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Fantasy baseball Pitching Report: Slowey slinging strikeouts

Photo: Michael Perez/AP

Kevin Slowey's slider has baffled batters at the plate this year, contributing to his career-high numbers.

Last week in this space we discussed Hisashi Iwakuma, a pitcher whom you should hold onto, rather than selling high. This week, we'll look at a pitcher on the flip-side of that decision: Miami's Kevin Slowey.

Slowey has been well established in the minds of the baseball community and fantasy owners for years now. He'll provide mediocre rates and not a ton of strikeouts, but he won't walk very many, either. For fantasy purposes, he's forever a stream option -- nothing more, nothing less.

That is, until 2013. This season Slowey is sporting the best strikeout rate of his career, helping him to a 1.81 ERA, 2.95 FIP and 0.94 WHIP in 44.2 innings. If you have any delusions that he'll keep this up the rest of the year, hopefully we can get rid of those within the next couple paragraphs. Slowey's success this season is built on a precarious foundation of good fortune and a sudden, seemingly unsustainable ability to avoid the home run.

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When a guy like Slowey, who came into this season with 90 career starts and 532.2 career innings, experiences a previously unreached level of success, the first necessary step in evaluating him is to check if he has changed his repertoire, or if any of his pitches have become more effective. Slowey still features the default four offerings of your typical big league pitcher, but the one major difference is that his velocity is down across the board, with his fastball clocking in at a career-low 88.7 MPH. However, according to Fangraphs, his slider currently ranks as the third best in the majors; in every other year of his career, it had a negative value when compared with the rest of his peers. He's getting hitters to swing at his slider 44.7 percent of the time it's out of the strike zone, and the pitch has an 11.4 percent swinging-strike rate. Somehow, his slider is confounding hitters in a big way this season.

Still, the luck factor is screaming way too loudly for us to ignore. Slowey has a .250 BABIP and 87.9 percent strand rate. Other than 2011, Slowey has been in the league-average range for strand rate, which is in the low- to mid-70s. His BABIP, too, has been typically league average, though he does have outlier seasons of .330 and .345. Additionally, Slowey's 5.7 percent home run/fly ball ratio would be a career best by almost a full three percentage points. His slider likely has something to do with that, but he's also posting a career worst 25 percent line-drive rate, and his fly ball rate remains high at 42 percent. Expecting him to cut down on homers while still allowing the same share of line drives and fly balls would be foolish. When the homers come back, the ERA will rise, even if he manages to continue striking out batters at his current rate.

One final factor working against Slowey is his team. Pitcher wins is a flawed statistic and hard to predict, but it's a safe bet no one on the Marlins is going to rack them up by the arm full this season. Slowey's numbers look great right now, and with a lot of big-name starters on the DL (Jered Weaver, Josh Johnson, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, Roy Halladay, Brett Anderson), there's a good chance someone in your league is in the market for a starter. Now is the time to trade away Slowey.

Starting Pitcher Barometer

Who's Up?

? Lance Lynn, St. Louis Cardinals -- Shelby Miller is getting a ton of attention this year, but Lynn is building quite nicely on his breakout 2012 campaign. More importantly, he has improved all three of his secondary pitches. Last year, only his fastball had a positive value by season's end, but this year, all four of his pitches are on the plus side of the ledger, with his curveball inside the top 30 in the league. He turns 26 later this week, and is in just his second year as a starter in the majors, giving him plenty of room for growth.

? Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees -- Kuroda is on the other end of the age/room-for-growth spectrum, but he's equally as valuable for fantasy owners. After a year in which he helped stabilize the Yankees' rotation, Kuroda has been arguably the Bombers' most important pitcher this season. He's striking out 7.5 batters per nine innings, thanks in large part to a slider that is more effective than at any previous time in his career. He has been fortunate with a .248 BABIP and 83.3 percent strand rate, but he's also avoiding hard contact, evidenced by his 16.5 percent line-drive rate and 15.6 percent infield-fly-ball rate.

? Travis Wood, Chicago Cubs -- As bad as the Cubs have been this year, their starting pitching has actually been a strength, and Wood has been a big part of that. He has a 2.50 ERA and a 3.67 FIP, despite striking out fewer than six batters per nine innings. His .193 BABIP is bound to come up sooner or later, but his strand rate is right around league average, so the ERA correction might not be so violent. He's a great target for deeper mixed leaguers or those of you in 12-team leagues looking to fill the back end of your rotation.

Who's Down?

? Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox -- I hate downgrading a guy based solely on injury status, but that's exactly what's happening here with Peavy. He has been scratched from two straight starts, and now there are rumblings his back issue will cause him to go to the DL. For a guy with Peavy's injury history, this is troubling. You're not going to trade him now, mainly because his cloudy status would prevent you from getting the value you'd still deserve even with him hurt. Keep a close eye on news coming out of Chicago.

? Wandy Rodriguez, PittsburghPirates -- It appears the honeymoon for Rodriguez is over. After getting out of the gates strong this year, he has allowed 13 runs on 21 hits and seven walks in his last three starts, a span covering 15.1 innings. His ERA now sits at 4.02 and his FIP is pushing up near 5.00. His once dominant curveball is currently saddled with a negative value. He's definitely still rosterable in most leagues, but he is not matchup-proof.

What a Relief

It was another calm week in the ninth inning, our second straight after a turbulent start to the season. By my count, 22 of the 30 current closers are somewhere between "completely safe" and "safe" in their roles. While a few of those eight closers are relatively safe, two situations deserve the immediate attention of fantasy owners.

? In Boston, both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey are struggling with injuries. Andrew Bailey has a date with the MRI machine to check out his biceps injury, while Hanrahan has reported tightness in his right forearm. Hanrahan struggled before going to the DL, but there's a good chance he hasn't been right since Spring Training. At this point, Koji Uehara will likely take over the ninth inning for now. Bailey owners should definitely still hold onto him, but as I said a few weeks ago, Uehara has value as well, especially if your league uses holds.

? The good news for J.J. Putz is that he's striking out more than 12 batters per nine innings. The bad is that he has converted just five of his nine save chances, has allowed 19 baserunners in 12.2 innings, and has surrendered three homers. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks have three potential replacements in Heath Bell, David Hernandez and Matt Reynolds. Hernandez has struggled a bit this year, but both Bell and Reynolds have outperformed Putz, with Reynolds potentially ahead in the running. He has yet to allow a run in 15.1 innings and has 13 strikeouts to just one walk on the year. Even though Reynolds will have to help his manager overcome the fear of giving a lefty the ball in the ninth, if you're speculating for saves he's my favorite of the three in Arizona.

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