Brandon League (RP-SEA)- League blew his third save of the season and earned the loss on Thursday against the Indians after allowing two runs on two hits and three walks with one strikeout. He now has a 3.12 ERA in 17.1 innings pitched, but a 4.81 xFIP indicates that League will regress even further. His strikeout rate has dropped to 5.19 K/9, his lowest since 2005. Coming into Thursday, League's 7.1 percent swinging strike rate was his lowest since 2007. A walk rate of 5.17 BB/9 also spells trouble, but I expect that to regress as well considering his 61.6 percent first pitch strike rate. A 12 percent drop in his ground ball rate (57.1 percent in 2011 and 44.2 percent in 2012) might be the most telling statistic, and owners can expect a year more akin to 2010 than last season.
Jeff Franceour (RF-KC)- Franceour went hitless in four at-bats yesterday and owners saw his slash line drop to .241/.296/.340. He has only one home run and he has yet to steal a base in 152 plate appearances this season. Franceour's decline in power and batting average can be attributed to a large increase in his ground ball rate. His 52.6 percent rate is a career high, and a 14 percent increase from his numbers last season. He has seemed to make an adjustment in terms of making contact, his 8.5 percent swinging strike rate and 13.2 percent strikeout rate are career low's, but it has come at the price of his power numbers. His 2.9 percent HR/FB ratio is well below his rate of 10.5 percent from last season, and his 9.8 percent career ratio. To make things worse, Franceour's 22 stole base season from a year ago seems to be a one-year aberration. Owners should give him a few more weeks, but a contingency plan should be in place.
CJ Wilson (SP-LAA)- Wilson lost his fourth game of the season on Thursday against the White Sox. He lasted only 3.2 innings while allowing four runs (one earned) on four hits and six walks. He did strike out three, and ultimately saw his ERA drop to 3.35. Wilson's 2012 performance looks a lot 2011 except for an increased walk rate (4.41 BB/9). That number was heavily influenced by his rough start today, and his first pitch strike percentage (60.1 percent entering Thursday) indicates that he will lower that rate in upcoming starts. Wilson's velocity, ground ball rate, HR/FB ratio, chase rate and swinging strike rate are almost identical to last season. Look for Wilson to finish the season with an ERA similar to what he has at this moment even if he does improve his walk rate. His .259 BABIP is just as likely to regress as his current walk rate.
Phil Hughes (SP-NYY)- Hughes was charged with his fifth loss of the season on Wednesday as the Blue Jays earned a 4-1 victory over the Yankees. He allowed two runs on seven hits (one home run) and two walks while striking out five in 5.1 innings of work. The home run ball has mostly victimized Hughes this season, allowing ten in 41.1 innings pitched. Despite having strong peripherals (8.49 K/9 and 2.40 BB/9), Hughes won't be able to be a reliable fantasy option because of his fly ball rate. He came into the game with a 54 percent rate (a career high), and highest among qualified starting pitchers. Pitching at Yankee Stadium will only hurt Hughes, and he will certainly allow 35 or more home runs this season even if his HR/FB ratio regresses. He is definitely a must sit when pitching at home.
Justin Morneau (1B-MIN)- Morneau went 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBI in his second game back since returning from the disabled list this week. The home run was his fifth of the season, and he improved his slash line to .241/.315/.494 in 92 plate appearances. He has already surpassed his home run total from last season, and a .253 ISO would be the second best rate of his career. The improved power numbers are important for owners, because his batting average should improve considering his .255 BABIP is extremely low for a hitter with a 22.2 percent line drive rate. The 12.2 percent swinging strike rate is his worst since his rookie season, which should keep him from regaining hitting better than .270. If he is able to stay healthy for the rest of the season (and that's a big if), there is no doubt he can surpass the 25 home run plateau.
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