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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
Marlins' Christian Yelich extends hit streak to nine games Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(10:07 pm ET) Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich extended his current hitting streak to nine games with a 3-for-4 effort on Tuesday. Yelich had an RBI single in the third inning, and then drove in another run with a double in the seventh, though the Marlins would end up losing 4-3 to the Red Sox.

Yelich is batting a robust .533 (16 for 30) with four doubles and three RBI over the nine-game streak. 


Red Sox RP Koji Uehara gets save No. 20 on Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(10:04 pm ET) Red Sox closer Koji Uehara worked a perfect ninth inning on Tuesday to claim his 20th save of the season. Uehara struck out a pair of batters, preserving the 4-3 win over the Marlins.

After enduring some struggles in the middle of June, Uehara has been lights out lately. He hasn't allowed a run in his last eight appearances, and is 20-for-22 in save chances this year. 


Red Sox SP Wade Miley K's nine on no-decision on Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(10:01 pm ET) Red Sox lefty Wade Miley was solid on Tuesday against the Marlins. Miley went 6 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on seven hits. He walked two and struck nine batters, a season-high.

Miley gave up a run in the second and two in the seventh, but did not factor in the decision, as the Red Sox rallied late in the 4-3 victory. It's his first no-decision since April 10, which was his first start of the season.

Miley has been trying to find some consistency on the mound. Over his last seven starts, he is 4-2 with a 3.89 ERA.


Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin to make Double-A rehab start Friday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:00 pm ET) Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin is expected to make his second rehab start Friday for the team's Double-A affiliate, reports Cleveland.com.

Tomlin threw two innings for the team's Rookie League club Sunday.

"It went good," Tomlin said. "The fastball and cutter were where I wanted it. It was the same with the change up and curve ball. I didn't walk anybody, threw strikes and felt better in the second inning than I did in the first. That was the main thing. I wanted to get those two innings in and see how I recovered."

He is expected to throw three or four innings Friday. Tomlin has not pitched this season as he recovers from shoulder surgery.


Marlins SP Dan Haren allows one run in no-decision on Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(9:59 pm ET) Marlins right-hander Dan Haren was excellent on Tuesday against the Red Sox. Haren allowed just one run on six hits over six innings. He walked one and struck out five, lowering his ERA to 3.34.

Haren allowed an early run to score in the second, putting the Marlins down 1-0. But the Miami offense got Haren off the hook, and he settled in the rest of the way. However, he was forced to settle for a no-decision, as the bullpen gave up the lead in the seventh inning. The Marlins wound up losing 4-3.

This was Haren's finest outing in a while. It's the first time since May 23 that he allowed fewer than two runs in a start. 


Reds 1B Joey Votto busts out with three-hit night on Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(9:53 pm ET) Reds first baseman Joey Votto was on his game Tuesday against the Nationals. The former MVP went 3 for 5 with a double, a homer and three RBI in the 5-0 win. Votto hit an RBI-double in the first inning to give the Reds and early 1-0 lead.

Then, with his team up 2-0 in the third, Votto smoked a solo home run to right field off Max Scherzer. It was Votto's 15th home run of the season, and his first since June 13.

Votto has been struggling at the plate recently, as the three-hit effort on Tuesday gives him a .211 average over his last 10 ballgames. Tuesday's homer was his first extra-base hit in his last 19 games.


Nationals SP Max Scherzer knocked around for five runs vs. Reds
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(9:46 pm ET) Max Scherzer did not flirt with a no-hitter on Tuesday. In fact, the Nationals ace endured his ugliest start in quite some time. Scherzer lasted just 4 2/3 innings against the Reds, allowing five runs on seven hits. He struck out four and did not walk a batter.

Scherzer got into early trouble by allowing two runs to score in the first inning. Then in the third, he gave up a solo home run to Joey Votto before allowing two more runs in the fifth, as the Reds went on to win 5-0.

Tuesday's outing was likely just a mere blip on the radar for the All-Star right-hander, as he still sport. This was Scherzer's shortest start since June 17, 2014. It was also the first time this year that he did not pitch at least six innings.


Reds' Johnny Cueto shines in complete-game two-hitter Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(9:43 pm ET) Reds ace Johnny Cueto was dominant against the Nationals on Tuesday. Cueto tossed a complete-game shutout, allowing just two hits and one walk while striking out a season-high 11 batters. Cueto needed 122 pitches to complete the nine-inning gem, and he lowered his ERA to 2.61.

This was Cueto's first complete game since last August, and his first complete-game shutout since May 15, 2014. He has won back-to-back starts for the second time this year. 


David Buchanan on track to start for Phillies on Saturday
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(9:41 pm ET) Phillies minor league pitcher David Buchanan left his start at Triple-A Lehigh Valley after three innings and 40 pitches on Tuesday. 

The abbreviated start was a precaution to keep him on track to start for the Phillies on Saturday, against San Francisco, per the Philadelphia Daily News


Astros pitcher Chad Qualls throws scoreless inning in rehab game
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(9:34 pm ET) Astros pitcher Chad Qualls threw a scoreless inning during a rehab assignment game at Double-A on Tuesday.

Qualls was expected to need at least two rehab outings before returning to the team. He has been sidelined since June 24 because of a pinched nerve in his trapezius and neck.


 
 
 
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