Proof Is In The Peripherals


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.



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: June 6-12

I'm often asked how I started working at Roto Authority, and it all started when they took me in the ninth round of the 2011 Baseball Writer Draft.  Frankly, I was pretty ticked about falling all the way to the ninth round, though it was due to signability issues --- I took some bad advice from my agen...uh, um, er, ah, advisor and asked for a $1.5MM signing bonus.  This was obviously way above the slot price, as even second-round fantasy baseball writers aren't offered more of a bonus than two boxes of Raisin Bran and a Jeremy Sowers rookie card.  Still, our two sides were able to find middle ground and here I am, enjoying my time in the fantasy website big leagues.

Here's the latest trio of players whose metrics aren't reflecting their actual performance....

* Adams (c)An't.  Usually when I note that a player is being buoyed by his peripherals, that's a hint that you should move quickly to sell high before said player comes back to earth.  In this case, however, it'll be a bit tricky for you to trade Matt Adams since that the Cardinals first baseman is currently on the 15-day DL with a tight calf.  This is one of those injuries that could see Adams come back as soon as he's eligible in mid-June, or it could nag for long after his 15 days are up, so for starters, downplay the injury as much as possible to fellow owners.  "He's fine!  Calf injuries are a breeze!  I tore both of my calves yesterday and still completed that marathon!"

If you approach your fellow manager hat in hand and humbly pretend that you "know you're selling low on Adams," you can still pick up a decent bench piece or maybe a third outfielder or fifth starter in exchange.  Your rival might think he's gotten a steal, while you've emerged with something in return for a player who seems primed for some big regression in the second half.

"Regressing from what?" you might ask, and you have a point.  Adams has three homers, 17 RBI and 16 runs over 202 PA, not exactly big power numbers for a fantasy first baseman.  He's slashing an impressive .325/.337/.474 yet there are a few issues with that slash line.  For instance, that SLG isn't translating into homers.  That OBP is almost entirely built on the batting average, given Adams' 2.5% walk rate.  And as for the batting average, Adams is being heavily carried by a .390 BABIP, the second-highest of any qualified hitter in baseball.  Unless he keeps up that absurdly high BABIP for the entire season, Adams isn't bringing much to the fantasy table.

Come on, you've always secretly considered yourself to be the fantasy equivalent of Pat Gillick when it comes to swinging trades anyway.  Challenge yourself by shopping Adams around to anyone in your league with a lack of first base depth and seeing if, despite Adams' injury, someone will bite.

* Jed ZeppelinJed Lowrie just endured a pretty lousy month of May, and in one of my leagues, a manager responded to this slump by releasing Lowrie outright.  Not a benching, not a sell-low trade, but an outright dropping.  Needless to say, this caused something of a frenzy on the waiver wire as an informal poll of league managers (as indicated in a message board post titled "WHAT WERE YOU THINKING??!!") suggested that eight of the other 13 of us all put in bids for Lowrie's services before he was snapped up by the dude with the highest waiver priority.

Basically this item is just for the sake of more public shaming of my league rival, as most managers wouldn't dream of releasing a player with eligibility at both shortstop and second, usually bats second in a powerful Oakland lineup, walks more often than he strikes out and carries a .245/347/.380 line with four homers, 24 RBI and 32 runs scored.  Those aren't the best stats in the world, but consider that Lowrie's production was dimmed by a .200 BABIP.  His red-hot start to the season was generated by only a .313 BABIP in April, so it's not like he was getting overly lucky when he was hitting well, either.

Lowrie's contact rates are all up from last season and he still only has a .263 overall BABIP, so there's plenty of evidence to suggest that his batting average is due to rise again.  Don't be like that one guy in my league, since there's no reason Lowrie should be availa...wait, he's only owned in 65% of Yahoo leagues?!  What the what, people?!  Pick him up for, at the very least, your bench right this minute!

