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By the Numbers: Bridging the rankings gap

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We like it when you visit our rest-of-season rankings page, and we like it even more when you give it a close inspection. When our ordering of players looks askew to you, we often hear about it, and in many cases, that provides an excuse to research the players in question in depth.

When I peruse my own rankings alongside the season-to-date Fantasy point rankings and they're not even close to matching up, sometimes it makes me wonder what I've missed. Sometimes, though, I'm so confident in a player (or so mistrustful, in the case of a low ranking) that I stubbornly stick with my assessment, despite all of the evidence that has piled up over the months. At this point in the season, that's not the best practice, so more and more, I'm questioning these discrepancies as they come up.

I'm focusing on six of the deepest discrepancies here, some of which were suggested by readers via Twitter. It just so happens that I'm willing to defend three of them, while upon closer inspection, the other three need adjustments. So that will keep things nice and symmetrical for this column.

Not only do these analyses delve into why I see certain players as being due for a change in value, but I've enlisted the help of some performance indicators that can help us to understand a player's performance above and beyond what the surface stats tell us. As I have noted in other forums recently, I'm finding the batted ball distance data on BaseballHeatMaps.com especially enlightening, and all references to average distances of hit balls are from that source.

Note: Season-to-date stats are current for games played through Tuesday, Aug. 5.

Rankings that won't change

Chris Davis, 1B, Orioles (My H2H ranking: 9; Actual H2H ranking: 33): Davis is struggling mightily just to put the ball in play lately, as he has struck out 44 times in his last 85 at-bats. No matter how much power a hitter may have, he won't produce much of anything striking out in more than half of his at-bats. If there's an encouraging sign, it's that Davis has maintained his home run pace from the first three months of the season, even though he is striking out nearly 50 percent more often since then. If Davis can only get back to being a bad contact hitter instead of a horrific one, he has a chance to finish out the season as an elite first baseman. Davis is hitting flies almost as far on average as he did last year (305 feet versus 309 feet), which makes his 18.4 percent home run-to-flyball ratio -- as compared to last season's 28.0 percent rate -- look unlucky. His .152 batting average on grounders also looks primed to improve. At full bore, Davis is a top five first baseman, so his current ranking isn't built on the expectation of a return to 2013 levels. The signs of an impending power and batting average rebound are still enough for me to keep him in my top 10.

J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles (My H2H ranking: 14; Actual H2H ranking: 22): We have been waiting all season for Hardy's power to show up, but so far it's stood us up. There is really no clear explanation as to why Hardy has made it through four months of the season with just four homers. He has not become more of a ground ball hitter, and his average flyball distance of 277 feet is right in line with his averages from the last two seasons. The biggest clues lie in Hardy's strikeout per at-bat rate, which has increased from last season's 12 percent to 20 percent, and his spray chart which shows that he isn't pulling the ball quite as often as he had in 2012 and 2013. Those developments are enough for me to keep Hardy out of the top 10, where he has resided the last two years, but not dramatic enough for me to expect that he won't improve his power production going forward.

Andrelton Simmons, SS, Braves (My H2H ranking: 7; Actual H2H ranking: 18): Simmons is still elite at making contact, striking out 39 times in 394 at-bats. He is also hitting flyballs 12 feet farther on average than he did last year and popping up at less than half the rate. So why isn't Simmons hitting for average or power? After dropping his ground ball rate to 43 percent last season, he's cranked it back up to 53 percent, but that's not a convincing explanation. Most of the regression on Simmons' ground ball rate has come over the past month, but his power slump preceded that by two months. Also, even with a high ground ball rate two seasons ago, Simmons showed more power than he has this year. Now that he is hitting near the bottom of the Braves' order again, Simmons might not be able to pick up his RBI pace, but his low batting average, run total and extra-base hit rate seem like a fluke, even with two-thirds of the season elapsed. Given how shallow the shortstop pool is, it still feels premature to drop Simmons in the rankings. Of course, it won't be if his ankle injury turns out to be serious, but for now, I'll keep Simmons at No. 7.

Rankings due for an adjustment

Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies (My H2H ranking: 16; Actual H2H ranking: 80): Gonzalez owes his low ranking mostly to missing 46 games, but the finger, ankle and knee injuries that have kept him out of action may have taken their toll when he has played. Though a total of 10 home runs and 14 doubles in 67 games hasn't put Gonzalez too far off his typical pace, he is still being hurt by a relative lack of power. In each of the last two years, Gonzalez has been among the leaders in average flyball distance, topping 310 feet in both campaigns. This season, Gonzalez is averaging 293 feet per flyball, which could explain why his BABIP on flyballs (.067) and line drives (.596) are well below his norms. So, yes, Gonzalez has lost some power and speed, which is affecting his batting average, run production and stolen base total, and he's still dealing with an ankle injury. Though he has more upside than the outfielders just behind him in the rankings, his health issues are enough to drop him behind Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce, among others. Gonzalez will move down a few spots in my next rankings update.

