Proof Is In The Peripherals

The Proof Is In The Peripherals: Season Review

No awards show is more star-studded than the TPIITP Gala, which rewards outstanding achievements in the field of excellence.  Forget the Cy Young or the MVP, every ballplayer dreams of taking home one of these coveted prizes...uh, except the negative ones.  Okay, this entire thing is a sham.  Not quite as much of a sham as the Golden Globes, but still.

BABIP Buster Of The Year: Any number of sluggers have to be excused from this list since BABIP doesn't count homers, so why am I citing Brian Dozier, he of the 23 long balls this season?  It's because Dozier breaks the mold of the slow-moving slugger and is a force on the basepaths -- he racked up 21 steals in 2014 and ranked fourth amongst all qualified hitters under Fangraphs' Base Running (BsR) metric.

All that speed and shrewd baserunning, however, didn't help Dozier produce more than a .269 BABIP.  He still had a terrific season (23 homers, 71 RBI, 112 runs, 21 steals and a .242/.345/.416 slash line) but something even better could be on the horizon if Dozier gets a bit more batted-ball luck and improves his contact.  I'd also point the finger at the Home Run Derby for his midseason slump, as that contest is notorious for ruining players' swings for weeks at a time.  Dozier was already one of the top fantasy second baseman on the board for 2015, so it's scary to think what he could do if the BABIP fairy turns his way.

BABIP Squanderer Of The Year: We have our first multi-time TPIITP award winner, as Chris Johnson takes home this prize after winning the 'creation of the year' honor in 2013.  The difference is that last season, Johnson rode a high BABIP to a nice year at the plate, whereas in 2014, not even his .345 BABIP could make him even a league-average hitter.  Johnson hit .262/.292/.361 with 10 homers, 58 RBI, 43 runs scored and a measly 82 wRC+ over 611 PA, making him a lacking option both in the Braves lineup and on your fantasy roster.  It should be noted that Johnson now has a .357 BABIP for his career (2476 PA), which is the 15th-highest BABIP of any player in the history of baseball (!) with at least 2000 plate appearances.  In short, Johnson's career is going to be a unique gem for sabermetric analysts to study for years to come.

BABIP Creation Of The Year: This category forces me to eliminate several speedsters, since they help "create" their own high BABIP due to their ability to beat out grounders.  Superstars also generally have a high BABIP since they're just really good at hitting, so while Jose Abreu, Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton all finished top-eight in the BABIP standings, they're certainly not mirages. 

No, I'm going to single out the Marlins' Casey McGehee, who returned from a season in Japan to make himself fantasy-relevant by hitting .287/.355/.357 with four homers, 76 RBIs and 56 runs scored.  It was a nice little comeback that was underwritten by a .335 BABIP, and I'm not sure anyone should be too keen on picking up McGehee in next spring's fantasy draft.  Honorable (dishonorable?) mention goes to Joe Mauer, who I'm giving a pass due to an injury-riddled season.  Mauer did, however, post the highest strikeout rate of his career and his lowest wRC+ since 2005, so if it wasn't for his typically high BABIP (.342), you might hear a lot more about his decline rate.  I'm not keen on drafting Mauer in 2015 either, but I'd still feel better with him in a regular role than McGehee.

The Lucky Hurler Award: This award goes to the pitcher who had the lowest BABIP, highest strand rate and biggest negative gap between his ERA and his FIP, and so technically, it should go to Doug Fister, who ranked first in strand rate and ERA/FIP, plus the fifth-lowest BABIP.  The actual winner, however, is the Mariners' Chris Young, whose .238 BABIP (just percentage points behind Johnny Cueto for the lowest in baseball), 80.2% strand rate (sixth) and ERA/FIP gap (3.65 ERA, 5.02 FIP) earns him the nod since were it not for these peripherals, Young wouldn't have had any value whatsoever.

Fister's peripherals are to be expected, given that he's a low-strikeout guy and a groundball specialist (48.9% GBR in 2014).  Young, however, doesn't just not miss bats, he doesn't get grounders either --- his 22.3% grounder rate was by far the lowest of any qualifed pitcher in baseball.  His ERA predictor peripherals were off the charts (not just a 5.02 FIP, but a 5.19 xFIP and 5.24 SIERA) and you can just about entirely chalk Young's 2014 campaign up to pitching at Safeco Field.  Tip your cap to Young for a fine season and keep him away from your 2015 fantasy roster.

