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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
Cardinals' Brandon Moss slugs go-ahead homer in win Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:17 am ET) Cardinals left fielder Brandon Moss had one hit on Thursday against the Diamondbacks. But it was a big one, as he snapped a 3-3 tie with a two-run home run in the fifth inning. The go-ahead homer was all the Cardinals would need, as they hung on for the 5-3 victory.

The home run was Moss' 16th of the year, and his first since coming to the Cardinals in a trade at the July 31 deadline. Moss is batting .200 (10 for 50) in his tenure with St. Louis so far.


Rangers' Jurickson Profar goes 1 for 4 in rehab debut Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:13 am ET) Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar began his minor-league rehab assignment with Class A Hickory on Thursday. Serving as the designated hitter, Profar went 1 for 4 before being lifted for a pinch runner in the seventh inning.

Profar is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, and it is not yet known if he will be able to return to the Rangers in 2015.


Cardinals RP Trevor Rosenthal survives shaky outing for 41st save
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:11 am ET) Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal made this dicey, but he settled down to preserve the 5-3 win over the Diamondbacks on Thursday. Rosenthal allowed the tying run to reach base with one out. But he was able to strike out the final two batters of the ninth, en route to his 41st save of the season.

Rosenthal has successfully converted each of his last 15 save opportunities. His ERA is down to 1.52 on the season. The 41 saves ties him for the most in the Major Leagues this season.


Diamondbacks' Rubby De La Rosa scuffles in start Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:07 am ET) Diamondbacks starter Rubby De La Rosa was not very effective in his outing against the Cardinals on Thursday. The young right-hander allowed five runs on five hits over five innings. He walked four and struck out four in the 5-3 loss.

De La Rosa (11-6, 4.46 ERA) fell into an early hole in this one. He allowed a solo home run to Tony Cruz in the first inning, and then watched two more runs score on him in the second.

The D-Backs were able to tie the game in the bottom of the second, and De La Rosa put up goose eggs over the next two frames. But he served up a two-run home run to Brandon Moss in the fifth inning, and that would be the final blow for either side.

De La Rosa had been pitching well in August, as Thursday was the first time in five starts that he allowed more than three runs. He had won each of his last five decisions prior to Thursday's outing.


Cardinals SP Carlos Martinez grinds out win on Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:06 am ET) Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez posted a quality start in his outing against the Diamondbacks on Thursday. The young right-hander allowed three runs on four hits over six innings. he walked two and struck out six, throwing 60 of his 103 pitches for strikes.

All three runs Martinez allowed came in the third inning, which tied the game. But the Cardinals were able to bring in two in the fifth, paving the way for Martinez to pick up the 5-3 victory.

Martinez (13-6, 2.91 ERA) posted quality outings in three of his five August starts. With Thursday's victory, he snapped a personal two-game losing streak.


Diamondbacks' Daniel Hudson leaves game with finger injury
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:52 am ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Daniel Hudson was lifted from Thursday's game against the Cardinals due to a cut on his finger. Hudson suffered the injury while fielding a comebacker in the top of the ninth inning. 

Hudson went 1 1/3 innings, allowing a hit and striking out a batter with no runs allowed. 


Mets' Daniel Murphy stays hot, plates go-ahead runs in victory
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:10 am ET) Mets first baseman Daniel Murphy came through with the biggest hit of the night on Thursday. Murphy, who went 3 for 6 with a run scored and two RBI, snapped a 5-5 tie by smoking a two-run double in the 13th inning. The Mets would go on to beat the Phillies 9-5.

Murphy also made a dazzling play in the field, as he led the charge to the four-game sweep over the Phillies. He has somewhat quietly been on a bit of a tear lately, hitting .366 (15 for 41) with two home runs and 13 RBI over his last nine games.


Mets' Kelly Johnson belts game-tying home run on Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:07 am ET) Mets second baseman Kelly Johnson had one hit in six at-bats on Thursday against the Phillies, but it was a key hit. Johnson launched a game-tying, solo home run in the fifth inning, knotting the score up at 5-5. The Mets would go on to win the game 9-5 in 13 innings.

The home run was Johnson's third since coming over in a trade at the end of July. He has been mired in a bit of a slump recently, as he was 6 for his last 24 coming into play on Thursday.


Yoenis Cespedes keeps on rolling for Mets
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:04 am ET) Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes stayed red-hot at the plate on Thursday, as he connected on a two-run home run in the 9-5 win over the Phillies. Cespedes' home run came in the fifth inning, as the Mets stormed back to erase a five-run deficit.

The home run was Cespdes' only hit of the night, but it was his eighth longball since coming to the Mets at the July 31 trade deadline. Perhaps even more impressively, over his last eight games, Cespedes is batting .350 with six home runs and 15 RBI. He has certainly been a catalyst for the Mets' recent upswing.


Mets RP Carlos Torres does it all in victory on Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(8/27/2015) Right-handed reliever Carlos Torres was one of the heroes of the game for the Mets, as they went on to beat the Phillies 9-5 in 13 innings on Thursday. Torres shined with his arm, his glove, his bat and his speed in this one.

On the mound, Torres tossed 2 1/3 scoreless ball, allowing just one hit. He also made a couple of athletic plays, including a sprint to first base to beat Jeff Francoeur on a deflected ground ball.

At the plate, Torres reached on an infield single and scored the Mets' go-ahead run in the 13th, as he picked up his fifth win of the season. Overall, it was an impressive evening for the right-hander, as the Mets completed the four-game sweep of the Phillies.


 
 
 
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