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By the Numbers: The All-Enigma Team

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In the days heading into the All-Star break, many of us like to invent our own lists of All-Somethings. There are All-Snub, All-Overrated, All-Underrated and All-Bounceback teams, at least in our imaginations.

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But what about the All-What-the-Heck-Happened-Here Team?

That's the lineup I'm going to build right here and now, though for the sake of brevity, I'll call it the All-Enigma Team.

Going around the horn, I'll pick a player at each position who has put up numbers that don't look the way I thought they would at midseason and try to figure out exactly what happened over the last three months. I'll even throw in a bonus pitcher, singling out both an enigmatic starter and a reliever. Some of these players will have clear signs of an impending breakout or downturn, while others could easily remain on their current course for the rest of the year.

All stats are current through Tuesday, July 3.

Catcher: Carlos Santana, Indians: Santana's disappointing follow-up to his breakthrough 2011 season has everything to do with a lack of power. His strong plate discipline is intact, but when he makes contact, the result too many times has been a weak grounder. Santana's ground ball tendencies have grown even stronger over the last month, and when he has been getting air under the ball, not many of his flies have had warning track power behind them. Given that Santana has been dealing with a sore back recently, it's plausible that his worsening trends are tied to his injury. Just a year ago, we saw that the 26-year-old is capable of much more, so under no circumstance should Santana be dropped or sold low. However, he is benchable in one-catcher leagues until he shows improvement.

First base: Mark Trumbo, Angels: Entering the season, it wouldn't have seemed outlandish for Trumbo to go on a 35-to-40 home run pace, as long as he found a way to get regular playing time. However, even with that power, he didn't appear to have enough else going for him to be ranked among the top five first basemen in Rotisserie value, which he currently is. A high batting average on grounders has inflated his singles total, and a high average on liners has given him a boost in doubles, but his overall BABIP has already started to plummet. Over the last 28 days, Trumbo has clubbed eight homers, but he has hit just .242 with one double and two triples, and for that time period, he ranks 10th in Head-to-Head points and 11th in Rotisserie value. In the coming months, he may swap a few home runs for doubles, but ultimately, his June numbers should be a fair indicator of what he will do in the second half.

Second base: Neil Walker, Pirates: Walker is currently in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak that has added 13 points to his batting average, but even with the recent surge, he ranks 15th among second basemen in points leagues. Since we had projected him as the 10th-best second baseman for that format, Walker's first half has to rank as a disappointment. The doubles power that he showed over his first two seasons is what gave him some allure in standard Head-to-Head formats coming into this season, and up until a week ago, Walker had only 13 two-baggers on the season. His recent streak has put him more in line with his typical level of production, but a .407 BABIP since June 1 masks the fact that Walker is striking out far too often. For the second year in a row, pitchers are offering him far fewer pitches in the strike zone, and Walker is not having much success connecting when he ventures outside the zone. Maybe Walker can turn it around, but with few signs of a return to his prior form, it looks like a good time to put the Pirates' keystone on the market.

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Third base: Daniel Murphy, Mets: Since most owners probably use Murphy at second base, I'm cheating a little bit with my selection of him for the hot corner. While I've written on other puzzling producers like Ryan Zimmerman and Edwin Encarnacion, only lately has Murphy emerged as a riddle. He has been an excellent source of doubles throughout his career, but a series of knee injuries has appeared to have robbed him of his home run power. After a 12-homer season at the age of 24, Murphy looked to have 20-homer potential, but since then he has left the yard nine times in 188 games. The good news is that three of those homers have come in the past week. With a ground ball rate just above 50 percent over the last year and a half, it's no mystery as to why Murphy's power has evaporated, but he has slowed down his ground ball rate substanstially in recent weeks. Murphy's resurgence could turn out to be a speed bump inside of a larger trend of diminishing power, but at 27, he could just as easily be getting back to where he left off in his promising 2009 season.

Shortstop: Alcides Escobar, Royals: When Escobar hit .304 in a late-season callup with the Brewers three years ago, he looked like a future staple in Rotisserie leagues, where he could help owners with both batting average and stolen bases. Though he did amass 26 steals a year ago, Escobar's production had been so lackluster coming into this year that he became a draft day afterthought. He is hitting over .300 again and currently ranks 14th among shortstops in Rotisserie value, putting him back in the weekly start-or-sit discussion. Back in '09, I thought Escobar would be a legitimate .300 hitter in the mold of Ichiro Suzuki or Carl Crawford, using his speed to generate infield base hits. However, Escobar continues to be not much better than a typical hitter on ground balls (.263 ground ball batting average), but he is pumping up on his average with a .260 flyball BABIP. That might be sustainable for a more powerful hitter, but it just makes Escobar look like a major regression candidate for the second half.

