Corey Kluber (SP - CLE): I noted a few weeks ago on Twitter that I thought Corey Kluber had really turned a corner for the Indians. He seemed to be trusting his breaking ball more against LHB's and was finding a more consistent way to get them out than he ever had in the past. Sure enough Kluber's next outing after I made the call on Twitter was @NYY and he got touched up with a few HR's. Still he managed to post a solid 8:1 K:BB ratio even when getting roughed up, which continued a trend we've seen all season. Kluber has shown legitimate growth in his K Rate and his BB Rate this year and its now to the point that fantasy owners have to take notice. Kluber is striking out over 24% of the batters he's facing and walking under 5%. Here is the list of SP's that currently fit that criteria: Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Adam Wainwright. That is the ENTIRE list. Now Kluber does give up a lot of hard hit balls. He surrenders a LD Rate above 24%, which is in-line with his career rate, and he possesses a career HR/FB Rate (13%) that is a bit elevated above the league average. Even in this great season he's putting together the elevated LD and HR/FB Rates have stayed. As a result it's entirely possible Kluber never lives up to his current 2.95 xFIP, but let's be real; he doesn't have to live up to the 2.95 xFIP to have fantasy value. If he posts a sub-3.75 ERA with a 9.0 K/9, he's a legit starter for fantasy owners. I understand those questioning Kluber because there is little pedigree here. As a minor leaguer he owns a career 4.42 ERA and 1.41 WHIP, but his biggest issue in the minors was poor command and in half his starts this year he's walked 0 batters. In 75% of his starts this year he's walked 1 or less. At some point we have to take the improvement in command as a legitimate improvement and evaluate him as a changed man. He should be owned in all formats and I'm confidently deploying him against MIN this week.
Adam Lind (1B - TOR): I noted back in April that there were some pretty crazy changes going on in Adam Lind's approach that eventually would result in a much different batting average and perhaps more overall fantasy value. I called him a strong buy-low candidate on April 29th for those in deep leagues and if you did pick-up Lind then you've certainly reaped the rewards. He's still tottering on traditional mixed league relevance because of a platoon role that is limiting his counting stats, but in recent weeks he's seen more time against the lefties. On Sunday he drew the start against Derek Holland and held his own in the AB's vs. the lefty singling twice. If Lind can continue to grow his playing time against LHP the counting totals should climb towards a 75+ R/RBI pace which along with a 20 HR pace and an improvement in his plate discipline that makes a .280 batting average very legitimate; he's got the opportunity to be a very nice Adam LaRoche type CI. All of Lind's improvements this year stem from a more disciplined approach at the plate that has a higher percentage of his swings coming at strikes and consequently a higher BB Rate and more hard contact. We've reached stabilizing points in all of the indicators which suggests it merits some predictive value for his rest of season performance. Back in April I called Lind a nice buy-low for deep leaguers and now I think he's a viable long-term asset for those in traditional formats as well. I expect the playing time to pick up against LHP allowing those counting category numbers to build.
Josh Reddick (OF - OAK): Reddick had his first truly big game since returning from the DL as he went 4-5, falling a 2B short of the cycle in the A's 10-2 win over the Mariners. Reddick has demonstrated a really nice EYE since returning from the DL (5 BB, 5 K in 55 AB) and on the season he's actually shown improvement in his BB Rate and his K Rate over last year. The big problem for Reddick is he hasn't carried over the immense power he demonstrated last year when he posted a .221 ISO. The big day on Sunday pushed his ISO up to .129 which is still a far cry from last year. A look at Reddick's batted ball data explains some of the power drop. Reddick is hitting 42.5% of his batted balls as fly balls which is actually DOWN from his career average of 47.5%. Reddick's high FB rate prevents him from contributing much in the batting average category and makes him very dependent on the HR's for fantasy value. When he sees 14% of them leave the yard and he knocks out 30 HR's he has fantasy value, but they fly out closer to his career 10.7% HR/FB Rate, the results are more mediocre. He ends up as a 20-25 HR player with a batting average that hurts and just adequate run/rbi production. Reddick has tried to make up the difference this year by running a bit more and that will help for deep leaguers, but those in traditional mixed leagues need Reddick to become a staple in the middle of the A's lineup to hold value. He hit 7th on Sunday.
Jered Weaver (SP - LAA): Weaver battled some uncharacteristic command issues on Sunday, which coupled with a fly-ball leaving the yard at the wrong time made for a tough day. Weaver walked 4 and surrendered a 3-run HR to Travis Hafner early in the game which left him chasing things up-hill. According to BrooksBaseball Weaver's avg FB velocity for the start was 88.4 mph which is a good sign for Weaver whose average FB velocity this year has sat in the 86 mph range. Weaver also generated an immense 18 swinging strikes on his 103 pitches which continues a trend this year that despite decreased velocity Weaver is generating enough swings and misses to potentially see a jump back up in his K Rate. His current swinging strike rate is in-line with the 2010 season in which he struck out over 25% of the batters he faced. Add in the fact that Weaver is generating a tremendous amount of infield fly-balls and there is actually a lot to like about Weaver's potential to finish strong. Weaver has always been able to out-perform his FIP and xFIP thanks to high infield fly-ball rates and low HR/FB Rates, while his current 4.22 FIP is the worst of his career it's largely due to yesterday's poor outing. I don't think Weaver will challenge a sub-3 ERA as he has the last three years, but I do think the ERA trends to sub-3.50 as he continues to best the FIP/xFIP metrics through high infield fly ball rates and low HR/FB. The question going forward is whether the K Rate rebounds enough to make him a legit #2 fantasy starter. We'll need a bit more data to evaluate, but the early indicators on the swinging strike rate are encouraging. I'd call Weaver a solid buy-low candidate even if I don't consider him a fantasy ace.
Carter Capps (RP - SEA): The Mariners have indicated they're giving Tom Wilhelmsen a slight break from the closer's role given his recent struggles. The Mariners are likely to go by committee but the "closer of the future" tag has been placed on Carter Capps ever since the spring. Capps had his first appearance (in a low pressure situation) since Wilhelmsen's demotion and he "responded" by serving up 2 solo HR's and allowing those 2 ER's in his one inning of work. The outing was indicative of Capps one big weakness which is the long-ball. He's served up 2.17 HR/9 on the year despite posting a 10.86 K/9 and just 2.17 BB/9. While he has big-time velocity (95.3 mph avg FB) his fastball is pretty straight and he really relies on a wipe-out slider to miss bats. His minor league track record indicates there isn't much reason for worry around the HR's and pitching in SAFECO you'd think those issues would be mitigated some. Relievers are almost always dealing in small samples, so the most likely result is that the HR-prone tendencies early on this year will regress over time. From a skills perspective, Capps is pretty clearly the most talented/healthy reliever in the Mariners pen and the biggest threat long-term to Wilhelmsen's role. Wilhelmsen's drop-off this year is a bit confounding given so much of it has come from his K Rate despite seeing a limited drop-off in his swinging strike rate and his chase rate. Time will tell whether Wilhelmsen can resurrect his value and reclaim the closer's role but Capps has multiple outs to procuring the role this year. If Wilhelmsen struggles an opening is created but if he pitches well enough to rebuild his trade value, Capps could see saves as well. He's a fine hand-cuff option for Wilhelmsen owners and a nice speculative target for those chasing saves.