Proof Is In The Peripherals

The Proof Is In The Peripherals: August 15-21

With only six weeks left in the baseball season (and perhaps even less time left in your fantasy season if you're in a head-to-head league with playoffs), it's time for a minor format change here at TPIITP headquarters.  Firstly, we're going to acknowledge that "TPIITP" sounds like the noise you make when you try to spit four sunflower seeds at the same time.  Secondly, we're deep enough into the season that we're going to narrow our focus to more recent results. 

It does little good at this point to say "hey, this guy has been really unlucky, he'll turn it around!" when he's been killing your team for four and a half months already.  Likewise, I could point out a so-called regression candidate who's had great BABIP luck all year long but with just six weeks left, there's not much time left for this player to regress --- he might just be one of those players who is lucky from start to finish in a season.

Essentially, I'm just cutting the sample size.  Rather than a season's worth of peripherals, I'll just examine the info from the previous 4-6 weeks to see if a player's hot-or-cold streak is a temporary condition or something you should be paying attention to as you enter your fantasy playoffs.  Let's begin!

* Dan The Man?  I'll start with one of those players who seems ripe for "he could still turn it around!" buzz since Dan Haren, as of late, has indeed been turning it around.  Haren's peripherals (5.05 K/BB, 8.02 K/9, 4.26 FIP, 3.81 xFIP and 3.66 SIERA) suggest his actual 4.99 ERA is inflated though there's no denying that Haren's first three months as a National were total garbage.  Since returning from a DL stint to correct, a shoulder injury, however, Haren has posted a 2.43 ERA over his last six starts. 

I wouldn't presume, however, that the ol' statistical pendulum has swung back in Haren's direction quite yet.  Haren has posted career-highs in fly ball and home run rates this season and also has a career-worst 34% ground ball rate.  While he's only given up two homers his last 37 innings, I worry about the .215 BABIP since the All-Star Break, not to mention that Haren's GBR (30.4%) is even lower since the Midsummer Classic.  Also, we could just put these fancy metrics aside and simply tell you that of Haren's last six starts, five have come against lower-tier lineups (the Brewers, Marlins, Mets and twice against the Phillies).

There's a great chance that Haren's early-season struggles have made him available on your league's waiver wire.  I'd hesitate before picking him up, at least until he shows what he can do against a legit team.  Unless it really was his shoulder that was bothering him all along, Haren might have a few frights left in his nightmare season.

* MORE MORE MOREMitch Moreland hasn't been getting much help from the BABIP gods this season (.269) and that trend has worsened in August as Moreland only has a .238 BABIP.  The difference is that Moreland has overcome that below-average number to post an .875 OPS.  Now, this is a verrrrry small sample size, so don't go releasing Chris Davis, inserting Moreland into your 1B lineup spot and dusting your hands off in triumph.  My point is that while Moreland had cooled off after a scalding hot May and spent time on the DL with a hamstring injury and generally doesn't play against left-handed pitching and he's never really been that big a fantasy contributor...wait, this is a pro-Moreland piece, right?

Right!  If you look at the 5x5 stats, Moreland has 16 homers and 45 RBI, so he'll easily top his previous career best of 16 HR/51 RBI in 2011 (in 512 PA, mind you, and Moreland has already basically matched that total through 377 PA in 2013).  What I'm suggesting is that since Moreland is owned in just 16% of Yahoo fantasy leagues, he's worth a cheap pickup to be used as a bench option or as a start whenever the Rangers face a righty starter. 

* Gee MinorDillon Gee has an impressive 1.53 ERA over his last five starts.  Gee whiz!  He also has an absurd 94.5% strand rate and .179 BABIP over that span, plus a measly 3.57 K/9 that largely explains his 4.32 FIP and 4.80 xFIP.  Aw geez!  Gee hasn't had a bad year overall, but his fantasy value will be limited until he starts posting more consistent strikeout totals.  As for the here and now, I wouldn't be in any rush to pick him up since his current good form is largely due to great luck.  Or, geeeee-reat luck, as he pronounces it, to Tony the Tiger's annoyance.  This is why Tony always roots against the Mets.

The Proof Is In The Peripherals: August 1-7

Good news, everyone!  I'm not going to be leaving Roto Authority at the trade deadline.  The RA general manager tried to work out a deal to move me to Yahoo! Sports for cash considerations, two minor leaguers and a UFC writer to be named later, but I scuttled the deal with my no-trade clause.  I'd only be willing to discuss waiving the clause if I could somehow be traded to Old Hoss Radbourn's Twitter feed, and any cat-related Tumblr page.

Onto this week's look at the advanced metrics...

Bourn Ultimatum.  Basically, my ultimatum boils down to, "Hey Michael Bourn!  What happened to your so-called speed?  Start stealing more bases or else!"  *shakes fist*  Bourn has a mere 13 steals this season (and been caught eight times), a big disappointment to fantasy owners expecting the player who averaged 51 swipes a year from 2008-12.  Bourn has suffered big drops according to Fangraphs' baserunning statistics (speed score and Ultimate Base Running) and in terms of weighted stolen base runs, Bourn is actually costing the Indians runs this season with his -0.8 number.

The plain fact about Bourn is that if he isn't stealing bases, he has very little fantasy value.  He'll score runs atop a good Tribe lineup, but his decent .284 average is propped up by a .368 BABIP and his power numbers (four homers, 32 RBIs) are nothing special.  In one of my shallower fantasy leagues with 20-player rosters, Bourn even recently popped up on the waiver wire.  I don't know if Bourn is finding stolen bases harder to come by in the American League or if he's starting to lose his wheels at age 30, but whatever the case, the Bourn era in Cleveland has been about as blah as The Bourne Legacy.

Starting To Simmer.  This week's "better than you'd think" guy is kind of an odd candidate since his overall batting line (.249/.287/.373 heading into Tuesday's action) is atrocious.  That said, Andrelton Simmons has quietly been on a roll this month, posting an .820 OPS in July and making himself into a stealth pickup if you're looking for help at a thin shortstop position.  I wouldn't suggest picking him up and then feeling comfortable enough to trade your more established starting shortstop, but if you're hurting at SS or, say, if you're Jhonny Peralta owner worried about a Biogenesis suspension, then the Drel is your man!  Have we settled on "The Drel" as Simmons' nickname yet?  No?  Ok, just checking.

After hitting .299/.352/.397 in 1092 minor league plate appearances (none above Double-A), Simmons hasn't matched that kind of hitting prowess in the bigs but he does have 11 homers.  That's pretty decent for any shortstop but it's jaw-dropping for Simmons himself, who had nine professional homers total coming into this season.  Since Fredi Gonzalez inexplicably keeps putting a guy with a sub-.300 OBP in the leadoff spot, Simmons is also a solid run-scorer, notching 54 touches of home plate.  Simmons doesn't walk much (5.1 BB%) but he also rarely strikes out -- his 7.6% strikeout rate is the fourth-lowest of any player in baseball this season.  Combine this with a .247 BABIP and it could suggest that Simmons will post something closer to his July numbers the rest of the way rather than the .609 OPS he posted over the first three months. 

