RA Dickey (SP-NYM)- Dickey improved his record to 9-1 after shutting out the Nationals for 7.1 innings on Thursday. He allowed just four hits (none for extra bases) and two walks while striking out eight. Dickey now as a 2.44 ERA in 81 innings with a career best 8.55 K/9 and 2.08 BB/9. He won't be able sustain an ERA below 2.50 for the rest of the season, as his 84.2 percent strand rate reflects, but there is no doubt that Dickey has greatly improved. Furthermore, his 2012 BABIP of .274 is right in line with his average over the last two seasons (.277). His swinging strike rate has increased from 7.8 to 11.5 percent this season in addition to a career best 32.2 percent chase rate. A career best 2.99 xFIP indicates that Dickey should be able to produce a season with an ERA below 3.00, and remains a must start in every matchup for owners.
Cole Hamels (SP-PHI)- Hamels lost his third game of the season on Thursday against the Dodgers. He allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits and one walk while striking out six in six innings of work. Hamels now has a 2.93 ERA along with an 8-3 record for the season. Despite earning the loss, Hamels pitched well and had his best velocity of the season. He averaged 92.9 mph with his fastball (averaging 91.2 mph in 2012) while touching 95 mph, and he averaged 90.1 mph with his cutter (87.9 mph for 2012). His strikeout rate of 9.33 K/9 is the second best rate of his career, and look for his 12.8 percent swinging strike rate to improve if he is able to maintain this increased velocity. I do expect Hamels to finish with a higher ERA this season (probably just a tick over 3.00), as he has not been able to sustain his 2011 ground ball rate of 52.1 percent.
Norichika Aoki (OF-MIL)- Aoki went 3-for-5 with two home runs, two RBI and three runs scored to bring the Brewers to a 4-3 victory over the Cubs in ten innings on Thursday. Aoki now has three home runs, and he improved his slash line to .303/.357/.487. With all of the Brewers injuries, Aoki has moved into the starting lineup and Corey Hart has moved to the first base and he can provide a solid batting average for any owners lacking options in the outfield. I think owners can expect a .290/.340/.460 type of line for the season, as his .330 BABIP should regress somewhat over time. He has a 62.7 percent ground ball rate, so I don't expect him to reach double-digit home runs even if he remains a starter for the rest of the season, but he should be able to swipe 10 stolen bases.
Santiago Casilla (RP-SF)- Casilla pitched in his first game since injuring his leg his last Friday. He looked somewhat rusty allowing two walks and a hit in 1.1 innings pitched, but he earned his fifteenth save of the season while lowering his ERA to 1.46. Casilla has shown improved control in 2012 with a career best walk rate of 2.92 BB/9 in 24.2 innings pitched though his first pitch strike percentage (49 percent) is below his career rate. Despite his strong numbers, Sergio Romo has proven to be the better reliever over the course of the last three seasons. Casilla has benefited from above average strand rates (92.7 percent this season), and he has seen his swinging strike rate drop to 7.9 percent (second lowest of his career). He might be able to ride out another strong season with a below average BABIP, but I recommend owners to have Romo as a backup for the rest of the season.
Jed Lowrie (SS-HOU)- Lowrie went 2-for-4 with a double and a home run in the Astros loss to the Cardinals last night. He now has ten home runs for the season (a new career high), and he improved his slash line to .288/.370/.511 in 208 plate appearances. His numbers over the course of the season look very similar to the line he put up in his 191 plate appearances in 2009 with the Red Sox. Lowrie has always been a high OBP type of player with a 10 percent walk rate, and he should be able to sustain his current batting average and OBP considering his 22.5 percent line drive rate. Injuries have always plagued Lowrie's career, and if he can get 500 plate appearances this season he should be able to reach 20 home runs even if his HR/FB ratio of 13.2 percent regresses to his career rate of 7.3 percent. His 50.3 percent fly ball rate is the fourth best in the majors among qualified hitters.