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Beyond the Numbers: Winning without whiffs

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The Reds may be something of a disappointment so far, but don't blame the rotation. Though none of their starters boasts even a league-average K-rate, they collectively own a respectable 3.89 ERA, and Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey are all below the National League average ERA for starters of 3.63.

Though they lack the sizzle of high strikeout totals, the Reds -- and particularly their current top trio -- offer a useful lesson for Fantasy owners. Cueto, Arroyo and Bailey have all been thriving even though none can be counted on for Ks. Cueto and Arroyo have not walked many hitters, and Bailey has recently shown glimpses of last season's improved control, but that's only the start of the story. All three pitchers have been consistent strike-throwers, and Cueto and Arroyo in particular have been very good at racking up called strikes. This has helped each of them to be efficient enough to average more than six innings per start and each has shown the ability to get through plate appearances with fewer pitches than the major league average. In fact, Arroyo leads the majors with 3.20 pitches per plate appearance. Strikeout pitchers are often hard to come by in Fantasy, but these hurlers show us that you can still get quality performances without Ks.

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The key is to find pitchers who fit the Arroyo/Bailey/Cueto mold. In a phone interview just prior to spring training, Reds pitching coach Bryan Price articulated the philosophy that he looks for his pitchers to adopt. Price likes pitchers who don't waste pitches and have a plan for setting hitters up. It's no wonder that the Reds lead the NL in percentage of strikes thrown and percentage of called strikes. Price specifically cited Cueto as the member of his staff who most "gets it," and he gave Bailey credit for improving in his ability to pitch efficiently and with purpose. Each member of the "ABC" crew can help owners in Fantasy, particularly in Head-to-Head formats, due to his ability to pile up innings. Because getting called strikes is a part of that formula, any potential gains in swinging strike rates can make these pitchers sleepers in the strikeout category, making them more valuable in Rotisserie formats as well.

Fooling batters into taking strikes is a skill, and Vance Worley and Lance Lynn are two of the best recent examples of pitchers who have upped their strikeout rates -- and their overall Fantasy value -- by improving in this area. Below are eight more pitchers who have been above average at getting called strikes and have been highly efficient as a result. Because their swinging strike rates are not as impressive, these pitchers may not get their due in Fantasy, and that's something that you can take advantage of. Here's the rundown on where the value lies for each of these pitchers, along with their pitches per plate appearance (P/PA) and called strike ratios. In sizing up these data, bear in mind that a typical major league starter is averaging 3.83 P/PA and called strikes on 18 percent of his pitches. (All data are for games through Tuesday, May 1. Called strike data are from StatCorner.com)

Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals (96 percent ownership rate, 3.46 P/PA, 22 percent called strikes): Zimmermann is no secret in Fantasy, but with an 83 percent activation rate, there are still owners who don't consider him a must-start. Despite a low strikeout rate, Zimmermann is a top 30 starter in both Rotisserie and Head-to-Head formats, as his sharp control makes him a stud for WHIP and ERA. He also ranks sixth in the NL in innings pitched, and without an innings limit this year, he should be a reliable source of innings throughout the season. Better yet, Zimmermann's swinging strike rate has not eroded since last year, but a drop in his foul ball rate may be putting a damper on his Ks. If the fourth-year pitcher can revert to his normal foul ball rate, owners could get a windfall with some unexpected strikeouts. Even with a mediocre K-rate, Zimmermann deserves to be started every week.

Ross Detwiler, Nationals (53 percent ownership rate, 3.70 P/PA, 21 percent called strikes): Detwiler's ownership rate has skyrocketed in recent weeks, so I probably don't need to sell most owners on his virtues. Basically, I'm talking to myself here, because prior to doing the research for this column, I was not a believer. For those other doubters out there, Detwiler started to make gains with his control last season, though they were easy to dismiss, given that this hadn't been a strength during his minor league career. It's premature to assume that Detwiler will maintain his high called strike rate, but it's worth watching, as Worley's breakout in this regard seemingly came out of nowhere. Detwiler has had some success getting whiffs in the past, so if the lefty can keep getting hitters to look at balls in the zone, he could be a surprise source of strikeouts and innings.

