Proof Is In The Peripherals


The Proof Is In The Peripherals: The Bizarro Hellickson

We kicked off last year's Proof Is In The Peripherals series by looking at Jeremy Hellickson, the man who dodged advanced metric bullets for three seasons before things went south for him in 2013.  If Hellickson had all the good luck on his side for three years, I had to wonder, who had all the bad luck?  Who was the anti-Hellickson?  Who was the guy who watched Hellickson highlights on his TV while angrily muttering to himself and eating a tuna sandwich made of bread that expired three days ago? 

In my search for the MLB pitching equivalent of Garry Jerry Larry Gergich Gengurch, I focused on three categories for the period between 2011-13: BABIP, strand rate and ERA-FIP (namely, who had the biggest negative gap between his ERA and his FIP).  Then, I lopped out a couple of high-ranking names that don't have any/much fantasy relevance for your 2014 team --- the retired Derek Lowe and reliever Brian Duensing, who doesn't appear headed back to the Twins rotation anytime soon.  That leaves us with five starters who have had nothing but buzzard's luck over the last three seasons...  

* Rick Porcello, .325 BABIP (sixth-highest of all pitchers), 68.7% strand rate (tied for 14th-lowest of all pitchers), 4.56 ERA/3.83 FIP (seventh-largest gap of all pitchers)

I've written about Porcello in the past and he has some breakout buzz around him.  Of all the guys on this list, Porcello is the one I'd feel most comfortable about putting into my rotation, as I believe the best is yet to come for the 25-year-old.  Fun fact: Porcello's 3.19 xFIP last season was the 13th-best of ANY qualified starter in baseball.  He's just a bit of advanced metric fortune away from becoming yet another quality starter in the Detroit rotation. 

* Ricky Nolasco, .314 BABIP (12th), 68.7% strand rate (tied for 14th), 4.29 ERA/3.58 FIP (8th)

I'm slightly more bullish on Nolasco than Alex Steers McCrum is, since I'm intrigued by how Nolasco's home run rates have dropped in each of the last four years and now he's pitching at Target Field.  The righty also bumped his K/9 back up to match his 7.45 career average, so I could see Nolasco being at least a guy to stream for a few starts here and there if he gets on a hot streak as he did last season after his trade to the Dodgers.

* Jordan Lyles, .307 BABIP (25th), 62.9% strand rate (1st), 5.35 ERA/4.54 FIP (5th)

This is the kind of strand rate madness that happens when you're a regular starter for the 2013 Houston Astros.  The hits just keep on coming for Lyles, as he was traded to the Rockies in the offseason and now is only a temporary starter in the Colorado rotation until Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood are healthy.  Lyles is a good groundball pitcher, so pitching to contact might not totally doom him in Coors Field, yet with little to offer in strikeouts and (probably) in wins or ERA, why bother having Lyles on your fantasy roster?

* Mike Pelfrey, .319 BABIP (7th), 68.9% strand rate (16th), 4.80 ERA/4.16 FIP (11th)

Pelfrey's bad luck went beyond just the advanced stats, as he only made three starts in 2012 and then missed the rest of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.  His 2013 numbers, therefore, have to be taken with a grain of salt given that it generally takes two years to fully recover arm strength following such a procedure.  That said, Pelfrey has only 5.2 K/9 over his entire career and was only a borderline fantasy guy in his best years with the Mets.  Skip him.

Honorable Mention: Joe Blanton, Jeff Francis.  Frankly, my search for the Anti-Hellickson really led to these two.  Blanton ranked first in BABIP (.330), 13th in strand rate (68.6%) and fourth in ERA-FIP gap (5.23 ERA/4.32 FIP), while Francis was the only pitcher to crack the top eight in every category --- .329 BABIP (6th), 67% strand rate (8th) and a 5.33 ERA/4.24 FIP (2nd).  The only reason I can't award either man the Anti-Hellickson Crown outright is because both men are currently pitching in the minor leagues.

In Francis' case, you could chalk his luck up to pitching at Coors Field, yet his away splits have actually been worse than his home splits over his career.  You can safely write him off as a fantasy option under even the more dire of circumstances, as if he does get called up to the Reds, it's not like he'll get much help from the Great American Ballpark.

Blanton is a more curious case.  He has a 3.53 xFIP from 2011-13 but a 5.23 ERA, thanks in large part to a propensity for giving up the long ball.  You (and the Angels) would've thought that moving to Anaheim from homer-happy Philadelphia would've helped things last season, but nope, Blanton instead posted the worst home run rate (19.1%) of his ten-year career.  In a bizarre twist, the thick Pacific air of Angel Stadium seemed to hurt every home run hitter except for those facing Blanton.  The gap between his real-life stats and the advanced metrics are just so out of whack that I can't *quite* entirely write him off, especially since he signed a minor league deal with the A's and could get to throw in another pitcher-friendly ballpark. 

