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Behind the Numbers: Trending Up, Trending Down

David Regan

David Regan

David Regan is a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, and was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.

Front and center in many fans' minds is the fan vote for the final spots in next week's All-Star Game, specifically the NL vote. This has nothing to do with fantasy baseball, but I have to admit at being flabbergasted that Freddie Freeman is leading Yasiel Puig in the voting that ends this Thursday. Do the number of folks voting really lean toward wanting to see a "deserving" guy over arguably the most exciting player in the game in Puig? We'll see how things shake out, but what seemed like sure-thing vote for Puig is looking like anything but.

The second item on fans' minds is the Biogenesis scandal. Nelson Cruz and three others implicated in the scandal are set to play in next week's All-Star Game, and though the consternation around what happens if one of the four wins the game's MVP trophy is laughable, it's certainly a storyline. I dropped Alex Rodriguez in a 10-team mixed league long ago, but what should we think about for ROY in terms of guys like Ryan Braun? I'd be worried if I owed Braun, so if you want to deal him for 75 cents on the dollar in non-keeper leagues, I'm all in.

All that aside, the focus this week will be around trends. We'll discuss a few players who have risen from early season hibernation and on the other end of the spectrum, those whose recent performances have left a lot to be desired.

TRENDING UP

Jason Kipnis (2B-CLE) -
On Kipnis, I was looking pretty foolish headed into May after saying this spring that the only fantasy second baseman I preferred over Kipnis was Robinson Cano. Kipnis hit just .200 with one homer in April before heating up a little (.261, seven HR) in May. Then June came and we all saw the Kipnis I figured we'd see - .419/.517/.699. He also swiped nine bases to give him a surprising 20 in the season's first half to go with 13 home runs. Kipnis posted an unsustainable but fun to look at .500 BABIP in June due in large part to his tearing the cover off the ball to the tune of a 30.1-percent line drive rate. He's shown more patience and improved contact rates as the season has progressed, and now, I'm not sure he gets too deep into the second round in 12-team mixed league midseason drafts. I'd highly consider taking him late in round one.

Pedro Alvarez (3B-PIT) -
The 10 homers in June weren't a huge surprise from a guy who has 40-plus homer potential, but the .303 average and .380 OBP were big surprises. How did he do it? It wasn't improved contact ability, as Alvarez fanned in 32.4 percent of his June plate appeaerances, a rate comparable to prior months. Compared to his April and May BABIPs of .218 and .263, Alvarez's June mark of .385 looks to be an outlier. But he hit more flyballs in June than usual, with a whopping 34.5 percent going for home runs. All in all, I don't see Alvarez as a consistent .280-.300 hitter given the strikeout rate, but he has followed a solid June with a .321 average in his first seven games of July. It's probably best to temper expectations and hope for .260-15-45 the rest of the way.

Ian Desmond (SS-WAS) -
It looks like May (.220/.273/.370) was the outlier for Desmond, who rebounded with a .306/.355/.633 June that included nine home runs. Desmond already has 15 homers and 10 steals, so if he can keep up his batting average, we're easily looking at top-five fantasy shortstop potential, if not more. A 32.1-percent HR/FB rate for the month helped fueled his power surge, and a BABIP that was 61 points higher in June than in May helped his batting average, but all in all, Desmond is right about where we expected him to be at an overall .278/.323/.495.

Rick Porcello (SP-DET) -
A bit overshadowed by the other pitchers in his team's rotation, Porcello nonetheless has showed some encouraging signs the last couple months. The biggest improvement has been in his ability to miss bats. After a subpar 3.7 K/9 in April, Porcello has dialed that up to 9.1 and 7.1 the last two months while also pushing his BB/9 to less than 2.0 in each month post-April. He's also continuing to post elite groundball rates, topping out at a 59.6 GB% in June. Porcello's secondary stuff has been quite a bit more effective this year, so combined with an improved and elite groundball rate and an increased ability to find the strike zone, Porcello has finally taken an expected step forward.

Julio Teheran (SP-ATL) -
Teheran received some criticism last year for a fastball that was too straight and secondary stuff that was too average, but this year in 16 starts, Teheran has a solid 3.23 ERA. For June, Teheran appeared to take things to a new level, posting a 1.95 ERA, 10.3 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9 in five starts. Oddly, Teheran allowed a lot more flyballs and far more line drives for the month, but he did a decent job keeping the ball in the ballpark, and at age 22, we might be seeing a starter develop here. Teheran struggled a bit in Triple-A a year ago with a 6.7 K/9, but it appears he's learning how to pitch and get guys out.

Jeremy Hellickson (SP-TB) -
Hellickson had a great June, going 5-1 with a 3.53 ERA in his six starts. Hellickson had a 6.69 ERA in May, but an improvement in his GB% from 36.3 to 42.7 percent month over month allowed Hellickson to have more success keeping the ball in the park in June. Hellickson allowed just two home runs in June versus seven the month before, and that was a big reason for the improvement last month. Overall, we've seem Hellickson improve his strikeout and walk rates dramatically while simultaneously not throwing as heard. That's an indicator that Hellickson is becoming more of a pitcher rather than a thrower.

