Proof Is In The Peripherals


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?



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 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.



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.



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: July 18-24

Let's look into the advanced metrics to see who you should or shouldn't have on your fantasy roster in the second half of the season...

* ProTextion.  Still available in 33% of Yahoo fantasy leagues, Mark Teixeira is a terrific pickup if you're looking for some power down the stretch.  My wrist started to ache while typing that last sentence since merely writing about Teixeira will cause wrist injuries by osmosis. Yet, while the veteran is still prone to missing a game or two with one injury setback or another, when Teixeira is on the field, he's still very productive.

Teixeira has a .241/.341/.464 line, 17 homers, 48 RBI and 39 runs scored through 305 PA this season.  In comparison to the average Mark Teixeira season of recent years (he slashed .252/.347/.484 from 2010-12), that's not a big dropoff, and the 2014 campaign even shares some vintage Teixeira traits like a low BABIP (.242) and a lotta pop (.222 ISO, 18th-highest in baseball).  He's both seeing and swinging at fewer pitches within the strike zone as compared to his career averages, though none of his other metrics are drastically out of whack with what we've come to expect from Teixeira.  Teixpect?

Presumably you've had a good first baseman on your roster for much of the year and aren't looking at Teixeira to take on a starting position...or hey, maybe you are if you're a Joey Votto owner or something.  Given Teixeira's health issues, I'd also be hesitant to hand him an everyday job; in fact, I platoon Teixeira with TPIITP favorite Lucas Duda in one of my leagues.  For bench depth or a utility role, Teixeira is a terrific option, particularly if he's playing at Yankee Stadium (his home OPS is .074 higher than his road OPS).  I'm knocking on wood as I'm saying this, but if Teixeira stays healthy, there's no reason why he can't be the same power threat he's been for over a decade.

* X Marks The Bench.  On the morning of June 8, Xander Bogaerts owners could wake up feeling pretty good about their move to draft the young shortstop/third baseman.  After a 2-for-5 performance against Detroit the previous night, Bogaerts was hitting a cool .299/.387/.452 and looking all the world like the young star the Red Sox (and fantasy managers) were hoping to get in his first full season in the bigs.

Since then, however, it's been a different story.  I'm going to issue a parental advisory for this next set of statistics since parents shouldn't be exposing young children to numbers like this.  Between June 8 and July 13, a period of 114 plate appearances, Bogaerts has been hitting .103/.140/.131 with one homer and five RBI.  I mean...wow.  I'm not saying I'd do better than that over a similar timespan (I'd swing and miss every time and start crying about 60 PA in) but the very fact that I'm even borderline speculating that my overweight carcass could outperform a Major League ballplayer indicates just how poorly Bogaerts has been playing.

This is one of those slumps that forces a fantasy manager to reconsider having a guy on his roster, no matter who it is.  Sure, this slump is some ways a case of course-correction (Bogaerts enjoyed a .384 BABIP prior to June 8, and a .132 BABIP after, averaging out to a .302 BABIP for his full season) or simply an extreme case of a young player adjusting to the league after they've had a chance to get some video on him.  That said, man alive, having a player throw up a .271 OPS on your roster for over a full month is a recipe for fantasy disaster.

Should you cut Xander Bogaerts?  It's a close call for me, but I'm leaning towards no.  On the one hand, while he's a heralded prospect, we have no evidence that he'll be able to cut it in the Show so there's no evidence that he'll necessarily be able to come out of his slide.  On the other hand, Bogaerts does have dual-position eligibility so he can help your roster as a utility bench guy if nothing else.  He's also (somewhat surprisingly) played the third-most games and received the third-most PA of anyone on the 2014 Red Sox, so fatigue could be a factor as well.  This four-day All-Star break could be just what Bogaerts needs to recharge the batteries.

If you're in a no-bench league, you'll have to cut him simply because you can't afford to waste any more at-bats.  If you're in a league with a bench, for the love of Zod, get Bogaerts out of your starting lineup ASAP but hang onto him for at least a few more weeks to see if he can shake off the cobwebs.  If that doesn't work, the Sox should consider hiring former Tigers first baseman Dave Bergman as a hitting coach -- everyone knows Bogey and Bergman have great chemistry.  #NailedIt  #MarkHasAFilmDegree

* What Will Phil Do Next?  Felix Hernandez is a very solid guess as the starting pitcher with the most fWAR in baseball this season.  Jon Lester is a bit more surprising as the next name on the fWAR list, though the Boston southpaw is having a monster year.  As for who's third on the list, surely your mind will lean towards Adam Wainwright, Yu Darvish, Clayton Kershaw or any of the game's star-studded aces, yet the actual answer is.....Phil Hughes.  Yep, that Phil Hughes.  Only King Felix and, uh, Prince Jon have topped the 3.7 fWAR Hughes has generated over his 121 2/3 innings of work for the Twins this season.

The fantasy buzz around Hughes going into the season was that the extreme fly ball pitcher would perform much better at spacious Target Field than he did at Yankee Stadium, and sure enough, he's rebounded very nicely from his dreadful 2013 season.  Hughes has a 3.92 ERA through 19 starts, a 10-5 record, a 7.99 K/9 and (dig this) a 9.82 K/BB rate.  That K/BB number is so gorgeous that it may be the direct opposite of the Bogaerts slump slash line; parents, your kids can start reading the column again!  Hughes only has an 0.8 BB/9, easily the best of his career and the best of anyone in the bigs this year except for Hisashi Iwakuma, who's also the only one topping Hughes in the K/BB category.

