RotoWire Partners

MLB Barometer: A "Fast" Riser

Kevin Payne

Kevin Payne

Kevin has worked for Rotowire just under a decade and has covered basketball, baseball and football. A glutton for punishment, he roots for his hometown Bills, Sabres and the New York Yankees. He hosts the RotoWire SiriusXM show every Wednesday and Friday and you can follow him on Twitter @KCPayne26.

Upgrades:

Scott Baker, P, MIN - After a masterful outing with 10Ks and eight scoreless innings this was a pretty easy call. But I thought I'd take a look at the rest of Baker's stats to see why he's pitching better this season. Only five of his 14 starts have come in the pitcher-friendly confines of Target Field (2.70 ERA/3.55 ERA away) so the home park is helping a little. Other than that the only stat that sticks out are his BABIP and strand rate. This season his BABIP is 34 points lower (.289, career mark is .301) and his strand rate is on a career-best pace with an 81.7% mark. While the strand rate will likely normalize, I'd guess having a more even home/away split the rest of the season will counter that. Both of those stats have accounted for Baker shaving 1.25 off his ERA from last season.

Michael Cuddyer, 2B, MIN - Sticking with the Twins, you'd have a tough time finding a hotter bat right now than Cuddyer. As the weather has heated up so has his bat, posting monthly OPS numbers of .642, .746 and now 1.131 in June. He's also had five home runs and 15 RBI over his 15 games in June. Perhaps most impressive is that he's mashing at home (.925 OPS) vs. away (.641) when considering the effect Target Field has had on the Twins bats (sans Jim Thome).

Shane Victorino, OF, PHI - Victorino is on quite a tear since an 0-for-5 day on June 3, when he returned from the DL. Since then he's reached base in all 15 games and is batting .383 with 17 runs and three stolen bases. What's even more encouraging to his owners is that the hamstring injury that landed him on the DL appears to be completely healed. He's a good speed/power target in trade talks if you're looking to swap pitching for hitting.

Carlos Carrasco, P, CLE - Carrasco has been dominant on the mound as of late, allowing only one earned run over his last three starts (21.2 innings) with a 17:5 K:BB ratio. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning Saturday and his success with the Indians dates back to last season. Over seven September/October starts he held a 3.83 ERA and held his opponent to three or less runs in six of those starts. The pedigree is there with Carrasco who typically had around a strikeout per inning throughout his minor league career. He's the type of player you'll want to target for next season if you throw in the towel in your keeper league.

Alcides Escobar, SS, KC - It's easy to forget after last season that Escobar averaged almost a stolen base per 10 at-bats while at Triple-A Nashville in 2009. Besides safely reaching base in 11 straight games, Escobar has started running once he's gotten on. Over those 11 games he's hitting .500 (20-for-40) and is up to seven stolen bases on the month. In most standard formats there's a good chance that he's available if you're looking for steals/runs from your middle infield.

Injuries:

Josh Willingham, OF, OAK - Remember the Marlin days when he qualified at catcher? Willingham has been dealing with an Achilles' injury that he aggravated against San Francisco. A DL stint is a good possibility and it appears Conor Jackson will replace Willingham in the Athletics' lineup.

Carl Crawford, OF, BOS - Crawford has a grade 1 strain of his left hamstring after running out an infield single Friday night. He's landed on the DL and I'd expect Boston to be cautious with their $142 million investment. Look for Darnell McDonald and Josh Reddick to pick up the extra playing time in Crawford's absence.

Clay Buchholz, P, BOS - A balky back will put Buchholz out of commission for the next couple of weeks after he hurt it Thursday. Once-heralded prospect Andrew Miller will likely take his spot in the rotation.

Matt LaPorta, 1B, CLE - LaPorta is dealing with a high ankle sprain that could sideline him for up to three weeks. He was caught in a run down which led to him spraining his ankle, which is being classified as a high sprain. Look for Travis Buck to be the biggest beneficiary of playing time while LaPorta is on the mend.

Check Status:

Shaun Marcum, P, MIL - In the same game that Crawford was injured, Marcum also made an early exit with a strained hip flexor. He's also being listed as day-to-day and could miss his next start. Marco Estrada would likely fill in if Marcum can't toe the rubber.

Hunter Pence, OF, HOU - Pence is dealing with a hyper-extended elbow and is scheduled to have an MRI today (Sunday). This doesn't sound good and I'd play it safe and bench him for the upcoming scoring period. I'd also take a long look at picking up and starting Jason Bourgeois if you're looking for stolen bases.

Downgrades:

Tim Lincecum, P, SF - I'm not exactly sure what's wrong with Timmy but it's looking more and more likely something is off. After a three-game stretch without allowing a walk he's now given up 12 over his last three starts (15 innings). His ERA over four June starts now sits at 7.59 and he hasn't won a game since May 27. There's nothing wrong with his velocity - in fact his fastball is up 1.5 mph from last season. Therefore it's likely something with his mechanics that is affecting his pitch location. Hopefully he isn't trying to pitch through an injury, and he has stated that he feels fine. If you believe him, this may be your only opportunity to "buy-low" on him.

Ricky Nolasco, P, FLA - For those fans of advanced stats, I'd like to hear a plausible explanation as to why Nolasco routinely has an xFIP around 1.50 lower that his actual ERA. In my opinion, some pitchers are going to get harder than others and that will translate into more hits, a higher BABIP, more runs and you get the discrepancy in ERA and xFIP. Nolasco seems to be catching too much of the plate lately which isn't surprising for someone who typically pounds the strike zone. Over his last four outings, Nolasco has an 8.02 ERA (21.1 innings) and has given up eight walks. Until he works out his control issues, I'd bench him.

You can follow on Twitter @KCPayne26