Outfield: Josh Willingham, Twins: Willingham is a top 10 outfielder in Head-to-Head leagues and top 20 in Rotisserie, and his 18 home runs are getting all of the attention. However, this type of home run power is not unprecedented for Willingham, as his 20 percent home run per flyball ratio is not far above the 18 percent mark he registered three years ago. Injuries have limited Willingham's counting stats in the past, but even with good health, he has never been much of a doubles hitter. With 21 doubles already, it will take a major injury or slump to prevent him from surpassing his career high of 32, set with the Marlins in 2007. There is no apparent explanation for Willingham's bump in doubles, and his pace has started to slow over the past month. There is no reason to think that he won't continue to club homers, and that makes Willingham worth a start in practically all leagues, but especially in points leagues, now would be a good time to sell Willingham, if you can find an owner to buy him at his current value of a top 10 outfielder.

Outfield: Colby Rasmus, Blue Jays: When Rasmus was a Cardinal, he had to use road trips to put up a lot of his power stats, so his move last season to Toronto seemed to be a great fit. However, Rasmus' power numbers as a Blue Jay were decidedly unimpressive until recently, but over the past month, he has hit 10 home runs to go along with a .310 batting average. The turnaround can be traced to a reduction of strikeouts and a sizable upward tick in his flyball rate. SportingNews.com reported that Rasmus adjusted his swing right around the time he started to heat up, but whether that has made the difference or not, we know that Rasmus is capable of sustaining this type of power production, since he did it for the Cardinals two years ago. The high flyball rate should eventually take a toll on Rasmus' batting average, but even so, he will be worth using in standard mixed leagues every week.

Outfield: Alex Rios, White Sox: Every team needs a captain, so I'm giving Rios a capital "C" for his All-Enigma Team jersey. After years of peaks and valleys in his Fantasy production, Rios has earned the distinction. Some of the year-to-year variation in his stats has been little more than white noise created by BABIP fluctuations, but there have been real swings in his home run power. It's not clear why Rios has been resurgent as a power hitter this year, but owners can trust it because he has done it before and he's not getting many cheap homers. Rios' personal-best rate of infield hits could slow down, bringing his batting average under .300, but he should still maintain enough value to remain viable as a No. 2 outfielder.

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Starting pitcher: Jeff Samardzija, Cubs: As a minor leaguer and as a major league reliever, Samardzija had been hard to pin down, and he has continued the pattern as a starter. After a rocky beginning of the season, Samardzija rolled off a series of seven starts that included several tough opponents, six quality starts, strikeouts aplenty and not too many walks or homers. Then hitters were suddenly lining up to take a shot at him, making frequent contact, hammering him for extra-base hits and drawing walks. Just when you thought you could give up on Samardzija, he came out and dominated the Braves on Monday.

We may just have to live with the inconsistency, at least in the short term. Even during Samardzija's bleak June, there were games where his command was strong and games where he was missing bats, but he didn't have both things going at the same time. We have to remember that Samardzija is new to this role, and he still doesn't have that much major league experience as measured by innings pitched. We have seen his ceiling, but just because we saw it consistently over several weeks doesn't mean he can achieve it with consistency going forward. Samardzija showed us on Monday that he isn't done as an arm for standard mixed leagues, but he will need to reel off a few more gems before he can be trusted as anything more than a low-end, through-it-on-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks option.

Relief pitcher: J.J. Putz, Diamondbacks: Both Putz and John Axford were among last season's top five Fantasy relievers, but neither is currently among the top 30. At least with Axford, you know that an erosion of his control is to blame, but Putz is a harder case to crack. His strikeout, walk and ground ball rates are all very close to last season's, and his WHIP is respectable at 1.15, but his ERA is teetering just south of 5.00. Part of Putz's problem is one of perception; he overperformed in 2011, thanks to a microscopic eight percent line drive rate, so some dropoff in performance was to be expected. However, the biggest factor impacting his ERA is a 62 percent strand rate. While Putz has rarely excelled at stranding baserunners, he is usually much better than this, but strand rates can vary greatly from year to year. Chances are good that Putz will strand more runners in the second half, and he should be no worse than a low-end No. 1 reliever.

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Player News
Jason Kipnis not "at full speed"
by Al Melchior | Data Analyst
(2:54 pm ET) One day after serving as the Indians' designated hitter, Jason Kipnis was left out of the Indians' starting lineup for Monday's game at the Royals. Indians manager Terry Francona told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he had Kipnis batting seventh on Sunday, "because I don't think he's going to be at full speed," as he continues to deal with a hamstring injury.

Kipnis has now started just twice in the last six games.


Wilfredo Tovar getting the call
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:47 pm ET) According to NJ.com, the Mets will call up Wilfredo Tovar for Tuesday's game at Washington. They need an extra infielder with Dilson Herrera sidelined by a strained right quadriceps.

