Big news this week as it was announced Mike Trout and Bryce Harper were getting called up to help their organization’s struggling offense. However, they will not be examined in this week’s barometer. With plenty of closer news and rising starters, there is enough to cover.
Henry Rodriguez P, WAS - Despite blowing his first save against the Dodgers on Saturday night, Rodriguez gets an upgrade because his co-closer, Brad Lidge, landed on the disabled list this past week. Without a timetable for his return, Rodriguez becomes the full time closer for the immediate future. He should continue to pile up strikeouts for fantasy owners (12.00 K/9) with his career best 13.1 percent swinging strike rate. Rodriguez’s main issue continues to be command, as his 6.00 BB/9 illustrates. His .059 BABIP indicated that he would have to go through a rough night sooner than later, so owners should not worry about this single performance. His ability to limit home runs, he has allowed three in his 106.1 career innings, should only build up his case to remain in the ninth inning role.
Adrian Beltre 3B, TEX - Beltre continued his strong month of April on Saturday night when he went 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBI against the Rays. He returned to the lineup this past Tuesday after missing two games with a minor hamstring injury. The home run was Beltre’s fourth of the season, and he improved his slash line to .319/.359/.542. His batted ball rates, plate discipline numbers and BABIP are almost identical to last season. Anyone in that Rangers lineup should be considered an upgrade, and Beltre should put up a slash line and home run total very similar to his work from 2011. 30 home runs with a .290/.335/.490 line looks like it will be a certainty this season, barring any injuries more severe than the one dealt with last week.
AJ Burnett P, PIT - While Burnett might have lost his most recent start on Friday against the Braves, the veteran has shown that a move back the National League might have been just what he needed. He was routinely 93-95 mph with his fastball against the Braves, and was commanding his curveball well along with increased use of his change-up. His 11.8 percent swinging strike rate is at his highest since 2002, and I believe he will finish the season with a strikeout rate close to 9.00 K/9 along with a 3.80-4.00 ERA now that he is out of Yankee Stadium. He is available in most leagues, and is certainly worth a pickup.
Chris Davis 1B, BAL - Davis hit his third home run in four games (fourth of the season) on Saturday night against the A’s, and he improved his overall line to .313/.352/.582 for the season. If any owners are looking for home runs at any cost, Davis can be an easy solution. He came into Saturday owned in only 13 percent of Yahoo leagues, and he should be able to provide 25 home runs by the end of the season when looking at his 17 percent career HR/FB ratio. His 24 percent strikeout rate indicates that he will not maintain his batting average. However, he will play every day for the first time in his career, and should be in the position to provide RBI in the sixth spot of the Orioles lineup.
Jake Westbrook P, STL - Westbrook continued his strong start to the season by recording a victory against the Brewers on Friday night. He allowed one run on seven hits with five strikeouts in seven innings to improve his record to 3-1 and lowering his ERA to 1.30. While the veteran won’t provide much in the way of strikeouts (4.88 K/9), he should provide some wins with help from a potent Cardinals offense. Always a ground ball pitcher, he has recorded a 65.1 percent rate so far this season, which leads the league and is the best of his career. In addition, his walk rate is down to 2.28 BB/9 because of ability to get first pitch strikes (over 63 percent). This season is already shaping up like his 2004 season in which he finished with a 3.38 ERA.
Johnathon Niese P, NYM - Niese looked strong against the Marlins on Thursday, holding the lineup to two runs in seven innings. The left-hander now has a 2.81 ERA along with a 2.97 FIP and 3.13 xFIP. Niese went back to his curveball against the Marlins, throwing the pitch 27 times while scaling back his cutter. With a 52.1 percent ground ball rate and a career best 2.45 BB/9 walk rate, Niese looks like he can finally finish a season with a 3.50 type of ERA that DIPS has been indicated he could produce over the last two seasons (3.71 career FIP and 3.60 xFIP). His .232 BABIP will see some regression soon, but his ability to record more than 7 strikeouts per nine innings should help any fantasy owner. He is available in just over half of Yahoo leagues.