So from the numbers, all hail Rick Porcello as the Bizarro Hellickson, while Blanton lurks as the deposed king in exile.  If Blanton gets called up for a spot start or two at the Coliseum sometime this year, there are worse streaming choices.



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: Season In Review

Another fantasy season is in the books and with it, the first season of the "Proof Is In The Peripherals" column.  We've had a few laughs, shed a few tears, made a few obscure pop culture references that nobody understood, and overall, had more fun than a termite at a lumberyard.  Now that we've come to the end of the year, however, let's dip back into the advanced metrics one more time and see which players gained the most (and least) benefit from all those beloved peripherals...

BABIP Buster Of The Year: I think we can safely say Edwin Encarnacion is for real.  Double-E followed up his 42-homer performance from 2012 by hitting .272/.370/.534 with 36 long balls in 2013, and that's even with missing the last couple of weeks with a wrist injury.  Encarnacion did all this despite being tied (with Andrelton Simmons and Matt Wieters) for the third-lowest BABIP in all of baseball -- only Darwin Barney and Dan Uggla produced lower BABIPs this season than Encarnacion's .247 mark.  Imagine what this guy could do if he had more batted-ball luck on his side, eh?  Provided that this wrist injury isn't anything too serious, Encarnacion looks like a solid late-first round/early-second round pick in next year's fantasy drafts, especially since he'll retain his 3B eligibility.

BABIP Squanderer Of The Year:  I touched on Michael Bourn's declining steals numbers back in July and things didn't pick up for the Cleveland outfielder over the season's last two months.  He ended the year with only 23 stolen bases, by far his lowest total since becoming a regular in 2008, and not much else 5x5 help at the plate with his .263/.316/.360 line, six homers, 50 RBI and 75 runs scored.  You have to look pretty far down the list of the league's highest BABIPs to find a fantasy dud since, by the statistic's very nature, guys with high BABIPs will likely be big producers, but Bourn's .338 BABIP (tied for 24th-best in baseball) should've produced more pop.

Bourn's overall numbers aren't terrible for a fourth outfielder, but I'm guessing you drafted Bourn expecting a heck of a lot more than solid bench production.  If he's losing his speed, then frankly, Bourn's fantasy usefulness becomes extremely limited.  I'm putting a big red flag next to his name for my 2014 draft. 

BABIP Creation Of The Year: Look no further than Chris Johnson, the man with the league's highest BABIP.  Johnson had been kissed by the BABIP gods in the past (he had a .351 BABIP from 2010-12) but Johnson hit .321/.358/.457 this season despite swing and contact rates that were largely in line with his career totals.  Johnson was definitely hitting the ball hard, as his 27% line drive rate ranked eighth in baseball, but let's be honest, it was the .391 BABIP that really sealed the deal in making him into an offensive force. 

Johnson's ability to score consistently high BABIPs make him more than a one-year wonder, but since he lacks the power and run-scoring abilities of other top-tier fantasy third basemen, I'd hold off on taking him relatively early in a draft.  I'll need to see him do it again first, since y'know, four straight high BABIP years apparently isn't enough for me.  "Okay Superman, the rest of my criminal buddies have punched you in the stomach and broken their hands, but I'm sure that if MY punch hits you just right, I can....ouch, yep, that's a broken hand."

The Lucky Hurler Award: This one has to be shared between two pitchers, Travis Wood and Hisashi Iwakuma.  My criteria was to give this trophy to the pitcher(s) who had the lowest BABIP, highest strand rate and the biggest negative gap between their FIP and their ERA, and technically only Iwakuma fit the bill.  His 81.9% strand rate was second-highest in baseball, his .252 BABIP was the sixth-lowest and he posted a 2.66 ERA and a 3.44 FIP, tying the Mariners righty for the largest favorable swing in that category.  Iwakuma was tied with Wood, whose .248 BABIP was third-lowest in baseball and whose strand rate was a *bit* short of elite level, at only 77.4% (18th-highest). 

