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By the Numbers: Changes in the air

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It's hard to judge power numbers even a little more than a month into the season, but here goes nothing.

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The reason it's difficult to know which way the trends will go for Fantasy's power hitters is because, at this stage in the schedule, most regulars still have roughly 130 at-bats, but only a portion of those involve hitting the ball in the air. Subtract the times that a hitter strikes out or hits grounders and you are left with a not-so-robust sample size. Of course, the absence of flyballs and line drives in and of itself can be a sign of reduced power, but again, those clusters of at-bats aren't very large yet.

There's another way to look at this, though. Even the most flyball-prone hitters have launched the ball only about 45 to 55 times so far. Jose Bautista, for example, has 55 flyballs to date, but after hitting his first 50, he had turned only five of those into homers. Five flyballs and three home runs later, fewer Fantasy owners are likely to be stressing about him, as he is now on a 35-homer pace. Give just a little extra distance to any of his six warning track outs and ... problem completely solved.

So the main focus of this week's buy/sell analysis is on home run per flyball ratios (HR/FB). From season to season, they are fairly stable, but with small samples sizes, they can vary wildly. Some of this season's aberrant rates can clue us in on some potential buy and sell candidates.

Top buy candidates

Top Buy Candidates
Player HR/FB (%) Flyball Rate (%) HR Avg.
Nelson Cruz 7.5 38.5 4 0.273
Mike Napoli 22.6 41.9 7 0.259
Brian McCann 8.7 47.9 5 0.231
Omar Infante 12.8 47.0 6 0.304
Kyle Seager 8.7 45.5 4 0.284

Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers: Cruz's ground ball rate has crept upward both this year and last, but the real problem is that his 40 flyballs have produced just three home runs. (He also has a line drive homer this year.) This early in the year, it would take only two or three additional homers to get Cruz close to his norm, and it's not as if he has been totally hopeless as a power hitter this year. He already has 10 doubles, all of which have come via flyballs and line drives. Owners are starting to bench Cruz in shallower leagues, so there could be an opportunity to grab him in your league before he breaks out.

Mike Napoli, C/1B, Rangers: No one can take issue with Napoli's home run power this year, but he hasn't done much aside from his seven dingers. Still, some owners may have been getting concerned, as he had gone 10 straight games without an extra base hit prior to last Thursday. Through his slump, he had hit only .176, but he has been less strikeout-prone in his recent games. Not only should Napoli's home run thump return, but he is bound to get more hits in general as he improves on his 33 percent strikeout rate.

Brian McCann, C, Braves: Home run power hasn't actually been a problem for McCann, as he has already belted five of them. His flyball and HR/FB rates have been close to normal for much of the early going, but not enough of his flies and liners have turned into doubles. In recent trades on our site, McCann has been dealt straight up for players like Corey Hart, Jeremy Hellickson and Kyle Lohse, but he is better than that. If you're in a league with an owner who underappreciates McCann because of his low batting average, you just might be able to get an elite catcher at a bargain price.

Omar Infante, 2B, Marlins: Infante's power surge came seemingly out of nowhere, so many owners remain skeptical of it. While I don't think Infante will remain on a 25-30 homer pace, a couple of trends point to him being more than just a streaming option. The 11-year veteran has jacked up his flyball rate to 47 percent, and while it's considerably higher than it has been in recent seasons, he posted similarly high rates earlier in his career. A near-quadrupling of his HR/FB ratio looks far more suspicious, but he has been more of a pull hitter this year, so some flyouts to straightaway center have been swapped for homers over the left field wall. Infante shouldn't be treated as a high-end option, but he is worth acquiring if you have a marginal option at second base.

Kyle Seager, 3B, Mariners: Seager has just passed the 300 plate appearance threshold as a major leaguer, and in that time, he has little use for hitting grounders. Seager had been a good line drive hitter in the minors, but he has been hitting more flyballs since arriving in Seattle last year. If he keeps it up, he could have a 15-homer season, especially since he has won regular playing time. Seager's 8.7 percent HR/FB is considerably higher than last year's, but not far out of line with his minor league rates. While Seager has improved his power skills, his walk rate has dipped, but he is capable of reversing it. With the potential for a high on-base percentage and moderate power, Seager is underutilized, as he is starting in only 60 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com. With so many third basemen injured or underperforming, Seager could be an inexpensive and productive solution for many owners.

