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By the Numbers: The tide will turn for these starters

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If we could write the history of the 2011 season after five-plus weeks, there would be several unexpected storylines, especially concerning pitchers. Josh Tomlin on a 20-win pace and leading the majors in WHIP ... Ted Lilly near the bottom of the WHIP rankings ... Alexi Ogando leading the way in the Rangers' rotation ... who saw any of this coming?

Every year, the pitching leaderboards have their share of wacky rankings early on, and this year is no exception. Still, some of the stats that look out of place now might seem perfectly normal come September. The question for Fantasy owners is: Which of the surprising early season stats can I trust?

One way to determine whether pitchers have trustworthy stats is to look at their BABIP rates. Any rate over .330 or under .250 should raise suspicion. However, a few of the pitchers with high BABIPs are truly busts, while some with tiny rates may be able to sustain their success. A method for seeing which of the extreme BABIPs might be sustainable is to look at a pitcher's line drive and popup rates. Since line drives become hits more than 70 percent of the time and popups are practically sure outs, these rates are good indicators of whether a pitcher's BABIP is due to change. For example, Travis Wood's .381 BABIP makes it appear as if his high ERA and WHIP are flukes, but a 25 percent line drive rate tells us that there is a legitimate reason why he is giving up so many base hits on balls in play. Until he starts allowing fewer liners, we shouldn't look for Wood to improve.

Pitchers who appear in or near both of the "likely lucky" and "likely unlucky" boxes in the graph below are the most probable candidates to see their ERAs and WHIPs regress. For example, Josh Johnson's relatively unfavorable line drive and popup rates place him in both "likely lucky" boxes. Of course, it's not particularly interesting or relevant to note that Johnson's ERA is likely to slide above 2.00, but most of the other pitchers included in these zones are probably due for a change that will have a real Fantasy impact.

We'll focus in on a few of the more notable good and bad luck cases below. In addition, we will shed some light on a few pitchers who look like flukes right now, but could actually continue on their current paths.

Stats are for all games played through Monday, May 9.

Who has probably been lucky?

James Shields, Tampa Bay: So far, Shields has avoided the long balls that ruined his 2010 season, but should he really be putting up Cy Young-worthy numbers? His very average line drive and popup rates don't bode well for him sustaining a BABIP much under .280, so his current rate of .239 shouldn't last for long. While this supercharged version of Shields is just a mirage, there's nothing wrong with the version owners had a few years back, and he can be that good again.

Jhoulys Chacin, Colorado: To look at Chacin's 2.68 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, it appears that the 23-year-old has progressed since his rookie season. He is striking out two fewer batters per nine innings, so that's not really the case. While a low BABIP has papered over his diminished K rate, Chacin may not be due for all that much of a correction. All four mainstays of the Rockies' rotation -- Chacin, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa and Jason Hammel -- have held opposing batters to extremely low batting averages on ground balls. Troy Tulowitzki is a Gold Glove and Fielding Bible Award winner, and Jonathan Herrera is a pretty slick fielder as well. They may be giving Chacin enough of an assist that he can keep his ERA from soaring above the low-3.00s.

Kyle Lohse, St. Louis: Lohse has been an improved pitcher this season, but as he has allowed more contact over his last three starts, a low BABIP has prevented him from paying the cost. His worst start so far has been against the Marlins, but that's been the toughest lineup he has faced to date. Between the impending rise in opponents' batting average against him and a slate of tougher opponents ahead, Lohse's moment of being a Fantasy darling is likely to end soon.

Josh Tomlin, Cleveland: Tomlin is good enough that he should have been rostered in far more than three percent of our leagues to start the season. However, his popularity has since mushroomed to an 82 percent ownership rate. Much of his newfound respect and admiration stems from a .158 BABIP that is extremely low for any pitcher, and wholly undeserved for someone with subpar line drive and popup rates. Pretty soon, there is going to be a lot of unhappy Tomlin owners.

Who has probably been unlucky?

Ted Lilly, L.A. Dodgers: The lefty is doing his usual fine job of throwing strikes, popping batters up and limiting line drives, yet his WHIP is an unsightly 1.46. After allowing five runs in a pair of recent starts against the Cubs, it may be hard for owners to trust Lilly, but they can expect him to produce better results in his future starts.

Brandon McCarthy, Oakland: I wouldn't be surprised if a few readers do a double-take right now to make sure they are really in the "likely unlucky" section. We're not used to seeing McCarthy with a 3.26 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, so he must be lucky, right? (Actually, we're not used to seeing McCarthy off the DL for this long, but that's another story.) With the way he is commanding his two-seamer, curveball and new cutter, McCarthy isn't issuing many free passes, and he's not allowing much hard contact either. With a .338 BABIP that should only get lower, McCarthy is not a sell-high candidate. In fact, he's someone you might want to try to pick up in just about any format.

