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1430777739
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com

How much new information do you need before you can change your opinion on a player? In the case of Ubaldo Jimenez, you've got four mostly mediocre seasons in a row in his recent past, four starts worth of improvement to go on. Is that enough to buy in?

First, let's look at just how Jimenez has managed to improve. If we were looking at 22 innings with the same peripherals as last season's forgettable 4.81 ERA campaign, it would be a lot easier to dismiss Jimenez. However, he has improved his strikeout rate, walk rate and groundball rate, the latter two of which he has improved dramatically.

Jimenez has cut his walk rate from 5.53 per nine to 3.18, but it isn't like he is working in the strike zone significantly more often. He has thrown 48.6 percent of his pitches in the zone, per PITCHf/x; up from last year's 47.9 percent mark, but down from his career 49.4 percent mark.

So, what gives? It turns out, after 1,400 erratic innings, Jimenez's reputation simply precedes him. Opposing hitters are swinging at just 34.7 percent of Jimenez's pitchers, a lower rate than ever before. While that might be paradoxical with a lower walk rate, the fact that hitters are swinging at just 51.2 percent of his pitches in the strike zone means we're seeing a lot more called strikes than ever before.

Opposing batters aren't offering at anything Jimenez is throwing, which makes his lower walk rate more impressive, but also means the strikeout rate might have nowhere to go but down. If hitters start attacking Jimenez' in-zone pitches more aggressively, the strikeout rate and walk rate are likely to go in opposite directions.

This might not be such a big concern if Jimenez still had elite swing-and-miss stuff, but with his velocity dropping another tick, he is missing fewer bats than ever. His 6.1 swinging strike rate suggests that his 8.7 K/9 is being held up by an awful lot of called strikes; I'm not sure you can keep betting on that.

Of course, that's not all that is different for Jimenez, who was never an elite strikeout pitcher despite his stuff. The biggest positive for Jimenez is his 67.3 percent groundball rate, the highest, by far, of his career. Jimenez was once one of the better groundball pitchers in the game, but has not topped 45 percent since 2011. Is this change for good? 

There does seem to be some good news here, as Jimenez is relying on his sinker on 53.2 percent of his pitches in 2015, compared to 40.2 percent a year ago. He is also getting more groundballs on that pitch, per BrooksBaseball.net, which makes sense. In his career, 10.2 percent of his sinkers have ended up with the batter putting the ball in play, on the ground; that number is just 6.3 percent for his four seam fastball. 

Whether the change in his pitch usage is something Jimenez will sustain moving forward remains to be seen, but it is the one positive sign we can point to about his surprisingly strong start. Still, taken all together, it's hard to find a ton to be encourage about with Jimenez, who looks like much the same pitcher who has frustrated Fantasy players in past years.

Jimenez has been added in 11 percent of CBSSports.com leagues over the last week, and is now up to 79 percent ownership. I wish I could tell you it's going to work out, but this feels like a movie we've seen before with Jimenez, and I'm no longer buying it. 

1430767142
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com

Forgive the click-bait-y headline; that was coworker Heath Cummings' idea, much to Scott White's chagrin. Still, it's interesting that Kris Bryant, widely considered to be the best power hitting prospect since probably Giancarlo Stanton, has gone 15 games without hitting a homer since making his major-league debut.

That isn't necessarily indicative of anything, as even the best power hitters will be expected to go 15 games without a home run at some+ point; Stanton had a stretch like that last June, followed by a 10-game homerless stretch immediately after. Slumps happen, and they don't necessarily mean anything.

But maybe you invested a high pick in Bryant -- he went as high as 38th in CBSSports.com H2H leagues, and snuck into the third round in one Roto league -- and are starting to wonder where all this power you were promised is. Fantasy owners aren't exactly the most patient species of sports fan, but I promise you, the power is coming.

Coming up through the minors, Bryant deposited one over the wall once every 3.3 games, and it wasn't just because of his raw power. Though Bryant, standing 6'5" and weighing in at 215 pounds, does have considerable raw power -- an 80 on the scouting scale -- that wasn't what made him so dangerous. Lots of players have raw power to hit 30 homers, but not every player has Bryant's approach at the plate.

