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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
Zack Greinke records four Ks in one inning, cruises past Giants
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:56 am ET) Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke recorded a rare feat while picking up his 12th win of the season Friday night against the Giants in San Francisco. He became the fifth pitcher in franchise history to record four strikeouts in an inning.

Greinke struck out Hector Sanchez swinging and Tim Lincecum looking. He struck out Hunter Pence swinging, but the pitch was low and got past A.J. Ellis, as he reached safely at first. Finally, Greinke struck out Gregor Blanco. The pitch was low and got past Ellis, but the catcher was able to throw Blanco out in time at first base.

Greinke allowed four hits and one walk while striking out 10 in seven shutout frames in an 8-1 victory. Of his 106 pitches, 65 were strikes.

Greinke has recorded double-digit strikeouts four times this season. He owns a 2.74 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP over 21 starts. His next start will come Thursday at home against Atlanta.


Yasiel Puig rips out three triples in win over Giants
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:56 am ET) Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig came up with a historical performance at the plate in his first game back from injury against the Giants in San Francisco.

Puig tripled in the first, doubled in the third, tripled in a run in the fifth and tripled again in the sixth. He finished 4 for 5 with two runs scored and two RBI in an 8-1 victory.

Puig’s three triples are the most by a Dodger since Jimmy Sheckard in 1901 for Brooklyn. He also became the first player in team history to record at least two triples and a double in a game since Sandy Amoros in 1956. His 11 total bases were the most by any Dodger without ever hitting a home run.

Puig owns a .315/.402/.543 slash line with 12 homers and 54 RBI in 352 at-bats this season.


Tim Lincecum gets roughed up in loss to Dodgers
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:55 am ET) Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum was hit hard Friday night at home against the Dodgers, dropping to 9-7 on the year. The right-hander permitted six runs on nine hits and no walks while striking out six over 4 1/3 innings of an 8-1 defeat.

Lincecum has allowed nine earned runs over his last 19 innings of work. He owns a 3.96 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP over 125 innings of work this season. He will look to pick up the pieces and get back on track Wednesday at home against Pittsburgh.


Charlie Furbush serves up go-ahead HR in extras
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:54 am ET) Mariners reliever Charlie Furbush (1-5) took the loss without recording an out Friday night against the Orioles in extras. Furbush allowed a go-ahead home run to Chris Davis in the 10th inning before he was pulled. It was the only batter he faced in the game. He owns a 3.90 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP over 30 innings of relief.

Zach Britton slams door shut on M's in extras
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:52 am ET) Orioles relief pitcher Zach Britton struck out one and needed only 11 pitches to retire the side in order to close out a 2-1 win over the Mariners in 10 innings. Britton has converted 19 saves in 22 tries, with a 1.74 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP over 51 2/3 innings of relief.

Darren O'Day Ks two, picks up relief win
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:50 am ET) Orioles reliever Darren O'Day struck out the only two batters he faced and picked up his third win of the season. He needed only 10 pitchers to retire two batters in the ninth, while the team scored the go-ahead run in the 10th to win the game. He owns a 1.00 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP over 45 innings of relief.

Huston Street notches second save with new club
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:24 am ET) Angels closer Huston Street struck out one, worked his way around a hit and needed only nine pitches to complete a scoreless ninth inning for the save Friday night at home against the Tigers. Street has struck out four and has not allowed a run over his first three innings of work for his new club. He has converted both of his save chances over that span.

Mike Morin picks up relief win Friday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:22 am ET) Angels reliever Mike Morin entered Friday's game in the sixth inning against the Tigers.

Morin came in for Tyler Skaggs with two outs in the sixth and struck out Torii Hunter for the final out of the frame. The Angels scored two runs in the bottom of the frame, which proved to the difference, giving Morin his third win of the season. He owns a 2.61 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP over 38 innings of work this season.


Tyler Skaggs settles for no-decision
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:18 am ET) Angels starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs fell one out shy of a quality start in a no-decision Friday night at home against the Tigers. The right-hander permitted one run on five hits and one walk while striking out five over 5 2/3 innings of a 2-1 victory.

The Angels scored both runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Mike Morin, who recorded the final out of the sixth for Skaggs, picked up the win.

Skaggs owns a 4.49 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP over 17 starts (108 1/3 innings). His next start will come Thursday at Baltimore.


Drew Smyly Ks career-high 11 in losing effort
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:15 am ET) Tigers starting pitcher Drew Smyly(6-9) posted a career-high 11 strikeouts, but it wasn't enough in a tough-luck loss Friday night against the Angels in Anaheim. The right-hander was charged with two runs on four hits and one walk over 5 2/3 innings of a 2-1 defeat.

Prior to this game, Smyly did not strike out more than seven batters in a game this season. He owns a 3.77 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP over 100 1/3 innings of work. His next start will come Thursday at home against the White Sox.


 
 
 
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