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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: Aug. 29-Sept. 4

There's only a month left of regular season baseball and, for those in head-to-head fantasy leagues, your playoffs could be starting as soon as Monday.  With such little time left, it's probably not quite as relevant to note season-long advanced metrics so we're going to focus more directly on what players have done in August.  It's the "what have you done for me lately" edition of TPIITP as I'll give you a few tips on which players might be worth adding or dropping in your fantasy crunch time.

* Dru (Capitol) Hill.  Almost a month since he was traded from the Indians in a deadline deal, Asdrubal Cabrera seems like about as natural a fit in Washington D.C. as Frank Underwood.  Cabrera had a middling .246/.305/.386 line with nine homers and 40 RBI in 416 PA in the Cleve but since donning Nationals red, he's hitting .259/.351/.457 and already has three months and 11 RBI in only 94 PA.  It's a very small sample size, to be sure, yet the trade seems to have brought back memories of the 2011 All-Star version of Cabrera.

Looking at the stats, there's some reason to believe that this isn't just a hot streak.  In the month of August, Cabrera has a higher walk rate (12.8%) than a strikeout rate (11.7%), which is definitely eye-popping considering his career 0.45 BB/K rate.  It could be due to the fact that the Nats have used Cabrera as a No. 8 hitter about half the time, though he hasn't yet to receive any intentional walks.  Perhaps more importantly from a batting perspective, Cabrera has enjoyed his strong offensive month despite a .265 BABIP in August.  If that BABIP normalizes in September, Cabrera's fantasy owners could have themselves a big boost at either middle infield spot during the playoffs.

Despite how thin 2B and SS both are, Cabrera is still asdruable....er, available in 31% of Yahoo leagues.  He's definitely a nice addition if you're scrambling to replace an injured Troy Tulowitzki or Daniel Murphy.  I like Cabrera's chances of keeping it up through September and, incidentally, probably making himself some extra cash this offseason when he hits free agency.

* The Ack Attack Is Back.  Well, okay, "back" is a relative term since I'm not sure Dustin Ackley's .766 OPS over his 90-game rookie season in 2011 represents some kind of major high-water mark.  Still, the fact that Ackley is producing at all after 2.5 seasons of putrid offense is worth noting, and we might even be able to bust out the ol' Post-Hype Sleeper tag for this one.

After stumbling to a .602 OPS over the three first months of 2014, Ackley must've rubbed Niles Crane's hair for good luck or something since he's been on a tear ever since.  Ackley has five homers, 28 RBI, 25 runs, five steals and a .313/.349/.486 slash line over his last 192 PA --- and, obvious caveat alert, a .349 BABIP over that same stretch.  Despite the BABIP and a decrease in infield fly balls, however, Ackley's batted-ball metrics are largely the same between his cold and hot stretches this season.

While the BABIP is a red flag for me, I'd still be willing to have Ackley on my roster in September for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, he qualifies as both a second baseman and as an outfielder in most leagues, so that kind of versatility is nice for bench purposes. 

Secondly, we'll look past the advanced metrics to the more basic home/road splits and note that Ackley has a .773 away OPS as opposed to a .626 home OPS.  A hitter who struggles at Safeco Field, what a shocker!  Ackley's career home/road splits (.642 OPS in Seattle, .707 OPS elsewhere) aren't quite as sharply divided as his 2014 splits, so if Ackley really has turned a corner in his ability to leave his Safeco frustration behind him, the Mariners' remaining schedule bodes well --- 18 of 31 games are away dates.

* Smyl Like You Mean It.  It may well come to pass that the trio of Drew Smyly, Nick Franklin and Willie Adames will prove to be an insufficient return for David Price, but for now, the Rays can't be too broken up about their big deadline trade.  Smyly has filled ably filled Price's shoes by delivering an ace-level performance in August, posting a 1.50 ERA and a 3-1 record in five starts.  Smyly was already having a good year in Detroit and was a good back-of-the-rotation fantasy candidate, yet he's taken it to another level since becoming a Ray.

Going by the peripherals, however, Smyly is basically still on the same level as what he was doing as a Tiger, he's just been getting a bit more luck in Tampa.  Smyly's August numbers are boosted by a .178 BABIP and 85.6% strand rate, as his xFIP sits at 3.50 for the month. 

Now, as you might notice, I recommended keeping Ackley despite a hot streak that was boosted by some pretty favorable advanced metrics, and yet I'm now going to recommend seeing if you can trade Smyly due to favorable advanced metrics.  The difference is that Ackley still has very limited trade value due to, well, hitting like garbage for so long.  Smyly, however, was already a fourth or fifth starter in many fantasy rotation and had some trade value even before his superb August, so now a rival owner might be swayed to think that he'd be getting a young ace rather than recipient of some nice batted-ball luck.

This could be a moot point if your trade deadline passed weeks ago, though I've found that these deadlines vary wildly from league to league.  One of my leagues had a July 31st deadline to mimic the majors (too early, in my opinion), another league's deadline was August 15th, and I have one deadline coming up on August 31st.  If you still have a bit of pre-deadline time to work with, I'd suggest trying to package Smyly and a spare position player to see if you could nab a more proven top-tier upgrade either on the mound or in the field, depending on your needs.  If and when Smyly regresses in September, you can bet your rival fantasy manager won't have a smyle on his face.     




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