Hunter Pence Finds The Fountain Of Youth (Three Up, Three Down)
Hunter Pence, DH, Rangers
Just when it looked like his best days were behind him, Pence has experienced a rebirth in his hometown. The 36-year-old Arlington native has hit .299/.345/.620 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs so far, helping the Rangers stay surprisingly competitive through the first third of the season. It’s been a surprising bounceback for the three-time All-Star after he hit a combined .249/.297/.368 over the last two seasons, and one that’s been needed in Texas. With young building blocks Rougned Odor, Nomar Mazara, Ronald Guzman, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Delino Deshields all struggling, Pence and fellow veterans Elvis Andrus, Logan Forsythe, Shin-Soo Choo and Danny Santana have carried the load behind Joey Gallo.
Zack Greinke, RHP, D-backs
The surprising D-backs are 28-26 on the strength of a pitching staff that ranks fifth in the majors in ERA, and Greinke has been the driver of that success. The ageless righthander delivered his 11th consecutive quality start Monday, the longest such streak in the majors. Overall, he ranks fourth in the National League with a 2.78 ERA, has 73 strikeouts against just 11 walks and owns a miniscule 0.88 WHIP. The 35-year-old may eventually show the signs of aging, but it’s not happening yet.
Paul DeJong, SS, Cardinals
Pence and Greinke were both Top 100 prospects long ago—Pence in 2006 and Greinke in 2002-2003. DeJong never received that honor, but he’s continuing to play like he should have been. DeJong ranks second among all MLB shortstops in Wins Above Replacement—ahead of Javier Baez, Carlos Correa Xander Bogaerts, Francisco Lindor and other heralded shortstops—and ranks among the National League leaders with 17 doubles (third) and 39 runs (sixth). Even more impressive has been his defense. DeJong leads all NL shortstops in putouts, double plays turned and range factor per nine innings, as measured by Baseball-Reference.com. He’s performing at an All-Star level both offensive and defensively at age 25, and he is quietly establishing himself as one of baseball’s brightest—and most underrated—young stars.
Robinson Cano, 2B, Mets
The Mets took a risk acquiring Cano and paying $100 million of his salary a year after he was suspended for PEDs. So far, it’s turned out badly. Cano is hitting .241/.287/.371, got benched for not running out a pair of ground balls and now is on the injured list with a strained quad. While Edwin Diaz has been lights out as the Mets' closer, Cano’s struggles—and the fact he’s under contract for four more years after this one—are making the Mets’ offseason blockbuster trade look shaky for the franchise early.
Brandon Crawford, SS Giants
The Giants own the second-worst record in the National League behind only the Marlins. While their struggles go well beyond just one player, Crawford’s performance has been particularly pronounced. An All-Star only a year ago, Crawford’s .563 OPS is the third-lowest in the majors among qualified players, and his .200 batting average is seventh-lowest. His defense is also regressing—he’s on pace for his fewest Defensive Runs Saved in six years, as measured by Baseball-Reference. Crawford is signed through 2021 and owed more than $30 million. What the Giants choose to do with him and their other accomplished but aging veterans bears watching in the coming months.
Ivan Nova, RHP, White Sox
At roughly the one-third mark of the season, the highest ERA in the majors among qualified starters belongs to Nova. The veteran righthander has a 6.96 ERA and has allowed a .350—yes, .350—opponent average through 10 starts this season. He’s been better recently, with three quality starts in his last four outings, but on the whole Nova’s first season with the White Sox has been ugly.