Tovar has spent most of 2014 at Double-A Binghamton, hitting .282 with a .690 OPS in 255 at-bats there.


Danny Duffy set for Monday start
by Al Melchior | Data Analyst
(2:43 pm ET) Danny Duffy was in the Royals' starting lineup for Monday's game versus the Indians, as expected. He had his last two turns in the rotation skipped, as he recovered from inflammation in his left shoulder.

Mark Trumbo aiming to elevate ball
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:43 pm ET) Diamondbacks first baseman Mark Trumbo homered twice Sunday at Colorado, giving him 11 in 305 at-bats this year. According to the Arizona Republic, he's been looking to improve his home run total by hitting the ball in the air.

"There's no money for me on the ground," Trumbo said. "I need to drive the ball. I need to hit the ball in the air. It's frustrating when you're not doing it, but fortunately today I was able to get a few out there, and that's kind of what I need to do."

According to FanGraphs.com, Trumbo's fly-ball rate is actually a bit higher than it was last season, but fewer of those fly balls are resulting in home runs. The former Angels slugger missed 71 games earlier this season with a stress fracture in his foot.

"Looking at my numbers, if I'm a 30-home run guy, maybe I'm not that far off pace for missing half the year," said Trumbo. "But it feels like this year it's been more frustrating. The balls I've hit hard have been lower for outs. You look around the league, and the guys who are in my same mold probably are getting the ball up in the air. That's what I've got to do, too."


John Jaso, Craig Gentry likely done
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:36 pm ET) Athletics manager Bob Melvin acknowledged Sunday that catcher John Jaso and outfielder Craig Gentry are running out of time to return from their concussions and could miss the rest of the season, according to MLB.com.

"With eight games left," Melvin said, "there's always that possibility."

Craig suffered his concussion Sept. 9 after suffering one previously in 2011. Jaso's came way back in August. He was expected to return as a pinch-hitter and part-time DH at one point, but a visit with a concussion specialist Sept. 10 pushed back his timetable.


Jurickson Profar's shoulder still not feeling right
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:27 pm ET) Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar, who has spent all of 2014 rehabbing a torn muscle in the back of his armpit, won't play in the Arizona Fall League as hoped, according to the Dallas Morning News, and will instead visit with sports medicine specialists across the country to try and find a resolution to an injury that should have healed long ago.

"He's worked extremely hard, but he hasn't bounced back," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We need to get him right, so we are gathering additional opinions from a number of the best doctors out there. It's been a frustrating case."

Profar was named the top prospect according to Baseball America prior to 2013. His availability for the start of 2015 is at this point unknown.


Orioles shuffle starting rotation
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:19 pm ET) The Orioles will start right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez at the Yankees on Tuesday, allowing them to stick to their plan of giving each of their starting pitchers an extra day of rest heading into the postseason.

"There's a fine line between not having enough rest and having too much rest, so we're trying to have every guy that pitches get one extra day before the start," manager Buck Showalter told the Baltimore Sun. “We're going to try to give everybody, so you're not too far away from the ball but you get a little extra rest. They all seem to respond well to that."

While left-hander Wei-Yin Chen will start Monday at the Yankees, right-hander Chris Tillman won't start again until Friday at Toronto. Miguel Gonzalez will start the team's final game Sunday at Toronto.

As of now, Bud Norris and Kevin Gausman are scheduled to start Wednesday's and Thursday's games at the Yankees, but that could change. Jimenez could end up making a second start before season's end.


Derek Jeter will play final seven games
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:05 pm ET) Manager Joe Girardi told the New York Daily News that he intends to have retiring shortstop Derek Jeter in the starting lineup for each of the Yankees' final seven games.

"Obviously, some of those days are going to be DH days to keep him going," Girardi said.

Jeter has begun his final homestand with four straight multi-hit games, batting .471 (8 for 17) with a home run and two doubles during that stretch.

"He's hit the ball with more authority," Girardi said. "That's the ups and downs of a hitter. A lot of times, when a guy is older and they're going through it, everyone's ready to write him off. That's what happens. That's the nature of the business. But he's swung the bat extremely well."


Marcell Ozuna's ankle injury does him in
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:54 pm ET) According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the ankle sprain Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna suffered Sunday against the Nationals is in fact a high ankle sprain that will sideline him for the final week of the regular season.

First baseman Justin Bour could get more playing time with Ozuna sidelined, with Garrett Jones shifting to the outfield.


Domonic Brown looks good for Tuesday
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:28 pm ET) Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown was out of the starting lineup for a third straight game Sunday at Oakland, but his right hand had healed enough for him to pinch hit. He struck out in his only at-bat.

According to MLB.com, he expects to return Tuesday at Miami.

"It's just a bruise," Brown said. "We took the X-ray and everything came back negative. I'm all good to go."


 
 
 
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