So if Wood wasn't quite up there with Iwakuma, why am I giving him a share of the award?  It's because if Iwakuma had pitched to his 3.44 FIP/3.28 xFIP/3.40 SIERA, he's still a good pitcher.  Wood, on the other hand, threw up a 4.50 xFIP and 4.50 SIERA to go with his 3.89 FIP --- if the normal regression had taken place, Wood wouldn't have been worth keeping in a fantasy rotation given his unimpressive strikeout and win totals.  So, in the spirit of John Castino and Alfredo Griffin's tied Rookie Of The Year vote in 1979, I'm just going to split the difference and give Wood and Iwakuma each a share of the award.  Double stars, everybody wins!  As for next year's fantasy drafts, I'd avoid Wood but keep an eye out for Iwakuma, who's been an underrated force out in the Seattle rotation for two years in a row now.

The Unlucky Hurler Award: It's another split vote, as Edinson Volquez and Edwin Jackson were the only two pitchers to rank in the top ten in the categories of largest BABIP, lowest strand rate and biggest gap between an ERA and FIP.  Volquez and Jackson actually both finished one-two in the ERA/FIP gap and strand rate categories, with Volquez posting a 5.71 ERA/4.24 FIP and 64.5% strand rate and Jackson stranding just 63.3% of baserunners and posting a 4.98 ERA/3.79 FIP.  Volquez also had a .325 BABIP (fourth in the league) while Jackson was right behind at .322.

Now, "unlucky" may be a bit of a relative term here since by now, fantasy owners should know what to expect from both guys.  Jackson is your prototypical fifth starter in a fantasy rotation that could easily be dropped out for a good streaming option.  Volquez had a bit of sleeper buzz last spring since he was pitching out of Petco Park, but he couldn't even get it together there, and has probably spent his last bit of fantasy capital.  It's not like either guy was counted on as a heavy option for fantasy owners but still, you can't deny that both pitchers' bad seasons weren't quite as bad as their statistics would indicate.

The Pitching Fortune Squanderer Award: Let me unleash the Colbert balloons for this one since I CALLED IT.  Hey, Jarrod Parker!  You had a .260 BABIP, 73.2% strand rate, you pitch in Oakland and you still couldn't do better than a 3.97 ERA, only 6.12 K/9 and a blergh peripherals line of 4.40 FIP/4.41 xFIP/4.48 SIERA?  It's almost like you were hampered by pitching an increased number of innings in 2012 or something.  Let me dust off my hands triumphantly for that call, one of the few many that went my way this year.  Parker threw 197 innings this season and is bound to pitch at least a few more during the Athletics' playoff run, so if arm fatigue is an issue, next year could also be shaky.  Or, since the kid doesn't even turn 25 until November, maybe he's building up that arm strength and next season he'll morph into a workhorse ace.  Parker is worth a slot as a fourth or fifth starter in your 2014 fantasy rotation but don't rely on him for any more than that...yet.



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: Hellickson Redux

The last week of the season is a weird one here at TPIITP.  All year long, we've been using the advanced metrics to weed out the "hey, he's on a roll!" or "boo, this guy stinks!" gut reactions from your fantasy moves, helping you look at the big picture behind a small sample size of a few games or even few weeks' worth of numbers.

Now that there's only five games remaining in the season, however, the sample size can't help but be small.  Since August I've narrowed the "recent metrics" window to just the previous month's worth of results, but at this point, you can't get any narrower.  Nobody can predict what'll happen in these next five days.  I can't, you can't, Nate Silver can't....well, he might be able to, but still, he wouldn't return my requests to co-author the column this week.

With this in mind, I'm going to forsake the usual stat-based analysis and revisit my first column of the year, which considered the case of one Mr. Jeremy Hellickson.  I singled him out since Hellickson was one of the prime examples of a pitcher who advanced metrics revealed to be pitching over his head for not one, but two seasons.  As I noted last April, Hellickson had the highest strand rate (81.8%) and lowest BABIP (.244) of any pitcher in baseball during the 2011-12 seasons, numbers that helped him to a 3.02 ERA over 366 innings despite these unimpressive peripherals....

2011: 4.44 FIP, 4.72 xFIP, 4.78 SIERA, 35% ground ball rate, 1.63 K/BB, 5.6 K/9

2012: 4.60 FIP, 4.44 xFIP, 4.44 SIERA, 41.8% ground ball rate, 2.10 K/BB rate, 6.3 K/9

Chalk it up to a bit more veteran experience, a bit of turning 26 and entering his baseball prime, or maybe Hellickson just got fed up with all the fantasy naysayers, but he went out and had the best advanced metric season of his career.  Though 169 1/3 IP, Hellickson posted...

2013: 4.27 FIP, 4.19 xFIP, 4.16 SIERA, 39% ground ball rate, 2.71 K/BB rate, 6.9 K/9

The boost was largely due to an uptick in strikeouts, as Hellickson struck out a career-best 130 batters.  Now, those still aren't a superb set of peripherals, but hey, they're decent enough numbers for The Luckiest Pitcher In Baseball to work with, right?  What now, is he going to flirt with a 2.50 ERA?

