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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
Report: Padres 'in touch' with Phillies regarding Cole Hamels
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:09 am ET) The Padres are "in touch" with the Phillies in an attempt to land pitcher Cole Hamels, FOX Sports reports.

The Padres have made plenty of upgrades across the roster since general manager A.J. Heller took over, and it's possible they don't have the ammunition to land the Philadelphia ace in a deal. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said last week that he didn't expect Hamels to be traded before the start of the season. Hamels went 9-9 with a 2.46 ERA and 198 strikeouts in 204 2/3 innings in 2014.


Report: Orioles sign Mark Hendrickson to minor-league deal
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) The Orioles have signed Mark Hendrickson to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training, CSNBaltimore.com reports.

Hendrickson, who last pitched in the majors in 2011, spent 2014 with York of the independent Atlantic League, posting a 1.54 ERA and 34:11 K:BB ratio in 52 2/3 innings over 55 appearances.


Rangers' Matt Harrison expects to open season on 60-day DL
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) Rangers pitcher Matt Harrison said Saturday that he expects to open the season on the 60-day disabled list as he continues to recover from spinal fusion surgery, the Dallas Morning News reports.

"My job is to just get as healthy as I can and get myself right so I don’t have something happen like it did last year when I tried to come back," Harrison said. "I’m just going to focus on that and get ready to contribute whenever it may be."

Harrison is dealing with some stiffness in his right side, which will cause him to throw from a distance of 90 feet for a second consecutive week rather than progress to 105 feet. He hopes that he'll get his hips to rotate more and loosen up with more stretching and more throws from the 90-foot distance.


Report: Rays sign Ronald Belisario to minor-league deal
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) The Rays have signed pitcher Ronald Belisario to a minor-league deal with an invitiation to spring training, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Belisaro made 62 appearances with the White Sox in 2014, posting a 4-8 record, 5.56 ERA and 47:18 K:BB ratio in 66 1/3 innings. He'll compete for a bullpen spot during the spring.


Dodgers SP Zack Greinke hasn't decided whether to opt out
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke said Saturday that he's yet to decide whether to opt out of his contract at the end of next season but added, "There's not really better options anywhere besides here," the Los Angeles Times reports.

Greinke is set to make $23 million in 2015, and he's due another $71 million over the following three seasons if he remains under his current contract. The Dodgers said earlier this offseason that they wouldn't discuss a contract extension with the pitcher during the winter.

Greinke went 17-8 with a 2.71 ERA and 207:43 K:BB ratio in 202 1/3 innings in 2014.


Orioles pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez hoping to bounce back in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) Orioles pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez can't wait to get on the field and get past the 2014 season.

"I can’t wait," Jimenez said at Saturday’s FanFest event. "Whatever happened in 2014 is in the past. There's nothing I can do about it now. I can just look forward and now I’m going to do everything in spring training to get myself ready the best I can for the season and help the team."

Jimenez, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal with Baltimore in 2014, went 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA in 125 1/3 innings pitched. 

"It was pretty hard, coming in with a new team and signing a contract like that and not to do what everyone is expecting you to do, it’s hard," Jimenez said. "It’s hard not to be there for the team, but regardless what happened, I fought a lot. I think I was trying to find a way to survive to be there for the team and do whatever I can do the best. We got really far. I didn’t help a lot, but I tried to do whatever I could with whatever I had."


Royals' Alex Gordon plans to take it slow in recovery
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) Royals outfielder Alex Gordon is still recovering from his wrist surgery this offseason and plans to take it slow in his rehab.

"We really don’t have a timetable," Gordon said. "We’re just going to see how it feels. Obviously, it’s spring training. So we don’t want to rush anything. If it feels good, we’ll be aggressive with it. But if it’s not feeling good, we’ll take it slow."

Manager Ned Yost wants to continue to take things slow with Gordon.
"We’ll just take it slow," Yost said. "We’ll see how he feels. We’ll play him one day. Then we’ll give him a day off. Play him another day, five or six innings, then give him a day off. We’ll just see how he’s doing."
Gordon hit .266 in 2014 with 19 home runs and 74 RBI.

Angels, Garrett Richards settle on $3.2 million for 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) The Angels and pitcher Garrett Richards have agreed to a contract for 2015 for $3.2 million, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Richards was asking for $3.8 million while the Angels offered $2.4 million. Richards posted a 13-4 record in 2014 with a 2.61 ERA and 164 strikeouts for Los Angeles.


Orioles' Manny Machado expects to be ready for spring training
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) Orioles third baseman Manny Machado is progressing through his rehab and says he's "ready to roll" for the upcoming season.

"I have a lot of time to get ready. That is the key: having a regular offseason," Machado said Saturday. "Was doing my rehab in Sarasota and then went to Miami to do my regular weightlifting and get ready for the season. Been exciting. Looking forward to spring training."

Machado has taken part in baseball activities for the past few weeks since having surgery on Aug. 27 after tearing a ligament in his knee.

"It will be awesome," he said of the prospect of having a normal spring. "I'm dying to get back on the field. Spring training is key for a lot of players to get your at-bats and your reps. I think some take it for granted but it's a very big key for success for the year."

Machado hit .278 in 2014 with 12 home runs and 32 RBI for Baltimore.


Bud Norris remains without update for contract extension
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) Orioles pitcher Bud Norris said Saturday nothing has changed between he and the organization for a new contract.

"I haven't heard anything of that," Norris said. "I don't see a reason why I'd want to leave, but that's out of my control."

Norris and the Orioles are preparing for arbitration, when Norris filed for $10.25 million and Baltimore offered $7.5 million. He went 15-8 with a 3.65 ERA and 139:52 K:BB ratio in 165 1/3 innings over 28 starts in 2014.


 
 
 
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