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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
Astros' Roberto Hernandez arrives at camp, throws in bullpen
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:28 am ET) Astros starting pitcher Roberto Hernandez arrived for spring training Thursday and threw in the bullpen. Hernandez missed the first two weeks of camp due to visa issues.

Hernandez, who is competing for a spot in the rotation, said he will throw in the bullpen again Saturday and then should be ready for his spring debut.

“We’ve got to get him off the bullpen mound and then gauge,” manager A.J. Hinch said, per MLB.com. “He’s prepared. He’s been working out at the main stadium in Santo Domingo. When he tells me he’s ready, he’ll be inserted. I’m just glad he’s here. Let’s get through one day first and then we’ll plan it out.”


Report: Mariners' Choi likely to miss 4-6 weeks following surgery
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:24 am ET) Mariners first base prospect Ji-Man Choi will undergo surgery Thursday after suffering a fractured fibula during Wednesday's spring game against the Padres, according to MLB.com. He is expected to be sidelined 4-6 months.

Astros catcher Hank Conger dealing with left wrist injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:19 am ET) Astros catcher Hank Conger is dealing with a minor left wrist injury, according to the Houston Chronicle. However, he could catch in a game this weekend.

“Conger has been delayed a little bit,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “I think we’re going to get him in a game this weekend, he’s not injured. It’s just we’re delaying the start of his spring until most likely this weekend. … We’ve tried to be good to these guys on the health side and our trainers have kept him healthy.

“I think he’s catching a 'pen today. We held him off a couple days, but he’s fine. He just needed a day.”


Padres' Upton crushes HR off batter's eye in CF in spring debut
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:16 am ET) Padres outfielder Justin Upton, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Braves, wasted little time showing the kind of impact he can bring to the San Diego lineup. Upton homered in his spring debut Wednesday against the Mariners, and it wasn't a shot that barely made it over the wall.

"That ball was crushed," manager Bud Black said, per U-T San Diego.

Upton blasted an 0-1 breaking ball from Mariners pitcher Forrest Snow off the batter's eye in center field at Peoria Stadium, which sits 410 feet away from home plate.

"You try to stay within yourself, under control," Upton said. "Most of the time, if you swing the bat with good path, you can get some backspin. I got lucky today and ran into one."


Redmond: Giancarlo Stanton on same plan as everybody else
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:07 am ET) Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton hit third and started in right field for his spring debut Thursday against the Cardinals.

Stanton, who hasn't played in a game since getting hit in the face by a pitch in September, hit off coaches and participated in a few live batting practices before getting into a spring game Thursday.

“It’s been great to see him, he looks good, I know he’s in great shape and know it’s the start of the process to prepare yourself for the season,” manager Mike Redmond said, per The Palm Beach Post. “He’s on the same plan as everybody else.”


Marlins SP Jose Fernandez (elbow) throws second bullpen session
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:58 am ET) Marlins starting pitcher Jose Fernandez (elbow) threw 20 pitches Thursday during his second bullpen session this spring, per The Palm Beach Post. Fernandez threw in front of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez and the training staff.

Fernandez is expected to throw two bullpen sessions a week for most of March.


Dodgers' Turner: Joc Pederson only talks about hitting, ever
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:50 am ET) Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, who is competing for the starting job in center field, got his spring campaign started off on the right foot Wednesday against the White Sox. The highly touted prospect went 2 for 2 with one double and one run.

One person who was likely happy to see Pederson get off to a quick start was teammate Justin Turner, who spent the offseason working out in Los Angeles with the 22-year-old outfielder.

"He doesn't talk about anything but hitting, ever," Turner said, per the Los Angeles Times. "He loves to talk hitting. He's not afraid to ask questions, which I love. One of my pet peeves is when you're around guys who have a lot of valuable information and you don't ask them anything. When I'm around guys, I ask questions. I want to know what they're doing, what they're thinking, because I want to learn."


Rangers' Alexander Claudio hoping to earn a role
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(12:27 am ET) Rangers pitcher Alexander Claudio is hoping to be the team's lefty in the bullpen, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Claudio is one of three lefties in camp competing for the job. He performed well in his first taste of spring training, retiring two lefties during his inning of work. He allowed one hit, and struck out two batters. While Claudio's fastball barely registers on the radar gun, manager Jeff Banister still came away impressed.

"I like the secondary stuff," Banister said. "He's accepted the type of pitcher he is and is willing to be that guy. He’s really intriguing with the kind of deception he brings."

Claudio posted a 2.92 ERA over 12 1/3 innings last season.


Dodgers' Erik Bedard willing to go to Triple-A
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/4/2015) Dodgers pitcher Erik Bedard is willing to go to Triple-A if he doesn't break camp with the major-league club, according to MLB.com.

Bedard allowed one run over two innings in his first taste of spring action on Wednesday. The veteran said he knows that if the Dodgers five starters are healthy, he'll be sent to the minors. "I know where I stand," Bedard said. "The game is still fun. I like to play baseball."

Bedard posted a 4.76 ERA over 75 2/3 innings last season. 


Dodgers' Alex Guerrero willing to play third base
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/4/2015) Dodgers infielder Alex Guerrero has been willing to learn third this spring, according to MLB.com.

Guerrero is in a bit of a unique position. With Howie Kendrick entrenched at second, Guerrero doesn't really have a spot in the team's infield. Due to his contract, however, the team can't just send him to the minors. Guerrero can block the move, and has already said he plans to do so if the team tries to send him down. If he can play third well, that may not be a problem.

For what it's worth, manager Don Mattingly believes Guerrero has looked better this spring. "I really do think the second year [in camp] he looks a lot different as far as being relaxed," Mattingly said. "He's swinging the bat well and he keeps improving."

The 28-year-old hit .333/.371/.621 over three minor-league levels last season. 


 
 
 
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