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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: August 1-7

We're officially into the dog days of summer, as I wore sandals yesterday.  Big step.  Let's look into the advanced metrics to see which players may fade in the summer heat and which players may heat up in the, um, heat.  Really should've consulted my thesaurus for that last sentence but still, onto the peripherals!

* Stone Cold Austin.  New Tigers hurler David Price was obviously the big wheel of the huge three-team blockbuster between Tampa Bay, Detroit and Seattle yesterday, yet Austin Jackson is a pretty notable name also on the move, now plying his trade as the new Mariners center fielder.  With Jackson's name in the headlines, let's look ahead to see how he'll fare hitting at Safeco Field...

...poorly!  The answer is poorly.  Sorry to be so anti-climactic.  It's a simple answer since virtually every hitter struggles at pitcher-friendly Safeco, and Jackson is likely no different.  On the plus side, bringing in the fences at Safeco prior to the 2013 season helped increase batting totals to right and center field at the ballpark, and while Jackson is a right-handed batter, his spray charts over the last three years indicate that he can line the ball all over the field, while most of his flies (though none of his homers) go to right field.  This means that Jackson should still be able to find the holes just as well in Seattle as he did in Detroit (career .357 BABIP) and keep up his production for the season.

So why is that a 'poorly'?  Because Jackson has been secretly pretty mediocre this season, batting .273/.332/.398 over 420 PA with four homers, 33 RBI, 52 runs and nine steals.  That works out to a barely above-average 101 wRC+ for the season, and that's despite his usual excellent BABIP showing at .334.  Jackson's RBI total will drop since he'll be hitting leadoff in Seattle after spending a large chunk of his season hitting further down in the Tigers batting order, and yet despite being the leadoff man, I'd still expect his run total to drop given that the Mariners lineup is significantly weaker than Detroit's.  So that leaves fantasy owners with an outfielder who suddenly isn't really delivering at any of the 5x5 categories and is absolutely not worth a spot in an everyday lineup.

I'd be shopping Jackson heavily if I had him on my roster.  He'll end up in the 20-steals range but that's not nearly enough for him to count as a "speed guy" who you can stick in your lineup and just suffer his low overall batting totals for stolen bases alone.  The bottom line is, going to Safeco Field won't hurt Jackson's 2014 fantasy production since there wasn't much there to begin with.  You should've been shopping him weeks or even months ago.

* Lack Attack.  Speaking of players who switched teams yesterday, what are the Cardinals getting from their new right-hander?  As it turns out, they're almost literally getting an average starting pitcher.  Here are John Lackey's stats this year as compared to the league average pitching totals, going into Thursday's action...

Lackey: 3.60 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 3.35 xFIP, 3.52 SIERA, 7.6 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 0.98 HR/9, .298 BABIP, 73.7% strand rate, 46.9% grounder rate

The League: 3.79 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 3.79 xFIP, 3.71 SIERA, 7.73 K/9, 2.96 BB/9, 0.88 HR/9, .296 BABIP, 73% strand rate, 45.2% grounder rate

First of all, this is definitely a sign that hitting stats are in decline since Lackey is having a pretty good season, yet it's basically just the norm across Major League Baseball.  But look at those numbers --- aside from almost one fewer walk per nine, Lackey's numbers are virtually identical.  It bodes well for the Cardinals that he's done this in a hitter's paradise like Fenway Park, so moving to the National League should (if anything) improve Lackey's numbers.

Lackey's 2014 stats are also very close to what he did in 2013, with the only real difference peripheral-wise being a drop in fly ball rate (35% to 31.6%) and he's using his fastball much more often and his slider much less often now than he did last season.  Suffice it to say, it seems like Lackey has found a consistent groove since he finally got healthy, and I'd expect that to keep going as he moves to his new team.

If you're in one of the 24% of Yahoo leagues where Lackey is still available, I'd pick him up as a very useful addition to the middle-to-back end of your fantasy rotation.  His 11-7 record is nothing to sneeze at already, and playing on a better team could get Lackey up into the range of 16 or 17 wins.  You could say he isn't *lacking* in any category, though that would such a lame pun that it's not even worth using as an ironically bad pun...uh, like I just did.  Rats, too late.

* Conman.  This entry on Conor Gillaspie is about six weeks overdue, as I was originally going to write about the White Sox third baseman's breakout season back in June.  This was right in the midst of an overall tough month for Gillaspie, a 'June swoon' if you will, and I figured that the regression was already taking place and my recommendation to avoid picking him up was just piling on the poor guy.  As if sensing my pity and getting offended by it, Gillaspie proceeded to post a .341/.426/.573 line with four homers, 11 RBI and 17 runs in 94 July PA going into Thursday afternoon's tilt with Detroit. 

So, thus chastened, I'm finally getting avoid to writing about Gillaspie as the calendar turns to August...and I'm still recommending you avoid trading for him or, if you already own him, to sell high.  Gillaspie does have something of a pedigree --- the Giants drafted him 37th overall in 2008 and he has a few solid minor league seasons to his name --- so his breakout isn't a total shock, and he could be going into his prime as he just turned 27 years old. 

This all said, I can't avoid that glaring .369 BABIP staring me right in the face.  Gillaspie's season-long .321/.375/.459 slash line is being heavily buoyed by that BABIP, and should that batted-ball luck turn, he can't fall back on much power; his four July homers were his only long balls of the season.  While 500 career PA (his total going into 2014) is admittedly a small sample size, Gillaspie's advanced metrics don't point to any particular reason why he's hitting so well in this season as opposed to his forgettable first few seasons in the bigs.  Gillaspie's walk, contact, strikeout and swing rates are all basically the same as his career averages, so I'm forced to conclude that BABIP is the only real answer to his great production.  Either that or else someone mistakenly called him 'Cole Gillespie' for the millionth time, causing him to snap and channel all his frustration into crushing baseballs.

By this point Gillespie....er, GILLASPIE might be having one of those magical BABIP-fueled Chris Johnson-esque kind of seasons, yet still, I'd bet on some regression before the season is out.  His big year is flying under the radar (he's owned in only 20% of Yahoo leagues) so this could be a case where you pick him up off the waiver for the sole purpose of using him as trade bait.  If you've been riding Gillaspie since he started heating up in May, congratulations, it's time to cash in your chips and move him for a more established third baseman.



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