Uh, make that flirt with a 5.20 ERA.  To be exact, Hellickson's ERA sits at 5.16, a stunning number for a guy who'd beaten the odds for two years and is now getting busted even with better cards.  Only two qualified starters (Edinson Volquez and Edwin Jackson) have a larger negative gap between their ERA and their FIP than Hellickson's 0.88 drop. 

It came down to a lack of help from the BABIP and strand rate gods; Hellickson had a somewhat high .305 BABIP and a somewhat low 67.9% strand rate.  That's all it took for Hellickson to go from a fantasy dark horse into an easy roster drop come June.  I'll give it to him, however -- even in failure, he makes for an interesting advanced metric test case.

The question now is, what should be make of Hellickson for your 2014 fantasy season?  I recommended drafting him last year and, by thunder, I'm sticking to my opinion and saying you should keep Hellickson in mind as a last-round, rotation-depth selection in your next draft.  His poor season will drop him off just about every other owner's rader and, as I noted, next year is his age-27 season and he does seem to be improving as a pitcher. 

With a bit more development and a bit of luck, Hellickson could finally stop starring in Advanced Metrics: The Movie and just be your garden-variety pitcher whose peripherals more or less mirror his actual statistics.  It'll make him a lot less fun to write about but after seeing what he did to my fantasy rotation's numbers this year, I've already been to Hellickson and back.



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: September 19-25

It occurs to me that in the Harry Potter universe, where Quidditch reigns supreme as the most popular sport of the wizarding world, that there must be fantasy Quidditch leagues.  And, by extension, there must be fantasy Quidditch websites that pour deep into the advanced metrics to let you know who the top Chasers and Seekers REALLY are.  And, by extended extension, there must be a wizarding me who is writing his weekly column as we speak, and wondering if there's some Muggle out there who bothers to write about that curious non-magical sport of baseball.

Whatever.  Let's leave behind the world of fantasy and get into the world of....uh, fantasy to examine the LAST FULL WEEK OF THE FANTASY SEASON!!!!  AUUUUUUUGH! 

Garza The Garzarian  Like his Ghostbusters sorta-namesake, Matt Garza goes by many names.  "Garza The Traveler" fits because he has already pitched for four clubs in his career and been rumored to be dealt to a dozen others.  "Garza The Destructor" may fit if you're a Rangers fan and you're blaming Garza as one of the key reasons why your team is having another September collapse.  Garza has a 4.94 ERA in 11 starts with Texas, not at all what the Rangers were expecting when they acquired the righty from the Cubs before the trade deadline.  Fantasy owners also weren't thrilled to see their guy go from the NL Central to the American League, let alone one of the most hitter-friendly stadiums in baseball.

If you've stuck with Garza this long, do you dare let him start if you're in a key fantasy playoff situation?  I'd bite the bullet and say yes.  Garza has an even 6.00 ERA over his last six starts, but his advanced metrics (3.74 FIP, 3.28 xFIP, 3.47 SIERA, 9.5 K/9, 3.00 BB/9) are quite good, and in fact, even better than his career averages.  It's just that Garza hasn't struck any oil in Texas; he has a .350 BABIP over those last six outings, not to mention a 57.8% strand rate, the second-lowest of any qualified starting pitcher over the last 30 days.  His next two starts are against the Royals on the road and against the Angels at home, so not exactly easy matchups, but Garza by all rights should be delivering a much more stable ERA than his real-life numbers would indicate.  Give him at least one more start before writing him off as a giant marshmallow.

Kelly Kelly Kelly Kelly Kelly Kelly Kelly Kelly Kelly Kelly K-E-L-L-Y, Why?  Because his peripherals aren't good, that's why.  Cardinals righty Joe Kelly has been a solid contributor in wins (eight in his last 10 starts) and ERA (2.74) since becoming a full-time starting pitcher, including throwing five shutout innings against the Rockies at Coors Field last night.  That's pretty impressive, but there's a lot to be wary about when it comes to Mr. Kelly.  Heading into the Rockies start, Kelly had a 4.46 FIP, 4.26 xFIP and 4.42 SIERA over his last five starts --- that's much more concerning than his 2.48 ERA over the same span.  Kelly doesn't strike many batters out (a 5.28 K/9 and 3.41 BB/9), and even in that Rockies victory, he recorded exactly zero punchouts and two walks over his five innings. 

Kelly has enjoyed an 88.5% strand rate over the last month, even more comically high than his 84.4% seasonal total.  You could argue that Kelly has been lucky all year, so why quit now, but his next start will come against the red-hot Nationals, so that might be reason enough to turn to another spot starter if you need some rotation help in your league's final days.

