James McDonald SP (PIT) - James McDonald continued his torrid 1st half with a 10 K performance against the Giants. He walked none and allowed just 1 ER off of 4 hits. I'm more apt to believe in McDonald's breakout year than another pitcher with his track record because there's clearly a change in approach here, not just better results. According to FanGraphs McDonald's best pitch last year (rating as 1.89 runs above average per 100 pitches) was his slider. He had previously not thrown a slider. Someone must have alerted McDonald to this because he has increased his slider usage from 5.1% of the time in 2011 to 18.8% of the time this season. The pitch has not lost its effectiveness (1.86 runs above average per 100 pitches). So, McDonald is throwing his most effective pitch from last season three times as much, and the reduced usage among his other pitches seems to have increased their effectiveness (all rate as career bests in terms of runs above average per 100 pitches). Now, it's time for the pessimistic part of this blurb. McDonald is currently walking 7.7% of batters faced but has a career mark of 9.8%. Given that McDonald's first strike%, zone % and chase rate are all in line with his career marks I am skeptical that the improvement in control can be sustained. Also, McDonald has been a bit fortunate. I am giving him a little bit of a pass in LOB% and HR/FB% as his above league average marks in those categories may actually be somewhat skill related versus luck related, but his current .240 BABIP (.290 career mark) is simply not sustainable. Put it all together and I think McDonald suffers a little bit of regression in BB% and BABIP over the second half which obviously will increase his ratios. However, his change in approach makes me believe the first half is not a fluke so he should still be a really solid SP the rest of the way, one I'm targeting to have an ERA around 3.50 and WHIP around 1.25-1.30.
Brian McCann C (ATL) - McCann homered for the second straight game last night, giving him 12 on the season. What owners are disappointed about here though is the batting average. McCann entered play last night hitting just .231 (career .282 hitter). What gives? Well, with a batting EYE of .65 that is right in line with last season and his career, I think we can call McCann's current singles average of .190 unlucky. McCann's previous 3 year singles average is .242. If McCann had that singles average this year it would have resulted in 10 extra hits leaving him with a .271 BA (.270 mark last year). In other words there is nothing wrong here. Expect a .270 BA or more over the second half, and obviously the extra hits will also result in a boost in RS and RBI's as well.
Marco Estrada SP (MIL) - Estrada makes for a nice start today in daily leagues. He has some really gaudy ratios (9.75 K/9 and 1.69 BB/9) but has been derailed by the long ball (2.06 HR/9). His proneness to giving up homers will be a problem all season long, but hopefully with a weak hitting Astros team on the docket today (22nd in HR, 24th in OPS, most struck out team) Estrada will be able to avoid the long ball problems and have his ratios shine.
Tyler Clippard RP (WAS) - Clippard converted his 14th save of the season last night and also lowered his ERA to an outstanding 1.73 mark with the scoreless inning. I wouldn't worry too much about Clippard's current ERA being 2 runs lower than his xFIP (3.80 before last night's appearance). An elite 29.5 K% and solid 2.73 K/BB ratio make him a quality closer. Also, Clippard seems to be able to maintain a low BABIP. Normally a pitcher with a .193 BABIP I would be calling for a lot of regression, but I can't bring myself to do that with Clippard when A-Hitters are making such poor contact off of him (7.8 LD% is ridiculous) and B-He posted, somewhat remarkably, .197 BABIPs in 2 of the previous 3 seasons. Clippard's career BABIP is .236. So, even with a slight uptick in BABIP and giving up a homer here and there (0 HR/FB% obviously not sustainable, career 8.4 mark) Clippard should remain a very good closer with a ROS ERA likely around 2.50.
Dillon Gee SP (NYM) - Gee lowered his ERA to 4.10 after tossing 8 innings of 1 run ball yesterday against the Cubs. Gee's ERA should continue to move down as peripherally speaking he has actually been really good, posting above league average stats in the 3 major skill rates: K% (21.4%), BB% (6.7%) and GB% (51.5%). Gee entered the game with an xFIP of 3.41 that was almost a full run lower than his actual ERA as Gee's LOB% (68%, career mark of 71.3% which is nearer league average as well) and HR/FB% (14.5%, career mark of 11.1%, league average around 10%) have both been a bit unlucky. I think Gee posts a 2nd half ERA around 3.75.