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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
Dodgers' Corey Seager goes 2 for 4, drives in two in MLB debut
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(2:00 am ET) Dodgers rookie Corey Seager had an impressive big-league debut on Thursday. The young infielder went 2 for 4 four with a double, two RBI and two runs scored in the 10-7 loss to the Padres.

Since 1914, Seager is just one of two Dodgers rookies to have at least two hits, two RBI and a double in his Major League debut. Russell Martin was the other.

Seager struck out in his first big-league at-bat, but he shook that off for what was a very fine debut. 


Padres RP Joaquin Benoit answers call to get save on Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:51 am ET) Padres reliever Joaquin Benoit worked a perfect ninth inning to seal the 10-7 win over the Dodgers on Thursday. Benoit picked up his second save of the season, needing just 13 pitches to retire the side in order.


Padres' Jedd Gyorko belts go-ahead home run in win Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:49 am ET) Padres infielder Jedd Gyorko provided the biggest hit of the night in the 10-7 win over the Dodgers on Thursday. Gyorko, who went 2 for 4 on the night, blasted a two-run home run in the eighth inning to turn a 7-6 deficit into an 8-7 lead. 

The home run was Gyorko's 11th of the season, and he is now batting .316 with three homers and nine RBI over his last 10 games. 


Padres' Yangervis Solarte busts out of slump with four-hit night
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:45 am ET) Padres utility man Yangervis Solarte had quite a night at the plate on Thursday. Batting from the lead-off spot in the order, Solarte went 4 for 5 with two doubles, a home run, two RBI and three runs scored.

Solarte saved his biggest hits for late in the game. In the seventh inning, he crushed a pitch to deep left field for his 12th homer of the season--a solo shot which brought the Padres to within a run. 

In the next inning, he laced an RBI-double to pad the Padres' lead to their final score of 10-7 in the victory over the Dodgers. 

Solarte was in need of a big offensive performance, as he entered the game stuck in a 4-for-26 skid.


Padres SP Colin Rea holds his own against Dodgers on Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:40 am ET) Padres rookie starter Colin Rea pitched well on Thursday, but was unable to hang around long enough to get a win against the Dodgers. Rea went five innings, allowing two runs on four hits. He walked two and struck out a career-high six batters. He was handed a no-decision in the 10-7 victory.

Rea was staked to an early 4-0 lead after the second inning, and he was able to keep the Dodgers off the board over the first four frames. But he allowed two runs to score in his final inning of work, though he left with a two-run lead.

The bullpen coughed up that lead, costing Rea a chance for his third big-league win. 


Struggles for Dodgers' Mat Latos continue on Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:35 am ET) Dodgers starter Mat Latos turned in another subpar performance on Thursday against the Padres. Latos allowed four runs on eight hits over four innings.

Latos gave up a pair of runs in each of the first two innings, which continues a troubling trend for the veteran right-hander. Coming into the game, Latos owned a 5.46 ERA over the first three innings of his starts in 2015.

The Dodgers got Latos off the hook in this one, as they were able to rally back to take a lead in the middle innings. They would wind up losing the game 10-7, however.

Latos has now failed to go at least five innings in each of his last four starts, allowing at least four runs in three of those outings. He is still seeking his first win as a member of the Dodgers.


Tigers option RP Guido Knudson to make room for Ferrell, Machado
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:37 am ET) Following Thursday's blowout loss, the Tigers optioned reliever Guido Knudson to Triple-A Toledo

Knudson has not had a good start to his young career, as he owns a 18.00 ERA through four relief appearances since his first call-up to the big leagues back on Aug. 22. He has been scored upon in all four of his outings.

In related moves, the Tigers will recall pitcher Jeff Ferrell and infielder Dixon Machado from Toledo prior to Friday's game. 


Ausmus: Tigers SS Jose Iglesias (finger) could be out for a while
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(12:35 am ET) Brad Ausmus has declared that Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias, who injured his right middle finger on a hit-by-pitch Thursday, will miss "more than a couple days," per MLive.com. It remains to be seen if he's placed on the disabled list.

Iglesias is on a four-game hitting streak and has been steady for Detroit this season in compiling a slash line of .300/.347/.370.


Kendrys Moralres powers Royals to victory with four hits, four RBI
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:25 am ET) In a game where his team scored a more than two touchdowns-worth of runs, Royals designated hitter Kendrys Morales had a terrific night at the plate. Morales went 4 for 5 with a double, four RBI and three runs scored in the 15-7 pounding of the Tigers.

The veteran slugger got the Royals on the board in the first inning, when he ripped a two-run single. He added a two-run double in the seventh and was a key component to the big win on Thursday.

Morales has been rolling lately, batting .441 with three doubles, four homers and 13 RBI over his last nine games.


Tigers' Matt Boyd can't get through the second, gets lit up Thursday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:19 am ET) Tigers starter Matt Boyd turned in another poor outing on Thursday, as he was unable to record an out in the second inning before leaving the game. Boyd allowed six runs on seven hits and two walks, en route to the 15-7 thrashing by the Royals.

Boyd was staked to a 3-0 lead before he even took the mound. But he allowed two runs in the bottom of the first and four more in the second, with the big blow being a three-run homer by Lorezno Cain. The Tigers managed to rally back to tie the game, taking Boyd off the hook.

Boyd, whose ERA rose to 8.36 following Thursday's performance, has allowed at least five runs in three of his six starts with the Tigers since coming over in a trade from the Blue Jays. 


 
 
 
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