Alex Rodriguez (3B - NYY): A-Rod took another 0-4 on Sunday and is now down to .270/.368/.399 on the season. The average and on-base percentage aren't particularly of concern for Rodriguez, but the .399 slugging % is eye-opening if not shocking. At 36, going on 37, it's expected to see some slippage in A-Rod's power numbers. Last year his Slugging % dropped below .500 for the first time in 14 years as he finished at .461, but seeing it below .400? That seems like too much. Rodriguez has had trouble getting the ball in the air this year as his 25.9% FB Rate would be a career low by a wide margin (previous 37.2% FB Rate, last yr). While the GB Rate has been in steep decline in recent years (a typical sign of aging) his 22% LD Rate is 8 percentage points above the mark he posted last season. It's likely Rodriguez will experience some regression in his FB Rate over the next few months and when that happens the Slugging % will be on the rise. The whole package is one that still screams age-related decline, but his early season power outage has been over-stated. He'll likely finish somewhere around .270/.365/.445, which even if he can escape the season without injury (missed at least 24 games each of last 4 seasons) will likely result in a decline from last season's pace.
Max Scherzer (SP - DET): Max Scherzer is maddening. Despite improving his K% to a phenomenal 24.7% thanks to a swinging strike rate that has risen above 11%, Scherzer entered Sunday's start with a 6.26 ERA and 1.73 WHIP. A .403 BABIP (22% LD Rate allowed) coupled with deterioration in his command (3.89 BB/9) had made Scherzer a highly flammable starting option. Despite the struggles with command Scherzer entered Sunday with a 3.79 xFIP which is in-line with the past three years (3.70, 3.68, 3.82) and suggested his 6.26 ERA was way over-stated. Those who stuck with Scherzer through the messy start were rewarded with perhaps the best start of his professional career on Sunday. Scherzer struck out 15 while allowing just 4 hits, 1 BB, and 2 ER's (both solo HR's) in his 7 innings of work on Sunday. The Pirates were an ideal match for Scherzer's swing and miss-stuff, but there's reason to believe this is the beginning of some improved production. Scherzer's xFIP is now 3.31 and with some better luck on FB's staying in the yard and batted balls finding gloves, Scherzer should be able to work his ERA back down to his usual 3.75-4.00 ERA. While start-to-start will likely be volatile, the overall package should be palatable for fantasy owners. Stick with Scherzer even through the difficult outings and the whole package will likely be worth it by year end. He'll get the Twins in a favorable outing next time out.
Mike Napoli (C - TEX): Seven weeks into the 2012 season and Mike Napoli's 2011 season is starting to feel like an outlier. Napoli's .244/.333/.457 line looks remarkably similar to the .251/.346/.485 career line he had prior to last season. Napoli's ISO and BB Rate have both come back down to his career levels and his K Rate has jumped back up to over 30%. Digging in on some of the plate discipline indicators it's hard to see why Napoli's K Rate has expanded so dramatically. He's held onto some of the improvements he made last year in cutting down the swinging strike rate (10.5%, career 11.6%) and his chase rate is right along with his career levels (24.4%, career 23.9%). Pitchers are attacking him more (49.1% of pitches in the strike zone, career 46.5%) than they have in the past which is part of the reason for the increased K Rate and decreased BB Rate, but I think there's some room for improvement based on the stronger contact rates. There's also some additional room for growth in his ISO, but it's starting to look like Napoli's 2011 was an aberration and his 2008-2010 performance is a more reasonable expectation going forward.
Mike Trout (OF - LAA): I can't help myself. Trout is one of the most exciting position player prospects I've ever watched. He has so many tools and so many ways he can impact a game that I can't help but feed into and at times drive the hype machine. Those who follow me on twitter (@DrewDinkmeyer) know my infatuation with the 20 year old CF and on Sunday all of his immense talents were on display. Trout went 3-4 with a HR, 2B, 2 BB's, and 2 SB's raising his 2012 line to .355/.420/.605. In just 20 games Trout has already compiled 15 R, 4 HR, 11 RBI, and 6 SB's, putting him on pace for an absurd .355-109-29-80-43 over a 145 game season. Certainly it's hard to see how Trout can maintain this pace given he's posting a .426 BABIP and a .250 ISO, but many of the indicators suggest Trout is an elite player. His sub-6.5% swinging strike rate and 20.6% chase rate show the elite plate skills. His 24.5% LD Rate demonstrates his ability to consistently square up balls as does the elevated ISO. It's easy to say Trout isn't going to hold this pace all season, but it's not as easy to project him as a Top 15 OF from here on out; and that's exactly what I'm going to do. Everyone believes Trout will be an elite player and fantasy star some day, but I think we're already there.
Jason Kipnis (2B - CLE): As I was doing some research for the Sirius show on Sunday morning, Jason Kipnis' name kept coming up. I was doing work on assessing when growth in indicators become reliable and Kipnis' improvements in his K Rate and his swinging strike rate stood out. Looking back at Kipnis' minor league career (K Rates between 14-18%) make his growth look even more legitimate. That improvement in contact rates should allow Kipnis to post a more competitive batting average than his current .257 suggests. A .273 BABIP has held things down despite a solid 21.8% LD Rate. While posting similar ISO's and K/BB Rates, Kipnis was able to post a .297/.378/.486 minor league line. That expectation may be a bit beyond what Kipnis can produce at the major league level but I think a .280/.355/.465 is completely within reason. Kipnis has been able to produce Top 5 2B value even with some of the bad luck on balls in play early on, giving me reason to think he can hold Top 5 2B value all season long. On pace for a .260-97-22-90-22 season, Kipnis looks pretty legitimate to me.
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