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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
Brewers' Dontrelle Willis making a good impression in camp
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:56 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Dontrelle Willis has made a favorable impression during camp, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

In particular, Willis has impressed manager Ron Roenicke. "He's got a great attitude," Roenicke said. "The things he said are exactly what you want a player to say. He gets it." Willis has also made a strong impression on his new teammates.

Willis, 33, has not pitched in the majors since 2011. He's attempting to make a come back with the Brewers this spring. 


Blue Jays' Michael Saunders: 'No pain' day after surgery
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:57 pm ET) Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders said Saturday that he's feeling no pain one day after undergoing knee surgery, the Toronto Sun reports.

"I feel great," Saunders said. "I couldn’t believe it when I woke up this morning and I was walking around just fine. I walked out of surgery just fine. I actually started doing some exercises today and just got checked out by the doctor and he was pleasantly surprised with what he saw. There’s not as much swelling as he originally thought. Everything is checking out so far and everything is good news. No pain. It feels like I banged my knee on a pole and it’s a tiny bit swollen."

Saunders suffered a torn meniscus while tracking a foul ball Wednesday, tripping over a sprinkler head and hearing a popping sound. After initially being told he could need to have the meniscus repaired, a procedure that carries a recovery time of three-to-five months, Saunders had the torn portion of the meniscus removed, which places him on track to return to action within six weeks. While the outfielder is excited to be back on the field in a much shorter time, he indicated he'll be cautious with his rehab.

"I’m going to miss some spring training but it could be a lot worse," Saunders said. "My ligaments are intact. For me this is the best-case scenario. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I’m ready to go. I’d love to say that I’ll be ready opening day. That’s my goal. But we’re targeting more mid-April, on the safe side. At the end of the day I have to listen to my knee. It’s a long season. I’m going to get this right the first time and not rush back."


Athletics' Doolittle hoping to throw in a week or two
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:51 pm ET) Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle is hoping to be cleared to throw in a week or two, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

Doolittle was able to participate in strength tests on Saturday, and the results were positive. He has not been cleared to throw just yet, but is hoping that will come shortly. Doolittle has been sidelined by a shoulder injury during the start of camp. 

The 28-year-old posted a 2.73 ERA over 62 2/3 innings last year. 


Rays release OF Josh Sale
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:49 pm ET) The Rays have released outfielder Josh Sale, Baseball America reports.

Sale was suspended for use of performance-enhancing drugs in 2013 as well as for conduct detrimental to the team that same season. He received a 50-game suspension last August for a second positive test for a drug of abuse. Before his most recent suspension, he hit .238/.313/.344 with four home runs and 46 RBI in 323 at-bats with high Class A Charlotte.


Yankees' Cashman downplays Bailey's chances of making team
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:31 pm ET) Yankees general manager Brian Cashman downplayed reliever Andrew Bailey's chances of making the 25-man roster, according to the Journal News.

Bailey, 30, is attempting to come back from a shoulder injury. He has not pitched in the majors since 2013 due to the issue. While Bailey has been able to participate in bullpen sessions this spring, Cashman took a more realistic view of the situation. "It’s one of those things where, non-roster situation, it’s a flyer, and the odds are against it," Cashman said. "And it didn’t work out for us last year. But because of who he is, his makeup, his work ethic, all those things, it made it easier to say, 'All right, let's keep trying,'" he added. 

Cashman stressed that while things look good now, the team wants to see how Bailey will respond in game situations. Bailey, meanwhile, has been optimistic during camp, saying he feels like he's finally over his injury.

Bailey posted a 3.77 ERA over 28 2/3 innings back in 2013. 


Hinch: Astros' Torreyes has 'earned every chance to get a look'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:59 pm ET) Astros infielder Ronald Torreyes checks in at about 5-foot-6 and 130 pounds, but his success at avoiding strikeouts has manager A.J. Hinch ready to give him a chance at showing what he can do this spring, the Houston Chronicle reports.

"You like to see these guys play," manager A.J. Hinch said. "He can look to our starting lineup at the top or hitting first or second and he’ll see a guy who is pretty successful who is not the biggest guy in the world. I see a unique size for this level, but the way he’s hit and the way he’s performed he’s earned every chance to get a look."