Top sell candidates

Top Sell Candidates
Player HR/FB (%) Flyball Rate (%) HR Avg.
Matt Joyce 12.5 47.1 7 0.274
Carlos Beltran 23.1 43.8 13 0.295
Mike Moustakas 8.9 49.5 4 0.306
Luke Scott 14.6 48.8 7 0.236
Aaron Hill 9.6 51.0 5 0.246

Matt Joyce, OF, Rays: With seven home runs through his first 34 games, Joyce is off to a furious start. He has increased his power by lifting his flyball rate from 42 percent a year ago to 47 percent this year. That could just be a small-sample fluke, but there are other concerns as well. With so many flyballs and fewer line drives, Joyce could have trouble maintaining a .274 batting average. Also, once Evan Longoria returns to the lineup, Ben Zobrist will likely get moved back to the outfield to platoon with Joyce, reducing his playing time. Longoria won't be back for several weeks, but it still makes sense to deal Joyce now while he is hot.

Carlos Beltran, OF, Cardinals: After just over a month, Beltran is more than halfway to last season's home run total of 22 -- and 2011 was not exactly a down year for him. Beltran's 23.1 percent HR/FB ratio would not have looked out of place with the rates from the peak of his career, but it's a far cry from his recent rates. Even if he can maintain it, there are other warning signs. He is striking out and hitting grounders at higher rates than he did last season, so he is highly reliant on maintaining his home run power in order to bolster his Fantasy value. Given that his HR/FB ratio is more than double last season's already-robust mark, Beltran is looking like one of the best sell-high targets right now, even if his knee is acting up again.

Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals: Having already notched four home runs, Moustakas could be on his way to a 20-homer season. He has increased his flyball and HR/FB rates to get on that pace, but his minor league numbers suggested that he was due for an uptick from his rookie numbers. The parts of his current stat line that look suspicious are the .306 batting average and 11 doubles. Moustakas pops up far too often to maintain such a high average, and he's not enough of a line drive hitter to be a reliable source of doubles. He's worth retaining in long-term keeper leagues, but in single-season formats, he may not have any more value than what he has right now.

Luke Scott, OF, Rays: With Houston and Baltimore, Scott showed that he could be a good source of power, albeit a streaky one. Tropicana Field is not as hospitable to power hitters as either of his previous home parks, but Scott has managed to rack up seven home runs in the early going. It's not surprising that only two of those have come at home, but even though he has played his away games in a series of good hitters' parks, his overall 14.6 HR/FB ratio looks like a high-end aberration. Perhaps this is just one of Scott's patented power streaks. In any event, owners in standard mixed leagues can find better options when Scott and the Rays are in the midst of a homestand, and that results in just too much time with Scott on the bench. Let him help to clog up someone's else reserve slots.

Aaron Hill, 2B, Diamondbacks: Just three weeks ago, I put Hill in the "hold" category. A low batting average made him a potential buy-low target, but a high infield fly rate put his chances of building a higher average at risk. Hill has since moderated his extreme flyball tendencies, and correspondingly, he entered into a 13-game power skid that may or may not have ended with Monday's home run against the Dodgers. After a power-deprived 2011 season, Hill needed to build on his early extra-base binge, but he has done little to bolster his owners' confidence over the last couple of weeks. Now would be a good time to deal him, while his overall stat line is still buoyed by a late April hot streak.

Hold these hitters

Top Hold Candidates
Player HR/FB (%) Flyball Rate (%) HR Avg.
Edwin Encarnacion 16.1 54.4 11 0.270
Adam Dunn 26.8 56.9 12 0.250
Gaby Sanchez 2.4 47.2 1 0.198
Rickie Weeks 6.5 38.8 3 0.157

Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/3B, Blue Jays: Encarnacion was a "sell" two weeks ago, but that was before his batting average was corrected down from .286 to .270. His flyball and HR/FB rates are higher than usual, but not to the degree that he can't sustain a level close to what he has achieved so far. While I still expect some erosion in Encarnacion's rate stats, he just may be finally cashing in on his potential to hit 30-plus home runs.

Adam Dunn, 1B/DH, White Sox: Dunn was another "sell" candidate a couple of weeks ago, but he, too, has settled into a more believable pattern of production. He's getting fewer base hits on balls in play -- not typically his strong suit -- and is simply launching flyballs for homers. This is a version of Dunn that I can trust, as his 26.8 percent HR/FB ratio looks at home with his pre-2011 levels.

Gaby Sanchez, 1B, Marlins: Sanchez's history tells us that he is much better than what he has shown, but his current peripherals say that he is just a mess. He has been tentative at the plate, taking strikes far more often, but when he swings and connects, it's often with weak contact. These problems are likely fixable, but there is too much wrong here to merit buy-low status for now.

Rickie Weeks, 2B, Brewers: Weeks is hitting more flyballs, but it hasn't resulted in greater power. That's because he has been too busy striking out. There is time for Weeks to increase his HR/FB ratio from its current 6.5 percent mark, but he will also have to start making more frequent contact -- and get himself healthy -- to get himself back on the "buy" list.

