookie he produced a very similar line hitting .293 with 19 homers, 78 RBIs, 66 runs scored and 11 steals (albeit in just 128 games). I think we're about to the point now that we can look past his dreadful 2012 (.232-14-60-65-16 with a .304 OBP) and get to analyzing the “real” Hosmer. Of course, this position has only recently been reached as Hosmer was pretty awful the first 50 games this season as he had one homer, 16 RBIs an a .261 batting average (not to mention a SLG under .340). Putrid. However, the former #3 overall draft pick has taken his game to new heights the past 40 games as he's performed as if he was a superstar in training: .311-8-24-28-4. I'm a big fan, and I love to see the improvement, but let's keep it real too. His BB/K mark (0.49) and BABIP (.310) are pretty blase, though his 22 percent line drive rate is a bit elevated. Still, the biggest issue that will hold Hosmer back from true greatness will be his fly ball rate. The league average is usually around 35 percent. Here are Hosmer's three season marks – 31.7 percent, 27.9 percent and 21.6 percent this season. Less than 22 percent, really? That's pathetic. Because he never lifts the ball his GB/FB ratio is 2.61. For some context with that number --- it's the sixth highest mark in baseball. Here are the names of the five men that are above him on the list – Everth Cabrera, Ben Revere (who I'll speak about in a moment), Norichika Aoki, Elvis Andrus and Michael Bourn. So if your Hosmer that's embarrassing. The other fie make their living with their legs. Hosmer doesn't – he's supposed to be a run producing corner infielder. Until Hosmer starts lifting the ball more he's going to have a difficult time hitting even 20 homers in a season.
Bud Norris is a bit of a forgotten man. Since the start of the 2011 season he's languished in the Astros rotation going 6-11, 7-13 and 6-8 this year. No one wants to see that. He's also the owner of a 4.29 ERA and 1.40 WHIP over the course of his career, and that's worse than league average stuff. So why am I writing about him? There's a couple of really solid reasons. First, he's likely to be dealt, and hopefully he will move to a team that will give him a better chance to win games on a more consistent bases. Second, he's a pretty solidly skilled guy despite the numbers I've listed up until this point. Some thoughts. Before getting bombed for seven runs in his last start he had a 3.22 ERA over 18 starts, not bad for a fella who is pitching in the AL. Second, while he's never thrown a complete game, he does a solid job of eating innings. Over his last 10 outings the only time he failed to last at least six innings was that last start. Third, his performance is usually pretty solid. In his 19 starts he's allowed more than three earned runs only three times. He may not be an ace, and his goal might just be a quality start, but there's value in that. Fourth, he's also walking fewer batters than ever before as he's nearly lopped a full batter off his career 3.64 walk per nine inning mark (he's down at 2.84 right now). Unfortunately Norris has also seen a regression in his strikeout rate as his control has sharpened. After 4-straight season with a K/9 mark of at least 8.52 that mark has tumbled down to 6.39 this season. His velocity is the same as always, and his pitch distribution is pretty similar as well (he's throwing a cutter every so often now, and his slider a bit less, but that's a marginal difference). Without the strikeouts his value is obviously a bit limited, but if he ends up in a pitching conducive environment he might just have some decent second half value in mixed leagues.
Ben Revere will have surgery Tuesday to repair a broken right foot. Initial estimates have him missing somewhere from 6-8 weeks in a crushing blow to those who had been riding his hot streak, and boy was he hot. Revere hit the DL batting .305. The guy was over .300 folks. He hit the DL riding a 10-game hitting streak in which he produced at least two hits in seven of the 10 games. In fact, he had raised his season average .020 points during the run as he ripped off 19 hits. Moreover, since he hit .200 in April the guy has been nails in the batting average category. Over his last 65 games Revere batted .347. Hell, he hit .365 over his last 39 games. He was also able to run a wee bit with 12 steals in his last 38 games played. Blows chunks to lose him right now. Even when he's back, you have to worry at least a little bit about how his performance will suffer. After all, his game is 100 percent speed driven, and when we're talking about foot surgery and missing potentially two months, it's not like his injury is a minor issue.
Finally we have Mike Trout. I said during the preseason, pretty loudly, that Trout would fail to live up to last years standards on a per game basis. So far, I'm a wee bit right but a whole bit wrong. Let's look at the tale of the tape.
He was down for a while there, but he's been fantastic of late raising his level of production to identical levels from last season (he's hit over .350 the past 37 games). Really surprised by that.
2012: 0.48 BB/K, 1.35 GB/FB, 22.6 LD, .383 BABIP
2013: 0.67 BB/K, 1.37 GB/FB, 22.3 LD, .359 BABIP
Great to see his strikeout rate diminish a bit cause that was a big reason I question whether or not he would hit .300 this year (he's gone from a 22 percent K-rate last season down to 16.4 percent right now). His BABIP has regressed a bit, thought it's still at an elite level. He hits the ball hard and is fast as all get out. That helps.
Here is his per game pace.
2012: HR every 4.63 games
2013: HR every 6.13 games
2012: 0.60 RBIs per game
2013: 0.64 RBIs per game
2012: 0.93 runs per game
2013: 0.71 runs per game
2012: 0.35 SBs per game
2013: 0.23 SBs per game
His effort has been a wee bit off from last season. There's still a large portion of the season left to be played, but it's looking like, with every passing day, that I'm going to have egg on my face with this one.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. For more of Ray's analysis you can check out BaseballGuys.com or the BaseballGuys' Twitter account where he tirelessly answer everyone's questions.
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