1. Jonathan Lucroy(C, MIL) - Lucroy added a pair of hits in four at-bats against the Reds Wednesday to bring his batting average for the season up to .321. Lucroy's Contact rate is just shy of 88 percent this season, which has contributed to his batting average surge. He was a career .260 hitter prior to this season, so his start has been a pleasant surprise. However, his BABIP is very high at .359 and he's only walked four times in his 93 PA, so it's unlikely he'll remain above .300 all season. Then again, he is killing left-handed pitching to the tune of .421, and while that represents a very small sample, he has a career batting average of .304 against southpaws, so it's not at all out of line with his history. Since he splits catching duties with George Kotteras, who doesn't hit lefties well, Lucroy will continue to get all of the starts against southpaws, which bodes well for his continued success. Lucroy turns 26 this June, so we're seeing a batter who is just entering his prime years. Lucroy's value continues to grow and will only continue to do so at a thin position for offensive production.
2. Paul Maholm (SP, CHC) - Maholm stifled the Braves for seven innings Wednesday, scattering three hits while striking out three and walking three to bring his record for the season to 4-2. After a pair of disastrous outings to start the season with an ERA of 13.50, Maholm has settled in over his last four starts and brought it down to 4.05 with a WHIP of 1.08. He hasn't allowed more than one run in his last four starts, but more importantly, he is generating many more ground balls since those first two bad outings. In fact, his Groundball percentage is at 54.7 percent, a career-high. His strikeout rate remains very low at 4.59 K/9, while his walk rate continues to creep up (2.43 BB/9) towards his career rate (2.98 BB/9). Maholm doesn't generate enough strikeouts to make him worthy of mixed league use, but he keeps finding a way to win so he'll have some value in NL-only leagues.
3. Rafael Dolis (RP, CHC) - Dolis notched his third save of the season, pitching a scoreless ninth inning against the Braves Wednesday to preserve a one run lead for Paul Maholm. Since inheriting the closers job from Carlos Marmol last week, Dolis has two saves and a win while pitching four scoreless innings with just one strikeout. Unfortunately, Dolis has just two pitches in his repertoire, a fastball that averages 94-95 mph and a slider he lofts in there at 82 mph. He goes to the fastball more than 88 percent of the time, and from what I've seen it doesn't have all that much movement on it. So far, he's managed to produce grounders 49.1 percent of the time and fly balls less than 20 percent of the time. However, a line drive rate of 31.6 percent indicates that when he gives up hits, batters tend to drive the ball well. Walks were a problem throughout Dolis' five-year minor league career; his career walk rate in the minors was 4.5 BB/9. So far, he has a K:BB ratio of 5:8 in 19.1 innings pitched. That is not a recipe for success for a pitcher closing out games. He's been helped immensely by a BABIP of .193, which isn't likely to continue for long. Overall, Dolis has the look and feel of a bandaid solution to the Cubs closer problem, and odds are that someone else ends up in that role before long. If you've already invested in Dolis, keep a close watch on him and dump him as soon as he fails. If you haven't already grabbed him and are tempted to do so, think twice and look the other way.
4. Tim Hudson (SP, ATL) - Hudson turned in a typical outing against the Cubs Wednesday, tossing seven innings and scattering five hits while giving up just one run and striking out one. Unfortunately, he was outdone by Paul Maholm and didn't get any run support from the Braves offense, which is second in the NL, averaging 5.35 runs per game. The rap on Hudson the last few seasons has been the lack of strikeouts, which limits his Fantasy value. He is one of those pitchers that is better in real baseball than Fantasy baseball because of the lack of strikeouts. He actually had his highest strikeout rate in years in - start this season with 12 strikeouts over his first 11 innings, the lone strikeout he added Wednesday along with seven IP brings his K rate for 2012 down to 6.5 K/9, and you can expect that to sink even further. Aside from last season's spike, Hudson hasn't topped 6.3 K/9 and usually hovers around 5.8 K/9. Hudson is an acceptable NL-only pitcher, but in leagues that use K's he is a bit of a liability.
5. Christian Friedrich (SP, COL) - The Rockies promoted Friedrich from Triple-A Colorado Springs where he was 2-1 in five starts with an ERA of 3.00 and a 0.90 WHIP. He was pitching very well there, as his 27:4 K:BB ratio shows. Oddly enough, he didn't pitch all that well the past two seasons in Double-A, so his hot start this season is somewhat of a surprise. What wasn't surprising was his six innings against the lowly Padres Wednesday. Friedrich struck out seven and walked one, while allowing one run on five hits and notching his first big league win. Overall, he wasn't very efficient; he needed 93 pitches (60 for strikes) to get through his six innings. It's not clear if the Rockies intend to keep him in the show for another start, but if this outing is any indication of where the 24-year-old is at, perhaps they should consider it. For Fantasy purposes, Friedrich just might have some value, given his history of decent control and solid strikeout rates. At the very least, he's worth keeping an eye on.
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