Three Up, Three Down: Sale Worth The Heavy Price
Each week, BA will take a look at the trends in major league baseball.
Chris Sale, lhp, Red Sox: The Red Sox paid a heavy price to acquire Sale from the White Sox in the offseason. So far, he’s been worth every penny. Sale is 7-2, 2.89 entering Tuesday and leads the American League in innings pitched (84) and strikeouts (117). That included a streak of eight consecutive starts with double-digit strikeouts. Beyond the whiffs, Sale ranks in the top three in the AL in WHIP (0.93), walks per nine innings (1.82) and home runs per nine (0.64). Overall the Red Sox are 9-3 in games Sale has started, and he has helped keep them afloat despite injuries to Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright and middling performances from Rick Porcello and Drew Pomeranz in the rotation.
Whit Merrifield, 2b, Royals: The longest hitting streak in baseball this season belongs the unassuming, borderline anonymous, Kansas City second baseman. Merrifield, 28, put together a 19-game hit streak that ended Monday night, the was the longest by a Royals player since Alex Gordon also hit in 19 straight in 2011. Merrfield is now hitting .307/.360/.496 on the season. Merrifield was a ninth-round pick out of South Carolina in 2010 who didn’t make his MLB debut until he was 27 years old, but has done nothing but hit since he got to the big leagues and is staking his case as the Royals’ second baseman of the future.
Justin Bour, 1b, Marlins: Speaking of unheralded players, Bour continues to be one of the best Rule 5 draft success stories this decade. The 29-year-old Marlins first baseman leads the National League with 16 home runs and and has done so while putting up a .295/.369/.589 slash line. The Cubs drafted Bour in the 25th-round from George Mason in 2009, and the Marlins picked him in the Triple-A phase of the 2013 Rule 5 draft. All Bour has done since making his MLB debut in 2014 is post a career .833 OPS, with his mark improving each and every year. The Marlins did say Monday that Bour has a bone bruise and is day to day.
Byron Buxton, of, Twins: The former elite prospect continues to show no signs of progress on the offensive side of the ball. Out of 170 batting-title qualified players in the majors, Buxton ranks 163rd in batting average (.193), 160th on-base percentage (.275) and 168th in slugging percentage (.273). He is making contact on only 65.1 percent of his swings, fourth-worst in the majors, per Fangraphs, and his strikeout rate is 34.3 percent, barely better than his 34.5 percent career mark entering the year. Buxton continues to show excellent speed and Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field, but it’s not nearly enough to cover up his continued shortcomings as one of baseball’s worst hitters.
Kevin Gausman, rhp, Orioles: Considered a breakout candidate before the season, Gausman has instead regressed into one of the baseball’s worst starting pitchers. His 1.84 WHIP is the highest in baseball among qualified starters and his 5.92 ERA is sixth-highest. Gausman’s velocity has dropped—his average fastball velocity from this point last year to now is down about one mph, his sinker is down roughly one mph, his changeup is down two mph and his curveball is down three mph, according to Brooks Baseball—and his decreased stuff has gotten him crushed. Gausman is allowing 12.4 hits per nine innings and 1.5 home runs-per-nine, both career-worsts, while his walk rate has jumped and his strikeout rate has fallen to the worst mark of his career.
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Frankie Montas, rhp: Montas was part of major deals three times as a prospect, going from the Red Sox to the White Sox in the Jake Peavy deal, from the White Sox to the Dodgers in the Todd Frazier three-team deal, and finally the Dodgers to the Athletics in the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick deadline deal last summer. While Montas sits 97-98 mph and touched 101 with his fastball, he has yet to harness it and thus is struggling mightily in his rookie season. Montas’ 6.11 ERA is second-worst among rookies with at least 15 appearances, and he has allowed 34 hits and 15 walks in 28 innings. That includes seven homers allowed. While he is still getting swings and misses, averaging better than a strikeout per inning, Montas’ inability to consistently locate has made him one of the least effective relief pitchers in the majors this season.