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By the Numbers: Trusting the big picture

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Fantasy baseball is a game of patience. It's tempting to jettison players who don't deliver on their promise, especially when they continue to disappoint deep into midseason. Owners who took a chance on acquiring players like Shin-Soo Choo, Ben Zobrist and Cameron Maybin when they were struggling took the risk of getting stuck with a dud, but lately the risk has paid off. Those who bought low on these three are now enjoying the fruits of skill sets that were somewhat dormant earlier in the season, but the signs of better performance were there in their longer-term track records.

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While the opportunity to buy low on Choo, Zobrist and Maybin has passed, there are new opportunities on which to capitalize. When a player suddenly -- and dramatically -- falls short of his recent accomplishments, that's a signal that a rebound is coming. When volatile indicators like BABIP are responsible for major shifts in a player's value, that's another indication that a correction is probably on the way.

Relying on long-term skill profiles and BABIP trends, I've identified a dozen hitters to keep in mind when hitting the trade market as you gear your team up for a second-half push. The first group of players are buy-low candidates who appear poised for improvement. The second group consists of sell-high players who have played above and beyond the level suggested by their skill stats. Finally, there are players who may look like they belong in one of the first two groups, but they are better off left untraded or not pursued.

All stats are current for games played through Tuesday, July 17.

Top buy candidates

Rickie Weeks, 2B, Brewers: All season long, the question has been, "Should I give up on Rickie Weeks?". I personally reached a point about a month ago where I thought he was droppable, as both his strikeout binge and power outage had no end in sight. Since the end of June, Weeks has started to come around, clubbing four home runs and six doubles over a 16-game span, and he has been slowing chipping away at his strikeout rate, too. Because he's still not making enough contact, it doesn't make sense to replace your current second baseman if he's a solid producer. However, he should outproduce Neil Walker, who is being added and activated in far more leagues than Weeks, and he's a better bet than low-end options for standard mixed leagues, like Omar Infante and Marco Scutaro.

Mike Napoli, C, Rangers: Over the past month and a half, fewer of Napoli's plate appearances have resulted in a strikeout, but his batting average has continued to plunge. It's not a mystery as to why his home run power has dissipated, as Napoli has been exchanging flyballs for line drives, but that trend should be leading to more base hits, not fewer. He appears to be suffering from some bad luck, particularly on the flyballs he has put in play, as he is hitting just .109 on those batted balls, as opposed to the marks above .160 he has registered in each of the previous three seasons. Even if the homers don't start piling up -- and Napoli's track record suggests that they will -- he should be getting more doubles in the near future. That makes Napoli a good buy-low candiate now, while his slugging percentage is still hovering in the low .400s.

Danny Espinosa, 2B, Nationals: Ian Desmond has been shelved with an oblique injury, and as of this writing, Espinosa had picked up four consecutive starts at shortstop, moving over from second base. That puts him tantilizingly close to shortstop eligibility in standard formats in which five games played earns you a new position. On the surface, that development would not appear to do much for Espinosa's value, as he would rank 17th among shortstops in standard Head-to-Head scoring. However, he is currently sporting an eight percent home run per flyball ratio (HR/FB) that is far below the norms he established in both the majors and minors. Espinosa looks primed for a second-half power surge, and along with the possibility of shortstop eligibility, he could be one of the biggest value pickups owners can make right now.

J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles: For the first two months of this season, Hardy did a good job of following up on his power-laden Orioles debut in 2011. From June 1 forward, though, Hardy has batted .163 with only three home runs. He hasn't been lacking for flyballs, though not as many have been going to or near the warning track. Still, he is capable of far better than a nine percent HR/FB or a .073 flyball BABIP, so look for Hardy to get extra-base hits at a faster clip going forward. If you can't add him from waivers, you should be able to get him cheaply from one of the many owners who currently has him benched.

Top sell candidates

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Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees: After a cold June, Jeter has heated back up in July with a .351 batting average. Already, he has five doubles this month, and his total of 18 doubles has helped him to a seventh-place ranking among shortstops in standard Head-to-Head scoring. The uptick in power, which also includes seven home runs, looks like it will be hard for Jeter to sustain, as his trend of year-to-year decreases in his flyball rate continues. This season's 15 percent rate is an all-time low for The Captain, and it doesn't portend for a good power output if it doesn't rise. Given that Jeter's flyball rate has steadily trickled downward over the last five years, owners shouldn't expect many extra-base hits over the rest of the season. Sell Jeter now while he still ranks among the top shortstop options.

Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks: Montero was the fifth-most valuable catcher in Fantasy last season, and so far this year, he is just outside the top five. That's quite a feat considering that he is striking out far more often and seeing a drastic decrease in his doubles rate. Montero is building his value with an increase in his walk rate and a career-best .352 BABIP. There's nothing wrong with drawing more walks, but Montero's BABIP looks unsustainable, especially given that his line drive rate has dropped four percentage points from last year. Perhaps Montero can rediscover his contact skills, but he has been on a strikeout spree since May, so now is a good time to test the trade waters.