The Unlucky Hurler Award: This was a very tricky award to parse this season since we had several distinguished candidates.  Let's check out the top 10 finishers in each of the BABIP, strand rate and ERA/FIP categories, and feel free to sing along if you wish...

BABIP: Colby Lewis, Brandon McCarthy, Phil Hughes, Nathan Eovaldi, Travis Wood, Ervin Santana, Aaron Harang, Jose Quintana, Justin Verlander, Wade Miley

Strand rate: Clay Buchholz, Eovaldi, Dan Haren, Kyle Gibson, Wood, Matt Garza, Verlander, A.J. Burnett, Lewis, Quintana

ERA/FIP: Buchholz, Eovaldi, Hughes, Verlander, Lewis, Gibson, Wood, Drew Hutchison, Santana, Bartolo Colon

So right away we have four guys (Lewis, Eovaldi, Wood, Verlander) who finished in the top 10 in every category, and several more just missed; Buchholz, for instance, was 16th in BABIP with a .315 mark.  I hesitate to call pitchers like Hughes or Quintana "unlucky" since everyone agrees they had awesome seasons even without much peripheral luck, and this even extends to McCarthy, who revived his fortunes after being traded to the Yankees.  As for Buchholz, knee problems might've played a role in his lack of success, so he might've been hampered by a different kind of bad luck.

Let's focus on our unfantastic four, and of this bunch, Eovaldi had the lowest home run rate, lowest walk rate and highest grounder rate.  His 4.37 ERA was boosted by a .323 BABIP and 65.5% strand rate, as his ERA indicators (3.37 FIP, 3.78 xFIP, 3.91 SIERA) are more forgiving.  Out of a deep field, I give Eovaldi the slight nod, though if "internet photo scandals" were a stat category, Verlander would've had a strong case.

The Proof Is In The Peripherals: September 26-28

It's becoming somewhat of a TPIITP tradition to devote the final regular season column of the year to revisiting my first regular season column of the year, which was devoted to a single player or topic rather than delving into the usual peripheral-related fantasy recommendations.  Two years in a row...that counts as a tradition!  Last April, I looked at a few pitchers vying for the title of "the Bizarro Jeremy Hellickson" --- namely, the pitchers who weren't performing well due to some bad peripheral luck from 2011-13.  With the 2014 season now virtually in the books, two of the six pitchers I cited saw their fortunes turn around, while the other four continued to have Lady Luck toss her drink in their faces.

First, the non-factors.  Mike Pelfrey only made five starts due to injuries, Joe Blanton all but officially retired after being released by the A's in April*, and Jeff Francis was a fantasy non-factor in pitching 20 innings for the Reds, A's and Yankees.  Francis' small innings total makes it an unreliable sample size, yet even still, you could say he was unfortunate to post his 5.85 ERA given that his predictors (4.18 FIP, 3.59 xFIP, 3.37 SIERA) were all much more respectable and he was simply done in by a stunningly low 50.6% strand rate.

* = Blanton's release came roughly a week after I wrote "If Blanton gets called up for a spot start or two at the Coliseum sometime this year, there are worse streaming choices" with the logic that his advanced metrics were due for some kind of a correction.  Uh, um, ah, er....

That leaves three pitchers who threw legitimate innings in 2014.  Let's start with the best of the bunch, Rick Porcello.  The Porce was a force for the Tigers, posting a 3.31 ERA over 201 innings, and he still has one more start to go tonight.  Porcello posted a .296 BABIP and a 73% strand rate, both of which were rather modestly better than the league average yet streets ahead of what Porcello had averaged in those categories over the previous three seasons.  As a result, Porcello actually outperformed his ERA predictors (3.57 FIP, 3.68 xFIP, 3.89 SIERA) and ridding himself of the Bizarro Hellickson label once and for all.

Porcello seems like he's always going to be the type of pitcher who is a bit more valuable in real life than he is in fantasy ball due to his low strikeout totals (career 5.46 K/9) yet still, what fantasy rotation couldn't use a durable guy with a 3.31 ERA?  Perhaps the most promising sign for Porcello is that his 8.6% homer rate was well below his 11.1% career average, so if he's learned how to keep the ball in the park, that'll definitely help keep his ERA at the levels necessary to be of interest to roto owners.  I think we can officially pencil Porcello in as a mid-to-late-round option for your 2015 drafts.

