David Price P, TB -- Price had one of his best outing of the season on Friday night against the A's. He earned his fifth win of the season after allowing one run on three hits and one walk with twelve strikeouts in eight innings. He lowered his ERA to 2.35 in the process, and improved his strikeout rate to 8.22 K/9. While his peripherals have been strong, an improved ground ball rate could allow Price to produce the best ERA of his career this season. Price has been relying less on his fastball this season featuring only 60 percent of the time compared to 70 percent in 2011. His changeup and cutter have both seen their usage rate increase, and have improved his batted ball data. His 52.8 percent ground ball rate is a career high and an improvement over his 44.3 percent rate last season. A below average HR/FB ratio (8.6 percent career rate) has worked to Price's benefit, and ZIPS projects him to finish the season allowing only 15 home runs in 208 innings pitched. With those improved rates, I believe he will finish with a 2.85 --3.00 ERA for the season.
Mark Trumbo 3B/1B, LAA -- Trumbo hit his fourth home run of the season on Saturday night against the Blue Jays, and he improved his slash line to .297/.357/.547. He has improved his plate discipline from last season, as his walk rate has doubled from 4.4 to 8.6 percent and he has cut his chase rate from 42.7 to 33 percent. His strikeout rate has increased, but his swinging strike rate has remained constant compared to his 2011 numbers. That number should improve over time, and his improved line drive suggests he will be able to have a higher BABIP in 2012. Look for Trumbo to finish with 25-30 home runs, but an improved line along the likes of .280/.360/.520 line by the end of the 2012 season.
Steve Cishek P, FLA -- With Heath Bell's struggles continuing to be a major problem, Ozzie Guillen stripped Bell of the closer role on Saturday. Guillen did not officially name a replacement, but he indicated that he was leaning towards using Cishek in the role. Cishek, who was unavailable and not needed in Saturday's game, has a 0.63 ERA in 14.1 innings along with a 9.42 K/9. He has been recording more swinging strikes this season (career best 10.7 percent rate), and he has been able to neutralize left-handed hitters (2.44 FIP against them in 2012) despite his sidearm delivery. His 2.35 FIP and 3.29 xFIP indicate there is some regression heading his way but even those numbers are slightly skewed. His 3.77 BB/9 is elevated because of the four intentional walks Ozzie Guillen has had him issue. Additionally, his .212 BABIP has been positively affected by his ability to limit strong contact, as his 12.9 percent line drive rate and 54.6 percent ground ball rate would indicate. His 92.1 percent strand rate will eventually come down, which should leave him with an ERA in the high 2's. He is the Marlins best option at closer at this point in the season, and he should hold onto the job into the foreseeable future.
Mark Reynolds 3B, BAL -- Reynolds looks to be breaking out of his yearly early season slump, as he hit his first two home runs over the last two games while improving his slash line to .176/.287/.338 in 87 plate appearances. In terms of advanced metrics, Reynolds is the same hitter he has been over the last six seasons. His 16 percent swinging strikeout rate continues to be too high, but it is the best of his career and look for his strikeout rate to drop five to six points over the coming weeks. His fly ball rate of 52.4 percent is the second highest of his career, and it is only a matter of time until more of those fly balls reach over the fences, especially in Camden Yards. Owners should expect Reynolds to finish with a typical 30 plus home runs season with 80 plus RBI, and a .220/.320/.470 line by the end of September.
Felipe Paulino P, KC -- Paulino was reinstated from the 15 --day disabled list on Saturday and made his first start of the season against the Yankees. He earned the win after shutting out the Yankees for six innings in which he allowed four hits and two walks while striking out six. He is available in most leagues, and is a good source of strikeouts (8.30 K/9 for his career). Paulino has averaged 95 mph in the starting rotation over the last few seasons, and his velocity was even more impressive on Saturday averaging 96.3 mph with his fastball. BABIP has been a thorn in Paulino's side over the last three seasons (.339 for his career), and if he can be slightly luckier in 2012, he could finish with the season with an ERA around 3.75
Caution/ Check Status
Robinson Cano 2B, NYY -- I'm starting to worry about some Cano's numbers after 119 plate appearances. He has hit only one home run, driven in four runs, and produced a pedestrian .255/.303/.355 slash line. Cano's power and average has been hurt by a 54.6 percent ground ball rate, which is the highest of his career. His batting average should rise over the coming weeks, as his .283 BABIP should increase to a level closer to his .320 career BABIP. His home run total will not get to the 25 --30 home run plateau unless he can raise his career worst 23.7 percent fly ball rate. The good news is there is plenty of time for Cano to turn things around, but he will need to make sound adjustments in order to get the ball in the air again. The home runs will eventually come, but his batted ball rate will determine whether he produces 15-20 or 25-30.
