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By the Numbers: The stats behind the stats

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Each year, the early weeks of the season produce some peculiar stats, and that doesn't make it easy to be a Fantasy owner. Justin Masterson already has four wins, a 1.85 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. Brandon Crawford is hitting .303, and John Buck has seven homers. When April oddities like these arise, the question facing every Fantasy owner is, "how do I respond?"

Every add and every drop has its cost, so it's a good idea for owners to look behind the surface stats to see what is going on under the hood. This is especially true in the first month or two of the season, when statistics are comprised of small samples, but even later in the season, player stats can be deceiving.

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Sabermetrics -- the use of advanced statistics in baseball -- has caught on in both the Fantasy and real worlds. The use of metrics that break outcomes into components or measure skill can offer a reality check when a player produces unexpectedly good or bad Fantasy stats. This primer reviews some of the more widely-available peripheral stats that have been developed by sabermetric pioneers, which can shed light on the sustainability of a player's current Fantasy value. (For more information on the derivation and history of the stats covered here plus many others, see the glossary at The Hardball Times.)

For each metric, I'll explain what is being measured, what the major league norm for the stat was last season, and a current example of how the stat can be applied for Fantasy purposes. All season long, I'll be using these metrics in my By the Numbers columns to help you find hidden gems for your rosters as well as drop and sell-high targets.

Note: All current year stats are for games played through Monday, April 22.

Sources: 2012 rates for all major leaguers collectively are from Baseball-Reference.com, except where otherwise noted below.
* Rates are from FanGraphs.com.
** Batted ball rates are from FanGraphs.com, excecpt for infield flyball rate, which is from StatCorner.com.
*** Rates are from StatCorner.com.

Stats for both batters and pitchers

Batted ball rates
What they are: The rates at which balls are hit in a given trajectory. For example, a ground ball rate is equal to the proportion of all hit balls that are grounders.
2012 major league rates**: 21 percent for line drives, 45 percent for ground balls, 34 percent for all flyballs, seven percent for infield flyballs (popups).
Players impacted in 2013: Batted ball profiles matter, because they go a long way in determining whether a hitter has power or if a pitcher is prone to allowing extra-base hits, and they also impact batting averages. Brandon Morrow's cold start can be tied to a 49 percent flyball rate that has helped produce four homers and seven runs. Normally much closer to flyball-neutral, there could be a turnaround in Morrow's future. Colby Rasmus has hit four home runs and four doubles, putting him on a 30-homer and 30-doubles pace, both of which would be firsts for him. He has turned 46 percent of his hit balls into flies, which is not much different than his rates from his previous four seasons. Whether he can sustain that pace depends on the next two measures ...

BABIP
What it is: Batting average on balls in play (excludes home runs and strikeouts). It can be a reflection of a hitter's or pitcher's batted ball profile (e.g., flyball hitter, ground ball pitcher) or a reflection of random fluctuation.
2012 major league rates: .297 overall, .709 on line drives, .238 on ground balls and .131 on flyballs.
Players impacted in 2013: With a 1.69 ERA and 0.53 WHIP so far, Hisashi Iwakuma has looked like an ace, even though he hasn't induced that many strikeouts or ground balls. A .119 BABIP through Monday's games is so far out of line with major league norms and Iwakuma's .283 rate from 2012, so he appears to be due for a serious fall. And as for Rasmus, he has yet to make an out on a line drive (7 for 7), so eventually, some of those potential doubles will turn into outs.

HR/FB
What it is: Home run to flyball ratio. It tends to be fairly steady from year to year, but a huge dip or surge can indicate a change in luck, particularly if the sample of flyballs is small.
2012 major league rate: Eight percent
Players impacted in 2013: Worried about David Price? Don't be. He has only allowed 16 flyballs through his first four starts, but four of them became homers. With more reps, he'll likely get that ratio back near the major league average. The aforementioned John Buck is hitting flyballs at a higher rate than usual, but he is also turning 23 percent of them into homers. With HR/FB ratios of 15 percent or lower in each of his previous three seasons, there is good reason to be skeptical of Buck's power production. The same is true for Rasmus, whose 27 percent ratio is more than double those from his last two seasons.

Stats for batters only

Strikeout rate
What it is: The percentage of at-bats that results in a strikeout.
2012 major league rate: 22 percent
Player impacted in 2013: Nick Hundley is off to a surprisingly good start with a .296 batting average, but it's being boosted by a .417 BABIP that's not built to last. Underneath that high rate on balls in play is a 32 percent strikeout rate that will weigh down his average if it persists.

Walk rate
What it is: The percentage of plate appearances that results in a walk.
2012 major league rate: Eight percent
Player impacted in 2013: Coco Crisp's current 16 percent walk rate is more than double his career mark, which is just under eight percent. Not coincidentally, Crisp has drastically reduced his swing percentage on pitches outside the strike zone. Crisp was more selective earlier in his career, so while he appears due for some regression, he may be rediscovering a skill that has merely been dormant. If the trend continues, Crisp will continue to exceed expectations in the stolen base and runs categories.