Jordan Lyles, meanwhile, seems cut from the same cloth as Porcello -- not many strikeouts, heavy on the grounders, has to avoid the long ball to stay successful.  That last point is a particular hurdle for Lyles given that he pitches for the Rockies, and yet he was in large part able to deliver in 2014.  Limited to 21 starts due to a broken hand, Lyles delivered a 4.15 ERA, 6.38 K/9 and 51.6% grounder rate over 121 1/3 innings, and essentially pitched just as his advanced metrics (4.33 FIP, 4.04 xFIP, 4.15 SIERA) indicated.

It's always risky to bank on any Colorado starter for fantasy purposes, and it's not like Lyles is generating the big K numbers to give him some value if his ERA did blow up.  The best I can say about Lyles is that he did well to keep himself in the fantasy conversation despite wearing the purple pinstripes, and you could keep an eye on him as a very deep pick next season.  Not to put the Blanton jinx on Lyles here, but really, "there are worse streaming choices" than Lyles in a road start in 2015.

 So five pitchers in, and we've still yet to hit on someone who truly continued his bad luck...until we reach Ricky Nolasco.  The righty signed a four-year, $49MM free agent deal with the Twins last winter and then proceeded to have just about the worst full season of his big league career.  Nolasco's 5.47 ERA was belied by a .355 BABIP (the highest of any pitcher in baseball with at least 150 IP) and a downright decent 4.29 FIP, 3.99 xFIP and 4.07 SIERA.  Homers played a factor, as 11.5% home run rate was his highest in four seasons, yet since the best of his metrics didn't show anything too untoward, it all just comes down to that ungainly BABIP. 

In a just world, we'd be mentioning Nolasco as a good borderline draft option like Lyles or, since he's always been able to eat innings, maybe even on Porcello's level.  As it is, you'll have to wait and see if 2014 was just simply bad luck for Nolasco or if his fantasy relevance is indeed coming to an end.  The bright side of his poor season (well, despite that big contract) is that Nolasco gets to wear the Bizarro Hellickson crown, and I'm sure he's super-proud of that distinction.  Who needs a Cy Young when you can achieve a metaphorical honor in a fantasy baseball column?  Should I actually have a crown designed and then mail it to Nolasco so he can wear it around like the Wiz?

The Proof Is In The Peripherals: September 19-25

In the words of Billie Joe Armstrong, wake me up when September ends.  I'm in the worst part of the year for any fantasy owner  -- eliminated from head-to-head league playoffs and not close to first place in my 5x5 leagues.  Now I'm just playing out the string, putting in time, rotating my daily lineups in a futile hope that it'll be nothing but five-hit games and no-hitters for my players over an entire 10-day span and I'll somehow roar into first place Rocktober-style.

If you have somewhat more realistic dreams of a fantasy championship, try some of these roster adds or drops on for size...

* Ells Bells.  Players with Jacoby Ellsbury's speed simply don't post a .143 BABIP for weeks at a time, yet that's what the Yankee outfielder has laid on his fantasy owners' doorstep in the month of September (heading into Thursday's play) like a dog that happily brings home a dead squirrel.   As you might expect, that tiny BABIP has led Ellsbury to post an ugly .141/.164/.250 line with one homer, five runs, three RBI and two steals over 67 September plate appearances, putting a sour end to an otherwise fine first season in New York.

There seems little doubt that the sprained ankle Ellsbury suffered in late August is still bothering him, and had the Yankees not been playing for their postseason lives, I've gotta believe Ellsbury would've gone to the DL to fully recover.  Instead he's trying to tough it out, and without power nor the ability to beat out grounders, he's only hurting both the Yankees' lineup and your fantasy roster.  If you've got Ellsbury on your roster for a head-to-head league final this week, get rid of him entirely --- his ankle isn't getting any better playing virtually every day, so there's little chance he suddenly returns to form. 

* Extranori-ary.  I threw Nori Aoki under the advanced metric bus back in June and it was the right move at the time, as he continued to struggle (especially in terms of fantasy value) until the end of August.  Then, suddenly, he exploded.  He was already having a nice September before his absurd 11-for-13 stretch over his last three games; in classic powerless Aoki fashion, nine of those hits were singles and the other two were doubles, but still, am I seriously nitpicking 11-for-13?  Come on, Mark!