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-air 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 on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Pirates' Gregory Polanco smacks second home run of season Thursday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:55 am ET) Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco connected off Padres starter Ian Kennedy for his second home run of the season during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres.

Polanco hit the solo home run in the second inning. He finished the game 2 for 5 with one RBI and one run scored. He is now hitting .247 on the season.

Prior to his performance Thursday, Polanco was hitting .333 with one RBI in his last five games.


Pirates C Francisco Cervelli collects three hits in Thursday's win
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:49 am ET) Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli had three more hits during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres to raise his batting average to .320 on the season.

During Thursday's contest, Cervelli went 3 for 5 with two runs scored. Over his last five games, Cervelli is 9 for 17 with four RBI and six runs scored.


Pirates OF Starling Marte hits 10th home run of season Thursday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:44 am ET) Pirates outfielder Starling Marte smacked his 10th home run of the season during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres.

Marte hit the two-run home run off Ian Kennedy in the third inning. Marte finished the game 1 for 3 with two RBI, two runs scored and one walk.

Prior to Thursday's contest, Marte was hitting .167 with one home run and four RBI in his last six games.


Angels' Erick Aybar (hamstring) not expected to need DL stint
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:40 am ET) Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after Thursday's win over the Tigers that shortstop Erick Aybar (hamstring) is not expected to need a trip to the disabled list, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Aybar left Thursday's game due to hamstring tightness. He suffered the injury while trying to beat a bunt to first base. The team could call up a capable replacement at shortstop even if the Angels believe Aybar will only miss a few games with the injury. He was replaced Thursday by Taylor Featherston, who had played a total of six innings across four games at the position this season.


Pirates' Andrew McCutchen collects three hits in Thursday's win
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:37 am ET) Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen went 3 for 5 at the plate to help lead the Pirates to an 11-5 victory over the Padres on Thursday.

McCutchen drove in two runs and scored two during the contest. Prior to his three-hit game Thursday, McCutchen was hitting .382 with three home runs and five RBI in his last nine games.


Padres 3B Will Middlebrooks collects three hits in Thursday's loss
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:32 am ET) Padres third baseman Will Middlebrooks went 3 for 4 at the plate during Thursday's contest, but it was not enough as the Padres fell 11-5 to the Pirates.

All three of the hits for Middlebrooks were singles. He drove in one run and scored a run during the game.

Middlebrooks is 9 for 22 with two home runs and five RBI in his last five games. During that time, he has raised his batting average from .211 to .240.


Pirates SS Jung Ho Kang slugs three-run home run in Thursday's win
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:24 am ET) Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang connected off pitcher Ian Kennedy in the first inning for his third home run of the season during Thursday's 11-5 win over the Padres.

Ho Kang finished the game 1 for 5 with three RBI. Ho Kang has hit safely in his last 10 games. During that time, he is 15 for 41 with eight RBI and he has raised his average from .270 to .308.


Angels' Chris Iannetta delivers grand slam in win Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:24 am ET) Angels catcher Chris Iannetta went 2 for 4 with a grand slam in his team's 12-2 win over the Tigers on Thursday.

Iannetta put the cherry on top of a blowout win for the Angels with his seventh-inning slam, which increased the Angels' lead to 11 runs before the Tigers were able to get one back in the ninth. It was the fourth grand slam of the catcher's career.

Iannetta has hit just .178/.263/.307 with 13 RBI in 101 at-bats, but all three of his home runs have come in his last eight games.


Pirates SP A.J. Burnett allows five runs in Thursday's start
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:22 am ET) Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett gave up five runs (four earned) over 5 2/3 innings to earn his fifth victory of the season during the 11-5 win over the Padres on Thursday.

Burnett (5-1) struck out six and walked two batters during the outing. His ERA rose from 1.37 to 1.81.

The Pirates gave Burnett a 7-0 lead before Burnett allowed two runs to score in the fourth inning on hits by Justin Upton and Will Middlebrooks. Burnett permitted more runs in the fifth inning when two hits and two errors led to two runs.

By failing to toss seven innings Thursday, it broke Burnett's streak of four-consecutive starts throwing seven innings. He allowed four earned runs during those outings. His next expected is scheduled for Tuesday at San Francisco.


Angels' Matt Joyce homers in second straight game Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:21 am ET) Angels left fielder Matt Joyce went 2 for 3 with a home run and two RBI in his team's 12-2 win over the Tigers on Thursday.

After being bogged down offensively for much of the season, Joyce has now homered in consecutive games and looks to be getting on track at the plate. He has hit just .187/.262/.313 with three home runs and 15 RBI in 134 at-bats, but it's improvement on his .360 OPS at the end of April.


 
 
 
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