Across The Sea.  Speaking of infielders who are on fire in July, Simmons can't hold a candle to Kyle Seager, whose .384/.455/.605 line has made him a strong Player Of The Month candidate.  Seager put up good numbers in 2012 and has taken another step forward this year to become one of the better third basemen in baseball, hitting .293/.356/.481 with 16 homers, 48 RBI and 59 runs over the course of the full season.  Seager has comfortably turned himself into a top-10 fantasy third baseman for 2014 and might even crack the top five if he keeps swinging the hot bat.

Mariners fans, you've suffered through a tough few seasons now with a lot of losses, historically-poor hitting and a lot of underachieving hitting prospects.  The good news is that Seager looks like he may be a keeper, as his 2013 stats bear a strong resemblance to his 2010-11 minor league numbers, so while there was no question he has hitting ability, it was just a question of if he (unlike so many others) could handle Safeco Field.  Seager's contact, walk, line drive and HR/FB rates are all up from 2012 and while his BABIP is .318, that's not too crazy a number.  The only drawback is a lack of success against left-handed pitching, as the left-handed hitting Seager has just a .680 OPS against southpaws.  Still, if you have another third base option on days when the Mariners face a lefty, Seager has undoubtedly been a boon for his fantasy owners.

Time To Get Off The BART.  I've been hesitant to even bring up this whole Bartolo Colon thing since it seems like it's beyond statistical understanding.  This living affront to advanced metric analysis has been one of baseball's best pitchers is 12-1 with a 1.53 ERA over his last 13 starts, and for the season has a 2.54 ERA and a 4.28 K/BB ratio that is buoyed by an AL-low 1.14 BB/9.  All of this at age 40 and getting by on one pitch --- 84.8% of Colon's pitches this year have been fastballs, by far the most any pitcher in the game relies on their heater, and "heater" is a relative term given Colon's 90.1 mph average speed.

So you have a guy who barely strikes anyone out, plus he's allowing homers and walks at less than half his career rates.  Colon has a 3.25 FIP, 4.02 xFIP and 4.25 SIERA, not to mention a below-average BABIP (.280) and an abover-average strand rate (81.6%).  Since he likely isn't facing a Biogenesis suspension, my suggestion would be for Colon owners to sell high as soon as you can....yet geez, isn't fantasy baseball fun when you have a guy on your roster who's outperformed all possible expectations?  Errrrgh, no!  No, Mark!  Stop being romantic!  This is a factual, logic-based column only, darn it!  Check your heart at the door!

The Proof Is In The Peripherals: July 25-31

This isn't really an "advanced metric" fantasy tip but I'm just sayin', if you've got any of the Biogenesis suspects on your fantasy roster, you might want to trade them ASAP.  Also, "The Biogenesis Suspects" sounds like an awesome Ray Bradbury novel.  Let's check out this week's fantasy yeas and nays...

* Swishing Well.  Nick Swisher's triumphant return to his home state of Ohio hasn't exactly gone as planned.  Swisher is hitting.242/.345/.397 with 10 homers and 32 RBI through 362 PA, and while injuries have no doubt played a role in these poor numbers, Swisher is still on pace for the second-worst full-season OPS of his career.  (His worst came in his lone season with the White Sox in 2008, so maybe Swisher just hates the AL Central?)

You can't blame bad luck, as Swisher's .290 BABIP is only a bit below average.  You can't blame his walk and strikeout rates, which are close to his career averages.  You can't blame his contact rates, as a few are up and a few are down, but overall he's been pretty much the same across the board.  The problem just seems to be a lack of power, as Swisher's .157 ISO is easily his the lowest of his career.  I wouldn't have predicted such a drop given that Swisher's power was hardly a creation of Yankee Stadium (his home/road splits as a Yankee were pretty even), but it might just be that Swisher is falling off that cliff like so many 32-year-old ballplayers before him.  I drafted Swisher in one of my leagues with the intent of playing him every day as a third outfielder, but I abandoned that plan long ago.  Staple Swisher to your bench (barring a hot streak) and start wondering if Swisher's days as a model of fantasy consistency are through.

* Kuroda ErosionHiroki Kuroda has always been a guy who has enjoyed very solid Major League results despite only okay peripheral stats thanks to below-average strand rates (73.7%) and BABIPs (.278) over his career.  This year, however, he's really pushing it.  Kuroda has both the third-lowest strand rate (81.9%) and ninth-lowest BABIP (.251) of any qualified starter in the league, so his 2.65 ERA isn't quite as impressive when seen through the lens of the advanced metrics --- 3.56 FIP, 3.73 xFIP, 3.88 SIERA.  

For a 38-year-old who pitches in Yankee Stadium, of course, even these numbers are still pretty good.  Kuroda has been an underrated fantasy starter for essentially his entire career in North America and while he won't regress much over the final two months, I'd guess he'll still regress a bit.  If you can package Kuroda and another player together in a trade for a more proven ace, I'd make that move. 

* But You Doesn't Hasta Call Me Johnson!  "How have I gone this long in my fantasy column-writing career without referencing Ray J. Johnson?" is a question nobody should ever ask of themselves.  Anyway, Josh Johnson's fantasy value took another big hit after his poor start against the Dodgers on Monday, and the Blue Jays righty is now owned in just 58% of Yahoo leagues.  So naturally, just when Johnson is at rock bottom, I'm going to suggest you pick him up since there's evidence that he isn't actually as bad as he's seemed for much of the 2013 season.

Johnson has a 63% strand rate and a .338 BABIP, which is partially why his ERA is an ugly 5.66 in real life but his advanced metrics (4.26 FIP, 3.60 xFIP, 3.71 SIERA) are all pretty good.  The issue is that he just cannot stop giving up home runs.  Johnson's HR/FB rate is 15.7%, almost twice his career average, and since he's giving up less than his career average of fly balls, you can't blame it all on the move from Marlins Park to Rogers Centre and the AL East.  I'd take a flyer on Johnson if you're trying to fill an injury in your rotation or if you've been streaming your fifth starter spot, since surely things have to improve for him sooner or later, eh?  Also, "Surely Things Have To Improve, Eh?" is also the motto for the 2013 Blue Jays team.

* Austin City LimitsAustin Jackson is just 26 years old and in his fourth season, so it's still a little early for anyone to outright claim they 'know' what kind of player Jackson will ultimately become.  That said, I think I'm safe in proclaming that Jackson's BABIP-fueled monster of a 2012 season will probably end up being the best power year of his pro career.  The .300/.377/.479 line that Jackson put up last year topped any of his on-base and slugging numbers from the minors, so my fantasy dashboard just started flashing the OUTLIER light.