Now hitting a cool .423/.492/.519 in 59 September PA, Aoki has suddenly put himself very much in the conversation as a last-minute secret weapon for your fantasy pennant race.  If you have an outfielder who, say, plays for the Yankees and is nursing a bum ankle, now might be the time to cut this hypothetical person and pick up Aoki.  He's not giving you much aside from average (zero homers, six RBI, four runs) but at this time of year, you have to ride the hot hand. 

Aoki's September BABIP is a whopping .468, and while that's clearly not going to last, he's also been walking (10.2% BB rate) more often than he's been striking out (8.5% K rate) this month.  His early-season swoon was partly related to the fact that Aoki was uncharacteristically swinging and missing more than he was taking free passes, but he's been getting back in form since --- his walk rate has topped his strikeout rate in every month since May.  A productive Aoki is a valuable fantasy asset, and if you're willing to risk trusting the Royals' hot-or-cold offense for a couple of weeks, Aoki is a decent bet to help your average and run totals.

* Peave Of Destruction.  The Giants traded for Jake Peavy to replace Matt Cain in their rotation, but instead Peavy seems to literally be becoming Cain.  I dunno if this is a Cage/Travolta Face/Off situation or what, but Peavy has taken Cain's mantle as the guy who puts up ace-level numbers while outperforming rather middling advanced metrics.  In 10 starts as a Giant, Peavy has a 2.16 ERA, despite a 6.89 K/9 that explains much higher ERA predictors like a 3.71 SIERA and 3.76 xFIP.  He's not getting any major BABIP or strand rate help, and his batted-ball rates are about the same as they were for his 2014 Boston starts, so I can't figure out...

...oh, wait a second.  I have some breaking news.  Turns out it's a lot easier for a pitcher to keep baseballs inside AT&T Park than it is at Fenway, as Peavy has a 2.7% home run rate with the Giants, compared to his 12.2% homer rate with the Red Sox.  While this could change depending on clinching situations or not, Peavy's final two regular season starts will be at Dodger Stadium (another pitcher-friendly locale) and then at home against the Padres, a gimme if there ever was one.  Peavy is somewhat surprisingly still available in 35% of Yahoo fantasy leagues, so by this point, why fight the Cain wave?  Pick up Peavy and enjoy the benefits.

* Middle Of Nowhere.  I end this week's column with not really a warning about Will Middlebrooks, since I imagine any fantasy manager with a brain jumped ship on him ages ago.  I just wanted to point out Middlebrooks' incredible wRC+ for the month of September --- it's 2.  That's right, two.  2.0.  As in, one less than three, one more than one.  That is what Middlebrooks produced over his first 51 September PA.  Sadly, he got two hits on Thursday night, so our fun can't continue.  He's probably all the way up in the double digit wRC+ by now, laughing it up.

You wonder how much patience the Red Sox have left for Middlebrooks given that they're still waiting for him just to stay healthy, let alone have a breakout season.  If Boston does cut bait, I'd keep an eye on Middlebrooks' next destination to see if he has any post-hype prospect sleeper potential.  He's absolutely the proverbial 25th player you draft on your 25-player roster next spring, yet maybe a change of scenery is all that's needed to turn the lightbulb on for this guy.  In the meantime....a 2 RC+!  Great scott!  I mean, like, I could probably have do that in 51 Major League plate appearances, and I was once cut from a house league baseball team.

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.

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.

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, 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.     

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 " 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"'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 there anything this guy can't do?  Can he help me with my taxes?

The Proof Is In The Peripherals: August 8-14

Big news from my own fantasy team's front this week --- I traded Mike Trout.  It was a nervy deal for obvious reasons, as while I pulled back Doug Fister, Ben Zobrist and Jayson Werth in the 3-for-1 swap, you always hate giving up the best player in fantasy (and, let's face it, real) baseball.  My rotation and middle infield needed help, however, and between this trade and my being the lucky duck to snag Javier Baez on the waiver wire, my middle infield situation went from Jed Lowrie, Enrique Hernandez and DJ LeMahieu to Lowrie, Baez and the Zobocop.  Besides, Trout was on the cover of Sports Illustrated a few months ago, so the cover curse should be kicking in any minute now.

