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By the Numbers: The stories behind the season

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During the early and middle portions of the baseball season, if a player doesn't meet our expectations -- for good or for bad -- we can look at the meaty portion of the schedule that remains and wait for that player to regress. As we enter the final month, that's harder to do.

Instead, we start to craft stories about what happened. After all, if we shrug our shoulders and give up on trying to explain what seems unexplainable, we don't have a way to evaluate a player's future value.

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This excerpt from an e-mail I received from Jay from Vancouver illustrates the phenomenon.

Yoenis Cespedes has been struggling big time. Pitchers are not throwing strikes at him yet he cannot keep the bat on his shoulders. I was counting on "(regression) to the mean" but I am not sure if I can trust him for the playoffs.

I was wondering the same thing about Cespedes, along with dozens of other players who have put forth mystifying performances in 2013. For the purposes of this column, I have winnowed that list down to eight players -- all hitters. Each of them, and many others, were suggested to me via Twitter in response to my call for the most enigmatic players of this season. I'll save the pitchers for another column and plan on revisiting some of the hitters not covered here in the not-too- distant future.

Like Jay from Vancouver, I have my own suspicions about what has gone right and wrong with certain players this year. For each hitter featured here, I have keyed in on the statistical trends that offer the most compelling basis for building a story about their season. In addition to trying to make sense of each hitter's stat line, I'll take a look ahead to see where each one should be drafted next season, barring any meaningful developments that could occur between now and then. Which, of course, they will.

Note: Season-to-date stats are current for games through Monday, Aug. 26.

Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Athletics
Story behind the numbers:
It's true that Cespedes has been more prone to swing in recent weeks, and all season long he's had problems making contact with fastballs, according to the PitchFX data on BrooksBaseball.net. That's something of a concern, but owners shouldn't get too discouraged by Cespedes' 2013 numbers. He is hitting home runs at roughly the same rate he did last year, and his batting average has been sunk by an .044 BABIP on flyballs that is probably the product of bad luck, given that he doesn't appear to be lacking power. Still, Cespedes' struggles with contact and stolen base efficiency (6 for 13) make him hard to trust as a top 20 Rotisserie outfielder, like he was a year ago. Since we can't count on him for batting average or stolen bases, we shouldn't consider Cespedes to be an early-round option in any format going into next season.
2014 draft status: Middle-rounder with bounceback potential.

Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels
Story behind the numbers:
Pujols is no longer a cinch for 35 homers and a .300 average, but what exactly can we expect from him? His home run-to-flyball ratio is in its third straight year of decline, but the drops hadn't been precipitous until this season. Pujols' strong second half of 2012 looked like reason enough to trust him to return first-round value this year, but there was no similar surge in this abbreviated season. Pujols is a more skilled hitter than Ryan Howard, but I see a parallel in that both experienced power decline in their early 30s, even before dealing with debilitating foot-related injuries. Like Howard a year ago, Pujols could put himself on a 30-homer pace in 2014, and unlike the Phillies' first baseman, he could raise his batting average 10 to 20 points in the process. That will leave Pujols with enough value to be worth taking in the early rounds, but he's nowhere close to being a first-rounder anymore.
2014 draft status: A top eight first baseman who could drop to the fourth or fifth round.

Prince Fielder, 1B, Tigers
Story behind the numbers:
Thanks to Torii Hunter's comments earlier this month and subsequent media reports, we already have an explanation for Fielder's disappointing season: his filing for divorce, which occurred back in May. Fielder's power stats are down notably, but aside from that, the most noteworthy peripheral trend for Fielder is an 84.2 percent contact rate on pitches in the strike zone (per FanGraphs.com) that is the lowest of his career. Then again, it's not substantially worse than the 85.4 percent rate he put up in 2009 when he banged 46 home runs. It's hard to pinpoint the reason behind Fielder's 10 percent home run-to-flyball ratio, and given the lack of clear warning signs, I'm inclined to think he's just having an off year. Fielder's power numbers have generally been inconsistent (Isolated Power trend prior to this year: .213, .330, .231, .303, .209, .267, .215), so he may just be hitting his floor this season.
2014 draft status: Potential third-round steal.

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Diamondbacks
Story behind the numbers:
Goldschmidt has taken surprisingly, but not shockingly, bold steps of progress in his batting average and on-base percentage this year, but it's his home run total that's really turning heads. Though he still has 27 fewer at-bats than last season, he has increased his homers from 20 to 31. Goldschmidt gave us little reason to doubt his power as a prospect, especially since he continued to clobber balls when not aided by the high altitude of Missoula in the Pioneer League or the hitter-friendly parks of the California League. Last season's middling power production, relative to his position, set up diminished expectations for 2013, but there's no reason to expect Goldschmidt to hit fewer than 35 home runs next year. If his overall production suffers, it's only because he may not match a .333/.457/.684 slash line with runners in scoring position, limiting his RBI total.
2014 draft status: First-rounder.

