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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: September 12-18

For the first time since I started playing in multiple head-to-head leagues, I've finished outside the playoffs in BOTH of them.  Ouch.  Finishing ninth behind an eight-team playoff field is tough...but finishing eighth in a six-team playoff field is even tougher, especially when you consider that up until the last day, I thought I was completely safe.  You see, I'd forgotten that it was only six teams, not eight, in the playoffs, which is especially stupid since I'm the commissioner of this league.  Yeesh.  On the bright side, I'm only three points out of first place in a roto league, so there's still hope that I can take down a title and not make you all feel like you've wasted your time in taking fantasy advice from a man who can't even win a single league.

Some September pennant race pickups and avoids for your pleasure...

* Captain Eo.  A lot of people jumped off the Nathan Eovaldi bandwagon when his hot start gave way to some midseason struggles.  Just yesterday, he allowed four runs on eight hits and two walks over just four innings (and only one strikeout) in a loss to the Brewers, so right now, Eovaldi's stock couldn't be much lower.

Ergo, it's a great time to check him out as a last-minute streaming starter!  Eovaldi has had some rough outings in recent weeks, yet going by the advanced metrics, it's hard to figure out why this is the case.  Entering Thursday, Eovaldi had a 1-6 record and 5.37 ERA over his previous 10 starts, a number inflated by a .352 BABIP and 60.2% strand rate.  Were it not for this poor batted-ball luck that's leading to extra runners crossing the plate, Eovaldi would be having a pretty good stretch -- he'd posted a 3.17 FIP and 3.52 xFIP over that 10-start period, with a 7.21 K/9, 1.99 BB/9 and only a 6.9% home run rate.

Eovaldi has only a 6.56 K/9 for the season, and since he hasn't been able to miss many bats, he's been prone to a bit of ERA inflation thanks to balls falling in (.318 BABIP).  He won't help your strikeout total, he might not help your win total given how hit-and-miss the Marlins are as a team...and still, since the metrics clearly show he's pitching better than his ERA indicates, he could well deliver an excellent start the next time out.  If you have a rotation slot to fill in the final weeks, you could do worse than rolling the dice on Eovaldi to see if he can live to his peripherals.

* Shel Game.  You might look at Shelby Miller's second half and say, "aw man, the poor guy's been unlucky."  Miller has a 2.97 ERA in 57 2/3 IP since the Fall Classic, though he has only a 2-1 record to show for his work.  Just another reason why pitcher wins are a meaningless stat, right?  Exactly!  And don't get me started on RBIs!

Now that I've shored my up sabermetric cred, I'll note that a) pitcher wins ARE indeed meaningless other than in a fantasy context, and b) Miller has actually been lucky to even have two wins, given what the advanced metrics tell us about his second half.  The right-hander has a 4.53 FIP and 4.33 xFIP over those 57 2/3 innings, with a .194 BABIP and 82.6% strand rate keeping his real life ERA from ballooning.

Miller had a good April ERA-wise, though I warned you off him back in May due to some ugly peripherals that included control issues, allowing a lot of homers and a lack of strikeouts.  To paraphrase Meat Loaf, two outta three is still kind of bad -- Miller has since cut back on the walks (2.65 BB/9) in the second half, though the dingers (10.8% HR rate, higher than the league average) and strikeouts (5.77 K/9) are still problems.

Despite his current 15-inning scoreless streak, I'd be very careful with how I deploy Miller down the stretch.  He's a good pick for his next start against the Rockies on Saturday at Busch Stadium (Colorado has scored the fewest away runs of any team in baseball this year) but that, some strategic benching might be in order depending on how his next few opponents shake out.

* Panik Room.  For more than a season, second base stood out as a major problem area for the Giants, a glaring weakness in a lineup that otherwise looked pretty playoff-ready.  All of the hand-wringing about the keystone position went away, of course, after the Giants called up Joe Panik and the rookie proceeded to start cracking out the base hits in a poor man's version of how adding Marco Scutaro helped the 2012 Giants to a World Series.

It's way too early to be talking about yet another parade down Market Street, however.  Panik has undoubtedly been a great find for fantasy owners who took a flyer on the rather unheralded middle infielder, as he has a .316/.363/.383 slash line and 25 runs scored over his first 223 Major League plate appearances.  The problem with Panik is that he only has one homer, 16 RBI and zero steals, so his average is his only major contribution in a 5x5 sense, and even that could be a product of a .354 BABIP.

Panik qualifies in most leagues as both as second baseman and shortstop, and given the lack of offensive depth at either middle infield spot, even an empty average could help you over the last two weeks of the season.  I'd try to have a backup option in place in case Panik comes back to earth, since without that nice batting average, he isn't providing much value to your lineup.  I'm trying really hard to avoid making a lame "don't panik" joke, but it's just so tempting.




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