Kyle Lohse, Cardinals (93 percent ownership rate, 3.62 P/PA, 22 percent called strikes): Speaking of pitchers of whom I have been stubbornly skeptical ... Lohse had a mostly successful 2011 season, as he averaged 6.3 innings per start, which was the highest mark of his career. He also set a career high in his strikes thrown percentage, which was fueled by a sizeable uptick in called strikes. Lohse is putting up similar stats through his first five starts. Of course, he is extremely unlikely to maintain a sub-2.00 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP, but he could approach last year's level of performance (3.39 ERA, 1.17 WHIP), which would still leave him viable in standard mixed leagues.

Brandon McCarthy, Athletics (77 percent ownership rate, 3.48 P/PA, 22 percent called strikes): After last year's breakout, McCarthy is no longer a sleeper. Owners have not been reluctant to roster him, but they have not been eager to start him. McCarthy is active in only 33 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com, and with a 1.41 WHIP, it's understandable that owners might look to other options. However, he has yielded five more flyball base hits than what would normally be expected so far. Subtract those and his WHIP shrinks to a less frightening 1.28. Meanwhile, McCarthy continues to go deep into games regularly, and if he can get his swinging strike rate (6.5 percent) to rebound, he won't hurt you much for strikeouts.

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Bartolo Colon, Athletics (83 percent ownership rate, 3.48 P/PA, 24 percent called strikes): Colon led the majors last season with a 23 percent called strike rate, which was how he could post a 7.4 K/9 rate without great stuff. He is getting batters to look at strikes even more frequently this year, but when hitters have swung, they have been making contact more often. Colon's current low K-rate could be a small sample artifact as much as anything else, as he has struck out five or more batters in four of his six starts. He is being benched by a majority of his owners, but with more strikeouts likely on the way, Colon will be worth starting in most weeks.

Joe Blanton, Phillies (15 percent ownership rate, 3.40 P/PA, 22 percent called strikes): Blanton has already gone seven-plus innings in two of his four starts, and given how efficient he has been so far, he could continue the trend deep into the season. He has stayed in the strike zone on more than two-thirds of his pitches without being hit too hard. Opponents are batting a gaudy .295 against Blanton, but he has allowed just one home run to date. Over his 67 1/3 innings dating back to last year, the former Athletic has complied highly favorable ground ball and walk rates, and he has been proficient at getting called strikes over his career. Given these trends, Blanton has a good shot at enjoying success by way of the Cueto model.

Jerome Williams, Angels (13 percent ownership rate, 3.62 P/PA, 20 percent called strikes): It has been long enough since we've seen Williams, Version 1.0, that we could easily forget that he was a fairly efficient pitcher when he came up with the Giants. The better part of a decade later, we are seeing similar form from the one-time prospect. Even though he can't be counted on a for a low walk rate, Williams has enough of a history of getting through plate appearances quickly that Head-to-Head owners could view him as an innings eater. He should also be good enough at avoiding the long ball that he could help in ERA, making him an asset in deeper mixed leagues on a weekly basis, if not standard and shallower ones.

Lucas Harrell, Astros (9 percent ownership rate, 3.63 P/PA, 21 percent called strikes): Harrell has put up good ground ball rates over his minor league career, but poor command prevented him from being a coveted prospect in Fantasy circles. So far this year, Harrell has been throwing strikes at an unprecedented rate and getting through plate appearances quickly, but he has reached strike three only 12 times in 28 2/3 innings. His past record suggests that he should get more whiffs than he has been getting, and a turnaround could mean more strikeouts in his future. Owners should not expect Harrell to be even an average strikeout pitcher, but with just a little improvement, he could be useful to more owners in NL-only leagues.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Yankees pitcher Nathan Eovaldi looking to build off strong outing
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:13 pm ET) Yankees pitcher Nathan Eovaldi is hoping to continue his hot start Sunday when he takes the hill against the Mets. Manager Joe Girardi is hoping to see more of the same, including his devastating slide, reports The Journal News.

"I saw in Detroit the best slider I've seen him have. I thought it had great depth," Girardi said. "I thought he threw his curve ball well. They had a predominantly right-handed lineup, so maybe he didn't throw as many splits as in some of the other games. Probably as important as anything, I thought he pitched inside to them. You throw 95, 96 and you're able to pitch inside for strikes and a little bit off the plate, guys aren't really comfortable. That's really important."

Eovaldi is 1-0 with a 3.12 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings pitched this season.

"I think sometimes because he's been up a few years, people forget about how young he really is," Girardi said. "He's a young starting pitcher. He's still developing. When you learn how to do some of the things he’s learning how to do, it just makes you that much more effective."