Chase Headley, 3B, Padres
Story behind the numbers:
After treating owners to 31 home runs, 115 RBI and 95 runs last season, Headley has played this year as if 2012 never happened. His home run power has evaporated, as he has regressed to being a doubles hitter who knows how to draw a walk. Worse yet, Headley is posting the worst strikeout and BABIP rates since his first full season in 2009, and a .239 batting average is the result. His season was delayed due to a broken thumb, but that injury doesn't appear to be the culprit for Headley's slide, as he was highly productive upon his return. While Headley put up a .305/.389/.537 slash line through his first 22 games, Those marks have fallen to .223/.317/.328 in 94 games since. There is no obvious explanation for Headley's woes. All that is clear is that last season looks like a crazy outlier, much like Jacoby Ellsbury's lonely 2011 power spurt. Unlike Ellsbury, at least Headley had a precedent for home run power in the minors, and he's also hit for decent power from the right side (four home runs in 131 at-bats, .183 Iso) this year, so I wouldn't rule out a rebound. I just won't bet an early-round pick on it.
2014 draft status: Middle-rounder.

Jean Segura, SS, Brewers
Story behind the numbers:
Segura's story is a particularly confusing one, as he has appeared to be a completely different player since late June. Through his first 71 games, Segura had hit .336 with 11 home runs and 22 stolen bases in 23 tries. In 55 games since then, Segura's batting average is a mere .266, and he's hit one lone homer while nabbing 16 bags and getting caught seven times. Going forward this year and into next, we can expect greater base-stealing efficiency from Segura, but otherwise, his track record over the last two months is probably a better indicator of future performance than the first two-plus months. As Segura climbed the ladder in the Angels' system, he put up good, but not great, batting averages at the higher levels, despite his speed and strong contact skills. Aside from his early-season homer binge, Segura's never been much of a power source, and nine of his 12 home runs this year have been categorized by ESPN's Home Run Tracker as having "just enough" distance. Next year, Segura may have more in common with Alcides Escobar or Emilio Bonifacio than, say, Jason Kipnis.
2014 draft status: Could be drafted as an early rounder, though shouldn't be taken prior to the middle rounds, and may only provide a late-round return.

Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs
Story behind the numbers:
While Castro looked like a long shot to have a 20-20 season coming into this year, he did appear to offer Fantasy owners a nice speed-power combination along with the potential for a .300 batting average. Neither the speed nor power has materialized this season, and with 20-20 hindsight (seriously, I just noticed the pun while editing), we can now see a few warning signs that emerged in 2012. According to FanGraphs.com, Castro's swinging strike and contact rates took a turn for the worse a year ago, and he's had even more difficulty making contact this season. Even more striking is the lack of stolen base efficiency that Castro has shown, and last season's 66 percent rate should have clued us in to the problems he has had on the basepaths this year, having been thrown out six times in just 14 attempts. While in his first two seasons, Castro showed that he is capable of hitting for average and some power, the last two years should caution us against hoping for those outcomes. A .260ish average with 10 homers and 10 steals might be a more realistic expectation.
2014 draft status: Middle-rounder with some upside potential.

Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants
Story behind the numbers:
Prior to this year, Sandoval had already established a pattern of inconsistency, bobbing between seasons with near-elite-level power and merely moderate power. Sandoval was on course for a moderate-power campaign through the first quarter of the season, as he compiled a .172 Isolated Power through May 17. He notched only one extra-base hit over his next 16 games and then went on the disabled list with a strained tendon in his foot. Sandoval has been nagged by foot and back injuries for much of the season, but he showed earlier on that he is still capable of hitting for power when healthy. Given that Sandoval hasn't played more than 117 games in any of the previous two seasons, he's a risk to draft next year, even though he still has 25-homer potential.
2014 draft status: Injury-risk flyer to gamble on in the late rounds.

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
Brewers' Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez out of lineup Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:42 am ET) Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun and third baseman Aramis Ramirez are out of the lineup for Sunday's game against the Cardinals.

Braun had started 15 straight games in right field coming into Sunday's action, but he'll get his first break from starting since April 8. Ramirez has started 16 of the team's 18 games at third base but will take a seat after making four straight starts.

With Braun out of the lineup, Logan Schafer will play center field and bat second, while Gerardo Parra while shift to right field and bat third. Hector Gomez draws the start for Ramirez and will bat seventh.

The Brewers are home underdogs (+135) against the Cardinals Sunday.


Caleb Joseph, Alejandro De Aza, Travis Snider out of Orioles' lineup
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(11:33 am ET) The Orioles will rest three starters in Sunday's game against Boston. 

Catcher Caleb Joseph, left fielder Alejandro De Aza and right fielder Travis Snider, who have combined for 36 starts this season at their respective positions, are all out of the lineup.

