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By the Numbers: No mere April fools

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Remember the great Aprils that Ryan Sweeney, Carlos Pena and Anthony Bass had a year ago? I'm guessing not many of us do, which goes to show how premature it can be to make judgments about a player's value after just one month. A handful of starts by a pitcher or 100 or so plate appearances for a hitter still represent a small statistical sample, but that doesn't mean that a strong April can't lead to great things the rest of the year.

Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Willingham and Jonathon Niese each started off hot in 2012, and all were quality Fantasy options throughout the season. Lots of players are capable of taking off on a month-long spree, but it's not easy to tell which ones can sustain their value.

This week, I'll take a look at seven players with strong starts who are showing signs of having more long-term value than they appeared to have just a month ago. The common link among these players is that each is succeeding due to some improvement in their skill indicators, and some portion of their past history suggests that the improvement could be more than just fleeting.

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While each is a risk to regress to his previous level of performance, the players analyzed here each have shown something in the early weeks that, at minimum, make them worth tracking. Owners willing to take gambles should start them or look to acquire them if the asking price isn't too high. Even though each is off to a good start, their own owners may think that it's too good to be true.

John Buck, C, Mets: With nine homers, Buck is nearly halfway to his career-high of 20 just a month into the season. It helps somewhat that Buck is on pace to demolish his career high in plate appearances, though prospect Travis D'Arnaud could still steal playing time late in the season, once he has time to recover from the broken bone in his foot. For now, though, Buck is not only playing regularly, but he is hitting flyballs at the highest rate of his career. He probably won't continue to turn nearly one-fourth of them into homers, but as long as Buck has an elevated flyball rate, he's capable of 25-plus homers. Given that he has always trended as a flyball hitter, it's looking more and more like a probable scenario.

A.J. Pierzynski, C, Rangers: After years of declining power, Pierzynski shocked the Fantasy world with a 27-homer campaign to cap off his White Sox career. Now in his first year with the Rangers, Pierzynski is helping owners to shed doubt that his 2012 surge was just a one-year fluke. Last season's 17 percent home run-to-flyball ratio was far out of line with his career norms, even from his better seasons, but so far this year, he's exceeded it with a 21 percent mark. Pierzynski is surely due for some regression in that stat, but then again, he can maintain his home run power by raising a 28 percent flyball rate that is below average for him.

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Athletics: When Donaldson emerged out of spring training last season getting the lion's share of starts at third base, he looked like a promising Fantasy option. He had a history of good plate discipline with decent power, and he had catcher eligibility. Donaldson no longer qualifies at catcher in most leagues, but this season, we're seeing a return to a more patient approach and increased doubles power. He is also capable of hitting flyballs at a higher rate than his current 28 percent, so we could see more homers in Donaldson's future. He probably won't hit .300 over the long run, but his contact and power skills are good enough to keep him relevant in standard mixed leagues.

Lucas Duda, OF, Mets: Duda is currently a top 40 outfielder in points leagues, even though he is batting just .246. He has been incredibly patient, averaging 4.54 pitches per plate appearance and sporting a 22 percent walk rate. When Duda swings, he misses too often, but a decreasing ground ball-to-flyball ratio shows that the contact he does make is usually hard. Duda showed good home run power in the minors, and there's room for him to improve his batting average, not only by cutting back on strikeouts, but by improving on an .059 flyball BABIP. It's time to think about Duda as more than just a reserve outfielder.

Paul Maholm, SP, Braves: Last season, particularly during the second half, Maholm mysteriously became more of a strikeout pitcher. The southpaw had always been able to strike out lefty batters, but suddenly he was getting less contact from righties. Perhaps it's no coincidence that, according to BrooksBaseball.net, Maholm started throwing more two-strike sliders to righties last year, as the slider is Maholm's best pitch for whiffs. CBSSports.com blogger Chris Cwik has also noted that Maholm uses his cutter to set up his slider and fastball to great effect, but he's been getting strikeouts at an even higher rate this year, even though he hasn't thrown many cutters. Maholm has been good at avoiding walks and homers for years; now that he has been good at avoiding contact over an extended period, he has elevated himself into the top 60 of starting pitchers.

Kyle Kendrick, SP/RP, Phillies: Like Maholm, Kendrick took a step forward late last season while spending the last two months in the Phillies' rotation. Kendrick started throwing more strikes and getting more grounders, and while he's getting fewer whiffs so far this year, he's still keeping flyballs to a minimum. Even recently, though, Kendrick has continued to be vulnerable to home runs at Citizens Bank Park, so he's hardly a must-start in mixed leagues. However, he's been good on the road since 2011, so he may be a better streaming option than you think, especially in weeks with away starts.

Patrick Corbin, SP, Diamondbacks: Back in spring training, I thought Randall Delgado would be the better choice to be Arizona's fifth starter, but while Delgado is flailing in Triple-A, Corbin is proving that the Diamondbacks made the right decision. Corbin has increased his fastball velocity, but he hasn't lost his pinpoint control. The increased velocity has also translated into more swinging strikes and strikeouts over his last three starts. That span covers just 21 innings, so it could just be a blip on the radar, but at worst, he could be an efficient innings-eater for points leagues.