Cuckoo For Coco  The preseason fantasy expectations for Coco Crisp were simple.  He was the guy who'd be your third outfielder and base-stealing specialist, not a guy who'd be relied on to provide any real pop outside of a maybe a decent batting average and a decent amount of runs.  As it happened, Crisp has only swiped 19 bags this year after averaging 40 steals over the previous three seasons....but he's making up for it with one of his very best hitting seasons.  All at age 33, too.

Crisp took a .257/.328/.432 batting line into Tuesday's action, has already set a new career high in homers (19), and is well on pace to shatter his previous career high for runs; Crisp scored 86 times in 2005 and already has 83 runs this season.  He's really turned on the power as of late, as his nine homers over the last 30 days is the third-highest total in baseball over that stretch.  Crisp has hit .287/.327/.614 over that period and that's with a .250 BABIP, so you can't even say he's lucking out and hitting them where they ain't.  Well, okay, technically he is, since "over the fence" counts as "where they ain't."  And I'm not talking about fielders, I'm talking about Oakland fans!  #Zinger

I'm prone to write off Crisp's power surge as a bit of good fortune, but his low BABIP hints at even more production if he starts getting the bounces.  This seems hard to believe, but Crisp is still available in 20% of Yahoo fantasy leagues.  If you're in one of those leagues, act now to add one of the league's hottest bats to your roster.



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: September 12-18

There is precious little time left in the fantasy season so let's get right into looking at a few well-known names who you should be sticking with down the stretch, plus one who you should be thinking about turning into a spot starter...

* Vottomatic For The People  Well folks, your pal Mark suffered a tough beat in one of his head-to-head leagues.  I finished a gross 12th in the standings, thus putting me well outside of the eight-team postseason bracket.  Since it's a 16-team league with 14 everyday starting lineup positions, my strategy has been to always count on a few key superstars to carry a team that (sadly) usually ends up needing a lot of waiver wire reinforcements over the course of a season.  Over these critical last few weeks, my cornerstone stars let me down, including none other than my first-round pick, Joey Votto.

Now, while Votto didn't produce enough to keep me in the race, this isn't to say that you should be benching him.  Far from it.  Over his last 133 PA entering Tuesday's action, Votto has posted a .216/.391/.412 slash line with five homers, 12 RBI and 13 runs scored.  So yeah, it's not exactly a *bad* month aside from the batting average, which can be explained by Votto's .246 BABIP over the last 30 days.  If anything, Votto is just a victim of his own high standards.  As I noted last week about Felix Hernandez, benching a superstar since they're "cold" is going to backfire on you more often than not.  A star's slump may seem dire if you're relying on them to carry your entire fantasy lineup, but odds are they're still more productive than most.  For example, if you benched Votto in disgust after he went 0-for-10 over two games against the Cardinals on Sept. 4-5, you missed him rack up six hits in his next four games.

* A.J. All Day  These are heady times for the Pirates and their fans, and basically the only downside for the Buccos right now is that ace A.J. Burnett has been a bit shaky lately.  If you're a Burnett owner who has reaped the benefits of the righty's impressive year, don't be worried that your man's initials are going from "A Jewel" to "All Junk."  Burnett has a 5.02 ERA over his last five starts and yet his peripherals are roughly the same as they've been all year long.  In fact, the advanced metrics (2.45 FIP, 3.01 xFIP) suggest the bounces simply haven't been going Burnett's way as of late.  Don't be worried about the 36-year-old Burnett running out of gas late in the season, as this is a guy who has averaged 202 IP over the last five years.  Burnett is still a must-start fantasy option down the stretch and it also gives you a bit of a vicarious thrill in rooting along with the feel-good Pirates, doesn't it?....uh, unless you're a Cardinals or Reds fan.

* C.J. No Way  I swear, I didn't plan this as an "all-initial" gimmick, it just happened!  C.J. Wilson is 3-0 with a 3.13 ERA over his last five starts but don't be fooled, the CeeJ has been dodging more bullets than Neo.  He's allowed almost as many walks (14) as strikeouts (18) over those last 31 2/3 innings, and he owns a 4.97 FIP and 4.94 xFIP over that stretch.  Wilson has been bailed out by an 84.9% strand rate, which is pretty unlikely to continue for much longer.  Wilson is the kind of pitcher who's ideally a fourth or fifth fantasy starter in the best of times, so if I was a Wilson owner, I'd be ignoring the recent results and being very careful with his starts the rest of the way.  If he's facing the Astros, sure.  If he's facing the Rangers, hold the phone. 

