Things Happening in Baseball: Votto Finds His Power

Joey Votto has a home run in four of his last six games.

At least things are starting to get a little more normal. The Yankees are in first place, the Tigers sit on top of the AL Central as well, and the A's are the only AL team with 10 wins. At the start of the year, those weren't outlandish outcomes.

The National League is pretty straightforward too, outside of Major League Baseball's early-season darling, Milwaukee. The Brew Crew still haven't lost on the road, people.

Things are happening in baseball each day. I'm just trying to help you keep up.

A Couple of Hot Streaks

It’s a little late for this, I know, but Justin Upton had a ridiculous four-game stretch from Thursday of last week through Sunday. During the four games – one against the Mets and three against the Nationals – Upton went straight bonkers, going 11 for 14, hitting two doubles, four homers and driving in eight runs.

Even though he’s gone 0 for 8 in his two games since, Upton currently leads the bigs in wOBA (.702) and slugging (1.136) over the last seven days. His BABIP was a nifty .583, so like you’d expect anytime someone has a tear like that, luck has certainly been on his side.

Another guy that’s done work over the last week is Joey Votto. Since last Friday, Votto’s hit an extra-base knock in all but one of his six games, and in that one game, he went 4 for 4 with a walk and an RBI.

Four of those extra-base hits were home runs – Votto has now hit one out in four of his last six games. Looking at his plate discipline numbers, it appears that, over this stretch, he’s swinging at a higher number of pitches (44.20% vs. a 37.10% career average), making a little less contact as a percentage (78.60% vs. 84.90%).

That really should be taken with a grain of salt, as the sample size is minuscule. We shouldn’t simply conclude that his approach has all of a sudden changed, despite a lot of folks wanting him to become more aggressive in the batter’s box. It’s just interesting to see how this all came about. Keep in mind that he was playing in a hitter-friendly park, too – in 2013, Great American ranked fifth in terms of home run hitting for lefties.

Strasburg Problems?

The Nationals stud right-hander has now had four outings, allowing three or more runs in three of them. His ERA sits at an ugly 6.00, and he’s giving up 1.29 bombs per nine innings. Should we be worried?

Perhaps, but probably not. The biggest thing going against Strasburg at this point in time is his velocity, as his overall numbers are down from a year ago (and his career average). He also has a walk rate above 9.0%, much higher than his 7.2% rate that he's seen over his career. And while, compared to 2013, he's getting batters to swing at more pitches outside of the strike zone, they're not making as much contact outside the zone - perhaps opponents are getting better contact than in year's past.

But he's still leading the league in K/9, and is fifth in K%, which are good indicators of future performance. He's been throwing many more changeups, too, which could change as we move forward in the season. But overall, his FIP and xFIP numbers aren't nearly as poor as his ERA, so a rebound could - or should - be in store.

Pittsburgh Slumping, Cueto Kills It

The Pirates are currently below .500 for the first time in 363 days thanks to a dominant performance from Johnny Cueto yesterday. After dealing with injuries in 2013, Cueto's K/9 is currently sitting at a nice 10.50, and his ERA is pretty as well, at 1.50. His FIP numbers indicate regression is in store though - a .191 BABIP versus his .281 average is telling. He is, however, dealing. And fantasy owners should take note.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has dropped five of their last six games, and are four games behind the first place Brewers (never thought I'd type that this year). Like a year ago, the Pirates pitching isn't the problem. The bullpen ranks in the top five in xFIP, and the team's starters are top 10 within the metric. The team just isn't producing at the plate. They currently rank 23rd in wOBA, and though they've hit the fifth-most home runs in the bigs, not many of the dingers have been opportunistic ones with men on base. The lineup is striking out more than all but three teams in Major League Baseball, and the only guys hitting .300 or better aren't everyday starters (Clint Barmes and Tony Sanchez).

The good news is that the Pirates rank third-to-last in BABIP, so things should at least get a little better.

More Fun Early-Season Numbers

- Chris Carter has a 41.2% K Rate.
- Jose Bautista has a .378 ISO.
- Charlie Blackmon has 23 hits in 56 plate appearances. Mike Moustakas, Zack Cozart, Chris Carter, and Jordy Mercer have 23 hits in 249 plate appearances.
- Mark Trumbo has two more home runs than the entire Royals team.
- Dee Gordon has more steals than the Nationals and Rays combined.
- The White Sox have scored more than double the number of runs as the Tigers.
- Bartolo Colon, Wandy Rodriguez and Brandon McCarthy have allowed as many home runs as the entire Tigers and Padres pitching staffs.