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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: April 11-17

With only a couple of weeks of baseball in the books, it's still a little early to start picking out guys who are over- or underachieving based on their advanced metrics.  Ergo, this week's column will focus on two players who already had red flags on them heading into 2014, plus one bit of wackiness....

* This Land Is Verland.  Much has been written about Justin Verlander's below-average 2013 season, as he posted five-year lows in strikeouts (217), innings (218 1/3), fWAR (5.2) and K/BB rate (2.89), while also posting five-year highs in WHIP (1.315), walk rate (8.1%), ERA (3.46), xFIP (3.67) and SIERA (3.61).  Combine this with a fastball that has been steadily declining for five seasons now, and you have a year that makes you wonder if all those workhorse innings are finally starting to catch up to the V-Man.

Verlander's two 2014 starts haven't done much to inspire confidence.  While he has a 2.57 ERA over his 14 innings, Verlander's xFIP is a garish 5.91 thanks in large part to his lack of strikeouts.  The Tigers ace has only five K's thus far --- since the beginning of the 2009 season, this is only the second time that Verlander has recorded so few strikeouts over a two-start period.  Adding insult to injury, Verlander has just as many walks as strikeouts.

I feel I should be writing OF COURSE, IT'S STILL EARLY in big neon lights for every entry here, plus Verlander's next start is against the Padres at Petco Park, so he could easily throw a gem and make this entry obsolete.  Still, for Verlander owners counting on their man to return to his top-of-the-rotation form, the early results aren't promising.  Just throwing it out there...you might want to start quietly seeing what you could get for Verlander in a trade.

* Got Melk?  Several of the early-season hot bats have yet to record their first walk of 2014, and since Melky Cabrera has a decent career walk rate of 7.2% and owns a career .337 OBP, the free passes will eventually come.  At the moment, I doubt the Blue Jays are too concerned about Cabrera's lack of walks given that he's hitting a cool .333/.333/.644 through 45 plate appearances.  That slugging percentage really stands out given that Cabrera already has four homers through 10 games, which is more than he hit during the entire 2013 campaign.

Power has never really been a big part of Cabrera's game (a career .411 SLG and he averaged only eight homers per 162 games from 2005-13) and even in the homer-friendly Rogers Centre, it's very unlikely that Melky is a Jose Bautista-esque late-blooming slugger.  What is good news, however, is that Cabrera is looking like a real ballplayer again.  In 2013, Cabrera could barely run or swing the bat with any authority whatsoever, and it wasn't until September that he had a benign tumor removed from his lower spine -- no wonder his health was affected.

There were some whispers that Cabrera was struggling because he was off PEDs, but with a freak injury like a spinal tumor, it's much more likely that the tumor was the source of the Melkman's problems last year.  I had him pegged as a sleeper outfielder in my drafts and he's paid big dividends thus far.  This is almost a case where Cabrera's early numbers didn't matter, since as long as he was running and swinging with no issues, you know he's likely to return to his normal production levels (and, ideally, his 2011-12 production levels).

* Homer Happy.  Finally, this was just too good a statistic to pass up: the one pitcher in baseball whose name is literally Homer has a 100% home run/fly ball rate through his first two starts.  Two balls in the air = two homers for Jhonny Peralta and Yadier MolinaHomer Bailey has done a great job of keeping the ball on the ground (60.6% ground ball rate) and is just getting burned for it, as opponents hold a .438 BABIP against him.  Bailey's 7.71 ERA is countered by a 3.41 xFIP and 3.70 SIERA so there's no point in panicking, yet that homer rate is pretty amusing.  Imagine if it kept up?  Surely, David Dewitt Bailey would have to pull a Mike/Giancarlo Stanton and start insisting that he be called by his heretofore unrevealed birth name of "Grounder."



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