Is it simply the change of scenery at work here?  It could be giving Hughes a mental boost to escape the short right field porch in the Bronx, yet interestingly, Hughes actually has a 5.37 ERA in nine home starts this year, as opposed to a 2.78 ERA in 10 road outings.  It's not Target Field helping him, it's just that Hughes' greatly improved control is helping limit his damage.  Hughes' 57% swing rate is way above his 49.3% career average, yet his contact rates are only a bit above career norms -- batters may be swinging more, but they're not necessarily doing much with those swings.

Of course, those swings are doing some damage.  Hughes' 3.92 ERA is inflated by a .341 BABIP, as the righty is posting a 2.62 FIP, 3.22 xFIP and 3.25 SIERA.  He's been particularly unlucky over his last six starts -- a 2.20 FIP over that stretch but also a .402 BABIP and a 5.49 ERA.  The good news for you is that this recent cold spell might've been the reason why Hughes is owned in only 55% of Yahoo leagues, so you can snap him up and reap the benefits once his luck starts to turn.

* The Captain.  I forget if they mentioned it during Tuesday's All-Star Game broadcast, but 2014 happens to be Derek Jeter's last season.  You may be feeling sentimental about this and you're considering putting one of the game's greats on your fantasy roster for the very last time.  And lookit that, he's even available on your league's waiver wire!  What's the harm in adding Jeter once more for old times' sake?

Plenty.  Unless your league counts "Leadership" along with the 5x5 stats, Jeter's .272/.324/.322 slash line, two homers, 25 RBI, 31 runs and six steals over 371 PA doesn't translate to much fantasy value.  The near-total lack of power is the real eye-opener, as Jeter's .050 ISO is the lowest of any qualified player in baseball.  While shortstop is a thin position (only nine have a wRC+ over the average 100 mark), Jeter's 80 wRC+ still ranks him behind 17 other shortstops.  Even Bogaerts, after over a month of that ghastly cold spell, still has an 82 wRC+ to top Jeter.

One plus in Jeter's favor is that he's managed to stay healthy this year, so provided his leg issues are behind him, he'd be least be a reliable place-holder for you if your regular shortstop was lost to the DL.   (It's not like the Yankees will bench him too often during his final season.)  It's unfortunate that a longtime fantasy star like Jeter is now merely a waiver wire fill-in during his last year, but that's the way it goes.  I somewhat doubt that the rest of the league's hurlers will follow Wainwright's lead in grooving pitches for Jeter to hit, so while Jeter may have two-plus months left in his actual career, his fantasy career is already at an end.



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: July 11-17

The injury bug hit one of my teams hard this week, as I currently have Joey Votto, Masahiro Tanaka, Adam Lind, Andrew Cashner and Edwin Encarnacion ALL on my disabled list.  I have a bigger DL than a bench at this point.  The bright side of my injury-prone week?  This is the team that's already in second-last place, so hey, nothing is being lost!  Pride went out the window a long time ago in this league, so sure, bring on the injuries.  Let's have Ian Desmond hypnotized into thinking he's a chicken, or have Gregory Polanco get punched out while arguing about British prime ministers.  I don't care any more, bring on the pain. 

While I've gone all nihilistic in this league, I still care about my other leagues, and thus am still looking at the advanced metrics to see who I (and you) should be keeping an eye on....

* Who, Leo?  Some genius fantasy baseball writer told the world back in March that Julio Teheran was due for a better season than Shelby Miller, and as usual, you can take my predictions to the bank!  #BrokenClock  If you have Teheran on your team, however, it might be time for a sneaky sell-high maneuver.  The timing may not be totally perfect given that Teheran just got rocked by the Mets in his last start, but wait for the Braves righty to post one more quality outing and then open the bidding.

Why am I a bit worried about Teheran?  How about the fact that by the standards of the xFIP- metric, he's a perfectly league-average (100) starter?  Teheran has benefited from some healthy BABIP (.258) and strand rate (78.9%) luck this season, and his 2.57 ERA isn't quite as rosy when compared to his 3.34 FIP, 3.70 xFIP and 3.60 SIERA.  Not that these are exactly bad numbers or anything, but they do hint that Teheran is due for a bit of regression in the second half.

Teheran also owns a 44.3% fly ball rate, the fourth-highest of any qualified starter in baseball, and his 36.2% ground ball rate is the sixth-LOWEST of any qualified starter.  It should be a crime to allow so few grounders when Andrelton Simmons is playing behind you.  That kind of high-flys/low-grounders combination is kind of an ominous one, especially since Teheran isn't missing bats (7.65 K/9) at any special rate.

It all adds up to you trying the old "geez, I hate to give up Teheran, but if it's for your more established SP, I guesssss I could do it" routine on a rival manager in your league.  If this rival also owns Shelby Miller, pass along some condolences.

* Moose Calls.  If you drafted Mike Moustakas and started him all this time through his terrible early-season struggles....well, that was a bad move.  You cost yourself a lot of 3B at-bats.  Wow, what were you thinking, not even benching him?  You're a terrible fantasy manager!  Get out of here!  Be ashamed!