Minor-league play-by-play and batted-ball data isn't perfect, but some trends are too clear to ignore, with Bryant's flyball tendencies a perfect example. There might be some noise involved at this level, but Bryant consistently put the ball in the air a on in the minors, with MinorLeagueCentral.com showing 45.8 percent of his batted balls as outfield fly balls.

So, not only does Bryant hit the ball far, he hits it in the air a ton, at least in the minors. That is, it goes without saying, a recipe for success, assuming you define success as "A whole bunch of homers." And, through the first 15 games of his major-league career, the batted-ball data has held true as well. He has 19 fly balls on 35 balls in play, giving him a 54.3 fly ball percentage that would rank third in baseball if he qualified.

The average major-league hitter put 10.4 percent of his fly balls over the fend in the month of April; Bryant's mark was a decidedly less impressive zero percent. Even if we assume Bryant has just average raw power, we would still have expected him to hit two home runs on 19 fly balls.

So what? Maybe he just doesn't hit the ball very hard; a high fly ball rate is no guarantee of robust power numbers, as Stephen Drew's career can attest. After all, Drew ranks near the top of the leaderboard in fly ball percentage, and he hasn't reached 15 home runs in a season since 2010.  

This is where the new batted-ball data from Statcast can come in handy. Per BaseballSavant.com, which keeps track of such things through MLB Gameday feeds, Drew ranks just 237th out of 272 batters in average batted-ball velocity, at 85.4 MPH.

Bryant, on the other hand, has no such issues. He hasn't displayed elite batted-ball velocity so far, ranking 87th in the league, between Brad Miller and Salvador Perez. However, it isn't like he's among the dregs of the league here; he comes in at the 68th percentile, well above average.

More importantly, Bryant also ranks fifth in average batted ball distance, at 219.8 feet. The only players ahead of him are Joc Pederson, Scott Van Slyke, Freddie Freeman and Justin Turner, who collectively have an 18.4 HR/FB ratio on the season. So, clearly, Bryant has had some bad luck.

Like, when you crush a pair of balls 104 and 106 MPH and end up with a double and a triple off the wall, respectively.

While, the snarky among you might point out that those two balls are the definition of warning track power, I would point out that the second almost certainly goes out in Wrigley -- he hit the furthest part of the kink out in right field -- and the second was hit 390 feet to left-center, and could have been out in a handful of other parks.

Bryant's lack of over-the-fence power has been more about location than anything else. We're going to see some of these doubles soar over the fence before long, so don't worry. Bryant has all of the tools to be one of, if not the best, power hitters in the game, and not much has changed since we were all losing our collective minds in the spring. 

Just for fun, I decided to ask our our Fantasy baseball writers for their prediction on when Bryant finally clubs his first home run: 

  • Scott White - May 5, at Cardinals
  • Al Melchior - May 8, at Brewers
  • Heath Cummings - May 11 vs. Mets 

As for me, I say Bryant's due, and will take Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez deep in the first inning tonight. 

1430758365
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com

Is Mike Fiers turning things around? (USATSI)
Is Mike Fiers turning things around? (USATSI)

Typically, the first few weeks of the Fantasy baseball season are quiet as far as trades go. However, with Week 5 upon us, it's time to get moving, as Adam Aizer and Heath Cummings tried to hammer out a trade on Monday's episode of the Fantasy Baseball Today podcast.

Beyond that, the Al Melchior and Scott White discussed the most intriguing starters of the weekend, a list that includes Mike Fiers, Carlos Frias, Corey Kluber and Tim Lincecum among many others. Additionally, they discuss the hottest hitters in the game, and try to figure out whether Trevor Plouffe is worth a roster spot.

Also, should you pick up any of the recent call-ups like Austin Hedges or Blake Swihart? Worried about Cole Hamels? All that, plus DFS talk for Monday's schedule. 

Direct download link here. Subscribe at iTunes here.