Josh Johnson P, FLA -- Johnson was roughed up on Friday night against the Padres allowing six runs on six hits and three walks while striking out one in only 2.2 innings of work. He is now winless in six starts and has a 6.61 ERA in 31.1 innings of work. While his average velocity has been down (averaging 92.6 mph on his fastball), I still think he will be able to turn things around. His BABIP of .439 indicates he has been extremely unlucky with balls in play (even with a 29.2 percent line drive rate), and his 61.3 percent strand rate has been equally unlucky. The good news is that his swinging strike rate of 9.1 percent is an improvement over last season and in line with his career rate of 9.6 percent. His 51.9 percent ground ball rate also represents a career best, and his first pitch strike percentage and chase rate indicates he should be able to lower his 3.45 BB/9. Ozzie Guillen openly questioned whether Johnson is fully healthy, but if he is, owners should not give up on the right-hander yet.
Chipper Jones 3B, ATL -- Jones has turned back the clock over this first month of the season, compiling five home runs, 21 RBI and a slash line of .318/.370/.576 in 73 plate appearances. Owners have to be cautious with Jones considering his injury history, and some of the batted ball and plate discipline data indicates there will be some regression ahead. His 13.2 percent line drive rate is one of the fifteen worst in baseball, and he will not continue to slug over .550 if he continues to maintain a 56.7 percent ground ball rate. Additionally, look for his strikeout rate to increase over time. His 9.3 percent swinging strike rate is the highest of his career, and his current strikeout rate of 9.5 percent is the lowest of his career. Chipper should finish the season with a similar line and home run total to his 2011 season.
Max Scherzer P, DET -- Scherzer threw one of his more dominant games on Saturday against the White Sox. He allowed just one run on four hits (one home run) while striking out nine and not issuing a walk. His ERA currently stands at 6.32, but that numbers has been heavily influenced by a .407 BABIP and a below average strand rate of 68.7 percent. His batted ball data does not indicate there has been a change in the way hitters have made contact against Scherzer, so what for his ERA to improve has he increases his innings total. His 12.3 percent swinging strike rate is up from his 8.3 percent rate in 2011, which should allow him to maintain his 10.34 K.9. Furthermore, look for his walk rate to drop from 3.73 BB/9 as his first pitch strike percentage (62.6 percent) and chase rate (28.1 perecnt) are in line with his career rates.
Tim Lincecum P, SF -- After six starts, it seems safe to say Lincecum is not the same pitcher he was last season, and is a shell of the pitcher he was when he won two straight Cy Young awards. That earns him a downgrade, but he can still be a sold fantasy starter if he can improve his walk rate. His average fastball has dropped from 92.3 mph to 89.8 mph since 2011, and as a result Lincecum's 39.9 percent zone percentage (career low) indicates as if he is reluctant to throw pitches over the plate. He is still generating swinging strikes at 10.1 percent rate, which suggests he will be able to retain a strikeout rate above 9.0 K/9. A 60.7 percent strand rate has hurt his overall ERA, and he still has the ability to finish the season with one in the high 3's.
Dayan Viciedo OF, CHW -- Viciedo went hitless in two at --bats on Saturday against the Tigers, and he has seen his slash line drop to a meager .213/.232/.350 to go along with his three home runs and five RBI. Viciedo has been hurt by some poor luck on balls in play (.258 BABIP), but he continues to be inconsistent in terms of making contact (13.4 percent), and his strikeout percentage (28.2 percent) as hurt his overall batting average. A ground ball rate of 50 percent suggests he will keep him from producing more than 20 home runs in a season as some have previously suggested, and his 2.4 percent walk rate suggests Viciedo is a hitter who continues to have difficulties with the major league strike zone.
Carlos Marmol P, CHC -- Marmol lost his closer's job this week after a terrible first month of the season, and the advanced metrics indicate that he is not likely to reclaim that job anytime soon. Marmol's control had deteriorated during the month, which saw his walk rate spike to 12.10 BB/9. He has thrown fewer pitches out of the strike zone in 2012 (39.7 percent), and he is not getting opposing hitters to chase those pitches. His 18.3 percent chase rate is his lowest since his rookie season, and as a result his swinging strike rate has dropped from 11.2 to 7.3 percent (the lowest of his career). Marmol has done surprisingly well when has gotten hitters to put the ball in play (10.3 percent line drive rate), but walking one in four hitters will keep him from high leverage situations. Look for Kerry Wood to sneak into the role eventually.
Scott Rolen 3B, CIN -- After going 1 --for --3 in the Reds loss to the Pirates on Saturday, Rolen improved his weak slash line to .188/.258/.325. He has two home runs and ten RBI in 89 plate appearances for the Reds, and his performance is attributed to some poor luck in balls in play and a decline in his overall skills. His .210 BABIP should improve, but he has continued to hit ground balls at a career high rate (45.3 percent). With a decline in his fly ball rate and HR/FB ratio, I don't envision him hitting more than 13 home runs during the rest of the season. Todd Frazier could see some more playing time if Rolen continues to show more signs of decline.