Chad Billingsley (SP - LAD): Billingsley just kept on rolling on Sunday tossing 7 more shutout innings against the Braves. He's now allowed 1 ER or less in five of his last six starts and pushed his ERA from 4.30 to 3.44 during the tremendous run. In the past, Billingsley has been a guy that left fantasy owners and baseball analysts wanting more. He consistently posted strong K Rates and solid GB Rates, but his inability to consistently pound the strike zone made him an unreliable option who ended up giving back some of his good strikeout value with middling WHIP production. Things appeared to have hit a bottom last year when Billingsley's BB Rate spiked over 4.0 BB/9 and his K/9 fell to a career worst 7.28 K/9. After a rough start this year (4.30 ERA, 1.40 WHIP in 1st half), Billingsley has become a strike-throwing machine in the 2nd half and the strong results have followed. Billingsley walked just 2 over 7 innings on Sunday giving him a spectacular 27:8 K:BB Ratio in 41 2/3 innings since the all star break. The 1.72 BB/9 is the number that jumps out given Billingsley's shaky history with command issues, but the 5.83 K/9 is also something to keep an eye on. Billingsley's recent run has certainly been driven by the improved command, but a sub -.250 BABIP during the stretch is also skewing things a bit. If Billingsley can keep the BB's down his contributions in WHIP will make up for any of the deterioration in the K Rate. Looking ahead Billingsley will get consecutive home starts against MIA and ARZ, which provide favorable matchups owners can take advantage of and continue to ride the hot streak.
Domonic Brown (OF - PHI): Ahh what one day can do when we're dealing with small sample sizes. Dominic Brown entered play on Sunday struggling to the tune of .238/.324/.286 in his first 70 or so PA's since his promotion but emerged with a promising .269/.355/.328 line after a 3-4 performance that included 4 RBI's. Brown has shown really good plate patience (26% chase rate) and contact skills (88.4%) at the major league level so far, but he hasn't shown any semblance of pop. The 2b on Sunday was just his 4th extra base hit in 75 PA's and since Brown broke out in 2010 with a .327/.391/.589 line at AA and AAA, he's posted just a .414 Slugging % at AAA last year and .432 Slugging % at AAA this year. The Phillies have messed around a bit with Brown's swing since his major league debut in 2010 involved plenty of strikeouts and while he's corrected the contact issues it appears to have come at a meaningful cost to his power. In addition to the power drop, Brown has stopped running, picking up just 16 SB's combined over the last two years. While his 1.00 EYE in his first 75 PA's at the big league level is encouraging and along with the 19% LD Rate suggests he should be able to contribute in the batting average category some of the glimmer off Brown's prospect stardom has waned. It's hard to see where a potential 20-20 season fits in given Brown's last two years let alone some of the 30-30 potential many drooled about. While he's an interesting add for deep mixed leagues, I'm not sure he's a difference maker in traditional 10 and 12 team formats.
Ryan Vogelsong (SP - SF): Vogelsong's "ability" to out-perform his FIP and xFIP by maintaining low BABIPs over the last few years have been so confounding to me that it had become a running joke with Lou Blasi and I during the course of this season. It's rather fitting that as we've transitioned to Football coverage on the SiriusXM show that Vogelsong's performance has started to unravel, ensuring I can't claim victory on the national airwaves. After getting pounded by the Nationals earlier in the week Vogelsong allowed 3 ER's in 3+ innings giving up 8 hits and 1 walk while striking out 7. Vogelsong's ERA remained below 3 (2.85) despite some continued regression in his BABIP (.800 on the outing, .273 on the year). Pitching in big ballparks certainly has been a primary factor in Vogelsong's ERA being well below his xFIP as Vogelsong's FB rate has been consistently lower than the league average. That appears to be a matter of good fit with Vogelsong's skills and park, but the .260-.280 BABIP doesn't make much sense to me given Vogelsong's LD Rates have been above league average during most of these two years. He's still an effective mid-rotation fantasy starter as the ballpark helps inflate his value, but the ratios should regress closer to a mid 3's ERA, mid 1.20's WHIP over time.
Bryce Harper (OF - WAS): Harper's rookie season has slowed considerably as his OPS in July was just .619 and it was just .571 before Sunday's strong performance (2-4 with a 3B and a HR). Harper's biggest issue is his approach, which started out quite strong but has faded considerably. He's chased 34% of pitches outside the strike zone and struggles to make consistent contact (11.7% swinging strike rate). If you contrast the approach to Mike Trout (28% chase rate, 6.6% swinging strike rate), you can quickly see why I was sooo much more bullish on Trout than Harper for this season. Harper's still an exceptional talent who will put up MVP type seasons in his prime, but the difference between 19 and 20 is pretty significant on the development curve and it shows with Trout's performance this year. Going forward Harper looks like an adequate back-end OF option in mixed formats of 10 and 12 teams, but not an every week starter. He needs to be platooned against LHP (.225/.293/.387) and will best be deployed against RH strike throwers. An elite talent who will one day challenge Trout in overall value his approach and fantasy value currently is way behind.
Aaron Hill (2B - ARZ): Kudos to some of our analysts, specifically Mike Leone, who were pushing the Aaron Hill bandwagon in the preseason because along with Jason Kipnis and Jose Altuve there has been a plethora of late round 2B bargains this year. Hill launched his 16th and 17th HR of the season on Sunday while also swiping his 9th bag in a 3-5 effort that included 3 more runs and 2 more RBI's. Hill has been a true five-category producer this season as he's finally avoided some of the BABIP pitfalls that plagued him the last two years and continued to show a renewed appreciation for the running game. Looking back on Hill's previous two years it's easy to see why some of our analysts were so high on the bounce-back potential. Hill's 2010 season was ruined by an unusual .196 BABIP and last year his ISO took a step backwards in the AL (before rebounding upon his mid-season arrival in the NL). If you believed in the ISO he posted in his short time with the DBacks and believed that the BABIP would act a bit more normally, it was an easy call to see Hill as a potential Top 10 2B. Thankfully he's delivered on it and shown little reason to believe he won't finish the season as a .290-80-20-70-10 type player.
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