* Young And Restless.  Poor Chris Young has had so much bad injury luck over the last several seasons that frankly, I have to just tip my cap to all of the good fortune that's come his way in 2014.  The veteran righty signed a minor league deal with the Mariners just before the season started and has thus far enjoyed a successful comeback year, posting a 3.27 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and a Major League-low 6.5 hits/9 over his 63 1/3 innings.  Heck, he's even regained the title of Most Prominent Player Named Chris Young from a certain Mets outfielder

Okay, now sit back, Young's good numbers come with a zillion caveats.  Young is benefiting from Safeco Field in a major way, as he has a 1.89 ERA (and a .142 opponents' batting average!) in five home starts as opposed to a 4.80 ERA in six road appearances, five of them starts.  Young has the second-lowest BABIP (.188) and eighth-highest strand rate (82.8%) amongst all qualified starters.  He is generating only a 25% ground ball rate, yet is also only striking out 4.26 batters every nine innings.  That nice 3.27 ERA is instantly belied by a 5.40 FIP, 5.74 xFIP and 5.90 SIERA.  According to Fangraphs, Young isn't even performing at the level of a replacement player given his -0.1 fWAR (Baseball Reference is more generous, giving Young 1.2 rWAR).

Whew!  It's like the baseball gods took all of Young's luck from his last six injury-riddled years and filtered it all into his 2014 campaign.  While I wish the guy nothing but the best in his career revival, I also have to warn fantasy owners to stay away.  His peripherals are all so absurdly out of whack that I can't even recommend him as a "start only at Safeco" type of streaming pitcher since once the regression happens, it could get ugly.  Definitely keep Young on your bench for his start in Tampa Bay tonight and hope the Rays don't hit him hard enough to inflate his numbers and hurt your chances to sell high on him.  Then again, wait, am I counting on the 2014 Rays to actually play well?  That's asking a lot.



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: May 30-June 5

In many ways, this column mirrors Homer Simpson's questions to the president of Kwik-E-Mart.  "Is this guy REALLY a good player?...Really?....Him?"  While the Kwik-E-Mart president specialized in wisdom and convenience store management, advanced metrics are my area of expertise, and I have all the answers* to your fantasy needs.

* = editor's note: for legal reasons, we should point out that Mark doesn't actually have all the answers.  He's just full of himself.

* GyuckyJedd Gyorko was the rarest of specimens: a legitimate Padres hitting prospect.  He tore up the minors and then had a strong rookie season in 2013, posting a .745 OPS and hitting 23 home runs while gaining fantasy eligibility at both second and third base.  Naturally, Gyorko was a highly-sought after player in many a fantasy draft last spring, which makes his brutal start to the year all the more disappointing.

Through 206 PA, Gyorko has posted sub-replacement level offensive numbers, slashing .173/.218/.288 with five homers, 24 RBI, two steals and 13 runs scored.  He's striking out (25.7% K-rate) almost five times as much as he's walking (5.3% BB-rate) and you can't blame Petco Park -- Gyorko has a hideous .410 OPS in away games.

It's possible Gyorko could be feeling some of the pressure that comes with signing a big contract extension, or it could be that we may have jumped in the gun in anointing Gyorko as a top young second baseman.  His strikeout-to-walk rate was similarly skewed in 2013, and his power potential may have been overrated by a weird power surge that came in August and September of last season.  Gyorko hit 15 of his 23 homers in those two months, though his overall slash line (.245/.297/.510 in 219 PA) over that period is hardly that of a well-rounded hitter.

Gyorko is only 25 years old and only a season removed from being considered one of baseball's top 100 prospects, so if you have him in a long-term keeper league, don't start freaking out quite yet.  In a regular league, however?  Dump him.  It's a tough call to offload a mid-round draft pick type of player after just two months, especially at a thin middle infield spot, yet Gyorko has been so terrible that you're only hurting your team by continuing to give him starts.  He should've been riding the bench for the last three weeks, and by this point he may not even be worth the roster spot going forward.

