Francisco Liriano, Twins
Liriano, 26, has reclaimed his place as one of the game’s elite starters. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in November of 2006, the lefty posted back-to-back ordinary seasons in 2008 (4.31 xFIP) and 2009 (4.55 xFIP), lacking the power, control and strong ground ball tendencies which allowed him to wreak havoc in ’06. He also missed time last season with elbow and forearm injuries, again calling into question his durability.
In 2010, however, Liriano has 9.41 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, a 49.5% rate of grounders and a 3.12 xFIP that ranks second to Cliff Lee among qualified AL starters. His mid-80’s slider has always been wicked — it has a +2.49 runs/100 value during his career, and is at +2.71 this season. He’s going to that breaking pitch about 36 percent of the time. But it’s Liriano’s two-seam fastball that’s making a big difference.
Liriano’s heat has been hammered for a -0.8 runs/100 mark during his career, but the pitch (up to 93.5 MPH, from 91 MPH in ’08 and ’09) has a +0.5 runs/100 value this year. He’s throwing the pitch for strikes (64.6%, 61.9% MLB average). Couple the souped-up, well-located fastball with Liriano’s untouchable slider — he’s throwing the pitch for strikes 74.7% (62.7% MLB average) and getting whiffs 24% (13% MLB average) — and you have the recipe for pitcher’s counts and little contact. Liriano’s first pitch strike percentage is 61.6% (58% MLB average) and his contact rate is 75% (80-81% MLB average).
Mike Pelfrey, Mets
Speaking of improved pitches, Pelfrey’s splitter has helped him take a step forward this season. The 6-7 sinkerballer threw his tailing low-90’s fastball nearly 80% of the time in years past, getting ground balls put few punch outs. He experimented with sliders and curves, but neither pitch has been especially effective (-0.76 runs/100 for the slider, -0.2 runs/100 for the curve).
Pelfrey has shifted his pitching strategy this season, going to his fastball about two-thirds of the time and throwing a mid-80’s splitter nearly 19 percent. He’s still keeping the ball down (a career-high 52.5 GB%), but Pelfrey’s K rate has climbed to 6.53, his best showing in the majors. While he hasn’t morphed into the ace that his ERA (2.39) suggests, Pelfrey has a quality 3.87 xFIP. His strand rate (near 83 percent) and sub-six HR/FB rate will likely rise. Still, the changes in Pelfrey’s game make him an asset to the Mets and a guy worthy of fantasy consideration.
Jay Bruce, Reds
“The Boss” entered the season as a prime rebound candidate, given his history of pulverizing minor league pitching and his strong walk and power numbers that were obscured by a low BABIP in 2009. So far, so good for Cincy’s 23-year-old right fielder: Bruce has a .368 wOBA.
He hasn’t quite displayed the light-tower power of past seasons (.197 ISO), but Bruce is still putting a charge into the ball often enough while continuing to improve his plate discipline. His rate of swings on pitches outside of the strike zone has gone from 30.4% in 2008 to 26.1% last season, to 24.4% in 2010. Consequently, his walk rate has climbed — 7.3% in ’08, 9.8% in ’09 and 12.4% this year. Bruce has top-shelf secondary skills, and the best is yet to come.
Grady Sizemore, Indians
Eno was all over the news that Sizemore underwent microfracture surgery, a devastating blow to the Indians and fantasy owners who were looking for a rebound from one of the game’s best players — Sizemore averaged 6.4 WAR per season from 2005-2008, with a park-and-league-adjusted wOBA that was 33 percent above average (133 wRC+).
Sizemore declined to a 112 wRC+ during an ’09 season marred by abdominal and elbow injuries, both of which required surgical fixes. In 2010, he had a paltry 53 wRC+, as his normally excellent patience and pop were nowhere to be seen. Sizemore’s outside swing rate soared to 33 percent (19.1% career average) and his rate of swings on pitches within the zone dipped to 59.4% (65.3% career average). His ISO was just .078 (.204 career).
Hopefully the 27-year-old can return and resume being a franchise-type player, but the truth is, we just don’t know how the procedure will affect his play. Those in keeper leagues have to be feeling Sizemore’s pain.
Cameron Maybin, Marlins
While fellow 2005 first-round fly catchers Justin Upton, Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen, Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury and Colby Rasmus have established themselves in the majors, Maybin has scuffled. In 489 career PA, the 23-year-old has a .308 wOBA, with rough plate discipline (7.6 BB%, 31 K%).
Maybin’s at an uncomfortable, in-between state right now. He’ll either see reduced playing time in the majors, hardly optimal for his development, or perhaps he’ll head back to Triple-A, where he already proved himself last season (.387 wOBA). Ross could be headed out of town in the next couple of months, opening up an everyday job for Maybin. His long-term potential is still excellent. But for now, Maybin’s no longer a prospect and not yet an accomplished big leaguer.
J.J. Hardy Twins
Minnesota acquired Hardy during the off-season for CF Carlos Gomez, hoping that J.J. would provide superb D and produce offensively at a level closer to his 2007 (.338 wOBA) and 2008 (.355 wOBA) work than his .292 mark in 2009. While Hardy, 27, has lived up to expectations with the leather, he has been a near-automatic out at the dish.
When healthy enough to take the field (he served a DL stint with a left wrist sprain, which apparently is still bothering him), Hardy has a .268 wOBA. His .237 BABIP will improve to an extent (though his line drive rate is generally pretty low, and his pop up rate high). Hardy’s rest-of-season ZiPS projection has a .312 wOBA. Coupled with rangy defense, that’s good enough to make him a solid starter for the Twins. ZiPS doesn’t know about Hardy’s wrist, though, and fantasy players getting none of the benefits of Hardy’s glove will want to look elsewhere for shortstop help.