Ryan Lavarnway gets his fifth start of the year at catcher, batting eighth. Delmon Young is in right, batting fourth. It's his fourth start of the year but third in four days.

Steve Pearce will play left, starting for the third time this year. He's batting sixth. 

The Orioles are +100 money line underdogs at home against Boston. 


Nationals' Max Scherzer tests thumb Sunday, remains day-to-day
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:32 am ET) Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer tested his swollen thumb by throwing in the outfield Sunday but did not see any mound work, CSNWashington.com reports.

Scherzer said that his thumb is still sore and that he's unsure about whether he'll be able to make his scheduled start Tuesday.

"I can't say that, because I'm literally day-to-day," he said.

Scherzer did indicate that the thumb felt better Sunday, but it's apparent he won't pitch unless he feels 100 percent. He's just 1-2 over his first four starts but owns a 1.26 ERA and 29:4 K:BB ratio in 28 2/3 innings.


Sandy Leon replaces Ryan Hanigan at catcher for Red Sox
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(11:26 am ET) Sandy Leon is in the Red Sox starting lineup for Sunday's game at Baltimore, bumping Ryan Hanigan

Leon starts for the second time in four games and sixth time this season. 

The Sox are -105 money line favorites over Baltimore. 


Cardinals C Yadier Molina (knee) out of lineup Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:25 am ET) Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is not in the starting lineup for Sunday's game against the Brewers.

Molina is dealing with knee soreness after taking a foul tip off his knee guard Friday. The team called up a backup catcher before Sunday's game to back up Tony Cruz, who is batting eighth Sunday while making his third start in the last four days.

The Cardinals are road favorites (-144) in Milwaukee Sunday, per VegasInsider.com.


David Ortiz out of Red Sox lineup
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(11:23 am ET) Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz is not in the lineup for Sunday's game against Baltimore. 

Ortiz has started 14 of the team's 15 DH games, including nine straight. He'll be replaced Sunday by Hanley Ramirez, who moves to DH from left field. Utility man Brock Holt replaces Ramirez in left. 

The Red Sox are -105 money line favorites at Baltimore.


Dodgers considering DL trip for Yasiel Puig
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:21 am ET) Dodgers manager Don Mattingly indicated Saturday that the possibility of sending right fielder Yasiel Puig (hamstring) to the disabled list has been discussed, the Orange County Register reports.

"If it’s the best thing, then it’s the best thing," Mattingly said. "Obviously, he’s very important to us. In a sense, it’s obvious that he’s not important to us if he can’t play. If you’re going to be banged up every third or fourth day or if he tries to run hard and extend, then we’re going to be better off letting him get healthy."

Puig missed significant time last week due to the hamstring issue but returned to the starting lineup Friday. However, he reinjured the hamstring trying to beat out a ground ball on the same day and was out of the lineup Saturday. Mattingly indicated that he'll leave the decision up to the team's medical staff.

"That decision does not come down to me. That decision is for medical," Mattingly said Saturday. "He played three days in San Francisco and did not have one issue. And he played the day game (Thursday). We talked about giving him the day game after the night game in San Francisco. Medical didn’t feel like he needed it. He played well, made some plays, didn’t look like he needed it. Then yesterday obviously he extended trying to beat that play out and it looked like it grabbed on him a little bit."

Puig has hit .279/.380/.465 with two home runs and four RBI in 43 at-bats.


Phillies' Freddy Galvis (rib) starting, 'feeling pretty good' Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:14 am ET) Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis is back in the lineup Sunday after leaving Saturday's game with a rib injury following an excellent defensive play.

"When I landed after the throw, my elbow hit my rib," Galvis said before Sunday's game, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. "I am feeling pretty good now."

Galvis is batting eighth Sunday. He owns a .328/.381/.431 line with one home run and eight RBI in 58 at-bats.

The Phillies are favorites (-110) against the Braves Sunday.


Blue Jays' Jose Bautista getting acupuncture on sore shoulder
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(11:00 am ET) Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista has missed five games with a sore shoulder. He told the media that the injury was improving, and he's hopeful that he'll be able to play in Toronto's upcoming series with Boston. 

Bautista's treatment of the injury has included acupuncture on the shoulder, per TSN Radio. He remains day-to-day.


Blue Jays' Jose Reyes to have MRI on oblique
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(10:55 am ET) Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes has been playing through rib soreness for more than a week. Unsure if it's a rib injury or an oblique strain, Reyes has dealt with the pain, although it prevents the switch hitter from batting left handed. 

Reyes is out of Sunday's lineup, but he told Sportsnet that it wasn't injury related--just a day off to rest. 

While Reyes said the injury isn't getting any worse, he'll still have an MRI when the team returns to Toronto after its current road trip. 


 
 
 
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