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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
Astros' Hernandez on his way to camp after receiving work visa
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:44 am ET) Astros starting pitcher Roberto Hernandez, who will compete for a spot in the rotation this spring, has received his work visa and will travel from the Dominican Republic to the team's spring complex in Florida on Wednesday, per MLB.com. Hernandez will undergo a physical Thursday.

Astros general manager Jeff Lunhow said Hernandez has been throwing at the Astros complex in the Dominican Republic. But he also added that Hernandez is behind after missing close to two weeks of camp.

“You could argue this is the perfect way to do it, to show up on the first day of games,” Luhnow joked.


Melvin: Coco Crisp moving to LF; Gentry, Fuld to man CF for A's
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:37 am ET) Athletics manager Bob Melvin announced Wednesday the team has decided to move Coco Crisp from center to left field in an attempt to keep him healthy and off the disabled list. Melvin added Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry will platoon in center field for Oakland.

Crisp has not played more than 136 games in a season since joining Oakland in 2010. Crisp, who played in 126 games in 2014, missed time last season after collisions with outfield walls led to neck pain. Crisp said in early February he was going to try to tone down his "aggressive game" in order to avoid more injuries.


Rays DH John Jaso doing well in early stages of outfield experiment
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:31 am ET) Rays manager Kevin Cash seems pleased with how catcher/DH John Jaso is doing in his transition to the outfield, per The Tampa Tribune

“He was reading balls off the bat and he looked great,” Cash said. “(Monday) the outfielders did their first light throwing. Every ball he threw was right on line. I think from speaking with him, he’s been comfortable with it. We probably didn’t anticipate getting him out there until the end of spring, but I think we have him coming in the third or fourth game of the year and see how it goes. If he’s good we’ll keep working him out there. That’s a great asset for us to have.”

While Jaso's role will primarily be at DH, the Rays want him to learn how to play in the outfield to add versatility to the team's roster.

“I’m enjoying the outfield experience so far,” Jaso said. “I think the challenge is going to be picking up the ball and knowing where to throw, knowing where the cutoff man is going to be, and when there are runners on, knowing which base to throw to to keep the double play in order and catch yourself throwing to third base."


Rangers' Andrus not expected to play in first four spring games
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:20 am ET) Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus was held out of Wednesday's spring opener against the Royals due to mild patella tendinitis in his left knee. He is not scheduled to play in the first four Cactus League games, per MLB.com.

Royals' Yost: Cain, Gordon, Hosmer, Rios all candidate to bat second
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(11:10 am ET) Royals manager Ned Yost listed Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Alex Rios as viable candidates to bat second in the lineup this season, reports the Kansas City Star.

Gordon, Rios never batted second last season. Cain had only only 13 plate appearances at the No. 2 spot in 2014. Hosmer played 33 games and logged 144 plate appearance at the No. 2 spot in 2014, slashing .275/.326/.344 in those appearances.


Mariners' James Paxton scheduled for Friday bullpen
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(11:00 am ET) Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon indicated that will stick to the original plan and have starting pitcher James Paxton (forearm) throw his first bullpen session on Friday, reports MLB.com. 

Mariners SP Danny Hultzen could pitch in game by end of week
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:50 am ET) Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said starting pitcher prospect Danny Hultzen's live batting practice session went well Tuesday, and he should throw in a game by the end of the week, per 710 ESPN Seattle.

Hultzen is working his way back after having missed the 2014 season due to rotator cuff surgery.


A's DH Billy Butler takes a seat Wednesday due to stomach bug
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:48 am ET) Athletics designated hitter Billy Butler was not in the lineup for Wednesday's Cactus League game against San Francisco because of a stomach bug, according to Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Matt Olson will take his spot as the team's designated hitter.

Butler signed a three-year deal with the A's in the offseason. He hit .271/.323/.379 over 549 at-bats last year for the Royals.

Edgar Olmos headed back to Mariners due to shoulder injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:54 am ET) The Rangers announced Wednesday the waiver claim for pitcher Edgar Olmos is being reversed due to a shoulder injury, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Olmos, who was claimed off waivers last week, will head back to the Mariners roster.

Rays manager Kevin Cash tabs Alex Cobb as opening day starter
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:41 am ET) Rays manager Kevin Cash announced Wednesday starting pitcher Alex Cobb will start the season opener on April 6 against Baltimore.

"There's a lot of things on your short list of career highlights that you can say you've done," Cobb said, per the Tampa Bay Times. "Obvioiusly, with being in the World Series and winning the World Series being at the top. Being an opening day starter falls somewhat shorter than that, but it's right up on that list."

Cash also announced Cobb will be followed in the rotation by Chris Archer, Drew Smyly and Jake Odorizzi. The team will choose a fifth starter this spring.

"He was extremely excited," Cash said of Cobb. "I kind of expected him to say, 'Yeah, OK, whatever,' but he was pumped. And you look back and you're like, 'Man, he's had some good pitchers here that maybe he's had to wait in turn for (James) Shields and (David) Price and those guys. I think he looks at it as being an honor, because there have been some good ones here in the past that have done it."


 
 
 
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