Hisashi Iwakuma (SP - SEA) - Iwakuma ended a streak of 5 straight non-quality starts by limiting the Angels to 3 ER's over 7 innings on Sunday. Iwakuma struck out 7 and walked just 1 as he picked up his 8th win of the season. Looking back over Iwakuma's recent struggles, one thing really stands out. Iwakuma surrendered half of his HR's allowed in those 5 starts (10 of 20). Iwakuma allows a high FB Rate which always makes him susceptible to HR's but during that four start stretch balls were leaving the yard at an unprecedented rate. On the season, Iwakuma's 15% HR/FB Rate is right in line with his career average, but a bit elevated above the league average, especially considering his home park. The strong 3.30 xFIP suggests Iwakuma's start to the season wasn't a fluke and while he'll deal with homer issues from time-to-time the recent five start stretch is more likely the outlier in his season. Continue to start Iwakuma with confidence as a strong #2 fantasy starter.
Chris Archer (SP - TB): Archer was phenomenal on Sunday as he dominated the Astros with his first career big league shutout. Archer allowed just 4 hits, struck out 8, and most importantly did not walk a batter. Archer has had command issues throughout the minor leagues (5.0 BB/9) and even after Sunday's gem he's still walking 3.66 batters per nine innings at the major league level. Archer has really good stuff and gets ground-balls at a high rate (59% on Sunday, 47.6% on the year), but the command issues will be difficult to overcome in the AL East. He's taken advantage of a favorable schedule of late (@HOU, MIN, HOU), but a .240 BABIP is driving much of the success. In deep redraft formats I think he's a viable sell-high candidate based on Archer's prospect status and recent run of success. He'll face @TOR and @NYY in his next two scheduled starts after the all-star break which will be environments that can quickly punish command issues. I'm high on Archer's raw stuff and the environment in Tampa is a great one to pick spot starts, but for Archer to sustain success at the big league level he'll need to get the BB/9 down under 3.5 and/or drive his K Rate closer to one per inning. Until then, he's a volatile SP in fantasy who can be used as a spot-starter in deep formats.
Justin Verlander (SP - DET): Verlander carried a no-hitter into the 7th inning on Sunday but did so with some really strange peripherals on Sunday. Verlander struck out just 12.5% of the batters faced (the same amount he walked) and surrendered a 55.6% FB Rate. Fortunately for Verlander 30% of the balls in play were of the infield fly variety which helped mask some of the inability to miss bats. Verlander's season has been plagued by a decrease in his velocity and an increased BB Rate. Verlander is still missing bats (23.8% K%) in a meaningful way but the jump in his BB Rate coupled with an elevated LD Rate (22%) has led to an unappealing WHIP. With over 1600 innings on his golden right arm it's fair to wonder if we're starting to see some natural age-related decline. The velocity dip coupled with slight declines in K and BB Rates lead me to believe that's what we're enduring. Verlander may no longer be a fantasy ace, but he can still be a solid #2 fantasy starter with an above average K Rate and W totals thanks to his awesome supporting cast.
Michael Bourn (OF - CLE): The Indians acquisition of Michael Bourn in offseason was considered a strange move for a team that already had acquired a CF caliber starter in Drew Stubbs. Bourn's game is largely built on speed which many questioned how it would age on a four year contract. So far the returns haven't been great as Bourn's strikeout rate has surged to a career worst 23.2% and his BB Rate to a career low 5.5%. A .382 BABIP is holding up Bourn's average (.290) and since it's come with just a 16-17% LD Rate, it looks exceptionally fortunate. With fewer chances on base thanks to the lower BB Rate, Bourn's SB rate has taken a bit step back and his fantasy value has been curtailed along with it. Bourn's been able to post Top 50 overall fantasy value the last few seasons thanks to a positive contributing average, and contending for the league lead in SB's. While the average is still there its susceptible to decline and the SB Rate is very vulnerable with the lower OBP and Bourn's SB% showing steep decline. I think Bourn is a player whose fantasy value is in steep decline.
Nick Swisher (1B - CLE): Swisher has had a really interesting season. All his peripherals are in-line with the exception of his ISO (.158) which is way down below his career average (.208). Swisher's fantasy value is built on that power which has drifted between .188-.249 throughout his career, so seeing any decline certainly piques the interest of fantasy owners. Digging in on the peripherals Swisher's FB Rate is at a career low 36.3%, which certainly explains the lack of HR's and thus the decrease in pop, but the interesting thing is he's trading FB's for LD's (27% LD Rate). Despite the improved LD Rate Swisher hasn't seen any up-tick in batting average on balls in play (.290 this year, .292 career). The fact that Swisher is hitting the ball hard suggests once he gets a bit more air on the ball, his power will normalize OR if he keeps hitting line drives at this high a rate he'll become a plus contributor in the batting average category. Hitting in the middle of a pretty good lineup, I think Swisher is a nice buy-low candidate for fantasy owners. If the power were being sapped by ground balls I'd have more of a concern, but with line drives it's only a matter of time before the performance picks up.
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