Isolated Power (Iso)
What it is: The per-at-bat rate at which a hitter gets extra bases. Also, the difference between slugging percentage and batting average.
2012 major league rate: .151
Player impacted in 2013: A casual glance at Billy Butler's .412 slugging percentage might give the impression that the first baseman's power surge of 2012 was a fluke, but it's the batting average that's weighing that stat down. He is getting extra bases at practically the same rate (.196 Iso) as he did last year (.197 Iso), though a more-than-doubling of his walk rate is cutting into his opportunities to get hits. Also, if Butler were not just 2 for 22 on ground balls, his slash line would look much better. Normally, he would have three more ground ball hits by now, and even if they were all singles, that would give Butler a .275/.422/.471 line, instead of the .216/.375/.412 line he currently sports.

Stats for pitchers only

K/9
What it is: The rate of strikeouts per nine innings.
2012 major league rates*: 7.1 for starters, 8.4 for relievers
Player impacted in 2013: In the early going, Clay Buchholz has shed his more contact-friendly ways, striking out 8.7 batters per nine innings, as compared to his 6.8 career rate. He's not getting hitters to swing and miss more often, but he is getting more called strikes, particularly on his sinker. according to BrooksBaseball.net. He's also getting more vertical movement on that pitch, so it's a trend that owners should keep an eye on. If he can sustain it, Buchholz will be more than just a middle-of-the-rotation type.

BB/9
What it is: The rate of walks per nine innings.
2012 major league rates*: 2.8 for starters, 3.5 for relievers
Player impacted in 2013: Marco Estrada is known for his sharp control, and so far this season, he has compiled a pristine 1.5 BB/9 rate. Fantasy owners might overlook that, as his ERA (4.50) and WHIP (1.33) are both inflated. An 18 percent HR/FB ratio and .338 BABIP have played an important role in bloating those stats, but all of those marks should shrink over the coming weeks. There's nothing wrong with Estrada's control, so owners can use this knowledge to their advantage and target him as a buy-low candidate.

Strikes thrown percentage
What it is: The percentage of all pitches thrown that result in strikes, whether swinging, called, fouled off or put in play.
2012 major league rate: 63 percent
Player impacted in 2013: Ross Detwiler has long shown a knack for efficiency, but with an early 67 percent strikes thrown rate, he's getting through plate appearances even more quickly. That means Detwiler can pile up innings for owners in points leagues. He's also getting more swings and misses, but that hasn't translated into a higher K/9 rate, as he is also allowing a much higher rate of balls in play. By holding opponents to a .167 batting average on grounders, Detwiler has been able to maintain an 0.90 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, but without more strikeouts, those marks could soar to mediocre levels.

Swinging strike percentage
What it is: The percentage of pitches that result in a swing-and-miss.
2012 major league rate***: Nine percent
Player impacted in 2013: Not surprisingly, pitchers who frequently get swinging strikes also tend to get lots of strikeouts. As a rookie, Tommy Milone had a mediocre nine percent rate, and since the lefty doesn't throw hard, owners probably didn't expect much more. However, Milone got swings-and-misses as a minor leaguer, and through four starts, he has lifted that rate to 10 percent, helping himself to a 7.5 K/9 rate. That won't make Milone a stud in the strikeout category, but if he can maintain his gains, he can help with ERA and WHIP without forcing owners to sacrifice Ks.

Strand rate
What it is: The percentage of baserunners who fail to score an earned run.
2012 major league rates*: 72 percent for starters, 75 percent for relievers
Player impacted in 2013: Entering his Tuesday start, Carlos Villanueva was the only qualifying starting pitcher in the majors who had stranded every baserunner he had put on, as all three of the earned runs he allowed came from solo shots. (He finally failed to strand a runner on Tuesday at the Reds.) The home runs should continue to come, and meanwhile, at some point Villanueva will have some men on base when those and other hits happen. Owners in deeper leagues can put this early-season statistical oddity to good use and sell high on Villanueva.

xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching)
What it is: An estimate of what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based on outcomes that a pitcher can influence, such as strikeouts, walks and flyballs, factoring out the impact of defense and luck. Derived from FIP, but factors in flyballs in place of home runs.
2012 major league rates*: 4.06 for starters, 3.92 for relievers
Player impacted in 2013: ERA can be deceiving because of the distortions that occur due to aberrant strand or BABIP rates. Hyun-Jin Ryu has been an early example of this. He has been throwing strikes and missing bats, but his 4.01 ERA does not reflect it. xFIP takes Ryu's .364 BABIP into account, building in the assumption that it should be normal, and estimating that his ERA should actually be 2.98. A 28 percent line drive rate has played a role in that inflated BABIP, but as Ryu's innings build up, it's fair to assume that both his line drive and BABIP rates will recede. He is still largely an unknown quantity, but Ryu is showing early signs of being a top Fantasy pitcher.

