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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: June 27-July 3

As we approach the halfway mark of the 2013 season, it's fair to note that some of the "luck" that factors into advanced metrics may simply be here to stay (or will never arrive) for certain players.  If so-and-so has a high BABIP that "should" correct itself, well, some guys just go an entire year without ever coming back down to earth; Dexter Fowler's 2012 season waves hello.  So essentially, my analysis can be taken with a grain of salt since while I'm trying my best to use logic and statistics to predict fantasy value, some players just put up numbers that defy all reason.

"Mark, are you just trying to excuse your terrible Jeff Locke prediction last month?"

Shut up, Voice of Reason!  Onto this week's featured players!

* Off To Ne Verland Verland  If I had Kate Upton publicly teasing me, I'd be a little off my game as well, but Justin Verlander has not been himself this season.  Verlanded allowed four runs from seven hits and three walks over just five innings (!) against the Red Sox in his last start, recording just four strikeouts (!!) and raising his ERA to 3.90 (!!!) for the season.  What the what?  This isn't what you want to see from a guy who has been a slam dunk top-of-the-rotation ace for the last couple of seasons.  If you're a Verlander owner, should you be worried or even thinking about selling low?

The answer, simply, is no.  Well, I guess maybe a little worried since Kate Upton's eCard taunts carry a bitter sting, but the advanced metrics suggest that Verlander has just been unlucky in love on batted balls, as his .347 BABIP is the third-highest of any qualified pitcher in the majors.  Verlander is on pace to for his highest walk total since 2008, but he's also posting a higher K/9 (10.2) than ever before, so while he isn't quite Vintage Verlander, it's hard to complain about a guy with a 2.86 FIP, 3.29 xFIP and 3.35 SIERA.  I myself own Verlander in one of my leagues and while I'm not thrilled with the results this far, I highly doubt I'll be regretting my decision to take him with the 15th overall pick.  And really, in this particular league I'm in second-last place, so I've had far bigger disasters going on than Verlander's below-average performance.  *sob*  Can someone send me a condolence eCard?  Not you, Upton!

* Not The Bester  If you're going to be worried about an ace in possible decline, forget Verlander and look at Jon Lester.  The general feeling in the offseason was that Lester's disappointing 2012 campaign could be written off as an aberration given that a) Bobby Valentine had been extracted from the Red Sox manager's ofice and b) John Farrell was back in the fold to help get Lester and Clay Buchholz back on track.  Buchholz has been back on his game (when healthy) this year but Lester got off to a good start and then has just cratered over the last month, to the point that his current numbers bear an ugly resemblance to his 2012 stats.

It's worth noting that Lester's 4.82 ERA last season was a bit overblown (4.11 FIP/3.82 xFIP/3.94 SIERA, 67.6% strand rate, .312 BABIP), though when seen in combination with this year's 4.57 ERA through 16 starts, you have to wonder if the left-hander has just plateaued.  Lester has a 4.30 FIP/4.00 xFIP/4.02 SIERA this season, so there's a bit of bad luck involved here too, but is a best-case 4.00 ERA something you want to see from a guy who, in his prime, was a solid fantasy ace?  Lester's line drive and HR/FB rates have spiked over the last two seasons, another bad sign. 

If you're a Lester owner looking for some good news, you could point to the fact that Lester has a 2.86 ERA at Fenway Park this season and has only made five home starts (as opposed to ten on the road), so he could get back on track once this quirk of the schedule balances out.  I'm not sure you can hang your hat on home/away splits, however, given that Lester was far worse at Fenway in 2012 than he was on the road, plus his career home/away splits are nearly identical.  It's high time to start shopping Lester around your league to see if someone else thinks they're buying low, and if there aren't any takers, maybe check out the waiver wire for a better option.  

* Bautarnacion  The list of baseball's lowest BABIPs (among qualified hitters) bears a strong resemblance to a list of baseball's flat-out worst hitters of the 2013 season.  No surprise here --- some guys are just unlucky and some guys just aren't putting many balls in play since they're striking out like mad (hey there, Adam Dunn's .197 BABIP).  On this list of mediocrity, however, you'll find a couple of Blue Jays sluggers who actually are putting up very strong numbers in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.  The duo entered Tuesday's play with the kind of power stats you would've expected from them in the preseason, yet Encarnacion carries only a .250 BABIP while Bautista's BABIP is only .255.

For fantasy purposes, it's hard to say you'd be buying low with either player since both men are hitting like their usual selves to the layman.  But now might indeed be the time to swing a trade for either Joey Bats or the former lead singer of I Mother Earth since their best might be yet to come in the second half.  Heck, in Bautista's case, I'd say that's solidly the case given that his red-hot .994 OPS in May was sandwiched by a .200/.302/.533 line in April and a .595 OPS thus far in June.  I acquired Encarnacion in one of my leagues this past week, picking him up for the price of Anthony Rizzo and Howie Kendrick.  Pretty solid deal on my end, in my opinion, especially since I have Aaron Hill returning from the DL to replace Kendrick at second base.  Speaking of which....

* Howie Doing This?  Let's talk for a minute about Kendrick, who is less a ballplayer than he is a living affront to the idea of a league average .300 BABIP.  The Angels second baseman has a .343 BABIP for his career, so the fact that his BABIP currently sits at .371 isn't necessarily cause for alarm.  Kendrick apparently just has a knack for hitting them where they ain't, and it's translating into what could be the best season of his eight-year career.  Kendrick is hitting .323/.366/.471 with 32 runs scored, eight homers, 36 RBI and even six steals as the cherry on top, seemingly finally establishing himself as a legit top-tier fantasy second sacker.

There are a couple of outliers within Kendrick's statistics that could be cause for concern.  His HR/FB rate is 16.3%, well above his 9.4% career average (though he had another outlier season like this in 2011).  What stands out even more is Kendrick's 29.7% line drive rate, which dwarfs his 20% career rate and sits almost eight percent higher than his next best career mark in a season.  This being said, however, Kendrick's .148 ISO isn't out of whack with his .137 career ISO, so it's not like his hitting the ball harder is manifesting itself in any blatantly unusual way.  I'd say that Kendrick can safely be counted on to more or less continue his hot hitting and you should definitely hang onto him...uh, unless you can get Edwin Encarnacion and you have Aaron Hill around to man second base.



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