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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: May 16-22

Bad news, your beloved author is the latest victim of the Tommy John surgery epidemic that is sweeping the baseball world.  I blew out my elbow while giving my space bar particularly firm taps for both of the spaces in Rick van den Hurk's last name.  If you write it as "Vandenhurk" or even "Vanden Hurk," Rick himself will drop whatever he's doing and berate you over the phone.  (How does he even know?!)  You can read all about it in the ghostwritten autobiography Hurk!: One Right-Hander's Journey From The Netherlands To The Major Leagues To The KBO And Everywhere In Between Including Some Minor League Stops Like Jupiter, Florida.  Yeah, I know, don't get me started on the title, Rick insisted.  He just really dug his time in Jupiter.  Anyway, since the Tommy John surgery will put me on the shelf, Rick hired J.K. Rowling to finish ghostwriting his book.  Expect a new chapter where one of Rick's starts for the Marlins is interrupted by a giant spider.

...and, SCENE.  Let's turn from that frivolous nonsense to some cold hard baseball data as we examine the advanced metrics to see whose performances are for real.

* Sonny Gray Real Estate.  The young A's righty isn't just a boon to writers (like me) who love punny headers, but also he's been a big get for fantasy owners.  Gray has more or less picked up right where he left off following his heroics for Oakland late in 2013 and in the playoffs, carrying a 2.17 ERA over eight starts into Friday night's outing against the Rangers. 

This is a classic sell-high scenario for Gray owners, in my opinion.  If you're counting on him to be an ace on your staff, you have to be hoping for an uptick in strikeouts (from his current 7.17 K/9), his good batted-ball luck (.271 BABIP) to continue and for Gray to keep leaving 82.2% of his baserunners stranded.  Frankly, it could be a tall order.  In fairness, most fantasy owners likely drafted Gray with the intent of using him as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter rather than as an ace, so it's all been Grayvy...er, gravy thus far, but trading Gray for a more proven veteran arm could be a canny move.  Gray's trade value will likely never be higher than it is right now, so if you can package him as part of a deal for a starter from the Felix-or-Yu class, that's a deal I'd be inclined to make.

* Lince, U Been Gone.  It wasn't too long ago that Tim Lincecum, not Sonny Gray, was the Bay Area's hottest rotation star in the making, yet Lincecum's star has dimmed following a couple of rough seasons in 2012-13.  Lincecum signed a two-year extension with the Giants last fall and, since his 2012-13 advanced metrics indicated he pitched better than his 4.76 ERA suggested, there was some thought that Lincecum was indeed prime for a comeback year.

Instead, we've seen further evidence that the prime Lincecum may have Lincecame and went.  Lincecum's ERA is 4.78, his fastball velocity is continuing to drop (89.7 mph, a career low) and with that loss of speed comes a loss of effectiveness.  According to Fangraphs' Pitch Values metrics, Lincecum's fastball is averaging -6.9 runs below average (sixth-worst in baseball) while the standardized version of the metric (wFB/C) ranks Lincecum's heater fourth-worst among qualified starters.

Despite all of this grim evidence...man, he SHOULD be better according to his peripherals.  Lincecum has a 3.22 xFIP, 3.44 SIERA, he's averaging better than a strikeout per inning, his 3.12 BB/9 is his lowest since 2009 and he has a hideous .363 BABIP.  You'd think a guy who pitches at AT&T Park wouldn't have a 17.5% homer/fly ball rate, yet Linecum is a living affront to that belief.  This would be by far Lincecum's highest homer rate in a season, coming close to doubling his 9.2% career mark.

Surely you can't expect a column devoted to peripherals to ignore these advanced metrics, and so I'm still hanging onto hope that the Freak can regain something closer to his old form.  My case is helped by a gem Lincecum threw in his last start, when he held Pittsburgh to two hits over 7 2/3 IP while recording eleven K's and four walks.  Maybe it's a sign that Lincecum just had some early-season struggles and now his luck will start to turn around.  If you've got Lincecum at the back of your fantasy rotation, don't go looking to drop him just yet.

* Chris Mess.  Those who pegged Chris Johnson as a major regression candidate can take a bow.  Johnson owner of a career .361 BABIP,  rode extraordinary batted-ball luck to strong seasons in three of the last four years and looked like a half-decent source for batting average and double-digit homers at your third base spot if his good fortune continued. 

Well, the BABIP spotlight is again shining brightly on Johnson, yet it's not helping him whatsoever.  Despite a .362 BABIP, Johnson is only hitting .279/.306/.357 with one homer, nine RBI and eight runs scored through 147 PA.  Since Johnson rarely takes a free pass, makes a lot of unproductive outs (a career 4.8% walk rate and 23.7% strikeout rate) and doesn't have all that much power, you wonder if he'd even still be considered a Major League starter were it not for his being propped up by his BABIP over his career.  I'd look for other third base options unless Johnson turns things around soon, since when a BABIP that generous that can't give you an empty average, there's little fantasy value to be found.



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