Chris Capuano, N.Y. Mets: In deeper leagues, there is a world of difference between a pitcher with an ERA approaching 5.00 as opposed to one closer to 4.00. xFIP estimates that Capuano's ERA should be exactly 4.00, yet it currently stands at 4.93. As a pitcher who consistently gets batters to pop up infield flies at an above-average rate, there is little reason to think that Capuano's BABIP, ERA and WHIP won't all tumble over his next several starts.

Jo-Jo Reyes, Toronto: Reyes belongs on the list of starting pitchers, along with Charlie Morton, Aaron Harang and Jason Marquis, who gave owners every reason to think they would be terrible and yet have been surprisingly effective. For a change, Reyes has not succumbed to wildness or gopheritis, but he is still saddled with a high ERA and WHIP. With his stats to date, he is barely useable in AL-only leagues, but owners in those formats should stick by him.

Who has been neither lucky nor unlucky (based on current batted ball rates)?

Alexi Ogando, Texas: In this week's Pitching Planner, I wrote that Ogando's sub-.200 BABIP was "not made to last," but at least so far, it does reflect his achievements on the mound. Ogando leads all major league starters, including pop-up artist Jered Weaver, in infield fly rate, and it's not a close contest. It is still questionable whether the converted reliever can continue to induce popups on more than one out of every five hit balls, but it's certainly a trend worth tracking.

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Tom Gorzelanny, Washington: His strikeouts are down and his homers are up, yet Gorzelanny has managed to be one of this spring's unexpected producers. The Nats' fifth starter has an improved walk rate and an even more improved BABIP to thank. It's not clear for how long either trend will continue, but after his first six starts, Gorzelanny has the favorable line drive and popup rates to back up his .168 BABIP.

Edwin Jackson, Chicago White Sox: Among major league starters, only Javier Vazquez has a higher line drive rate than Jackson. Given how ineffective Vazquez has been, that's not exactly company Jackson is eager to keep. However, until he improves both his line drive and popup rates, the inconsistent hurler will be vulnerable to meltdowns like the ones he recently had against the Tigers and Yankees. Fortunately, Jackson's track record suggests that he should be able to reverse these trends.

Doug Fister, Seattle: The one area that Fantasy owners could have rightfully expected Fister to help was with WHIP, but with a 1.46 mark, he's been a disappointment. Fister is still stingy with walks, but he has been getting hit around on balls in play due in part to a low infield fly rate. The good news is that Fister is actually helping with ERA, and with a 13 percent ownership rate, he is still underappreciated. Still, until his WHIP shrinks, he won't have much to contribute for owners in most mixed leagues.

Glossary
xFIP: Also known as Expected Fielding Independent Pitching. It is an estimate of what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based on factors that a pitcher can control, such as strikeouts, walks and flyballs. xFIP is a derivative of FIP, which was developed by Tom Tango.
Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC/27) -- An estimate of how many runs a lineup would produce per 27 outs if a particular player occupied each spot in the order; ex. the RC/27 for Miguel Cabrera would predict the productivity of a lineup where Cabrera (or his statistical equal) batted in all nine spots; created by Bill James
Component ERA (ERC) -- An estimate of a what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based solely on actual pitching performance; created by Bill James
GO/AO -- Ground out-fly out ratio
GB/FB -- Ground ball-fly ball ratio
Batting Average per Balls in Play (BABIP) -- The percentage of balls in play (at bats minus strikeouts and home runs) that are base hits; research by Voros McCracken and others has established that this rate is largely random and has a norm of approximately 30%
Isolated Power -- The difference between slugging percentage and batting average; created by Branch Rickey and Allan Roth
Walk Rate -- Walks / (at bats + walks)
Whiff Rate -- Strikeouts / at bats

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put By the Numbers in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.

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Player News
Mariners pitcher J.A. Happ hit hard again in start Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Mariners pitcher J.A. Happ gave five runs on 11 hits in five innings of work Sunday against the Padres in his second consecutive rough outing.

"I was being way too tentative early on," Happ said to MLB.com. "I just wasn't finishing and as aggressive as I was later in the game. Maybe trying to be a little too fine after the previous outing. I think if I throw like I did the second part of that game, I'll be OK."

Happ, who is expected to be the fourth starter in Seattle's rotation, is now 1-3 this spring with a 7.90 ERA.


Rangers release outfielder Ryan Ludwick from minor league deal
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(3/29/2015) The Rangers have released outfielder Ryan Ludwick from his minor league contract, the team announced Sunday.

Ludwick hit .200 with one home run and three RBI in 30 plate appearances during spring training.


