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Setting the Trends: Iwakuma might surprise you

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The stage was pretty much all set for Hisashi Iwakuma to succeed in his breakout start last Sunday: stuck in a relief role all season long, the Japanese righty was given his first start on July 2, throwing 71 pitches against Baltimore, allowing three runs and striking out four. His next start, while still being stretched out, had him throwing 85 pitches against Texas, allowing four runs in five innings, with no strikeouts.

And then he hit the 90-pitch plateau.

Iwakuma's next three games saw him striking out 23 batters in 19 innings against the Rays, Yankees and Blue Jays. He threw 93, 95 and 109 pitches, respectively. His ERA was 1.89 across those three starts, with a 1.21 WHIP. And some of us saw it coming: Iwakuma, over five seasons in Japan, had always been a starter. He threw 16 complete games. He had a 2.67 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. In 2008, he had 21 wins and a 1.87 ERA. If these numbers all sound familair, it's because they are strikingly similar to those of Orioles hurler Wei-Yin Chen while he was pitching in Japan:

Iwakuma: Five seasons, 2.67 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 1.8 BB/9, 7.0 K/9, best season was 1.87 ERA
Chen: Four seasons, 2.48 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, 7.1 K/9, best season was 1.54 ERA

Granted, there are some differences between the two, including their age (Iwakuma is 31, Chen is 27), but Iwakuma does have a couple things working to his advantage -- namely, his spacious home park and having fewer innings on his arm this season.

To the naked eye, Iwakuma may look rather pedestrian: 4.10 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings. But if you peel back a couple layers and focus on what he'll be doing the rest of this year, he could turn out to be a tremendous bargain for those in deep leagues -- and possibly beyond.

On to the Roster Trends!

Most Added Players (as of 8/2)
Player % increase
1. Matt Harvey, SP, NYM 50
2. Ryan Ludwick, OF, CIN 26
3. Josh Rutledge, SS, COL 25
4. Greg Holland, RP, KC 23
5. A.J. Griffin, SP, OAK 22
6. Chris Johnson, 3B, ARI 21
7. Kris Medlen, RP, ATL 19
8. Starling Marte, OF, PIT 17
9. Carlos Gomez, OF, MIL 16
10. Hisashi Iwakuma, RP, SEA 14

Most Added Highlights

Matt Harvey, SP, NYM
Jump in Ownership: 50 percent (from 31 percent to 81 percent)
Reason for the jump: Through two starts, Harvey -- a two-start pitcher in Week 18 -- has a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 18 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings pitched.
Why you should join the crowd: One of the Mets' top prospects, Harvey has been nothing short of dazzling in his first two major league appearances, allowing just two earned runs between two west coast starts (@ARI and @SF) to begin his career. The 23-year-old had struck out 112 in 110 innings at Buffalo this year before his call-up and manhandled an Arizona lineup that produced the third-most runs in the month of July.
Devil's Advocate: Harvey hasn't had what one would call an overwhelmingly impressive minor league career. In 12 starts at Double-A Binghamton last year, he had a 4.53 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. This season, with Triple-A Buffalo, Harvey had a 3.68 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. His strikeout rate was still impressive, at around 9.4/9, but he did have a somewhat high walk rate (3.9). And it might not be wise to rely on Harvey for the playoff push in head-to-head leagues: ESPN New York reports Harvey will have an innings limit.

Less than 50, more than 50
Players owned in less than 50% of leagues who should be owned in more than 50%
Player % owned
1. Starling Marte, OF, PIT 49
2. Mark Reynolds, 3B, BAL 43
3. Erik Bedard, SP, PIT 43
4. Justin Ruggiano, OF, MIA 32
5. Chris Carter, 1B, OAK 28

Ryan Ludwick, OF, CIN
Jump in Ownership: 26 percent (from 19 percent to 45 percent)
Reason for the jump: Ludwick had a monster July, with a .333 average, seven home runs and a 1.089 OPS. In his last four games, he's hitting .533 with four home runs, 12 RBI and a 1.963 OPS.
Why you should join the crowd: First and foremost, Ludwick has been playing regularly in the Reds lineup, only occasionally taking a seat for Chris Heisey or Xavier Paul. His 19 home runs this season have been very quiet: he has as many as Trevor Plouffe and more than Adrian Beltre, Mike Trout, Paul Konerko and Prince Fielder. And this power surge is nothing new for Ludwick -- in his only season with 500 or more at-bats (2008), he hit 37 home runs.
Devil's Advocate: Ludwick's average could potentially drag down a Fantasy team -- even though he's currently hitting .264, he was hitting .243 a week ago. Over the last two seasons, he hit a combined .244. And, while he has been playing regularly, he isn't playing every day -- only once this season has he managed to start in five or more consecutive games (June 6-16).

