There are plenty of waiver wire columns out there that provide an exhaustive list of the most added players in fantasy leagues. This isn’t one of them. Here, we’ll run down a few lesser-known, lesser-considered, or lesser-owned players, with perspective on who deserves a your attention, who deserves your patience, and who deserves to go straight to bed without dessert.
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3 TO CATCH
Players to pick up off waivers; owned in less than half of leagues
Carlos Martinez | St. Louis Cardinals | SP/RP
Especially when it comes to pitching, fantasy baseball is as much about understanding roles as it is about evaluating talent. I advocated for Carlos Martinez earlier in the season on the strength of his talent alone. Though his results haven’t quite lived up to the billing I gave him, I’m not going to skip the chance to recommend him again now that he’s fallen into a more favorable situation. With Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia both gone to the DL, Martinez has an ironclad lock on a rotation slot for at least the next few weeks.
Martinez is still stretching himself out, but so far, pitching additional innings hasn’t had any detrimental effect on his dynamite fastball. In his two starts (which, to be fair, lasted four and five innings, respectively) his average fastball velocity remained well above 98 miles per hour and maxed out at over 100, according to Brooks Baseball.
As he’s gone deeper into games, Martinez has leaned on his heater more and more. As a reliever, his fastball usage varied significantly from outing to outing; it’s settled in at about 60% through his first two starts. I suppose it’s not a bad thing to pump in 98 mph 60% of the time, especially when it seems to make your secondary pitches better. Martinez’ changeup and slider were very good in relief; they’ve been unhittable (literally, in the case of the changeup) in his starts.
There are still plenty of refinements to be made, but I’m betting on the fortuitous confluence of talent and role here. Martinez is an add in any and every format.
Juan Francisco | Toronto Blue Jays | 1B/3B
Brett Lawrie’s injury is a bummer, but it does open a door for the struggling Juan Francisco, who’ll now get a chance to hold down the everyday job at third base. He’s flailed his way to a .174/.224/.457 slash line in June and whiffed in more than a third of his plate appearances on the season, but his chase rate and swinging strike rate aren’t that terrible, which portends a bit of improvement in that area.
Infrequent though it might be, wonderful things happen when Francisco does make contact. His 315-foot average fly ball distance ranks fourth in baseball and nine of his 12 home runs would’ve left every yard in the league. He’s the kind of guy who can single-handedly win a category in a head-to-head matchup.
He’ll likely return to part-time duty when Lawrie is back in the lineup, but even so, the next couple of weeks couldn’t possibly line up better for Francisco. The Jays’ are about to embark on a nine-game homestand; Francisco sports a .341 ISO at home.
Jake Odorizzi | Tampa Bay Rays | SP
Over the last 30 days, Jake Odorizzi’s 75 FIP- is better than Jon Lester and Zack Greinke, his 28.5% strikeout rate is better than Adam Wainwright and Jeff Samardzija, and, most surprisingly, his 5.1% walk rate is better than Masahiro Tanaka and Tim Hudson. After scuffling through a season-opening stretch that saw him issue 14 walks and allow 21 runs in his first six starts, Odorizzi is finally tapping into the potential that made him the a coveted asset in the James Shields deal.
His recent success has sprung from his ability to limit free passes. Odorizzi is never going to have Cliff Lee-like control, but he’s begun to pitch smarter, getting ahead with his fastball and putting himself in positions to unleash his swing-and-miss stuff in favorable counts. The movement on his fastball is improving, his velocity has bounced back from a decline earlier in the season, and he’s been more committed to pitching up in the zone and challenging hitters.
The projection systems have Odorizzi pegged for a 4.00-plus ERA the rest of the way, but if these improvements in fastball command are sustainable (and I believe they are), he has a chance to lop half a run or more off of that projection.
3 TO CUT
Players to look to trade or cut, depending on the player in question and depth of your league
Mike Moustakas | Kansas City Royals | 3B
I really don’t know what to make of Mike Moustakas. He’s looked much better since returning from his walkabout in the minor leagues; his strikeout rate is way down, his walk rate is palatable, and he’s already slugged as many home runs (4) in his 19 June games as he hit in the 39 games he played in April and May combined. I want to believe that he’s gotten better. I want to restore my faith in a hitter who was previously regarded as one of the best prospects in the game, but I just can’t shake what I read from Dave Cameron last month.