...uh wait!  Come back, straw man reader!  I may have been a bit harsh, given that now (FINALLY) Moustakas is starting to show some life.  Heading into Thursday's action against Detroit, Moustakas had posted a .276/.341/.526 line, six homers, 16 RBI and 13 runs over his previous 86 PA.  That is eons ahead of what he did in his previous 167 PA, which was a miserable .518 OPS, four homers, 20 RBI and 10 runs. 

Moustakas' turnaround roughly coincides with his demotion to the minors, and it seems like that time on the farm helped get the Royals third baseman's bat cooking.  Perhaps even more promising are two more stats from his last 86 PA --- the Moose is walking almost as much as striking out (9.3% walk rate, 10.5% K-rate) and his BABIP over his hot stretch is only .242, so if anything, he could be picking up even more hits over his stretch.

This could be one of those treasured post-hype prospect situations that canny fantasy owners absolutely love.  Moustakas is only owned in 19% of Yahoo fantasy leagues, and while his start was so awful that you can't blame anyone for dropping him, there's plenty of room to add him to at least your bench to see if his hot streak is for real.  I personally hope he ends up living up to his prospect hype, as otherwise, my Canadian rock band's name of Mike's Moose Stalkers is going to be pretty obscure.

* The Donald.  Just when you thought the baseball punditry had run out of ways to praise the Athletics' awesome 2014 season, I've got another high point for you.  Oakland is still running roughshod over the league despite the fact that their ostensible best player has been below replacement-level for over a month now.

Josh Donaldson was looking like an MVP candidate over his first 60 games, yet since then, that talk has quieted down considerably.  Going into Thursday's game with the Giants, Donaldson had hit only .144/.186/.255 with two homers, 13 RBI and eight runs over his previous 118 PA.  It was fair to assume a bit of regression after his red-hot start, yet there's "regression" and then there's "falling off a cliff." 

As a Donaldson owner in one of my leagues, I've been watching with horror at what's been happening over the last month and even benched my former lineup cornerstone a couple of times.  (Since my luck is awful, one of those bench games was Donaldson's 2-for-7 outing against Miami on June 28, one of just two multi-hit games he's had over this slump.)  I'm not sounding any alarm bells yet and in this league, I don't really have to since I have Matt Carpenter to slide into my 3B spot and stash Donaldson on my bench until he heats up.  If you don't have a super-solid replacement like Carpenter, however...

It could be that Donaldson is simply slumping and somehow having trouble finding holes in that spacious Coliseum outfield given his .252 BABIP.  But still, don't forget that Donaldson was a complete fantasy non-entity only 15 months ago.  Compared to his breakout 2013 season, Donaldson's contact rates are down (particularly his ability at making contact outside the strike zone), his line drives are way down (20.6% to 12.8%) and he's also walking less while striking out more often.

One bad month obviously doesn't negate the eight months of terrific hitting that preceded it, yet I'm just wary enough about Donaldson that I might float him in a few trades this week.  It's not quite a Teheran-like sell-high scenario, though hopefully I can attract a fellow manager who is still on the Donaldson-for-MVP train and hasn't bothered to look at the monthly splits in a while.  This isn't a solution for everyone since, again, I have Carpenter in this league and can afford to be flexible --- if you have Donaldson and no decent backup, all you can do is ride out his slump and hope that Donaldson starts mashing again soon.  A lengthy slump would really screw up this "everything is working out for the A's" narrative, and I always hate having my narratives ruined by stupid reality.



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: July 4-10

Happy birthday, America!  What better way to celebrate Independence Day than with the July 4th tradition of seeing how players correspond to their advanced metrics?  It's a little-known fact that George Washington would often talk John Adams' ear off about how he felt BABIP was an overrated statistic....what's that?  I got an F-minus in third-year American History, why do you ask?

* Kazmanian Devil.  The old "now I'm a pitcher, not a thrower" narrative haz been the theme of Scott Kazmir's imprezzive comeback, both last season in Cleveland and now thiz season with the A'z.  If you spent a mid-to-late round draft pick on Kazmir last spring, you're undoubtedly overjoyed by the resultz thus far...which is why it *might* be time to sell high.

His recent seven-run blowup against the Mets notwithztanding, it's not like I'm expecting Kazmir to suddenly fall off a cliff the rest of the way; heck, pitching in Oakland alone (1.61 ERA in seven home starts) will keep the southpaw relevant.  Kazmir's peripheral numberz paint the picture of a quality starter, albeit one who is getting a bit lucky.  A .257 BABIP and a 81.3% strand rate are major reasonz why Kazmir's 2.61 ERA is noticeably below his 3.41 FIP, 3.45 xFIP and 3.36 SIERA, not to mention a 48.4% ground ball rate that sitz way above his 39.9% career average. 

Befitting that aforementioned "pitcher, not a thrower" thing, Kazmir's K/9 is 7.93, not only lezz than the 9.7 K/9 he posted during his 2004-08 glory yearz but also below the 9.2 K/9 he had last year with the Tribe.  Now, if your biggest problem as a fantasy manager is that one of your top starterz *only* has a 7.9 K/9, you are leading a charmed life.  That said, fewer strikeoutz translatez to slightly lesser fantazy value, so if you can spin Kazmir off in trade for a starter with equal numberz and more K's, than that's definitely worth exploring.  (Why your fellow manager would trade such a starter is beyond me; maybe he's a big Moneyball fan and wants an Athletic on his team.)