1430755941
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com

Dee Gordon has given Fantasy players plenty to celebrate. (USATSI)
Dee Gordon has given Fantasy players plenty to celebrate. (USATSI)

You could make a pretty compelling case that Dee Gordon has been one of the best players in Fantasy this season, and arguably the best value from Draft Day on. He ranks ninth overall in both Roto and H2H scoring, while leading he majors in hits and batting average, and ranking second in stolen bases.

He also might be the most obvious trade candidate in Fantasy baseball. He has been an unbelievable value for you, coming from an ADP of 108, and every stolen base and double slapped into the gap so far counts. Even if he falls off from this point on, the value he added to your team in April is banked.

So, isn't the best-case scenario to move on from Gordon right now? You've received a month's worth of first-round value from someone you probably drafted in the eighth. Even if we buy that he has taken a big step forward, he can't possibly keep this up; most of his value is tied up in an inflated BABIP that he can't possible hope to keep up.

Gordon is always going to post high averages on balls in play due to his speed and groundball tendencies, but his .494 mark is blowing away even the most optimistic projections. He was at .346 last season, which was good for 14th in baseball. From 2000 through 2014, only two batters posted a mark over .400, and only 37 topped .375 while qualifying for the batting title; that's about 1.5 percent of all qualified seasons in that span.

So, even if we give Gordon a healthy benefit of the doubt, his batting average is going to go through some healthy regression. If we give him a .375 BABIP over the first month of the season, a truly elite mark, his average falls more than 100 points. It would still be a very solid .330, but that is also assuming the absolute best-case scenario of Gordon sustaining his improved K-rate and a historically good BABIP.

This isn't to suggest that you sell Gordon for the first offer that comes your way. If you have Gordon, you're in the driver's seat. Your team is probably in great shape after getting this kind of month from him, and you can be safe in the assumption that Gordon is going to provide surplus value on his draft position even when he slows down.

But championships are won by the bold. Why not go out and target a struggling star and see if you can steal them. Why not offer Gordon straight up for Andrew McCutchen, who has had one of the least lucky starts in the league thanks to BABIP. That might be aiming high, but you're in the driver's seat, why not aim high?

The best chance you have of getting first or second-round value out of Gordon isn't by holding on to him and hoping he can somehow become the next Jose Altuve. He strikes out too much and doesn't have as much power to even match Altuve's modest gains there.

If you could turn Gordon into a McCutchen or Jose Bautista, or a Corey Kluber or Stephen Strasburg on the pitching side, you would have to pull the trigger on it.

If you sit on Gordon expecting his descent from his April high to be a slow, gentle one, you might be hurting yourself in the long run. In the immortal words of fictional White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, "It's the fall that's gonna kill you." 

1430574208
by Heath Cummings | Senior Fantasy Writer

Catcher is never an exceptionally deep position in fantasy but so far in 2015 it's been an abomination. Injuries have sidelined one after another, claiming Ryan Hanigan as the latest victim. Hanigan's injury opens the door for Blake Swihart, the top catching prospect in baseball. Does that make Swihart an instant add?

For those catchers that have managed to stay healthy, performance has been hard to come by. The #4 catcher in points leagues so far this year is Russell Martin. He's hitting .185 and has already struck out 20 times. Your top three fantasy catchers so far in 2015:

  1. Stephen Vogt
  2. Salvador Perez
  3. Derek Norris

So it's easy to see why there would be excitement over the fact that Swihart is being called up. He's a switch-hitter that profiles as an above average offensive catcher, especially in this year. Or course that doesn't mean he's going to be a fantasy starter on day one. 

Swihart has had to work hard to become the defensive catcher he is as many thought he would have been moved to a corner infield position by now. That's a major positive in my book because I'm always more willing to bet on the prospect that's known as a hard worker.

The negative is that he's going to have to focus heavily on his defense when he gets to the majors and that could slow his offensive development. If the Red Sox are patient I have little doubt that Swihart will figure it out this year, but I wouldn't bet on a hot start.

So what does all this mean? Should you add him? Almost universally, I'd say yes. I've added him in nearly every league I'm in. Why? There are a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that baseball fans (particularly Fantasy baseball owners) love prospects. Way more than they should. 

