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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: May 2-8

I'm not saying I think about baseball too much, but I recently complimented my girlfriend by calling her "the Mike Trout of girlfriends."  I think she appreciated the compliment, once I explained to her who Trout is.  All will be made clear once I figure out the math on this Wins Above Replacement Girlfriend formula and present it to her as an anniversary gift.  Romance, thy name is Polishuk.

Speaking of advanced metrics, let's check out this week's players who may or may not be living up to what their peripheral statistics are saying...

* Dancin' Homer.  In my second column of the season, I was all "Ha ha, isn't that cute, the guy named Homer has the league's worst home run rate."  This joke was a lot less funny for Homer Bailey's fantasy owners when we hit the end of April...and Bailey still had the league's worst home run rate.  To be specific, Bailey had the worst HR rate among non-qualified starters, as Bailey's outings were generally so short that he wasn't even a qualified stater.  Uh, yikes.

As a Bailey owner myself, this was not the start I was hoping for, and after he was shellacked by the Braves on April 25, I was hit with a swarm of buy-low offers for Bailey's services.  My fellow managers were shrewd enough to know what I'm about to explain, namely that it's way too early to give up on the Homeboy since by all peripheral accounts, he should be performing much better.

Heading into Thursday's start against the league-leading Brewers, Bailey owned a 9.91 K/9, a 3.63 K/BB rate, a 48.2% ground ball rate, a 3.12 xFIP and a 3.21 SIERA.  These are the numbers of a very solid number two starter in a fantasy rotation, not the numbers of a guy with a 6.15 ERA...and yet that was Bailey's fate thanks to a terrible .421 BABIP and the ghastly 29.2% homer rate that stood almost three times his career average.  There's no reason to sell low on Bailey when his luck is at his lowest ebb, as that BABIP and homer rate are so far out of whack that they're bound to normalize sooner rather than later.

In fact, the evening-out process may have already begun last night, when Bailey held Milwaukee to three runs (none on homers) on eight hits over eight innings, striking out four and walking one.  While it admittedly came against a Brewers lineup that's missing most of its top bats, it was still a much-needed quality start for Bailey and a sign that he'll soon be back to his normal self.  So, to the guys in my fantasy league, COOL IT WITH THE TERRIBLE OFFERS.

* Owings 747.  One of the few bright spots for the Diamondbacks in their disastrous start to 2014 has been the play of Chris Owings, the well-regarded prospect who beat out Didi Gregorius for the everyday shortstop job in Spring Training and is now hitting .313/.367/.398 over his first 91 PA.  Now, it's probably a sign of just how brutal Arizona's start has been that even this "bright spot" has only two RBIs, seven runs scored, no homers and his batting average is inflated by a .406 BABIP.  

This all being said, I still like Owings as a semi-decent fantasy prospect for the remainder of the year for a couple of reasons.  Owings' career minor league slash line of .291/.320/.441 (over 2079 PA) is a sign that his current production at the big-league level isn't too outlandish -- while his minor league slugging numbers are somewhat inflated by a couple of very hitter-friendly ballparks, we can also probably expect him to add a bit more pop in the majors simply by dint of the fact that he plays at Chase Field.  The OBP boost in the majors is a good sign for Owings, and though he has spent several games hitting from the eighth spot in Arizona's lineup, he has yet to receive an intentional walk.  Presuming he keeps getting regular PAs in front of the pitcher, Owings is bound to get a few cheapie walks to boost those on-base totals.  He also has four steals in as many opportunities, so a 20-steal season is a distinct possibility.

Finally, shortstop is a very thin position.  While I'm not expecting a ton from Owings, even a guy with an empty average and 20+ steals is still giving you something positive at short, even if the power numbers aren't there.   Owings is an excellent fantasy backup to hold onto throughout the season, but if he's your starter, I'd start sniffing around for a sell-high trade partner.

* Shelby Comin' Round The Mountain Throwing Balls.  There was a lot of bad buzz surrouding Shelby Miller when the Cardinals basically forgot he existed last October, but now that Miller has a 3.15 ERA through his first six starts of 2014, he's back to normal, right?

Well, if you love it when one of your starter issues more free passes than an amusement park during a thunderstorm, sure.  Miller has a league-leading 21 walks in 2014, giving him an ugly 5.5 BB/9 against only a 6.8 K/9.  If that wasn't enough, he's also among the league leaders in homers allowed.  Miller's ERA is being propped up by a .237 BABIP and the fact that, besides the homers, runners simply aren't scoring on him --- he owns a ridiculous 94.7% strand rate.  Taking all of this into consideration, it's no surprise that Miller has a 6.19 FIP, 4.89 xFIP and a 5.11 SIERA.

It's hard to figure what's exactly going wrong with a pitcher who, for virtually all of 2013, looked like one of the better young arms with baseball.  Fangraphs' Chris Cwik thinks Miller's troubles could stem from an increased use of his cutter, while Craig Edwards of the Viva El Birdos blog thinks Miller might be (for now) a one-pitch hurler who can't rely on anything besides his fastball.  Whatever the problem is, if Miller is in your fantasy rotation, make him someone else's problem and try to trade him before the advanced metric demons come calling.

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