After getting ace-level production from a pick in the second half of your draft, you can further maximize the value of your shrewd move by dealing Kazmir before he regrezzez.   

* Bourn Legacy.  In the spirit of the July 4th holiday, I'm taking a vacation by simply linking to my item about Michael Bourn from my column of roughly 48 weeks ago.  Everything written last year still applies since Bourn is on pace for the exact same numbers as last season...

2013: Six homers, 50 RBI, 23 steals, 75 runs, .263/.316/.360 slash line, .338 BABIP, 23% strikeout rate, 7% walk rate over 575 PA

2014: Two homers, 20 RBI, seven steals, 35 runs, .266/.312/.367 slash line, .343 BABIP, 22.3% strikeout rate, 6% walk rate over 300 PA

I feel like some Doublemint gum after looking at those lines.  The only real difference in Bourn's statistics is a drop in disappointed fantasy managers since they stayed the heck away from him after his 93 wRC+ season.  I said it before and I'll say it again, Bourn is simply not worth having on your roster now that he's no longer putting up his big stolen base numbers.  

* Ich Bin Ein Right-Hander.  Everyone knows that the Padres' desultory lineup is the reason for their rough season, as once again, San Diego's rotation is putting up good numbers with the help of Petco Park.  One of the few Padre hurlers who isn't benefiting, seemingly, is Ian Kennedy.  Not only are his home/road splits virtually identical, his 3.87 ERA is a full run above his 2.87 FIP (3.14 xFIP, 3.12 SIERA), and that somewhat high ERA is masking some otherwise tremendous numbers from the veteran righty.

It seems like everyone forgot that Kennedy posted a 4.9 fWAR season only three years ago, though he didn't make the next big leap to ace-hood that many expected in 2012 and then almost fell off the radar after a below-average 2013.  The advanced metrics, however, indicated that Kennedy's 2013 season wasn't really as bad as his 4.91 ERA would indicate, so if you're a canny manager who drafted Kennedy expecting a rebound and a Petco boost, congratulations.

Kennedy is striking out more batters (9.55 K/9) and inducing more grounders (41.3% GBR) than ever before, though his .326 BABIP indicates both that some of those grounders are getting through and also explains why his ERA is significantly higher than his peripherals.  His star dimmed a bit after a few blah starts in June, though those poor outings could help you pick him up given that Kennedy is still available in over a third of Yahoo fantasy leagues.  Kennedy is far from your usual "Padre spot starter when they're at home" guy since he's pitched well everywhere, and could be a major second-half contributor to your team if his luck balances out.

* Wrecking Ball.  Speaking of NL West pitchers who are doing better than their real-world numbers would indicate, I give you Wade Miley.  He can't stop (he won't stop) giving up homers, as his 16.8% HR rate is third-highest among all qualified starters.  Miley's troubles with the long ball have left him with a 4.61 ERA despite an array of nice peripherals --- 4.13 FIP, 3.33 xFIP, 3.45 SIERA, a career-best 8.42 K/9 and a very solid 48% grounder rate.

This season has seen a marked increase in Miley's use of his slider.  He's now throwing it a quarter of the time (up from 16.5% in 2013) and with good cause, given how it's been his best pitch over the last two seasons; opponents only have a .594 OPS against Miley's slider (which I want to nickname "the Milder") in 2014. 

The problem is that while Miley has also cut back on his use of his two-seam fastball, it's still his worst pitch and the biggest reason for his home run issues.  Over Miley's career, opposing hitters are slashing .285/.338/.445 against his two-seamer.  That works out to a 128 wRC+, which also happens to be the career wRC+ of Dave Winfield, Jim Rice, Chase Utley and Zack Wheat, to name a few.  If you throw a pitch that turns batters into those guys, I'd suggest you stop using it altogether, not 33.6% of the time like Miley is doing this season.  In fact, only 12 qualified starters in baseball have thrown a higher percentage of two-seamers than Miley has this season, so Wade, dude, stop the madness!

Homers have generally been a problem for Miley over all four of his Major League seasons, and since I can't see him quitting the two-seamer cold turkey, adding him to your rotation now might only hurt your ERA (and forget about wins given how the D'Backs have played this year).  A homer-prone pitcher isn't helped by Chase Field, obviously, and since Miley has pitched better in away games both this season and over his career, I'd recommend him as a decent streaming option when he's lined up for a road start.  It's no surprise that Miley's best season (2012) was the one when he only had a 6.9% homer rate, so if he ever learns how to keep the ball in the park, the lefty could be a real breakout star.



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: June 27-July 3

You know what industry subtly benefits the most from the fantasy baseball boom?  Restaurants.  I can't say the word "roto baseball" without suddenly desiring some delicious rotisserie chicken.  I'm eating a juicy leg as I write this column, in fact.  Some of the grease dripped into my keyboard and now some letters don't work, so I had to strike one planned section for this week's TPIITP.  It felt silly to keep referring to the player as "Joey _otto."

Onto our latest look inside the advanced metrics at some notable fantasy options...   

