AL Quick Pitch: Max Scherzer out-dueled John Danks on Sunday as the White Sox continued to spiral downward. Within the notes this morning we'll take a look at some alarming indicators surrounding Scherzer's early season success. We'll also dig a bit deeper on Adam Dunn's abysmal start to the season. James Shields conquered some of the HR demons from last season against the Jays and finished off his 2nd consecutive complete game, this time a shutout. Ricky Romero continued to show growth in his peripherals despite being the hard-luck loser on Sunday. The Jays also made a move after the game, placing Aaron Hill on the disabled list with a hamstring strain. John McDonald will likely get the starts in his place and isn't worth fantasy consideration outside of AL Only leagues where the playing time will matter in the short-term. Freddy Garcia continued his dominant ways with 6 shutout innings against the Orioles. With a 26% LD Rate and .143 BABIP allowed, let's just say "the Chief" has been a bit fortunate early on. Curtis Granderson is adjusting nicely to the 2nd spot in the Yankees lineup and knocked out his 7th HR of the season on Sunday. The 2nd spot will cost him some SB opportunities, but also be a big boost to his Runs scored and his overall counting totals as he gets a lot more PA's. We'll also dig in on Brett Gardner's early season struggles and necessary adjustment in approach to have more success. To no one's surprise (in our quarters), Bruce Chen's hot streak was ended abruptly on Sunday by the Rangers. John Lackey pitched well again in a favorable matchup. He'll still have some fantasy value going forward but you'll have to pick your spots. He's a matchups type. Carl Crawford launched his first home run of the season and appears to be settling in. Brian Fuentes locked down his 6th save on Sunday, preserving Brett Anderson's 2nd win of the season. Fuentes should have another week in the closer's role as Andrew Bailey still has another bullpen session and brief rehab appearance to get in before returning. David Aardsma made his final rehab appearance on Sunday and is expected to be activated this week. I'm not activating he or Brandon League this week. Justin Smoak will return from the bereavement list for the Mariners next game. He's off to a great start this season even if the Mariners cruddy supporting cast is limiting his fantasy value. He's a future star.
Brett Gardner (OF - NYY): I've been getting some questions from friends regarding Gardner's slow start, so I figured I'd tackle it in this space. I was a big proponent of Gardner heading into the season and felt he was a much greater value than Jacoby Ellsbury for fantasy owners. Turns out they've both been terrible. Digging in on Gardner, the peripherals don't speak for much optimism. Gardner's K Rate has spiked to over 28%, while he's walking at just a 7% rate. Since so much of his value is derived from getting on-base, the decrease in his EYE is a legitimate concern. A look at his swing data tells the story of why. Not only is Gardner expanding his zone a bit, causing him to chase more and consequently whiff more. Pitchers are attacking the zone against Gardner more. After throwing just 48% of pitches in the zone last year, pitchers have thrown 54% in the zone against Gardner this year. It appears opposing teams have figured out to make Gardner hit his way on and teams are taking a more aggressive approach in pitching him. Consequently we've seen his first strike % rise to over 67%. Opposing pitchers are taking the free first strike they know they have from the patient Gardner and then making him expand the zone when behind in the count. He'll need to make an adjustment if things are going to improve. I believe Gardner can make that adjustment and have success and with his elite speed I'm continuing to hold. But owners may want to reserve Gardner until they see the change in approach and the change in production.
Adam Dunn (1B - CHA): Much of the focus on Dunn coming into the season was on the transition to US Cellular Field in Chicago and how much it would aid his HR totals. What I always wondered was why the focus wasn't on the severe drop in Dunn's peripherals in his final season in Washington. Last year in Washington Dunn saw his K Rate rise above 35% and perhaps more concerning, saw his walk rate drop down to just below 12%. For his career Dunn had posted a BB Rate above 16% so the drop was meaningful and reflected in his swing data. Dunn's chase rate jumped to over 28% (hadn't been above 22.4% in any previous season) and his overall swinging strike % jumped to above 13%. Early on in the 2011 season we've seen some mild bounce back in a few of the peripherals and further erosion in others. Dunn has cut the chase rate back down to 24% (still above career averages), but his swinging strike % has jumped to over 17% as his contact rate has plummeted to just 55% (career 71%, 68% last year). Another alarming signal for me: Dunn is seeing 6% more fastballs early on in the season. At 32, I'm beginning to wonder if we've seen some severe deterioration in bat-speed from Dunn. It's easy to write these numbers off as exaggerated by Dunn's early season slump, but given the deterioration we saw last year and the fact Dunn has struck out at least once in 14 of 15 games this season, I'm concerned.
