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By the Numbers: Don't trust the outliers

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We're far enough along into the 2013 season that many Fantasy owners feel comfortable in trusting the stats that their players have compiiled up to this point. Maybe back in March or early April, we didn't expect Chris Davis to be one of the top hitters in all of Fantasy or for Hisashi Iwakuma to be leading all pitchers in both Rotisserie and Head-to-Head value, but we've had time to get used to the idea.

Even if Davis and Iwakuma cool off somewhat over the rest of the season, and it would be surprising if they didn't, they have done enough over this season and last to earn the trust of owners in all formats. Then there are other players who have suddenly become fixtures in a large percentage of leagues, yet they're in danger of becoming less relevant in the weeks and months to come. Jean Segura and Travis Wood headline a group of players who have won the trust of owners with their play through the season's first 10 weeks, but despite their strong stats to date, each may not be as trustworthy as they appear to be.

Over the course of a season, ERAs, WHIPs, batting averages and run and RBI totals can all fluctuate greatly, but the underlying skill indicators are usually a good predictor of where a player will wind up by season's end. The eight players featured here have parlayed fast starts into a secure place in their owners' starting lineups, but they are outliers among the top producers, given that they are succeeding at a high level despite some supporting stats that don't normally bode well.

Going by season-to-date stats, each of these hitters is worth starting in the vast majority of leagues, but their outlier status makes them sell-high candidates. At the very least, it's reasonable to expect their production to tail off over the rest of the season.

Jean Segura, SS, Brewers: Ground ball rates in excess of 55 percent rarely translate into seasons with 20-plus homers, but Segura is on pace to pull off that feat. Could the 23-year-old hit above .300 with 50 steals? Sure, and that alone makes Segura one of the six best shortstops in Fantasy. However, Segura's nine home runs have helped to make him one of the six top hitters in all of Rotisserie, regardless of position. According to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, seven of those dingers had "just enough" distance to clear the fence. Hitters can typically expect about a third of their homers to be "cheapies," so it looks like Segura's home run power is a mirage. Segura doesn't have a history of big power numbers or moderate ground ball rates, so it's still too early to buy into the Brewers' shortstop as a true speed/power threat and Fantasy elite.

Howie Kendrick, 2B, Angels: Kendrick appears to be on his way to a career high in RBI, and a .321 batting average is a major reason why. Nearly across the board, Kendrick's secondary stats, such as his strikeout, walk and ground ball rates and Isolated Power, are close to his typical levels, but there is a legitimate reason for Kendrick's high batting average. He's turning 27 percent of his hit balls into line drives, but while Kendrick has mustered high liner rates before, over his career he has settled in close to the major league norm of approximately 20 percent. While there is an underlying stat that supports Kendrick's fast start, it just happens to be one of the stats that is most vulnerable to random change. If not for that fortunate bounce, Kendrick would not and should not be starting in 93 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com.

Jhonny Peralta, SS, Tigers: Because Peralta has been so inconsistent over his career, it would be easy to buy into what he's doing this season by assuming that he was due for one of his good years. In Peralta's better seasons, he has hit for power, clubbing at least 20 homers. He's not on that kind of pace this year, and with a nine percentage point dip in his flyball rate, Peralta's not looking poised for a 20-homer season. It's Peralta's .333 batting average that has catapulted him into the upper echelons of the shortstop rankings, but with a 24 percent strikeout rate, he's a poor bet to sustain his value. Normally an average hitter on balls in play, Peralta has enhanced his value with an unsustainable .416 BABIP. A mark even 50 points lower would make Peralta's season an outlier among his career numbers.

Daniel Nava, OF, Red Sox: For the most part, the RBI leaderboard is littered with sluggers whose Isolated Power is on the north side of .200. Of the current top 20, only Freddie Freeman, Adrian Gonzalez and Allen Craig have an Iso lower than Nava's .169, and unlike with Nava, there is reason to expect that each of those three will experience a power rebound over the course of the season. A .280 hitter over three seasons at Triple-A Pawtucket, Nava is probably playing over his head in general with a .300 batting average, and his .333 average with runners in scoring position is further boosting his RBI total. Nava is starting in more than four-fifths of our leagues, but unless he continues to be an outlier among RBI leaders, he won't be worth starting in many of his shallower leagues going forward.