* Santana The Man-na  The ballots are in, and Carlos Santana is the BABIP-Buster of the Week.  This isn't a "bench-or-play?" situation since only a grade-A clown would bench a top-tier fantasy catcher like Santana down the stretch drive, but I just wanted to give a tip of the cap to the Cleveland backstop for putting up a huge fantasy month despite a .224 BABIP over his last 109 PA.  That number isn't doing Santana's average any favors, but overall, he's hitting .244/.394/.488 with six homers, 15 RBI and 15 runs over that stretch. 

Santana is thus far taking full advantage of the fact that the Tribe's September schedule is mighty weak, so there's a good chance that he'll keep this up and win himself a number of fantasy playoff MVP trophies.  In fact, I have Santana myself in one of my leagues, and it's no coincidence that I'm in a battle for first place that may go right down to the final day of the season.  He's such a big part of my team that even writing about his hot streak is probably a huge jinx....uh oh, wait....



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: September 5-11

With the fantasy baseball season nearing a close, here are some last-minute add/drop/bench/keep playing recommendations based on advanced metrics.  Your shot at a league title could very well hinge on these very tips.  We're through the looking glass here, people.

* Long Live The King.  It seems like a waste of bandwidth to even bother writing "keep starting Felix Hernandez" since, well, duh, it's Felix Hernandez.  Panicky owners who are approaching fantasy playoffs, however, might consider dropping their ace as a pre-emptive measure given that King Felix has pitched more like King Joffrey over the last month.  After all, we live in a world where even Justin Verlander is susceptible to being dropped

Hernandez is an ugly 1-5 with a 6.42 ERA over his last six starts, but whereas Verlander has had a few warning signs for a couple of months now, I can safely chalk Felix's bad form up to simply poor luck.  The big ERA is fueled by a .350 BABIP and 54.6% strand rate, as Hernandez's advanced stats (3.25 FIP, 3.19 xFIP, 3.47 SIERA) show that the Mariners stud has pitched just slightly worse than usual in his last six outings.  King Felix could snap back into form at any time, and you just KNOW that if you drop him in your league, he'll immediately fire off four consecutive no-hitters.  Don't be That Guy who outsmarts himself and costs himself a league title by dropping an A-lister after one cold spell.

* Double Dutch.  If you want to worry about an AL West starter, try Derek Holland.  The Rangers southpaw lasted just 4 2/3 innings against the A's in his last start, an outing that could mark the beginning of a rough patch.  Holland has a 2.63 ERA over his last six starts but a .227 BABIP, 87.2% strand rate, 4.52 FIP, 4.33 xFIP and 4.48 SIERA indicate that he's been getting away with some dodgy pitching.  Control has been the biggest problem over that six-start stretch -- Holland's BB/9 has ballooned to 4.54, well above his season average of 2.97.

I'm not saying you should cut Holland, but maybe just strategically sit him against certain opponents.  His next start against the Angels could be an example, as he has been rocked by the Halos throughout his career.  Holland has delivered just a step behind ace-level numbers all year long but he doesn't have the track record of someone like Hernandez when it comes to just dismissing slumps as slumps and not potentially worrying trends.

* Ruf Ryders' Anthem.  There haven't been many bright sides for Phillies fans this season, but if you love the Phils and love fantasy bargains, at least you might've gotten on the Darin Ruf bandwagon early.  The right-handed hitting Ruf has hit .254/.347/.509 with 12 homers over 199 PA for Philadelphia, with a weird reverse-splits trend of hitting righties hard (.934 OPS) and withering against lefties (.600 OPS, albeit in only 51 PA). 

Despite this nice power display, Ruf is owned in just 20 percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues.  I'd recommend him as a cheap pickup for your September stretch drive despite a few worrying trends.  Ruf has been almost all power over the last month, with a whopping .302 ISO (sixth-highest in the majors over the last 30 days) and only a .219/.290/.521 line.  That said, his BABIP over that same stretch was only .231, so there's certainly room for growth.  Pick up Ruf, give him a few strategic starts in your outfield or at first base against certain pitchers, and enjoy some hot and tasty homers fresh off the waiver wire.  Ahhh, is there anything sweeter than waiver wire power?



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: Aug. 29-Sept. 4

What's that?   You want to know how I'm doing in my fantasy leagues?  Oh, thanks for asking, you're too kind!  In my five leagues, I'm currently sitting 4th and 10th in my head-to-head leagues (position is kind of moot just as long as you're in the playoffs) and in my roto leagues I'm in 3rd, 5th and....ugh, 11th.  That's the league I'm in with all my old buddies from my hometown, so I'm going to hear a lot of trash talk over the winter and/or offers to take over the writing of this column.