Here are this week's players whose production doesn't quite pass the smell test in terms of their peripheral numbers...

* Fist Of Fury.  So naturally I checked out the advanced metrics on my new purchases before making my big Trout trade, and generally liked what I saw.  Zobrist is having a nice year overall and while he hasn't returned to his prime power levels, he's hitting the ball much better than last year.  Werth is doing basically what I expected of him, as his inexplicable 2013 power surge is settling back down to his usual levels but he's still producing good offensive numbers overall.

Fister was the worry, and it's a sign of how poor my staff otherwise was that I'm semi-rolling the dice on this one.  On paper, Fister has lived up to preseason expectations that he would thrive pitching in Washington, as he's delivered a 2.49 ERA and 11-3 record over his 16 starts.  Peripheral-wise, the Fist may be punching above his weight class.  His 3.73 FIP, 3.69 xFIP and 3.77 SIERA hint that his ERA could be due for a boost, he isn't recording many strikeouts (5.68 K/9) and he's being aided by a .270 BABIP and an 83.5% strand rate.

Now the strikeouts were expected, since Fister has always been a ground-ball pitcher (49.3% GBR, 48.9% this season).  What raised my eyebrows, however, was that contact rates on both pitches inside and outside the strike zone are markedly up from his rates in 2012-13.  His 33.6% fly ball rate is also well above his FBR 25.4% FBR from 2012-13 and while that 48.9% grounder rate is still very good, it's also a drop from 54.3% last season.  Nationals Park has been one of the league's tougher stadiums for home runs over the last seasons, and this might be what's helping keep Fister's fly balls from turning into big flies.

That said, it's not like he'll be going to a new home stadium anytime soon, and Marlins Park and Citi Field are also pretty forgiving stadia for a flyball-prone NL East starter.  I'm holding my breath and hoping that Fister can overcome his shaky advanced metrics, though if you don't feel like taking the plunge and trading for him, I wouldn't blame you (especially not if it's part of a package for Trout.)

* Indigestion Due To OverEaton Some good news and bad news for Adam Eaton.  The bad news is that when I run this post through the Baseball Reference player name linker, his name is still automatically linked to former Padres righty Adam Eaton, who hasn't pitched since 2009.  I propose that we refer to these players (who aren't related) using old-timey British vocabulary style in order to tell them apart, so the ex-Padre can be Adam Eaton the Elder and the White Sox outfielder can be Adam Eaton the Younger. 

Anyway, onto the good news for Eaton the Younger, as he's finally received some playing time this season to count as a qualified player.  This is no small feat given how he's been plagued by injuries both major and minor over the last two seasons; in 2014 alone he's been dealing with a bad hamstring, sore legs, a bad wrist and a jammed middle finger.  And man, maybe I shouldn't even be bothering writing this entry given that Eaton hurt his back after running into the outfield fence and missed yesterday's game because of his latest knock.  Still, this all being said, Eaton is now a qualified player, so I can officially warn you away from having him on your roster due to his massive BABIP.

That's a .367 BABIP, to be precise, tied for third-highest in the majors among (hey!) qualified players.  Eaton has quietly been one of the better hitters in baseball over the last couple of months, hitting a cool .355/.425/.477 with 27 runs scored and seven steals over 222 PA.  His power numbers are barely worth mentioning (zero homers and 17 RBI) over that stretch yet Eaton's fantasy value is derived from how he can help you in the other three of the offensive categories in 5x5 leagues.

The BABIP, however, casts a shadow over that batting average.  Eaton is also only 12-for-20 in steals all season, so what should be his calling-card statistic has been mostly held in check, likely due to his leg problems.  He might still be quick enough to beat out a few grounders and thus keep that BABIP above the average, yet some regression is inevitable, and with no power, a sure-to-drop average and only decent run and steals potential, you're suddenly looking at a player who is hurting rather than helping in the majority of your regular categories.  That's not worth a starting outfield spot unless you're really hard-up for steals or average and simply want to ride Eaton until his hot streak finally winds down.  If you know of such a hard-up owner in your league and you own Eaton, I'd try to sell high now and reap the benefits.