The wild thing is, Jackson's .371 BABIP from 2012 wasn't even the highest of his Major League career.  The Tigers outfielder has been kissed by the BABIP gods, as he has a whopping .366 BABIP for his career and a .341 mark this season.  Time will tell if Jackson's luck will eventually turn for but now, he's an absolute run-scoring monster atop that Detroit lineup.  Runs are an underrated fantasy statistic and really no different than the others -- if you have a guy who's a beast in one category, you can overlook any deficiencies in the rest.  Jackson is nothing special when it comes to homers, steals or even average, and a hamstring injury has really put a crimp in his base-stealing ability this year.  Still, don't be down on Jackson's performance if you drafted him expecting a repeat of 2012.  Any power you get from him will be a bonus, so just sit back and bask in the....well, I was about to say 'runny goodness,' but that just sounds kind of gross.  Run-scoring goodness?  Yeah, might as well be grammatically-correct.  #EnglishMajor

The Proof Is In The Peripherals: July 18-24

Since the All-Star Break is all about celebrating the first 3.5 months of the baseball season, let's look back on a couple of my starworthy picks of the first half.  For instance, I told you in early May that Matt Carpenter was the real deal, and just last week, I praised Tim Lincecum's underrated season just before he no-hit the Padres.  Yep, I guess you could say it was a pretty darn perfect first half for the ol' Shukster...uh, except for writing off Ian Desmond or thinking Chase Headley's slump was no big deal.  The moral of the story is, I'm a human coin flip.  Actually, if I was a human coin flip, I'd usually come up heads due to my giant cranium.  Seriously, I can't wear adjustable ballcaps even if they're on the last notch on the strap.  It's a curse.  Forget my being a human coin flip, I'm really a human bobblehead doll.

Enough of that nonsense.  Let's look at this week's advanced metric All-Stars and No-Stars!

* Porce Of A Different Color.  If it weren't for the Los Anaheim Angels, Rick Porcello would be looked on a lot more favorably by fantasy managers.  Porcello has a 4.80 ERA in 99 1/3 innings, but if you subtract the 16 runs in five innings (!) that Porcello allowed in two starts against the Halos, Porcello's ERA drops down to much more respectable 3.53 mark.  I'm forced to conclude that Porcello has been targeted by a Christopher Lloyd-esque spirit, a la Angels In The Outfield.  For instance, Porcello has a career-best 57.3% ground ball rate this season but also a 15.7% home run rate, so even though he's allowing fewer fly balls, more of them are inexplicably leaving the park.  It's almost as if those flies are being carried over the fence by a winged figure, HMMMM???

Whether it's vengeful spirits or just bad luck, Porcello hasn't caught many breaks this season given that his 3.52 FIP, 3.07 xFIP and 3.15 SIERA all indicate that he should be seeing much better results on the ERA front.  The Tigers righty has posted new career bests in K/9 (7.2), BB/9 (1.7) and K/BB ratio (4.21) but hasn't had much to show for it thanks to a .317 BABIP and a below-average 65.4% strand rate.   Unless the supernatural phenomena continues, I'd expect Porcello to be a solid fantasy contributor in the second half.  He'll likely be available for a cheap price in a fantasy trade or he could even be on the waiver wire.  Since the Tigers don't play the Angels again, you're set.

* Not On A Roll.  It's been a long and distinguished run for Jimmy Rollins as a major fantasy contributor, but at age 34, I think J-Roll is about done.  Rollins is hitting .258/.317/.345 with 38 runs, 30 RBI and just four homers in 403 PA.  It's been a total power outage for Rollins, as his .088 ISO is the 14th-lowest of any player with a qualified number of plate appearnces.  Even his base-stealing has gone to pot, as Rollins is just 9-for-15 in stolen base attempts and he's registering only a 3.8 in Fangraphs' "speed score" statistic, barely half of his 7.4 career total.

Rollins owners have undoubtedly been looking for upgrades for several weeks now and all I can say is keep searching, since there's nothing to suggest that Rollins can turn things around.  He is what he is, a lower-tier shortstop whose former pluses of speed and homers have both seemingly left him.

* Colby Beware.  "Hey, would you be interested in Colby Rasmus?  He only has a .695 OPS against lefties but his .866 OPS against righties is terrific, and since you shuffle your lineup every day, you'll know when the Blue Jays face a southpaw.  Rasmus is having a sneaky-good year, on pace to recapture the promise he showed in his big 2010 season.  He'd help your outfield and since you already have an excess of (insert stat here), you can spare a (insert position here).  Think about it!"  

There, I just provided your sales pitch for your upcoming trade offer.  You openly admit Rasmus' splits, you butter up your rival manager by implying that he's both already smart enough to know about the splits and how to play Rasmus correctly, and you plant the seed about Rasmus' would-be breakout season from three years ago.  The best part is that this description is truthful, as Rasmus has indeed been a great streaming play against right-handed pitching.  That said, move now to sell high on Rasmus.  Almost all of Rasmus' contact rates are down from last year and below his career averages, so I'd say his .344 BABIP indicates that Rasmus has been lucky to find open spaces when he has been making contact.  Not that seasonal splits are a good forecaster, but for his career Rasmus has a .615 OPS after the All-Star Break, for what it's worth.  I'd cut bait on Rasmus now and let another owner deal with his probable regression.  Would you really let my brilliant sales pitch go to waste?  If there was a Pulitzer Prize for trade offer notes....

* Stop.  Hamels Time.  Cole Hamels isn't really having a bad season, but he's just the victim of high expectations (not unlike his team itself).  Like many of you, I drafted Hamels in one of my leagues with the expectation that he'd be a rotation-carrying ace, but the Phillies southpaw has instead performed more like an okay #2 or good #3 starter.  Is it ideal?  No, but it's not like Hamels is being rocked every time out.  It's fine to have just a "solid" ace if the rest of your fantasy rotation has been smartly constructed and hey, Hamels does have a 2.95 ERA over his last eight starts, so maybe his best is yet to come.

Most of Hamels' 2013 peripherals aren't appreciatively different from his past numbers except when it comes to leaving men on base.  While Hamels' 70.8% strand rate is roughly average, Hamels has never been "roughly average" in this category, as he's enjoyed a 76.5% strand rate over his career.  Simply put, more of Hamels' runners are scoring than usual, and that's the likely culprit behind his 4.05 ERA.  Given that his strand rate isn't low by any means, this might simply be a case of Hamels' good luck running out.  If he regains his strand rate mojo, look out, the vintage Hamels might yet re-emerge.  It'd be ridiculous to try and trade Hamels simply because he isn't pitching like a Cy Young candidate so don't even think about throwing Cole Hamels down the Camel Hole.  Basically, it's that pit from Return Of The Jedi, except instead of a Sarlacc, it's a bunch of wild bloodthirsty camels.  You're right, it doesn't make sense.

