9 Things I Learned Today: National League Edition

It’s not easy being a blogger who’s not affiliated with a particular team. There’s a lot of stuff happening around the league, and you feel like you need to be on top of all of it. Inevitably, of course, some things fall through the cracks. And in that spirit, The Common Man is going to circle back around and highlight nine things he feels like he really should have known were happening around each league. Today, the NL:

1) Dan Murphy has become a damn good player.

Murphy is kind of a classic tweener. He doesn’t hit well enough to play 1B regularly. Nor does he probably field well enough to stick at 2B or 3B. But in 2011, he’s been a boon to the Mets, who have suffered injuries at the infield corners, and have a big hole at the keystone. Through it all, Murphy’s hit .308/.349/.444, a 121 OPS+, across all three positions. This isn’t out of line with the rest of his career, and it’s not bad for a guy who missed almost all of 2010 with injuries. If Murphy can maintain this level of play, he could be a part of the next good Mets team.

2) Vance Worley has been light’s out.

When last TCM heard of Worley, he was asking Keith Law whether he should draft the young Phillie in a DMB keeper league (TCM made the right choice, btw). We’re hearing a lot about Worley today, however, especially since he might be available in a deal for an outfield bat. On the surface, Worley looks like a great pitcher, with a 6-1 record and a 2.02 ERA. However, if you dig deeper, you see a flyball pitcher who has been pretty lucky not to give up more homers in 2011, and whose walk rate is a little too high, given that he’s not a strikeout guy. The Phillies are looking to sell high on Worley’s hot streak, and very well could end up with a steal. After all, Ed Wade still has a job.

3) Zack Greinke has not been.

Poor Greinke. If there was any justice, he would be leading the NL Cy Young race with his 31% strikeout rate and 5.2% walk rate. But he’s allowed a .350 average on balls in play and given up a freakish (for him) 11 homers in 80 innings. He’s got a 5.04 ERA and a 78 ERA+, but a 2.13 xFIP. While rWAR has him pegged at -0.4, given neutral luck, he’s contributed a 1.9 fWAR.

4) Logan Morrison is not an offensive juggernaut.

Morrison started the year on fire, and not even a trip the DL could slow him down. Through May 31, LoMo was hitting .320/.406/.574 with seven homers. Given his prominence on Twitter and his overall awesomeness, TCM kind of stopped paying attention after that, figuring old LoMo would keep it going. Since June 1, however, Morison has been a wreck, hitting .212/.274/.394 with just six homers. To make matters worse, once you factor in his defense (which is not LoMo’s strength, given that he’s a natural 1B playing LF), he’s been below replacement level according to rWAR, despite hitting .257/.331/.469 on the season.

5) Michael Morse, on the other hand, is.

Hitting .312/.361/.553, Morse is 9th in the National League with a 151 OPS+ and 8th in the NL with a .390 wOBA. He has hit 17 homes, which is already a career high, and seems to have established himself as the Nationals’ 1B of the near future. He’s been especially good since May 31, hitting .329/.392/.599 and 10 bombs. He’s worth rooting for.

6) Albert Pujols is back, people.

To much consternation, Albert struggled for his month. But since May 1, he has hit .286/.366/.521 with 13 homers. It’s still a slight step down from his career marks, but it’s still a remarkable recovery. The problem remains balls in play, which Pujols continues to hit just .245 on, far below his career mark of .311. Albert is back, and his luck is evening out.

7) Surprisingly, so is Jason Giambi.

OK, so it’s only 106 plate appearances. But in those 106 PAs, Giambi has launched 10 homers and hit .278/.377/.667). At 40, the Giambino is proving he’s got one more season in the sun left in him.

8) The Cubs’ run prevention just atrocious.

You probably already knew this. Instinctively, The Common Man would have guessed it. The Cubs have allowed more than five runs per game in 2011, which is more than 0.6 runs higher than any other team except the Astros. They walk the most batters in the NL (9.8%) while also sporting the worst defense in the league (.669 defensive efficiency, and a .976 fielding percentage), which has led to far too many baserunners and runs scored. Three pitchers (Randy Wells, Doug Davis, and Casey Coleman) have started at least nine games with an ERA over 6.50, and both Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano have been huge disappointments. These games must just be absolutely painful to watch.

9) Johnny Cueto, what the hell?

Nobody’s talking about the fact that Johnny Cueto, despite the worst K% of his career (14.9%), has a 1.98 ERA through 14 starts and almost 96 innings. If he had just two more IP, he’d be leading the NL in ERA, not the equally surprising but much better hyped Ryan Vogelsong. Cueto has suddenly become a groundballer, which has been an exceptionally good development given Cincinnati’s NL leading defense (.713 defensive efficiency). It’s helped him cut down on his homer rate, raise his double play percentage, and drop his BABIP down to an anemic .222. Much of this improvement is a function of luck, but a shift in pitching style to induce more grounders is a strategy that has become increasingly popular in 2011. And no one is doing it better than Cueto right now.

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