Justin Verlander is humming right along dominating batters as he always does. However, there are a few cracks emerging in the facade. Will the damn hold back the water, or is there reason to be concerned that we might be dealing with something that isn't quite as effective as one would think at first glance? Billy Butler started slowly but has picked it up of late. Were you honestly nervous? Howie Kendrick continues to get it done amidst little fanfare. Ike Davis is awful. Period. Michael Morse was white hot, then ice cold. What's the truth with him? On the bump Patrick Corbin has been fortunate, Matt Moore has one huge flaw he must overcome and Julio Teheran just might be figuring things out.
Is Justin Verlander Still An Ace?
Justin Verlander has a 1.93 ERA and 57 Ks in 51.1 innings so of course he is still a fantasy ace. Honestly, that was just a title to get you to read what I have to say (sneaky I know, sorry about that). The title really should have been something more along the lines of is Verlander as good as people expected him to be? 'But Ray, he has more than a K per inning and his ERA is under two, so what are you talking about?' Let's lay out the case.
From 2009-2012 Justin averaged at least 94.3 mph on his fastball as he is famously able to run up the heater late in games when he needs to (he often hits 98 mph late in games). However, this season his fastball is down at 92.2 mph, a career low and 2.6 mph below his career mark. People freaked out when Tim Lincecum and Felix Hernandez lost 2-3 mph off their fastballs. Why hasn't anyone noted the decrease in velo for Verlander?
The loss of mph hasn't effected his K-rate, his 9.99 K/9 mark would actually be the second best mark of his career. However, he's having a harder time locating his pitches. The last two years he's posted BB/9marks of 2.04 and 2.27. This year that mark is a full batter higher at 3.16. The last time he had a mark that high was 2008.
Verlander has always been a bit homer stingy, his career HR/9 mark is 0.77, but the mark has been ridiculously low this year as he's allowed one homer in 51.1 innings leading to a 0.18 mark. He's never had a season below 0.56 by the way.
His WHIP is 1.21. That would be a five year high.
It's early of course, but his .229 BAA would be a four year high.
It's far too early to preach nervousness, and as I noted I took some license with the title of this section (of course Verlander is still a fantasy ace). However, there are some cracks in the foundation that should let you know that there isn't a 2011 season coming down the pipe and that his ERA could go up, potentially by a full run, if he keeps pitching as he has to this point.
Batters to Watch
Billy Butler was hitting .228 with 20 RBIs two days ago. Now he's patting .268 with 27 RBIs in 36 games. Did you really think he was going to struggle all year? Come on now. Butler has been one of the more consistent hitters in baseball the past four years.
From 2009-12 he hit between .291 and .318.
From 2009-12 he had an OBP between .361-.388.
From 2009-12 he had an OPS between .822-.882.
From 2009-12 he had a GB/FB rate between 1.27-1.64.
He was a rock of stability. He should continue to be just that type of hitter this year. With his two game bonanza of offense he's now sitting with a .377 OBP and his OPS is .832. Exactly what should have been expected. When his BABIP normalizes, his current mark of .289 would be a career low (the number has been between .316 and .341 the past four years), his batting average will likely climb back up to expected levels. He's also sporting a 14.7 percent HR/F ratio which would be the second best mark of his career, though he's going to have a hard time topping 25 homers if he continues to flub along with his current 33.3 fly ball rate which is not a surprising mark given his 33.4 percent career rate. It's just not the fly ball rate you need to consistently hit 25+ homers.
Ike Davis is awful. Do I really need to say more? Here are the facts. The guys isn't a very good hitter, and his weaknesses can easily be exploited. When a pitcher makes a mistake he can hammer it into the seats, but when he makes his pitch Davis has no shot. Since the start of last season Davis has hit .217 over 637 at-bats. He's also struck out a whopping 181 times leading to a pathetic .299 OBP (to compare, the NL average since the start of last season is .326). Even his power, the 36 homers, has led to a mere .730 OPS which is eight points below the NL average. Face it, he's been a terrible offensive performer who's only redeeming quality is the home run. I have to think the average could come up to this career .244 mark, but given how awful he has been since the start of last season, and that his K-rate is up five percent this year from last, I find it hard to recommend adding him even if he's sitting on the waiver-wire.