* If The Shoe Fits... Matt Shoemaker has already been a nice find for fantasy managers who took a chance on the 27-year-old righty, as constant injuries to the Angels' regular starting five have gotten Shoemaker a regular turn in the Los Anaheim rotation.  He's pitched well this season and if he's still available in your league, I suggest you grab him quickly since the Shoe might start Making your roster feel very....uh, footloose?  This analogy may have gotten away from me a bit.  ("No, keep going!" -- Rex Ryan)

If anything, Shoemaker could be primed for even better results in the weeks ahead.  Shoemaker's 4.02 ERA is all right, but the advanced metrics say it should be much lower given his high strikeout rate (8.55 K/9), low walk rate (1.75 BB/9), high BABIP (.321) and slightly-inflated 73% strand rate.  If the 4.02 ERA doesn't float your boat, how does a 3.24 xFIP or 3.22 SIERA sound? 

The one giant caveat for Shoemaker is that he looooooves pitching in Angel Stadium as evidenced by his 6.16 road ERA (over 30 2/3 IP) and his 2.86 home ERA (over 56 2/3 IP).  It's a red flag, true, but maybe it's just more of an orange flag given that he's pitched as home twice as much and his road ERA is inflated by one brutal eight ER/four innings outing on June 27 in Kansas City.

Am I saying it's worth picking up Shoemaker and ignoring those home/road splits?  Shoe betcha!  (I'll stop.)  He's a nice pickup if you're looking for some rotation help and while I'd keep him limited to home starts for now, one good road outing would be enough for me to slot him into my fantasy rotation.

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, 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.

The Proof Is In The Peripherals: July 25-31

The original Abbott & Costello "Who's On First" routine is an absolute masterpiece of comic confusion and cannot possibly be duplicated.  That said, my recent attempt at explaining the WAR metric to my 66-year-old dad was at least in the ballpark.  While my dad didn't quite grasp the statistical process that goes into calculating WAR, he seemed pretty on board until I fired up the all-time fWAR leaderboard and revealed that Roberto Clemente, his favorite player ever, had "only" the 34th-best fWAR ever.  He could naturally handle Willie Mays or Henry Aaron being ranked ahead of Clemente....but Chipper Jones, Wade Boggs and A-Rod or basically anyone who played after 1980?  Nope, that soured him on the metric altogether. 

Let's delve into the advanced metrics to see which fantasy players are or aren't worth your time as some leagues approach their own trade deadlines...

* EdLose.  A pitcher with an 8.09 K/9 and a 3.94 ERA would fit pretty nicely into most fantasy rotations, and in a just world, Edwin Jackson would be owned in way more than only three percent of Yahoo leagues.  Unfortunately for Jackson, I'm starting to think he celebrated signing his big Cubs contract in the 2012-13 offseason by joining a local theatre production of The Scottish Tragedy and saying the lead character's name on an hourly basis.  (Note: I don't believe the Cubs' "billy goat curse" yet I totally believe the Scottish curse.  My English degree strikes again!)

For the second straight year, Jackson's peripherals are greatly outperforming his actual ERA.  The Chicago righty owns a 4.29 FIP and 3.94 xFIP following last night's outing against the Padres, yet he has a whopping 5.68 ERA to show for it on the ledger.  He's plagued by a .345 BABIP and a 64.6% strand rate, though some of Jackson's problems are also due to a 3.89 BB/9 and a ground ball rate that's down almost 10 percent from 2013.  Hitters are also scorching the ball against Jackson, as his 26.3% line drive rate is the highest of any qualified starter.

I'm guessing there isn't any rush to add Jackson in your league, yet just in case you noticed his ERA/xFIP discrepancy and thought he was just unlucky and due for a correction, don't outsmart yourself.  Jackson should be performing better than he is, yet he has enough red flags in his performance that even if his ERA and xFIP lined up, he'd still be someone I'd hesitate to use as anything more than a streaming starter.  This said, I'll change my tune if the Cubs employ a "two negatives make a positive" strategy and stage a production of Macbeth at Wrigley Field to shatter all the curses at once.

* The Rich Gets Richards.  Speaking of line drive rate, looking at the league-wide table reveals a correlation between high line drive rates and high BABIPs, which isn't a surprise.  There's a tendency to think of a high BABIP as meaning that a pitcher is just getting a lot of dribblers get through the infield, yet naturally a hard-hit ball is going to have a better chance of finding a gap in the defense than a weakly-hit ball.  The trick, naturally, is to somehow make those liners to be basically the only types of balls that are falling for hits against you, which Garrett Richards has done during his breakout season.