With the weakness of the catcher position and the built-in love of the unkown, Swihart becomes an asset if nothing else. This is especially true in two catcher leagues where I would call Swihart a must add. Again, am I being too bullish here? I see three possible outcomes for Swihart:

1. Swihart comes out of the gate guns blazing, starting nearly every day and delivers on his .270 average and 10-15 HR potential as a rookie. You just picked up an extremely valuable asset, even in one catcher leagues. You either start Swihart the rest of the year or if you already have a catcher you move Swihart early in the process for another piece.

2. Swihart struggles mightily and ends up playing three to four times a week. He is slow to make adjustments and by July he's back down AAA as the Red Sox have added another catcher. You drop Swihart. Your opportunity cost is whoever you're dropping to pick him up today. I'm not looking at your roster but I'm guessing the last person on your roster is expendable, especially when the upside of Swihart is considered.

3. As is generally the case, the most likely outcome is somewhere in the middle. Swihart struggles early, but eventually figures it out. You and the Red Sox are both patient and Swihart is an average offensive catcher by the dog days of summer. In two catcher leagues especially, this is a major boon to your squad.

I understand in weekly leagues the idea of carrying a backup catcher doesn't sound appealing and it shouldn't. Blake Swihart is not your average backup catcher. He carries with him all the hopes and aspirations we unfairly attach to prospects. 

Even if you're more realistic about his short term future, it's easy to see him as a marketable asset that could create crazy hype with just a couple of good weeks. The savvy owner in your league may have picked him up last night, but if not get your claim in now.

1430515700
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com

If someone on your Fantasy roster gets off to a slow start, you have the freedom to sit them on the bench or outright cut them, knowing they won't sulk and ruin your team chemistry. I can put Stephen Vogt into the lineup over Mike Zunino and know that Zunino isn't going to pout and start criticizing the manager behind his back.

Major-league teams don't really have that luxury. They have to deal with the fallout from those decisions, which can lead to hurt feelings and locker room turmoil.

And yet, it has to be done for the good of the team. While you never want to root for someone to lose their job, is it unfair to look around the league and wonder where teams might be best served by making a change? Fantasy owners have to be hoping the following teams bite the bullet on these moves. 

Catcher

Struggling starter: Ryan Hanigan; Replacement: Blake Swihart

The Red Sox don't seem to be in any hurry to call up Swihart, and it helps that they have managed to rank third in the American League in runs scored despite getting a .214/.345/.271 line out of their catchers this season. And with the pitching staff they have, a defensive-minded veteran might be preferred even if they have to sacrifice some offense. However, they are going to have to mash their way to wins this season if they want to stay in the playoff race, and Swihart should help in that regard more than Hanigan, and he could be a starting-caliber Fantasy catcher from Day One to boot.  

First Base

Struggling starter: Logan MorrisonReplacement: Jesus Montero

Here are two of the best examples of the last decade about how prospects will break your heart. However, while Montero has never made much of an impact in the majors with the bat, his inability to hang around has been more about the lack of development in his glove than anything else. With Morrison hitting just .197/.238/.250, it might make sense for Montero to get another chance. For all of his failings as a prospect, Montero still posted an .839 OPS in Triple-A Tacoma last season, and is off to an .849 start so far. He isn't the sure thing he once was, but Montero still has a chance to be a productive hitter, and Morrison's struggles could be opening the door. 

Second Base

Struggling starter: Jason KipnisReplacement: Francisco Lindor/Zach Walters

Shortstop

Struggling starter: Jose RamirezReplacement: Lindor

Alright, let's check in on Cleveland to see how things are going...

Oh... Oh, my.

Kipnis and Ramirez have combined to hit .200 with just five extra-base hits and nine walks in 165 trips to the plate, and it's not like this is a one-year blip in the radar: Ramirez had a .646 OPS in 2014, while Kipnis managed just a .640 mark. Fortunately, the Indians do have potential reinforcements waiting in the minors. The headliner is Lindor, the organization's top prospect and one of the best in all of baseball. However, much of his value is tied into his exceptional defensive potential, which isn't what we're concerned about for Fantasy. Still, if the glove can get him into the lineup, he could hit enough to be worth owning in the desolate wasteland that is shortstop in Fantasy.

