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AL Daily Notes - April 23rd, 2012

Drew Dinkmeyer

AL Quick Pitch: Josh Hamilton continued his assault on the AL with his 7th HR and his 1st SB of the season in a 3-2 win over the Tigers. Drew Smyly pitched well for the Tigers limiting the Rangers to just 1 ER and lowering his ERA to 1.13. We'll dig in on Smyly within the notes this morning and assess whether his hot start is legitimate or not. Adrian Beltre sat out the win for the Rangers and expects the hamstring injury to be a short-term issue but the Rangers are scheduling an MRI for Monday. Fantasy owners should play it safe and get him reserved this week. Francisco Liriano's early-season struggles continued on Sunday with 4 more BB's and 5 ER's in 5 innings. Four starts removed from a tremendous spring, Liriano looks like a drop candidate in traditional formats. We'll evaluate further in the notes. Jeff Niemann was solid but the Rays pen was the story tossing 3 2/3 scoreless innings to lock down the win. Fernando Rodney finished it off once again and while he's been hot to start the season I continue to question his long-term hold on the role. Ricky Romero won the battle of the young LH's in Kansas City as he squared off with Danny Duffy. While Duffy has all the stuff, Romero showed poise and command two things Duffy lacked. We'll examine both further within the notes. Francisco Cordero picked up a shaky save in his first attempt after the Jays placed Sergio Santos on the DL. Cordero qualifies as an emergency saves option for fantasy owners, similar in the mold of an Alfredo Aceves. Speaking of Aceves the Red Sox indicated they'll skip Daniel Bard after getting rained out on Sunday night and temporarily move Bard to the bullpen. What this means for saves in Boston is anyone's guess in the immediate turn, but the Red Sox did stress Bard was scheduled to start on Friday. Albert Pujols stayed homer-less in Anaheim as the Angels faltered late in another loss to the Orioles. Wei-Yen Chen pitched effectively for the Orioles allowing just 1 ER in 6+ innings, but the peripherals tell a shakier story. Dan Haren rebounded from an early season bump in the road, shutting out the Orioles for 7 innings before being stretched by MIke Scioscia in the 8th. The White Sox finished off their sweep of the Mariners behind a 3-4 day from Alex Rios. Rios looks to have bounced back from an off year. We'll check in on him and Shin-Soo Choo, another bounce-back candidate, in the notes this morning. Hector Santiago converted his 4th save with relative ease, relieving some of the pressure from Matt Thornton's sparkling 0.00 ERA early in the season. Thornton and Addison Reed both remain un-scored upon and shut down the Mariners in the 7th and 8th. Justin Masterson's command failed him on Sunday as he walked 6 in just 5 innings of work. Tyson Ross did his best to match him (5 BB's in 6 IP) but kept the damage to a minimum. We'll drill down on Masterson in the notes. The A's announced after the game Jarrod Parker will move into the rotation on Wednesday. We'll assess his outlook in more depth. Also down on the farm Mike Trout left Sunday night's game early. Unfortunately it wasn't for promotion reasons, but Trout was hit by a pitch on the hand and exited. At this point there is no update on his status, but this undoubtedly will delay any chances of an imminent call-up.

Drew Smyly (SP - DET): I have to admit I was pretty skeptical that Drew Smyly, who entered the season with just 9 professional starts above A ball, was ready for the big leagues. Through three starts things look pretty good as Smyly limited the red hot Rangers offense to just 1 ER on 5 hits and 2 BB's over 6 innings. Perhaps more impressive for Smyly he generated 14 swinging strikes on his 100 pitches and recorder 7 punch-outs. Strikeouts haven't been much of a problem for Smyly as he's now struck out at least 4 in all of his outings, continuing the strong K Rate he posted at the minor league levels. The challenges for Smyly have been command and on Sunday he threw 65% of his pitches for strikes, consistently working from ahead against an aggressive Rangers offense. He's now got a 1.13 ERA through his first 3 starts (despite a 1.38 WHIP) and the question is where does he go from here? On the positive side Smyly has generated strong swinging strike rates and has gotten opponents to chase pitches at a rate slightly above league average. His fastball and slider have graded out as above average pitches early on, but a 95.9% LOB% has hidden some of the true talent level. Smyly's 4.15 FIP and 4.35 xFIP look to be more representative estimates of his ERA going forward and coincide more with his 1.38 WHIP than the current 1.13 ERA does. Smyly's a nice young arm the Tigers have control of, but he's not an elite prospect and with limited experience above A ball, there will inevitably be adjustment periods. The first time through the league has been strong, but expect the numbers to regress over time and ultimately that will leave Smyly as more of an AL Only option than a mixed league option. He'll get a stiff test next time out against the Yankees in the Bronx which is an outing that has ERA regression all over it.