Richards' 21.8% line drive rate ranks him 24th among all qualified starters, yet thanks to a .263 BABIP, his tendency to allow hard-hit balls hasn't stopped him from posting a 2.62 ERA.  He can thank a good Angels defense and some plain ol' good luck for that, yet Richards has helped himself by drastically cutting down on his homers (4% homer rate in 2014, down from a 9.3% career average) and posting a 9.11 K/9 that dwarfs his previous career-best 6.27 K/9.

While the nice BABIP and the 76.3% strand rate both indicate some overachievment, Richards' advanced metrics (2.65 FIP, 3.21 xFIP) still reveal that he's having a heck of a season.  I think it's safe to say at this point that he's the real deal for fantasy purposes, and the only red flag I could see is if he starts to tire as he racks up the innings.  The Angels apparently aren't planning to rest him down the stretch, so if you're more worried than they are about Richards holding up through September, this might be a good time to sell high.

Fun fact: I had a seeming first base overload of Joey Votto, Mark Teixeira and Adam LaRoche a couple of months ago in one of my leagues, and I was shopping any of them for a quality starting pitcher.  Another manager offered me Richards straight up for LaRoche and I pooh-poohed the offer, figuring that Richards was something of a flash in the pan.  Instead I took a seemingly more stable pitcher and traded LaRoche for....Andrew Cashner.  Yikes.  Let this be a reminder to not take my fantasy advice as a rock-solid guarantee, folks.   Even Babe Ruth struck out once in a while.  Yes, that's right, I regard myself as the fantasy writer equivalent of Babe Ruth, though it's mostly based on hot dog consumption.

* BOOM!  Rios-ted!  I'll be the first to admit that there can sometimes be a disconnect between fantasy stats and real-life peripherals, simply because four of the basic 5x5 categories are pure counting stats.  Alex Rios' 2014 season is a nice example of this disconnect.  Rios is drastically short on power (four homers and 42 RBI) this year but otherwise, his 16 steals, 41 runs and .299 average over 397 PA makes for a pretty decent year, right?  He's even ranked as the 98th-best fantasy player in the game, according to Yahoo.

In actual fact, there are way more than only 97 guys more valuable than Alex Rios in 2014.  In Fangraphs' eyes, he's barely better than average with a 103 wRC+ and 0.8 fWAR, and while that fWAR score factors in a subpar defensive performance, keep in mind that Rios' offense has been boosted by a healthy .360 BABIP.  Were it not for this huge slice of batted-ball luck, Rios could be seen as a player on the decline in his age-33 season rather than a guy frequently mentioned as a midseason trade candidate.

Rios is no stranger to wild swings in performance, of course.  From 2007 to 2012, Rios posted these full-season fWAR totals: 5.0, 5.4, 0, 3.4, -1.1, 4.3.  If you had Rios in a keeper league throughout that stretch, he must've tested your last nerve.  Last season saw Rios earn 3.1 fWAR, though his wRC+ was only 104 as his value was boosted by a somewhat incredible 42 stolen bases; players usually don't post their best base-stealing numbers when they're 32.  Rios hasn't been as dangerous on the basepaths this year, however, as while he has 16 steals, he's also been thrown out nine times.

In short, it's a confusing time to be an Alex Rios owner.  Should you overlook the power outage and sell while the getting is good, or should you hang onto a player who (as noted) isn't really hurting you that badly from an overall fantasy perspective?  You obviously want more power from a starting outfielder yet Rios is still scoring some runs and he'll end up in the 25-steal range. 

My RA colleague Andrew Gephardt cited Rios as a strong sell-high candidate under the logic that his offensive numbers could really crater if the Rangers trade him to a team in a less hitter-friendly ballpark.  Given that Rios' home/road splits are pretty even, I'd argue that a real-life trade could actually be great for Rios' fantasy value --- a change of scenery to a contending team might heat up his bat, not to mention the fact that he'd be escaping the Murphy's Law fog that seems to have devoured the Rangers' season.  I'd hang onto Rios past the July 31st trade deadline but we get deeper into the August waiver period and no trade appears to be on the horizon, that's when I'd try to move him in a fantasy deal.  Hopefully that BABIP can stay sky-high for a few more weeks to keep him attractive to a fellow manager.

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