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By the Numbers: Getting into the swing

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Many Fantasy owners have doubts about players like Alfonso Soriano, Khris Davis and Jonathan Schoop because of their lack of plate discipline. The same goes for pitchers with control issues, like Shelby Miller, A.J. Burnett and Jarred Cosart. Strikeout-to-walk ratios can tell us a lot about how well a hitter or pitcher navigates the strike zone, but we can learn even more about their value by digging deeper.

This column will focus on the next level of plate discipline metrics, as I will focus on the swing rate data for four pitchers and four hitters. Knowing, for example, that Matt Carpenter is taking more pitches or that Nathan Eovaldi is inducing swings far more often tells us something about the changes in performance both players have experienced this season. In addition to looking at the frequency of swings, it can also be useful to see which players are pitching or swinging outside of the strike zone with greater (or lesser) frequency.

I'll use the plate discipline data from FanGraphs.com to tell some stories about the following eight players that might surprise you. They might also lead you to make a deal, as several of these players present good sell-high or buy-low opportunities.

Note: All 2014 data are for games played through Tuesday, May 27.

Jered Weaver, SP, Angels: Ever since his big strikeout season (9.3 K/9) in 2010, Weaver has relied on low walk rates and high popup rates in order to deliver a low WHIP. He's still getting the popups, but his walk rate has inched up to 2.7 BB/9. That, along with a 62 percent strikes thrown rate, doesn't paint a picture of a hurler with major control issues, but it's concerning that Weaver is inducing swings outside the strike zone (O-Swing) on only 24.5 percent of his pitches, down from 32.6 percent last season. That gives Weaver the sixth-lowest rate among qualifying starters. His walk rate would be higher if not for the fact that he is throwing more pitches in the strike zone. Should Weaver revert to the lower rate of pitches in the zone from the previous three seasons, he could see his BB/9 ratio and WHIP rise to levels that could endanger his Fantasy value.

Dallas Keuchel, SP, Astros: While Weaver could be on the decline due to less deception on pitches out of the zone, Keuchel has been feasting on more swings and misses on what should have been balls. Keuchel's 35.6 percent O-Swing rate is the sixth-highest in the majors, and the 59.8 percent contact rate on those pitches is the 16th-lowest. It's a good thing that Keuchel has been so deceptive, because only Francisco Liriano has thrown a higher percentage of his pitches outside the strike zone. Keuchel gets a large share of his whiffs on his slider, and he's been getting far more movement on it than most pitchers have. As Keuchel's slider goes, so goes Keuchel, and given that it's been a good swing-and-miss pitch for him for nearly a full year (going back to mid-June 2013), owners can have confidence that he can succeed despite a low Zone percentage.

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Nathan Eovaldi, SP, Marlins: There is a legitimate reason why Eovaldi's strikeout rate has grown this season, but the bad news for his owners is the correction it has undergone in recent weeks is no fluke. Eovaldi has emerged as one of the majors' best pitchers for inducing swings. In fact, his 51.8 percent swing rate is second only to Phil Hughes' (56.7 percent). Though Eovaldi has hit triple digits with his fastball this season, he gets a lot of swings, in part, because he pitches in the zone so frequently, leading the majors with a 58.2 Zone percentage. For a hard thrower, Eovaldi doesn't get many swings and misses, as he has compiled a 9.6 percent whiff rate. Instead of thinking of Eovaldi as the next great strikeout pitcher, he should be viewed as Hughes with more velocity and fewer park effect issues. That still makes him a valuable player to own, but if you can convince another owner to pay for Eovaldi as the strikeout-per-inning pitcher he was through his first seven starts this year, you should trade him.