Jarrod Parker (SP - OAK): As I alluded to in yesterday's quick pitch the removal of Jarrod Parker from a start early this weekend was foreshadowing for his promotion. The A's made it official on Sunday announcing Parker would enter the rotation on Wednesday for a start at home against the White Sox. Parker's one of the better pitching prospects in the game, perennially ranking in Baseball America's Top 50 overall, as he combines great fb velocity with a power slider that acts as his out pitch. Parker struggled mightily in spring training while he was competing for a rotation spot. He walked 13 batters and struck out 9 in just 11 innings of work, but limited opposing hitters to a .173 average. Since going down to AAA, Parker's shown improved command (2.6 BB/9) while maintaining the strong K rate (9.1 k/9). He's been susceptible to some poor luck on balls in play (.359 BABIP), but has done well to strand runners (85.6% LOB%). Parker certainly has the stuff to succeed at the major league level and his home park should be an added boost, whether his command and his secondary stuff is good enough to post worthwhile fantasy totals remains to be seen. In 10 and 12 team mixed leagues he's a fine upside stash, but I have not been going out of my way to add him. In deep leagues (16 teams or more, AL Only) he's an immediate add based on upside and someone I'd take a wait and see approach on deploying.

Danny Duffy (SP - KC): Duffy was one of the two AL pitchers I wanted to hone in on Sunday afternoon and get a closer look at. Coming into Sunday's outing Duffy had flashed an elite strikeout rate thanks to a phenomenal 12.4% swinging strike rate that was buoyed by improvements in his chase rate (32.4%, up from 26.5%) and his velocity (avg FB - 95.2 mph, up from 93.3 mph). While the improvements in the K's were noticeable Duffy was still struggling with command (3.55 BB/9, 10.6 BB%) and keeping the ball on the ground (29% GB Rate). Watching Duffy on Sunday reinforced that those issues with command are the primary thing holding him back. Once again Duffy's velocity was solid (avg 94.8 mph, topped out at 97) as was his swinging strike rate (10.1%), but Duffy struggled with control throwing just 58% of his pitches for strikes. Working largely from behind Duffy had to throw too many pitches into hitters' counts and the results were predictable (28% LD Rate). I noted to Mike Leone during the game that if you watch Romero and Duffy throw and ignore the results, Duffy looks like the superior option. His Fastball velocity is noticeably stronger and his slider has tremendous tilt. When he gets ahead hitters have little hope, but he simply doesn't get ahead enough yet to capitalize. A tantalizing talent his upside will continue to inspire interest and ownership, but I remain skeptical this is the year everything comes together. In 12 team leagues I think he's got back-end spot starter potential in a division that should yield some favorable matchups (CHA, MIN, CLE), but nagging command issues combined with high FB Rates can make him explosive at any moment. He's more of a watch list guy that a plug-n-play for me, but if owners wanted to risk him this week with a matchup @MIN on the schedule I could see the high reward.

Shin-Soo Choo (OF - CLE): Shin-Soo Choo entered the season along with Carl Crawford as my most heavily targeted draft-day discount. Choo's 2011 season looked like an anomaly amidst a long track record of consistent performance and the struggles could easily be explained away by off-the-field issues (an embarrassing DUI) and injury (multiple hand issues). At 29 going on 30, Choo was still in his prime years and in my opinion an easy candidate to bounce back. Through the early part of the 2012 season Choo has done plenty to reinforce that optimism, but has posted a modest .250/.382/.339 line that looks particularly light on the power. Choo has raised his BB Rate to a career best 14.1% early in the season while maintaining his usual 20% K Rate. The improved BB Rate has come from a modest improvement in his chase rate (down to 22%), but the power is being limited by a career low 30.8% FB Rate. The good news for Choo owners is the lost FB's have converted into LD's early in the season (28%) and not GB's. This suggests the high LD Rate will eventually regress and translate into some more FB's. A 0% HR/FB Rate (career 13.1%, 10.4% last year) is also depressing the ISO early in the season. ISO tends to be one of the later predictive indicators to stabilize so the early season slow start isn't a big concern for me. The more telling signs in my opinion are the strong plate discipline indicators which suggest Choo is back to his old self. Eventually the power should come along. He's currently on pace for an 85 R, 105 RBI, 30 SB pace that owners would be plenty happy with even without his usual HR/AVG production. With the indicators suggesting those will come back into play too, I think Choo is a nice buy-low candidate by those too focused on the HR's and AVG.

Wei-Yin Chen (SP - BAL): For the third straight start Wei-Yin Chen left the games having allowed 2 ER's or less and for the third consecutive start the peripherals showed a bit more weakness. Chen limited the Angels to 1 ER on 5 hits and 3 BB's over 6 1/3 innings while striking out 5. It was the first time he had completed 6 full innings, but Chen was only able to generate a 6.25% swinging strike rate, while relying heavily on a FB Rate (47.5%) that will ultimately leave him susceptible to the HR ball. This is consistent with some of the peripherals early in the season Chen has generated (48.6% FB Rate, just 5.9% HR/FB Rate) that suggest he's getting by more now with deception than skill. As he gets through the league and teams see Chen a 2nd time, I expect some meaningful regression to take place. He'll get OAK the next time out which is a fine time to deploy Chen against a power starved offense that struggles against LHP, just be prepared long-term he's more of an AL Only option than a mixed league one.

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