Torii Hunter, OF, Angels: Just like Montero, Hunter has managed to come close to matching last season's value, even though he is striking out at an accelerated pace. At least Montero is improving one part of his skill set by drawing more walks, whereas Hunter is seeing erosion in his walk, flyball and line drive rates. If not for a .224 flyball BABIP, Hunter would be showing the signs of his skill decline in his Fantasy stats, and unfortunately for him, BABIP is a mercurial metric. It's time to shop Hunter before his batting average and run production stats start drooping.

B.J. Upton, OF, Rays: In general, Upton hasn't been tearing it up this year, so owners could find it challenging to trade him. However, he is showing signs of perking up, hitting .289 with three home runs over his last 12 games. Upton's relative hot streak may provide your one and only chance to get some value for him. Though his .247 batting average is hardly impressive, it could be far worse if not for the .355 average he is getting on ground balls. That mark should be in free fall over the remainder of the season, and unless Upton can improve upon a 13 percent popup rate, he will have little value for owners in standard mixed leagues. He very may well not, as he has been chasing a higher proportion of pitches outside the zone in each of the last four seasons.

Hold these hitters

Angel Pagan, OF, Giants: Pagan is currently the fifth-most traded outfielder in Fantasy, but hopefully the owners who are trading him away aren't viewing him as a sell-high. Pagan's batting average has been sliding as his K-rate has been climbing, but his season-to-date batting average and strikeout rate are both very close to his career norms. Pagan may be in the midst of a regression right now, but in 2009 and 2010, he hit a cumulative .296, and last season, he appeared to be the victim of an unlucky .289 BABIP. Given his speed and line drive tendencies, Pagan could easily sustain or improve upon his current .329 BABIP and .287 overall batting average.

David Freese, 3B, Cardinals: Clearly Freese won't sustain the .397 batting average that he has put together over his last 21 games, but that doesn't mean that it's time to sell high on him. Freese's hot streak has been remarkably power-free, as only four of his 29 hits have been for extra bases (all doubles). This year, Freese has shown that he is capable of the home run power that he showed in Triple-A, and he is enough of a line drive hitter to pick up his doubles pace as well. Even though Freese's batting average is due to stabilize, he should still finish with an average over .300, and the best of his power may be yet to come.

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Adam Lind, 1B, Blue Jays: Lind has looked reborn as a hitter since his late June recall from Triple-A Las Vegas, batting .339 with five home runs and 15 RBI. The power display is encouraging, but home runs have always been the least of Lind's problems. Though Lind lost a little bit of home run thump after his breakout 2009 campaign, it was the disappearance of his doubles -- from 46 to 32 to 16 -- that did the most damage to his Fantasy value. Lind has managed to pick up three two-baggers since his return, but it's hard to trust the .366 BABIP that has helped to produce them along with 12 singles. Lind has shown over the last two years that he can't help Fantasy owners with home runs alone, so we need to see if he can sustain the improvement in his batting average before buying low on him as a mixed league option.

Carlos Lee, 1B, Marlins: Over the last 14 days -- mostly spent with the Marlins -- Lee has improved enough to rank 12th among first basemen in standard Head-to-Head scoring. It would be easy to attribute Lee's recent surge to his change of scenery, but the Marlins' lineup has not been any more productive than the Astros' so far, having scored two fewer runs. If anything, the move could hurt El Caballo, as he moves to a pitcher's park and out of a division that features four hitter's parks. Since arriving in Miami, Lee has collected seven RBI and two steals (yes, you read that correctly), but four of those RBI came on a grand slam and, well, you can't count on the steals. This is more likely to be a hot streak rather than a sign of more good things to come, and Lee is already overowned with a 79 percent ownership rate. If you don't already own Lee in a mixed league, don't go out of your way to acquire him, even if it's on the cheap.

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
Rockies surprising 2B LeMahieu cranks first homer Saturday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:45 am ET) Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu had his nine-game hitting streak to start the season snapped Friday night. He apparently didn't take too kindly to it.

LeMahieu, a hot hitter on a hot-hitting team, provided most of the offense in a loss to the Dodgers with a two-run homer in the seventh inning off standout right-hander Zack Greinke. The RBI give him eight on the year and the performance improved his slash line to an impressive .463/.476/.585.


Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis thriving early this season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:43 am ET) Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis has ripped through the first two weeks of the season with a bang, hitting .333 in 45 at-bats. Manager John Gibbons loves the way the rookie is playing this season.

"He's got the complete game, he really does," Gibbons said. "He was such a good hitter in spring training I thought to myself: 'This kid will hit some home runs in his career.' But he's shown a lot more power than I expected."

Gibbons is handling things at the plate like an old veteran, according to Gibbons.

