by Ryan Butler
Billy Butler (6/5/12/0/.406) 13-for-32: Not sure what got into Billy “No Relation” Butler but, boy howdy, he was feeling frisky last week. Everybody knows that Butler can swing it; he’s a .298 career hitter. He’s a bit of a bummer in the power and production departments though. He hit 21 home runs in 2009 with a career-high 93 RBI. 51 doubles that season helped him to a respectable .853 OPS. He also struck out a career-high 103 times. That’s not a high K total for a guy with 678 PA, but his next -highest single-season K total is 78 in 2010. Perhaps he vowed to never again punch out 100 times, power numbers be damned. He has an outside shot at reaching 20 home runs this season (he’s got 13) and will probably reach the 80 RBI mark (currently 58). He’s a nice utility player because of his good BA, but I wouldn’t want to roll with him as my starting first baseman.
Joey Votto (7/4/9/0/.385) 10-for-26: Hardly seems to fair to say that a guy hitting .324 with a .953 OPS has had a disappointing season, but Votto set the bar very high last year when he lead the league with a Bondsian 1.024 OPS on his way to winning the NL MVP, garnering 31 of 32 first-place votes (he almost Caminiti’d it). But the fact is that his production is down this year, and he’s not going to get anywhere near the 37 HR, 113 RBI, or 16 SB that he had last season. OK, so steals from a first baseman may be viewed as an ancillary statistic, and a .324 BA and .941 are great, but, he should have more than 17 home runs playing his home games in the Great American Phone Booth.
Ben Zobrist (5/3/9/1/.429) 12-for-28: Zobrist had a breakout 2009 (91/27/91/17/.297, .948 OPS) that gave him the look of a solid five-category producer going forward. 2010, on the other hand, was a total disaster (77/10/75/24/.238, .699 OPS) in every department, save for steals. I could do a whole article filled with advanced stats on how and why his production seems to vary so greatly from season to season, but I’ll shorten it up by saying we’re not likely to see a repeat of 2009 from him ever again.
Derek Holland (15.0/2/9/0.00/0.67): His 10-4 record this season is more a product of a Rangers’ offense that’s averaging five runs a game than any great pitching on his part. He’s had starts of 4.0, 3.0, 1.2, and 0.2 IP in which he allowed four, four, four, and five runs respectively and emerged with just one loss. In total he has 11 starts this year in which he’s allowed at least four ER, and in seven of them he allowed at least five. His record in those games? Two, wins, three losses, six no-decisions. Lucky guy. On the flip side, he’s also thrown three shutouts. Holland is an enigma, but you’ll take his 10 wins and hold your breath every time you insert him into your starting lineup.
Justin Verlander (16.0/2/16/2.25/0.69): My preseason pick to win the AL Cy Young Award is the frontrunner to do just that. I also picked Nate McLlouth as my NL Comeback Player of the Year and Adam Dunn as AL Home Run Champion, so what the hell do I know? With the exception of 2008 when he went “all Jeff Weaver” (11-17, 4.84 ERA), Verlander has been a very good, but not great pitcher, as his career 3.58 ERA will attest. But this season he’s gone “all Harry Callahan” on the League, shooting first and asking questions later. Leading the AL in IP (188), WHIP (0.87), SO (186) and tied for the lead in wins (16), Verlander is helping assuage the feeling of ineptness I have over (stupidly) pegging Aaron Hill for my AL Comeback Player of the Year.
Joe Saunders (16.2/2/11/1.62/0.90): Flashback to July 26. Joe Saunders is one out away from shutting out the hapless Padres in San Diego. The game has been so lame that Padres second baseman Orlando Hudson just said “screw it,” and lobbed a live ball to a fan in the stands with only two out in the sixth inning. In steps Jesus Guzman, who promptly deposits the first pitch he sees 420 feet away into the Padre bullpen. Goodbye, shutout. Joe Saunders is his name, and getting yakked 1.2 times every 9.0 IP is his game. With 20 home runs allowed, Saunders has rubbed up more new balls than a Saigon whore. His 8-9 record and 1.65 K/BB rate aren’t doing much to excite fantasy owners (16% of Y! public leagues), and neither is the conga line around the bases whenever he starts. Bomp-ba-dump-ba-badda-bomp!
John Axford (0-0/5/4/0.00/0.25): Anyone worried about Axford losing save chances to Francisco Rodriguez can rest easy. He blew two of his first five chances this year, but he’s converted 30 straight since he last blew one on April 18. He seems to have overcome the control issues that plagued him earlier in the season, only allowing three walks in his last 14 appearances (14.0 IP).
J.J. Putz (0-0/2/3/0.00/1.12): He immediately resumed his role as closer upon his return from a month-long stay on the disabled list, effectively ending the honeymoon for anybody who own(ed) interim closer David Hernandez in a standard 5×5 league. Putz is six-for-six in save opportunities since being reactivated on July 27. This is the first season Putz has seen regular closing duty since 2008, when he blew eight of 23 SO with Seattle. He is 27-for-31 this season.