End game in demand
The most-traded closers
Player Number of trades in last 7 days
1. Jonathan Papelbon, RP, PHI 381
2. Joe Nathan, RP, TEX 378
3. Jason Motte, RP, STL 371
4. Huston Street, RP, SD 371
5. Jose Valverde, RP, DET 370

Kris Medlen, RP, ATL
Jump in Ownership: 19 percent (from 3 percent to 22 percent)
Reason for the jump: Medlen, now a member of Atlanta's rotation, allowed one run on four hits over five innings Tuesday, lowering his ERA to 2.43.
Why you should join the crowd: Medlen, to put it simply, is a very good pitcher. He may not overwhelm batters with strikeouts -- that ship might have sailed after his Tommy John surgery in 2010 -- but he has great control (1.05 WHIP the last two seasons) and can put himself in position to win games as a starting pitcher.
Devil's Advocate: It's somewhat difficult to get an exact handle on what kind of starter Medlen will be, since his past is complicated by both injury and his role as mainly a reliever. In the majors, just 19 of his 109 appearances were as a starter. And of his 105 appearances in the minors, only 26 were starts, and three of those came earlier this year when he was sent to Triple-A to stretch out. That experiment was quickly scuttled after Medlen compiled a 4.72 ERA in 13 1/3 IP. The silver lining to his otherwise unimpressive three-game stretch of starting was that he managed to strike out 12 batters in that span. So he might have an uptick in his K-rate coming, but chances are he simply eschews strikeouts for efficiency.

Waiting on a friend
The most-owned minor league players
Player % owned
1. Trevor Bauer, SP, ARI 41
2. Lucas Duda, OF, NYM 36
3. Wil Myers, OF, KC 34
4. Drew Smyly, SP, DET 23
5. Justin Smoak, 1B, SEA 21

Domonic Brown, OF, PHI
Jump in Ownership: 9 percent (from 10 percent to 19 percent)
Reason for the jump: After trading away Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino in deadline deals, the Phillies called up Domonic Brown, a top-five prospect coming into the 2011 season.
Why you should join the crowd: Brown, who was hitting .310 between two levels of the minors this year, is a former top prospect who was as close to "can't miss" status as possible. In seven seasons, he has hit 20 or more doubles four times, had 20 or more steals twice, and hit 20 or more home runs once. His career batting average in the minors is .296. It looks like Brown will play every day for the Phillies, meaning he'll have plenty of chances to live up to his prospect status as the year winds down.
Devil's Advocate: This isn't Brown's first go-round in the majors. In fact, Brown had two previous stretches, in 2010 and 2011. In total, he hit .236, with seven home runs and five steals over 246 at-bats. He also had 13 doubles in that span. Furthermore, after hitting 20 home runs in the minors during the 2010 season, his power took a nosedive -- a .980 OPS in 2010 dropped to .809 last year and .833 in 2012.
Is there any flipside to that?: There might be. While Brown's been labeled a disappointment for the rather weak showings with the Phillies, if you average out his numbers across a full 600 at-bat season, it's not terrible: about 17 home runs, 12 steals, and 30 doubles. One would assume that his average would rise as he gets more accustomed to major league pitching, as well. On top of that, there's an encouraging sign of a power resurgence, as Brown had 20 doubles in 239 at-bats to far this year.

Wilton Lopez, RP, HOU
Jump in Ownership: 5 percent (from 8 percent to 13 percent)
Reason for the jump: Wilton Lopez has been the named the closer for your Houston Astros.
Why you should join the crowd: Just by process of elimination, Lopez is worth a move -- he snatched the closer job from the more-established Francisco Cordero and was offically given the job by manager Brad Mills. Additionally, Lopez is already having a nice season, with a 2.52 ERA and 1.04 WHIP through 40 games.
Devil's Advocate: We'll give you three:
1. Lopez was scratched from Tuesday's game with elbow soreness. He hasn't pitched since July 29, although the team claims he is now fine. But where there's smoke, there's often fire.
2. Francisco Cordero still lurks. From 2004 to 2011 he averaged 38 saves per season. His 329 saves are second-most among active players.
3. Lopez plays for the Houston Astros, who had three wins in all of July. Granted, three of their losses came courtesy of Cordero, but it still leaves Lopez looking forward to just a handful of save opportunities in the next two months.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Twins' Tommy Milone awarded final rotation spot
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:18 am ET) Twins pitcher Tommy Milone has been awarded the fifth and final spot in Minnesota's rotation, according to MLB.com. He beat out Mike Pelfrey and Trevor May for the role. May was optioned down to Triple-A.

Milone has a 4.50 ERA through four spring starts. He has eight strikeouts in 14 innings.


Christian Vazquez (elbow) on MRI: They 'found something' there
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:14 am ET) Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez underwent an MRI on his injured elbow, and told reporters on Saturday that they "found something," but have to make a firm diagnosis. He's scheduled to undergo a second opinion in the Fort Myers area, according to WEEI.

"I think I'm going to be fine for it," Vazquez said, per the Boston Globe. "I hope I'm going to be fine for Opening Day. That’s the goal here, you know?"

Vazquez caught a minor-league game on Friday, but was prohibited from throwing to bases. Manager John Farrell downplayed the issue and assured that Vazquez did not suffer a setback.

"To answer questions that might be unanswered at this point and hopefully give a little peace of mind to Christian himself," Farrell said, per the Globe. "There hasn't been a setback. As a matter of fact, his throwing has increased.

