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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
Royals P Joe Blanton given spot start Saturday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:11 pm ET) Veteran Royals right-hander Joe Blanton is set for a spot start Saturday against Toronto despite his recent move to the bullpen, per MLB.com.

The start was necessitated by shifts in the rotation off the Tuesday doubleheader and the return of Yordano Ventura on Thursday.

Blanton was pounded in his last two appearances, but still owns a respectable ERA of 3.74.


Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon reiterates desire to be traded
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:44 pm ET) Phillies disgruntled closer Jonathan Papelbon has claimed that he would be both surprised and disappointed if he wasn't traded by the July 31 deadline, per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Papelbon has been outspoken in his criticism of the front office for not rebuilding in the offseason and maintaining the core of a club that is on pace to lose 109 games.

"I don't make those decisions," he said. "The front office knows where my heart is and where my mind is. And that's to be with a contending ballclub. The ball is in their court."

Papelbon added, however, that he only wants to be dealt to a team that would maintain his role as a closer.


RP Justin Germano signs with Korean team
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:31 pm ET) Reliever Justin Germano, who opted out of his minor league contract with Seattle last week, has signed with KT Wiz in Korea, per MLB.com.

Germano has pitched in only two major league games over the last three seasons.


Report: Rangers seeking to unload SP Wandy Rodriguez
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:27 pm ET) The Rangers are receiving some feelers in their openness to trade starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez, per Fox Sports, which is claiming he could be gone in the next few weeks.

The team is seeking a trade that would allow them to bring in a top-of-the-line pitcher for its rotation in an attempt to remain in playoff contention.

Rodriguez could fetch a fair price, but his recent performances aren't driving up his value. He has allowed 19 runs in his last 19 1/3 innings pitched and hasn't managed a quality start in his last four outings.

His ERA has soared from 3.03 to 4.23.


Dodgers OF Andre Ethier hits safely in five of last six games
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:11 pm ET) Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier had two hits, including his eighth double, and one RBI during a 10-7 win Monday against the Phillies. He also had one run and one walk.

Ethier has hit safely in five of his last six games. He is batting .471 (8 for 17) with one home run, two doubles, two RBI, four runs, four walks and two strikeouts in that span.


Royals SP Jason Vargas set for simulated game Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:07 pm ET) A simulated game scheduled for Royals rehabbing left-hander Jason Vargas has been pushed back from Tuesday to Wednesday, per Sports Radio 810. He will throw about 60 pitches.

Vargas has been sidelined for a month with a left flexor strain. He won five of seven decisions and posted a 4.10 ERA before going down.


Cardinals LF Randal Grichuk out of lineup for Game 1 Tuesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:42 am ET) After 16 straight starts in left field, slumping Randal Grichuk is out of the lineup for the Cardinals in the first game of a Tuesday doubleheader against the Cubs.

Tommy Pham will slide over from center to play that spot.

Grichuk is batting .050 (1-for-20) over his last six games, though he did slam a two-run double in the ninth inning Monday that could get him going again.


Phillies' Galvis extends streak, ties season high with three RBI
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:38 am ET) Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis homered Monday against the Dodgers to extend his hitting streak to eight games. 

Galvis connected for a two-run homer off Yimi Garcia in the second inning. He added a sac fly in the seventh inning to tie a season high with three RBI. It was the second time he had three RBI.

Galvis is batting .467 (14 for 30) with one double, one home run, six RBI, three runs, three walks, six strikeouts and one stolen base during his eight-game hit streak.


Scuffling Cardinals 3B Matt Carpenter gets afternoon off
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:37 am ET) Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter is catching a break in the first game of the Tuesday doubleheader against the host Cubs. He is out of the lineup as Mark Reynolds will man the position instead.

Carpenter has been in a slump. He is hitless in his last two games and has just seven hits in his last 48 at-bats. His .271 average is at its lowest point since the second game of the season.


Phillies OF Odubel Herrera off to blistering start in July
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:29 am ET) Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera homered for the second time in three games during a 10-7 loss Monday against the Dodgers. He parked his fourth home run in the fourth inning -- a solo homer off Eric Surkamp.

Herrera is off to a great start in July. He has hit safely in his first six starts this month. He is batting .400 (10 for 25) with two home runs, three doubles, five RBI, three runs, two strikeouts and one stolen base in that span.


 
 
 
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