Phil Humber (SP - CHA): In a day when a number of elite aces were scheduled to throw, Phil Humber stole the show. Humber registered the 21st perfect game in major league history on Saturday against the Mariners. Humber worked efficiently, needing just 95 pitches, while relying heavily on his curveball-slider combo: a trend we noticed in his first start as well. Last year Humber threw sliders and curveballs on 40% of his pitches and for the 2nd straight game that number was up closer to 50% (48 of 95 pitches). It's a welcome change for Humber whose fastball is the only pitch in his arsenal to register negative run values in his career. Humber was able to generate 14 swinging strikes in the outing (14.7%) and 10 of those came on the slider or curveball. This marks the 2nd consecutive start Humber's swinging strike rate was above 13%, a noticeable increase over last year's 9.1% rate. This coupled with the more diverse repertoire brings some optimism regarding Humber's strong start. In addition to improved peripherals, Humber's also throwing harder early in the season. Humber's average fastball velocity yesterday was 91.8 mph which is consistent with his first outing and back in line with his velocity in 2010 when he was pitching out of the pen. After posting a 3.58 FIP last year with slightly weaker peripherals and less velocity, I'm inclined to call Humber a legitimate mid-rotation arm for 12 team leagues. I think he should be owned broadly and used a higher end matchups option. He'll get the Red Sox in his next outing, one that selective owners may want to sit out, but the AL Central will provide plenty of attractive matchups for Humber to exploit.
Austin Jackson (OF - DET): I feel like a perennial hater when it comes to Austin Jackson. Jackson's always been a guy that has flashed plus tools, but been hampered by severe contact issues. Throw in the consistently elevated BABIP (career .371) even with a strong LD Rate (career 21.1%) and it feels like 95+% of the blurbs I've ever written about Jackson are focused on expected regression and selling high. So when Jackson entered yesterday's double-header with a .300/.397/.520 line the sell-high blurb had already begun writing itself. A quick look at Jackson's indicators show some meaningful improvement in Jackson's BB Rate (up to 13%) and some strong power production (.220 ISO) early in the season. At just 25 it's not surprising to see Jackson's power blossom a bit (career .120 ISO) but the early season ISO is being boosted by a 20% HR/FB Rate that is 15 percentage points above his career norm. While the BB Rate has increased, Jackson's core plate discipline indicators haven't shown much improvement. Jackson's still swinging at 26.7% of pitches outside the strike zone (better than league average, but same as last year) and Jackson's contact rate (the number both Schuyler and Mike have been most focused on) has dipped from a career 78.2% rate to just 73.2%. The deeper peripherals suggest that big spike in BB Rate, may be unsustainable. Add that to some of the unsustainable power numbers and a 30% LD Rate/.419 BABIP and I'm once again recommending a sell high opportunity for Jackson owners. A 5th/6th OF in traditional 10-team mixed leagues, I'm not pushing expectations any higher for the 25 year old based on the quick start.
Mark Teixeira (1B - NYA): One of my more controversial preseason positions was the fact that I preferred Mark Teixeira to Prince Fielder this season. While it's hard to be disappointed with either early in the season, Teixeira's indicators early on have me feeling good about the call. Coming into Saturday's contest, Teixeira was posting an unusually low K Rate (10.2%), while recovering some of the great LD skills Teixeira had posted earlier in his career (21.3%). Improved contact rates (91.3%) coupled with a re-discovered line drive stroke are integral components in Teixeira reversing the ugly trend in batting average that has seen him hit .256 and .248 respectively the last two years. The power hadn't been there early in the season (entered with a .133 ISO), but Teixeira delivered that on Saturday launching 2 HR's (one from each side of the plate) and a 2B while racking up 6 RBI's. One of the HR's was even to the opposite field which is consistent with some of the early season batted ball data. So far in 2012, 43% of Teixeira's AB's have ended in balls hit to CF or the opposite field. Compare that to last year where Teixeira had just 20% of his AB's end in balls hit to CF or the opposite field and you'll see some additional reasons for early season optimism on the batting average front. After seeing a step down in production in 2010 and 2011, I think Teixeira enjoys a rebound line back closer to his 2009 performance this year thanks to an improved all-fields approach.
Colby Rasmus (OF - TOR): Since I'm covering for Mike Leone who usually has Sunday's AL report, it's only fair that I touch on one of his favorites Colby Rasmus. Rasmus busted out of an early season slump with a 3-4 effort that included his 2nd and 3rd HR's of the season and 4 RBI's. Rasmus entered the game hitting just .234/.288/.362 but his indicators actually showed some nice improvements. Rasmus has cut down his K Rate from over 22% to just 17.3% thanks to a more aggressive approach at the plate that has him making contact earlier in the counts. Rasmus' swing rate is up over 10 percentage points (from 48% to 58%) and early in the season it hasn't had much impact on Rasmus ability to make hard contact. Rasmus was posting a 28% LD Rate with the more aggressive approach but had only been rewarded with a .263 BABIP. The power was down (.128 ISO), which one could logically conclude is from making more contact outside the zone, but Rasmus' multi-HR game last night will quickly get the ISO back in-line. Typically an increased swing % is something I shy away from, but for Rasmus the ability to stay away from 2-strike counts where he's hit .180/.259/.323 in his career may be a good thing. He deserves to be owned as a 5th/6th OF in mixed leagues with the upside of a #3/#4 OF if the strong power rates he showed in St. Louis return.
Eric Hosmer (1B - KC): Hosmer ended a long hitless drought on Friday night with a single in a 1-4 effort and made it a modest 2-game hitting streak with his 3rd HR of the season in a 1-4 effort on Saturday. Hosmer is still hitting just .179/.270/.375 early in the season, but the indicators look extremely strong. Hosmer has tightened up his plate discipline swinging at just 32% of pitches outside the zone (36% last year) and raising his BB Rate up to 11.9% (just 6% last season). The strong improvement in BB Rate is more consistent with Hosmer's minor league track record and with the HR on Saturday his ISO is right in line with last year. The big difference in Hosmer's early season slump is a .171 BABIP that is about 110 points below his expected BABIP (based on his 16.3% LD Rate). Given the lack of a long track record for Hosmer owners to lean on, he makes for a tremendous buy-low candidate. All the skills are showing the growth we expected, eventually the performance will come too.
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