Michael Brantley, OF, Indians (My H2H ranking: 18; Actual H2H ranking: 3): Brantley has always been a very good contact hitter and mild stolen base threat, but he has added power and run production to the mix this season. His home run production has slowed down since mid-May, as he has clouted just seven homers in his last 66 games. That's a far cry from the 30-plus homer pace Brantley embarked on in the early weeks, but he's made up for the dropoff by clubbing 19 doubles since May 20. Given how rarely Brantley strikes out and how often he hits line drives, that impressive pace seems sustainable. Maybe Brantley's 31 percent line drive rate will decline at least a little, but he could still hit .310 with a dozen doubles over the remainder of the season. That type of production, along with moderate contributions to home runs and steals, leapfrogs him over several outfielders and gives him a slight edge over Hunter Pence and a disappointing Bryce Harper. That makes Brantley a top 10 outfielder going forward.

Gerrit Cole, SP, Pirates (My H2H ranking: 32; Actual H2H ranking: 129): As a rookie, Cole established his potential as a top 40 starting pitcher. He really picked up steam over the season's final month and a half, as he got more than a strikeout per inning and allowed just a single home run over his last eight starts. With an 8.2 K/9 ratio and 9.6 percent swinging strike rate, Cole has been slightly less effective at avoiding contact this season, but those rates are plenty high, especially when he can get grounders on 54 percent of hit balls. On the surface, it looks like Cole should be able to match last season's 3.22 ERA and 1.17 WHIP once he returns from the disabled list, but there are two troubling signs. He has already allowed three more line drive doubles than he did last season (per Baseball-Reference.com), even though he has made five fewer starts. Given that he has allowed the average liner to travel 22 feet farther than he did last year, it may not be a matter of bad luck. Also, with a 26 percent chase rate for pitches out of the strike zone (according to FanGraphs.com), Cole's wilder offerings have been among the least tempting in the majors. That makes him a poor bet to improve on a mediocre 3.0 BB/9 ratio. Even if he is ready to return fully recovered from his lat injury for next week, it's time for me to lower my expectations for Cole. Pitchers outside the top 50 all have some substantial flaws, so Cole won't fall that far in my rankings.

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Player News
Red Sox closer Koji Uehara not utilizing fastball this season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:02 am ET) Red Sox closer Koji Uehara has been throwing an unusual amount of offspeed pitches to start the season. Uehara has thrown fastballs on just 15 percent of his pitches this season, compared to 50 percent over the last three years, according to the Boston Herald.

Manager John Farrell isn't reading too much into it.

"He's going to go with what he feels," Farrell said. "Every 3 mph is about a foot distance in traveling to home plate. So there's a little bit different reaction time. But regardless of velocity there still needs to be the use of (the fastball) just to create separation between his fastball and his split."

Uehara is 1-1 so far this season with a 4.15 ERA and three saves in 4 1/3 innings.


White Sox send reliever Daniel Webb back to Triple-A
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) White Sox reliever Daniel Webb , who was called up Sunday as the 26th man for the team's doubleheader against the Royals, was sent back down to Triple-A Charlotte after the game. 

Webb pitched in 57 games last season for the White Sox but was one of the team's final cuts in spring training. 


Diamondbacks struggling to fill in void at third base
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale knew his team wasn't going to go the entire season without an injury. But the skipper was hoping to avoid the issue he currently has at third base, according to AZCentral.com.

With Jake Lamb on the disabled list with a foot injury, Aaron Hill and Yasmany Tomas have struggled to put it together, combining for a .559 OPS in the last five games.

"Yeah, that's huge," Hale said. "You're going to have injuries all year. There's going to be a multitude of them for every team. If you can't make the adjustment — if guys can't come in and fill the void — then you're going to be in trouble as a club."

Tomas is hitting .286 in 14 at-bats this season while Hill is scuffling along at .156 in 45 at-bats.


Phillies pitcher Chad Billingsley allows seven runs in rehab start
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Phillies pitcher Chad Billingsley allowed seven runs in five innings of work in his third rehab start in Triple-A Lehigh Valley, according to Philly.com.