The biggest reason I'm not leading all five leagues is because I follow my advice from these columns mostly just bad luck, I figure.  My fantasy BABIP is probably no bigger than .220 for the season, plus my strand rate is through the roof.  Yes, that's the ticket.  All just bad luck.  Anyway, for those of you who still have a shot in most/all/any of your leagues, here's a peek into the peripherals....

Bend It Like Gordon  With "Gordon" being such a British-sounding name, you'd think the British soccer legend would be named "Gordon Beckham" and the American baseballer would be "David Beckham" rather than the other way around, wouldn't it?  (And if it was just "Gord Beckham," he'd be Canadian.)  That's just one bit of misfortune that has befallen the White Sox second baseman in life.  Another is the .255 BABIP he's carried around for the last month that is primarily responsible for his .245/.336/.368 line over his last 29 games.  I do like Beckham as a sleeper for your last fantasy month and since he's available in a measly 11% of Yahoo leagues, you'll likely to able to add him for nothing.

Beckham has shown glimpses of his vaunted potential, and while he hasn't truly broken out, he's at least been on the radar.  Beckham has enjoyed a couple of hot streaks (including a .303/.337/.447 line over in 20 July games) and he's doing a better job of putting bat to ball, increasing his contact rate to a personal high of 86.4% and cutting his strikeout rate to a career-low 12.4% this season.  This increased contact has been apparent even in the last month of struggle, as Beckham has actually had a higher walk rate (9.8%) to strikeout rate (9.0%).  If this better contact manifests itself into some more balls finding empty spaces in September, Beckham will be a nice little boost to your 2B/MI situation.

We Called The Dog 'Indiana'  I'm not going to argue with my Roto Authority colleague Alex Steers McCrum when he suggests that you should pick up Junior Lake.  Given Lake's numbers and his multi-positional value at third base and outfield, he certainly has enough momentum for you to take a flier on him.  What I wouldn't do, however, is expect Lake Superior when you're more likely to get Lake E(e)rie.

/pauses for laughter

/none comes

Ahem, uh, okay.  Since Lake made his Major League debut on July 19, he has hit an impressive .312/.345/.459 in 166 PA, with four homers and 16 runs.  While this roughly mirrors what he was doing in Triple-A Iowa, however, it should be noted that Lake isn't exactly an elite prospect --- he was rated as only the No. 15 prospect in the Cubs' system by Baseball America's preseason guide.  Not to say that the guy can't pick up his game, but this isn't a case of a touted phenom bursting onto the scene.  Turning to the advanced metrics, Lake has only a 68.1% contact rate, an ugly 0.18 BB/K ratio and a whopping .391 BABIP that is letting him get away with his lack of consistency at the plate.  As I said earlier, it's fair game to pick Lake up since hey, stranger things have happened than a guy retaining BABIP luck over a couple of months.  That said, if you own Lake now and your league's trade deadline hasn't passed yet, you should definitely try to sell high.  If you can work "T-t-t-t TODAY, Junior!" in your trade pitch, all the better.

Half-Eagle, Half-Lion, All-Homer  It has to be frustrating being an A.J. Griffin owner given the right-hander's propensity for shooting himself in the foot.  Over the last 30 days Griffin has allowed precious few hits (.210 BABIP), stranded an above-average number of his runners (79.7%) and yet he has just a 4.33 ERA to show for it.  In fact, despite those nice peripherals, Griffin actually should be doing worse given his 6.37 FIP and 5.25 xFIP.  

The problem is Griffin's tendency to allow home runs.  He's allowed a league-leading 32 longballs this season, nine of them in the last month alone for a 2.29 HR/9 since July 29.  These are high numbers for anyone, especially a guy who pitches his home games in the Coliseum.  Griffin has had good peripheral luck all season (.243 BABIP, 77.5% strand rate) which has been the only thing keeping him from having a worse home run rate than Charlie Brown.

Since throwing a complete game shutout against the Reds on June 26, Griffin has a 4.55 ERA over his last 11 starts.  It's a tough call to just outright release a guy whose overall numbers (3.94 ERA, 2.79 K/BB ratio, 134 strikeouts in 169 IP) are pretty good but if you're heading into a playoff situation in your fantasy league, you don't want to have That Guy on your staff who gets shelled in his one start in a week and single-handedly blows up your ERA category for the matchup.  Griffin is another guy who I'd quietly be shopping in the final days before your trade deadline.



