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By the Numbers: Pitchers who threw us a curve

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A few weeks back, I put out the call on Twitter for Fantasy owners to nominate this season's most enigmatic players. It turns out there were enough who have had inscrutable performances that I couldn't cram them all into one column.

I tackled the hitters first, but now it's time to try to figure out of some this season's more perplexing pitchers. As is probably the bent of Fantasy owners, and human beings in general, there's a slant towards grappling with the negative here, as six of the eight pitchers highlighted have frustrated owners, rather than pleasantly surprised them. In each case, though, I'll dig through the player's stats and try to make sense of the past five- and-a-half months. And with many of us already in "plan for 2014" mode, I'll size up how I'd approach each of these pitchers in next year's drafts.

Note: All stats are current through games played on Tuesday, Sept. 17.

Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks
Story behind the numbers:
On the surface, the narrative behind Corbin's season looks pretty simple: he overcame some apparent bad luck from his rookie season on hit balls (.324 BABIP) and on flyballs in particular (13 percent home run-to-flyball ratio). To judge by his K/9 (7.6 in 2013 vs. 7.2 in 2012) and BB/9 (2.3 vs. 2.1) ratios and his ground ball rates (48 percent vs. 46 percent), Corbin appears to be the same pitcher he was a year ago, but in understanding the lefty's season, as well as his future value, there's more to consider. Corbin has added more than 1 mph to his fastball velocity this year, and it could be a factor in a swinging strike rate that shot up from 9 percent to 12 percent. If he can reverse a downturn in the proportion of strikes that were foul balls, perhaps Corbin can become a strikeout-per-inning pitcher, while still maintaining an ERA close to 3.00.
2014 draft status: A top 20 starter. Think this year's Chris Sale, but with a better chance at getting run support.

Francisco Liriano, Pirates
Story behind the numbers:
Few pitchers have offered Fantasy owners more extremes of frustration and elation than Liriano, but 2013 has been a mostly smooth ride. With less than two weeks of the season to go, Liriano sports a career-best 67 percent quality start rate, as he has had only a few meltdowns. Liriano hasn't always been able to stay healthy, so when his tenure with the Pirates began with him breaking his right arm -- not on the mound, but while playing with his kids -- it was easy to expect another miserable season from him. Having reworked his delivery and pitch selection, all but abandoning his four-seamer for his sinker, Liriano has pitched with greater control and rediscovered the ground ball tendencies that were present in his best days with the Twins. Since his season debut on May 11, Liriano ranks seventh in Fantasy points among all starting pitchers.
2014 draft status: With his history of injuries and inconsistency, Liriano doesn't have the same value as other top starters, but he's still a top 20 starter going into next year.

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David Price, Rays
Story behind the numbers:
Price's average sinker velocity is down from 96 to 94 mph, according to BrooksBaseball.net, and correspondingly, Price is far from his recent standard of approaching a strikeout per inning. Even with a more modest K-rate, Price has been effective this season, particularly so after returning from a left triceps strain that landed him on the disabled list for a month and a half. In the 15 starts since activation, Price has gone 7-4 with a 2.52 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP. While batters have had an easier time making contact against him, Price has issued only 11 walks over his last 110 2/3 innings, and he has allowed a single home run since the beginning of August.
2014 draft status: It's too soon to know whether the changes in Price's profile will be long-lasting, but it won't matter too much. The risk of a persistently pedestrian K-rate does take Price out of the top five starters going into 2014, but he's still worth drafting as your No. 1 starter.

Jeff Samardzija, Cubs
Story behind the numbers:
After posting a 2.58 ERA in the second half of last season and then following it up with 3.34 ERA through the end of this June, Samardzija seemed to have established himself as a must-start option. From July forward, Samardzija has been anything but reliable, offering owners a 5.81 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP, the latter of which is 33 points higher than his mark from the first three months. The one-time Notre Dame wide receiver has been hurt by homers, allowing 1.4 per nine innings since July, and he's been wild, too, with a 3.8 BB/9 ratio. Given that Samardzija's ground ball rate has been steady throughout the season, the explosion in his homer rate looks fluky. ESPN.com's Home Run Tracker backs up that hunch, as it categorizes half of his homers allowed during his cold streak as having only "just enough" distance (as opposed to a normal ratio of around one-third). Samardzija's inconsistent control is something to watch, but he looks primed for a significant rebound next season.
2014 draft status: Samardzija was a top 30 starting pitcher through this season's first three months, and he can return to a similar level next season. Owners probably won't be knocking down walls to draft him next year, but he should deliver good value if taken among the first 40 starters.

