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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
Albert Pujols to DH for Angels on Sunday
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(1:32 pm ET) The Angels flip-flopped positions for two regulars on Sunday. Albert Pujols, who has started at first base in 17 of the team's 18 games, will play designated hitter. 

C.J. Cron, who has 13 starts at DH, will play first base. 

The Angels are -144 favorites at home against Texas. 


Pirates' Andrew McCutchen hoping to break out of slump
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(1:15 pm ET) Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen is in the midst of a 0-15 slump in the past five games he's played in. McCutchen's batting average is down to .175 while striking out five times in this span. 

"That's baseball … it's a game of adjustments," McCutchen said, via MLB.com. "I'll get there, it's a matter of time," McCutchen said. "I'm not focused on the outcome, just on the feeling. And I'm feeling good, so the outcome will be there. Long as I feel good, I'll get good results."

McCutchen and the Pirates take on the Diamondbacks Sunday at 4:10 p.m.


Athletics call up Ryan Cook, send down Kendall Graveman
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(1:08 pm ET) The Athletics made two roster moves on Sunday.

The A's recalled RHP Ryan Cook from Triple-A Nashville. Cook was 2-0 with a save in five scoreless appearances in Nashville.

Cook replaces Kendall Graveman, who was optioned to Nashville. Graveman was 1-2 with an 8.27 ERA in four starts for the A's. 


Brewers' Scooter Gennett (hand) taking swings Sunday
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(1:08 pm ET) Brewers infielder Scooter Gennett will take some swings with a bat on Sunday, according to FOX Sports Wisconsin. 

Gennett suffered a left hand laceration in an accident while showering. The injury required stitches. He's expected to have his stitches removed this week. On the 15-day disabled list, Gennett is expected to return to the team the moment he's eligible to. 


Yankees send Jose Pirela to Class A for injury rehab
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:53 pm ET) Yankees infielder Jose Pirela will begin a minor league injury rehab at Class A Tampa on Sunday. 

Pirela was in the Tampa lineup on Sunday, at designated hitter. 

Pirela is on the disabled list with a concussion. 


White Sox call up Scott Carroll, Daniel Webb, DFA Eric Surkamp
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:44 pm ET) With a suspended game, followed by a regularly-scheduled game on Sunday, the White Sox made several roster moves. 

Reliever Scott Carroll was called up from Triple-A Charlotte. He'll take the place of Matt Albers, who was placed on the disabled list. 

To make room for Carroll on the 40-man roster, the Sox designated LHP Eric Surkamp for assignment. 

In addition, since the White Sox will be playing two games on Sunday, the team took advantage of the 26th man rule to call up pitcher Daniel Webb for the second game. 


Royals call up Aaron Brooks for game two on Sunday
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:30 pm ET) The Royals will call up LHP Aaron Brooks after the completion of the suspended game on Sunday, and prior to the start of the regularly scheduled second game. The Royals will take advantage of the rule allowing an extra man for double headers. 

Brooks was 0-2, 4.70 at Triple-A Omaha this season. 


Cubs announce rotation plans for series vs. Pirates
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:27 pm ET) Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel will remain the scheduled starter for Monday's series-opening game agains the Pirates, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Inclement weather caused Saturday's scheduled game to be postponed, with scheduled starter Jake Arrieta being pushed to Sunday. Travis Wood, who was initially scheduled to start Sunday, will now make his start Tuesday against the Pirates, with Kyle Hendricks following him for the series finale Wednesday.


Red Sox call up Heath Hembree, send down Matt Barnes
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:17 pm ET) The Red Sox called up RHP Heath Hembree from Triple-A Pawtucket on Sunday. 

Hembree had not allowed a run in six appearances for Pawtucket, earning two saves and fanning 10 in eight innings. 

He takes the place of Matt Barnes, who was sent down. Barnes appeared in one game, allowing two hits in two innings, while striking out one. 


Pirates' Tony Watson earns win Saturday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:12 pm ET) Pirates pitcher Tony Watson was able to pitch out of a jam Saturday to deliver a scoreless eighth inning and eventually earn the win in his team's 2-1 victory over the Diamondbacks.

Watson (1-1) gave up two hits in the outing and had men on second and third with one out, but was able to record a pop out and strikeout to escape the inning.

"There is nobody he doesn't challenge," manager Clint Hurdle said after the game, per MLB.com. "He's been pitching this way for two-plus years. He's cool. He's got a slow heartbeat. He's not going to get rattled."

Pitching coach Ray Searage visited Watson with two men in scoring position and one out, but there was no talk of issuing an intentional walk to the next batter.

"No. Right away, we got with Ray and said we got a plan to get him out," Hurdle said. "We felt we were in an advantage situation with our guy on the mound. We bet on our guy."

Watson gave up three earned runs in his season debut but has been excellent since. Saturday's outing gives him a 3.00 ERA and 11:0 K:BB ratio in 12 innings.


 
 
 
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