The Proof Is In The Peripherals: July 11-17

Remember the character of Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and how she'd always use the phrase "five by five" when saying that someone was all right or okay with her?  Does this mean that Faith was secretly a big fantasy baseball fan who stuck to the 5x5 leagues?  I shouldn't have brought this up, since now I'm going to presume that every stranger I'm playing against in a public league is actually Eliza Dushku, which may induce me to make stupid trades in a vain attempt at getting a phone number.

Anyway, just as you shouldn't use fantasy baseball as a way of hitting on actresses, you also shouldn't use the 5x5 stats as your sole guide to determining a player's value.  Here's your weekly look at the advanced metrics to see which players you should put  *rimshot*

Say Yes To Ricky No: Things are looking up for Ricky Nolasco these days.  He was recently released from purgatory traded from the Marlins to the Dodgers, where he gets to pitch in a pennant race (sort of) and near his SoCal hometown.  It also helps that Nolasco is on pace for his best overall season since his breakout 2008 campaign, in large part because for once, Nolasco's peripherals are pretty normal.  Sabermetricians still speak in hushed tones of Nolasco's bizarre 2009 season (a 5.06 ERA but a 3.35 FIP) and for his career, the right-hander has a .308 BABIP and 68.7% strand rate, both higher than average.  This season, however, Nolasco's BABIP is a solid .299 and his strand rate is actually a bit better than average (72.5%).  The only somewhat worrisome stat is that Nolasco isn't allowing as many grounders as he did in the previous two years, though since he's pitching at Dodger Stadium, his increased fly ball tendencies aren't likely to cause many problems.

Nolasco has a 7.2 K/9, 3.6 K/BB ratio and a 3.85 ERA (3.51 FIP, 3.70 xFIP, 3.80 SIERA) in 112 1/3 innings this season, yet he's only owned in 36% of Yahoo fantasy leagues.  It's possible owners stayed away from Nolasco in their drafts due to his years of good-but-not-great performances and the fact that the Marlins in general were going to be a disaster, but there's no reason to not snatch him up now. 

Alexei Sale: Alexei Ramirez's career is taking a weird arc, as he began his career as a solid power-hitting shortstop but now seems to be morphing into a no-hit stolen base threat.  Ramirez has 19 steals already this season, putting him easily on pace to break his career high of 20, so I can't say that the White Sox shortstop has been a total fantasy bust.  Ramirez has hit .277/.305/.345 with one homer and 33 runs scored, plus a stunningly low .068 ISO that indicates the Stark family on Game Of Thrones are the only ones with less power than Ramirez right now.

Not that steals aren't a valuable category and it's not like shortstop is brimming with big bats anyway, but I always hate having a "steals-only" guy on the roster who swipes a few bags and usually has a decent average but just kills you in every other category.  If you have one or two other speed threats in your fantasy lineup, I'd recommend moving Ramirez for a better shortstop since his bat just isn't coming back.  He even has a .314 BABIP on the season, so if this is the lucky Alexei, I shudder to think how he'll be hitting if his luck turns.

Shell Hhigh Ohn Jhonny: There's a chance that Jhonny Peralta won't be on anyone's roster for a large chunk of the remaining season, but suspension rumors aside, Peralta is a classic sell-high candidate if you have him on your team right now.  And if there's an owner in your league that isn't following the Biogenesis story then hey, caveat emptor!

Peralta was recently named to his second All-Star team as a result of the .304/.360/.445 batting line he carried into Tuesday's play, and when combined with seven homers, 42 RBI and 38 runs scored, Peralta has been one of the best fantasy shortstops of 2013.  It's a marked improvement over his disappointing .689 OPS in 2012, though I'd argue that Peralta's hot hitting isn't likely to last into the second half.  Forget about the PED accusations --- it's all about Peralta's league-leading .385 BABIP.  This ridiculous number obscures the fact that Peralta's peripherals are largely the same as usual, except for a 26.6% line drive rate that is far above his 20.7% career average.  Peralta is bound to regress so do your best to move him for a shortstop that has fewer statistical red flags.

Big Time Timmy Jim: I think most fantasy owners would be pretty pleased with having a pitcher with a 9.39 K/9, 2.35 K/BB rate and a 3.48 ERA in their rotations, eh?  Well, that's what you would have if you owned the much-maligned Tim Lincecum, and also owned him in a just universe.  Lincecum's 3.48 number refers to his FIP, and his 3.31 xFIP and 3.61 SIERA likewise indicate that the Freak is having some freakishly bad luck this year, as his real-world ERA sits at 4.61.  A handsome and talented MLB Trade Rumors writer pointed out in February that Lincecum faced a bit of extra pressure this season as he not only was trying to regain his old consistency, but also had to do so in a contract year.  Lincecum has more or less done his job, but the high BABIP (.327) and low strand rate (66.2%) have kept his ERA from matching his advanced metrics.  In non-luck based numbers, Lincecum also has a career-high 27.2% line drive rate, so with more hard-hit balls in play, it's perhaps unsurprising that more are landing for hits.

All this said, Lincecum's fortunes are due to change during the second half, and owners who rolled the dice on Lincecum following his rough 2012 could still get the maximum return on their risk if the righty delivers a couple of vintage Freak months.  After all, he's "Big Time Timmy Jim," a nickname I had literally never heard until I surfed onto Lincecum's Baseball-Reference page.  What an unwieldy nickname.  And his middle name isn't even James, so it makes even less sense.  Whomever's in charge of handing out nicknames in San Francisco really dropped the ball on that one.  Kruk and Kuip need to get on this.

The Proof Is In The Peripherals: July 4-10

We're under a month away from the trade deadline, so of course everyone's refreshing MLB Trade Rumors on a minutely basis, right?  Since every baseball fan's mind will be focused on deals, deals and more deals in July, I thought I'd focus this week's column on four players whose names (i.e. Lowenstein) have been whispered as the trade winds whistle through the leaves...

* Supernatural Success.  Since the baseball gods love to laugh at the Kansas City Royals, the Royals' additions of Ervin Santana and James Shields have indeed helped turn around the club's pitching rotation...but now the team can't hit a lick.  Oh well.  Santana can't do anything about his team's weak lineup, but he's more than done his fair share in the starting rotation, posting a 2.84 ERA, 7.2 K/9 rate and a 4.05 K/BB ratio over 16 starts.  The 30-year-old has rebounded nicely from his brutal 2012 season, set himself up for a nice free agent contract this winter and been a boon to fantasy owners who took a flier on him as a fifth starter. Aside from him extending Rob Thomas' music career by at least a decade, there's not much to dislike about the Santana experience. 

