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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: May 23-29

Here's this week's look beyond the standard numbers to see which players are at their fantasy peak, have yet to begin their ascent, or are simply Powersaucing along at their expected rate.

Send Him To The Island  Despite the fact that there's a somewhat more important figure in world history that shares the name, I can't hear the name "Locke" without thinking of the iconic Lost character played by Terry O'Quinn.  Without spoiling any plot details (though the show ended three years ago people, get watching!), I'll just say that Lost's Locke appears to be a strong character on the exterior but he's hiding some serious demons within, and his facade slips more and more as the series progresses.  It might not be a bad metaphor for the season of Pirates southpaw Jeff Locke, who has put NL hitters on lockdown (puns!) over nine starts this season.  Lost's Locke, being a man of faith, would probably put no stock in these advanced statistics, but if you're a Jack Shepherd-esque man of science, the advanced metrics might make you think twice about adding the Bucs lefty to your fantasy roster.

Locke has a 2.73 ERA and is only allowing 6.7 H/9, but that's about where the good-looking stats end.  Locke's strikeout and walk rates are nothing special (5.47 K/9 and 3.76 BB/9) and his peripheral metrics indicate that his ERA should be much higher; his FIP/xFIP/SIERA slash line is an across-the-board mediocre 4.48/4.45/4.75.  The left-hander has an 82.5% strand rate and a .224 BABIP, so it's just a matter of time before his Loc...uh, his luck runs out.  I myself streamed Locke for two starts last week and got good results, but I quit while I was ahead and dropped him as soon as that second outing was in the books.  If you still have Locke, see if you can sell high while he's still seen as a wise boar-hunter rather than a button-pushing nut in an underground chamber.

Better In The Next Life, Brotha?  I swear, I didn't intend to go with a Lost theme for this week's column but after noting a guy named Locke, I'm now going to focus on a guy named Desmond.  Pretty freaky, brotha.  Anyway, for a team as stat-savvy as the Rays, you wonder how long they're going to keep putting up with Desmond Jennings in the leadoff spot.  Jennings profiles as your ideal leadoff man --- his minor league numbers promised a player who could get on base, steal bases and even provide double-digit homer power.  While Jennings has delivered with his limited pop and stole 31 bases in 2012, he still hasn't shown much overall progress as a hitter.  After batting just .246/.314/.388 in his first full season, Jennings has actually taken a slight step back this year, with just a .241/.301/.392 line going into Tuesday's action.  Also troubling is the fact that Jennings has only six steals in nine attempts, so the "well, he'll still give me help in the stolen base category" argument doesn't carry much weight.

Jennings is still among the league leaders in runs, as even a .300 OBP player will score pretty often if he's atop the Rays' suddenly-potent lineup.  That on-base percentage and a 22.8% strikeout rate, however, doth not a leadoff hitter make, and Joe Maddon is the kind of manager who won't hesitate to juggle his lineup if he isn't getting results from a player.  Jennings might yet become that kind of well-rounded average/power/run-scoring/speed threat that fantasy owners covet, but I don't think the breakout will happen in 2013.

Don't Mess With DeJesus  David DeJesus took five homers, 24 runs and a .294/.364/.507 line into Tuesday's action and the 33-year-old is on pace for what would easily be his best Major League season.  While I don't think DeJesus will keep up his .872 OPS, I do think he'll continue to be a productive fantasy option, though this is old news to owners in daily-lineup leagues.  DeJesus has always hit well against right-handed pitching (.821 career OPS against righties) and is a great guy to have on your fantasy roster if you're in a league that allows you to sit him whenever he's against a southpaw (career .667 OPS against left-handers).  

Since the Cubs are sticking to a strict platoon with DeJesus, he'll be put in every opportunity to succeed and not have to worry about those confidence-sapping at-bats against lefties.  If you rode DeJesus' hot streak and are now looking to sell, what's the hurry?  One caveat against DeJesus is that he's pretty likely to be traded this summer since the Cubs are going nowhere and are apt to move veterans as part of their rebuilding process.  His production could see a dip in a less hitter-friendly park than Wrigley Field or if he needed time to adjust to his new surroundings, but unless you yourself start playing DeJesus every day, I don't expect a trade would greatly diminish his fantasy value.

Don't Toss The Hos  As a rule, I generally avoid picking up top prospects unless they're just truly special (i.e. Mike Trout) or if one of my starters goes on the DL the same day that a touted youngster happens to get called up to the bigs.  It was for this reason that I stayed away from Eric Hosmer in every single one of my fantasy leagues, and watched bemusedly as the Royals first baseman was taken ahead of several more proven first sackers.  Other managers saw a heralded prospect; I just saw a 23-year-old who had a .663 OPS and didn't give any indication that he was ready for a breakout.  My concerns have thus far been well-founded --- Hosmer is hitting .271/.342/.347 with one measly homer in 161 PA. 

So with this all being said, I'm now about to recommend that you keep Hosmer.  Whaaa?  I wouldn't start him at 1B by any means, but he's worth keeping on the bench in case he starts putting things together.  Hosmer's main issue is that lack of power, as he's hitting nearly three times as many grounders as fly balls and his 19.5% flyball rate is well below his 28.6% career average.  Granted, the "career average" is only from two prior seasons of information but still, you'd think Hosmer will eventually start getting the ball in the air.  His line drive rate is actually up (23%) from his first two seasons and his contact rates are only a couple of percentage points below his career averages, so there is evidence that Hosmer can get going as long as he cuts out the worm-burners.



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