* The Duda Bides.  All Lucas Duda needed was a chance....well, okay, all he needed was a chance and a couple of months of adjustment time to that chance, but still, you know what I'm getting at.  With both Duda and Ike Davis on the roster, the Mets threw their lot in with somewhat less-established of the two left-handed hitting sluggers and made Duda their regular guy at first base, trading Davis to Pittsburgh in April.  It took a while for Duda to get going (a .664 OPS in his first 110 PA after April 18) but over the last month, this dude has been on fire.  Duda was hitting .280/.406/.598 with five homers and 18 RBI over a 101-PA stretch from May 27 to June 25, and he added another homer in the Mets' 5-3 loss to the Pirates last night.

With Duda's season total now standing at 12 homers, 39 RBI, 29 runs and a .252/.346/.482 slash line, the queston is if the USC product is worth serious consideration for your fantasy roster.  While Duda isn't the best option for leagues with weekly rosters andor no benches (he rarely faces left-handed pitching, as Josh Satin starts for the Mets against southpaws), his power and positional value make him a veritable must-add.  Duda qualifies as both a first baseman and an outfielder in most leagues, and he's proven himself worthy of a starting spot at either of those positions whenever the Mets face a righty starter.  Like Jeff Lebowski's rug, Duda could really tie your whole roster together, man.

Metrics-wise, there's nothing to suggest that Duda will fall off, since he's basically the same player he's always been, just now with more playing time to deliver those stronger counting stats.  He is improving on his career averages in terms of pure power (.221 ISO) and fewer strikeouts (21.5% K-rate) but otherwise, Duda's peripherals from this season are pretty much in line with his normal rates.  There's no BABIP luck to be found here either, as Duda is actually a bit below par with just a .287 BABIP.

Duda is owned in just 9% of Yahoo leagues, so you have loads of opportunity to add some nice underrated power to your lineup.  You'll also get the chance to crack some Big Lebowski jokes in your league forum, and frankly, I'm disappointed in myself for only working one reference into this section.  What, you're tired of hearing quotes from a 16-year-old cult classic?  That's just, like, your opinion, man.

* Rey Of Sunshine.  Admittedly, my "don't panic about Jose Reyes" tip doesn't quite seem as ground-breaking the day after Reyes' four-hit game against the White Sox, but still, I was right all along!  Since I obviously would've written this exact same section with or without that 4-for-5 day, even though it took that superb game to get Reyes' wRC+ (104) over the league average mark.

After missing the first few weeks of the season with a hamstring injury, Reyes is hitting .267/.326/.417 with six homers, 22 RBI, 44 runs scored and 16 stolen bases through 291 PA.  Between his runs, steals and double-digit power, Reyes still provides a lot of value for the shortstop position despite the slash line that projects his lowest batting average in a decade and the third-lowest full-season OBP of his career.

As you can tell from his steal totals, Reyes is still a canny baserunner and he's still almost as quick now (at 31 years old and coming off a bad hamstring) as he was in his prime.  Reyes' problem is that he isn't putting that speed to use in getting hits, as for the first time in his career, he's hitting more fly balls (41.2%) than grounders (38.1%).  Even worse, a major chunk of those balls in the air aren't going very far -- Reyes' 18.3% infield fly rate is well above his 12.1% career average.  These numbers are troubling halfway through the season, yet if we see a bit of course-correction the rest of the way, Reyes' .284 BABIP is sure to rise and his real-world average will get a boost as well.

As noted, there's no reason for Reyes owners to worry given that their man is still contributing quite a bit compared to most shortstops.  If you were spooked by the low batting average, there's reason to believe it'll turn around, so don't go making any hasty trades.  Reyes has three more games against the White Sox through the weekend, after all.

* Believe In The Weave?  Maybe when hitters face Jered Weaver, they suffer from overconfidence.  Only 53.5% of Weaver's first pitches have been strikes this season, so batters are firstly emboldened by the 1-0 count.  Secondly, obviously every Major League player reads Roto Authority on a daily basis, so every batter is well aware of how Weaver has been outperforming his peripherals for years now.  "That's it, this is the at-bat where it all falls apart for ol' Jered," the batter thinks.  "Just like Mark's advanced metrics column said.  Man, that guy is a great writer."  And then the batter swings too soon at Weaver's 85.7 mph fastball and meekly pops it up in the infield, and he walks back to the dugout cursing my name.

It's been just another year of outwitting the pundits for Weaver, as he took a 3.47 ERA (bolstered by a 77.7% strand rate and .245 BABIP) into Thursday night's start against the Twins and promptly shut Minnesota down to the tune of one ER over seven innings.  Weaver only has 86 strikeouts over his 110 2/3 IP this season (against 33 walks) so he's once again sticking to his formula of inducing a lot of fly balls that die in the thick Pacific Ocean marine layer over Angel Stadium and getting good results.  Weaver's 4.32 xFIP and 4.17 SIERA that he carried into Thursday's outing don't belong in a fantasy rotation, yet his actual ERA and eight wins in 17 starts aren't bad at all.

Aside from a 10% homer rate that's noticably above his 7.9% career average, Weaver is basically having his usual year, so there's no reason to jump off his bandwagon yet.  I stayed away from Weaver in all of my drafts last spring due to the fear that this would be the year his fortunes turned, yet the Angels righty is doing a heck of a lot better than some of the guys I picked ahead of him.  If you have Weaver in your rotation, you should probably think about benching him for starts outside of Anaheim (a 4.29 road ERA, as compared to a 2.75 home ERA) but you're not hurting yourself with Weaver on your staff.  It might be worth your while over the next few days to try and capitalize on Weaver's terrific outing against the Twins by shopping him around or packaging him in a deal for a starter with more strikeouts, because you never know, the next start might be the one where it all goes south...