So what's the problem?  Santana has personally enjoyed all the luck that the snakebitten Royals franchise lacks.  The righty's .250 BABIP and 81.4% strand rate explain why his advanced ERA numbers (3.88 FIP, 3.52 xFIP, 3.56 SIERA) are significantly higher than his regular ERA.  These aren't bad stats by any means, but I'm more worried about Santana's unnerving 13.8% HR/FB rate.  Santana's struggles last year were caused giving up a ton of homers (1.97 HR/9) and while he's cut back on his career-worst 18.8% HR/FB mark from last season, that 13.8% number is still the second-highest total of his career.  While Santana has cut down on his fly balls from 2012, his long ball tendencies might only be being held in check by the fact that he pitches in one of the most homer-unfriendly parks in the majors.  Santana is bound to regress anyway over the next three months, and if he gets traded away from Kansas City, he could find himself again bit by the homer bug.  If you've enjoyed having Santana on your roster so far, sell high and move him now before the regression kicks in like a wicked guitar solo.

* Sorry.  Cubs fans have wanted to be rid of Alfonso Soriano's millstone contract for years now, but things have been complicated by the fact that, well, nobody else has been particularly interested in absorbing that contract, not to mention the fact that Soriano hasn't been overly keen on waiving his full no-trade clause.  Soriano seems a bit more open to leaving Chicago now, though the problem now is that he's on pace for one of his worst seasons.  Soriano entered Tuesday hitting .257/.284/.428 with nine homers and 35 RBI in 306 PA, and at age 37, it's fair to wonder if the veteran is simply too washed up to be of any real value to either the Cubs or any other team that might wonder if Soriano could regain his old pop in their uniform. 

It's hard to see Soriano catching fire in the second half whether he's at Wrigley Field or elsewhere.  Soriano is putting up that lousy slash line despite the fact that his contact rates are up across the board and that he's getting a bit of extra BABIP (.308) help.  Fantasy-wise, Soriano has been a verrrrry borderline starter for the last few years, averging 26 homers and 82 RBI between 2009-2012 but of little help in the runs scored (62) or batting average (.252) categories.  If your league tracked walks, then yikes, Soriano's .310 OBP made him bench depth at best.  This is the year where I think Soriano can be altogether dropped and considered to be more or less fantasy-irrelevant.  On the bright side, you'll have an easier team moving him in your fantasy league than the Cubs will at the deadline.

* Young At Heart.  I owe Michael Young an apology.  I thought this guy was seven kinds of washed up after his fall-off-a-cliff 2012 season and avoided him in all of my leagues.  Since I'm sure Young monitors my fantasy leagues and took my snub as a personal affront, he has rebounded to hit .290/.346/.410 for the Phillies this year.  His power numbers (five homers, 21 RBI) impress nobody but his average and 33 runs scored make him a decent play as a second baseman, and he also qualifies at both first and third base for some added versatility value.  Young's .326 BABIP would make him seem like a regression candidate but he's always had a high career BABIP (.334) and this year, he's walking more than ever before.  Young's 8.0% walk rate will be a career high if he keeps it up for the entire season, so at age 36, the old dog isn't exactly learning a new trick, but the extra patience is paying off. 

Young is, of course, playing in Philadelphia and in the National League after spending his previous 13 seasons in Texas, so if he is traded, I'll predict continued success due to the "a move is easier the second time" theory.  Several players who have moved to a new team after long stints with their original club have spoken of a longer adjustment period, and once they've moved on to a third team and gained a few journeyman points, they've gotten used to the moves and in many cases find their old form.  Young has already fit in just fine in Philly, so if he's dealt again, heck, he may just upgrade his performance yet again.  It's like the first time I moved into a new apartment and how I took a million cardboard boxes from home, overpacked my car, had Mom pack a box of canned goods so that I didn't starve, etc.  By that third move, though, I had my entire wardrobe stuffed into one suitcase and enough spare room in my car that I could've picked up two hitchhikers and told them how they should keep Michael Young on their fantasy teams.  Aha, you didn't think I'd get back on topic, did you?!  Point, Polishuk.

* Electric Edinson.  Petco Park has helped prop up many a pitcher's stats, but the "Petco Effect" has yet to really take for Edinson Volquez, now in his second season with the Padres.  The right-hander is pitching okay...but he has little to show for it, with a 5.50 ERA that has been inflated by a low strand rate (63.9%) and high BABIP (.328).  Volquez's 3.95 FIP, 4.13 xFIP and 4.39 SIERA all indicate that he's basically the same borderline-fifth-starter fantasy pitcher he was last season, he's just been unluckier. 

While there's reason to believe Volquez can turn things around and still produce for you if you've stuck with him in your rotation this long, drop him immediately if he's traded.  Volquez's home/road splits are very lopsided since joining the Padres --- a 2.95 home ERA and 5.60 road ERA in 2012, and a 4.73/6.23 split between home and away this season.  As long as the Volqswagen keeps running in San Diego, he still has some fantasy value and even a bit of underdog pickup status in the second half.  If he's dealt anywhere else, however, the Volqswagen is running on empty.

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

As we approach the halfway mark of the 2013 season, it's fair to note that some of the "luck" that factors into advanced metrics may simply be here to stay (or will never arrive) for certain players.  If so-and-so has a high BABIP that "should" correct itself, well, some guys just go an entire year without ever coming back down to earth; Dexter Fowler's 2012 season waves hello.  So essentially, my analysis can be taken with a grain of salt since while I'm trying my best to use logic and statistics to predict fantasy value, some players just put up numbers that defy all reason.

"Mark, are you just trying to excuse your terrible Jeff Locke prediction last month?"

Shut up, Voice of Reason!  Onto this week's featured players!

* Off To Ne Verland Verland  If I had Kate Upton publicly teasing me, I'd be a little off my game as well, but Justin Verlander has not been himself this season.  Verlanded allowed four runs from seven hits and three walks over just five innings (!) against the Red Sox in his last start, recording just four strikeouts (!!) and raising his ERA to 3.90 (!!!) for the season.  What the what?  This isn't what you want to see from a guy who has been a slam dunk top-of-the-rotation ace for the last couple of seasons.  If you're a Verlander owner, should you be worried or even thinking about selling low?

The answer, simply, is no.  Well, I guess maybe a little worried since Kate Upton's eCard taunts carry a bitter sting, but the advanced metrics suggest that Verlander has just been unlucky in love on batted balls, as his .347 BABIP is the third-highest of any qualified pitcher in the majors.  Verlander is on pace to for his highest walk total since 2008, but he's also posting a higher K/9 (10.2) than ever before, so while he isn't quite Vintage Verlander, it's hard to complain about a guy with a 2.86 FIP, 3.29 xFIP and 3.35 SIERA.  I myself own Verlander in one of my leagues and while I'm not thrilled with the results this far, I highly doubt I'll be regretting my decision to take him with the 15th overall pick.  And really, in this particular league I'm in second-last place, so I've had far bigger disasters going on than Verlander's below-average performance.  *sob*  Can someone send me a condolence eCard?  Not you, Upton!

