Notable Numerals: Paul Konerko, Feliz Hernandez and More

As we wind down closer and closer to the end of the 2010 regular season, the playoff picture begins to come into focus. Most teams have a firm grasp on a playoff spot, with the exception of the NL West which is a 3-team dog-fight, and teams that are sitting at 5+ games back are starting to come to grips with the reality of the situation. Since the playoff teams will be getting much of the attention over the next few weeks and months, I decided to focus on several statistics from players or teams that are either officially eliminated or are close to the eventual reality. All of the statistics are positive and in many cases, show signs of hope for the future of each franchise. Enjoy!

Batting average for Paul Konerko in his last 25 games for the Chicago White Sox. One of my favorite stories of the 2010 season is Paul Konerko’s resurgence as a force in the batter’s box. Since making his major league debut in 1997, Konerko has always been a great power hitter who could hit for a solid average (.281 career), but was not terribly mobile, forcing him to play 1st base and DH. Konerko has twice hit 40+ home runs (2004, 2005), and averages 32 jacks per 165 games played, but is having his best offensive season in 2010. To make this season even more impressive, Konerko has been on a tear at the plate as of late, hitting over .400 this past month, raising his already career high batting average to .322. It is always great to see some of the good guys in baseball succeed and Konerko is certainly a well-liked and respected MLB player.

In 134 games this season, Konerko has hit .322 with 36 home runs and 104 rbis. He is on pace to come close to career highs in home runs and rbis (41 and 117) and currently sits .009 points above his highest batting average mark. Add to that a near .600 slugging percentage (.063 points above his previous career high) and his .399 on-base percentage (.024 above his previous career high), it is impossible to argue with Konerko’s career season at the young age of 34. Who knows how many more year’s Konerko will play in the majors, but whenever he decides to hang-up his cleats, his 362 homeruns and 1,850 career hits will certainly turn some heads around the Hall of Fame selection table, especially with the fall of many big sluggers due to steroids.

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Era in his last 6 starts for Seattle Mariners ace and AL Cy Young candidate, Felix Hernandez. Every time I watch King Felix Hernandez pitch, I can’t help but wonder what his win totals would be like if the Seattle Mariners had a legitimate offense. This past month for example, Hernandez dropped a near 1.00 era in 6 starts and ended up with a 3-2 record, thanks to the complete lack of run support he receives in the great Northwest. Hernandez has recently lowered his era to 2.39 overall, a career best, and has thrown over 200 innings for the 3rd straight season. When you look at his numbers, he sits just 3 K’s away from breaking his previous career high of 217 and has accomplished so much at the age of 24. Hernandez has pitched his way into the AL Cy Young race and for what it is worth, is hands down my winner this season.

Since his debut in 2005, Hernandez has a 3.24 era with a 60-52 record. He has continued to improve his era in each of his full seasons in the MLB (2006-2010) and has thrown an incredible 12 complete games in his career, including 4 shutouts. Hernandez is a workhorse that never wants to leave the mound and after finishing 3rd in innings pitched in the AL last season, is currently leading this year. What is there not to like about this kid? Last season Hernandez finished 2nd in the AL Cy Young balloting to Kansas City’s Zack Greinke, but will likely have his chance to take home the hardware this year. I keep having to remind myself that Hernandez hasn’t even come close to reaching his best yet and if he stays healthy, could be the best pitcher I baseball for years to come. My only hope is that either the Mariners develop an offensive identity or Hernandez finds a new home…with the Red Sox perhaps? Please?

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Consecutive saves for Brandon Lyon without a blown save for the Houston Astros. The Houston Astros have had hardly any bright spots to their season thus far in 2010. They began the year on a long losing streak and were virtually eliminated from the playoffs before the All-Star Break. They have had a few good stretches of team play and didn’t give up in May, but overall would like to forget this year ever existed. That being said, most recently they have found a bright spot in closer Brandon Lyon, who has now saved 15 straight opportunities and sits at 15 out of 16 on the season, with his only blown save coming in his 1st chance back in April. With the injuries to Matt Lindstrom this season, Lyon has stepped up and proven his worth in Houston.