Carlos Gomez OF, MIL - Gomez received the start in center field on Saturday despite a right-handed starter on the mound, and has to wonder if this Gomez will receive more playing time considering Nyjer Morgan has a .176/.208/.176 line in 55 plate appearances. Gomez has gotten off to a hot start, .325/.341/.575, because he has been hitting the ball hard(27.3 percent line drive rate entering Saturday), and avoiding ground balls (15.7 percent). Furthermore, while his walk rate of 2.3 percent looks bad, he has actually improved his plate discipline getting his chase rate to a career low 25.4 percent. Along with his improved swinging strike rate, he could finish with a .260/.310/.415 line when it is all said and done with 30 stolen bases if he is given the full time job.
Heath Bell P, MIA - Bell still remains the Marlins closer despite blowing another save on Thursday against the Mets. He has gotten the last few games off after his 46-pitch effort. Bell might have a longer leash because of his contract, but this cold spell is not the case of poor luck on balls in play and just command issues. The major concern is Bell’s inability to record swinging strikes. There was a notable drop off in his strikeouts last year when his swinging strike rate dropped to 8.3 percent from 10.6, but now that rate is at 4.9 percent. His velocity is down to 93.3 mph from 94 mph, but decline in whiffs is due to the poor fell of his curveball. His chase rate of 22.5 percent is at its lowest since 2005 even though his zone percentage rate is exactly the same as last season.
Jhonny Peralta SS, DET - Peralta went 1-for-4 in the Tigers victory over the Yankees on Saturday, managing to improve his slash line to .236/.273/.347. After the second best offensive season of his career in 2011, Peralta has yet to find that same magic in 2012. He has yet to hit a home run, and his increased strikeout rate of 21.8 percent has contributed to his lower batting average. The lack of home runs has been a mystery. While he has not been hitting as many fly balls as last season, his 36.5 percent fly ball rate is not a bad percentage and in line with his career rate. I would expect his average to improve considering he has been producing line drives at a 22 percent rate, and that he has managed to cut down his swinging strike rate to a career low 6.8 percent.
Dee Gordon SS, LAD - Don Mattingly told the media this week that Gordon could be dropped from the leadoff spot considering his recent struggles. He now has a .210/.253/.247 slash line with zero home runs and 10 stolen bases in 87 plate appearances this season. Gordon’s average has been by a lower BABIP (.267), and an increased strikeout rate (20.7 percent). His batted ball rates are very similar to last season, but more importantly his 6.7 percent swinging strike rate should not translate to that high of a strikeout percentage. It is unrealistic to think he will produce a batting average of .300 again, but he should be able to manage a .260/.305/.330 line by the end of the season. His ability to steal 60 bases still makes him a valuable fantasy player.
Jordan Walden P, LAA - Mike Scioscia took the struggling Walden out of the closer’s role on Friday after blowing a save to the Rays, and gave the job to Scott Downs on a temporary basis. His velocity is still there, but he has been unable to get his fastball over for a strike consistently. He came into Saturday with a 34.8 percent rate in first pitch strikes. The good news is that his velocity is still there (he is averaging 97 mph with his fastball), but he is been hesitant to use his slider (10.6 percent usage rate.) Scioscia made a rash decision to demote Walden, but owners should not send him to the free agent pool considering that Scott Downs is a pitch to contact lefty whose strengths are not suited to the role.
Vernon Wells LF, LAA - Other than Bobby Abreu, no one is hurt more by the Mike Trout call-up than Vernon Wells. Mike Scioscia told the media that Trout will be in the lineup consistently, and the Angels lineup and defense is at its best with Trout in left field. Wells plate discipline has eroded since being acquired by the Angels (his chase rate currently sits at a poor 40.3 percent), and it would be hard to envision him in the lineup against right-handed pitchers. Wells is only owned in deep leagues, but it is time for those owners to look elsewhere for outfield help. Wells already sat out in the Angels first game with Trout, and it looks as if that will be a common occurrence barring injury.
John Danks P, CHW - Danks struggled through his start against the Red Sox on Friday night. He allowed seven runs on six hits and four walks in 5.2 innings, and saw his ERA balloon to 6.23. I was one of those who believed that Danks could improve upon his 2011 numbers considering his strand rate and BABIP from last season, but he has lost his command in 2012. His 4.45 BB/9 is the worst walk rate of his career, and his ground ball rate of 39.1 percent is his worst since his rookie season in 2007. Furthermore, his average fastball velocity has dropped from 91.6 mph (in 2011) to 89.7 mph. Opposing hitters are not offering at his pitches out of the strike zone this season (24.2 percent in 2012 compared to 33 percent in 2011), which indicates that his walk rate is not likely to improve right away.