/Weaver throws another quality outing

/Mark is flabbergasted again



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: June 20-26

Let's dive into this week's peripheral stats to spotlight a trio of underachievers...

* Monsterpiece Theatre.  Okay, so my preseason prediction that Justin Masterson would become a top-15 fantasy starter hasn't exactly come true yet.  But hey, it's only mid-June!  Once he rattles off four consecutive no-hitters (the rare Double Vander Meer), let's see who's laughing last!....uh, okay, hmm.  Well, what about...I said Masterson would be a top-15 starter but not necessarily THIS season.  Boom!  Lawyered!

...sigh.  Fine, okay, my prediction looks to be a little off-base.  Even after a terrific start against the Angels on Thursday, Masterson is still only sporting a 4.75 ERA this season.  It's been a tough go for Masterson since while he's for the most part done what I said he had to do in order to become a top ace, he's been hurt by a few self-inflicted flaws and one glaring flaw that isn't his fault.

That glaring flaw, of course, is the Indians' defense.  The Tribe were a pretty bad defensive club in 2013 (a -4.5 UZR/150 that ranked fifth-worst in baseball) but they've gotten even more terrible this season with a garish -13.5 UZR/150.  This obviously wreaks havoc on a pitcher like Masterson given that he generates so many ground balls; all the grounders in the world won't help if the fielders can't catch and/or throw the ball properly.  Cleveland's defensive issues are a big reason for Masterson's .318 BABIP and 65.7% strand rate, and why his xFIP is a more reasonable 3.95.

Still, a 3.95 xFIP isn't exactly ace material either.  While Masterson hasn't quite kept up his 9.09 K/9 from last season, he's still averaging 7.99 K/9, which is above his career norm.  The bigger issue is that his walks have also taken a jump to 4.65 BB/9, almost a full walk beyond his career average.  Masterson's fastball velocity is down from last season (89.1 mph from 91.6 mph) and while increased use of his slider was an important part of his 2013 success, he's only throwing the pitch 21.4% of the time this season, as opposed to 26.9% in 2013.

Easy as it is to point the finger at the Cleveland fool's gold gloves, Masterson hasn't totally helped his own cause this year.  If he's still in your fantasy rotation, he's gone from a stalwart to a pick-and-choose-the-starts kind of guy.  At this point I'd pitch him when he's at home (given his 6.20 road ERA) and that's about it until he shows more consistency.  As much as I was pumping Masterson's tires before the season started, he probably didn't go high enough in your draft that you're really wasting a pick by sidelining him or perhaps even releasing him outright given his performance thus far.  He *should* be doing better, though unless he gets a bit more zip on his fastball (possible) or the Tribe suddenly remembers how to field (doubtful), Masterson might not be more than a middling fifth starter option now.

* "Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been, A Good Pitcher This Season?"  Brandon McCarthy is 1-9 with a 5.18 ERA this season, leading the league in losses, hits allowed and home run rate (22.7%).  Yet in many ways except the ways that count on the results page, the Diamondbacks righty is actually having one of his better seasons.  He's striking out more batters (7.6 K/9) and inducing more grounders (55.5% GBR) than ever before in his career, he has a sparkling 4.59 K/BB rate thanks to one of the lowest walk rates of any qualified starter.  At age 30, McCarthy has also actually added zip to his fastball with a heater that is averaging a career-best 92.9 mph.

So yeah, from a dramatic narrative standpoint, I probably shouldn't have stuck that monster homer rate so early in the first paragraph and instead introduced it here as the "so what's McCarthy's problem?" reveal.  Yet blargh, that homer rate is just so ugly that it can't help but be shouted from the rooftops.  The righty is using his fastball much more this season than in the previous three years (possibly due to that faster velocity) and he's also greatly increased the use of his curveball, throwing it almost a quarter of the time.  Given that McCarthy is also throwing his cutter only about a third as much (11.9%) as he did in his previous three seasons, it could be that he's simply being a bit too predictable with his fastball/curve-heavy pitch selection and batters have figured it out to the point that they're using McCarthy for batting practice.

Beyond the homers, McCarthy's 5.18 ERA is further inflated by his .331 BABIP and 65.5% strand rate, so when you look at his advanced metrics (2.92 xFIP and 3.04 SIERA), he almost looks like a staff ace.  Though McCarthy's home/road splits are very similar, it certainly wouldn't hurt him if he got away from Chase Field and into a more pitcher-friendly stadium.  The D'Backs are likely to be trade deadline sellers anyway and a canny contender in a big ballpark would be shrewd to pick McCarthy up in a buy-low move rather than splurge on a bigger-name starter with good numbers. 

As for your fantasy team?  Well, if he's still on your roster after all this time, then you are a truly loyal person.  By all rights McCarthy's luck is due to turn around and he's in for a string of excellent starts where the ball stays in the park, yet until this begins to happen (or if he's traded to a better situation), keep him firmly on your bench.

