We’ve reached that magical part of the MLB regular season schedule, you guys.Yes, there are still four months of play left before October hits. However, with two months officially in the books and Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, sample sizes are big enough to actually start drawing concrete conclusions from.
We’ve also reached an important time of the sports calendar year. That’s right, the 2018 World Cup is right around the corner. And whether you’re a baseball fan, a basketball fan, or a huge football fan, everyone who loves sports can appreciate the World Cup. In fact, this year’s competition is proving to be one of the most popular ever. It’s a known fact that World Cup 2018 betting is projected to be at an all-time high. Football fans can’t get enough of the game and wagering on the outcome makes things even more exciting.
Getting back to things, baseball is a game defined by peaks and valleys, with the goal always being to maximize the peaks while minimizing the valleys as much as humanly possible. Plenty had an opportunity to make an impact during the month of May, but some took more advantage of it than others. The following 10 players — five hitters and five starting pitchers — have managed to separate themselves from the pack in the best way possible over the last month.
May’s Five Best Hitters
With wRC+ as our measuring stick, these five hitters have separated themselves from the pack (we’ve included a few other statistics for good measure).
Mookie Betts reigns supreme again — this is the second month in a row where he’s been at the top of the heap according to our rankings. The 25-year-old has missed a few games recently, but his performance has still been fantastic.
In fact, each of the above statistics have improved for Betts when compared to his April production. While he has a wRC+ above 200 against both lefties and righties, the outfielder has really enjoyed playing at home. In 92 plate appearances at Fenway Park, he owns a .405/.478/.835 triple slash, which comes out to a ridiculous .536 wOBA and 241 wRC+.
It was weird not having Mike Trout on April’s best hitters list, which is clearly why he ramped things up in May. His 45.4% hard-hit rate is on pace to be a career high, while his 44.7% fly-ball rate basically mirrors last year. The bigger change is a decrease in ground-ball rate (30.9%) in favor of his line-drive rate (24.3%), which is flirting with career-high levels.
Also, his 30 hits, 33 walks, and 7 stolen bases this month put him in yet another exclusive club.
The Cleveland Indians are starting to pull themselves away from the pack in the American League Central. Is it at all surprising that Jose Ramirez has been a part of that? No, it’s not. The slow start he got off to in April is a distant memory.
One of the big shifts for him has included some of his plate-discipline stats. He’s always walked at a decent clip without striking out much, but he’s walking more often (12.7%) than he’s striking out (9.8%) right now. His 4.8% swinging-strike rate is among the 10 best in baseball.
Oh, and let’s not forget about Francisco Lindor, who has also managed to find another gear following what was a career year in 2017. His BABIP has improved dramatically (.275 in ’17, .337 so far in ’18) because of a rise in hard-hit rate (35.2% to 42.2%) and line-drive rate (18.3% to 25.3%).
If we talk specifically about line drives, his 400 wRC+, .762 wOBA, .356 ISO, 50.0% pull rate, and 56.5% hard-hit rate are all on pace to be new career highs for this specific batted-ball event.
Last, but most certainly not least, Scooter Gennett is showing that last year’s breakout season with the Cincinnati Reds wasn’t a fluke. Although he wants to stay in Cincy, his performance may bring a favorable package of prospects back to the Reds sometime this summer in a potential trade.
He has increased his fly-ball rate during this spike in production, but there are other improved peripheral stats that have led to what he’s accomplished.
May’s Five Best Starting Pitchers
It seems like pitchers are always evaluated by the same traditional metrics, such as win-loss record, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts per nine innings, and walks allowed per nine innings. This is why we go against the grain and evaluate pitcher performance by SIERA.
SIERA attempts to measure the underlying skill of a hurler, but unlike FIP and xFIP, it doesn’t ignore balls put in play, and also attempts to give a more accurate picture as to why certain pitchers are better than others. A good SIERA is just like a good ERA — the lower the better.
Here’s the group that distinguished themselves on the bump this month.
If asked to guess which starting pitcher posted the lowest SIERA in May, chances are you wouldn’t have guessed Ross Stripling. Unless you’re a Los Angeles Dodgers fan. Maybe.
L.A. is crawling back toward .500 after a horrific start thanks to Stripling and the other Dodgers hurler on this list. At his current rate, the 28-year-old’s strikeout rate (17.7% to 24.3% to 30.1%), hard-hit rate allowed (32.8% to 27.0% to 23.0%), and SIERA (4.25 to 3.37 to 2.78) are all on pace to improve for the third straight year.
His curveball has also been filthy. Opposing hitters have struck out at a 69.7% rate, have swung and missed 16.9% of the time and boast a -39 wRC+ against that offering.
If asked to guess which starting pitchers produced the lowest SIERA in May, Max Scherzer would absolutely be one of the names to get mentioned. The veteran right-hander is the two-time reigning National League Cy Young award winner, and his start to the 2018 season has easily been his best of the last three years.
It’s taken him just 79.2 innings to register 3.2 fWAR, which is more than half of what he ended up with in 2017 (6.0 in 200.2 innings). This guy is pretty good.
Houston Astros hurler Gerrit Cole has gone from being the best starting pitcher in April to simply the third-best pitcher. Talk about a decline, right? What’s interesting to note here is he’s remained allergic to ground balls.
Inducing grounders was a somewhat significant part of Cole’s game heading in to 2018. That’s all changed so far this year, as his ground-ball rate is just 32.9%.
Can we please take a minute to truly appreciate Corey Kluber‘s anemic walk rate in the month of May? I mean, that 0.7% mark is just ridiculous. If you can remember back to last year, his Cy Young campaign didn’t really get started until June 1st, when he returned from a stint on the disabled list. His cumulative stats since then are also ridiculous.
While this year’s 35.9% hard-hit rate allowed is higher than normal, he’s managed to keep his ERA at 2.02 thanks to a .239 BABIP and 90.2% strand rate. Both of those numbers are on track to be career-best marks by a wide margin, so we’ll soon see how sustainable they are.
The Dodgers have had to lean more heavily on Walker Buehler than they would’ve liked over the past two months. When looking at his early-season performance, though, he’s putting himself in position to be the third Dodger in a row to win Rookie of the Year honors.
He only threw 9.1 innings in 2017, but there’s been a noticeable shift in pitch usage between his breaking pitches. Buehler threw his slider at a 7.3% clip and his curveball at a 22.9% rate last year. Those numbers have changed to 19.9% and 13.4%, respectively, this year. Both pitches have performed well, but his curveball has produced an 88.9% ground-ball rate, a 0.0% fly-ball rate, and a 6 wRC+.