R.A. Dickey, SP, Blue Jays: After Dickey exhibited poor command through his first five starts, like many owners, I grew distrustful of him yet again. And once again, he is proving doubters like me wrong, as he has posted a 2.52 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 3.0 BB/9 over his last six starts. With a 25.8 percent O-Swing rate, hitters aren't chasing after Dickey's errant pitches, but he's maintaining a decent strikeout rate and lowering his walk rate by getting whiffs in the zone. Only Michael Wacha, Yordano Ventura, Julio Teheran and Tyson Ross have been harder to hit on pitches thrown as strikes, and it probably hasn't hurt that Dickey is throwing his knuckler harder than he did in his earlier starts and compared to this time a year ago. Owners in 28 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com are currently benching Dickey, so now is a good time to buy low on him, before he extends his hot streak even further.

Ian Desmond, SS, Nationals: Selectivity has never been Desmond's strong suit, but he had gotten away with it in the past because he had been decent at making contact, even on pitches out of the zone. Last season, Desmond's contact rate started to deteriorate, declining on pitches in the zone. This year, he owns a woeful 48.0 percent contact rate on pitches outside the zone, which is the fifth-lowest rate in the majors. With nine home runs through 51 games, no one can question Desmond's power, but an increased strikeout rate is endangering his batting average, on-base percentage and stolen base and run totals. Unless Desmond can reverse the trend, he will wind up being a bust with an ADP of 74.

Justin Morneau, 1B, Rockies: Morneau is in the midst of a 4 for 23 slump, but he continues to be good at avoiding strikeouts, racking up only four Ks over that eight-game span. Playing home games at Coors Field, where he boasts a .262 Isolated Power, has helped Morneau to get off to a good start this season, but so has his improved contact rate on pitches outside the strike zone. Morneau has chased pitches at a 39.9 percent rate, which is the eighth-highest rate in the majors and typical of his high marks from the last two seasons. He's making that aggressiveness pay off more than in past seasons, increasing his O-Contact rate from 69.7 to 75.8 percent. The days of Morneau drawing walks at a high rate are likely gone, but improved contact could allow him to finish as a top 15 first baseman.

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Tigers: Kinsler appears to be on his way to his best season in at least three years, as he is hitting .322 with an outside chance for a 20-20 season and 110 runs. He has long been able to make contact on pitches outside of the zone, and this season, Kinsler has capitalized on that skill, increasing his chase rate from 23.9 to 29.9 percent. The flipside of that trend is that Kinsler has only nine walks in 216 plate appearances. Kinsler is managing to keep his batting average and a .352 on-base percentage afloat by hitting .321 on ground balls, which is 80 points higher than the major league norm and 90 points higher than his career mark. Kinsler should still provide enough in the way of power, speed and a low strikeout rate to offer value, but with his batting average and OBP due to fall dramatically, he's a great sell-high target.

Matt Carpenter, 2B, Cardinals: What made Carpenter such a pleasant surprise a year ago was his robust walk-to-strikeout ratio and doubles power. He has been even more finicky at the plate this season, but he has reached a point of diminishing returns. Carpenter has taken an already-low 22.8 percent O-Swing rate and lowered it to 18.8 percent, but he is also taking more called strikes. The latter trend has led Carpenter's strikeout per at-bat rate to rise from 15.7 to 20.7 percent. As a result, Carpenter has lost points off his batting average and OBP, and he's hit just 10 doubles to date. Carpenter still has excellent contact skills, so if only he would swing a little more often, he could rediscover last season's form.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al at @almelccbs .

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Player News
Boras says Marlins keeping Ozuna in minors to delay arbitration
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:44 pm ET) Scott Boras, who is the agent for center fielder Marcell Ozuna, said the Marlins are leaving his client in the minors to delay his arbitration eligibility, according to the Miami Herald. The Marlins have denied their decision is financially-driven.

Ozuna would be eligible for arbitration after this season, if the Marlins bring him back to the majors soon. WINZ reports the cutoff date as Aug. 8, but Boras said the date “is volatile. We’re in that area now where it’s a question.”

“The manager needs a middle of the order bat, the same bat they had for two years that was highly productive and they are restraining him in the minor leagues due to a service time issue,” Boras said. “Ozuna is a proven major-leaguer, certainly deserving of being in the majors with the Marlins. I don’t think anyone would look at the talent with the Marlins and suggest he’s not one of the top 25 players in that organization."

