2014 Fantasy Baseball: Week 12 Free Agent Fixes
This week’s Free Agent Fixes are pitcher heavy with a trio highlighted. A player that is second base and third base eligible is showing some signs of being AL-only and large mixed league relevant even if the surface stats don’t suggest it. In the outfield there is a Rockies player that stands to benefit a ton from Michael Cuddyer‘s injury, and with ownership rates under 20 percent across ESPN, Yahoo! and CBS platforms, he’s a guy with substantial upside that needs to be scooped up.
Roenis Elias, SP, Seattle Mariners
Ownership: ESPN: 9.1%, Yahoo!: 18%, CBS: 62%
Elias had a messy turn against the Yankees at home in his last start, but overall he’s shown enough to be rostered in large mixed leagues and AL-only leagues. His 4.13 ERA is almost identical to his 4.14 FIP, and that suggests that he’s pitching to his true talent. That said, I think there is some upside for more.
The rookie southpaw walked an unacceptable number of batters in his first month in the Show, walking 12.1 percent in April. Since the start of May, he’s walked just 7.6 percent of the batters he has faced, a mark that compares favorably to what FanGraphs has as the league average, 8.0 percent. His strikeout rate has also been on the rise. After striking out just 18.1 percent of batters in April, he’s upped that mark to 22.2 percent since.
The pitch that I’m in love with, and the reason I believe his strikeout rate is sustainable, is his curveball. Baseball Prospectus credits 84 starting pitchers with throwing a minimum of 100 curveballs, and Elias ranks 11th among those pitchers in whiff/swing percentage. When hitters aren’t swinging through the pitch, they are pounding 64 percent of the batted balls into the ground.
In addition to throwing the curve, Brooks Baseball shows his repertoire includes a fourseam fastball, sinker, and changeup. His usage shows that he’s willing to mix all of his pitches, and that has allowed him to maintain an even platoon split with a .322 wOBA against left-handed batters and .315 wOBA against right-handed batters. The seeds of a back end starter in large mixed leagues are there, and Elias should be owned in more leagues.
Jake Arrieta, SP, Chicago Cubs
Ownership: ESPN: 6.4%, Yahoo!: 11%, CBS: 23%
I like Elias, but I like Arrieta even more. His repertoire is headlined by a big heater. His fourseam fastball is averaging 94.7 mph, and his sinker averages 94.78 mph according to Brooks Baseball. It’s not all gas with him, though. He also throws two breaking balls, a slider and curveball, and a changeup. He’s riding his deep pitch mix to silly numbers this year.
In eight starts spanning 43 innings he has struck out 24.6 percent of the batters he’s faced, walked only 7.8 percent of them, and induced groundballs on 52.1 percent of the balls put in play. When a pitcher can combine a big strikeout rate with a groundball rate north of 50 percent, they need to be on more rosters than Arrieta is.
Getting back to his pitch mix, he’s utilizing it perfectly and his splits portray that. Left-handed batters own a .271 wOBA against him, and right-handed batters own a .267 wOBA this year. I’m not going to suggest he can maintain that type of dominant split, but looking at how he’s choosing to mix his pitches leaves me feeling he can avoid struggles against either handed hitter. Arrieta’s deep arsenal has provided him little reason to use his changeup against right-handed batters, but he’s willing to use it against lefties throwing it almost 12 percent of the time to them. He has all the goodies in place to continue to thrive, and he needs to be nearly universally owned.
Jonathan Schoop, 2B/3B, Baltimore Orioles
Ownership: ESPN: 0.6%, Yahoo!: 2%, CBS: 12%
At this point in time, rostering Schoop in any mixed leagues is a stretch, but that could be changing. On the year his plate discipline profile is that of a free swinger with some contact issues. Schoop has swung at 55.5 percent of pitches thrown to him (46.1 percent is the league average) and chased 41.0 percent of pitches thrown outside the strike zone (30.0 percent o-swing is league average), and his contact rate of 76.3 percent is 3.1 percent below the league average. According to FanGraphs last 30 days information, he’s improved across the board swinging at 50.7 percent of pitches, 39.0 percent thrown out of the strike zone, while making contact 80.5 percent of the time. If he’s finally getting comfortable in the majors, his natural talent will begin to shine.
The Baseball Prospectus team ranked Schoop fifth in the Orioles system and an average grade on both his hit and power tools. Average grades in both would play very well from the middle infield position in large mixed leagues, and his third base eligibility would earn him some bonus points for rosterability. Furthermore, he gets the benefit of playing his home games in hitter friendly Camden Yards. Also, I’m encouraged by Schoop’s flyball distances. Baseball Heatmaps has him ranked 69th out of 262 in home run and flyball batted ball distance with an average mark of 288.43 feet. Hitting the ball a long way is half the battle, but cutting back on the worm burners he’s hitting is the half Schoop doesn’t have mastered just yet. He’s hit 52.3 percent of his batted ball into the ground, and he’s struggling to hit line drives.
I hate to suggest adding players to watch lists, since it is often a cop out, but Schoop is owned in so few leagues that gamers can afford to sit back and watch him a bit. If his improvement in selectivity leads to changes in his batted ball profile, Schoop will be more than a deep AL-only league options. For now, file his name away and keep tabs on him.
Drew Stubbs, OF, Colorado Rockies
Ownership: ESPN: 10.1%, Yahoo!: 10%, CBS: 19%
Simply put, Stubbs should be owned in all but shallow mixed leagues. Michael Cuddyer is out for 6-8 weeks with a fractured shoulder, and Carlos Gonzalez is expected to miss a few weeks after having a tumor removed from his finger. In the mean time, Stubbs will see a hearty boost in playing time, and that’s huge for his counting stats even if increased exposure to right-handed pitchers will hurt his batting average.