The four starting pitchers listed below have stood out as outliers, too, providing owners with high value even though they possess strikeout and walk rates more befitting of a deep-league option. To be more specific, if a pitcher has a K/9 ratio of 6.5 or lower and a BB/9 ratio of 2.5 or higher, he doesn't have a good chance at finishing with a low ERA or WHIP. Between 2010 and 2012, there were 50 seasons from qualifying starting pitchers that failed to clear both of these benchmarks, and only five of them managed to post an ERA below 3.50 and a WHIP under 1.25. So while it's possible to have above-average Fantasy stats with mediocre peripherals, it's not very common.

Here's how each of these pitchers has managed to help owners despite mediocre strikeout and walk rates, and how each could be a disappointment as the season forges on.

Travis Wood, SP, Cubs: In his fourth season, Wood has all the outward signs of a breakout, as he boasts a 2.65 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and a 5-4 record through 12 starts. The lefty's 6.5 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 ratios are close to his career norms, but he's getting better results by keeping the ball in the park. Though Wood is no less flyball prone than before, he's allowed only five home runs over 78 innings. Part of Wood's formula for success is his flyball tendencies, which he has translated into a 13 percent popup rate and a .225 BABIP. Even if those marks don't worsen much, it seems unlikely that Wood will continue to avoid the long ball (especially in Wrigley as the weather heats up), so owners should expect his ERA and WHIP to climb.

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Kyle Kendrick, SP/RP, Phillies: Two seasons ago, Kendrick showed that it's possible to have a low ERA (3.22) and WHIP (1.22) with mediocre supporting stats, but he did it over just 114 2/3 innings. He has nearly identical marks so far this year (3.22 ERA, 1.21 WHIP), and he's improved since then, becoming a better strikeout and ground ball pitcher. Still, Kendrick is well below the major league average for strikeout rate, and he appears to have benefited from good luck on balls in play that were hit in the air (.080 flyball BABIP, .679 line drive BABIP). That latter trend has helped Kendrick to limit hitters to a .380 slugging percentage that could rise over his future starts. Kendrick isn't a bad pitcher for mixed league owners; he's not just owned-in-88-percent-of-leagues good.

Jeff Locke, SP, Pirates: With 23 strikeouts over his last 22 2/3 innings, Locke has just nudged himself over the 6.5 K/9 threshold, but in his minor league career, he was never a standout as a strikeout pitcher. Meanwhile, Locke has been extremely wild, throwing 58 percent of his pitches for strikes and posting a 4.2 BB/9. A 1.21 WHIP is difficult to manage with so many free passes, but by holding opponents to a .155 batting average on ground balls, Locke has done just that. The Pirates' staff ranks second in the majors with a .211 opponents' ground ball batting average, so even though Locke might be aided by his infield, he is still likely to have a lot more hits and runs coming his way.

Paul Maholm, SP, Braves: If you're going to succeed with middling strikeout and walk rates, you have to make up for them in some other way. Maholm more so than any of the preceding three pitchers does that, as he has compiled low home run rates on a consistent basis. Even so, Maholm has needed a little help in recent years to keep his ERA and WHIP low. Two seasons ago, he posted an unusually-low home run-to-flyball ratio (6.8 percent). Last year it was a low line drive rate, and this season, he's relied on a .167 ground ball batting average. Maholm keeps finding new ways to remain relevant in a large portion of mixed leagues, but sooner or later, some of his many owners will realize that he can be dropped for a higher-ceiling player.

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
Stephen Vogt, Ike Davis, Eric Sogard out of Athletics' lineup on Sunday
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(10:56 am ET) The Athletics gave several regulars a rest for Sunday's day game. 

Catcher Stephen Vogt, first baseman Ike Davis, center fielder Sam Fuld and second baseman Eric Sogard were all out of Sunday's starting lineup. 

Josh Phegley gets the start at catcher, batting sixth in the order. Ben Zobrist will play second base, batting third. 

Mark Canha moves from left field to first base, replacing Davis. Cody Ross gets the start in left, batting fifth. 

Craig Gentry gets the call in center, batting leadoff. 


Brewers' Ryan Braun batting third, Aramis Ramirez off Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:52 am ET) Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun is back in the No. 3 spot in the lineup Sunday one day after batting leadoff against the Pirates.

The Brewers stacked the lineup with righties against a left-handed starter Saturday, and Braun made his first career start as a leadoff hitter, going 2 for 3 with two singles, getting plunked once and scoring a run in his team's 6-2 loss. He's back in his normal position for Sunday's series finale.