The Proof Is In The Peripherals: August 22-28

So when you make a franchise-altering fantasy deal to acquire Mike Trout (for Clayton Kershaw and Austin Jackson, no less) in the last few weeks before your league's deadline, the last thing you want to see is a nagging hamstring injury.  Oof.  There's another helpful tip for late-season trading: it's dangerous to acquire players on struggling teams, since any sort of lingering injury might well cause them to be shut down for the entire rest of the season.  Let's hope it doesn't come to this with Trout, since otherwise I'll be one unhappy camper.  Seriously, I'll leave town and just live in a tent out in the middle of a remote forest for a month, staring forlornly at a Mike Trout baseball card.

Onto this week's advanced metrics...

* The Hurt Locker  I warned everyone about Jeff Locke back in May, and now it looks like I was right all along.  Sure, Locke continued to pitch well for two months after that but, uh, still, moral victory for the Markster!  Locke benefited from great peripheral luck for much of the season but the Locke Regress Monster has emerged over his last four starts.  Even if you chalk up his last start (8 ER in 2 2/3 IP against the Diamondbacks on Saturday) as just a random stinker, Locke also posted a 4.70 ERA over his previous three outings.

If you're a Jeff Locke owner, you have to think about cutting your losses and moving on.  Sure, Locke has been a nice boon to your rotation all year long, but given the southpaw's peripherals, you've been playing with fire all season long.  Time to drop the match before you really get burned heading into your postseason.  You might give Locke one more start (he's facing the Giants next, who couldn't hit my grandma's offspeed stuff) and then hope he pitches well enough to boost his trade value so you can pawn him off on another owner in a deadline deal.  If he can't handle San Francisco, however, then it's time to sock the Locke.

* Yeah, I Chacin Her.  That Is To Say, I Chasaw Her.  His 5.6 K/9 over the last two seasons won't impress anyone, but you can still make the case that Jhoulys Chacin is one of the more underrated fantasy pitching options around.  Part of it comes from that low strikeout rate, and part comes from the dreaded "Rockies Starter" stigma, but otherwise, Chacin has been pretty stellar.  He has a 2.23 ERA over his last 13 starts and for the season he's been getting only a smidge of BABIP (.291) and strand rate (72.4%) luck. 

As you might guess given that he's pitched well in a Rockies uniform, Chacin isn't giving up many homers.  His 4.3% HR/FB rate is the lowest of any qualified starter in the majors, and it's a sharp drop from his 9.2% career rate.  It's mildly concerning that Chacin's fly ball rate is only slightly below his career average, but by this point in the season, you have to acknowledge that Chacin has made a solid adjustment to keep his flies from leaving the yard.

If I can put the peripherals aside for a second, I'll note that the Rockies have a tough remaining schedule.  Twenty-one of Colorado's final 27 games are against big-hitting clubs like the Dodgers, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, Cardinals and Reds, so if you pick up Chacin for your stretch drive, you'll be doing so in the face of stiff competition.  That said, Chacin has pitched well all season long and there's enough evidence for me to believe that he isn't a fluke.  I guess you could say that Cha-seeing (puts sunglasses on) is Chac-believing.  YEAHHHHHHH

* Werthwhile  You may have missed this in the wake of the Nationals' ultra-disappointing season but 34-year-old Jayson Werth has been having one of the best seasons of his 11-year career.  Werth missed a month on the DL but is otherwise hitting .330/.403/.524 with 17 homers, 53 RBI and 61 runs through 375 PA and just for kicks, he's even 7-for-8 in stolen base attempts.  "Wow, signing Werth to that seven-year, $126MM contract was a great move for the Nationals after all!" said nobody, but even still, for all that's gone wrong for the Nats in 2013, Werth has been a nice bright spot.  Of course you could argue that since the club wasted this great year from a 34-year-old thought to be on the decline, it just makes the season even more depressing, but...uh, sorry Washington fans.

Werth hasn't carried the Nationals this year, but can he at least carry your fantasy team to glory?  I'd doubt it.  While Werth has indeed been hitting the ball with more authority, posting his highest line drive rate (24.8%) since 2007 and his highest HR/FB rate (18.5%) since 2009, he's also been finding a lot of holes with those hard-hit balls.  The veteran outfielder has a .382 BABIP for the season and a league-leading .452 BABIP since the All-Star break.  That latter stat is bound to regress as we head into September and Werth might be one of those "guys who get a nagging injury and are shut down since their teams are out of it" that I noted earlier, especially given Werth's age and injury history.  There's no reason Werth can't be a contributor to your fantasy playoff run but if you get a late chance to sell high for a more reliable hitter, it wouldn't be a bad move.



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, www.creedthoughts.gov.wwwcreedthoughts 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!





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