Walters might have a bit more short-term appeal for Fantasy, especially since there aren't any service-time concerns to take into account. Walters won't fix the Indians' defensive issues, but one name comes to mind when looking at his minor-league track record: Dan Uggla.

The comp isn't perfect -- Walters has played extensively at shortstop, seems to have better power and a worse eye at the plate -- but it works well enough for a middle infielder with solid pop and questionable contact skills. But, there's a lot to like about his offensive profile if he can overcome his flaws. 

Third Base

Struggling starter: Juan UribeReplacement: Alex Guerrero/Corey Seager

Seager had played just one game in the minors at third base entering this season, but the Dodgers have played him there four times so far this season, a trend that should continue as he makes the move up to Triple-A Oklahoma City on Friday. His bat obviously profiles better in the middle infield, but Seager has consistently produced stellar numbers despite being one of the youngest players at every level he has played at. If he has to come up as a third baseman, there is little doubt the career .318/.382/.551 hitter will have any issues holding his own.

However, Guerrero has probably earned the opportunity to get the first crack; he is 11 for 26 with five home runs to open the season. The Dodgers don't seem to believe in his defense, but if they can stomach it, his bat could make up for whatever potential defensive shortcomings he brings to the table. 

Outfield

Struggling starter: Shane Victorino/Brock Holt/Allen Craig/Daniel NavaReplacement: Rusney Castillo

Castillo's shoulder injury probably delayed his return to the majors, but hopefully we're talking weeks and not months. Castillo proved he could hang by hitting .333/.400/.528 in a cup of coffee last season, and should be first in line if the Red Sox decide to make a move. He should get a handful of games to get his feet under him at Triple-A, but the Red Sox are getting pitiful production from their right fielders, who are hitting .130/.244/.143 overall, so hopefully they aren't going to be too patient with Castillo.

Struggling starter: Oswaldo ArciaReplacement: Eddie Rosario/Byron Buxton

I like Arcia and have ever since he got the call a few years back, but April has been a real struggle, and the main culprit has been his issues with lefties, yet again. He is hitting .250/.351/.438, with both of his home runs against RHP, but has a grizzly .488 OPS against LHP, despite a .250 average and .294 BABIP. That is pretty much in line with what we've seen in his career, and what is most concerning is just how many LHP Arcia has seen: 36 percent of his plate appearances have come against southpaws, up from 34.6 percent a year ago.

Rosario isn't in the same stratosphere as Buxton as a prospect, but he is already in Double-A and could be ahead of him just because of how an injury decelerated Buxton's timetable last season. Rosario's development seems to have stalled in the last few years, so the question will be whether he can figure it out before Buxton overtakes him. He is hitting just .262/.287/.417 in Triple-A Rochester so far this season, so it might be Buxton who gets the call.  

Struggling starter: Grady SizemoreReplacement: Maikel Franco

Don't worry, I know Franco isn't an outfielder. If the Phillies move on from Sizemore, it won't be because Franco is making the move to right field. However, the team has had Cody Asche working out in the outfield, an experiment they began in the spring. Franco flopped in his 16-game September audition last season, but is still just 22 with a No. 56 ranking from Baseball America  suggesting his prospect star didn't take any kind of hit from his struggles. He had 30-homer potential, and has solid enough contact skills that he should translate pretty well. It's just a question of "when," not "if."

Starting Pitcher

Struggling starter: Kyle KendrickReplacement: Jon Gray  

Gray isn't off to a hot start at Triple-A, as he has allowed 31 earned runs in 17 2/3 innings of work to open the season. Part of that can be chalked up to the tough hitting environ that is Albuquerque, but that excuse isn't going to fly for someone who has to ply his trade half of the time in Coors Field. As bad as Kendrick has been, Gray is going to have to show some signs of life before he can get to the majors, especially with the step back he took in Double-A raising some questions. However, a 98-MPH fastball can assuage lots of those concerns, and he still has a ton of potential even with the questions. Let's just hope he settles down.