* Not A-OK.  I have two theories for why Nori Aoki has become a borderline unplayable fantasy outfielder this season.  Firstly, he lost the last half of his first name!  Like Samson, it was clearly the 'Chika' that was the source of Nori(chika) Aoki's abilities.  My other theory is that the Royals have only played the Indians six times this year so far, and Aoki missed one of them.  Once he gets the chance to knock a few more grounders at that brutal Cleveland defense, Aoki will boost that average up nicely.

In all seriousness, Aoki's first AL season hasn't gone well, as he's only hitting .264/.328/.326 as a Royal.  While Aoki has scored a respectable 36 runs, he has only 14 RBI  and he's still looking for his first American League home run.  With seven steals (in 11 attempts), he should finish the season giving you roughly 20 steals and a solid amount of runs, though basically nothing else, making him unworthy of a starting spot in your fantasy outfield.

To be fair, Aoki hit a solid but unspectacular .287/.355/.399 over his previous two seasons, so it's not like he's dropping from some huge standard of excellence.  If you're an outfielder with no power, you'd better deliver big numbers in at least two of the runs/AVG/SB categories, and Aoki didn't even really do that, scoring 161 runs and stealing 50 bags in 2012-13.  With his average down this season, that removes your last excuse for keeping him in the lineup.  He's hitting more grounders and fewer fly balls this year than in his previous two seasons in MLB, and given Aoki's .294 BABIP, it's not like he isn't getting a respectable number of those balls getting through for hits.

It's possible Aoki could still turn things around, as he has been hitting better lately during the Royals' recent hot streak, so the rising tide of the K.C. lineup could raise Aoki's ship (plus he could start scoring even more runs).  Still, I wouldn't take the risk unless Aoki really busts out over the next couple of weeks, so keep him on your bench unless he cuts loose.  Barring a late breakout, this is the most egregious case of a post-name shortening decline since Abe Ruth suddenly went from a .985 OPS in 1934 to a .789 OPS in 1935, all because he dropped the "B."  



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: June 13-19

Folks, it's time for some naval-gazing.  I'm currently sitting 10th of 12 teams in my most cherished fantasy league, the one run in one form or another since 1999 with all of my old hometown buddies.  Since a poor finish here will doom me to months of taunting, it's high time to figure out what's going wrong.  Well, besides injuries, but 'complaining about injuries to your fantasy team' ranks somewhere between complaining about a bad beat in poker or whining about your great putt lipping out of the cup.

I've covered a few of my players in this space already, namely guys who are underachieving in one particular category (like Matt Holliday's lack of homers) or guys who essentially just had one bad month and one good month (like Homer Bailey or Jed Lowrie) but really, the root of the problem stems from a few guys at key positions who simply aren't carrying their weight.  Let's look into these players to see if you or I should keep hoping for a turnaround or if enough is enough...

* Where's The Power, Mauer?  I think we can all agree that Joe Mauer's 28-homer season in 2009 was a total anomaly, given that the Twins catcher first baseman has only 79 homers in the other 4717 plate appearances of his Major League career.  The days of expecting Mauer to provide a huge homer boost from your lineup's C spot are over, yet his high average, RBI totals and runs scored provide more than enough incentive to make him one of the very first catchers taken in any fantasy draft.

Now, however, not only has the power cratered, but the rest of Mauer's hitting ability is seemingly going down the tubes as well.  Mauer took a .263/.342/.336 slash line into Friday's play, all of which project as career lows over a full season, and Mauer has produced only two homers and 15 RBI over 263.  Ironically, just as the Twins made Mauer a full-time first baseman in order to keep him healthy enough to stay in the lineup, Mauer's bat has gone as cold as....well, Minnesota.

Before looking at the metrics, I wondered if Mauer was simply trying to do too much now that he was playing first, and his problems stemmed from trying too hard for homers in order to fill the stereotypical 1B power role.  This doesn't appear to the the case, however, as Mauer is actually getting the ball in the air less than he ever has; his 19.1% fly ball rate would also be a new career low while his 54.6% ground ball rate would be his highest (over a full season).  Mauer also has a .324 BABIP, so it's not a question of him being particularly unlucky with those extra grounders.

There are lots of catchers who put up middling offensive numbers but "they're good for a catcher" and thus you put up with having such a third-tier guy in your fantasy lineup.  But for Joe Mauer to sink to such levels?  And frankly, he isn't even putting up good numbers "for a catcher" given that his 89 wRC+ is topped by a whopping 18 other catchers with at least 130 PA.  If you're in a league that doesn't count last year's positions and had Mauer listed as a first baseman from day one, he has below replacement-level and not been worth having on your fantasy roster.

Unfortunately for me, I was forced into actually using Mauer at first for much of this season due to injuries to Joey Votto and Mark Teixeira.  On draft day I took Mauer, Carlos Santana and Jonathan Lucroy with the logic that I could either trade from depth later or simply rotate them all between my C/1B/Utility slots, yet while Lucroy has been terrific, the other two have been duds.

For my specific situation, I can afford to drop Mauer since ultimately right now I'm just using him as a glorified backup catcher.  That said....how can you just outright release Joe Mauer??  Heck, even my mother still busts out "well played, Mauer" as a wisecrack every once in a while, that's how much of a cornerstone star this guy has been for the last several years. 