Torreyes was added to the team's 40-man roster in November after hitting .298/.345/.376 with two home runs, 46 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 460 at-bats with Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2014.

"He doesn’t look like a ballplayer because he’s little like me, but he’s a young bull," Astros second baseman Jose Altuve said. "He hits a lot and plays good defense. Last year they put him on the 40-man roster because he has a good chance to help us. There aren’t many players like him so skinny and little in the big leagues, so when you see him for the first time you say, 'You know he has to be good to be here.' Then when you see him hit you realize the organization has a good reason to give him this opportunity."

Torreyes will look for an opportunity to latch on as a utility player this spring. He's capable of seeing work at second base, shortstop and third base as well as in left field and center field.


Yoga has Twins' Trevor May 'much fresher than ever before'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:43 pm ET) Twins starting pitcher Trevor May has looked to improve flexibility coming into his competition for a rotation spot this spring by turning to yoga to help repeat his delivery, the Star Tribune reports.

"I’ve been doing yoga for 30 or 40 minutes every morning, and I’m much fresher than ever before," May said. "Every scouting report I’ve ever seen on myself says, 'Has trouble repeating his delivery.' Well, yoga is literally repeating moves, keeping your body under your control. I do the warrior pose, which is [the same as] striding and throwing a baseball. It has to help."

May initially struggled in his major-league debut last season, but he hopes the perseverance he showed and his improvements near the end of the season help set him apart in the battle for a rotation spot this spring.

"Obviously I don’t know exactly what the people who are making decisions are thinking, but showing I can be successful after having my face beat up for two months, showing I can work through it, it’s a trait you have to have," May said. "I take pride in the fact that I didn’t give up. I didn’t let it get me down."


Twins 1B Joe Mauer happy with 'normal' offseason
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:34 pm ET) Twins first baseman Joe Mauer was happy to have a "normal" offseason after dealing with concussion-like symptoms the previous year, MLB.com reports.

"I had a very productive offseason," Mauer said Saturday. "The last couple years I had a lot of things to deal with, especially last year with the concussion. I didn't really get a good base heading into the year. I feel great this year and I hope it stays that way."

Mauer believes that his vigorous stretching exercises this offseason will help keep him healthy in 2015.

"You have to pay attention to your body. I'm getting older," Mauer said. "I'm finding out what works and doesn't work. Trying to make adjustments."

Manager Paul Molitor indicated that he's noticed a difference in Mauer this spring.

"I think it means a lot for him," Molitor said. "I think coming back last year after what had happened the previous season, you always have those questions. He's got friends that have gone through it with Corey Koskie and Justin [Morneau]. We all know how validated our concern is over concussion issues. I'm sure there was a little hesitancy there. Like I said when I had a chance to visit with him this winter, he's excited to be back and not have to be concerned about those type of things."

Mauer endured a down offensive performance last season, hitting .277/.361/.371 with just four home runs in 455 at-bats.


Report: Blue Jays sign Dayan Viciedo to minor-league deal
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:27 pm ET) The Blue Jays have signed outfielder Dayan Viciedo to a minor-league deal, FOXSports reports.

The White Sox designated Viciedo for assignment when the team signed Gordon Beckham and released him after he cleared waivers. Multiple teams reportedly had interest in the outfielder, who hit .231/.281/.405 with 21 home runs and 58 RBI in 523 at-bats last season.

The Blue Jays are dealing with an injury to left fielder Michael Saunders, but it was announced Friday that Saunders is only expected to miss up to six weeks after initially being thought to be out until the All-Star break. While Saunders is out, Viciedo could figure into the mix in left field if he makes the team's 25-man roster.


Giants' Madison Bumgarner to take the ball on Tuesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:08 pm ET) Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner will take the ball when the team opens spring games on Tuesday, according to MLB.com.

While Bumgarner will start the game, he's only expected to throw one inning. "I'm looking forward to getting out there, facing some hitters and getting back into competition at game speed, playing baseball," Bumgarner said. "But right now, it's just about making sure you're ready to compete whenever the season starts."

Bumgarner is also expected to start for the team on opening day once the regular season begins. He posted a 2.98 ERA over 217 1/3 innings last year.


 
 
 
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