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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: September 5-11

As we continue to reduce our sample sizes due to the ever-decreasing amount of time left in the fantasy baseball season, let's look at whose advanced metrics still stand out as unusual...

* Going Gonzo.  One of my favorite statistical quirks when looking at a small sample size is the pitcher with a perfect 100% strand rate.  This doesn't mean they're not allowing any runs (i.e. a solo homer or something) but it means they're enjoying a whole lotta luck when pitching from the stretch, and sure enough, such inflated strand rates clearly lead to inflated peripherals across the board.

Over the last 30 days, five pitchers have a strand rate of 90% or better: Jarred Cosart (92.9%), Felix Hernandez (93.8%), Matt Shoemaker (95%) and both Miguel Gonzalez and Jason Hammel have the perfect 100%.  I already discussed Shoemaker a few weeks ago, and King Felix's fantasy credentials speak for themselves, but are any of the other three worth a late-season pickup?

Cosart has pitched brilliantly since coming over to the Marlins, yet his 0.65 ERA over the last 30 days is belied by a 2.66 FIP, 3.79 xFIP, only a 4.55 K/9 and zero homers.  Even accounting for the fact that Cosart has been very good at avoiding the long ball over his short big league career, the lack of home runs stands out as a stat that is almost sure to rise before the season's end.  As for Hammel, while he's turned things around since his very rough start to his Oakland career, his last 30 days reveals a 2.40 ERA but scary peripherals like a 5.49 FIP and 4.44 xFIP.  Both of these change-of-scenery pitchers don't need to be on your roster.

That brings us to Gonzalez, whose hot streak has lasted well beyond just the last month.  Over his last 63 innings, Gonzalez has an even 2.00 ERA, which has brought his overall season ERA down to 3.38.  The knock on Gonzalez from a fantasy perspective is that he's been playing with fire peripheral-wise all season long --- 4.93 FIP, 4.48 xFIP, 4.36 SIERA, a 6.42 K/9 and a big strand rate (84.2%) and generous BABIP (.273).  With so little coming in the strikeout department, Gonzalez's fantasy owners are always left holding their breath to see if his advanced metric can hold out for another start.

That's over the full season, however, and it seems like Gonzalez has really turned a corner since July.  I kind of like him as a an under-the-radar rotation option for September, in part also because he'll have a good shot at earning wins given the Orioles' terrific lineup.  I'll go out on a limb and predict he'll allow at least ONE baserunner to score during September, but otherwise, give Gonzo a go.

* Captain Puig.  When you're in a tight pennant race or in your league playoffs, one of the toughest decisions you face is whether or not to bench a star player who's in the midst of a big slump.  On the other hand, you don't want some stiff dragging down your lineup...but then again, this star's performance earlier in the year was a big reason you're battling for your league title in the first place.

Case in point, Yasiel Puig.  He was putting up MVP numbers until about a month ago, and over his last 111 PA he has a measly .192/.279/.222 slash line with 11 runs, four RBI, one steal and zero homers.  Yeah, it's like Puig was doing nothing but facing Jarred Cosart for the last month.  Puig's .253 BABIP over that stretch has certainly played a role, though his near-total power outage is also of major concern.  He was similarly powerless during a June slump, and while his .188 ISO for the season is only a bit less than the .215 ISO he posted during his phenomenal breakout in 2013, I'm pretty sure Puig owners expected more than just 13 homers this year.  (Consider that he had 19 in only 432 PA in 2013.)

Consider this: even with his last month, Puig's BABIP is still .356 for the season.  It could be that his slump isn't necessarily a slump but simply a big course correction.  Also, it's possible Puig could simply be tiring from the rigors of his first full Major League season.  As you can tell from those weak recent numbers, Puig isn't contributing much 5x5-wise when he's slumping (besides scoring runs...he's walking at the same rate as his season average).  I'd certainly consider sitting him against left-handers, as the right-handed hitting Puig has actually been a reverse splits guy this season, as shown by his .717 OPS against southpaws and a .906 OPS against righties. 

Though Puig has less than two full seasons under his belt, he's been awesome enough when in top form that you really have to get Puig back in the lineup at the first hint that his cold spell is over.  If he homers or even has two straight games with multiple hits, I'd start him again and keep him starting for the rest of the season.  Until then, however, you should bite the bullet and explore your OF bench candidates.  On the bright side, if your backup catches fire and leads you to victory, you can both win your league AND brag about being a genius manager for having the guts to bench Puig.  You can just omit that you read about the strategy in ths column....or wait, that won't work.  This column is read far and wide in fantasy leagues the world over.

* Added Val-ue.  Earlier this season, I dropped Carlos Beltran in order to pick up Luis Valbuena.  Talk about a move I never thought I'd make in fantasy baseball.  Yet as so often happens in this crazy game, a journeyman can suddenly emerge as a one-year wonder. 

Now, Valbuena is only 28, so it's not like his 2014 couldn't be a hint at a late breakout.  Still, with a career .654 OPS through his first 1500 career PA, Valbuena's .248/.328/. 448 slash line this season was quite the surprise.  He's hit new career highs in homers (16), RBI (48), runs (55) and holdonaminute, 16 homers?!   That's not a typo.  If anything, Valbuena has been becoming more of a power-centric player as the season has gone on; six of his homers have come over his last 110 PA, and he had a .460 SLG to go along with a .240 BA and .303 OBP in that stretch.

Ironically, even though the Cubs apparently won't be calling Kris Bryant up this September, they'll still have a power-hitting third baseman in the lineup.  Bryant's extended stint in the minors is what makes me bullish on Valbuena as a fantasy option for the rest of the year, as he apparently won't be losing his job anytime soon.  Valbuena is owned in only 23% of Yahoo fantasy leagues and is eligible at both second and third base, making him an intriguing piece for your playoff infield if someone else is underachieving.  If you need to create roster space, well, you might want to finally give up on Carlos Beltran.

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