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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: April 25-May 1

This week we're taking a look at the early leaders in some of the major advanced metric categories and, I'll say this right up front, all of these guys will regress.  There's no question about it.  (I'm pretty sure that Zack Greinke will allow at least one baserunner to score this season, thus breaking up his current 100% strand rate.)  That said, there's a pretty solid crop of players currently leading the way in most of these categories.  Let's check out the numbers, with Thursday's games not included...

* This Is Your Cue To Trade For Johnny.  As noted, Greinke is the strand rate leader, but you don't need me to tell you that he's awesome.  Similarly, the pitching BABIP leader is Jason Hammel, whose .130 BABIP belies a low strikeout total and a 4.47 FIP, so I think we can all count on Hammel as a fifth starter or streaming candidate and not much else. 

The man who's second in both strand rate (98.4%) and BABIP (.161) is a different story, however.  Johnny Cueto looks to be back in fine form, and even with his inflated advanced metrics, he's still posting a 3.21 FIP, 2.80 xFIP and 2.89 SIERA through his first five starts.  Most importantly, he's lasted into at least the seventh inning in all of those starts, and there hasn't been any indication that the oblique and shoulder injuries that derailed his 2013 season are still an issue.  Injuries might be just about the only thing that slows Cueto down --- he was still really good when he did pitch (3.23 xFIP in 11 starts) last year, which made his frequent DL trips all the most frustrating for his fantasy owners.  If you've got him on your roster this year and are tempted to sell high, do so only if you're getting a crazy bounty in return, since there's no reason Cueto can't pitch like a staff ace for the remainder of the year.

* They Call Him Mellow YelichChristian Yelich doesn't have any homers, owns only five RBIs (thanks, Marlins lineup) and his league-high .458 BABIP is bound to plummet.  All that said, I am all-in on Yelich in his first season as a Major League regular.  He won't get much chance to drive in runs hitting leadoff in Miami's mostly punchless batting order and he didn't even provide much power in his otherwise dominant minor league career, yet Yelich is a strong candidate for a .300 average, lots of runs scored (thanks, Giancarlo Stanton) and 20-25 steals.  Yelich stole 32 bags in Class A ball in 2011, and while he hasn't approached that total since, it could be more a case of him not getting the green light rather than an awkward decline in stealing ability.  With 82 big league games under his belt, Yelich is an impressive 14-for-14 in stolen base chances.

Just a couple of days into one of my fantasy leagues, I put my whole season on the line when I acquired Yelich, Mike Trout and Tommy Hunter in a blockbuster swap that cost me Bryce Harper, David Ortiz and Glen Perkins.  Yes, you should probably always take Trout when offered* and Harper's early struggles are making this look like a huge win, but Yelich's inclusion was the cherry on top.  I'm not necesarily scared off by a giant BABIP when you consider that Yelich's walk and strikeout rates are essentially the same as his minor league averages in both categories.  This kid can flat-out hit, and Yelich owners should be happy to enjoy the ride.

* = it's weird, I wrote this same sentence earlier this week on my fantasy seafood website, Boato Authority.

* Attention, V-Mart Shoppers.  We have a tie in handing out the Jodie Foster Award For Best Contact Hitter over the season's first four weeks, as both Kurt Suzuki and Victor Martinez took a 93.8% contact rate into Thursday's play.  Now, let's dispense with Suzuki right now -- he posted a 70 OPS+ in 2012-13, his walk rate is over twice his career average and a lot that overall contact rate success is based on Suzuki swinging and making contact on 86.2% of pitches thrown outside the strike zone.  Only four players in all of baseball topped 86.2% in that department in 2013, so while catcher is a thin position, Suzuki is not a viable fantasy option in anything but the deepest of leagues.

Fun fact: one of the four players who beat that 86.2% O-contact rate in 2013 was Victor Martinez, who ranks third overall in his category from 2010-14.  Martinez's bad-ball success in recent years has naturally led to some terrific offensive numbers and he's keeping that up this season with a .308/.361/.492 slash line and three homers.  His RBI and run totals are low, though that could be due to a Detroit lineup that has surprisingly struggled to score runs thus far. 

Martinez has always been a very good contact hitter but he's taken that to extremes this year with a 2.8% strikeout rate that is the lowest of any qualified hitter in baseball.  This is another stat that is sure to markedly increase (V-Mart has a 10.7% career K-rate) but it seems a pretty safe bet that Martinez will be hanging around the top of the contact rate leaderboard by season's end.  I admittedly gave up on him after his tough start to 2013, only to eat crow after Martinez hit like mad from June onward. 

I noted the shallow fantasy catcher pool earlier so be aware --- the Tigers have given Martinez two starts at catcher thus far, after starting him behind the plate just three times in all of 2013.  Most leagues require at least a half-dozen appearances at a position to gain eligibility but there's a good chance that V-Mart will once again be playable at catcher at some point this season, which obviously greatly boosts his fantasy value.  It's hard to work with those lower power totals from a first base or utility spot, but I'll take a catcher with an .852 OPS all the livelong day.



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