Struggling starter: Nathan KarnsReplacement: Alex Cobb 

It isn't all about the prospects here; Cobb has already cemented his place in the majors. He has a 3.21 ERA and has approached a strikeout per inning over the last two seasons, so the question isn't whether he can get the job done; it's whether his arm will hold up well enough to allow him to. He is coming back from a forearm injury, and is probably still a few weeks away, but he remains a great stash candidate in the six percent of leagues he is still available in.

Struggling starter: Brett Anderson/Scott BakerReplacement: Julio Urias  

It simply isn't fair that a team that can spend more than the Yankees without thinking twice also has more young talent than it knows what to do with. Urias isn't on the verge of being called up, but that has more to do with his age (18) and lack of experience (162 professional innings) than ability, because there are some who think he could pitch in the majors right now. The chances that he actually makes it to the majors before he turns 19 are slim, given how conservative the Dodgers have been with his workload, but he is definitely a wild card if their rotation problems continue. 

Closer

Struggling starter: Steve CishekReplacement: Bryan Morris

The Marlins could go a few different ways if they turn away from Cishek's who has lost velocity and life off his pitchers in the early going. However, Morris has allowed just five runs in 51 1/3 innings since joining the club last season, and he has the right combination of velocity and groundball tendencies to get the job done. His mid-90's heat hasn't translated into as many strikeouts as you would expect, but Morris seems well equipped to handle the role if he ever gets the chance. Of course, the Marlins probably aren't going to feel too great about paying $6 million-plus for a glorified middle reliever, so this seems like a long-shot.

1430497355
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com

Carlos Correa should definitely be on your radar. (USATSI)
Carlos Correa should definitely be on your radar. (USATSI)

In Friday's episode of the Fantasy Baseball Podcast, the Al Melchior, Scott White and Adam Aizer had a lot to talk about, including the potential that we see Carlos Correa in an Astros uniform sooner rather than later.

Additionally, they run through some of Thursday's standouts, including solid starts by Stephen Strasburg, James Paxton and Danny Duffy. Did Strasburg's seven-strikeout performance against the Mets make you feel better about his slow start to the season? Is there any reason to worry about Chris Sale?

Also, Week 5 preview talk, including best and worst hitting matchups and starting pitchers to add, plus emails and tweets from listeners.

Direct download link here. Subscribe at iTunes here.

1430429623
by Heath Cummings | Senior Fantasy Writer

It may seem disingenious to refer to Dallas Keuchel as a unicorn since unicorns are imaginary and Dallas Keuchel is presumably very real. What I don't know is whether this incarnation of Keuchel as a baseball player is real. More accurately, I wonder if Keuchel can come anywhere close to replicating it.

I think we can all agree that his 2015 ERA (0.73) is a fraud and disregard that .188 BABIP as well. The zero percent home run rate and 88 percent strand rate are probably going to change soon as well. Regression is getting ready to punch Keuchel in the mouth, but how hard? Like baseball fight hard or line drive to the face hard? This is important.

The consensus seems to be that Keuchel has proven that this is who he is. He's for real. Like, not a unicorn. He can repeat 2014 when he struck out less than seven batters per nine and maintained an ERA below three. I guess that's where we should start, because it's been done before. In fact it's been done 19 times in the last ten years. Here's the list:

  • Cliff Lee- 2008
  • J.A. Happ- 2009
  • Jair Jurrjens- 2009
  • Chris Carpenter- 2009
  • Clay Buchholz- 2010
  • Tim Hudson- 2010
  • R.A. Dickey- 2010
  • Trevor Cahill- 2010
  • Johan Santana- 2010
  • Ryan Vogelsong- 2011
  • Doug Fister- 2011
  • Jeremy Hellickson- 2011
  • Jered Weaver- 2012
  • Kyle Lohse- 2012
  • Bartolo Colon- 2013
  • Doug Fister- 2014
  • Henderson Alvarez- 2014
  • Tanner Roark- 2014
  • Dallas Keuchel- 2014

A few notes about that list. 

  • Not surprising that a high percentage of the pitchers on this list did so in the National League. It's much easier to maintain a low ERA without striking out batters when you get a semi-free out every nine batters.
  • I was surprised that no pitcher has accomplished this in back-to-back years. It seems like if this was a sustainable skill at least someone would have done it back-to-back years. In fact, only Doug Fister has done it twice in the past ten years.
  • Unlike Keuchel, this is not a list of extreme groundball pitchers. So there goes that theory.