The 29-year old center fielder is continuing with his career path of roughing up lefties and struggling with right-handed pitchers. As a result, his batting average will never be a fantasy asset, but he is hitting .253 against right-handed pitchers this year compared to a career mark of .228. He’s also kicked his production up against left-handed pitching, too, hitting .404 against lefties this year compared to .285 for his career. The career .244 hitter is enjoying his jump in production in part because he’s posting a .410 BABIP (.328 BABIP in his career), but also because he’s cut his strikeout rate down from 29.2 percent in his career to 27.4 percent this year.
Expecting him to keep his BABIP above .400 would be nuts, however he’s always had a high BABIP, and Steve Staude showed that from 2009-2012 Coors Field had a BABIP park factor of 105.5, so a higher mark this year shouldn’t come as a shock. That’s probably not the best part about Stubbs playing his home games at Coors Field, either.
In terms of run values by pitch available at FanGraphs, Stubbs lowest values come against curveballs and changeups. That’s important to note because Dan Rozenson did eye opening research for a Baseball Prospectus piece that was published last April that looked at which pitch types were best and worst at Coors Field when compared to how they fared in other MLB parks. No pitch had a higher increase in batting average when thrown at Coors Field than curveballs (a 61 point jump), and changeups had the greatest increase in ISO (53 points). That plays right into the hands of Stubbs, and because pitchers aren’t dummies, Rozenson’s data also showed that they throw 1.9 percent fewer curveballs at Coors Field.
Thanks to favorable variables, namely his new home park, Stubbs looks like a player that is capable of hitting in the .260-.270 range even while striking out in over a quarter of his plate appearances. With a palatable average, the rest of Stubbs’ game looks superb. He’s never fallen short of double digits in homers in a full season of work (he hit eight homers in his 196 plate appearances rookie season), and his speed is tantalizing. Stubbs stole 100 bases from 2010-2012, and even in a down year last season he stole 17 bases in 19 chances. The total package is an outfielder that should be gobbled up in all but the shallowest of leagues.
Logan Morrison, 1B, Seattle Mariners
Ownership: ESPN: 0.0%, Yahoo!: 1%, CBS: 6%
I don’t love Morrison, and the biggest reason is due to his limited position eligibility. First base is deep, and the bar is set exceptionally high to be useful even in AL-only leagues. It’s not out of the question for Morrison to gain additional eligibility since he has played in four games (three starts) in the outfield. Until he gains that, though, Morrison has enough going for him to take a flyer on as a corner infielder in some AL-only leagues.
In five games since being activated from the disabled list last week, Lloyd McClendon has slotted Morrison fifth in the Mariners lineup twice and penciled him in the cleanup spot twice. Continued slotting in either lineup spot would help maximize the former Marlins’ run production upside. The 26-year old has disappointed from a power perspective for most of his career, but back in 2011 he did belt 23 homers, so he does pack some punch. Morrison is also a patient hitter that gets a boost in leagues that count on-base percentage thanks to his 11.0 percent walk rate in his career.
It’s tough to be optimistic about Morrison given his past failures, but he hit .308/.416/.477 in 77 plate appearances at the Triple-A level while rehabbing, and he hit a homer in just his second game back from the disabled list. Justin Smoak was dreadful before hitting the disabled list himself, so the bar isn’t very high for Morrison to snag the job at first base full-time and run with it. The ceiling isn’t spectacularly high for Morrison, but even if a duplication of his 2011 is the high water mark for him, that would play in AL-only formats. I’m not sure that is the best Morrison has to offer, however, and his offseason change of scenery could be a what it takes to unlock the skills that made him a top-20 prospect prior to the 2009 and 2010 seasons according to Baseball America. If you need corner infield help or a utility bat in AL-only leagues, give Morrison a go and see if he’s the latest post-hype success story.
Carlos Martinez, RP, St. Louis Cardinals
Ownership: ESPN: 1.1%, Yahoo!: 26%, CBS: 21%
Martinez is owned in more CBS leagues than the normal only league picks I select, but I’m not ready to endorse him in most mixed leagues, and recent news involving him is worth discussing. The flame-throwing Cardinals pitcher has spent almost all of his big league time in the club’s bullpen making 50 relief appearances and just one start. He’ll make his second big league start on Monday night against the Mets in place of Adam Wainwright.
The team has said that skipping his start is precautionary, and that it is due to inflammation from tendinitis in the back of his pitching elbow. He’s expected to be able to make his next start, but even without structural damage, we’re still talking about a pitcher that has had Tommy John surgery. The Cardinals have zero reason to rush Wainwright.
There isn’t a rotation spot for Martinez when all of the arms are healthy, but a stellar start could get him another look as a starter in the event an injury befalls a member of the rotation. With Jaime Garcia occupying one of the rotation spots, the likelihood of an injury to starter is high.
Despite his slender frame, Martinez pumps out fastballs in the upper-90s with regularity. He backs his cheddar with a slider and changeup, and all of his pitches are bat missers. The 22-year old pitcher has struck out only 19.3 percent of the batters he’s faced this year, but his 12.1 percent swinging strike rate (9.3 percent is the league average according to FanGraphs) suggests much more upside. He also does a great job of keeping the ball on the ground inducing a groundball on 53.6 percent of the batted balls against him in his career. The future is bright for Martinez, and there might be a brief buying window for him in keeper and dynasty leagues. Conversely, I’d advocate selling Martinez in NL-only leagues. His ownership in Yahoo! and CBS leagues indicates there are people hopeful of a 2014 payoff. I think there might be one, but it will take an injury to get full value from him, and there is more value in cashing out while there is some hype.