Ozuna has hit .320 with a .587 slugging percentage, .949 OPS, four home runs, eight doubles, nine RBI, 14 runs, four walks and 12 strikeouts in 20 games since his demotion to Triple-A New Orleans in early July.


Brewers pick up journeyman RP Preston Guilmet
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:41 pm ET) The Brewers have announced that they have claimed right-handed reliever Preston Guilmet off waivers from the Dodgers.

Guilmet, who has been with three different teams this season, has pitched in three games and compiled a 5.06 ERA.


Report: SP Dan Haren traded from Marlins to Cubs
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:37 pm ET) Veteran right-handed starter Dan Haren is headed from the Marlins to the Cubs, a source has told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Details of the deal have yet to be revealed.

The 34-year-old Haren has had a strong season with a 7-7 record and 3.42 ERA. He has been particularly effective lately with four quality starts in his last five outings. But he has not gone past 6 1/3 innings in any of his last nine starts.


Padres scratch Ian Kennedy; Odrisamer Despaigne to start Friday
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:34 pm ET) Padres starting pitcher Ian Kennedy was scratched from his start Friday against the Marlins, the team announced. Kennedy left the team to be with his wife, who is giving birth to the couple's fourth child.

The Padres announced Odrisamer Despaigne will start in Kennedy's absence.


RP Mark Lowe dealt from Mariners to Blue Jays
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:25 pm ET) Standout reliever Mark Lowe has been traded from the Mariners to the Blue Jays for prospects, CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman has reported.

Lowe has been lights-out in 2015, easily his best season. He has compiled a 1.00 ERA in 34 appearances with 47 strikeouts in 36 innings.


Mets give chance to RP Tim Stauffer
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:12 pm ET) The Mets have signed veteran right-hander Tim Stauffer, who had been released by Minnesota in June, per ESPN.

Stauffer, who was most recently pitching for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters, compiled a 6.60 ERA with the Twins in 13 relief appearances. He allowed 24 hits and seven walks in just 15 innings.


Brewers recall pitcher Tyler Thornburg from Triple-A
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:53 pm ET) The Brewers recalled pitcher Tyler Thornburg from Triple-A Colorado Springs on Friday to take the roster spot of reliever Jonathan Broxton, who was traded to St. Louis. This is the second time Thornburg is on the major-league roster in 2015.

Thornburg started the year in the Brewers bullpen before he joined the rotation at Colorado Springs in late April. He went 2-7 with a 5.28 ERA in 17 starts for Colorado Springs.


Orioles designate pitcher Bud Norris for assignment
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:48 pm ET) Orioles pitcher Bud Norris was designated for assignment Friday to clear a spot on the 25- and 40-man rosters for outfielder Gerardo Parra, who was acquired in a trade with the Brewers.

The 30-year-old right-hander began the season in the rotation before being moved to the bullpen in early July. He went 2-7 with a 6.79 ERA in 11 starts and went 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA in seven relief appearances.


Blue Jays 2B Devon Travis (shoulder) on DL again
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:32 pm ET) The Blue Jays have placed second baseman Devon Travis on the disabled list with a shoulder injury that has prevented him from playing the last two games, per Sportsnet.

The 24-year-old Travis, who was sidelined for more than a month earlier in the year, has been limited to 217 at-bats. His slash line rests at .304/.361/.498.


Cardinals trade minor-league OF Malik Collymore to Brewers
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:29 pm ET) The Brewers traded reliever Jonathan Broxton to the Cardinals on Friday in exchange for minor-league outfielder Malik Collymore.

The 20-year-old Collymore was a 10th-round draft pick in 2015. He has logged 96 games in his career -- all in the Rookie League. He has a career .286/.360/.429/.789 slash line.

Collymore moved from second base to left field this season.


 
 
 
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