Report: Yankees' Domingo German may need Tommy John surgery
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(3/29/2015) Yankees pitching prospect Domingo German may be on the shelf for awhile. German may reportedly need Tommy John surgery for his injured elbow, according to MLB.com.

The team is yet to confirm the report. German went 9-3 in 25 starts with a 2.48 ERA in Class-A Greensboro in 2014.


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(3/29/2015) Indians relief pitcher Austin Adams still has a chance to make the final roster, reports MLB.com.

Adams, who was a non-roster invitee to camp, has posted a 5.87 ERA in eight appearances this spring with nine strikeouts and 11 hits allowed.

"We wanted to tell him he'd done a really good job," manager Terry Francona said of his morning conversation with Adams, "but we still don't know."


Rangers remain undecided on pitcher Keone Kela
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(3/29/2015) Rangers pitcher Keone Kela tossed one scoreless inning Sunday with no hits and two strikeouts against the Dodgers. Kela has now gone 8 1/3 innings without giving up a run this spring, but the team is undecided still on his role this season, reports MLB.com.

"I haven't said if he was or wasn't on the team," Banister said. "That decision will be made at the appropriate time. You see what he has done. He has been impressive this spring."


Indians pitcher T.J. House gives up four runs in six innings
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Indians pitcher T.J. House, who was given a spot in the starting rotation Sunday, struggled in his appearance Sunday. House gave up four runs on six hits with two walks in six innings of work against the White Sox.

"This spring it looks a little glaring, that one inning is kind of getting to me in the box scores," said House to MLB.com. "It's nice to get them out of the way now and maybe during the season we won't see them.

"My ball kind of flattened out a little bit [in the fourth]. Besides that, I felt good. I pounded the zone and got to see some guys I'm going to see during the season, so I'll make a mental note of that."


White Sox second baseman Micah Johnson has edge in position battle
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) White Sox second baseman Micah Johnson appears to be in the lead for the position when the season begins, reports MLB.com. Manager Robin Ventura likes what he's seen from Johnson enough to give him a vote of confidence at the position, even though nothing has been officially set.

"He's done well enough to kind of be the leading guy," said Ventura of Johnson, who had two hits in Sunday's 4-1 win over the Indians.

Third base coach Joe McEwing likes the progress Johnson has sowed on defense this spring.

"Initially what we wanted to do was try to slow things down because everything Micah does, he does fast," McEwing said. "Everything in his game is fast. Just, defensively, try to slow him down and allow him to focus on his feet and his hands and everything working together."


Athletics pitcher Kendall Graveman posts another stellar performance
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(3/29/2015) Athletics pitcher Kendall Graveman continues to impress this spring. Sunday, he went 6 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits with three strikeouts and no walks. Manager Bob Melvin loves how the young pitcher has performed this spring, reports MLB.com.

"He doesn't blow you away, although you look at the radar gun and at times we've seen 93, 94 this spring," Melvin said. "But he's a pitcher; he's pretty cerebral in the way he does it.

"He reads swings very well. You know, it's late movement off the barrel of the bat, whether it's sink, whether it's cut, offspeed just enough. But he knows what he's doing and he's aware of what the hitters are trying to do against him."

Graveman has a minuscule 0.74 ERA in five starts this spring.

"There's a reason that he went from [Class] A-ball to the big leagues [in 2014 with Toronto], and then continued to pitch this well for us. It means he's real confident in what he's doing," Melvin said.


Nationals pitcher Doug Fister struggles again in outing Sunday
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(3/29/2015) Nationals pitcher Doug Fister surrendered six runs in four innings of work Sunday against the Marlins, pushing his spring training ERA to 7.02 in five starts. Fister gave up three more home runs in the outing.

"I can't let any of that affect me. I know I have to get the ball down regardless," Fister said to MLB.com. "I felt good today. I felt I was almost back in the swing of things. There are obviously some things I have to fine tune at the end of spring.

"I left the ball up, and it allowed the Marlins to get good contact on the ball. I don't let outside influences affect the game. It's a game I have to control and make adjustments."


Tigers targeting 200 pitches for pitcher Anibal Sanchez
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(3/29/2015) Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez tossed 10 strikeouts in Sunday's game against the Phillies, going 6 1/3 innings and surrendering four runs on five hits. 

"That means he's hitting his spots. It means he's locating," manager Brad Ausmus said to MLB.com. "When a guy takes a pitch, he thinks it's a ball or just off the corner and they end up getting the call. ... So he must have been locating. It looked like he was locating his fastball."

Ausmus also indicated he hopes to see Sanchez reach 200 innings this season.

"If we get 200 innings out of Sanchy, I'll be extremely happy. I think we'll be in a very good spot," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Sunday morning. "We talk about a lot of things, but if Sanchy can stay healthy, that would be an enormous plus for us."


 
 
 
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