Third baseman Aramis Ramirez is out of the starting lineup Sunday for the first time this season. He'll be replaced at third base by Luis Jimenez.

The Brewers are underdogs (+155) in Pittsburgh Sunday.


Tigers' Joe Nathan needs game work before he returns
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(10:42 am ET) Tigers reliever Joe Nathan is eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday. Manager Brad Ausmus isn't sure if Nathan will be activated on that day, per MLive.

Ausmus did say that Nathan would need game work--either a simulated game or a rehab appearance--before he returned to the Tigers. 


Carlos Beltran out of Yankees' lineup again on Sunday
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(10:39 am ET) Yankees right fielder Carlos Beltran is out of the starting lineup for the second straight day. Beltran missed Saturday's game with an illness, and he's not in the lineup for Sunday's game.

Garrett Jones gets the start in right for the Yankees. He'll bat seventh in the order. 

Catcher Brian McCann is also not in the lineup. JR Murphy will start and bat eighth. 


Phillies' Chase Utley out of lineup Sunday vs. Nationals
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:37 am ET) Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is not in the starting lineup for Sunday's game against Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals.

It's the second day off this season for Utley, who has started six straight games but has hit just .119/.170/.262 in 42 at-bats this April and is 0 for 17 in his last four games. Cesar Hernandez will start at second base in his place.

Left fielder Ben Revere is back in the starting lineup after three straight games on the bench. He went 1 for 1 with a double, a stolen base and two runs scored Saturday after entering the game as a pinch runner in the seventh inning.

The Phillies are massive underdogs (+200) against the Nationals Sunday, per VegasInsider.com.


Nationals' Yunel Escobar (groin) out of lineup Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:31 am ET) Nationals third baseman Yunel Escobar is not in the lineup Sunday for a second straight day while nursing a groin injury.

Escobar started each of the team's first 11 games at third base, filling in for the injured Anthony Rendon, before sitting out Saturday with the injury. He said before Sunday's game that he's feeling better and he'll practice on the field, per MLB.com. He also indicated that his MRI only showed groin inflammation, and that he hopes to be back in the lineup Tuesday, the Washington Post reports.

Danny Espinosa will draw a second straight start at third base against the Phillies. The Nationals are heavy home favorites (-225) Sunday.


Nationals activate Denard Span, option Michael Taylor
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:28 am ET) The Nationals activated center fielder Denard Span from the 15-day disabled list Sunday and optioned outfielder Michael Taylor to Triple-A Syracuse.

Span had to open the season on the disabled list after underdoing surgery on his core muscle in March. He was able to play in back-to-back games Thursday and Friday before taking Saturday off. He's atop the lineup for Nationals in Sunday's game against the Phillies.

Taylor performed well while filling in as the team's center fielder. He hit .271/.314/.500 with two home runs, eight RBI and two stolen bases in 48 at-bats. He'll return to Syracuse where he can play every day, but he'll likely be back with the Nationals the next time an outfielder is out for an extended period with an injury.


Red Sox taking advantage of Brock Holt's versatility
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(10:21 am ET) Red Sox utility man Brock Holt has played four different positions and hit in three different spots in the batting order. 

The constant change doesn't seem to be having a negative impact. Holt is hitting .579 in 19 at bats this season. He's played second, third, short and center, and he's batted first, eighth and ninth in the lineup. 

"That’s his role,” manager John Farrell said. “We try to the best of our abilities (to get play him), and as frequently as possible. We also have a very deep roster, so he accepts his role, he excels at it, and the versatility he provides is a real good fit."


Ryan Goins gets start at short for Blue Jays
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(10:14 am ET) With Jose Reyes out for the weekend with a rib injury, Ryan Goins got the start for the Blue Jays at shortstop on Sunday.

Goins will bat ninth for the game against Atlanta. 


Mets' Michael Cuddyer, Wilmer Flores out of lineup Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:11 am ET) Mets left fielder Michael Cuddyer and shortstop Wilmer Flores are not in the starting lineup for Sunday's matchup with the Marlins.

It's just the second time on the bench this season for both players. Kirk Nieuwenhuis will bat seventh and play left field, while Ruben Tejada will bat eighth and play shortstop.

The Mets are heavy favorites (-200) against the Marlins Sunday.


 
 
 
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