Blue Jays' Justin Smoak hits second HR in three homes in Friday's loss
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(6:12 pm ET) After entering the game as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning, first baseman Justin Smoak connected for a ninth-inning solo home run in the Blue Jays' loss to the Rays on Friday.

It was his second home run in three games.

Rays C Rene Rivera makes rare contribution with Friday blast
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6:12 pm ET) Rays catcher Rene Rivera only joined his team's hit parade against Toronto once Friday night, but he had a "blast" doing it.

Rivera slugged his first home run of the season, a two-run shot to center that landed 421 feet from the plate. The tater only served to brighten a still-dismal slash line of .143/.186/.232, but Rivera has managed four hits in his last five games.


Yankees manager Joe Girardi believes in Carlos Beltran getting going
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:07 pm ET) Yankees veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran isn't hitting well to start the 2015 season. Beltran is hitting a lowly .173 and just 6 for 39 batting left-handed. After going with Chris Young over Beltran in the lineup Saturday, manger Joe Girardi had words of encouragement for the veteran, according to The Journal News.

"I know he's frustrated," Girardi said. "He had a couple big hits the other day. It's been a little bit harder left-handed for him, but I really believe he's going to get going. I do. He probably needs a break here and there and it will start happening for him."

Beltran also sat out two games last week due to an illness and Girardi was worried he wasn't ready to come back when he did.

"I'm sure it hasn't helped," Girardi said. "I thought he was still somewhat weak in Detroit. At the end of the road trip, he still had a little bit of a chest cold. I think he's better now. He's really important to our offense and we have to get him going."


Cards INF Pete Kozma to serve as emergency catcher on Saturday
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(6:06 pm ET) With catcher Yadier Molina day to day due to a sore knee, INF Pete Kozma caught a side session and will serve as the Cardinals' emergency catcher Saturday in Milwaukee, reports MLB.com.

Molina took a foul tip off his right knee guard in Friday's win and is experiencing soreness.

Tony Cruz gets the start behind the plate for the Cards.

Angels C.J. Cron continues heating up with three-hit Friday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6:05 pm ET) When the season began, Angels designated hitter C.J. Cron couldn't buy a hit. Not he's pretty much hitting every other game. When he starts hitting every day, he'll truly be hot.

For now, he's lukewarm. But he did peak with a 3-for-4 performance Friday night against Texas. Cron doubled, singled twice and scored in the fourth to raise his average over .200 for the first time.

He has hit safely in just five of his last eight games, but managed multiple hits in three of them and has three doubles during that stretch.


Flurry of strikeouts prompts Ausmus to bench Tigers OF Gose
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:56 pm ET) A spate of strikeouts motivated Brad Ausmus to bench Tigers leadoff hitter Anthony Gose against Cleveland on Saturday.

Gose hadn't stopped hitting - he managed six hits in his last 22 at-bats and owns a .333/.348/.511 slash line on the year with eight runs scored. But he has tallied just twice in the last seven games and has been stirring up plenty of wind. He fanned 10 times in 17 at-bats over the last four games.

"He's just in a little bit of a funk right now," Ausmus told MLB.com. "He's not swinging like was a week ago. It doesn't hurt to give him a day to regroup and work on some things in the cage."


Nick Castellanos homers for only Tigers run in Friday loss
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(5:53 pm ET) Nick Castellanos hit his second home run of the season and first since April 10 in the Tigers' loss Friday to Cleveland. 

Castellanos went 1 for 4 and was responsible for Detroit's only run of the night in a 13-1 loss. He improved his average to .259 and recorded his seventh RBI. 


Diamondbacks move Mark Trumbo to the bench Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:53 pm ET) Diamondbacks right fielder Mark Trumbo is on the bench for Saturday's game against the Pirates, with Ender Inciarte moving to right field and David Peralta taking over in left, the team announced.

Trumbo had started four consecutive games for Arizona and will get the day off. Also out of the lineup Saturday is Yasmany Tomas, moving Aaron Hill back to third base. Tomas has started two games at third since being called up and is hitting .400 in 10 at-bats. Cliff Pennington also replaces Nick Ahmed at shortstop, who started the last nine games in a row.

The Diamondbacks are currently the underdogs (+120) against Pittsburgh.


Lonnie Chisenhall drives in two in Indians' Friday win
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(5:51 pm ET) Lonnie Chisenhall went 2 for 5 in the Indians' win over Detroit on Friday. Chisenhall doubled, homered and scored twice. 

The third baseman improved his average to .204 with six RBI. The home run was his first of the year. 


 
 
 
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