Jeff Niemann (SP-TB)- Niemann earned his second win of the season on Thursday holding the Mariners to three runs over 5.2 innings of work. He allowed seven hits and two walks while striking out five. Niemann, who has an ERA of 4.05 in 26.2 innings pitched, has pitched better than his line has would indicate. His 3.42 FIP and 3.64 xFIP are more representative of his talents, as a 57.7 percent strand rate has hurt his numbers along with improving his strikeout rate 8.44 K/9 for the season. He came into the start with a 8.7 percent swinging strike rate (highest of his career), and his 48 percent ground ball rate is also the highest of his career. He might not get the attention of fantasy owners like the other Rays starters, but I project him finishing the season with a 3.75-3.95 and a solid strikeout rate of 7 K/9.
Albert Pujols (1B-LAA)- Pujols went hitless in three plate appearances on Thursday night, and saw his slash line drop to .202/.245/.279. He has five RBI and zero home runs in 110 plate appearances, and his -0.8 fWAR makes him the least valuable position player in baseball as of now. His plate discipline decline started last season, but it has gotten worse in 2012. His 39.9 percent chase rate is the worst of his career, and his 5.5 percent walk rate is down from his 14.7 percent rate in 2010 and his 13 percent career rate. He has been unlucky with balls in play considering he has a .233 BABIP and 24 percent line drive rate, but checking his spray chart indicates that he just isn't hitting the ball very fall. He has yet to hit a ball to the warning track in his home ballpark, or to the equivalent of the warning track in Anaheim yet this season. Pujols will hit for power once again, but it looks pretty safe to say might not reach the 30 home run plateau in 2012, which would be the first time in his career.
John Danks (SP-CHW)- Danks subpar 2012 season continued on Thursday night against the Indians. He was charged with his fourth loss of the season after allowing seven runs (six earned on) nine hits, two home runs and walk in seven innings of work. He only struck out one and saw his ERA increase to 6.51 for the season. Danks has seen a drop in his velocity this season, as he came into the start with an average fastball of 89.6 mph, but he was up on Thursday. He averaged 91.2 mph with his fastball and his cutter was at 87.9 mph. In addition, his walk rate has taken a hit (3.86 BB/9 is the worst of his career) due to a decrease in his chase rate. His strand rate of 60.6 percent and 14.9 percent HR/FB ratio have hurt his ERA, and should regress over time. However, with the declining walk rate and ground ball rate there is plenty to be concerned about. I wouldn't drop him just yet, but another poor start may change my mind.
Mariano Rivera (RP-NYY)- The biggest news on Thursday took place an hour a before the Yankees game with the Royals, as Rivera hurt his right knee shagging a fly ball during batting practice. Girardi told reporters after the game that it appears that Rivera has a torn ACL. David Robertson seems the most logical choice to fill in for Rivera immediately (0.52 FIP and 1.52 xFIP in 11 innings), despite Rafael Soriano's experience in the role. Robertson should be picked up immediately in all leagues, but Soriano represents some solid insurance in case Girardi wants experience or Robertson falters early on. Whatever comes back on the official timetable is, it appears he will be out for the rest of the season.
Dustin Ackley (2B-SEA)- Ackley went 1-for-4 with a strikeout, a double, a stolen base and a run scored in the Mariners loss to the Rays. He now has .231/.291/.324 slash line to go along with his one home run and two stolen bases. Since the beginning of the month, Ackley has gone one hit in 12 plate appearances and has not gotten off to a strong sophomore campaign. However, things are not as bad as it might seem. His average has been hurt by a below average .271 BABIP despite producing a line drive rate higher than 20 percent. Additionally, he has cut his swinging strike rate to 4.2 percent, which indicates that he is 17 percent strikeout rate should decrease as the season goes on. Our initial home run projection of 19 home runs might be in jeopardy considering his HR/FB ratio of 3.3 percent, but he should finish somewhere close to the .278/.353/.450 line we projected before the season.
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