* Not The Bester  If you're going to be worried about an ace in possible decline, forget Verlander and look at Jon Lester.  The general feeling in the offseason was that Lester's disappointing 2012 campaign could be written off as an aberration given that a) Bobby Valentine had been extracted from the Red Sox manager's ofice and b) John Farrell was back in the fold to help get Lester and Clay Buchholz back on track.  Buchholz has been back on his game (when healthy) this year but Lester got off to a good start and then has just cratered over the last month, to the point that his current numbers bear an ugly resemblance to his 2012 stats.

It's worth noting that Lester's 4.82 ERA last season was a bit overblown (4.11 FIP/3.82 xFIP/3.94 SIERA, 67.6% strand rate, .312 BABIP), though when seen in combination with this year's 4.57 ERA through 16 starts, you have to wonder if the left-hander has just plateaued.  Lester has a 4.30 FIP/4.00 xFIP/4.02 SIERA this season, so there's a bit of bad luck involved here too, but is a best-case 4.00 ERA something you want to see from a guy who, in his prime, was a solid fantasy ace?  Lester's line drive and HR/FB rates have spiked over the last two seasons, another bad sign. 

If you're a Lester owner looking for some good news, you could point to the fact that Lester has a 2.86 ERA at Fenway Park this season and has only made five home starts (as opposed to ten on the road), so he could get back on track once this quirk of the schedule balances out.  I'm not sure you can hang your hat on home/away splits, however, given that Lester was far worse at Fenway in 2012 than he was on the road, plus his career home/away splits are nearly identical.  It's high time to start shopping Lester around your league to see if someone else thinks they're buying low, and if there aren't any takers, maybe check out the waiver wire for a better option.  

* Bautarnacion  The list of baseball's lowest BABIPs (among qualified hitters) bears a strong resemblance to a list of baseball's flat-out worst hitters of the 2013 season.  No surprise here --- some guys are just unlucky and some guys just aren't putting many balls in play since they're striking out like mad (hey there, Adam Dunn's .197 BABIP).  On this list of mediocrity, however, you'll find a couple of Blue Jays sluggers who actually are putting up very strong numbers in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.  The duo entered Tuesday's play with the kind of power stats you would've expected from them in the preseason, yet Encarnacion carries only a .250 BABIP while Bautista's BABIP is only .255.

For fantasy purposes, it's hard to say you'd be buying low with either player since both men are hitting like their usual selves to the layman.  But now might indeed be the time to swing a trade for either Joey Bats or the former lead singer of I Mother Earth since their best might be yet to come in the second half.  Heck, in Bautista's case, I'd say that's solidly the case given that his red-hot .994 OPS in May was sandwiched by a .200/.302/.533 line in April and a .595 OPS thus far in June.  I acquired Encarnacion in one of my leagues this past week, picking him up for the price of Anthony Rizzo and Howie Kendrick.  Pretty solid deal on my end, in my opinion, especially since I have Aaron Hill returning from the DL to replace Kendrick at second base.  Speaking of which....

* Howie Doing This?  Let's talk for a minute about Kendrick, who is less a ballplayer than he is a living affront to the idea of a league average .300 BABIP.  The Angels second baseman has a .343 BABIP for his career, so the fact that his BABIP currently sits at .371 isn't necessarily cause for alarm.  Kendrick apparently just has a knack for hitting them where they ain't, and it's translating into what could be the best season of his eight-year career.  Kendrick is hitting .323/.366/.471 with 32 runs scored, eight homers, 36 RBI and even six steals as the cherry on top, seemingly finally establishing himself as a legit top-tier fantasy second sacker.

There are a couple of outliers within Kendrick's statistics that could be cause for concern.  His HR/FB rate is 16.3%, well above his 9.4% career average (though he had another outlier season like this in 2011).  What stands out even more is Kendrick's 29.7% line drive rate, which dwarfs his 20% career rate and sits almost eight percent higher than his next best career mark in a season.  This being said, however, Kendrick's .148 ISO isn't out of whack with his .137 career ISO, so it's not like his hitting the ball harder is manifesting itself in any blatantly unusual way.  I'd say that Kendrick can safely be counted on to more or less continue his hot hitting and you should definitely hang onto him...uh, unless you can get Edwin Encarnacion and you have Aaron Hill around to man second base.

The Proof Is In The Peripherals: June 20-26

I made an interesting swap in one of my leagues this week that involved a couple of past TPIITP featured players.  I dealt Aaron Hill and Matt Carpenter to my rival manager in exchange for Albert Pujols and Didi Gregorius, so I'm certainly standing up to my belief that Pujols will eventually get back to his old form.  (And sure enough, he delivered four hits in his first game for me.)  Carpenter my man, you more than lived up to expectations and actually played even better following my "hey, believe the hype!" piece about you on May 1.  That said, if I have the chance to deal you and a guy coming off a broken hand for Albert Pujols (and a possibly useful, if falling-back-to-earth rookie shortstop), I'm making that deal every time.

But anyway, onto this week's examination beyond the usual 5x5 numbers...

* Ooooh, The Chase!  As an old-school Carmen Sandiego fan as a kid, it never stops being amusing that San Diego's best player is named Chase.  It's been a pretty rough year for Chase Headley owners, who were expecting to own a top-tier third baseman but instead have put up with two weeks on the DL, three weeks of hot hitting and a bunch of misery.  Headley had a .936 following the Padres' 1-0 win over the Marlins on May 8 but then posted a .170/.291/.252 line over his next 158 PA.  The knock on Headley going into his breakout 2012 season was that he had trouble hitting at Petco Park and that he generally wasn't as good against left-handed pitching; he corrected those problems last season, but in 2013 he has just a .573 OPS against southpaws and, weirdly, his road OPS is over 100 points lower than his home OPS.

The good news is, there's no reason to believe this will continue.  Most of Headley's peripheral stats match what he posted in 2012, aside from a .273 BABIP (he BABIP'ed .337 last season) and swing rates that are down roughly 2% across the board.  That's not a good drop, obviously, but it's nothing too severe.  It could be that Headley is still getting warm after missing a chunk of Spring Training with a fractured thumb.  Also, any kind of hand or finger injury usually takes a bit of extra time for a hitter to fully get over, so Headley could return to form any day now.  I've personally moved Headley to my bench in one of my leagues (I still have the awesome Matt Carpenter in this one, so he's my 3B) until he's hot, so if you have a decent third sacker in reserve, play them until Headley gets himself sorted out.  No reason to panic yet.

* King Jeremy The Wicked.  We've hit that time of the fantasy season when your pitching staff has been hit with a couple of injuries, maybe a starter you thought would be good has been ineffective, and you just want to shake things up a bit.  You check out your league's waiver wire and hey look, it's Jeremy Guthrie!  And what's this, he has a 3.72 ERA and throws in pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium?  Why yeah, that sounds like a good idea, let's bring Guthrie on board!