* Klu Season.  An abnormally high BABIP is usually a scarlet letter that signifies a pitcher having a tough season, yet as of Thursday evening, the five highest BABIPs belonged to a veritable dream rotation.  Jordan Zimmermann (.369) is not quite at his usual form and Stephen Strasburg (.357) is probably drawing grumbles from a few owners with unrealistic expectations since he *only* has a 3.42 ERA (and a 10.67 K/9, and is generally awesome.)  The Braves' Alex Wood is next with his .353 BABIP, though that misfortune is somewhat balanced out by his 81.1% strand rate. 

The next two on the list are Corey Kluber (.350) and Madison Bumgarner (.346), and obviously you don't need me to tell you that Bumgarner is a top-tier fantasy ace.  What may surprise you through two months of 2014, however, is that Kluber has been even more of a plum than Bumgarner --- in fact, he's been better than almost everyone in terms of fWAR, as Kluber's 2.6 fWAR is topped only by Felix Hernandez's 2.8 fWAR amongst qualified starters.

The Indians righty seems to be having the breakout campaign that some pundits expected of him going into this year, and fantasy owners who spent a late-round draft pick on Kluber are proud as peacocks.  Heck, maybe you didn't even have to draft Kluber at all, given that Mock Draft Central's average draft position report doesn't even list Kluber within the top 76 (!) pitchers taken.  Kluber's modest bandwagon probably thinned out even more after his first start (five runs over 3 1/3 IP against Oakland) but since then, Kluber has been white-hot.

That high BABIP is the only thing that isn't cutting the mustard for Kluber, as with a bit more batted-ball luck, his 3.10 ERA would be even lower, as indicated by his 2.22 FIP, 2.70 xFIP and 2.78 SIERA.  A 45.8% grounder rate?  Six percent home run rate?  74.4% strand rate?  10.28 K/9 against only a 2.11 walk rate?  These kinds of statistics make almost any pitcher green with envy.

You can probably expect a wee bit of regression as the season goes on but Kluber put up good peripherals in 2012-13 as well, so this Cy Young-candidate year isn't totally out of nowhere.  If Kluber is in your rotation now, hang onto him.  If he isn't, see if you can convince your rival owner that Kluber is an overachiever and will come back to earth.  Your fellow manager might not believe this argument, but hey, someboddy is bound to be victimized by your logic.

* Elias KotEHHas.  As in, "ehh, this guy is nothing special."  (This is in no way a reference to Mr. Koteas' acting abilty, as he's a fine Canadian actor!)  On a whim, I decided to look for the "most average" starter in the majors according to the BABIP and strand rate metrics.  With .300 being the average BABIP and the average strand rate clocking at roughly 70%, the two pitchers who come closest to this theoretical sweet spot of neutral luck at the Padres' Tyson Ross and the Mariners' Roenis Elias.  We already covered Ross last week, and I'll bet you already guessed from this section's goofy title that we're focusing on the rookie Seattle southpaw.

While Ross has value in starts at his home ballpark, Elias has actually pitched worse at the hitting graveyard that is Safeco Field than he has on the road, posting a 3.58 ERA in six away starts and a 4.61 ERA in five home starts.  He therefore doesn't even have value as a two-start streamer, and judging by the rest of his good-but-not-great numbers, it's possible Elias might be the most average pitcher in the league.  The lefty has a 4.02 ERA, 7.89 K/9 and 2.19 K/BB ratio, and he's a bit too casual with the baserunners as evidenced by his 1.34 WHIP.  His peripherals (4.03 FIP, 3.75 xFIP, 3.87 SIERA) aren't bad at all, however, and he has a nice 47.% grounder rate.

To steal a phrase from ESPN's Keith Law, Elias is essentially "just a guy" for the back of your fantasy rotation.  He won't kill you, but he isn't likely to deliver you an out-of-nowhere gem of a start.  Since this is also his rookie season, Elias could start to wear down as the year goes on...or maybe even gain confidence and improve as he gets used to the majors.  Based on this x-factor and his middling track record so far, I'd stay away from Elias if you're looking for a fifth starter, though be warned that many is the fantasy owner who picked up the 'promising' starter with the big pedigree only to see that starter get rocked.  A steady-but-unspectacular guy like Elias may have more fantasy benefit down the stretch if he's still pitching on this same level in August.



