As baseball speeds towards the summer, the trade market is sure to heat up, and plenty of closers may be on the move. Some big-time bats are heating up as well, but some hitters can’t seem to break their cold spells. Are they just in a mild slump, or is there a major issue? Albert Pujols blasted his 600th home run on Saturday, but where does he rank among the greatest right-handed hitters ever? Also, I spotlight three deserving N.L. All-Stars who will probably be snubbed from the Mid-Summer Classic.
It’s Not How You Start; It’s How You… Close?
The Houston Astros have gotten off to a torrid start, and after winning their last ten games, are on pace to win 117 games, which would be the most in single-season history. The Astros look every bit like a World Series team right now, but they lack one essential element to a championship club. It’s not necessarily another front-line starter like Jose Quintana or Chris Archer, two players who would command a high price if traded this summer. What Houston really needs is a shutdown closer. Ken Giles hasn’t been bad this year, but 2016 proved he’s more of a liability than an asset as a closer. Lucky for the Astros, there should be a plethora of solid finishers available via trade. Kelvin Herrera, Addison Reed, Alex Colome, Tony Watson and David Robertson will likely be attainable without costing a big prospect such as Kyle Tucker. The Nationals are in the same boat as Houston; Koda Glover may be closing now, but he won’t be in October.
Houston Hitters, Stud in the Six, and a Wild Bour on South Beach
Speaking of the Astros, their offense has been launching full-fledged bombings on outfield bleachers lately. In the past eight games, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Carlos Beltran and Alex Bregman have combined for fourteen home runs and thirty-four runs batted in. Things are especially looking up for Bregman, who hadn’t hit a single longball until May 14th. Since then, he’s hit six, making him another dangerous bat in an already dangerous Astros lineup.
Josh Donaldson has caught fire since returning from the Disabled List. The former MVP has blasted four home runs since May 26th, helping power Toronto back into the American League East. Despite his surge that has powered the Jays, Toronto won’t get into the playoffs without some type of impact move in July.
Justin Bour has been an absolute terror for opposing pitchers as of late. Bour is hitting .450 in his past seven games with three home runs and a 1.500 OPS. The Marlins have really struggled in 2017, but the slugging first baseman has had nothing to do with their losing record. If Bour keeps hitting at this pace, the Miami Marlins would be foolish not to capitalize and trade him for a nice haul at the trade deadline.
Abreu, Schwarber Slumping
Some hitters have really failed to produce as of late, especially Jose Abreu. Then former Rookie of the Year is just 2 for his last 23, posting a horrendous .087 slugging percentage. His struggles are part of the reason the White Sox have dropped their last five games. While the slump is concerning, Abreu got off to a rough start back in April only to rebound nicely, so the Cuban slugger is likely to return to form in the near future.
Kyle Schwarber may have a bigger issue on his hands. Schwarber is hitting .073 since May 19th. Cubs skipper Joe Maddon recently discussed making Schwarber a platoon player, and for good reason. He only has one home run against lefties in 36 games this year. Schwarber’s awful season is a real reason for concern. He proved he could quickly adapt when he was called up in 2015, but he has yet to make any significant adjustments this year.
The Machine Gets 600
Congratulations to Albert Pujols on hitting his 600th home run this weekend in Anaheim, and a grand slam to boot. A surefire Future Hall of Famer, Pujols has defined longevity since his debut in 2001. The 37 year-old has fourteen seasons where he hit at least thirty home runs, while also hitting for a career .308 average. He’s surely an all-time legendary hitter, but is he the greatest right-handed hitter ever? Here’s my list.
5. Alex Rodriguez- Say what you want about him. The guy was a great hitter.
4. Hank Aaron- All-time HR King, but his 162 game average wasn’t better than Albert’s.
3. Willie Mays- My vote for the greatest player ever, Mays wasn’t nearly as good of a pure hitter that Pujols is. Better all-around player, but not hitter.
2. Albert Pujols- The Machine has slowed down in recent years, but he’s showed he can stay healthy. He should pass Mays in home runs and maybe even get to 700 by 2020.
1. Jimmie Foxx- 534 home runs, career .325 hitter with an OPS over 1.000. Foxx had nine years where he hit over .330! Throw in twelve seasons of 30 or more homers, and Foxx is the best right-handed hitter of all-time.
All-Stars From Afar
There are three players in the National League who totally deserve to make the All-Star Team, but their odds are slim to none.
It’s insane that Votto is only a four-time all-star considering he’s a career .300 hitter, but that’s a testament to how many good first basemen play in the Senior Circuit, and also how bad the Reds have been over the past few years. Votto is putting together another stellar season, hitting fourteen homers and posting a .985 OPS. His WAR is 2.4 according to Baseball Reference, which puts him just outside the top five in the National League among position players. But with his low voting total and shortstop Zack Cozart likely to grab the designated spot for the Reds, Votto will probably be watching the game instead of playing in it.
Like Votto, Bour will suffer from playing on a poor team and playing at a position loaded with all-stars. Bour leads the National League with sixteen home runs and his .589 slugging percentage ranks eighth. Bour has also showed an ability to hit for a higher average than he has in the past, hitting .295 so far in 2017. Bour is overshadowed by Giancarlo Stanton, who is having a fine season in his own right, but that’s no excuse for the 29 year-old to be passed over for the All-Star Game.
Ray has always flashed incredible potential, and he’s lived up to it in 2017. Ray has a 3.00 ERA in eleven starts. He’s been dominating opposing hitters, striking out 84 in just 69 innings. Ray also is one of only six N.L. starters to throw a shutout this season, further proving his dominance. However, he may very well be skipped over by Joe Maddon when pitchers are selected for the All-Star Game. Ray’s lack of notoriety, as well as the influx of all-star worthy pitching by National League Central starters could lead to Maddon passing up the 25 year-old.