Brandon Morrow SP (TOR) - Morrow really appears to be putting it all together as he hurled a complete game shutout yesterday in which he struck out 8 and walked just 1. Morrow has been able to find a mix of the high K guy he was the past 2 seasons and the command, pitch to contact guy he tried to be in his first few starts. A lot of Morrow's success has to do with him moving from a 2 pitch guys (fastball/slider) to a 3 pitch guy (fastball/slider/changeup) - something that had to happen in order for him to be more effective with runners on base. This season Morrow is throwing his fastball with the same regularity he has the past 2 years. However, his slider usage has dipped from 26.6% last year to 20.1% this year. Consequently, his changeup usage has gone from 6.2% last year to 13% this year. Just as important as using the changeup more, though, has been the effectiveness of the changeup. In 2010 Morrow also threw his changeup with similar regularity but it scored as -2.10 runs below average per 100 pitches. This season Morrow's changeup has a value of 2.46 runs above average per 100 pitches. Don't expect Morrow to pitch this well all season as his xFIP and FIP are actually right in line with what they were last season when Morrow's ERA was almost 3 full runs higher. Where owners should be encouraged is that the new Morrow appears to be a guy who will be more consistent and a guy who has cured his woes with runners on base by improving and utilizing a 3rd pitch - which will allow him to avoid some of the rotten luck he experienced in 2010 and 2011.
Asdrubal Cabrera SS (CLE) - Asdrubal went 1-3 yesterday and hit his 5th homer of the season (also drew a walk). He currently boasts a line of .316/.408/.515. I am really impressed as Asdrubal is showing his breakout campaign from a year ago was no fluke. His .199 ISO is actually higher than last year's .187. Meanwhile, his EYE has drastically improved from .37 to an elite 1.80. That is simply astounding and can be attributed to better control of the strike zone. Asdrubal is chasing pitches outside of the zone just 23.8% of the time, down from 31.4% last season. His swinging strike rate is also way down from 7.4% to 4.2%. One area where many people (myself included) thought Asdrubal might drop off was his HR/FB%, but currently his 13.5 HR/FB% is directly in line with what he posted last season. The LD rate is also very high, and there's not much to pick apart here. Given the outstanding 2011 year and the amazing indicators early on this year, Asdrubal owners should feel very comfortable.
Billy Butler 1B (KC) - Butler hit his 8th homer of the season yesterday and is easily on pace to surpass his previous career high of 21 in a season. I am tempted to put Butler in the Adam Jones category; a top prospect guy entering his peak power years (26) who has just figured it out. However, a couple of things stick out to me that make me a little bit more reserved. For starters, both Butler's K% and BB% are at career worsts. One of his main power problems previous seasons was an inability to generate loft, and his FB% is also currently a career worst (just 31.3%). Of the fly balls Butler has hit, many of them have been pop ups as evidenced by a career worst infield fly ball % of 12.5% (career mark is 7.6%). Unlike Jones, Butler's xbh% isn't wildly above his career mark (11% versus 9.3%), and it matches the mark he posted in 2009 when he hit 21 homers. Putting all this evidence together, I think Butler's hot start is more a result of a fluky high HR/FB% than a player breaking out. Butler's current HR/FB% is 20%. His career mark is 10.2%. His HR/FB% last season was 10.4%, and his career high prior to this year is 11.9%. Given the age we can expect some improvement in HR/FB% but not this much. We must be aware that Butler's current HR/FB% is probably not sustainable and masking some disappointing peripherals in terms of plate discipline and loft.
Jason Vargas SP (SEA) - Vargas surprisingly gave up just 3 ER in 7 IP in Colorado yesterday as he earned his fifth victory of the season. However, Vargas did not pitch particularly well. His control was good (just 1 walk), but he only struck out one batter and posted just a 29.2 GB%. It's not the first time Vargas has gotten lucky this season as his season ERA of 3.34 is well below his FIP of 4.07. In particular Vargas has been very fortunate on balls in play. His current BABIP of .219 is 58 points below his career mark and is a driving force in current career bests I ERA (3.34) and WHIP (1.02). As Vargas' BABIP normalizes in the near future, look for his ERA and WHIP to rise substantially. He will still make for a good matchups play at home, but he is not the must start guy that his ratios currently suggest.
Alex Cobb SP (TB) - Cobb pitched well in his first Major League start of 2012. He allowed 2 ER over 7 IP while striking out 6 and walking 2. Impressively Cobb generated 12 ground ball outs compared to just 2 fly ball outs. Over his last three years in the minors Cobb has struck out more than a batter an inning each year. This season at AAA a 4.14 ERA doesn't scream confidence as he gets the call to fill in the rotation at the ML level for an injured Jeff Niemann. However, his FIP is 2.84 and more indicative of Cobb's skills. Last year Cobb made 9 starts at the ML level. He was decent posting an FIP of 3.61. Cobb's K and BB skills were meh, but his GB% of 54% was an extremely solid skill. Look for Cobb to be a solid pickup in deeper leagues. I like his high GB% and environment to prevent him from being awful, but I also expect he strikes out more batters than he did last season at the ML level. I am expecting a mid-3's ERA with moderate strikeout numbers and a WHIP around 1.3.