In fact, it's tough to build any assumptions based on this list. There are a few really good pitchers late in their career and several below average pitchers. There are pitchers that never came close to that ERA again and pitchers than grew into higher strikeout rates. The biggest thing I take from it is that the performance is not repeatable in that form... for most.

So how does 2015 look different so far? Well, Keuchel is striking out less batters, his ground ball rate has gone up again and his ERA has plummetted. Of course.

As I referenced above this has a lot to do with luck. Keuchel last year induced ground balls at a far greater rate than anyone else. In fact he was the first to do it at a 60 percent rate since Trevor Cahill in 2012 and the highest in baseball since Tim Hudson's 64.1 percent in 2010. If you just said AHA! join the club.

In Hudson we find our most optimistic comp. He's actually accomplished the feat three times in his career and is also a groundball heavy pitcher that doesn't strike anyone out. Hudson has always been unique in that he's maintained a low BABIP despite his groundball tendencies. He also has a pretty high strand rate for a pitcher without a lot of strikeouts. For the Dallas Keuchel fan, Tim Hudson is your proof that unicorns may exist. Or something like that.

Let's quickly go back to 2014 groundball rate leaderboard. Take a look at the top five on the list and their K/9 rate.

  • Dallas Keuchel 6.57
  • Tyson Ross 8.97
  • Felix Hernandez 9.46
  • Alex Cobb 8.06
  • Sonny Gray 7.52

So that is a really impressive list of pitchers, nice company Keuchel's keeping. But they all strike batters out much more often than he does. How about the top five pitchers in groundball rate that struck out less than seven batters per nine and let's look at their ERA:

  • Dallas Keuchel- 2.93
  • Kyle Gibson- 4.47
  • Jarred Cosart- 3.69
  • Henderson Alvarez- 2.65
  • Wily Peralta- 3.53

Hmm.

Pretty clearly, Keuchel stands out from the first group and looks a little strange in the second as well. He just doesn't quite fit in. Let's take one last look at a couple of stats, this time his ERA and xFIP over the past three years.

2013- 5.15/3.58

2014- 2.93/3.20

2015- 0.73/3.53

So xFIP says that he was just as good in 2013 as he's been this year. Even I think that is wrong. I will say that outperforming his xFIP the past two season once again points back to Hudson. Counting 2015 there have only been three years since 2002 that Hudson's ERA didn't outperform his xFIP.

I feel like I can reasonably conclude that Dallas Keuchel is performing like Tim Hudson. That's to say he's been a great pitcher for 13 months in a mold that most have not had success following. Whether he can continue to walk in Hudson's shoes will help determine how high this unicorn can fly.

1430429550
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com

Note: FanDuel is hosting a one-day Fantasy Baseball league tonight. It's $3 to enter and pays out $125,000 in cash prizes. First place wins $8,000. Sign up now!

With the advent and mainstream acceptance of Defense Independent Pitching stats over the last decade-plus, we have become signficantly better at determing just who is and isn't a good pitcher. They don't tell us a ton about past value -- a run allowed is a run allowed, regardless of our hypothetical formulas suggesting who was at fault -- but they have a tremendous amount of predictive value. 

FIP, xFIP, SIERA... If you're not taking them into account when trolling the waiver wire or looking to make a trade, you're not giving yourself the best information possible. These stats are all built on a number of assumptions about the nature of pitching, batted balls and base runners, and attempt to neutralize the impact of those seeing-eye singles and bloop doubles that can cause an otherwise solid start to derail. 

Generally speaking, pitchers don't have a ton of control over what happens when runners got on base against them. That isn't to say they have no control -- groundball and strikeout pitchers will tend to strand more batters, for obvious reasons -- but there's a reason a low WHIP is so important.

Among 88 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title last season, Doug Fister led the league in LOB%, at 83.1 percent, per FanGraphs, while Clay Buchholz brought up the rear at 62.1 percent. Those are the extremes, but most pitchers  wound up in a pretty narrow band, between 70 and 80 percent. 79.5 percent of pitchers fell between those two totals, with bad pitchers tending to clump at the bottom and good pitchers at the top. (The average FIP of the <70 percent pitchers was 3.81; that mark was 3.36 for the >80 percent crew.)

