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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: August 22-28

TPIITP is back after a week's vacation, as I was on a trip to lovely Chicago.  As you might expect, this trip involved a lot of baseball, and since this column is all about digging into the advanced metrics to find hidden gems, can I point out just how crazy underrated U.S. Cellular Field is as a ballpark?  You never hear anything particularly good about the Cell yet I had a very enjoyable time watching two games there last weekend.  Basically, U.S. Cellular's biggest crime seems to be that it shares a city with Wrigley Field, so it can't help but suffer by comparison.  Clearly, the Cell needs plants on the outfield walls in order to compete...I'd suggest a series of venus flytraps, if for no other reason than to see if a plant is really a better fielder than Dayan Viciedo.

Now that I'm back, let's dive into this week's look at the peripheral numbers...

* Till We Meet Again.  There's a lot to like about Chris Tillman, de facto ace of the "how are they doing this?!" Baltimore Orioles.  He's been one of the game's hottest pitchers in August (posting a 1.57 ERA over his last four starts) and while he hasn't quite made the step to ace like some thought he would during the offseason, he's been a thoroughly solid rotation arm.

If you're guessing this is the point of the paragraph where I do one of my patented "....so you should trade him" turns, you're right.  And I'm very predictable.  Tillman's 4.15 FIP, 4.32 xFIP, 4.39 SIERA and 6.23 K/9 are all more suited to a borderline rotation guy, not someone you necessarily want making key starts for you down the stretch in your fantasy league.  The only 5x5 category I'm confident Tillman can deliver in is wins, as the O's are beating everyone in their path right now.

Tillman is the perfect type of above-average starter that you'd ideally like to pair with another slightly above-average starter to package in a trade for an upper-tier ace, if you've got another manager in your league who's having rotation depth issues.  Find the guy in your league who, for instance, just lost Garrett Richards for the season and if he has another top-level arm, offer up Tillman and another pitcher to obtain some quality over quantity.

* Duff Light.  Speaking of pitchers on AL contenders who are outperforming their peripherals...geez, that's a long "speaking of"....here's Danny Duffy of the Royals.  Going into the season, the Royals desperately needed one of their young pitchers to step up and bolster James Shields, Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie, and the Duffman thrusted in the general direction of the problem by posting a 2.53 ERA through 128 IP (20 starts out of 26 appearances).

While the southpaw has been a reliable arm for K.C., there are some warning signs.  Not only does Duffy not strike many batters out (6.89 K/9), he's also issuing a lot of free passes (3.16 BB/9) and getting bailed out by a .231 BABIP.  His 5.7% home run rate has also helped limit the damage, yet Duffy is allowing a lot of fly balls --- his 47.5% fly ball rate this season is a career high.  Playing in Kauffman Stadium helps keep those flies in the park, yet overall, the advanced metrics aren't impressed by Duffy's performance.  He has one of the largest gaps between an ERA and an xFIP (4.48) or SIERA (4.32) of any pitcher in the league, not to mention a 3.79 FIP.

Beyond the peripherals, there's also the fact that Duffy might be a candidate to run out of gas.  He underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2012 and didn't return to the majors until August of the following year.  Duffy has already thrown a career-high 128 innings this season and, with the Royals in a pennant race, it's unlikely they're going to shut him down unless he's actually suffering from arm trouble.  Since Duffy hasn't gone longer than seven innings all year, it could be that Kansas City has intentionally been limiting his starts in order to keep him fresh, though I'd still be wary that Duffy could start to struggle with the more mileage he puts on his left arm.  Basically, if you have Duffy and Tillman in your rotation, package them up and see if you can trade for an ace!

* OshJosh B'GoshJosh Harrison has been a terrific Swiss Army knife of a player for both the Pirates and for fantasy owners in 2014.  The utilityman qualifies at 2B, 3B, SS and the outfield in most leagues, making him a one-man bench for owners looking to sit a regular starter in a tough matchup.  Not that Harrison hasn't been worthy of starting assignments himself --- his .359 wOBA ranks him 30th in all of baseball and he's hit a cool .304/.341/.484 with 10 homers, 38 RBI, 58 runs and 17 steals over 404 PA.  This was even enough for Harrison to earn a spot on the NL All-Star team.

Harrison has basically been an everyday player for Pittsburgh already as Clint Hurdle has sought to keep his bat in the lineup, but Harrison looks to be the Bucs' answer at third base for the rest of the season given Pedro Alvarez's defensive struggles.  The question is, should you also be sticking with Harrison down the stretch as you head toward your fantasy playoffs?

My answer is yes, as you might've guessed from my praise of Harrison over the previous two paragraphs.  What, you thought I was going to make a predictable turn again?  Pfft, NO.  Harrison's versatility and season-long production makes him a solid member of any fantasy lineup, though I do have a couple of caveats.  Since this is Harrison's big breakout year, it wouldn't be a total surprise if he suddenly came back to earth --- for instance, if his .338 BABIP dipped down towards the league average.  That BABIP might also explain why Harrison's contact rates are actually all career lows, though they're not too far out of whack with his career averages.

I wouldn't hit the decline button if someone offered me a more established star in exchange for Harrison, yet I also wouldn't be going out of my way to trade a player who has more than surpassed expectations this season.  The BABIP is a bit of a concern, but since Harrison is one of the quicker players in the game, that number could be a product of his ability to beat out ground balls.  Four positions, helps in all 5x5 categories...is there anything this guy can't do?  Can he help me with my taxes?




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