MLB Star Power Index: Yu Darvish is getting back to his old form with Cubs; Freddie Freeman never left
Let's take a look at who's been buzzing in the world of baseball this week
Welcome to the MLB Star Power Index -- a weekly temperature reading that tells us which players are owning the baseball conversation right now. While one's presence on this list is often a positive, it's not necessarily a good thing. It simply means that you're capturing the baseball world's attention for one reason or another. The players listed are in no particular order. Thanks to Brad Botkin and our CBS Sports NBA compadres for letting us borrow the concept.
The balance of Yu Darvish's Cubs career has been disappointing. Since he signed that $126 million contract prior to the 2018 season, the right-hander has pitched to a 4.59 ERA and made just 28 starts across more than a season-and-a-half. Obviously, the Cubs were hoping for something closer to vintage Darvish when they inked him.
Speaking of vintage Darvish, however, he's reared his well-coiffed head of late. Since the start of June, Darvish owns a much more palatable ERA of 3.75 with 53 strikeouts against nine walks in 48 innings. In three July starts thus far, he's got a 1.93 ERA with 21 strikeouts versus one walk. Embedded in those streaks is Darvish's first career win at Wrigley Field.
Here's something of note from that most recent start:
Obviously trampolining velocity is a very good sign for Darvish moving forward. In recent starts -- when Darvish has been particularly dominant -- he's also turfed his changeup in favor of more frequent breaking stuff. He's throwing five pitches these days, which by Darvish's singular standards qualifies as a compressed repertoire. Darvish's long record of pre-Cubs success, those improvements and adjustments, and the fact that at 32 he shouldn't be in his deep-decline years yet all raise hopes that this is more than just a small-sample blip. No, Darvish isn't going to run a sub-2.00 ERA with a 21.00 K/BB ratio over the balance of the season, but there is reason to suspect he's found his true level.
Speaking of finding a true level, perhaps Darvish's Cubs are ready to put some space between themselves and the clustered remainder of the NL Central. A revitalized Darvish means they may have one of the strongest and surely deepest rotations in the NL, at least once Cole Hamels returns from the IL. They've got a lineup peppered with the productive likes of Baez, Bryant, Rizzo, Contreras and Jason Heyward's renaissance continues apace. All of this is to say that it feels like the Cubs should have a 2.5-game lead in the NL Central, which is what their lead is at this writing.
On that topic, here's the NL Central sorted by run differential to date:
At the level of the run scored and run allowed, the Cubs have dominated the rest of the NL Central, and that augurs well for them as move into the stretch drive. Another good sign for the Cubs is that they have a slightly easier schedule the rest of the way than do the Brewers and Cardinals -- their primary competitors for the flag.
Like Darvish, the Cubs may be finding their level.
Gentle reader, this scribe is tempted to say, "Freddie Freeman, thy name is Ruthless Consistency." Yet "Freddie Freeman" is a very good baseball name and cries out not to be altered in any way. As such: "Ruthless Consistency, thy name is Freddie Freeman."
To demonstrate this consistency, let's turn to the semi-advanced metric-- a hitter's OPS adjusted to reflect home ballpark and league environment. It's scaled so that a mark of 100 is league average, and the higher the mark the better from the hitter's standpoint. An OPS+ of 110 means that the hitter's park- and league-adjusted OPS was 10 percent better than the league mean. Likewise, an OPS+ of 90 means that the hitter's park- and league-adjusted OPS was 10 percent worse than the league mean.
Now let's have a look at Freeman's season-by-season OPS+ since his breakout age-23 campaign:
- 2013: 147
- 2014: 139
- 2015: 132
- 2016: 157
- 2017: 155
- 2018: 138
- 2019: 141
Toothsome! Only in 2015 did he fail to crack the league's top 10 in this particular category. Framed another way, in Freeman's "worst" season within this span, he was 32 percent better than the average batsman when it comes to park-adjusted OPS. As you'll further note, Freeman is up to it again in the current season.
Now think of your no-account son -- the one who sinks on account of his indolence and fondness for mayhem that requires little advance planning. The tentpole certainties of his existence are that he will pull a D in P.E. for each and every semester and also be arrested twice monthly for loitering at GameStop. "You are like Freddie Freeman, except bad and lousy," you should tell him. Then the fog will part. He'll do better. He'll refuse to stop doing better.
The following exchange is imagined, but it is actualized within the realm of the imagination. Thus, ergo, and therefore: It actually happened.
This scribe, bellowing into a conch shell from high atop Intelligence Mountain: "You knave. Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers has been highly productive this season, and that is fully in keeping with expectations. Cease this buffoonery or be ritually punished in the town square."
Yea and also verily: Rafael Devers has been excellent in 2019. Following his Wednesday homer, Devers is batting .325/.379/.563 with 19 dingers and 28 doubles. Devers presently leads the AL in total bases and ranks fourth in extra-base hits. Basically, he's more than waist-deep into a breakout season that could land him in the top 10 of the AL MVP balloting for 2019. He's also still just 22 years of age.
No, this isn't unexpected. Devers is a former top-20 overall prospect who slashed .297/.354/.484 in the minors despite being much younger than his peer group at every stop. He cracked the roster of an eventual division winner at age 20. Devers, then, is turning into who he was supposed to be, and he's doing so at a fairly normal trajectory, as elite hitting prospects go. Now that he's proving capable of dominance at the plate at at the highest level, it's safe to say he's got exceptionally bright future in Boston. If the Red Sox claw their way back to the postseason this year, then Devers will have been a huge part of it. With seven homers in July (a month that includes the All-Star break), Devers has been especially vital of late.
So enough with your inane questions, foul-smelling interlocutor.
Tyler O'Neill might be the second-half boost the St. Louis lineup needs. Entering Thursday, O'Neill boasted a line of .354/.392/.667 with four homers in 13 games since being recalled from Memphis. Then he went 2 for 4 in the win over the Reds, and now he's batting .322/.351/.544 for the season.
Hey, O'Neill is legit. He's been a regular on top-100 prospects, and in the minors he mashed 139 homers in 560 games. For a taste of that power, regard this recent opposite-field craftsmanship against the D-Backs:
He's also got excellent speed, especially for someone with a "muscular fire hydrant" build, and quality defense so long as he's kept in an outfield corner. O'Neill is closing in on his 100th game at the major-league level. He's in line for regular playing time, probably even after Marcell Ozuna returns from the IL, and those consistent reps at the highest level should help his game. No, he's not going to continue running an average of more than .400 on balls in play, but that power can be a huge boost to an inconsistent Cardinals offense as they try to make the postseason.
Tyler O'Neill, your thoughts?
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