This is obvious stuff: good pitchers tend to strand batters more often than bad ones, and most pitchers don't show much difference overall. So, who has received the most help from the LOB Gods so far?

Pitchers with a FIP greater than 4.00 and a LOB percent above 80 through April 29:

Carlos Martinez (4.48 FIP, 100 LOB%), Dan Haren (6.01, 95.6), Cole Hamels (5.59 FIP, 91.9), Jaccob deGrom (4.36, 90.9), Hector Santiago (4.74, 89.6), Eddie Butler (5.08, 85.2), Mike Pelfrey (4.51, 84.6), Miguel Gonzalez (4.57, 82.7), Tommy Milone (6.35, 80.8)

As you can see, it's a group of pitchers with varied track records, so you'll want to perform surgery with a scalpel, not a machete. Yes, Hamels and deGrom have enjoyed some apparent luck so far, but they also just haven't pitched as well as their track records suggest, so you have to assume their regression will be counterbalanced by their sheer skill.

I am worried quite a bit about Martinez, in spite of his pedigree, age and apparent breakout potential. He is posting decent strikeout and groundball numbers, but he also still can't solve lefties. They are hitting .220/.304/.420 off him so far, despite a .216 BABIP. He has 10 strikeouts to six walks against lefties, and everything except the BABIP suggests his issues are still hanging around, waiting to drag him down.

I wouldn't want to own anyone here except for Martinez, Hamels and deGrom, and I would be looking to move Martinez as a sell-high candidate before the regression comes. However, Haren (44 percent owned), Santiago (51 percent) and Gonzalez (44 percent) are all owned significantly, on the strength of ERA's in the mid-3.00's or lower.

They probably don't have much trade value on their own, but each of those players might have enough name value to match with a shiny ERA to use as a sweetener in a larger package. If you can get out from under the regression before it hits, do so. 

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by Al Melchior | Data Analyst

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On today's Fantasy Baseball Today podcast, we discussed some of this season's most disappointing players, and I'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who has let me down more than Alex Wood and Jordan Zimmermann -- two pitchers who faced each other on Wednesday. Less than a month into the season, I've found myself thinking about benching both hurlers, even though I began the year expecting them to be rotation mainstays. While it's generally premature to downgrade players of their ilk this early in the season, there is some evidence to support a benching of both pitchers.

As Scott White noted in the above player update video, Wood did get some strikeouts in his most recent outing (eight, to be exact), but I'm still concerned that he has yet to register more than five swinging strikes in any start. To put those low totals in perspective, Wood's 4 percent swinging strike rate is lower than that of Mark Buehrle and Jeremy Guthrie, both of whom are well-established contact pitchers.

Behind the frequent contact is a sinker that has less sinking action, according to the vertical movement data on BrooksBaseball.net. While it's been Wood's curve and changeup that have been his main swing-and-miss pitches in the past, a drop in his sinker whiff rate from 7 to 3 percent has really hurt his ability to take the game out of the hands of his defense and Lady Luck.

Through his first three starts, Zimmermann had similar difficulties avoiding contact, inducing all of 11 swinging strikes combined. He has rebounded in his last two starts, racking up 18 swings-and-misses, but he has continued an unsettling pattern of exceedingly low ground ball and called strikes rates. On the year, Zimmerman has induced grounders at a 35 percent rate, as opposed to last season's 42 percent, and he has struck out 5.9 batters per nine innings.

Perhaps lower fastball velocity is to blame, but if you're looking for a reason to keep starting Zimmermann, he did throw harder in Wednesday's start against Wood and the Braves. Zimmermann averaged 94 mph on his fastball after typically hitting just above 92 over his first four appearances.

Zimmermann clearly had the better performance in the showdown, and of the two, I have a little more confidence that he won't make me regret using the must-start label. Despite Wednesday's flurry of strikeouts, Wood may just be one bad start away from earning a spot on my bench.

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