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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
Jesus Guzman departs with back spasms
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(2:13 am ET) Astros first baseman Jesus Guzman left Friday's game against the Blue Jays with back spasms, the team announced.

Guzman was removed from the game in the fifth inning for Jon Singleton. He is hitting .200/.275/.269 with two homers and eight RBI in 145 at-bats. His status remains uncertain for the second game of a three-game set against Toronto.


Cole Gillespie smacks a double in rehab debut
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(2:08 am ET) Blue Jays outfielder Cole Gillespie began a minor-league rehab assignment Friday with Class A Dunedin. Gillespie played right field the entire game and finished 1 for 5 with a double He has been sidelined since early July with a ribcage injury and remains without a timetable.

Brett Lawrie plays second base in rehab game
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(2:05 am ET) Blue Jays infielder Brett Lawrie began a minor-league rehab assignment Friday with Class A Dunedin. Lawrie played second base for six innings and finished 1 for 3 with a walk and two runs scored in his first game action.

Lawrie has been out since June 23 with a fractured right index finger. He'll play at least a few more games at Class A before moving his rehab to Triple-A, manager John Gibbons told MLB.com.

"He's going to need some playing time," Gibbons said. "Last year, we brought him back a couple of times without a lot of playing time down there and he suffered for it. We brought him back out of desperation, so he needs to get his timing back. I have to believe it's at least a week."

Carlos Quentin seeking second opinion
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(2:00 am ET) Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin told reporters that he has damage to the bone in his left knee and will seek a second opinion in hopes of playing again this season, per MLB.com Friday. Quentin has had three surgeries on his right knee over his career.

"I'm waiting to get the second opinion to get some more information, get a set rehab [schedule] and a set direction of how to come back and prevent this from happening again," Quentin said. "But right now ... this just needs to heal. There's nothing else that can be done."

Report: David Ross has ruptured plantar fascia in right foot
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:55 am ET) Red Sox catcher David Ross ruptured the plantar fascia in his right foot during Friday's game against the Yankees, according to a report from WEEI. Ross sustained the injury while covering first base on a sixth-inning ground out. He will be heading to the disabled list on Saturday.

"We’?'ll evaluate him tomorrow. Looks like he’??s got some pain in that plantar fascia tendon," manager John Farrell said. "We’?'ll take a look at him tomorrow to make any determination at that point."

Kyle Hendricks finds winning path vs. Dodgers
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:52 am ET) Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks remained dominant with a quality start on Friday against the Dodgers, improving to 2-1 on the year. The right-hander yielded two runs -- one earned -- on four hits and one walk while striking out three over seven innings of an 8-2 victory.

Hendricks has allowed one earned run or fewer in each of his last three starts. He owns a 2.05 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP over four starts (26 1/3 innings). His next start will come Thursday against Colorado at Coors Field.

Dodgers fearing serious injury for Paul Maholm
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:48 am ET) The Dodgers believe that left-hander Paul Maholm's right knee injury is serious. He is heading for an MRI, according to the Orange County Register.

Maholm suffered the injury while trying to cover first base in the seventh inning. The results of the MRI will likely be revealed on Saturday. He owns a 4.84 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP over 70 2/3 innings of work.

Dan Haren gets knocked around in loss to Cubs
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:45 am ET) Dodgers pitcher Dan Haren was knocked around at home by the Cubs on Friday, dropping to 8-9 on the year. The right-hander permitted seven runs -- six earned -- on eight hits and two walks while striking out three over 4 1/3 innings of an 8-2 defeat.

Over his last two starts covering 9 1/3 innings, Haren has allowed 11 earned runs. He owns a 4.76 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP over 22 starts (126 2/3 innings). His next start will come Wednesday against the Angels in Anaheim.

Paul Maholm departs Friday with knee injury
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:41 am ET) Dodgers pitcher Paul Maholm was forced out of Friday's game against the Cubs with a right knee injury, per MLB.com.

Maholm suffered the injury while trying to cover first base in the seventh inning. He was able to walk out of the field under his own power. He allowed one run on two hits and one walk in two innings of work. He owns a 4.84 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP over 70 2/3 innings of work. He will likely be further evaluated moving forward.

Yasiel Puig exits game with mild hamstring injury
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1:35 am ET) Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was forced out of Friday's game at home against the Cubs because of a mild left hamstring, according to Los Angeles Times.

Puig may have sustained the injury while making a slide at the plate in the sixth inning. He was replaced by Andre Ethier in the seventh. He finished 1 for 3 with a run scored in an 8-2 defeat. He owns a .319/.405/.551 slash line with 13 homers and 55 RBI in 376 at-bats. His status remains uncertain for Saturday's game against Chicago.


 
 
 
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