Yovani Gallardo, Brewers
Story behind the numbers:
Throughout his career, Gallardo's main asset in Fantasy has been his strikeouts, but he hasn't helped in that category in 2013 (7.0 K/9), even during his recent resurgence. Gallardo is getting swinging strikes on a meager 7 percent of his pitches, and it's the second straight year he has experienced a decrease of more than one percentage point in that measure. Perhaps not coincidentally, he has also lost roughly 1 mph of average fastball velocity in each of those seasons, too. While Gallardo has thrived lately due to low BABIP and walk rates, unfavorable line drive and strikes thrown rates suggest that won't be a long-lasting formula for success for him.
2014 draft status: At 27, Gallardo seems too young to be in the decline stage of his career, so maybe he can regain his effectiveness, if not his velocity. Given his recent trends, Gallardo is a risky pick and should be avoided until the later rounds in standard mixed leagues.

Jake Peavy, Red Sox
Story behind the numbers:
Last year, Peavy had his best season since 2008, not only due to his newfound durability, but because he also reversed a trend -- likely not of his own making -- of allowing a high batting average on ground balls. Dips in Peavy's swinging strike (from 11 to 9 percent), strikeout (from 8.0 to 7.4 K/9) and ground ball rates (from 37 to 34 percent) have probably contributed to Peavy's ERA cresting over 4.00, but that mark has also been amplified by a slightly subpar 69 percent strand rate. Peavy also missed more than a month with a fractured rib, but even if we can assume that he will be able to stay healthy next season, the deterioration of some of his peripheral stats leaves him with less value on Draft Day 2014 than he had coming into this year.
2014 draft status: Peavy still has good control and should continue to be useful for a low WHIP, but he's just hittable enough to be risky to trust as a top 30 starting pitcher (where he ranked in ADP for this year). Look to Peavy to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation option to target in the latter stages of the middle rounds.

Kris Medlen, Braves
Story behind the numbers:
After going 9-0 with an 0.97 ERA as a starter last season, Medlen had nowhere to go but down, but even so he was drafted on average among the top 25 starting pitchers. That was even the case in Rotisserie leagues, in which his RP eligibility was of no use. As it turns out, Medlen didn't quite match his preseason expectations, as he currently ranks 42nd among starting pitchers in Fantasy points, but bear in mind, he has been penalized by receiving one of the lowest levels of run support (3.45 runs per nine innings) in the majors. Aside from a ground ball rate that has sagged from 54 to 47 percent, Medlen's skill indicators have held steady from a year ago, and the only cause for concern going forward is that he won't be able to sustain a 77 percent strand rate.
2014 draft status: Medlen will be one of the better pitchers with moderate strikeout rates and should be taken in the early portion of the middle rounds not far behind Jordan Zimmermann, who has similar appeal.

Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
Story behind the numbers:
A year ago, Hellickson finished as a top 60 starting pitcher, even though he posted mediocre strikeout and walk rates and allowed home runs at an alarming pace. What he was able to do, just as he did in his 2011 AL Rookie of the Year campaign, was avoid ground ball base hits and strand the runners he did allow at a very high rate. Those are both factors that can be difficult for a pitcher to control, and neither have worked in his favor this season. Hellickson's strand rate has shrunk from 82 to 64 percent, while batters have increased their batting average on grounders from .208 to .299. While his luck has taken a sharp turn for the worse, Hellickson has improved in areas where he does exercise a high degree of control, like throwing strikes and inducing whiffs.
2014 draft status: While Hellickson is an improved pitcher, he may never reach the heights of his first two seasons again, given how reliant he was on favorable strand and BABIP rates. Despite a poor 2013, he is still worth a late-round grab.

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
Red Sox looking at Brandon Workman as a reliever
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:12 am ET) The Red Sox are looking at pitcher Brandon Workman as a reliever this spring, according to the Boston Herald

Manager John Farrell seemed to think Workman would be more than adequate in the role. "His mentality is one that embraces those higher leverage type of innings," Farrell said. "In one-inning stints, his stuff plays up a little bit more with power, a little bit more swing-and-miss ability with his fastball."

Workman seems open to the change. "If John tells me that’s where I’m going to fit in, that’s where I’ll fit in," he said.

The 26-year-old Workman posted a 5.17 ERA over 87 innings last year. 


Twins' GM believes Kyle Gibson can get to the next level
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:44 am ET) Twins general manager Terry Ryan believes pitcher Kyle Gibson can get to the next level, according to the Star Tribune.

"The guy has too good of stuff not to be more consistent," Ryan said. "I don’t think it’s 'if' he makes another jump. He’s going to make a jump. It’s a matter of how high."

Gibson showed flashes of promise in 2014. While his overall numbers were just average, Gibson was solid during the first half of the year. He posted a 3.92 ERA over 101 innings to start the year, but struggled with a 5.17 ERA in the second half. Gibson said the reason for his success last year had to do with execution.

"The reason for the jump was my focus on executing pitches," Gibson said. "In 2013 I got caught up in all the information and the scouting reports instead of realizing this is the pitch I need to execute so let’s execute it."

