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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: June 20-26

I made an interesting swap in one of my leagues this week that involved a couple of past TPIITP featured players.  I dealt Aaron Hill and Matt Carpenter to my rival manager in exchange for Albert Pujols and Didi Gregorius, so I'm certainly standing up to my belief that Pujols will eventually get back to his old form.  (And sure enough, he delivered four hits in his first game for me.)  Carpenter my man, you more than lived up to expectations and actually played even better following my "hey, believe the hype!" piece about you on May 1.  That said, if I have the chance to deal you and a guy coming off a broken hand for Albert Pujols (and a possibly useful, if falling-back-to-earth rookie shortstop), I'm making that deal every time.

But anyway, onto this week's examination beyond the usual 5x5 numbers...

* Ooooh, The Chase!  As an old-school Carmen Sandiego fan as a kid, it never stops being amusing that San Diego's best player is named Chase.  It's been a pretty rough year for Chase Headley owners, who were expecting to own a top-tier third baseman but instead have put up with two weeks on the DL, three weeks of hot hitting and a bunch of misery.  Headley had a .936 following the Padres' 1-0 win over the Marlins on May 8 but then posted a .170/.291/.252 line over his next 158 PA.  The knock on Headley going into his breakout 2012 season was that he had trouble hitting at Petco Park and that he generally wasn't as good against left-handed pitching; he corrected those problems last season, but in 2013 he has just a .573 OPS against southpaws and, weirdly, his road OPS is over 100 points lower than his home OPS.

The good news is, there's no reason to believe this will continue.  Most of Headley's peripheral stats match what he posted in 2012, aside from a .273 BABIP (he BABIP'ed .337 last season) and swing rates that are down roughly 2% across the board.  That's not a good drop, obviously, but it's nothing too severe.  It could be that Headley is still getting warm after missing a chunk of Spring Training with a fractured thumb.  Also, any kind of hand or finger injury usually takes a bit of extra time for a hitter to fully get over, so Headley could return to form any day now.  I've personally moved Headley to my bench in one of my leagues (I still have the awesome Matt Carpenter in this one, so he's my 3B) until he's hot, so if you have a decent third sacker in reserve, play them until Headley gets himself sorted out.  No reason to panic yet.

* King Jeremy The Wicked.  We've hit that time of the fantasy season when your pitching staff has been hit with a couple of injuries, maybe a starter you thought would be good has been ineffective, and you just want to shake things up a bit.  You check out your league's waiver wire and hey look, it's Jeremy Guthrie!  And what's this, he has a 3.72 ERA and throws in pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium?  Why yeah, that sounds like a good idea, let's bring Guthrie on board!

This is how it begins.  Guthrie revived his career by pitching well in the latter half of 2012 after joining the Royals, but that was arguably the only time he has ever provided legit fantasy value.  Too few strikeouts, too many homers and a career 4.24 ERA doth not a reliable fantasy starter make.  Guthrie's 3.72 ERA this year is belied by some ugly advanced metrics (5.96 FIP, 5.02 xFIP, 5.13 SIERA) and at only 4.30 K/9 and 3.03 BB/9, his real-life ERA seems due to rise at any moment.  Not that a 3.72 ERA is a world-beater mark anyway, but the only thing keeping it in check is Guthrie's .256 BABIP and an 86.1% strand rate that ranks as the second-highest in the entire league among qualified starters.  You should be looking to add Guthrie ONLY as a one-week stream if he has a couple of home starts against weaker lineups, but otherwise just leave him alone.

* Loosen Your Belt.  Since my wardrobe is pathetically small, I only own three belts.  One is my "formal" belt that I bust out for wedding, funerals, meetings with the Royal Family, etc.  Another is my everyday belt, which is super-comfortable and also very flexible, which is key given my, uh, somewhat ample waistline.  The third is my backup belt, which frankly is kind of stiff and a pain to wear, though I bust it out at least once a week just to give my primary belt a break, sort of like how you sit your starting catcher for a day game that follows a night game. 

Anyway, we're taking this trip around around my pants since I think most Brandon Belt owners are using him as their backup belt by this point in the season.  You'll start him maybe once a week if he's facing a righty starter or if your regular first baseman has an unfavorable matchup, but that's it, since Belt isn't living up to his preseason status as a potential breakout candidate.  Belt was hitting .255/.324/.417 with seven homers and 30 RBIs going into Tuesday's play, which isn't necessarily BAD overall given his home ballpark (Belt has a solid 114 OPS+) but it's not what you expect from your starting fantasy first baseman.

Belt's contract rates and power numbers -- home run rate, isolated power and fly balls in general -- are all up from his 2012 statistics but overall he isn't hitting as well as he did last season.  He's hitting almost five percent fewer line drives, his walk rate is down and he owns a pretty even .296 BABIP, so it's not just a case of bad luck.  Belt simply might be a year or two away from that breakout the Giants and fantasy owners think he's capable of, given how he has dominated minor league pitching.  If you've stuck with Belt this long as a starter, you're way overdue to start looking for an upgrade.

* King Of The NetherlandsDerek Holland's gem in Game Four of the 2011 World Series seemed to herald his arrival as a frontline starter but he wasn't quite there yet, as evidenced by his average 2012 season.  This season, however, he has a 3.30 ERA, 8.6 K/9 and 3.91 K/BB ratio through 14 starts, and the advanced metrics (2.78 FIP, 3.23 xFIP, 3.39 SIERA) and his .344 BABIP suggest that Holland could actually be doing a bit better than his already very solid numbers.

Holland's biggest issue in 2012 was allowing home runs and he has cut his HR/9 from 1.6 last season to just 0.6 this season. Fangraphs' Chris Kwik noted last month that Holland's increased use of his slider and decreased reliance on his curveball were helping him keep the ball in the park, and since this change in pitch selection seems to be paying off, I feel confident that Holland will keep up his good work for the rest of the campaign.  No pitcher who throws at Rangers Ballpark is entirely free of the homer curse, of course, but Holland is definitely on the right track.  This might be the last year that Holland is considered an underrated option in fantasy baseball.

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