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: May 23-29

This week we're taking a slight break from the usual format here at TPIITP.  We're foregoing both the usual ramblings about obscure ex-Marlins pitchers and the usual highlighting of guys who are over- or under-performing according to their advanced statistics.  Instead, this time we're going to highlight some players who are on the wrong side of some key metrics and, rather than staying away from said players, I'm actually recommending you pick them up since these red flags aren't too dire in these specific cases.  So, I guess that makes them orange flags?  Who knows.

* No K's Is Okay.  Few things catch a fantasy manager's eye like strikeouts.  Managers will drop a good starter who doesn't record many K's yet hold onto a mediocre starter who does miss a lot of bats in the vain hope that said starter will eventually have the lightbulb click.  In fairness, this isn't a bad strategy -- most pitchers with low K-rates tend to fare poorly over the long run.  There are a lot of guys having outright bad seasons on the list of the 30 qualified starters with the lowest K/9 totals in baseball, and most of the low-strikeout guys having good seasons are being helped by great BABIP luck (hi Tim Hudson), a huge strand rate (I see you, Mark Buehrle) or both (hello, Alfredo Simon, Tom Koehler and Dillon Gee). 

I'd like to focus on one pitcher, however, who's having a very under-the-radar solid season despite not missing many bats.  That man is Pirates groundball specialist Charlie Morton, who carries a 3.45 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 4.10 xFIP and 4.03 SIERA into his start tonight against Washington.  Those numbers, combined with Morton's measly 5.81 K/.9, aren't much to write home about....yet surely Morton deserves to be owned in more than six percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues.

Without strikeouts, Morton gets by on a staggering amount of grounders.  The righty has a 60.2% grounder rate over the last two seasons, the highest of any pitcher in baseball with at least 100 innings pitched in that span.  Combine that with a modest 7.5% home run rate this season, very few walks and some decent batted-ball luck (.281 BABIP, though on the flip side, Morton only has a 64.6% strand rate), and you just might have a Buehrle or Hudson for this generation. 

The other stat that stands out for fantasy purposes is Morton's 0-6 record, which you can attribute to a) pitcher wins being meaningless and b) the Pirates only giving Morton 3.11 runs per game of support, lower than all but 17 other starters in the big leagues.  The question in having Morton on your fantasy team is this: are you willing to trade off strikeouts and possibly wins in order to help your ERA and WHIP?  If you're looking for a dirt-cheap option who is almost surely still available in your league, Morton is your guy, and he could be a valuable arm to hold onto if you're in a long-term keeper or legacy league.

* No-Home Homers.  It's tougher to put a good spin on a guy with an inflated home run rate, as by the stat's very nature, a pitcher is allowing more runs than expected.  In this column alone this season, I've written about how Homer Bailey and Tim Lincecum are having better seasons than their ERAs would suggest, except they've been harmed by too many long balls. 

One pitcher who's succeeding both in real-world ERA (2.64) and in peripherals (3.64 FIP/3.24 xFIP/3.37 SIERA) despite getting dinged for a lot of dingers is Tyson Ross.  The Padres right-hander is another grounder specialist (60.8% GBR) yet also has an 8.49 K/9 and is getting only modest help on the BABIP (.277) and strand rate (74.4%) fronts.  Ross has also been on a deja vu sort of hot streak, as he's posted a line of seven innings/one ER in each of his last four starts.  The only real blip on Ross' radar is that 15% homer rate. 

Now, at this point you might be wondering how a pitcher who spends half his time at the home run-swallowing chasm known as Petco Park could have the 13th-highest HR/FB rate in the majors.  If you guessed that Ross is a big-time beneficiary of the Petco Effect, congratulations, you win a signed photo of David Schwimmer!  In six home starts this year, Ross has a 1.54 ERA and batters have a measly .526 OPS against him; in four road starts, Ross has a 4.56 ERA and opponents are cranking him to the tune of an .858 OPS.

