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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
Padres' Bud Black: Jedd Gyorko 'learned a lot' from 2014 struggles
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:07 pm ET) Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko definitely went through a sophomore slump in 2014 after belting 23 home runs as a rookie in 2013. Although, dealing with plantar fasciitis in his left foot certainly didn't help his cause.

Still, Gyorko seems to indicate the injury wasn't the main reason he struggled offensively last season. He hit .210 with 10 home runs in 111 games.

"I think I maybe put a little too much pressure on myself," Gyorko said, per MLB.com. "We were struggling as a team. And I think all of us, not just myself, felt like we needed to come up with that big hit to get us going. It's hard to hit when you put that kind of pressure on yourself."

Gyorko missed nearly two months of games last season due to the foot injury, but once he returned, his numbers began to improve. He hit .260 with a .347 on-base percentage over his final 55 games. 

"He was better. I think he started making some adjustments, some mechanical, some at-bat to at-bat in terms of pitch selection," manager Bud Black said. "Before, you saw him chasing pitches up in the strike zone and also sliders away. I think that a lot of that was him wanting to be aggressive and wanting to help the team."

The Padres are expecting better results from Gyorko in 2015, especially with a revamped lineup that includes Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks.

"We saw in 2013 what Jedd can be, and I think there's more to Jedd based on 2013," Black said. "I think last year there were a lot of factors that went into his season that he expected or adjusted to, but that is something he's hopefully learned from. It's a tough game. You've got to work and stay on top of it. In that regard, I think he learned a lot."


Infield shifts have become an issue for players like Reds' Bruce
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:46 am ET) Reds outfielder Jay Bruce is not going to use infield shifts as an excuse for his low batting average, but he admits it does play a factor, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

"That's definitely taken some hits away from me," Bruce said. "I don't use it as an excuse. But the bottom line is it takes hits away. You smoke a ball up the middle and you think it's a hit. But the shortstop is playing right behind second base.

"It's definitely cut down on average. You look at a player like Mark Teixiera. He was a .300, .280 hitter. You put the shift on him. He's a guy who drives the ball, pull hitter. He uses the other side of the field some. But guys like that are hitting in the .250s."

Bruce added that beating the shift is difficult. 

"Everyone's like, 'Hit a ground ball to shortstop or hit one down the line.' Like you can do whatever you want." he said. "A lot of times, pitchers pitch to the shift. And shifts are getting more sophisticated. In New York, (shortstop Derek) Jeter was playing third, in on the grass. So you can't bunt. Ideally, you want to get a hit. It's hard to do."

Reds hitting coach Don Long said eventually hitters will be taught in the minors to beat the shift.

"Not everybody's going to be the perfect hitter and be able to do everything," he said. "But I think you're going to find guys who want to have the ability to hit to both sides of the field."


Royals invite C J.C. Boscan to spring training
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:38 am ET) The Royals signed catcher J.C. Boscan to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training, according to multiple reports. Boscan, 35, spent 2014 with the Dodgers' organization, batting .259 with a homer and seven RBI in 52 games for Double-A Chattanooga.

Adrian Gonzalez confident in 'deeper lineup' for Dodgers
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:26 am ET) Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez had an MLB-best 116 RBI in 2014, mostly batting in front of the likes of Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez. While both players are no longer part of the Dodgers' batting order, Gonzalez is not worried about lineup protection, per the Los Angeles Times.

"I think we're deeper, so I don't think we're going to be so dependent on the middle of the order," Gonzalez said Monday. "People say that we lost power, but I think we just put the power in different areas of the lineup."

Some of the key acquisitions this offseason for the Dodgers have been shortstop Jimmy Rollins, catcher Yasmani Grandal and second baseman Howie Kendrick. Gonzalez is confident in the new additions to the lineup.

"They're going to battle every at-bat," Gonzalez said. "They're going to be prepared. I'm not saying that we didn't before, but I think the guys that we got are guys that are going to be tougher to game plan for. From that end, it will be a deeper lineup."


Orioles' Matt Wieters has goal of being ready by opening day
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:15 am ET) Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, who is throwing from 150 feet in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, said he is preparing to be ready by opening day.

"The rehab's going well and going how it's supposed to from all the talk I've gotten with Dr. (James) Andrews and my physical therapist down here and Richie (Bancells)," Wieters said, per MASNsports.com. "Everything's kind of moved along and we're preparing for me to be ready for opening day. We still have a good couple of months before we're there, so it's still going to be a lot of work to put into it, but that's what I'm preparing for. We're trying to get all the steps checked off before we get there.

"We'll see when I'm actually going to be able to get behind the plate and catch in games during spring training, but it's just a matter of making sure the arm has been tested enough to where when we do get into games with adrenaline and a little bit of pressure that we're ready to go."

Wieters added making sure his shoulder is also in good shape is part of the rehab process coming off elbow surgery.

"(Monday) we went out to 150 just to test it out a little bit," he said, "and everything has kind of checked out and we've had nothing really major to set back the progression."


Indians want Michael Bourn to get back to his base-stealing ways
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Indians want outfielder Michael Bourn to get back to his base-stealing ways, according to the Plain Dealer

Prior to joining the team, Bourn had compiled five straight seasons with at least 40 steals. Since joining the team, he's stolen 33 bases in two seasons. Injuries have played a role in his decline. Bourn admitted he had some trouble adjusting to the American League in his first season with Cleveland. He tore his hamstring on the final day of the season, and had offseason surgery, but the issue still plagued him in 2014. 

Manager Terry Francona agreed, saying "When he gets on base, he has to disrupt the game." Francona added, "he wants to do it really bad, he just wasn't in position to do it the last couple of years. Hopefully, those injuries are limited and he can use his legs because he's a huge part of what we do."

Bourn, 32, hit .257/.314/.360 over 444 at-bats last year.


Rockies, Adam Ottavino avoid arbitration
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Rockies have avoided arbitration with pitcher Adam Ottavino, according to MLB.com.

Ottavino agreed to a one-year deal with the club. Ottavino will make $1.3 million next season, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

The 29-year-old posted a 3.60 ERA over 65 innings last year.


Astros looking at pitcher Kevin Correia
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Astros are looking to add pitcher Kevin Correia, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Houston is said to be seeking a backend starter, and Correia fits the bill. The 34-year-old posted a 5.44 ERA over 154 innings with the Twins and Dodgers last year. 


Angels hopeful Garrett Richards will be ready for opening day
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Angels are hopeful that pitcher Garrett Richards will be ready by opening day, according to the Orange County Register

If Richards isn't ready for the start of the season, the team expects him to be back shortly after that. Richards had knee surgery in August, but he's been able to make progress. General manager Jerry DiPoto said he was "optimistic" about Richards' status. Richards has been able to increase his running on a treadmill, and hasn't experienced any issues with his throwing program, according to DiPoto. Richards is currently throwing from 125 to 150 feet about five times per week.

Richards posted a 2.61 ERA over 168 2/3 innings last year.


Orioles' Matt Wieters throwing from 150 feet
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Orioles catcher Matt Wieters has begun throwing from 150 feet, according to MASN.

Wieters underwent Tommy John surgery last season, and is working his way back from the surgery. He was cleared to start throwing from 150 feet on Monday. Wieters had previously been throwing from 120 feet. He said he's preparing as if he'll be ready for opening day.

Wieters hit .308/.339/.500 over 104 at-bats last year.


 
 
 
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