Three Up, Three Down: Mike Trout Is Getting Even Better
Mike Trout, OF, Angels
The best player in baseball is somehow getting even better. Only now just 26 years old and starting to enter his prime—a crazy thought in itself—Trout is on pace to set career-highs in batting average (.336), on-base percentage (.458) and slugging percentage (.720) while reaching 200 hits, 57 home runs, 114 RBIs and 138 runs, all career-highs as well. A year after leading the American League with a 1.071 OPS, Trout is on pace to do more than 100 points better, currently sitting at 1.178. Oh, and his defense is getting better too. He’s on pace for 21 total zone fielding runs above average in center field, per Baseball-Reference, which would be the highest mark of his career. With Trout performing at an other-wordly level, it’s the Angels—not the Astros—who hold first place in the American League West and are on pace for a 100-win season.
Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees
While teammate Didi Gregorius is (deservedly) lapping up all the accolades, last year’s Yankees sensation is quietly having an outstanding sophomore campaign. Judge’s 162 OPS+ isn’t far off last year’s mark of 170, and he’s on pace to hit nearly .300 with 40 homers (he’s currently at .296 with a 38-homer pace). Judge is still stinging the ball regularly—his 95.9 mph average exit velocity is 10th-highest in the majors—and he’s continued to be excellent defensively in the outfield, ranking third among AL right fielders in defense. No longer the newest, brightest thing the New York media latches on to, Judge is under-the-radar solidifying himself as one of the best players in baseball, and not just a one-year rookie fluke.
The Cardinals organization
The Cardinals had an outfield glut to clear this offseason, but that was only part of their motivation for trading Stephen Piscotty to the Athletics in December. Piscotty’s mother, Gretchen, was living with ALS in the Bay Area and Piscotty wanted to be closer to his mother as she battled the disease. The Cardinals traded him to the A’s specifically so he could be with her in her final months. On Monday, Gretchen Piscotty died at the age of 55 with her family—including Stephen—by her side. Without the Cardinals graciousness, Piscotty would not have been able to be with his mom in her final months. For their part, the Athletics have provided interested parties with a link to make memorial contributions to the ALS Therapy Development Institute, which the team will match up to $50,000.
Scott Kingery, INF, Phillies
The Phillies made headlines when they signed Kingery to a six-year contract before the season, despite the fact that Kingery had less than half a season of Triple-A experience (and no major league experience) under his belt. It was aggressive and placed significant expectations on Kingery, and the difficulties of adjusting to the major league level have been compounded by the club’s decision to use him as a utilityman, putting him at positions like shortstop and the outfield where he had little or no prior professional experience. Under those circumstances, Kingery has struggled to a .212/.265/.346 slash line while playing below-average defense at shortstop. While Kingery is talented, the Phillies rushing him and playing him out of position as he tries to adjust to the majors continues to look like a questionable decision, to the point Kingery may be best off getting everyday at-bats with a stable defensive home back at Triple-A.
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Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners
The reign of King Felix increasingly appears to be over. Hernandez has seen his ERA rise for three consecutive seasons—from 2.14 to 3.53 to 3.83 to 4.36 last year—and he now sports a 5.28 ERA through his first eight starts of 2018. His average fastball velocity is down to 90.26 mph according to Brooks Baseball, compared to 95.17 mph when he won the AL Cy Young Award in 2009, and his control is regressing as well, with a career high 4.1 walks-per-nine issued so far. With declining velocity, a rising walk rate and a home-run rate tied for the worst of his career (1.8 HR/9), Hernandez is very clearly no longer the ace he once was.
The Defending NL Champs
The Dodgers’ National League title defense is not going according to plan at all. They are 15-19 and sit in fourth place in the NL West after dropping their last series to the Padres in Mexico, despite their combined no-hitter in the opener. Corey Seager is out for the year after having Tommy John surgery, Clayton Kershaw is on the disabled list for an indeterminate amount of time with biceps tendinitis, Rich Hill, Yasiel Puig and Logan Forsythe all hit the disabled list in the past week and Hyun-Jin Ryu tore his groin off the bone and will be out until July. That’s all happened as they roll into a two-game series with the NL-best D-backs, and as the Dodgers sit closer to last place (three games) than first (eight games). The injuries and losses are mounting, to the point the Dodgers quest to reach back-to-back World Series for the first time since 1977-1978 increasingly feels like a pipe dream.