Matt Garza (SP - CHC): In the battle between the Cubs training staff and Matt Garza in diagnosing Garza's elbow it appears the Cubs training staff has won out. Garza was placed on the disabled list on Tuesday and tagged with the "shutdown indefinitely" label. The official diagnosis is a stress reaction which requires rest and then testing of the elbow to see if the pain subsides. The Cubs are confident there isn't any structural damage based on a previous MRI, but if they have any hopes of trading Garza in the offseason teams will want to have seen Garza healthy and on a mound before the end of the year. Typically non-contending teams would play it conservatively with an injured arm, but I think the Cubs and Garza will be motivated to get him on the mound again this year. Looking at Garza's 2012 season, he's maintained the significant improvement in skills he's demonstrated last year but hasn't had any of the results. The most important change Garza made last season was showing the ability to induce more ground balls, posting a 46% GB Rate which was meaningfully higher than his ~40% career average. With more ground balls and a bit of good fortune on his HR/FB Rate, Garza's ERA dipped into the low 3's for the first time in his career. This year he's improved the GB Rate slightly, raising it to 47%, but a reversion in luck on his HR/FB Rate (16.3%, career 9.6%) has left Garza with a career worst 1.30 HR/9 and an ERA (3.91) that looks like he's pitching in the AL East again. With a simple normalization in Garza's HR/FB Rate Garza would have an ERA in the low-to-mid 3's. The one caveat about all these improvements in Garza's GB Rate is the fact it's come via more sliders; a pitch that puts more pressure on the elbow. It could just be coincidence that Garza's endured consecutive seasons with a stint on the disabled list due to elbow issues, but I'm skeptical.
Ben Sheets (SP - ATL): Five starts into Ben Sheets Braves' career and he's yet to post a non-quality effort. Sheets allowed just 1 ER on 7 hits and a BB over 7 1/3 innings while picking up his 4th win in five outings. Sheets somehow got through the outing without striking out a single batter and recorded just four swinging strikes on his 92 pitches. Sheets entered the game with a solid 8.5% swinging strike rate and impressive 23% K%, so we won't make too much of Sheets 0 K outing, but there are additional reasons for concern. Sheets entered play with a 27% LD Rate that somehow has only equated to a .309 BABIP. This trend continued on Monday night as Sheets allowed a 30% LD Rate, yet just a .231 BABIP for the outing. Sheets velocity has been down in his return (90.3 mph vs. career - 92.5 mph) which would explain why his K Rate (6.47 K/9 after Monday's outing) has been pretty modest. Given Sheets has maintained a pretty neutral BABIP despite being extremely hittable and a completely absurd 87.8% LOB%, he looks like a poor bet to not only maintain his performance but looks like a pitcher who may potentially crater. His next two outings will come at home (vs. NYM and vs. LAD) and while he's been extremely successful so far, the 20 base-runners in the last 14 innings has me concerned things are about to fall apart. I'll be reserving Sheets where I can and would strongly entertain trading him if I could find someone who valued him as more than a back-end starter.
Erik Bedard (SP - PIT): Bedard's long been a darling of mine, but I've had a real hard time having any feel for what he's going to do over the last month and a half of the season. Bedard's BB Rate has been consistently rising as the season has worn on which led me to believe his shoulder was going through some normal bouts of fatigue that Bedard seems to endure every year. The narrative seemed to be playing out as evidenced by Bedard's FIP by month - 2.98, 3.91, 3.97, 5.02 and his corresponding ERA's by month - 2.48, 3.91, 6.58, 6.49. But then Bedard goes out and throws a gem on Monday night against the best offensive team in baseball against LHP and I'm once again confused. Bedard shutout the Diamondbacks over 7 innings allowing just 2 hits and zero walks, while striking out 5. It's now the 3rd very strong outing in his last 4 performances and of course sandwiched in was an outing against the hap-less Cubs when he allowed 8 ER's in 4 1/3 IP. Bedard's average FB velocity on Monday night was just 88.4 mph which continues a trend of declining velocity as the season has worn on. With a 4.53 ERA and 1.40 WHIP, Bedard is just a matchups play but his inconsistency is making it difficult to determine when to deploy him. As a result I've just given up on trying to figure out Bedard and left him for the rest of the owners in my 10 and 12-team leagues. With a matchup on deck against the Padres at home, owners of Bedard will have to deploy him, but what you'll get... I honestly can't say I have any idea.
