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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
Mike Olt hits fourth homer Tuesday
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:19 am ET) Cubs third baseman Mike Olt continued his all-or-nothing season Tuesday, clubbing his fourth home run of the season in a 9-2 win over the Diamondbacks.

Olt went 1 for 4 in the game and struck out twice, giving him eight strikeouts in the last four games. Still, he clubbed a three-run shot in the fifth inning to provide what would ultimately be the winning margin in the game.

Olt is hitting just .195, but is providing the kind of power that became his calling card in the minors. Of his eight hits in 16 games, four are home runs and five are for extra bases. He has a .195/.250/.512 line in 41 at-bats. 


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by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:12 am ET) Padres third baseman Chase Headley is showing some signs of life, as he ended a power drought and brought his batting average to the Mendoza line in a 2-1 win over the Brewers Tuesday.

Headley slugged his first home run in nine games Tuesday, and it couldn't have come at a more perfect time. He went deep in the 12th inning to provide the winning run in the game, and finished 2 for 4 overall with a  walk and strikeout added.

Headley is hitting just .200 through 18 games with two home runs and seven RBI, but has hit safely in four of five games to raise his average 40 points. 


Ben Revere racks up four hits in win
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:09 am ET) Phillies outfielder Ben Revere did his job Tuesday, reaching base four times in a 3-2 win over the win over the Dodgers.

Revere doesn't walk much in general, so each of his times on base came via a single, as he went 4 for 5 at the top of the order. He scored just once, while adding his sixth stolen base of the season.

Revere has raised his batting average in recent days, and is now hitting exactly .300 through 18 games. He has a .319 on-base percentage and .329 slugging percentage in 70 at-bats as well, with 10 runs scored. 


Dee Gordon passes concussion test
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:06 am ET) Dodgers infielder Dee Gordon took and passed a concussion test after leaving Tuesday's game, as he told the O.C. Register. He suffered a head injury while sliding into third base in the seventh inning, but appears to have avoided the worst-case scenario. His status is likely day to day moving forward. 

Jonathan Papelbon nearly flawless in return from illness
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
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Papelbon has allowed a run in just one of his nine appearances this season, as he has pitched better than his 3.24 ERA might indicate. He has seven strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings, while allowing three walks and seven hits total. 


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by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(1:59 am ET) Dodgers starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu continued his strong pitching Tuesday against the Phillies, though he did allow runs for just the second time in the 3-2 loss.

Ryu settled for a no-decision despite tossing his fourth quality start in six trips to the mound. He allowed just two runs despite scattering nine hits and a pair of walks. Ryu didn't have his best stuff, striking out just three batters for the second straight start, while throwing 68 of 106 pitches for strikes.

Ryu has been mostly stellar this season, and has a 3-1 record and 2.12 ERA in 34 innings of work. His next start is set for Sunday against the Rockies. 


A.J. Burnett remains solid, winless
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(1:53 am ET) Phillies starting pitcher A.J. Burnett had a good day at the mound and the plate Tuesday, but ended up having to settle for a no-decision in a 3-2, extra-innings win.

Burnett limited the Dodgers to just two runs in 6 2/3 innings of work, his third quality start in five trips to the mound. He scattered six hits and a walk in his six-plus innings while striking out five, but remains winless on the season, as the Phillies offense gave him little support in the no-decision.

Burnett is off to a solid start to the season, despite an 0-1 record. He has a 2.73 ERA in five starts, and will look for his first win in his next start, Sunday in Arizona. 


Dee Gordon forced out with head injury
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(1:49 am ET) Dodgers infielder Dee Gordon was forced to leave Tuesday's game against the Phillies late, due to an apparent head injury. He suffered the injury sliding into third base on a steal in the seventh inning, and left after scoring later in the inning.

The extent of Gordon's injury is not yet known, though he will likely go through the league's concussion protocol Tuesday night. He went 2 for 3 before suffering the injury to raise his season average to .369. 


Pedro Figueroa exits game Tuesday with elbow injury
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:47 am ET) Rangers pitcher Pedro Figueroa was removed from Tuesday's game against the A's after suffering an elbow injury, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

Figueroa threw just one pitch in the game, hitting a batter. He immediately began shaking his arm and was removed after a visit from the trainer. The team will likely have him undergo an MRI. Figueroa owns a 4.00 ERA and 3:3 K:BB ratio in nine innings.


LaTroy Hawkins pitches around trouble for save
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(1:45 am ET) Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins didn't have to pitch the full inning for the save Tuesday, but still almost blew his first save before finding his way in a 2-1 win.

Hawkins entered the game with one out already recorded in the ninth, thanks to lefty-specialist Rex Brothers' work against Brandon Belt. Hawkins played with fre by allowing the first two batters faced to reach base via a walk and single, before ending the threat and recording his sixth save in as many tries.

Hawkins has six saves, a 1.23 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in eight appearances this season, though he also only has three strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings. 


 
 
 
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