David Murphy (OF - TEX): Murphy finally took advantage of a matchup with a weak RHP by delivering a 1-4 performance that included a 2-run HR. Murphy is a career .286/.353/.477 hitter against RHP, but this year he's hitting just .167/.231/.347 against righties. Murphy has been expanding his strike zone a touch this year (30% chase rate, career 25.8% chase rate) but his contact rates are in-line and he's actually posting a career best 24% LD Rate. A .216 BABIP (average .312) is really driving down the performance across the board. Murphy's also hitting fewer ground balls than ever before but a lower HR/FB Rate was previously limiting his ISO; after yesterday's HR it's now right back in line. It appears almost all of Murphy's slow start can be boiled down to some unusually poor luck on balls in play. Typically these things appear over small samples and regress over time, but it's certainly been frustrating for Murphy owners as it has lingered into May. All you can do is stay patient.
Josh Willingham (OF - MIN): Josh Willingham went 1-4 with a strikeout on Sunday to raise his 2013 line to .210/.388/.430. Willingham's slow start to the season appears to be just a matter of some mild timing issues. He's still showing elite plate discipline, as evidenced by his 18% BB%. He is showing some mild deterioration in his contact rates, but he's still hitting a ton of fly-balls which his power-dependent fantasy profile requires. The big difference in Willingham's value early in the season has been increased infield fly-ball rates (32.1%, career average 12.8%) which is resulting in a low BABIP and lower than normal HR/FB Rate. Infield fly-balls are the worst type of batted ball but they're also just a small fraction away from hard contact. Given Willingham's extended history of power production, I'm of the belief Willingham is just going through some timing issues to start the season. Once those infield fly-balls start converting into LD's and FB's, the power production will start coming in bursts. Now is an ideal time for power-starved offenses to make a buy-low offer to a Willingham owner in your league.
Vernon Wells (OF - NYY): Wells incredible start to the season continued on Sunday as he went 3-4 with his 9th HR of the season and his 4th SB. He's now up to .295/.343/.530 which would challenge some of his better seasons in his prime. The 34-year old Wells has shown some signs of age-related decline in his peripherals but they've yet to flow through into the performance. Wells is chasing more pitches outside the zone than he ever has AND he's posting a career worst contact rate. He's also posting an 18% infield fly-ball rate which is moderately above his 16.3% career average. It's hard to imagine that this kind of peripheral profile would result in a resurrection in performance, but that's what we've seen so far from Vernon Wells. Who knows how much longer this will last but at some point you figure the poor contact rates will result in more strikeouts and with fewer balls in play the average and overall production will regress. Those who have extracted significant value out of Wells should be looking to cash in. Not only do his peripherals suggest he's due for regression but playing time could become an issue with Curtis Granderson on the way back.
Roberto Hernandez (SP - TB): In a blurb a few weeks back our own Eric Nehs noted Roberto Hernandez's unusual spike in his strikeout rate this year and suggested it may result in an increase in his fantasy value going forward. Hernandez struck out just 4 on Sunday as he allowed 2 ER's on 5 hits and 2 BB's over 6 innings of work. Hernandez didn't have the same swing and miss stuff we've seen early in the season as he generated just 6 swinging strikes on his 95 pitches. The change-up, which has been the swing and miss pitch, was used sparingly on Sunday so it's not a surprise to see just 4 K's in the outing. Hernandez did surrender another HR which actually brought his HR/FB Rate down to 20%. It remains the one big issue in Hernandez's peripherals profile this year which suggests with a normalized HR/FB Rate he could pitch to a sub-3.50 ERA. A sub-3.50 ERA with a 8+ K/9 would not only be fantasy relevant but would be the type of performance you look for out of a #3 starter. As Eric mentioned Hernandez's career issues with HR's might make that a far-fetched target but if the K Rate maintains Hernandez quickly climbs the fantasy depth charts. I think he's worth a speculative add as a back-end of the rotation spot-starter in all formats with upside for more if the K Rate holds.
Scott Kazmir (SP - CLE): Kazmir's comeback trail was all the buzz this spring as he chased a return to the big leagues where he had last pitched a full season in 2010 and last pitched effectively in 2009. By the time Kazmir had exited MLB his velocity was down to 86.5 mph and he was years removed from averaging the 92-93 mph on his FB that tormented hitters. When Kazmir stopped missing bats, his always shaky command coupled with fly-ball tendencies left him very exposed on the mound. Velocity rarely comes back for SP's so his come-back seemed like an extreme long-shot, but something funny happened over the winter and into the spring as Kazmir found his fastball being able to sit back in the 91-92 range. It wasn't all the way back, but it was back enough that he had a chance at making a big league club. He was still two steps away from being fantasy relevant, but winning a spot in the Indians rotation was a big first step. In Kazmir's first few starts he looked a bit like the Kazmir who was working his way out of the league with shaky command, too many fly-balls, and not enough missed bats. He was generating swinging strikes (a good sign) but wasn't finishing off hitters efficiently enough. Fantasy relevance remained a long-shot. Everything changed, however, in his last start on Wednesday. Kazmir started things off in shaky fashion but worked out of an early jam and then started to pile up the strikeouts. He struck out 4 of the first 7 and as he worked into the 2nd inning his FB velocity started touching 94 mph. It got weirder from there. He retired 9 of the next 11 batters faced and added 4 more strkeouts and in the 5th inning he started touching 96 mph with his fastball. Kazmir hadn't touched 96 since 2007-2008, which was the last time he held fantasy value. In those two years, Kazmir posted a 3.48 ERA, 1.33 WHIP with a 10.15 K/9. It's unusual in itself to see velocity come back in a pitcher, but the fact it spiked mid-start is particularly unusual. Can Kazmir continue to build velocity during games and touch 96 while averaging 92-93? If he can, he's got a shot at replicating the 2007-2008 versions. He's already generating a very strong 11.9% swinging strike rate and his xFIP is 3.36. The challenge here is Kazmir operates on such a thin margin for error because of the shaky command and the high fly-ball rate. If he can't miss bats in a way similar to 2007-2008, he's going to be a very shaky fantasy commodity. He was never a positive contributor in WHIP and if he doesn't miss a big number of bats the HR issues will likely be multi-run problems as opposed to solo shots, making him susceptible in ERA as well. His entire fantasy value basically boils down to strikeouts and I believe that is tied significantly to the velocity. So was the sitting 93/touching 96 real or is the Kazmir from the previous games that sat 91-92 and touched 94 the guy we're dealing with? I can't answer that question definitively but I think the velocity will be a guide for the strikeout rate and the K Rate will dictate the fantasy value. His upside in strikeouts warrants a speculative add in most formats, but owners will have to pay close attention to the velocity to help gauge his long-term value. Fortunately his next two starts @PHI, SEA are both teams that struggle against LHP and make for attractive spot-starts regardless. If Kazmir's velocity is back to stay I think he has #3 SP upside with a back-end floor in traditional leagues. If the velocity fades, he's likely got spot-start upside and an "out-of-the-league-again" floor. The velocity will tell the tale.