For fantasy purposes, however, this makes Ross a predictable asset.  If you have him in your rotation, simply always start him in San Diego and then keep him benched when he's on the road.  This tactic should work well in a normal rotisserie league, though in a head-to-head format, it's more problematic -- Ross essentially becomes useless to your weekly matchup whenever the Padres are on road trips.  And, while Ross' 2013 home/road splits were also pretty stark, I should note that his poor road numbers this year were inflated by two rough starts against Milwaukee and San Francisco, two of this season's biggest-hitting teams.  It's possible Ross has turned the corner altogether this season to become a reliable fantasy rotation stalwart, though for now, you should only require his services when he's in his own ballpark.

* No Power?  No Problem.  Twenty-eight teams have more home runs this season than the Cardinals (25 HR) and Royals (20 homers), so maybe there's just something wacky going on in Missouri.  "SHOW ME some power, Cards and Royals!" said Mark, submitting his bid for the Most Obvious Joke Of 2014.  Power obviously isn't a prerequisite to to be a very valuable fantasy player, yet when one of the game's most consistent producers over the last decade suddenly has his home run totals dry up, it's suddenly a concerning time to be a Matt Holliday fantasy owner.

The usually-reliable Holliday has dipped to a .267/.366/.369 slash line with 25 RBI, 24 runs and only two home runs this season.  The RBI and run totals are okay, the OBP is good and that average could be higher, but the real issue is the lack of pop off Holliday's bat.  This is a guy who has averaged a .531 SLG and 25 homers per year during his previous 10 seasons, yet now he's barely averaging one homer a month?  This is Holliday's age-34 season, so it wouldn't be the biggest shock in the world if 2014 marked the start of his decline phase.  He's on pace for a career-high 51% ground ball rate and on pace to tie his career-low 31.7% fly ball rate. 

Power shortage aside, however, this looks like a pretty normal Matt Holliday season in terms of contact, walk and strikeout rates.  Two weeks ago, Fangraphs' Mike Podhorzer cited Holliday as a candidate for a homer surge due to an unusual discrepency between Holliday's average batted ball distance and his HR/FB rate, so nobody should be surprised if Holliday suddenly racks up four homers in a week and gets his thunder numbers back to his usual standards.  (I really want to get 'thunder numbers' into the lexicon as an alternative to 'power numbers,' but I doubt it'll happen.)

If you're a nervous Holliday owner thinking about moving your man, I'm not sure I'd advise such a trade.  If you can find a trade partner who's going to give you something tremendous, go for it, but otherwise, it's likely your opposing managers will look at Holliday's two homers and try to lowball you.  Holliday's track record has earned him at least another month before we can really start to worry, so talk to me in July.  Personally, I just hope he inexplicably develops a ton of outfield range so I can start referring to him as "Roamin' Holliday."



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: May 16-22

Bad news, your beloved author is the latest victim of the Tommy John surgery epidemic that is sweeping the baseball world.  I blew out my elbow while giving my space bar particularly firm taps for both of the spaces in Rick van den Hurk's last name.  If you write it as "Vandenhurk" or even "Vanden Hurk," Rick himself will drop whatever he's doing and berate you over the phone.  (How does he even know?!)  You can read all about it in the ghostwritten autobiography Hurk!: One Right-Hander's Journey From The Netherlands To The Major Leagues To The KBO And Everywhere In Between Including Some Minor League Stops Like Jupiter, Florida.  Yeah, I know, don't get me started on the title, Rick insisted.  He just really dug his time in Jupiter.  Anyway, since the Tommy John surgery will put me on the shelf, Rick hired J.K. Rowling to finish ghostwriting his book.  Expect a new chapter where one of Rick's starts for the Marlins is interrupted by a giant spider.

...and, SCENE.  Let's turn from that frivolous nonsense to some cold hard baseball data as we examine the advanced metrics to see whose performances are for real.

