Brandon League RP (SEA) - League pitched a scoreless ninth inning yesterday and is now 7-7 in save opportunities with a 2.45 ERA. I, for one, am very skeptically of League continuing this success. For starters, League has never been real adept at keeping the ball in the ballpark as a result of his career HR/FB% of 15.8%; he is yet to give up a homer this season, despite a FB% of 40%, well over his career average of 20.8%. Secondly, League's BABIP of .229 is well below his career mark of .280. His ERA and WHIP will surely take a hit when that normalizes, especially considering League's woeful K/9 of 4.91. That low of a K rate is not typical of a closer, even the low end ones, and given League's current batters' chase rates (24.7%) and swinging strike percentage (5.4%), it could stay that low.
Billy Butler 1B (KC) - Butler hit his third homer of the season last night; it was his first since April 5th. I've written about Butler's power a lot as the real mystery behind the 25 YO is when/if he'll develop above average pop for a 1B. I was skeptical in the offseason that Butler would take too much of a step forward, but surprisingly Butler's early season lack of power does not have me confirming my suspicions. Why? Well, a combination of more line drives and fly balls out of Butler has resulted in 10 point decrease in his GB%, which is a really good sign for more homers. Plus, Butler's BB% has is increasing for the third straight season: 6.9/8.6/10.2/16.4. The higher walk rate is driven by the fact that Butler is only chasing pitches a career best 20.6% of the time. With Butler's BB rate indicating that he is waiting for pitches to drive, and his GB% resulting in the ball being in the air a lot more I expect to see Butler's HR totals rise in the near future. I think he sets a career high in homers this year, which means more than 21 dingers for Butler owners.
Rick Porcello SP (DET) - I wrote prior to the season that Porcello had some upside as scouting reports indicated he had the ability to miss more bats, but that I was passing on him until I actually saw it for myself. Well, on the heels of a 7 K performance last night, Porcello finished April with a career best 6.98 K/9, supported by a swinging strike percentage of 9.7, up 3 percentage points from his career mark. Meanwhile, Porcello has not sacrificed any control (2.10 BB/9) or ground balls (51 GB%) in upping his K rate. As a result I'm a buyer, and now's the time to go after Porcello. His current 4.25 ERA is sure to drop soon once his BABIP of .351 normalizes; FIP and xFIP ERA's put Porcello at 3.54 and 3.34 respectively.
Adrian Gonzalez 1B (BOS) - Gonzalez averaged 36 homers the past 3 seasons despite playing in MLB's worst homerun park (Petco) with virtually no lineup protection. As a result, one would expect those homerun totals to rise as Gonzalez moved to Fenway Park, a MUCH friendlier hitting environment, and a Boston lineup that doesn't allow him to be pitched around nearly as often. Still, Gonzalez hit just 1 homer in his first month as a Red Sock. Cause for concern? No, not really. Gonzalez will still see plenty of balls leave the yard once his criminally low 3.2 HR/FB% normalizes. Considering Gonzalez's age (28), only slight tail off in EYE from his career mark and his hitting environment, there's no reason we should not expect that HR/FB% to return to its levels of the past 3 seasons: 20.7/22.2/16.4. I'm still confident in a 30+ homer season for Gonzalez and wouldn't be surprised by 35+ either.
James Shields SP (TB) - James Shields turned in his third straight monster start yesterday, holding the Angels to just 1 ER over 8 IP while striking out 12 and allowing just 1 walk and 6 hits. Unfortunately, he walked away with a no decision. While Shields' 2.14 ERA surely will not last once his "luck" factors normalize (BABIP, LOB% and HR/FB%), his early season run is not a fluke either. His FIP sits at 2.84 and xFIP at 3.15 thanks to a sparkling 4.33 K/BB ratio. While Shields struggled last season, he still posted a very solid 3.67 K/BB ratio, and he has posted an xFIP under 4 every year of his career.