- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
On this fine first day of August, with the non-waiver trade deadline in our rear view mirror, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look on the field at hitting performances of July that could have taught us something that we can apply moving forward. So, here we go!
Five who shined in July
Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Boston Red Sox: The former AL MVP seems right on track to do it again. In fact, using Wins Above Replacement from Fangraphs.com as a guide, the only better performer this season -- in either league -- is Jose Bautista. Pedroia not only hit .411 in July but swatted eight home runs, second in the majors. Pedroia has re-established himself as a top-20 overall player, with power and speed, as he and recovered Phillie Chase Utley (.941 OPS, 5 HR, 6 SB in July) make a strong case to join Robinson Cano as a trio of exciting second-round keystone draft picks in 2012.
Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Chicago Cubs: He led the bigs with nine home runs, continuing his run from June when he swatted eight. I can't explain why Ramirez hit a entered June having hit only two home runs all season -- though he was always hitting for average -- nor does it make a ton of sense why he didn't want to play for a winning team (and thus wasn't traded), but I'd say we should all enjoy his first 30-home run season since 2006. He should hit in 2012, too.
Billy Butler, 1B/DH, Kansas City Royals: In truth, his July wasn't the story, but his past 10 days, as he hit six home runs. That matched his power output for the previous 15 weeks. Butler has essentially stopped taking walks and hitting doubles during this stretch, which might not be in everyone's best interests [e] but it's clear he can hit the home runs. I need to see more, because four walks against 24 whiffs in July is not Billy Butler. Perhaps six homers in 10 days isn't as well.
Melky Cabrera, OF, Royals: I'm starting to believe he and Jeff Francoeur are going to keep up their fine performance all season, but if I had to choose one, it's Cabrera. He hit .384 in July with four home runs, 18 RBIs, four steals and 23 runs scored. I don't like the mere five walks for the month, and I'm skeptical Cabrera will hit .300 for the season (he's at .304), but he leads the majors in at-bats so he clearly can continue to add to his counting statistics. Plus, if he hit .280 the rest of the way, with all these at-bats, it matters more. Francoeur hit .306 in July with 11 walks and 11 strikeouts, easily his best plate discipline month. Perhaps these guys are growing.
Emilio Bonifacio, SS/3B/OF, Florida Marlins: Perhaps no player was more surprising this past month than this speedy but ordinary utility player who fashioned a 26-game hitting streak. Bonifacio can thank his newfound plate discipline (16 walks, 19 strikeouts in July) and aggressiveness; he stole 16 bases in 18 attempts for the month, giving him 24 steals on the season. No, I don't think Bonifacio will hit even .300 the rest of the way, but I do think he'll continue to run and score.
Five who did not shine in July
Danny Espinosa, 2B, Washington Nationals: Certainly plate discipline isn't one of his strengths, and it showed when he struck 34 times in 100 at-bats in July, torpedoing his batting average for July to .200. Espinosa hit only two home runs and knocked in only seven, and while I think he'll bounce back a bit in the power department and end up near 30, his .228 batting average has been well earned. Go with Dan Uggla -- easily -- the rest of the way (he hit .295 in July!).
J.J. Hardy, SS, Baltimore Orioles: He continued to hit for power, smacking seven home runs in July, and the lone shortstop in baseball with more home runs this season is Troy Tulowitzki, but the .195 batting average for the month is a bummer. Hardy had a magic June, with a 1.094 OPS, but after drawing three walks in July (23 strikeouts) I'm not confident he'll hit better than .250 the rest of the way.
Alex Avila, C, Detroit Tigers: The AL All-Star backstop hit .197 in July with one RBI. That's it. He did walk 15 times -- against 14 hits for the month! -- so that's nice to see, and frankly it helps me believe he can bounce back in August. Perhaps fatigue has set in, as well as pitchers realizing the team's other catcher can hit. In 10-team leagues that require only one catcher, I'd move on. There is depth at the position. In deeper leagues the walks tell me to wait out the slump.
Brett Wallace, 1B, Houston Astros: I've never been much of a fan, but even I was surprised the awful Astros demoted him and third base buddy Chris Johnson on Sunday night. Wallace hit .182 in July, and most disturbingly, walked only one time against 20 strikeouts. In June, Wallace walked 15 times, so while he wasn't hitting, his OBP of .360 was good. Wallace has seen his OPS drop every month -- .988 to .719 to .657 to .433 -- and now he's at Oklahoma City. I felt confident Chris Johnson wouldn't hit or walk, but Wallace surprises me.
Justin Smoak, 1B, Seattle Mariners: He must be hurt. I can't explain his awful month other than that, because he generally takes more walks and has more pop than this. Smoak was dead last among 270 qualifiers with a .141 batting average in July. He knocked in four runs. First base is just too deep to deal with this.