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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: July 4-10

We're under a month away from the trade deadline, so of course everyone's refreshing MLB Trade Rumors on a minutely basis, right?  Since every baseball fan's mind will be focused on deals, deals and more deals in July, I thought I'd focus this week's column on four players whose names (i.e. Lowenstein) have been whispered as the trade winds whistle through the leaves...

* Supernatural Success.  Since the baseball gods love to laugh at the Kansas City Royals, the Royals' additions of Ervin Santana and James Shields have indeed helped turn around the club's pitching rotation...but now the team can't hit a lick.  Oh well.  Santana can't do anything about his team's weak lineup, but he's more than done his fair share in the starting rotation, posting a 2.84 ERA, 7.2 K/9 rate and a 4.05 K/BB ratio over 16 starts.  The 30-year-old has rebounded nicely from his brutal 2012 season, set himself up for a nice free agent contract this winter and been a boon to fantasy owners who took a flier on him as a fifth starter. Aside from him extending Rob Thomas' music career by at least a decade, there's not much to dislike about the Santana experience. 

So what's the problem?  Santana has personally enjoyed all the luck that the snakebitten Royals franchise lacks.  The righty's .250 BABIP and 81.4% strand rate explain why his advanced ERA numbers (3.88 FIP, 3.52 xFIP, 3.56 SIERA) are significantly higher than his regular ERA.  These aren't bad stats by any means, but I'm more worried about Santana's unnerving 13.8% HR/FB rate.  Santana's struggles last year were caused giving up a ton of homers (1.97 HR/9) and while he's cut back on his career-worst 18.8% HR/FB mark from last season, that 13.8% number is still the second-highest total of his career.  While Santana has cut down on his fly balls from 2012, his long ball tendencies might only be being held in check by the fact that he pitches in one of the most homer-unfriendly parks in the majors.  Santana is bound to regress anyway over the next three months, and if he gets traded away from Kansas City, he could find himself again bit by the homer bug.  If you've enjoyed having Santana on your roster so far, sell high and move him now before the regression kicks in like a wicked guitar solo.

* Sorry.  Cubs fans have wanted to be rid of Alfonso Soriano's millstone contract for years now, but things have been complicated by the fact that, well, nobody else has been particularly interested in absorbing that contract, not to mention the fact that Soriano hasn't been overly keen on waiving his full no-trade clause.  Soriano seems a bit more open to leaving Chicago now, though the problem now is that he's on pace for one of his worst seasons.  Soriano entered Tuesday hitting .257/.284/.428 with nine homers and 35 RBI in 306 PA, and at age 37, it's fair to wonder if the veteran is simply too washed up to be of any real value to either the Cubs or any other team that might wonder if Soriano could regain his old pop in their uniform. 

It's hard to see Soriano catching fire in the second half whether he's at Wrigley Field or elsewhere.  Soriano is putting up that lousy slash line despite the fact that his contact rates are up across the board and that he's getting a bit of extra BABIP (.308) help.  Fantasy-wise, Soriano has been a verrrrry borderline starter for the last few years, averging 26 homers and 82 RBI between 2009-2012 but of little help in the runs scored (62) or batting average (.252) categories.  If your league tracked walks, then yikes, Soriano's .310 OBP made him bench depth at best.  This is the year where I think Soriano can be altogether dropped and considered to be more or less fantasy-irrelevant.  On the bright side, you'll have an easier team moving him in your fantasy league than the Cubs will at the deadline.

* Young At Heart.  I owe Michael Young an apology.  I thought this guy was seven kinds of washed up after his fall-off-a-cliff 2012 season and avoided him in all of my leagues.  Since I'm sure Young monitors my fantasy leagues and took my snub as a personal affront, he has rebounded to hit .290/.346/.410 for the Phillies this year.  His power numbers (five homers, 21 RBI) impress nobody but his average and 33 runs scored make him a decent play as a second baseman, and he also qualifies at both first and third base for some added versatility value.  Young's .326 BABIP would make him seem like a regression candidate but he's always had a high career BABIP (.334) and this year, he's walking more than ever before.  Young's 8.0% walk rate will be a career high if he keeps it up for the entire season, so at age 36, the old dog isn't exactly learning a new trick, but the extra patience is paying off. 

Young is, of course, playing in Philadelphia and in the National League after spending his previous 13 seasons in Texas, so if he is traded, I'll predict continued success due to the "a move is easier the second time" theory.  Several players who have moved to a new team after long stints with their original club have spoken of a longer adjustment period, and once they've moved on to a third team and gained a few journeyman points, they've gotten used to the moves and in many cases find their old form.  Young has already fit in just fine in Philly, so if he's dealt again, heck, he may just upgrade his performance yet again.  It's like the first time I moved into a new apartment and how I took a million cardboard boxes from home, overpacked my car, had Mom pack a box of canned goods so that I didn't starve, etc.  By that third move, though, I had my entire wardrobe stuffed into one suitcase and enough spare room in my car that I could've picked up two hitchhikers and told them how they should keep Michael Young on their fantasy teams.  Aha, you didn't think I'd get back on topic, did you?!  Point, Polishuk.

* Electric Edinson.  Petco Park has helped prop up many a pitcher's stats, but the "Petco Effect" has yet to really take for Edinson Volquez, now in his second season with the Padres.  The right-hander is pitching okay...but he has little to show for it, with a 5.50 ERA that has been inflated by a low strand rate (63.9%) and high BABIP (.328).  Volquez's 3.95 FIP, 4.13 xFIP and 4.39 SIERA all indicate that he's basically the same borderline-fifth-starter fantasy pitcher he was last season, he's just been unluckier. 

While there's reason to believe Volquez can turn things around and still produce for you if you've stuck with him in your rotation this long, drop him immediately if he's traded.  Volquez's home/road splits are very lopsided since joining the Padres --- a 2.95 home ERA and 5.60 road ERA in 2012, and a 4.73/6.23 split between home and away this season.  As long as the Volqswagen keeps running in San Diego, he still has some fantasy value and even a bit of underdog pickup status in the second half.  If he's dealt anywhere else, however, the Volqswagen is running on empty.

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