COMMENTARY | Over the past month, Major League Baseball has provided plenty of ‘WOW!’ moments for pastime purists and long ball enthusiasts alike. Throughout this excitement, fans have been treated with a bevy of spectacular performances by a range of players, from established superstars to rising youngsters. While it is easy to expect that all of these hitters will stay hot as the temperatures rise, it’s likely that some will cool down, as track records and historical splits might suggest. Below are four of May’s most sizzling sluggers that are looking to continue their Hulk-smashing ways into June.
Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers: A modern day Mickey Mantle, we’ve all been witnesses to Josh Hamilton’s superhuman abilities on the diamond. After hitting .395 with nine dingers and 25 RBI in April, Hamilton has been even better in May, posting a .341/11/28 line. This has been his best May ever, trumping even his coming-out party in ’08. As the talented outfielder has remarked, much of this success can be attributed to his focus on attacking early in the count; he currently leads MLB with a first-pitch swing percentage of over 60 percent, more than twice the league average. Interestingly, this aggression has also put Hamilton in more pitchers’ counts, which is a testament to his 22:12 K to BB split in the month. In fact, he is on pace to finish the ’12 season with 132 strikeouts, which would be a career high. While it remains to be seen if Hamilton can stay healthy, it is expected that he will come back to earth, or at least down to his planet, as his BABIP of over .400 is 60 points above his career average. It is also worth noting, however, that June has historically been the slugger’s best month in terms of OBP, SLUG, and OPS; so don’t expect this ride to end anytime soon.
Carlos Beltran, OF, Cardinals: Okay, what sort of secret age-rejuvenation formula do the St. Louis Cardinals possess? Last year it was 36-year old Lance Berkman, and this year it’s the 35-year old Beltran, who currently leads the NL in HRs (15), RBI (41), and knee injury anxieties. Amazingly, this is the outfielder’s best start ever – slightly better than his April/May numbers of his 2006 season, in which Beltran finished fourth in the MVP voting. He has done most of his damage in May, in which he’s gone for .321/10/30, making this his best month since July of that same ’06 season. Its also worth noting that Beltran is slugging .725 from the 2-spot in the lineup, compared to .553 in the 4-spot, meaning that the “Pujols effect” has likely become the “Holliday effect.” In layman’s terms, Beltran looks to be seeing more pitches to hit in front of Matt Holliday, as opposing pitchers do not want to put anyone on base for St. Louis’ bulkiest bopper. Looking at HR/FB rates, Beltran’s gaudy numbers may see some regression to the mean, as his 2012 percentage (30.2 percent) is much higher than his career average (15.4 percent) and the MLB average (10.6 percent).
Adam Dunn, DH/1B, White Sox: The “Big Donkey,” as he is known in the fantasy community, has exceeded expectations in 2012 thus far. After finishing a miserable ’11 season in which Dunn hit .159 with just 11 home runs, the big guy is currently second in the MLB in HRs (16), sixth in RBIs (37), and second in BBs (40). Dunn has hit 11 of these HRs in May, though this has historically been his best month. While he cites an improved pitch selection and more stringent offseason routine, it is worth noting that Dunn has also been given a second go-around in White Sox pinstripes, after spending his first 11 seasons with a far less hostile fan base. Interestingly, Dunn is still struggling against lefties, as his average versus LHP (.170) is better than last year (.064), but below his career average (.223). Moreover, Dunn’s current HR/FB rate is 31.8 percent, which is 10 percent higher than his career mark. In June, he will be given a bit of a break, as he faces the Mariners, Astros, Cardinals, Brewers, and Twins — all of whom are in the MLB’s bottom half in terms of batting average against left handed hitters, so ride him while you can.
Adam Jones, OF, Orioles: Fresh off a hot start which has Jones on pace to finish 2012 with 200+ hits, 40+ home runs, 100+ RBIs, and 20+ steals – easily career highs – his club eagerly signed him to a long-term deal last week that will lock him into Charm City through 2018. In May, the center fielder has hit eight HRs and driven in 19, capping his best two-month start since 2009 when he was elected to his first All-Star team. Interestingly, Jones’ had a horrific second half to this particular season, hitting near the Mendoza line after his All-Star debut. While it remains to be seen if he can avoid another second half swoon, its worth noting that Jones has not improved his plate discipline in ’12; in fact, its gotten worse – he’s on pace for an atrocious 122:33 K to BB split. Moreover, Jones’ HR/FB and ISO ratios of 26.9 percent and .290 are both irregularly high, so a falloff in production may be on the horizon.
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