Chris B. Young (OF - ARZ): I'm not sure anyone players 2012 season have been more of a tease than Chris B. Young's year. Young started off the year scorching hot, hitting .410/.500/.897 through his first 40 PA's, and did so through an improved contact rate and vastly improved approach that was resulting in a huge reduction in his K Rate and far more XBH's. The skeptics will point to the sample size and draw the conclusion that it was simply a hot streak, but Young looked like he was ready to put everything together at the age of 28. The hot start was derailed by a shoulder injury that sidelined Young for a month and since he's returned he's hit just .173/.269/.330. When Young initially struggled in his return Lou Blasi and I theorized he may have returned too early and was still swinging through a weak shoulder. We got some confirmation of that when interviewing those who covered the Diamondbacks, but we're almost three months in and there's been no change in the results. Young's K Rate has risen back above 20% and his 2012 peripherals look strikingly similar to his performance in 2010 and 2011, minus some average luck on balls in play. Young's .235 BABIP (career .273 BABIP) is depressing the average by 30-40 points, but even then we're still looking at a .255/.350/.460 type line that would represent little growth and certainly no signs of a breakout. Young's plate discipline numbers this year have suggested there's additional room for growth. His 23% chase rate is right in line with his career average, demonstrating his strong eye, and his 7.1% swinging strike rate is well below his career average - revealing marked improvement in his contact rates. Over time that should translate into a lower K Rate, perhaps into the high teens, but so far it's stayed in the low 20's. Young's inconsistent performance has led the Diamondbacks to platoon him at times and hit him low in the order which has had negative effects on his counting totals, specifically in Runs and SB's where he's been an annual contributor. On the season Young's skills show zero deterioration from his .257-94-27-91-28 line that he posted two years ago and if anything they show some slight improvement, but his inconsistent production and health issues have severely impacted the raw counting totals. While the evidence has mounted that Young isn't breaking out at age 28, I still find reasons for optimism around his performance the rest of the way and frankly can't wait to take a shot on him next year when his ADP sinks despite no erosion in skills (similar to guys like Choo and Rios this year). For now continue to hold and try to pick your spots with Young against LHP heavy schedules (.844 OPS vs. LHP, .674 OPS vs. RHP this year).
Wade Miley (SP - ARZ): Wade Miley's incredible run continued on Monday night as he allowed just 1 unearned run over 6 innings of work against the Pirates. Miley only struck out two but continued to keep the ball on the ground, posting a 48% GB Rate for the game and recording 11 of his 18 outs on the ground in total. Miley couples those strong GB Rates with impeccable command as he went his 19th straight start where he walked 2 batters or less. For the season Miley's 1.70 BB/9 rank in the top 10 of all qualified starters and is the driving factor in his success. Miley's minor league track record (3.69 ERA, 1.35 WHIP) makes his success this year at the big league level (2.85 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) all the more confusing. Miley has benefited from a soft BABIP (.271), but Miley's 3.22 FIP suggests much of the performance has been earned by solid skills. Miley's shown improvement in his K Rate at the major league level and he's become even stingier with the walks. Some of these improvements were noticeable in Miley's AAA numbers this year and (9.3 K/9), but I'm still skeptical the results can hold. Miley's been blessed with a pretty favorable schedule so far and while his 3.22 FIP remains strong his 3.70 xFIP (regresses the HR/FB Rate as well) feels like a number Miley's skills are more deserving of. I've been riding Miley's hot streak in the SiriusXM Hosts League for a few months now and I intend to continue to do so as long as favorable matchups presents themselves. With a matchup at home against a Nationals offense that has been hitting well against LHP of late, I'm likely to reserve Miley later on this week.
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