As June begins, Cliff Corcoran looks back at the month of May to give you the list of the league's hottest hitters and best pitchers, including Bryce Harper, Jason Kipnis and more.
Early this week, Major League Baseball is expected to release the latest ballot updates for the All-Star Game, and while it's still too early to know who is most deserving of a spot in the July 14 Midsummer Classic, it is the perfect time to compile an All-Star team for the month of May. Just as with our April All-Star team, the players below have been chosen for their performance in that particular month only, the statistics for which are listed with each man's name.
Goldschmidt received honorable mention on our April All-Stars list and has been the most productive first baseman in baseball this year. Overall, he has hit .354/.463/.680 with 15 home runs and 43 RBIs, while stealing eight bases in 11 attempts and leading the National League with 123 total bases. He also finished May with a flourish: Over his last nine games, he went 17-for-35 (.486) with five home runs, including a 9-for-14 (.643) performance in a three-game series against the Brewers. In Sunday's 17-inning finale, Goldschmidt was walked four times—three times intentionally—yet still managed to go 3-for-4 with a homer.
Cleveland’s status as a popular sleeper pick this spring was in large part due to the expectation that Kipnis, an MVP candidate in 2013, would rebound in his age-28 season and have a similar campaign this year. In April, he hit .218/.263/.287 and the Indians went 7–14. In May, however, Kipnis became the first player to compile 50 hits and 30 runs scored in a single month since Jimmy Rollins in September 2005 as Cleveland went 17–12. Kipnis collected multiple hits in 10 of the first 14 games of the month, including two four-hit games and four additional three-hit games, going 31-for-60 (.517) over that span. He has cooled off since then to hit a mere .339/.437/.576 over the Indians' last 15 contests, but the resulting 1.013 OPS from that line would still best the full-month performance of any other full-time second baseman in the game.
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One could argue for the Giants' Brandon Crawford in this spot, but his .340/.386/.528 line on the month was more dependent upon a spike in batting average and still failed to measure up to Peralta’s slugging, making the Cardinals shortstop's performance both more valuable and more sustainable. The argument for Crawford, then, would depend upon his fielding, which is indeed better than Peralta’s, but it’s arguable if the difference in one month is enough to overcome Peralta’s advantage at the plate. For the season, however, their batting lines are much closer, making Crawford (.299/.371/.506 with seven homers and 34 RBIs) the easier pick as the best shortstop in baseball to this point.
Frazier’s 16 home runs overall are the third most in the majors thanks in large part to his power surge in May, which included four homers in his last six games. In his last four games, Frazier has gone 10-for-15 (.667) with three home runs and four doubles. He had multiple hits in all four of those contests and struck out just once.
Who’d have thought that of all the big names on my April All-Star team, the only one to appear on both lists would be Vogt? He has been so productive this season that, despite hitting lefty, the A’s have begun to give him starts against lefthanded pitching, occasionally moving him to first base in those contests. That hasn’t troubled him a bit: Vogt has hit .314/.409/.514 in 44 plate appearances against southpaws on the season, though 10 of his 11 home runs this year have come against righties. Honorable mention here goes to the Dodgers' Yasmani Grandal, who hit .375/.478/.661 on the month but missed a week due to a concussion.
Had Harper gone homerless in April, he would still rank eighth in the majors in home runs based on his May outburst alone. As it stands, his 18 homers overall are tied for the MLB lead with Seattle's Nelson Cruz. No player with more than seven plate appearances in May posted a higher OPS than Harper’s 1.379 on the month. He was indisputably the major league’s best hitter on the month, and you can be sure I’ll have more to say about him on Thursday when Awards Watch checks in on the MVP races.
McCutchen was hitting just .188/.279/.292 on the morning of May 7, but that slow start is history. Pittsburgh’s 28-year-old perennial MVP candidate has hit .378/.475/.683 in 99 PA since, bringing his season line closer to his career numbers and helping the Pirates climb back above .500 and into the thick of the NL wild card race, where they belong.
Upton’s May surge hasn’t been as beneficial to his team as McCutchen’s has been in Pittsburgh or Kipnis’s has been in Cleveland. It hasn’t come with a big power spike, either, as he hit six home runs in April, as well. The difference between the two moths for Upton has been better luck on balls in play, which has boosted his batting average, along with a significant increase in walks. Then there are his stolen bases. Upton had swiped just eight bags in each of the last two full seasons, but he's now a perfect 10-for-10 in steal attempts on the season. Upton has a career high of 21 steals, set back in 2011, but he was caught nine times on his way to that total.
Remember when Fielder was one of the most compelling sluggers in the game? Remember how excited everyone was about getting to see him spend half of his games hitting in Texas? Remember when he was an iron man who never missed a game? That guy is back. Despite having two vertebrae in his neck fused last year and missing the last 4 1/2 months of the season, as well as the steady decline in production that preceded that, and despite being a bad-body player in his early 30s, Fielder is playing every game and crushing baseballs in Texas.
Finally settling in as a designated hitter and embracing the position, Fielder rediscovered his power stroke mid-month, hitting eight of his 10 home runs on the season in a 15-game span from May 11 to May 25. He concluded that stretch with four straight three-hit games and a five-game stretch in which he went 14-for-24 (.583) with five homers. And by the way, the Rangers went 19–11 in May. Honorable mention here goes to the aforementioned Nelson Cruz, who hit .346/.407/.607 with another eight home runs in May but couldn’t edge Fielder here or Harper in rightfield to join Vogt as the only players to appear on both my April and May All-Star teams.
The Dodgers' Zack Greinke had five quality starts in May, allowing exactly one run in each, but Miller was still better, allowing just four runs on the month in five quality starts. Two of those outings were shutouts in which he threw fewer than 100 pitches, and in all but one of his five starts, he completed the seventh inning. He also pitched one of the month's best games, when he came within one out of a no-hitter against the Marlins on May 17 before settling for a two-hit shutout.
Lester and Phillies righty Aaron Harang are the only pitchers who turned in six quality starts in May, with Lester completing seven innings in five of his six starts on the month. He has now recorded seven straight quality starts, posting a 2.11 ERA over that stretch and striking out exactly one man per inning.
Betances’s 0.00 ERA on the season is a bit misleading: He has been charged with three unearned runs and allowed five inherited runners to score, including half of the eight men he inherited in May. On May 4, he combined two inherited runs and one unearned run (courtesy of a Chase Headley error) to blow a 1–0 Yankees lead in Toronto and saddle Chris Martin with a 3–1 loss in which all three runs scored on Betances’s watch. Still, he remains one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, having struck out 43% of the batters he has faced this season—tops among pitchers with 15 or more innings pitched on the year—including nearly half of the hitters he faced in May and nine of the last 13 men he faced in the month. Betances also remains incredibly valuable, recording four or more outs in five of his 13 appearances in May.
It’s worth noting here that my pick for the best relief pitcher in April was Betances’s pen-mate Andrew Miller, whose April numbers looked a lot like Betances’s May figures above. As high as the expectations may have been for Miller and Betances coming into the season, they have arguably surpassed them thus far.