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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
White Sox 3B Conor Gillaspie bulks up
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:52 pm ET) White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie says his offseason weight training program has enabled him to add 15-20 pounds of muscle, "which should translate into driving the ball harder," reports ESPN.com.

“Honestly I’m hoping that by taking the same swing that I did last year, because I’m stronger, I’m hoping that translates into more power,” Gillaspie said, per the website. “It may or may not. We have enough guys that do hit for power on this team now. There are quite a few of them, so truthfully, I think I might be just as valuable getting on base, drawing walks, moving runners.” 

Gillaspie hit .282 with seven homers and 57 RBI in 130 games last year.


Brewers reliever Tyler Thornburg throwing bullpen sessions
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:36 pm ET) Brewers reliever Tyler Thornburg, who missed the second half of last season with an elbow injury, is throwing bullpen sessions as he tries to prepare for spring training, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Thornburg went 3-1 with a 4.25 ERA in 27 appearances before getting shut down in June.

Yu Darvish: 'My elbow feels fine'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:17 pm ET) Speaking publicly for the first time since he was shut down late last season with right elbow inflammation, Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish said he's feeling no ill effects now, reports MLB.com. Darvish, who's throwing off flat ground, is on track to begin throwing off a mound early next month.

"My elbow feels fine and I am able to throw on my throwing program," Darvish said, per the website.

Darvish has been working out in Texas during the offseason and said his training is "going well." General manager Jon Daniels said Darvish is "right on schedule."

"I think Darvish is very in tune with his body as much as anybody and knows how he's feeling," Daniels said. "He's very confident. Like any of these guys, until they're out there you're always going to have some reservation, but that's the worrywart in me. From all the information we have, I'm encouraged. He's basically been cleared to do just about everything."

Darvish's last start came Aug. 9 against Houston. He went 10-7 with a 3.06 ERA in 22 starts, tossing two complete games and one shutout.


Brewers reliever Jim Henderson throwing again
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:13 pm ET) Brewers reliever Jim Henderson, who had shoulder surgery last August, began throwing off a mound last week and will toss bullpen sessions this week, reports MLB.com. Henderson hopes to be 100 percent by Opening Day, the report added.

Henderson was limited to 14 appearances last season. He went 2-1 with a 7.15 ERA.


Ryan Braun says his thumb feels 'significantly better'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:05 pm ET) Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun, who underwent a thumb procedure last October, said his thumb feels "significantly better" than at this time last year, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Braun was plagued throughout last season by a nerve issue at the base of his thumb, the paper noted.

"Knock on wood, I feel great; it feels really good," Braun told reporters.

"Everything is going well. Regular offseason, regular routine. I started hitting a little bit earlier than I typically do, just to see how it felt. So far, so good. It feels really good.

"I do everything I regularly do. I don't hit off live pitching but I take regular batting practice like we would during the season, and it feels good. I don't feel anything at all."

Added Braun: "I know it's significantly better than where it was this time last year, which I'm encouraged by. But as I told you guys the last time I saw everybody (at Thanksgiving) the real test will come in spring training, once we've played games for a couple of weeks and that everyday wear and tear. See how it recovers, see how it responds."


Stiff competition for fifth spot in Mariners' rotation
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:16 pm ET) Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias and Erasmo Ramirez are the leading candidates for the fifth spot in the Mariners' starting rotation, reports the Tacoma News Tribune. "The more competition, the better," Walker told the paper.

"It brings out the best of everyone who is fighting for the spot."

Walker posted a 1.96 ERA in six outings last September after being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma.


Report: Yankees decline reconciliation with Alex Rodriguez
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:50 am ET) After meeting with new Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred to clear the air over his year-long suspension in 2014, Alex Rodriguez also reached out to the Yankees to set up a meeting, but was turned down, reports the New York Post.

Rodriguez requested to meet with the Yankees to apologize for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, but was told to wait until spring training. Reports also surfaced that Rodriguez is looking noticeably thinner compared to recent seasons, a source told the New York Post.

Rodriguez is set to report to spring training Feb. 25.


Rockies' Boone Logan appears to be fully healthy
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:33 am ET) Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said pitcher Boone Logan has completely recovered from elbow issues that ended his 2014 season, reports The Denver Post.

Boone struggled in 2014 and was placed on the disabled list with elbow inflammation. He produced a 6.84 ERA over 25 innings.


Report: Yelich, Hechavarria turn down offers from Marlins
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:21 am ET) The Marlins are no longer discussing multiyear contracts with outfielder Christian Yelich and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, reports the Miami Herald.

A significant gap between Yelich and the Marlins has caused contract talks on a long-term deal to stall. Hechavarria turned down the Marlins' multiyear contract because the offer was not significant enough. He can become a free agent after the 2018 season, while Yelich can become a free agent after 2019.


Rockies' Jhoulys Chacin ready for bounce back 2015 season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:46 am ET) Rockies pitcher Jhoulys Chacin had a tough 2014 season. After injuring his shoulder in spring training, Chacin struggled in 11 starts, posting a 1-7 record with a 5.40 ERA in 63 1/3 innings. He suffered right rotator cuff strain, which forced him to miss nearly half the season.

However, manager Walt Weiss is happy with Chacin's progress this offseason.

"He's doing great. He's been throwing and working out really hard. He's had a really good offseason," Weiss said to The Denver Post.

Teammate and pitcher Jorge De La Rosa thinks 2015 will be much kinder to Chacin.

"He surprised me a lot," De La Rosa said. "He was playing catch with me every day (in Scottsdale, Ariz.), and his arm looks really good. His ball really had some life, and he's lost some weight. I think he's getting stronger. He's going to have a good year."


 
 
 
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