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MLB Barometer: Verlander's Stock Keeps Rising

Eric Nehs

Eric Nehs writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.


Justin Verlander P, DET
- I didn't think Verlander was going to top his 2011 performance, but his 2012 numbers indicate that he has taken another step forward. After throwing near no-hitter against the Pirates on Friday, he lowered his ERA to 2.14 and his current FIP (2.24) and xFIP (2.98) are the best of his career. In terms of his peripherals, Verlander has lowered his walk rate to a career best 1.78 BB/9 and his 9.09 K/9 is his second best of his career. As of now, his .214 BABIP won't see much regression considering he has a 24.1 percent infield fly rate (the highest among qualified starting pitchers). Using the same logic, he might be able to maintain his minuscule 4.6 percent HR/FB ratio. Verlander's average fastball velocity might be down one mph, but his numbers over the last two seasons indicate that he has become the best starter in baseball.

Andrew McCutchen CF, PIT- McCutchen hit two more home runs on Saturday against the Tigers to bring his total to seven for the season, and five over his last ten games. To go along with his seven home runs, he has a total of seven stolen bases and a slash line of .346/.405/.566 and a career high wOBA of .415. Obviously, his recent run of home runs in unsustainable, but he is back on line to hit 23-26 home runs for the season. His 18.2 percent HR/FB ratio is a career high, but it is offset by the fact his fly ball rate has dropped to a career low 33.8 percent. His current average is also unsustainable considering his .377 BABIP and the fact he has a career best strikeout rate despite having a career worst swinging strike rate. With that said, 23-26 home runs and 25 plus steals with a .290/.370/.480 type of line makes McCutchen an elite fantasy player.

Alex Cobb SP, TB- With Jeff Niemann on the disabled list, Cobb made the start against the Braves on Saturday and held them to two runs over seven innings of work. He struck out six, walked two and allowed five hits to improve his career record to 4-2 for the season. Cobb was the clear favorite to keep the spot in the rotation, but this impressive start should make it official/ With an impressive change-up and a good sinking fastball, Cobb recorded a 75 percent ground ball rate in the start and recorded an 8.9 percent swinging strike rate. If he can keep his walk rate below 3.00 BB/9 over the course of the next month or so, he should be able to produce an ERA from 3.40-3.80. If it weren't for the Rays depth at the position, he would be a clear number three or four starter on another team. He is a must add in deep and AL-only leagues.

Aroldis Chapman P, CIN- Chapman worked a scoreless eighth inning on Saturday, as he has yet to allow an earned run to score in his 21.1 innings of work. With improved control (2.95 BB/9), Chapman has had not problem facing opposing hitters recording a strikeout rate of 16.01 K/9 and allowing seven hits. Baker made a point after the game to say that the organization will discuss whether or not to put Chapman in the closerís role, and after seeing Baker pull Sean Marshall in the ninth inning, it looks extremely likely that a move will be made. A 0.53 FIP and 1.43 xFIP suggest Chapman will not see much regression, but that will depend whether or not he can keep his walk rate below 4.00 BB/9. With a career best 52.9 percent zone rate, Chapman has shown that the improved rate is not a fluke. If he is still available for some reason, he is a must add.

Caution/Check Status:

Daniel Bard P, BOS
- Bard struggled through his outing against the Phillies on Friday allowing five runs on five walks and three hits with three strike outs in five innings of work. Bard now has a 4.85 ERA in along with below average peripherals (5.48 K/9 and 5.27 BB/9) in his time in the rotation. Having personally charted the start on Friday, Bardís fastball velocity was by far his worst velocity of the season with a range of 89-94 mph with a range of 89-94 mph. This may be a one-start anomaly, but it is something owners should keep an eye on for his next start. If Bardís decreased velocity is a trend, the organization might start thinking about a switch back to the bullpen.


Sean Marshall P, CIN
- Dusty Baker pulled Marshall in the ninth innings of save opportunity on Saturday after allowing two runs in the ninth. He now has a 5.02 ERA in 14.1 innings to go along with his seven saves, but it sounds like Baker is leaning toward installing Aroldis Chapman in the closerís role. Marshall has been extremely unlucky with balls in play (.488 BABIP), and his 13.2 percent line drive indicates that many of those hits were not hit very well. His 13.19 K/9 and 1.88 BB/9 are more indicative of his talent at the back end of the bullpen. Fantasy owners and the Reds would be best served with Chapman in the rotation and Marshall closing, but that does not seem to be a plausible scenario in 2012.

Gaby Sanchez 1B, MIA- Sanchez was send down to Triple-A New Orleans following the Marlins game against the Indians on Saturday. Sanchez, who has a .191/.244/.295 slash line to go along with a home run and 11 RBI in 131 plate appearances had only a 10 percent line drive rate, and a career worst 17.6 percent strikeout rate. The new Miami ballpark might have affected Sanchez the most considering his 50 percent fly ball rate was the best of his career, but his HR/FB ratio of 2 percent was the worst. It was reported the Marlins might persue Adam Lind, but as of now the team will go with Greg Dobbs at first.

Chris Volstad SP, CHC- The Cubs announced on Friday that Volstad was optioned to the Triple-A, and that Travis Wood would take Volstadís spot in the rotation on Tuesday against the Astros. With a 3.29 BB/9 and a career worst 4.9 percent swinging strike rate, Volstad was hit hard in his eight starts for the Cubs. However, a 49.2 percent strand rate and a .324 BABIP significantly hurt his overall ERA. While his 3.92 FIP is not indicative of his performance, it does suggest that he pitched better than his 7.46 ERA. Woodís propensity to give up fly balls should keep him from grabbing a stranglehold on the fifth spot in the rotation. Any NL-only and deep league owners can let Voldstad go if he or she has not done so already, though I do no think it is the last we have seen from him this season.

JD Martinez LF, HOU- Martinez's production has really fallen off since the start of the season, as he now has a .221/.333/.336 line with three home runs in 144 plate appearances. A 58.6 percent ground ball rate should have owners worried, and a 25.3 percent fly ball rate will probably translate into 13-15 home runs. He has maintained some value because of his 21 RBI, but a corner outfielder with a .113 ISO is not what any fantasy owner should be looking for. Luckily for Martinez, the performance of Brian Bougsevic and Jason Maxwell means that he will not see his playing time cut. The best line owners could hope for at this point is a .260/.340/.390 one, but his 14.2 percent walk rate will likely regress even if his luck on balls in play improve over time.

Rickie Weeks 2B, MIL- Weeks went hit-less in five at-bats against the Twins on Saturday with four strikeouts. His slash line dropped to .154/.288/.287 for the season to go along with his four home runs, two stolen bases and seven RBI. A 31.2 percent strikeout rate and .209 BABIP have combined to contribute to his poor batting average, but I still expect that average to improve considering Weeks' 11.2 percent swinging strike rate is almost identical to his rate from last season. However, a career high ground ball rate of 51.1 percent, infield fly ball rate of 20.1 percent and a line drive rate of 11.1 percent indicate that his BABIP could be below average for most of the season. His batting average will improve, but a .230/.335/.420 line and 15-17 home runs will certainly fall below what most owners were expecting for the season.