Ivan Nova - Ivan Nova took on the Fightin' Showalters on Monday and allowed five earned runs on seven hits. He struck out four and walked three. Nova has missed a bunch more bats this season, improving his whiff rate from 5.33 in 2011 to 8.37. He's also increased his strikeout percentage by 8%. However, missing more bats hasn't helped Nova's ERA, which sits at 5.44 after last night's start. The problem is that Nova is yielding far too many HRs (1.88 HR rate) and is dealing with an incredibly high .380 BABIP. Considering his line drive rate (19%), Nova is getting pretty unlucky on his balls in play. As for the HRs, throughout his minor league career, and during his first full major league season, Nova never struggled with the long ball, so I expect him to experience positive regression in the coming starts. Assuming that this HR and BABIP marks settle, and he can maintain his current whiff rate, Nova should regain value in deeper fantasy leagues.
Jason Hammel - I was one year late in calling the Jason Hammel breakout season, which doesn't do me any good now since I don't own in him in any fantasy leagues this season. Prior to 2011, I wrote how Hammel, who owned a 4.81 ERA in 2010, was a prime candidate to breakout thanks to a solid 7.14 strikeout rate, 2.38 walk rate and 0.91 HR rate which translated to a 3.66 xFIP. However, that breakout didn't happen as Hammel struggled en route to posting a 4.65 xFIP and 4.76 ERA in 2011. This season, the right hander has made huge strides despite a tough outing against the Yankees on Monday. He gave up four earned runs and struck out three in just five innings of work. Perhaps most importantly, Hammel came out of the start feeling OK. He had been skipped during this past weekend due to a sore right knee. Prior to Monday, Hammel owned an 8.84 strikeout rate, 2.09 ERA and 2.76 xFIP in his first six outings. He's managed to lower his LD rate to just 13% while improving his GB rate to 61%. He's also averaging 93.5 mph on his fastball, which is a career high, and throwing his slider 6% more often. If you take out his dreadful 2011 season, Hammel had posted two very solid campaigns in 2009 and 2010, making me believe he has a chance to be a decent contributor to fantasy teams for the remainder of the season.
Jon Lester - Jon Lester took on the Mariners on Monday and tossed a complete game while whiffing six en route to his second win of the season. Lester hasn't missed nearly as many bats in 2012 as evidenced by his 6.00 strikeout rate. He was walking nearly four batters per game until yesterday's outing when he walked none. Lester's also been unlucky with a strand rate of just 68%. Interestingly, Lester's LD rate has jumped by 5%, but his BABIP has remained in the .280s, which indicates he may be getting lucky that more balls in play haven't fallen for hits. For what's it worth, the southpaw has changed the way he approaches opposing batters by throwing his fastball nearly 10% more often than last season while cutting back on his slider by about 10%. His changeup is also 2 mph faster than in 2011, which makes that pitch just 6 mph slower than Lester's average fastball. That's not a big enough difference to throw off a batter's timing. However, based on his track record, I expect Lester to start striking out more batters and pitching more like he did yesterday. He remains a solid No. 2/3 starter in most league formats.
Brandon Morrow - Entering Monday's start against the Rays, Brandon Morrow had pitched like Bizarro Brandon Morrow. Through his first 47 innings, Morrow's strikeout rate was under 8.00 (compared to 10.00+ marks the past two seasons), his walk rate was under 3.00 and he had an ERA of just 2.27 (after recording three straight seasons with a 4.00+ ERA (between 2009-2011). On Monday, Morrow tossed five innings, struck out seven and allowed one earned run, but got the loss thanks to five unearned runs scoring in the 5th inning. Part of Morrow's success to date has been thanks to a high strand rate of 77% and a low .221 BABIP. However, he's also improved his GB rate by 8%, while lowering his LD rate to just 13% - which helps explain the drop in his BABIP. The right hander has been working in more changeups (up 5% compared to 2011) at the expense of using his slider, which may be affecting his whiff rates and contact types. Interestingly, Morrow's 3.88 xFIP is in line with his 2011 mark, indicating that, despite the change in peripheral stats, Morrow's basically providing the same value to the Blue Jays as he has the past couple seasons - despite the ERA differences. For fantasy owners, most would probably take fewer strikeouts if Morrow can continue to post a strong ERA.
Mark Teixeira - Mark Teixeira is a player I stayed away from this year because of some concerning trends in his numbers. As teams have implemented a shift on the Yankees' first baseman, we've seen his BA drop the past three seasons entering 2012. His BABIP marks have also fallen in those years as he's struggled to hit the ball the other way and beat the shift. The days of Tex being a .280 hitter are long gone and he's going to be much closer to a .240-.250 for the remainder of his career. On Monday, Teixeira slammed his fifth HR of the season and finished 2-for-4 with 2 RBI. His walk rate has dropped by about 5% compared to 2011, although he's also cut his whiff rate by 5% too. Most concerning is that Teixeira's ISO is down to just .165. He's still a good bet for 30 HRs and 90-100 RBI, but Teixeira hasn't shown anything so far this year to make me think he'll regain the numbers of his prime.
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