Gibson said he's hoping to increase his strikeout rate this season, but wants to make sure he can still retain his strong ground ball rate. The 27-year-old posted a 4.47 ERA over 179 1/3 innings last season. 


Rays manager believes Grant Balfour will be ready for opening day
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) Rays manager Kevin Cash believes pitcher Grant Balfour will be good to go by opening day, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Balfour is currently in Australia, tending to his sick father. Cash said Balfour was still working out, and expects the pitcher to be ready for the start of the regular season. The 37-year-old posted a 3.46 ERA over 62 1/3 innings last season. 


Rays' Alex Colome may miss the start of the season
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) Rays pitcher Alex Colome may not be ready for the start of the regular season, according to the Tampa Tribune

Colome has been delayed by visa issues thus far, though he's been able to throw at the Rays facility in the Dominican Republic. Colome is facing hitters, but manager Kevin Cash still expressed some doubt about his availability once the regular season begins. 

Colome, 26, posted a 2.66 ERA over 23 2/3 innings last year. 


Diamondbacks' Randall Delgado facing a roster crunch
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) Diamondbacks pitcher Randall Delgado is facing a roster crunch, according to azcentral.com.

Delgado had some success after adding a slider last season, but faces a lot of competition this spring. While the competition for the fifth starter spot contains a lot of players, Delgado's experience in the bullpen last year could help him make the club. On top of that, he's out of options, giving him a better chance of breaking camp on the 25-man roster. 

Bullpen coach Mel Stottlemyre said he believes Delgado could get the job done. "He can be a valuable piece in that bullpen, knowing that there might be some guys that are going to get protected," Stottlemyre said. "The fact that he can pitch in some different roles — he can give you some length, he can come in and strike a guy out. I saw this guy go through the middle of lineups on some good ballclubs and make the hitters look bad. It's there."

The 25-year-old Delgado posted a 4.87 ERA over 77 2/3 innings last season.


Nationals sign Tony Gwynn Jr. to a minor-league deal
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) The Nationals have signed outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. to a minor-league deal, the team announced. 

Gwynn will be invited to major-league camp with the deal. The 32-year-old hit .152 over 105 at-bats with the Phillies last season. 


Nationals' Matt Purke hoping to get on a mound soon
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) Nationals pitcher Matt Purke is hoping to throw off a mound in a few weeks, according to MLB.com.

Purke had Tommy John surgery last May, and has struggled with injuries since being selected in the third round of the 2011 draft. Purke was actually released by the club during the offseason, but came back on a minor-league deal. 

Purke said he was frustrated by the injuries, but understands he has to take it all in stride. "It's just something you have to take in stride, keep moving forward," he explained. "I'm ready to keep progressing the best I can and really get myself out there and pitch and perform. When my number is called, I'll be able to help when I can."

Purke is currently in the middle of a throwing program. He's been able to long toss, and hopes to throw off a mound in a few weeks. The team is still unsure when Purke will be ready for game action.


Twins' Danny Santana learning to play multiple positions
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) Danny Santana came to the Twins in 2007 playing primarily shortstop. Now, Santana is playing in the outfield and learning how to transition to a new position on the field.

"I didn't know how to play the outfield and I needed a lot of work," he said to MLB.com. "It wasn't hard, because I have the ability to play many positions. But the hard part was being in center field and throwing to the bases. At shortstop, you throw from different angles. In the outfield, you need to be on top to throw."

Santana hit .319 with 40 RBI and 70 runs scored in 405 plate appearances in 2014.

"There's a lot of people here who believed in Danny Santana's future for a long time. We were able to get a glimpse of that last year," manager Paul Molitor said. "I have a lot of confidence in that kid. He's going about his business very professionally. He's really a good listener and applier. Some guys listen well and have trouble taking it out there. He's pretty good at taking information and putting it into play."


Padres' Cameron Maybin to hit leadoff in first spring game
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) Padres outfielder Cameron Maybin will hit leadoff in the team's first spring game, according to MLB.com.

Manager Bud Black basically confirmed the news, though he wouldn't make it official as he prefers to let the player know before the media. Maybin is the forgotten man in the team's outfield heading into camp. While he's proven he can play center field, the club is expected to go with Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton when the regular season starts. 

Maybin, 27, hit .235/.290/.331 over 251 at-bats last season. 


Giants experimenting with Norichika Aoki in the leadoff spot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/2/2015) The Giants are experimenting with using outfielder Norichika Aoki in the leadoff spot, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Aoki will hit leadoff on Tuesday with Angel Pagan sidelined. While Pagan is expected to claim the role once the regular season begins, manager Bruce Bochy said he would consider using Aoki in the leadoff role occasionally. When that happens, Pagan would hit in the third spot in the order. 

Aoki, 33, hit .285/.349/.360 over 491 at-bats last year. 


 
 
 
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