Bryan LaHair (ESPN: 32 percent owned; Yahoo!: 41 percent owned)
In many ways, LaHair’s start is what I expected from him. He’s not leading the league in home runs — hat tip to you, Matt Kemp, and your home run every 8 PAs — but he’s in the pack tied for sixth in the NL after jacks in back-to-back games against St. Louis. He’s also striking out a fair amount, which should come as no surprise for a young player whose ability to stay in the majors is directly related to his power. His 33 percent strikeout rate ranks him fifth in the NL, which isn’t great, but in most leagues it’s really neither here nor there, since outs are outs when strikeouts aren’t a hitting category.
Even though I was a LaHair believer before the season, I’ve been impressed with his non-power contributions. His .367 average is built on an unsustainable .522 BABIP, but is also the outcome of better-than-expected plate discipline. LaHair’s minor league walk rate isn’t bad, but his current 17 percent rate grades out as a career best irrespective of level, something that obviously raises his stock in OBP leagues. I don’t expect his batting average to stay in the .300s for the rest of the season, but if he continues to be selective with his swings, there’s no reason he won’t be able to keep his average in the .275-.280 range. He is swinging at an above-average number of pitches out of the strike zone, something he’ll need to fix lest opposing pitchers learn to exploit it.
Even with Anthony Rizzo killing the ball in Triple-A to the tune of .373/.420/.693 with 7 HR in 81 PAs, LaHair doesn’t look like he’s in any danger of losing playing time. As the weather in Chicago warms up and the wind blows from a less northerly direction, LaHair may find home runs even easier to come by than he is now. He’ll never be Prince Fielder or Miguel Cabrera, but if those guys are available on the waiver wire the way LaHair is, you might want to think about playing in a deeper league.
Tommy Milone (ESPN: 7 percent owned; Yahoo! 17 percent owned)
If you’re combing the waiver wire for strikeouts, Milone is not for you. If you’re looking for help for rate stats, Milone is likely to be the best option available. His paltry 4.33 K/9 isn’t going to be an upgrade over too many rostered starters — though oddly, it is better than both Madison Bumgarner’s 4.07 and Brandon Morrow’s 4.05 K/9 — but he doesn’t seem worse for the wear. His 0.85 WHIP over his first four starts with the A’s is incredibly impressive. Much of his success is coming from his 44 percent groundball rate, as well as his .205 BABIP. I must confess some surprise that he isn’t suffering more seeing-eye singles with a groundball rate that high, but Oakland is turning balls in play into outs at the sixth best rate in the majors, which certainly helps keep Milone’s BABIP low.
Milone is starting about two-thirds of the hitters he faces off with strike one, something that’s keeping hitters from feasting on his offerings in the zone, but what’s perhaps most intriguing to me about Milone is the extent to which he is keeping hitters off balance. Over his four starts, Milone is getting hitters to swing at pitches out of the zone and take pitches in the zone at above average rates. When hitters do get it right and swing at pitches in the zone, they are making contact at a rate well above average, but it’s a habit he can indulge as long as he continues to induce plenty of weak contact. He’ll get in trouble if hitters start laying off his pitches out of the zone, but so far, no one has shown an ability to do it, so he’s worth rostering going forward.