With little to play for but pride and a contract for the potential free agents this off-season, it has been great to see some strong individual performances as of late. Brandon Lyon is currently playing for his 3rd team in 3 years and 5th overall since making his debut in 2001, which usually means he can’t establish a role with any team. Many teams have tried to make him a middle-reliever or use him as a fill-in closer, but if given the right opportunity, could be a strong everyday closer. In 2008 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Lyon saved 26 of his 31 opportunities in his first long stretch as a closer, only disappointing with his high 4.70 era. Since then, in his last 2 season, he is 18 for 22 in save chances with a 3.03 era. I’m certainly not saying Lyon will be the next Mariano Rivera, but in the right setting, Lyon could be a real solid closer for a team in need.

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Stolen base percentage for Oakland Athletics outfielder Coco Crisp. The Oakland Athletics have surprised a ton of teams in the AL and have pushed their way up the AL West standings as the season has worn on. As of late, they have gotten a huge lift from the return of their speedy outfielder Coco Crisp. This past month alone, Crisp has stolen 14 bases and hasn’t been caught once and has just 2 caught stealing on the season in 32 attempts. His speed and base-running ability provides a spark to the club and puts pressure on their opponents each and every night. In all fairness the Athletics have no choice, because their offense is lacking much gusto, sitting dead last in home runs on the year with 90, 134 fewer than the league leading Toronto Blue Jays.

As I said a few weeks ago, I think this Oakland Athletics club is closer to contending then people may realize. They currently sit at 71-71 on the season and are in 2nd place in the AL West with room to grow. With the addition of a power hitter or 2 in the middle of the line-up and the addition of a solid starting pitcher, this club could win 85+ ball games and win the AL West in a year or 2. With the nucleus of young talent they have, including shutdown closer Andrew Bailey, and the few experienced veterans like Coco Crisp, this team will only continue to gain confidence the more they win and will carry over success into the following season. I hope the fans of the Oakland Athletics can finally watch a winning ball club in the upcoming years, because the past few have been abysmal.

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Hits for the Kansas City Royals, 2nd best in baseball in 2010. Normally a 58-84 record results from poor performances on all aspects of the team, offense, defense and pitching. In the case of the Kansas City Royals, many pieces of their team and season have gone in the negative direction, but their hitting numbers have been outstanding. They are just 11 hits behind the league leading Texas Rangers and are a measly .001 point back in batting average behind the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers to lead baseball. When I saw those numbers I was blown away. I knew the Royals were having a solid year in the batter’s box, but to nearly lead the league in 2 major categories while winning just 58 games is absolutely impressive. The most impressive part is who is hitting well in 2010 for the perennial AL Central basement dwellers.

David DeJesus, Billy Butler, Scott Podsednik and Wilson Betemit all have .300+ averages and Mike Aviles and Josh Fields are biting on the heals with .290+ averages. If you had told me 2 of this group of guys would be hitting at or above .300, I would have laughed in your face in April, but now these guys are laughing in mine. It is great to see these guys succeed, but the real downside for the Royals was their lack of power with just 99 home runs, so as good as their offense is in terms of hits and average, their ability to put up big crooked numbers on the scoreboard is limited. Regardless, the Royals lineup should be proud of their strong year, even if the rest of the team struggled and overall the team will once again be in the basement of the AL.

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Brian Phair – BoSox Injection – Notable Numerals

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Tags: AL Cy Young AL West Andrew Bailey Arizona Diamondbacks Billy Butler Brandon Lyon Chicago White Sox Coco Crisp David DeJesus Felix Hernandez Houston Astros Josh Fields Kansas City Royals Mariana Rivera Matt Lindstrom Mike Aviles NL West Notable Numerals Oakland A's Paul Konerko Scott Podsednik Seattle Mariners Texas Rangers Wilson Betemit Zack Greinke

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