Howie Kendrick has 18 RBIs and 13 runs scored, and people are saying to themselves 'oh well, just another blah season from Kendrick.' However, is that accurate? He's on pace to steal 16 bases, he's hit exactly 14 each of the past three years. He's already gone deep six times. That puts him on pace to challenge his career best mark of 18, even if he's unlikely to get there. He's hitting .294. Do you mean to tell me, honestly, that you wouldn't be excited to have a second baseman who hit .294 with 24 homers and 16 steals? What if the numbers were .300-25-15... would you feel better about that? I'll take Kendrick as my starter at second any time, and so should you.
Michael Morse hit six homers in his first seven games with the Mariners and everyone was convinced he was going to be an elite option in 2013. Now he's slumping and people are dropping him from their rosters. Oh ye fickle fantasy owner, how about exercising some patience? No, we can't do that can we? Here are the facts, and they might surprise you. (1) Morse is on pace to set a career high this season with 36 homers. Thirty six. (2) More has hit .289, .303 and .291 the past three years. He's a career .291 hitter. Do you really think he's going to suddenly morph into a sub .250 hitter? He's posted a BABIP of at least .330 each of the past three years. That mark is currently .277. I predict the average will come up, the power production will slow, and we'll be looking at a .280-25 type at seasons end, just what we all should have been expecting from the start.
Pitchers to Watch
Patrick Corbin is 6-0 and in eight starts he's yet to allow more than two runs in any start, all of which have lasted six innings mind you. The result is a wondrous 1.52 ERA and 1.07 WHIP for the second year lefty from the D'Backs. You know what I'm going to say though... be wary of the regression monster. You know, even if you disagree with me about his overall outlook, that his W-L record will soon take a turn for the worse. You also have to know the ERA is going up. Where will it settle? The 3.54 mark he owns for his career is a good bet given his skill set. His K/9 is down this year at 6.92, and his BB/9 is up at 2.87 (7.23 and 2.10 last year). So he's striking out less and walking more but his ERA is down three runs (it was 4.54 last season). Right, that's going to continue. Given that he's spot on with his 1.46 GB/FB rate, it was 1.47 last year, you know where I'm going next, right? I'm talking homers and hits. Last year he allowed a league average 1.18 homers per nine. This year that number is down to 0.34. That mark will at least double, if not more. His BABIP last year was .317. This season that mark is .259. By the way, the mark that last two years in the minors, over 239.2 innings, was .335. Yeah, his BABIP is coming up. You have two choices. You can just ride the wave given that you paid nothing for him in mixed leagues (you might have even gotten him off waivers). You can trade him when his value is at it's peak. I'd investigate the trade route.
Matt Moore is 7-0 with a 2.44 ERA and 51 Ks in 48 innings. Fantastic work for the second year lefty who is living up to expectations. Alas, some concerns (I'm such a downer, aren't I?). Moore has allowed 1.31 homers per nine innings, that's a bit high. His 92.9 LOB is at least 10 points too high (last year the leading mark in baseball was 82.7 percent by Jeremy Hellickson). His BABIP is .193, exactly .100 points lower than last year. It's coming up. Finally, the walks. Always a bit erratic, Moore walked a poor 4.11 batters per nine last season. This year the mark has taken a turn for the worse as it's risen up to 4.69 per nine. Last season there were 14 men who walked 3.50 batters per nine or more while throwing at least 162 innings. Of that group of 14 none posted an ERA under 3.61. NONE. Moore is a full batter above that walk rate right now, and then a little bit extra. Last year three men walked more than 4.50 batters per nine. Their names and ERA's follow: Ricky Romero (5.22 per nine, 5.77 ERA), Edinson Volquez (5.17 per nine, 4.14 ERA) and Ubaldo Jimenez (4.84 per nine, 5.40 ERA). Moore better cut the walks, or that ERA is going to climb, a lot.
Julio Teheran is 2-1 with a 4.57 ERA and 1.48 WHIP on the year. He's also sporting a terrible 5.66 K/9 mark. He's certainly improved of late allowing just one homer in four starts after being taken deep five times in his first three games, and he's thrown at least six innings in three of his last four starts (5.1 innings in the other outing). He's also allowed a total of eight earned runs in his last four starts. He's an NL-only option on the bump, but it's still a reach to trust him in mixed leagues.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. For more of Ray's analysis you can check out BaseballGuys.com or the BaseballGuys' Twitter account where he tirelessly answer everyone's questions.
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