* Sonny Gray Real Estate.  The young A's righty isn't just a boon to writers (like me) who love punny headers, but also he's been a big get for fantasy owners.  Gray has more or less picked up right where he left off following his heroics for Oakland late in 2013 and in the playoffs, carrying a 2.17 ERA over eight starts into Friday night's outing against the Rangers. 

This is a classic sell-high scenario for Gray owners, in my opinion.  If you're counting on him to be an ace on your staff, you have to be hoping for an uptick in strikeouts (from his current 7.17 K/9), his good batted-ball luck (.271 BABIP) to continue and for Gray to keep leaving 82.2% of his baserunners stranded.  Frankly, it could be a tall order.  In fairness, most fantasy owners likely drafted Gray with the intent of using him as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter rather than as an ace, so it's all been Grayvy...er, gravy thus far, but trading Gray for a more proven veteran arm could be a canny move.  Gray's trade value will likely never be higher than it is right now, so if you can package him as part of a deal for a starter from the Felix-or-Yu class, that's a deal I'd be inclined to make.

* Lince, U Been Gone.  It wasn't too long ago that Tim Lincecum, not Sonny Gray, was the Bay Area's hottest rotation star in the making, yet Lincecum's star has dimmed following a couple of rough seasons in 2012-13.  Lincecum signed a two-year extension with the Giants last fall and, since his 2012-13 advanced metrics indicated he pitched better than his 4.76 ERA suggested, there was some thought that Lincecum was indeed prime for a comeback year.

Instead, we've seen further evidence that the prime Lincecum may have Lincecame and went.  Lincecum's ERA is 4.78, his fastball velocity is continuing to drop (89.7 mph, a career low) and with that loss of speed comes a loss of effectiveness.  According to Fangraphs' Pitch Values metrics, Lincecum's fastball is averaging -6.9 runs below average (sixth-worst in baseball) while the standardized version of the metric (wFB/C) ranks Lincecum's heater fourth-worst among qualified starters.

Despite all of this grim evidence...man, he SHOULD be better according to his peripherals.  Lincecum has a 3.22 xFIP, 3.44 SIERA, he's averaging better than a strikeout per inning, his 3.12 BB/9 is his lowest since 2009 and he has a hideous .363 BABIP.  You'd think a guy who pitches at AT&T Park wouldn't have a 17.5% homer/fly ball rate, yet Linecum is a living affront to that belief.  This would be by far Lincecum's highest homer rate in a season, coming close to doubling his 9.2% career mark.

Surely you can't expect a column devoted to peripherals to ignore these advanced metrics, and so I'm still hanging onto hope that the Freak can regain something closer to his old form.  My case is helped by a gem Lincecum threw in his last start, when he held Pittsburgh to two hits over 7 2/3 IP while recording eleven K's and four walks.  Maybe it's a sign that Lincecum just had some early-season struggles and now his luck will start to turn around.  If you've got Lincecum at the back of your fantasy rotation, don't go looking to drop him just yet.

* Chris Mess.  Those who pegged Chris Johnson as a major regression candidate can take a bow.  Johnson owner of a career .361 BABIP,  rode extraordinary batted-ball luck to strong seasons in three of the last four years and looked like a half-decent source for batting average and double-digit homers at your third base spot if his good fortune continued. 

Well, the BABIP spotlight is again shining brightly on Johnson, yet it's not helping him whatsoever.  Despite a .362 BABIP, Johnson is only hitting .279/.306/.357 with one homer, nine RBI and eight runs scored through 147 PA.  Since Johnson rarely takes a free pass, makes a lot of unproductive outs (a career 4.8% walk rate and 23.7% strikeout rate) and doesn't have all that much power, you wonder if he'd even still be considered a Major League starter were it not for his being propped up by his BABIP over his career.  I'd look for other third base options unless Johnson turns things around soon, since when a BABIP that generous that can't give you an empty average, there's little fantasy value to be found.





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