TRENDING DOWN

Mark Reynolds (3B-CLE) -
Hide your eyes folks, because these numbers are ugly:

MONTH AVG K% HR
April .301 23.2 8
May .218 29.3 5
June .187 38.5 2

In April, I was feeling pretty good about myself after having swiped Reynolds relatively late in a deep 24-team mixed leagues, but then the wheels came off rather quickly. If Lonnie Chisenhall can get things going, Reynolds' playing time is going to be impacted. We'll see the power, but he's not near the .300 hitter we saw in April if you look at his batting averages the past three years (2013 through Monday):

2011 - .221
2012 - .221
2013 - .221

Yes, the same mark each and every season. Did you expect much more?\

Starlin Castro (SS-CHC) -
Castro hasn't really trended in the right direction for much of the year, but he did bat .277 with three homers in April. Since the season's first month, he's slugged just one home run while seeing his batting average get progressively worse, bottoming out at a .167 mark for June. Castro won't have a .205 BABIP every month as he did in June, but there is more at play here than bad luck. Here are a few of the many indicators that can't allow us to say anything other than 2013 being a huge step back for the 23 year-old:

YEAR BB% K% ISO SwStr%
2011 4.9 13.4 .125 7.2
2012 5.2 14.5 .147 8.3
2013 3.7 18.3 .093 8.8

So he's drawing fewer walks, striking out more and hitting for less power. Usually with a guy with his raw talent, we see progress from year to year, but I would still keep in mind that Castro is still just 23. Maybe it's just a prolonged slump and he'll come out of it soon, but if you dropped him earlier this year and went with, say, Jhonny Peralta, pat yourself on the back and move on.

Justin Upton (OF-ATL) -
Upton has been pretty brutal since his April home-run binge, and at this point I have to wonder whether I should consider him an elite outfielder. Upton batted just .226/.336/.280 in June. While the 12.6 BB% was solid, Upton has just three homers since April and is still fanning in about a fourth of his plate appearances. I'm comfortable that the average will come around eventually, but the power outage is curious, driving by a groundball rate that reached 50 percent in May and 49.3 percent in June after clocking in at just 33.8 percent in month one. When swinging at pitches inside the strike zone, Upton is making contact at just a 69.8-percent clip compared to last year's 77.1 percent, and overall on all pitches, his swinging-strike rate sits at 13.3 percent versus last year's 10 percent. So while it's good to see the walks actually up year-over-year, he's simply not making very good contact, and from the games I've seen, it's not that tough to get a good fastball by him these days. I do think he's too talented to be playing this poorly, but I also have to wonder whether there's an undisclosed injury or simply something mechanical that can be corrected.

Jon Lester (SP-BOS) -
I keep running Lester out there in a couple leagues and recently it cost me points in the standings. Lester finished June 2-2 with a 7.62 ERA in five starts to go with a 5.1 BB/9. Lester's strikeout rate has stayed fairly consistent month-to-month, but his monthly BB/9 rates have gone as follows: 2.9, 2.4, 5.1. Lester saw an uptick in his fly-ball rate from 29 percent in April/May to 38.7 percent in June, and 22.2 percent of those flyballs went over the wall, a rate that's about double league average. Lester has a 2.93 ERA at home versus 5.73 on the road, so the magic formula appears to be: throw strikes and concentrate more away from Fenway.

Tommy Milone (SP-OAK) -
Milone's best month so far this year was April, a month in which he posted a 3.38 ERA and 26:6 K:BB in 32 innings. May and June brought ERAs of 4.62 and 4.42, but fear not, as in those months, Milone posted a combined 55:20 K:BB in 73.2 innings. Milone's lack of recent success can likely be tied directly to a declining groundball rate - 37.6, 35.7 and 27.9 percent in the season's first three months, respectively. Success for soft-tossing lefties like Milone usually comes down to location, and that location just hasn't been there in recent starts. For the year, Milone has a 6.7 K/9 and a 2.1 BB/9, numbers that we can expect consistently given his prior record, but the stuff just isn't there for Milone to clock in as anything other than a back-end of the rotation starter.

Wade Miley (SP-ARI) -
In an organization filled with young pitching, Miley won 16 games with a 3.33 ERA as a rookie a last year, and with a 2.37 ERA in April this year, we saw more of the same in 2013. Miley followed April with ERAs of 7.34 and 3.56 in the next two months, making him tough to rely on start to start. Milone has been bit by the home-run bug the last couple months, posting HR/9s of 1.8 and 1.5, and given his less than shutdown stuff, that isn't a huge surprise. Miley looks to be less effective in fooling hitters than last year, generating fewer swings and misses (7.1-percent swinging-strike rate versus 8.5 percent last year), and hitters are swing at far fewer pitches both in the zone and out of it. For a guy who averages a so-so 91.1 mph on his fastball, Miley could be in trouble once guys start getting healthy in Arizona. Sadly, Dan Hudson tore his elbow ligament again last month, so he's done for the year, but Arizona should get Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill back later this month. He'll need to show some improvement here to avoid a shift to the bullpen.