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
Rangers acquire C Bobby Wilson, dump RP Ross Ohlendorf
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:08 pm ET) The Rangers have announced that they have acquired catcher Bobby Wilson on a waiver claim from Tampa Bay and placed veteran pitcher Ross Ohlendorf on waivers.

Wilson has just eight hits in 55 at-bats this season. Ohlendorf has pitched in eight games this season and compiled a 3.52 ERA.


Report: Rays trade RP Kevin Jepsen to Twins
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:00 pm ET) The Twins acquired reliever Kevin Jepsen in a trade with the Rays on Friday, a source told Fox Sports.

The 31-year-old right-hander is 2-5 with a 2.81 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, five saves and 22 holds through 46 appearances in 2015. He also has 34 strikeouts to 20 walks in 41 2/3 innings.

He is 15-23 with a 3.80 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over eight seasons in the majors.


Boras says Marlins keeping Ozuna in minors to delay arbitration
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:44 pm ET) Scott Boras, who is the agent for center fielder Marcell Ozuna, said the Marlins are leaving his client in the minors to delay his arbitration eligibility, according to the Miami Herald. The Marlins have denied their decision is financially-driven.

Ozuna would be eligible for arbitration after this season, if the Marlins bring him back to the majors soon. WINZ reports the cutoff date as Aug. 8, but Boras said the date “is volatile. We’re in that area now where it’s a question.”

“The manager needs a middle of the order bat, the same bat they had for two years that was highly productive and they are restraining him in the minor leagues due to a service time issue,” Boras said. “Ozuna is a proven major-leaguer, certainly deserving of being in the majors with the Marlins. I don’t think anyone would look at the talent with the Marlins and suggest he’s not one of the top 25 players in that organization."

Ozuna has hit .320 with a .587 slugging percentage, .949 OPS, four home runs, eight doubles, nine RBI, 14 runs, four walks and 12 strikeouts in 20 games since his demotion to Triple-A New Orleans in early July.


Brewers pick up journeyman RP Preston Guilmet
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:41 pm ET) The Brewers have announced that they have claimed right-handed reliever Preston Guilmet off waivers from the Dodgers.

Guilmet, who has been with three different teams this season, has pitched in three games and compiled a 5.06 ERA.


Report: SP Dan Haren traded from Marlins to Cubs
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:37 pm ET) Veteran right-handed starter Dan Haren is headed from the Marlins to the Cubs, a source has told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Details of the deal have yet to be revealed.

The 34-year-old Haren has had a strong season with a 7-7 record and 3.42 ERA. He has been particularly effective lately with four quality starts in his last five outings. But he has not gone past 6 1/3 innings in any of his last nine starts.


Padres scratch Ian Kennedy; Odrisamer Despaigne to start Friday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:34 pm ET) Padres starting pitcher Ian Kennedy was scratched from his start Friday against the Marlins, the team announced. Kennedy left the team to be with his wife, who is giving birth to the couple's fourth child.

The Padres announced Odrisamer Despaigne will start in Kennedy's absence.


RP Mark Lowe dealt from Mariners to Blue Jays
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:25 pm ET) Standout reliever Mark Lowe has been traded from the Mariners to the Blue Jays for prospects, CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman has reported.

Lowe has been lights-out in 2015, easily his best season. He has compiled a 1.00 ERA in 34 appearances with 47 strikeouts in 36 innings.


Mets give chance to RP Tim Stauffer
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:12 pm ET) The Mets have signed veteran right-hander Tim Stauffer, who had been released by Minnesota in June, per ESPN.

Stauffer, who was most recently pitching for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters, compiled a 6.60 ERA with the Twins in 13 relief appearances. He allowed 24 hits and seven walks in just 15 innings.


Brewers recall pitcher Tyler Thornburg from Triple-A
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:53 pm ET) The Brewers recalled pitcher Tyler Thornburg from Triple-A Colorado Springs on Friday to take the roster spot of reliever Jonathan Broxton, who was traded to St. Louis. This is the second time Thornburg is on the major-league roster in 2015.

Thornburg started the year in the Brewers bullpen before he joined the rotation at Colorado Springs in late April. He went 2-7 with a 5.28 ERA in 17 starts for Colorado Springs.


Orioles designate pitcher Bud Norris for assignment
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:48 pm ET) Orioles pitcher Bud Norris was designated for assignment Friday to clear a spot on the 25- and 40-man rosters for outfielder Gerardo Parra, who was acquired in a trade with the Brewers.

The 30-year-old right-hander began the season in the rotation before being moved to the bullpen in early July. He went 2-7 with a 6.79 ERA in 11 starts and went 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA in seven relief appearances.


 
 
 
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