Is he really finished at age 31?  He wouldn't be the first longtime catcher to drop off a cliff after he hit his thirties, but still, Mauer's contact rates are still relatively normal and that average could shoot up 30 or 40 points and suddenly things wouldn't look so bad.  Mauer does have a .771 OPS against righties, but his .501 OPS against southpaws is killing his overall performance.  Absolutely bench Mauer against left-handed starters for the time being and hopefully your backup (while probably not a Lucroy) can help carry the load until Mauer gets back on track.  Catcher is such a thin spot that dropping Mauer isn't an option at this point.

* Hill Of Beans.  This has been a pretty rough season in Arizona, needless to say, and Aaron Hill's performance is one of the many reasons why the Diamondbacks are struggling.  Both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs rate Hill as a below replacement-level this season, as the second baseman has only a .246/.292/.393 slash line to go with six homers, 31 RBI and 20 runs scored.

If you're a Blue Jays fan, you've seen this movie before.  Hill was one of the worst everyday players in the majors from Opening Day 2010 to virtually until the day he was traded (August 23, 2011) from Toronto to Arizona, bottoming out with just a 56 wRC+ over his last 429 PA as a Blue Jay.  Fortunately for Hill, he turned things around in the desert and posted an .878 OPS in his first 33 games as a Snake, followed by a .298/.359/.501 performance in 2012-13.  Hill wasn't just back in form, he was arguably the second-best second baseman in the game.

So what changed?  Hill is both swinging at more strikes and swinging more in general this season than in the previous two years, plus swinging more often at pitches outside the zone (32.6%, up from 29.3% in 2013) and swinging less at strikes inside the zone (59.5%, down from 61.9% in 2013).  This extra aggression in swinging at balls is hurting his patience at the plate, as the gap between his walk rate (5.3%) and his strikeout rate (17.3%) has never been wider in his entire career, even during his rough period with the Jays.

Hopefully it won't take another trade to shake Hill out of his slump, as even though Tony La Russa won't be afraid to shake up the D'Backs roster, moving Hill at this point doesn't seem too likely for a team that still has eyes towards contending in 2015 (not to mention the fact that the D'Backs would be selling very low on a valuable asset).  Should you or I trade him off our fantasy rosters?   

I was as optimistic as anyone about Hill when the season began but now I can't shake the hunch that 2014 will just end up being a lost year for him.  Nagging shoulder and ankle injuries haven't helped Hill's cause and while these knocks could be a partial reason for his struggles, he was already hitting poorly when these injuries surfaced in mid-May.  If you have a second base backup in place (or someone like Tommy La Stella is still available on your waiver wire), I'd bite the bullet and try to move Hill elsewhere.  You won't be getting his full value back, obviously, yet try trading Hill for another under-performing player like...

* Put Your Lights On.  Carlos Santana has the second-lowest (.197) BABIP of any qualified hitter in baseball, so when an accomplished batter like Santana is getting so little batted-ball luck, that itself is almost reason enough to predict a turnaround.  Combine that with the fact that Santana's contact rates are close to career norms and he's walking almost as much as he's striking out, and BOOM...where do you sign up?

Of course, it may not be that simple.  Santana's miserable .175/.337/.315 line can't be totally attributed to BABIP when you consider that he's hitting the ball with less authority than ever before.  The Indians catcher/first baseman third baseman has only a 12.4% line drive rate this season, the third-lowest of any qualified hitter in baseball.  With a 49.7% ground ball rate that is well above his 43.3% career average and that aforementioned buzzard's luck with BABIP, it's essentially been a year full of routine groundouts for Santana.  (Oh, if only he could hit against his own team's terrible infield defense.)

The huge drop in line drive rate is troubling yet just because doesn't not hitting line drives doesn't mean that you're not hitting the ball well.  Several players in the bottom 16 of line drive rate are enjoying tremendous seasons (Yasiel Puig, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Jones, Alex Gordon, etc.) so it's not the be-all and end-all of quality batting.  Santana does have seven homers, 22 RBI and 25 runs, so he's roughly on pace to post his usual counting stats.  With a boost of even 40 or 50 BABIP points, Santana could suddenly be having a pretty normal campaign.

Like Mauer, Santana switched positions this season but the Tribe ex-catcher had an even bigger transition to make in moving to third base for the first time since he was a Dodgers farmhand in 2008.  Let's just say that Santana is still getting used to the move --- he has a -43.8 UZR/150 at the hot corner this year.  By comparison, Miguel Cabrera had "only" a -19.9 UZR/150 at third last season, so as bad as Miggy was, he was basically Brooks Robinson compared to Santana.  In any case, the Santana third base experiment might be coming to an end, as Santana has only played 3B once in his last 13 games.  The red-hot Lonnie Chisenhall suddenly looks like a viable everyday option for the Tribe at third, so Santana is likely to find himself in more familiar terrain at either 1B or DH, with the odd start at catcher in a pinch.

I'll predict that with the stress of playing third removed, Santana gets back to his old self over the last few months of the season.  If and when he gets going, I'll feel more comfortable in selling low on Mauer if need be, and getting Santana regular utility at-bats (Votto is my starting 1B and Encarnacion is my starting 3B).  With everyone healthy and with me making some canny managerial lineup maneuvers, I just might be able to save my fantasy season yet!  And by save, I mean finish in, like, seventh.





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