This is how it begins.  Guthrie revived his career by pitching well in the latter half of 2012 after joining the Royals, but that was arguably the only time he has ever provided legit fantasy value.  Too few strikeouts, too many homers and a career 4.24 ERA doth not a reliable fantasy starter make.  Guthrie's 3.72 ERA this year is belied by some ugly advanced metrics (5.96 FIP, 5.02 xFIP, 5.13 SIERA) and at only 4.30 K/9 and 3.03 BB/9, his real-life ERA seems due to rise at any moment.  Not that a 3.72 ERA is a world-beater mark anyway, but the only thing keeping it in check is Guthrie's .256 BABIP and an 86.1% strand rate that ranks as the second-highest in the entire league among qualified starters.  You should be looking to add Guthrie ONLY as a one-week stream if he has a couple of home starts against weaker lineups, but otherwise just leave him alone.

* Loosen Your Belt.  Since my wardrobe is pathetically small, I only own three belts.  One is my "formal" belt that I bust out for wedding, funerals, meetings with the Royal Family, etc.  Another is my everyday belt, which is super-comfortable and also very flexible, which is key given my, uh, somewhat ample waistline.  The third is my backup belt, which frankly is kind of stiff and a pain to wear, though I bust it out at least once a week just to give my primary belt a break, sort of like how you sit your starting catcher for a day game that follows a night game. 

Anyway, we're taking this trip around around my pants since I think most Brandon Belt owners are using him as their backup belt by this point in the season.  You'll start him maybe once a week if he's facing a righty starter or if your regular first baseman has an unfavorable matchup, but that's it, since Belt isn't living up to his preseason status as a potential breakout candidate.  Belt was hitting .255/.324/.417 with seven homers and 30 RBIs going into Tuesday's play, which isn't necessarily BAD overall given his home ballpark (Belt has a solid 114 OPS+) but it's not what you expect from your starting fantasy first baseman.

Belt's contract rates and power numbers -- home run rate, isolated power and fly balls in general -- are all up from his 2012 statistics but overall he isn't hitting as well as he did last season.  He's hitting almost five percent fewer line drives, his walk rate is down and he owns a pretty even .296 BABIP, so it's not just a case of bad luck.  Belt simply might be a year or two away from that breakout the Giants and fantasy owners think he's capable of, given how he has dominated minor league pitching.  If you've stuck with Belt this long as a starter, you're way overdue to start looking for an upgrade.

* King Of The NetherlandsDerek Holland's gem in Game Four of the 2011 World Series seemed to herald his arrival as a frontline starter but he wasn't quite there yet, as evidenced by his average 2012 season.  This season, however, he has a 3.30 ERA, 8.6 K/9 and 3.91 K/BB ratio through 14 starts, and the advanced metrics (2.78 FIP, 3.23 xFIP, 3.39 SIERA) and his .344 BABIP suggest that Holland could actually be doing a bit better than his already very solid numbers.

Holland's biggest issue in 2012 was allowing home runs and he has cut his HR/9 from 1.6 last season to just 0.6 this season. Fangraphs' Chris Kwik noted last month that Holland's increased use of his slider and decreased reliance on his curveball were helping him keep the ball in the park, and since this change in pitch selection seems to be paying off, I feel confident that Holland will keep up his good work for the rest of the campaign.  No pitcher who throws at Rangers Ballpark is entirely free of the homer curse, of course, but Holland is definitely on the right track.  This might be the last year that Holland is considered an underrated option in fantasy baseball.

The Proof Is In The Peripherals: June 13-19

Here's this week's dive inside the peripheral numbers to seek out the hidden gems, identify the fool's gold, identify which diamonds are diamonds and which lumps of coal are indeed lumps of coal.  #GeologyMetaphors

* Wade To GoWade Davis' transition back to starting pitching hasn't exactly gone smoothly, as the right-hander has been rocked to the tune of a 5.66 ERA through 12 starts.  This said, I'm recommending Davis as a very stealthy fifth starter option for the remainder of the season since man, his bad luck has to eventually turn around, right?  Davis' .391 BABIP is the highest among all qualified starters and only five hurlers have a higher HR/FB rate than Davis' 17.2% mark.  That homer rate is almost twice Davis' career 9.8% HB/FB average, by the way, and it's even more perplexing given that the righty has just a 28.6% fly ball rate overall.  Davis has a 40.6% fly ball rate for his career, so he should be celebrating his newfound ability to keep the ball down were it not for the fact that a stunning number of those flies are turning into big flies.

Davis' advanced ERA metrics still aren't very pretty (4.76 FIP, 3.99 xFIP, 4.20 SIERA) but those numbers and his real ERA should all drop as his calamitous home run rate comes back to earth.  Even if you're in a deep league, Davis is probably available and might not be a bad pickup if you have a rotation spot to fill due to injury or lack of performance from one of your current starters.

* There's A Will, But Maybe Not A WayJosh Willingham has been an underrated fantasy weapon for the last couple of seasons but he's been a bit of a letdown to his owners in 2013.  Willingham had 10 homers and a .215/.361/.421 line heading into Tuesday's play and he's seen his ownership in Yahoo fantasy leagues slip to 69% as some managers have clearly given up hope that his batting average and general power numbers will rise.

A .262 BABIP is part of the problem but the bigger issue is that Willingham is simply not hitting the ball with as much authority as in recent years.  Willingham's line drive rate is down to 12.9%, well below his 18.8% career average, and his overall lack of pop has translated to more (cans of) corn --- Willingham's 22.6% infield fly ball percentage is well above his 12.8% career average.  He's still able to draw walks as regularly as ever, but now that Willingham is 34 years old, you simply have to wonder if he's finally hit his decline phase and that power won't come back.  I could see his average get back around the .250 range as his BABIP normalizes but to me, Willingham doesn't seem worthy of a starting position in a fantasy outfield at this point.  I'd bench him if you have a better option, or try to deal him before his power outage starts to extend to his seemingly okay home run totals.

* The No Homers Club.  This week's player whose performance can be expected to continue in a positive way throughout the season is Reds righty Homer Bailey.  While most weeks I use the advanced stats to indicate a guy's steadiness, I'm predicting Bailey will stay the course due to a couple of conflicting metrics that will eventually even themselves out. 

Let me explain.  Bailey has a 3.47 ERA that could be said to be unluckily high given his 2.56 FIP, 3.05 xFIP and 3.18 SIERA.  He has an even 83 strikeouts in 83 innings, and while his 9.0 K/9 would be a career-best, it's not a massive jump given his 7.5 K/9 average over the last three seasons.  His BABIP (.301) and strand rate (69.7%) are both perfectly average, so Bailey should be due for even more success as the season goes along, correct?