Max Scherzer (SP - DET): It feels like it's been a bit more difficult start to the season, but Scherzer made it four straight quality starts with 8 shutout innings against the White Sox on Sunday. He continued to battle command issues, walking 3 more over his 8 innings, but allowed just 4 hits and struck out 7. The win improved Scherzer to 4-0 on the season, while dropping his ERA to 3.19 and his WHIP to 1.48. The discrepancy between the WHIP and ERA tells the tale of some good fortune early on in his LOB Rate (above 88%), along with some poor luck on balls in play (entered with a .358 BABIP allowed). The remaining peripherals haven't been pretty early on. Scherzer's been able to grow his K Rate to nearly 9.00 K/9 but the swing data makes it look a bit fluky. His chase rate has declined to just 20% and his contact rate has remained steady (78.7% vs. 78.9%). In addition, Scherzer's velocity has been down a bit early in the season, dropping 1 mph (93.1 mph to 92 mph). Having watched Scherzer I can attest, I'm not concerned; even in the face of some uninspiring early data points. His start on Sunday showed more ground balls (10 ground outs) and more chases outside the zone. I remain very optimistic on Scherzer this year, even if he's been fortunate to come away 4-0 with a 3.19 ERA through 5 starts.
BJ Upton (OF - TB): Upton's slow start has re-ignited concerns over his fantasy value and where it lies going forward. A perennially maddening player, Upton's unique tool-set makes him a perpetual fantasy tease. Unfortunately for owners it always seems he's one tool shy of putting it all together. In recent years we've seen Upton's issues with strikeouts continue to deteriorate and that's the case again in 2011. His K Rate has pushed back beyond 31%, making it nearly impossible for Upton to contribute in the batting average category. In addition after seeing the power bounce back up to a .187 ISO in '10, its back down to .129 early on in '11. Upton's ISOs as a big leaguer have gone: .209, .128, .132, .187, .129 from '07-'11 and as the power has gone so has his fantasy value. While the power hasn't been there early on there are a few good signs for Upton's value going forward. His LD Rate is back up towards 20% (career 17.5%) and while he's hitting more LD's they've come at the expense of GB's, not Fly Balls which means the power outage isn't a problem of too many ground balls. In addition Upton's actually gotten his contact rates back in line 78% (after bottoming out at 73% last year). They're small reasons for optimism, but they are there. Ultimately Upton's value will be dictated by his ability to hit for power. Entering his age 26-27 season, I'm willing to still bet on more power growth in line with last year's ISO as opposed to the current middling production we've seen. Only time will tell, but I'm hanging in there with Upton early on.
Carlos Santana (C - CLE): After starting the season with 6 hits in his first 13 AB's, Carlos Santana has slumped mightily going just 8-55 (.145) since. During the streak, Santana has walked 11 times and struck out 12, showing the strong EYE we've seen since he entered the majors. Plate patience doesn't appear to be the problem for Santana as he's improved his chase rate 9% to just 15% overall. He's also improved his contact rate (80%) and found himself in more favorable counts early on (53% first strike %, 59% last season). His issues at the plate appear to be a bit timing related. He's posted a horrendous 8.9% LD Rate. Further evidence supporting the timing issues include a 54% GB Rate and 24% Infield-Fly-Ball Rate. This is some evidence that he's just missing pitches and not squaring enough balls up, which translates perfectly with the drop in his ISO (from .207 to .118). He's still producing adequately in the Runs/RBIs category and eventually he'll get the timing figured out. He's a premier buy-low candidate as very little in his approach at the plate has deteriorated. His poor numbers are just being amplified by an extended slump.
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