Billingsley, who is currently on the 15-day DL with an elbow injury, added three strikeouts and two walks in the appearance. He has yet to appear in a major league game since 2013 while dealing with multiple elbow injuries.


Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez still working out of funk
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez has yet to put things together at the plate so far this season. Gonzalez is hitting just .197 with two home runs in 66 at-bats and it's wearing on him a bit, according to the Denver Post.

"I'm not in a good place. I'm still hitting (.197)," he said. "But I'm happy that I'm healthy, and that I'm playing, and that we are winning. I think we are having a good month so far as a team."

Manager Walt Weiss thinks he's really close to seeing Gonzalez get all the pieces together and go on a run.

"I saw real good signs from CarGo, hitting the ball hard the opposite way," Weiss said. "It wasn't just the couple of hits he got. It was the way he got them. Those are things that he had been working on. Then, to get results like that, is always encouraging."

Report: Josh Hamilton trade expected to be completed Monday
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) The trade of outfielder Josh Hamilton from the Angels to the Rangers is expected to be completed Monday, with Hamilton then reporting to Texas' spring training site in Arizona to continue his rehab from offseason surgery, per MLB.com. 

The trade was rumored to have been completed Sunday, but complications arose in finalizing the deal. The Rangers are expected to hold a press conference announcing the trade on Monday. Hamilton is expected to play several games in Triple-A before being called up to the Rangers. 


Dodgers' Jimmy Rollins not concerned with early slump at the plate
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Dodgers shortstop Jimmy Rollins isn't worrying just yet about his struggles at the plate, according to the Orange County Register.

"Well, some people like to panic. That has never been my MO," he said. "I have, what, 50, 60 at-bats, I'm not sure. So if these are my worst 50 at-bats this year – I'm glad they're happening now. (If they are his worst at-bats) it’s going to be a very good year."

Rollins is hitting just .186 in 70 at-bats so far this season. He believes he's still been taking good swings at the plate, just not finding the gaps in the defense.

"It's hard to compute if you just look at numbers," he said. "I'm getting myself in good counts, just not finishing it off. I know it's coming. I'm hitting some off the end, some are getting in just a little bit. But the swing path is right. It's just a click here, a click there.

"The process is good. You have to continue to trust in the process and believe in the process. You get oriented in just results – especially at times like this – then you're trying to make all these technical changes and that's when you go from one to two to 100. So the process is right. Executing it is about fine-tuning."


Angels OF Matt Joyce hopes hit signals end of slump
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) Angels outfielder Matt Joyce saw his eight-game hitless streak come to an end Sunday with an eighth-inning single that ended an 0-for-26 skid. The right fielder, who figures to be a fixture in Los Angeles' lineup with the expected departure of Josh Hamilton, said he hopes the small start will lead to bigger things, according to the Los Angeles Times

"Sometimes it's a tough game," Joyce said. "It seems like you try everything, and you put in so much time and effort and work, it gets to be frustrating. It gets to be hard to swallow and accept it, and hard to keep showing up and grinding it out."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he will continue to stick with Joyce, who is hitting just .140 on the season. 


Mets starter Jonathon Niese struggles vs. Yankees
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(4/26/2015) Mets starter Jonathon Niese was not sharp Sunday in the finale of the Subway Series against the Yankees, lasting just five innings while allowing six runs and eight hits. Niese was betrayed somewhat by his defense, which committed four errors behind him, leading to two unearned runs. 

Niese was spotted a 2-0 first-inning lead, but he quickly gave it back, allowing a first-inning homer to Alex Rodriguez and then giving up four second-inning runs as the Yankees broke the game open. 

"You can't look into it too deeply," Niese said to MLB.com. "It's a loss. It's a tough loss. Obviously we want to win, but we've just got to get through it, learn from it, move on and play better."

Niese, who threw 86 pitches, saw his ERA rise to 2.74 in absorbing his first loss of the season. 

"I just wish I could have a couple pitches back," Niese said. "But I threw them. The results were what they were. I've just got to move on."

Niese will look to get back on track Saturday against the Nationals.


Nationals considering keeping Yunel Escobar at third base
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Nationals manager Matt Williams will have a decision to make when his regular third baseman Anthony Rendon comes back from injury. With Rendon on the shelf, Yunel Escobar has shifted to third and Williams is considering leaving him there even after Rendon returns, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

The team is unsure yet what will happen when Rendon returns, but one theory has Escobar staying at third and Rendon shifting to second base, according to Heyman.

Escobar is hitting .292 with five RBI in 65 at-bats while slotted at third base.


 
 
 
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