Maybe not.  Bailey has a 49.8% ground ball rate, well above his career average of 43.6%.  He's also posting a career-best 0.43 HR/9, which is surprising given that his name is actually Homer for pete's sakes Bailey carried a career mark of 1.1 HR/9 into this season and plays his home games at the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark.  The righty's luck in keeping the ball on the ground isn't all due to luck, as Bailey has made the two-seam fastball a much bigger part of his arsenal this season, but you have to wonder if the one pitch will be enough to override a few years' worth of habits.  Bailey's home run rate is bound to tick up, which will in turn elevate his FIP/xFIP/SIERA numbers and leave him with....probably somewhere around a 3.47 ERA.  So this is a very roundabout way of saying that you can expect more of the same for Mr. Bailey.

* Corb Your Enthusiasm.  Well, you knew it had to happen sometime, but Patrick Corbin has finally made an appearance in this column.  His 9-0 start with a 1.98 ERA would've made him the talk of the town back in 1995 but with today's newfangled advanced metrics, we can see that Corbin isn't quite as his record indicates.

First, the good news.  Corbin is, in fact, a pretty good pitcher.  His strikeout and walk numbers are roughly the same through his 34 career Major League games (7.2 K/9, 2.2 BB/9) as they were over his 80 career minor league games (8.4 K/9, 2.3 BB/9), so it seems like you can count on Corbin to deliver a decent amount of punchouts without doing much to hurt his own cause.  If you drafted Corbin, you obviously didn't take him as your staff ace, so the fact that he's delivering his good numbers out of your fifth rotation spot is tremendous.

That said, Corbin will likely start pitching like a fifth starter sooner rather than later.  His 3.10 FIP, 3.82 xFIP and 3.83 SIERA indicate that his ERA is going to eventually take a jump, likely once his super-high strand rate (84.1%) and low BABIP (.258) normalize themselves.  Corbin has been pretty decent at keeping the ball in the park over his pro career but I think we can all agree that a 23-year-old who pitches at Chase Field is probably not going to keep up a 5.1% HR/FB rate for an entire season, eh?  You're not going to hurt yourself in the long run by keeping Corbin on your roster, but you might explore a trade and let one of your rival fantasy owners deal with Corbin's inevitable regression period.

Editor's Note: Mark's prediction that Corbin would start pitching like a fifth starter was made before his most recent performance. This editor's fantasy team is paying for that.

The Proof Is In The Peripherals: June 6-12

At the risk of ruining all my credibility as a fantasy guru, I actually fell to LAST PLACE in one of my leagues this week.  Ugh.  It's pretty ironic that I fell into last just one day after the most recent episode of Game Of Thrones given that my team's name was "King In The North."  Apparently it's just been a bad week overall for Kings of the North.

While I try to think of another GoT-related fantasy team name (Brian Bannister Always Pays His Debts?  A Song Of Rice And Fiers?), here are this week's underrated and overrated advanced metric players...

* Wood Cutting.  Everything's coming up Milhouse for Travis Wood this season.  Not only does he have a 2.75 ERA, he also has two homers, including a grand slam against the White Sox on May 30.  You might say that Wood's really good and that the Cubs have found themselves a quality young arm, and while that might be true in future seasons, he's not quite there yet.  This Wood has a few termites.  His peripheral ERA measurements aren't good (3.62 FIP, 4.48 xFIP, 4.49 SIERA), he has one of the league's lowest BABIPs at .218 and he's only averging 6.25 K/9 against 3.00 BB/9.

Wood's strong start has boosted his fantasy stock to the point that he's owned in 71% of Yahoo fantasy leagues.  If you've got the southpaw on your team, start shopping him over the place and sell high while your can.  See if you can trick one of your fellow owners into thinking that Travis Wood is actually Kerry Wood and that we've time-traveled back to 1998.  Play a Ma$e album while you're negotiating, that'll do the trick. 

* Still El Hombre.  The good news is, Albert Pujols owners, your guy might be rope-a-doping us into another second half surge.  Sure, his 12.5% strikeout rate is on pace to be his highest since his rookie season and sure, he's swinging and missing at most pitches outside the strike zone than ever before and...wait, this is supposed to be the pro-Pujols item, right?  Overall, there's no escaping the fact that Pujols' contact rates are down from his career averages...but let's remember, those career averages are all pretty awesome.  He might not be vintage Albert anymore, but he should still be hitting better than .244/.313/421 with just nine measly home runs.  I lay the blame at his .245 BABIP and the Pacific air in Anaheim that's keeping his fly balls in the park.  This won't help ease the pain of those who picked Pujols in the second or third round this year, but if you just alter your perspective and think of Pujols as a second-tier first baseman from now on, his numbers will seem a lot better.  I'm predicting he'll still end up with around 30 dingers and a solid (if not Pujolsian) OPS.

* Mark Of Consistency.  It seemed inevitable that Nick Markakis would eventually end up as one of my weekly "he'll keep doing well" guys since Markakis is one of the more pleasantly stay-the-course players in the game.  He's never broken through into superstardom like the Orioles thought he would, but really, can you argue with a guy that keeps churning out .800 OPS seasons like clockwork?  "Markakis" is, in fact, the Greek word for "metronome."  (Editor's note: pure lies)  Markakis is hitting .305/.355/.445 with seven homers, 33 RBI and 34 runs though 259 PA and yeah, this is all basically in line with what he's done his entire career.  Even the advanced stats scream "nothing to see here" -- he owns a .307 BABIP and while his 7.7% K% is below his career average, Markakis' strikeout rates have been dropping every year since 2008. 

Markakis is almost underrated from a fantasy perspective since he's not a guy who does any one thing spectacularly well, yet his ability to do everything pretty well makes him a great asset; if Markakis is your second or third OF, you're in terrific shape.  If you have a tantalizing but unproven prospect or streaky player in your fantasy outfield, offer them to Markakis' owner in your league to see if he doesn't appreciate what he has.

* 4 8 15 16 23 42.  The LOST numbers aren't only a good intro to discussing Ian Desmond, but also to point out that Desmond has been pretty "lost" at the plate this year.  Ha ha, wordplay!  Like many in the Nationals lineup, Desmond has been an underachiever this year, following up his breakout 2012 campaign with a nasty .265/.298/.460 line.  This is where I point out that Desmond's HR/FB rate did jump up to 18.2% out of nowhere last season and that his current 11.1% rate exactly matches his career average, so perhaps we all got a little carried away in thinking that 2012 represented Desmond's new reality.

His walk (4.9%) and strikeout (23.5%) rates are a bit lower and higher, respectively, than usual....but only a bit lower.  Desmond is still something of an unpolished hitter and he has no easy out to remove himself from long slumps like this.  With a .318 BABIP, you can't even chalk his hitting up to bad luck.  It may just be that Desmond isn't quite yet the star we thought he was, and if you drafted him in your sixth-seventh round to lock up your shortstop position, you should probably start poking around for backup options.  Frankly, I blame the whole thing on the Teddy Roosevelt mascot.  It's pretty suspicious that basically everything has gone wrong for the Nats ever since Teddy won a race, eh? 

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