Kris Bryant (3B/OF, ChC): Bryant spent some time at third base and left field Friday night against the Pirates, going 2-4 at the dish with his sixth home run of the year and two RBI. He upped his slash to .284/.364/.493 on the season. The most impressive improvement Bryant has made this year is with his plate discipline; he's cut more than 10% from his 2015 K% to this point, going from 30.6% last year to 20.5% this year. He's also seen an 8% jump in contact rate while chasing fewer pitches outside the zone and improving his hard contact rate. His walks are down a bit, but he's hovering around the 10% mark, so there's nothing to worry about there. His .337 BABIP isn't even out of line given his 26% line drive rate and 39% hard contact rate. A lot of people were concerned about batting average regression after he posted a .378 BABIP last year just to sustain a .275 BA, but the advances he's made at the plate this year are impressive, and exactly what you want to see from a young sophomore. The steals are down (only 1-3 thus far) but overall he's in for a great season batting in the heart of a lethal Cubs lineup.
Gio Gonzalez (SP, Was): Gonzalez threw five innings and gave up two runs (both unearned) on six hits with two walks and seven strikeouts against the Marlins on Friday. He took a no-decision, but his fantasy owners will be very pleased with the 1.93 ERA he's posted to this point. His K's are down this season from 8.66 a year ago to 7.50 this year, but his 2.57 BB/9 is the best rate of his career. His first pitch strike rate backs up the improvement in his control as his 65.1% mark is also the highest of his career, and by a wide margin (60.8% in 2013 was his previous high water mark). Gonzalez was a positive regression candidate coming into the season, finishing 2015 with an ERA 0.74 runs higher than his FIP, and he's not only seen his ERA regress positively, but the proverbial pendulum has now swung pretty far in the other direction. He's got a fortunate .262 BABIP through his first 42 IP, but even with some inevitable regression coming to his ERA, his FIP still sits at a tidy 2.98. The strikeouts aren't quite what his owners were banking on, but 180 quality innings from a late round pick are plenty valuable. Sell very high if you can, but also be content with consistent SP4 numbers for the rest of the season if you hang on.
Jeremy Hellickson (SP, Phi): Hellickson gave up two runs (zero earned) in seven innings of work against the Reds on Friday, allowing only four hits and one walk while striking out nine. He improved to 3-2 on the season and lowered his ERA to 4.12. His skills actually jump off the page to this point, with a 9.48 K/9 and 2.47 BB/9. If he can maintain the K per inning moving forward (and his 11.2% swinging strike rate indicates that's possible), he makes for a back-end deep league starter moving forward. He still allows a lot of hard contact though and is very homer prone, and that keeps him from being standard mixed league viable. He'll constantly be prone to blow up starter with his gopheritis, so he's best reserved for streaming against weak offenses such as the one he faced in this start, the Reds. He'll take on the Marlins at home with his next turn.
Jonathan Gray (SP, Col): Gray excelled at Coors Field against the Mets Friday night, throwing seven innings of two run ball, giving up five hits and a walk while striking out eight. He picked up the win, which was his first of the season. Despite his 4.71 ERA, Gray has been impressive this year. He's got a whopping 11.30 K/9 and 2.20 BB/9 in his 28.2 IP this season across five starts, and his FIP is a very juicy 2.33. Obviously a big problem here is that half his starts (theoretically) are going to take place at Coors, which will continue to hurt his already bloated .333 BABIP. Looking at the strikeouts, however, you can see why the Rockies took him as the third player off the board in 2013. His stuff is great, and he should be an automatic start when he's away. He's a matchup play while at home, however, and that really caps his upside. That said, he's certainly the Rockies pitcher with the most fantasy intrigue moving forward, and should be owned in standard mixed leagues. He'll go to St. Louis to take on the Cardinals in his next start.
Jeff Samardzija (SP, SF): Samardzija continued his bounce back season against the Diamondbacks Friday night, rolling through eight innings while giving up only one earned run on eight hits with no walks and three strikeouts. His ERA fell to 2.88 on the season, and boy is he loving AT&T Park. His HR/9 has fallen from 1.22 a year ago to 0.64 this season, and limiting the bombs has been a big part of his success. The elite K per inning days are probably gone (7.51 K/9 this year) but his walk rate is still very good (2.08 BB/9) and his ground ball rate is now back up over 50%. Even when he was really struggling he gave you well over 200 innings, and when you mix in a low-threes ERA and league average K% (with potential for improvement) you've got yourself a very solid fantasy starter. He'll head to San Diego to take on a stumbling Padres team in his next start.
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