"One thing he's got that's advanced for a young guy is he's got a great approach at the plate, he doesn't chase out of the zone much. He's got the ability to foul off tough pitches to stay alive and a lot of guys can't do that. And he handles breaking balls, at least fouls them off, and that's a big part of it. He stays alive and if they make a mistake he doesn't miss it. He's been very productive."


Blue Jays manager just fine with Kevin Pillar's aggressive style of play
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:38 am ET) Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has no issue with how outfielder Kevin Pillar attacks the game head on, reports the Toronto Sun. He will deal with the slight issues that comes with his aggressiveness.

"I love the fact that he's aggressive, he can pull off some catches that a lot of guys don't make," Gibbons said. "It depends on the situation, some balls you can't get to, them back off. But he's always had that mindset (to go get it) and that's what allows him to be so good and make those plays. A lot of guys don't. But he's smart enough too to know there's certain times he's got to back off too."

Pillar doesn't think he's overly aggressive.

"He believes he's going to make it, that's why he makes a lot of them," Gibbons added. "There's no hesitation with him at all. He's got a ton of confidence when he's playing that outfield, really in his whole game. When he's on the bases he's a confident kid too."


Adrian Gonzalez drives in three more for Dodgers on Saturday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:37 am ET) The 2015 RBI Machine, otherwise known as Adrian Gonzalez, was at it again Saturday night.

The Dodgers slugger not only boasts a ridiculous batting average of .523, which actually went down in the game but he added three RBI to his total, giving him 14 in 11 games. He brought home a run with a fielder's choice in the third and singled in two in the fifth. Gonzalez owns an eye-popping slugging percentage of 1.045.

He has struck out just three times in 44 at-bats on the year.


Dodgers closer Peralta overcomes pain in neck to be pain in neck to Rockies
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:30 am ET) For a guy considered questionable to pitch with a neck issue, Dodgers closer Joel Peralta was certainly impressive Saturday night.

Peralta was a pain in the neck to the Rockies. He closed them down with a shutout inning, yielding only a walk along the way to notch his third save.

The right-hander has yet to surrender a run in six outings as he holds down the role for the injured Kenley Jansen.


Rockies starter Lyles can't compete against Greinke in defeat
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:24 am ET) Opposing pitchers must be sharp when matched up against Dodgers stud Zack Greinke. Rockies right-hander Jordan Lyles was not sharp Saturday night. The result was his first loss of the season.

Lyles walked five in six innings. He also gave up five hits and four earned runs. He was hanging in there until a two-run single by Adrian Gonazalez in the fifth stretched the Los Angeles lead to 4-1.

His ERA jumped more than a point to 3.50, but he will have a chance to lower it Thursday against San Diego.


Mariners catcher Mike Zunino rips first home run of the year
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:17 am ET) Mariners catcher Mike Zunino went 1 for 3 at the plate in Seattle's 3-1 win over the Rangers Saturday. Zunino did his damage in the fifth when he smacked the first pitch he saw from Colby Lewis over the left center field wall for a solo home run, his first of the year.

Zunino, who also struck out twice, boosted his average to .139 in 36 at-bats this season.


Dodgers RHP Greinke good enough for second win Saturday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:16 am ET) Good was good enough Saturday night for Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke.

Greinke was dominant in his first two starts this season. He was merely good against the hot-hitting Rockies and that earned him his second win.

Only a two-run homer by DJ LeMahieu in the seventh inning really marred his performance. He finished having yielded three earned runs on five hits in 6 2/3 inning with one walk and three strikeouts. His ERA nearly doubled to a still-wonderful 1.83.

Greinke has now allowed just 12 hits and two walks in 19 2/3 innings. He will try to continue his fine start Thursday in San Francisco.


Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis knocked around for 10 hits in loss
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:14 am ET) Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis allowed three runs on 10 hits in Texas' 3-1 loss to the Mariners Saturday. 

Lewis worked efficiently through the first three innings before running into issues in the fourth. Lewis allowed a sacrifice fly to Seth Smith, allowing Robinson Cano to score. Then in the fifth, Lewis surrendered a leadoff home run to Mike Zunino.

Brad Miller then tripled in the sixth, driving in Kyle Seager, before getting pulled.

Lewis, now 1-1, boasts a 3.79 ERA and will look to get back on track Saturday against the Angels.


Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez strikes out 12 in win Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:14 am ET) Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez allowed one run in seven innings of work in Seattle's 3-1 win over the Rangers Saturday. 

Hernandez struck out 12 and needed 111 pitches, 70 for strikes, to get through his outing. Hernandez allowed two baserunners in the fifth, putting runners on first and third. He got Elvis Andrus to ground out to short, but allowed the run to score.

Manager Lloyd McClendon said Hernandez was feeling tightness in his quad during the game and was going to pull hiim in the sixth, but Hernandez convinced him to keep him in the seventh, according to the Seattle Times.

Hernandez, now 2-0, boasts a 2.37 ERA and will look to keep rolling Saturday against the Twins.


 
 
 
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