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
Mariners' Mike Zunino homers to extend hitting streak on Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:56 am ET) Mariners catcher Mike Zunino connected on his 10th home run of the season in Tuesday's 8-4 loss to the Diamondbacks. Zunino's third-inning solo shot cut Arizona's lead to one, but it would the D-Backs would tack on more insurance run to take the victory.

The 2015 season has been mainly a struggle for Zunino so far. But Tuesday's home run did extend his current hitting streak to eight games. During that stretch, he's hitting .393 with a home run and six RBI.


Mariners DH Nelson Cruz blasts 26th home run in loss Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:53 am ET) Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz went deep for his 26th home run on Tuesday, but it would be for naught as the Mariners lost the game 8-4 to the Diamondbacks. It was Cruz's only hit of the game, as the solo shot cut the D-Backs' lead to 6-2 in the sixth inning. 

Cruz has been smoking at the plate recently, batting .333 (15 for 45) with four home runs and eight RBI over his past 10 games.


D-Backs' Ender Inciarte chips in solo home run in win Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:50 am ET) Diamondbacks right fielder Ender Inciarte powered up for his third home run of the season in the 8-4 win over the Mariners on Tuesday. Inciarte went 2 for 5 from the lead-off spot in the order. He drove in two runs, one on his solo homer in the fifth inning. 

Since returning from the disabled list earlier this month, Inciarte is batting .348 (16 for 46) with a home run and five RBI in 11 games (10 starts).


Diamondbacks' David Peralta does it all in victory on Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:47 am ET) Diamondbacks left fielder David Peralta filled up the score sheet in Tuesday's 8-4 win over the Giants. Peralta went 3 for 4 with a double, two RBI, a walk, a stolen base and a run scored. 

The double was Peralta's 18th of the season, and the steal was his fifth. While getting partial playing time, Peralta is batting .363 with a home run and six RBI over his past 10 games (eight starts).


Cubs RP Neil Ramirez was not available to pitch Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:42 am ET) Cubs reliever Neil Ramirez was unavailable out of the bullpen in Tuesday's game against the Rockies. It is not exactly known what has Ramirez ailing, with manager Joe Maddon telling ESPN.com "He was not OK tonight. That's why I could not use him. I have to find out more about that."

Ramirez returned from the disabled list on June 28 after dealing with a shoulder injury. It is not known if his current issue is related to that injury, or if it's something new. 


Yankees' Adam Warren picks up save in rout of Rangers
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:33 am ET) Despite the lop-sided score, Yankees pitcher Adam Warren recorded his first save of the season in Tuesday's 21-5 thrashing of the Rangers. Warren pitched the final three innings of the game, which credits him with the save regardless of the score.

Warren, who was ousted from the rotation in late June, pitched three perfect innings on Tuesday. He now has five saves in his four-year career with the Yankees.


Diamondbacks summon RP Addison Reed from Triple-A
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:30 am ET) Diamondbacks reliever Addison Reed was recalled from Triple-A Reno following Tuesday's game. Reed struggled this year with Arizona, as he lost his closer's job prior to being sent down to the minors on June 22.

In 25 relief appearances with the D-Backs in 2015, Reed owns an unsightly 5.92 ERA. He's been better with the Reno Aces however, as he has a 1.74 in 11 games at Triple-A.

He will take the roster spot of Randall Delgado, who was placed on the disabled list on Tuesday.


D-Backs RP Randall Delgado sent to DL with ankle sprain
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:27 am ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Randall Delgado has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with an ankle sprain. Delgado apparently suffered the injury during warm-ups on Tuesday, and the injury was significant enough to warrant a stay on the DL. 

Reliever Addison Reed was recalled from Triple-A Reno to take Delgado's spot on the roster.


Mariners SP Hisashi Iwakuma takes loss on Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:24 am ET) Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma regressed in his latest start on Tuesday against the Diamondbacks. Hisashi allowed six runs on 10 hits over 5 2/3 innings. He walked one and struck out five, but needed 96 pitches without getting through the sixth. The Mariners wound up losing the game 8-4.

Iwakuma (2-2, 5.10 ERA) came into the game on a bit of a roll, having allowed a total of four runs over his previous three starts. But on Tuesday he gave up individual runs in the first, third and fifth innings, culminating with a three-run sixth inning.


Giants 2B Joe Panik (back) out Tuesday, likely out Wednesday too
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:19 am ET) Giants second baseman Joe Panik was held out of Tuesday's game against the Brewers due to back stiffness, manager Bruce Bochy said. Bochy also said Panik will likely miss Wednesday's game, which would give him three days off with Thursday's scheduled off-day. 

Panik has been hitting decently over the last several games, as he is batting .281 over his last 10 contests.


 
 
 
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