"We want to answer every possible question. Once we get all the information, we'll have a better read on everything."

With eight spring games left before the start of the season, Vazquez's Opening Day status remains up in the air. The Red Sox will likely consider Ryan Hanigan and prospect Blake Swihart as possible replacements for Vazquez.

"There's a little bit there, but I've got more in my tank," Vazquez said. "I want to be 100 percent to help the team. I need to be ready to help the team win.

"That's my goal, be ready and healthy because this is my first time getting hurt. I'm a little bit sad with myself for my first time, but I'm fine."


Rockies pitcher Rex Brothers working to fix command issues
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:25 am ET) Rockies pitcher Rex Brothers gave up four runs on four hits in Thursday's game, his first rough patch of spring training. Brothers thinks his command faded when he got batters down in the count, reports the Denver Post.

"It was like an out-of-body experience," he said Friday. "Just one of those oddity nights. I was sharp until I got into put-away counts, then it was brutal. Absolutely brutal."

Manager Walt Weiss isn't concerned about his appearance and thinks it was more of an aberration.

"There's been enough positive signs in spring to feel good about where he is," Weiss said. "But fact of the matter is, that stuff is always right around the corner. Not just him, but anybody."


Seven no-hit innings for Royals' Yordano Ventura
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:56 am ET) Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura threw seven no-hit innings in Friday's start. 

Ventura walked two and struck out four, while throwing 49 of his 88 pitches for strikes. He lowered his spring ERA to 5.14.

The Royals took Ventura from the game after the seventh, as reliever Jason Frasor made it one out further before giving up a hit. 

The bullpen completed the one-hitter. 


Brewers pitcher Will Smith holds key to success out of the bullpen
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:49 am ET) Brewers pitcher Will Smith could be the best cog in Milwaukee's bullpen this season. Manager Ron Roenicke sure hopes so, reports MLB.com.

"I think coming into it, we're counting on him to pitch some high-leverage innings," Roenicke said Friday. "He's going to be a huge part of that bullpen and what we do and how I match up the seventh and eighth inning. He's going to be important."

Smith has a 0.87 ERA in eight appearances this spring and posted a 3.70 ERA in 78 games last season.

"My last two outings I felt really good out there, really strong," Smith said on Friday. "Me and the catchers are on the same page for everything now. I think I'm good to go now."


Still no decision between Mariners' Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:43 am ET) Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon still hasn't named a winner in the battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. 

RHP Taijuan Walker and LHP Roenis Elias are in the running for the spot. Walker has a 0.00 ERA in 18 innings this spring, while Elias' ERA is 6.75. 

McClendon said he wouldn't announce his fifth starter until the final week of spring. Saturday marks the start of the final week, and McClendon said he'd "be close" to making the call, per MLB.com's Greg Johns.


Brewers to decide leadoff hitter Monday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:36 am ET) Brewers manager Ron Roenicke plans to decide between Scooter Gennett and Carlos Gomez for the leadoff spot in the lineup by Monday, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Gennett hit .289 with 54 RBI and 55 runs scored in 440 plate appearances last season while Gomez hit.284 with 23 home runs and 73 RBI in 574 plate appearances.


Phillies' Jake Diekman historically bad in loss
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:33 am ET) Phillies pitcher Jake Diekman declared his Friday appearance, "the worst outing in the history of the world." 

Diekman entered a scoreless game in the fifth inning and promptly gave up a double and four singles before recording an out. He ended up allowing seven runs in one third of an inning.

"I fell behind in counts and every strike I threw they took a good swing at," Diekman said, per CSN Philly. "It’s embarrassing. ... It's unbelievable." 

Despite his 12.27 ERA, Diekman got a vote of confidence from manager Ryne Sandberg. "There’s no concern," he said. 


Brewers' Jonathan Lucroy gets first start at first base Friday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:30 am ET) Brewers regular catcher Jonathan Lucroy drew his first start at first base after being cleared from a strained right hamstring injury. Manager Ron Roenicke wanted to be able to see Lucroy's versatility.

"Thought we needed to do it, so hopefully we can do it at least once more,” said Roenicke to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "But as much as he gets out there, it will help. There’s some pitchers that we still want him to catch and if we can get through those then maybe some other days we can get him over there again."

Lucroy was happy to finally be back on the field.

"I've been doing a little bit out there every day," Lucroy said. "Taking some grounders and stuff to stay sharp over there."


Cardinals' John Lackey ready for the regular season
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:25 am ET) John Lackey pitched seven innings, the longest of any Cardinals starter so far this season. 

Lackey allowed one run on six hits and didn't walk a batter, throwing 84 pitches. 

"Throwing seven innings, that was probably a little bit further than I thought I'd go today with the pitch count," said Lackey, per MLB.com's Jennifer Langosch. "But they were pretty aggressive, and I was throwing a lot of strikes. It worked out pretty good."

Lackey had his catcher call the game as if it were a regular season game, and his performance indicates that he's ready for the season to begin.

"That's what it looked like," coach David Bell said. "It looked like he was making all his pitches. The velocity was there. He probably had a little more in the tank, which is a good thing."


 
 
 
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