Ahead of the Curve: Chris Sale is My Baseball Boyfriend

OMG AN INVERTED W!! PANIC PANIC PANIC!!!

The introduction is a nice time to take a step back and reflect upon what is going on right in front of our eyes. I had read a couple of articles online about how offense is down once again in 2012, but I wanted to take a more detailed look to see how this affects what we look at in fantasy. The most interesting stat I came across was that the league-wide strikeout rate is up for the 7th straight season. Here are the league K-rates, starting with 2005: 16.5%, 16.8%, 17.1%, 17.5%, 18.0%, 18.5%, 18.6%, 19.3%.

This is a pretty significant increase and leads us to the conclusion that higher-K pitchers, while still valuable commodities, are not as uncommon as we tend to believe they are. For example, in 2011 there were 29 ERA-title qualifying pitchers who finished the season with an 8.0 K/9 rate or higher. This season, there are 38. Not a mind blowing difference there, but certainly one that carries some significance. So this means the number of K's you thought you were going to need to contend in the category this year, may not be enough. Especially with guys like Jeff Samardzija, Anthony Bass, Jason Hammel, Lance Lynn and Drew Smyly coming out of nowhere. Hopefully you have one of them to make up the difference..

As far as match-ups go, only one change of note. With the Matt Kemp injury, the Dodgers go from an average match-up on the road and an above average match-up at home, to a plus match-up everywhere (at least for the next two weeks). Pretty constant elsewhere, so let's get to the action!

THE POTENTIAL OUTPERFORMERS

Chris Sale (MIN, @TB, SEA, HOU, @LAD, CHC, @MIN)

I have not been shy about how taken I am with Chris Sale as a starting pitcher. Unfortunately, he spent much of the last two weeks getting jerked around by the White Sox brass -- but after finally seeing the light, Sale has been returned the rotation. His first start back against KC was a little rough, but he held his velocity and induced swinging strikes much better Thursday night against the Angels. Needless to say, this schedule will lend itself to more positive outings in the future.

Ryan Dempster (CHW, @PIT, SD, @MLW, @MIN)

Sticking in Chicago, Ryan Dempster amazingly is the owner of a 1.74 ERA through 6 starts, but has zero wins to show for it. Dempster's been very impressive as right now he's posting both the highest strikeout rate and lowest walk rate of his career. Of course, he also won't maintain a 3.0% HR/FB rate and his .259 BABIP is likely to come up. But I expect Dempster to continue to pitch well in this upcoming stretch, and based on what you likely paid for him, the opportunity to cash him in at quite a profit may exist come mid-June.

Neftali Feliz (@HOU, @SEA, SEA, @OAK, @SF, HOU, @SD)

This is just a disgusting schedule. If the Feliz owner in your league is sabermetrically inclined, he/she may be concerned about Feliz's performance going forward due to his 4.63 xFIP and his .206 BABIP against. But the interesting thing about that is the BABIP may not be as fluky as it seems. Feliz has induced pop ups at a near MLB leading 22% (behind only Justin Verlander) and his line drive rate is under 15%, as it has been for his career. Plus, the Rangers are at .271 as a team (top 5 in MLB), which means the defense is there behind him as well.

Tim Lincecum (OAK, @MIA, ARZ, @SD)

Two match-ups at home and two in arguably the two biggest pitchers' parks in baseball. If Lincecum can't get it turned around during this stretch, there may not be much hope left for him.

Marco Estrada (MIN, SF, @LAD, PIT, SD, @MIN)

Now HERE'S a pitcher who might actually be available in your league. Estrada (Owned: 9% CBS, 3% Yahoo!, <1% ESPN) does have a 4.5 K/BB ratio and 1.10 WHIP, but his 4.20 ERA and 0 wins look pretty underwhelming. Obviously, fantasy owners aren't buying Estrada as a realistic option, but in deeper mixed and NL-only leagues, this schedule makes him a sneaky good play over the next month or so.

Other Potential Outperformers:

Trevor Cahill (LAD, @SF, @SD, OAK, @LAA, SEA)
Jeff Samardzija (CHW, @HOU, SD, @SF, @MIN)
Matt Garza (@HOU, @PIT, @SF, @MLW)
Dan Haren (@SD, @SEA, NYY, SEA)
Ervin Santana (@SD, @SEA, NYY, SEA)
Anibal Sanchez (@CLE, SF, WSH, ATL, TB)
Josh Johnson (@CLE, SF, WSH, ATL)
Shaun Marcum (SF, @LAD, PIT, SD, @KC)
Anthony Bass (LAA, @NYM, @CHC, SF, @SEA, @OAK, SEA)
Jaime Garcia (SD, PHI, @NYM, @HOU, CHW, KC)
Adam Wainwright (SD, PHI, @NYM, @HOU, CHW)

THE POTENTIAL UNDERPERFORMERS

Ted Lilly (STL, @ARZ, MIL, @COL)

Lilly has been a great story so far this year, with 5 wins in 6 starts to go with his 2.11 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. Unfortunately, this is all going to come to an end soon. There's a reason that Lilly's xFIP is 4.68 -- and that reason is actually a lot of reasons. A 2.2% HR/FB rate and a .196 BABIP against are both good places to start. He also has a K/BB rate below 2.0 for the first time since 2006. If you can deal him now, I would. In fact, right now he's owned in more ESPN leagues than Adam Wainwright or Josh Johnson.

Felix Doubront (@BAL, DET, @TOR, WSH)

Three tough match-ups are on the docket for Doubront, and he's really going to need to walk fewer guys to have any success here. I'd avoid him until the Red Sox head into interleague play.

Lucas Harrell (TEX, @LAD, @COL, STL, @CHW, @TEX)

One woof for Harrell. Three woofs for that schedule.

Other Potential Underperformers:

Justin Masterson (MIA, DET, KC, @DET, @STL)
Kevin Correia (@DET, CHC, @MLW, @CIN, @BAL)
Kevin Millwood (@COL, TEX, @TEX, @CHW)

#STREAMEROFTHEDAY UPDATE

As you may know, I post a streamer of the day owned in less than 10% of leagues on a daily basis at @tfw_bret on Twitter. And as a staple of this column, I'm going to review my picks as the season goes on. Here are the final numbers for the past seven #streameroftheday picks:

2 wins, 3.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 35 K's in 44 innings.

And the details:

Date Pitcher Opp IP ER H BB K ERA WHIP Dec
11-May Rick Porcello OAK 5 4 9 3 4 7.20 2.40 L
12-May Phil Hughes SEA 7 2/3 1 6 1 4 1.17 0.91 W
13-May AJ Burnett HOU 8 2 6 0 4 2.25 0.75 ND
14-May Christian Friedrich SF 7 1 6 1 10 1.29 1.00 ND
15-May Dillon Gee MIL 5 1/3 7 8 1 4 11.81 1.69 L
16-May Rick Porcello MIN 4 2 6 0 3 4.50 1.50 ND
17-May Aaron Harang SD 7 0 4 0 6 - 0.57 W

A solid showing this week, with the highlight being Friedrich's 10 K game and the lowlight being my continued belief that Rick Porcello can have success in cake match-ups. One of these days I'll learn...and then he'll start to be the pitcher he's capable of becoming.

Follow me on Twitter at @tfw_bret

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