Mat Latos (SP - SD): I've been pretty vocal on the negative aspects and the risks associated with investing in Latos this year, so it's only fair when he puts together a really strong start that I highlight some renewed reasons for optimism. Latos shut down a good Cardinals lineup on Wednesday afternoon allowing just 6 hits and 1 ER over 8 innings. Most importantly he struck out 7 and didn't walk a batter. After some early season control problems Latos has now walked just 9 batters over his last 6 starts, posting a 2.2 BB/9 during that span. Latos' issues early on in the season were comprised of three facets: 1) decreased control; 2) decreased velocity; and 3) increased HR's. The velocity continues to be an issue and is negatively impacting his K Rate (7.67 K/9), but with the improved command has also come fewer HR's (just 0.74 HR/9) during the stretch. Two of the three issues rebounding will be enough to make Latos a reliable SP option going forward. He may not be able to post the elite performance he put together last year, but an ERA in the low-to-mid 3's from here on out looks extremely reasonable. I still remain moderately concerned about health risk, but Latos value is on the rise.
Zack Greinke (SP - MIL): Greinke improved his record to 3-1 on Wednesday with 7 solid innings against the Nationals. Greinke allowed 3 ER's on just 5 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 10. While it may not feel like it through Greinke's first 5 starts (5.79 ERA), his transition to the NL has gone even better than anyone could have expected. Greinke has posted an incredible 39:3 K:BB Ratio in his first 28 innings, good for a 12.5 K/9, 0.96 BB/9, 49% GB Rate skill-set. The schedule hasn't been particularly challenging early on (SD, PIT, WAS, ATL, COL), but the numbers are eye-popping. Greinke hasn't done it with more chases, but simply seen far less contact inside the zone. A .370 BABIP and 21% HR/FB Rate are skewing a tremendous start. If there's any chance Greinke can be had for the price of a #3 starter, it's worth pursuing immediately. At worst he'll be a solid #2 fantasy SP and the early indications suggest he may be a true fantasy ace in the NL thanks to a higher K Rate.
Kelly Johnson (2B - ARZ): I've been pretty vocal about my concerns about Kelly Johnson's start to the season and what it meant going forward. He's been striking out far more and swinging at basically everything in sight. As a result pitchers weren't throwing anything near the zone and all of Johnson's peripherals were collapsing. I use "were" because of late there are some small signs of meaningful improvement. Johnson has struck out just 3 times in his last 8 games (29 PA's) and in that span he's gone 9-29 with 4 2B's and 2 HR's. The streak has raised his average from .181 to .204 and started to inspire some confidence that a bounce-back is possible. There's still plenty of work to be done as Johnson's not taking walks anywhere near his usual clip, but the improved K Rates and the big flashes of power are reasons for optimism. Get him back in your lineups and start reaping the rewards of improved contact rates. If the BB Rates come back I'll be all the way back in, but the recent stretch, inspired largely by big improvements in contact has me more optimistic than I've been all season on Kelly Johnson.
Seth Smith (OF - COL): It's been quiet in our coverage of Seth Smith of late as the last blurb was written back on April 22nd, but I hope that hasn't let our subscribers sleep on one of our favorite sleeper OF's this year. Smith, as he always has, continues to mash RHP and with more opportunities to play everyday has become a viable OF option in all formats. Smith went 2-3 on Wednesday raising his average to .312 and scoring his 25th Run of the season. He's also knocked out 5 HR's and driven in 22 RBI's, while posting the same consistently strong indicators he has through the last 3 years. He's mashed RHP throughout his career (.891 OPS) and continues to do so this season. He's best deployed in daily leagues where you can sit him against LHP, but even in weekly formats the combination of good AVG with adequate counting totals makes him a nice back-end OF. I've rostered in 10 team leagues and as a result think he should be owned in pretty much all formats.
Chris Carpenter (SP - STL): A start in San Diego is always a nice way to break out of a pitching slump, but it wasn't enough to keep Carpenter from picking up his 5th loss of the season on Wednesday. Carpenter allowed 2 ER's on 8 hits over 8 strong innings. He struck out 6 and went his 2nd consecutive start without walking a batter. After the start the Cardinals ace possesses a 4.58 ERA and 1.43 WHIP despite having nearly identical peripherals to last season. Carpenter's K Rate is nearly identical to the last 3 years and his BB Rate is also right in-line with last year's production. He isn't racking up the same amount of ground balls as in years past (46% vs. 51% last year) as he's allowing a few more line drives, which are resulting in more balls landing safely in play. His career BABIP of .297 is over 40 points below his current .338 BABIP. With more base-runners on and some worse luck at preventing those base-runners from scoring (67% vs. 73% LOB%) has left Carpenter with an inflated WHIP and ERA. Given Carpenter's velocity is actually up .5 mph this year and his swing data indicates a few more chases and the same contact rate as years past, the only weakness in Carpenter's statistical profile is his luck. He remains a terrific buy-low candidate.