Moustakas is hacking at everything he sees and unfortunately, he’s making contact with just about all of it. As much as I’d love to conclude that he’d figured something out in the minor leagues, Moustakas still sports a 37.2% swing rate and 82.8% contact rate on pitches outside of the strike zone. It’d be one thing if he had suddenly discovered Panda-like plate coverage, but his slugging percentages on balls outside of the zone (and, for that matter, balls inside the zone) remain less than impressive.
Despite having all of the markings of the type of post-hype sleeper I tend to adore, Moustakas isn’t worth a FAAB buck or any kind of trade asset right now. Yes, he’s produced since returning from the minors, but don’t confuse a small sample of production with a career-altering eureka moment.
Victor Martinez | Detroit Tigers | 1B
Victor Martinez is 35 years old. He’s hit 19 home runs this season. On a HR per PA basis, he’s on pace for almost 40 dingers. His career high for home runs (achieved in 2007) is 25.
The fact that Martinez isn’t going to continue to hit home runs at this pace shouldn’t come as surprising news, but just how much he trails his power hitting contemporaries might.
According to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, Martinez’ homers have averaged a true distance of 385 feet. That lags ten feet behind Josh Donaldson, who ranks immediately behind Martinez with 18 home runs on the season, and a full 18 feet behind Jose Abreu, who ranks just ahead of Martinez with 21 homers this year. It’s more than eight feet behind the MLB average of 393 feet. That’d be fine with Martinez played in a hitter’s park, but he spends half of his time in Comerica Park, which has played as the 20th-best yard for home run hitters this season. Even if you go by his generous ZiPS projection of 11 bombs the rest of the way, 15 healthy first basemen are projected to hit more homers than Martinez.
This is by no means a demand to go out and trade him for 50 cents on the dollar, but without power, Martinez’s value is largely tied up in his batting average. He’s proven to be an elite producer in that category, but batting average is a fickle beast; it proved as much last season when Martinez hit .258 in the first half.
If you drafted VMart, you’ve already turned a huge profit. It’s time to lock that value in.
Drew Hutchison | Toronto Blue Jays | SP
Drew Hutchison entered this season with a reputation as a minor league strikeout artist, but as his first full big league season has unfolded, that reputation has begun to fade. His 20.2% strikeout rate and 9.1% swinging strike rate have both fallen to below MLB average. Since the beginning of May, he’s only had two starts in which he struck out more than 20% of the batters he faced.
He doesn’t look like a pitcher who’s been figured out, so much as one who’s just struggling to find another gear. It shouldn’t be particularly surprising, given that Hutichson threw a total of only 132.1 innings in 2012 and 2013 combined. His lagging stamina is starting to show; Hutchison’s max velocity has fallen in recent outings. He’s made it through the sixth inning in just two of his last six starts. It’s also showing up as inconsistency in his secondary offerings. His changeup and slider have both been sporadic. The changeup didn’t generate a single whiff in back-to-back starts in late May. Even in his best start of the season, a 3-hit shutout of Texas, Hutchison’s slider didn’t miss a single bat. In those six latest starts, he’s whiffed more than four batters just once.
Aside from the injury risk that comes alongside a big innings jump, there’s just too much risk of a blow up here. Though he’s given up four runs or more in only six of his 15 starts this season, three of those starts have come in the last four weeks.
3 TO KEEP
Players owned in most leagues that owners should hang on to
Albert Pujols | St. Louis Cardinals | 1B
There are quite a few signals pointing to Albert Pujols as a sell-high candidate. His HR/FB rate is his highest since 2011. His walk rate is a career low 7.3%. His average fly ball distance is worse than Gordon Beckham’s.
All of these things are true, but even so, I’m buying Pujols as a fantasy commodity. It’s hard to quantify “he looks healthy”, but damn, he finally looks healthy. Or at least he doesn’t look hurt. Pujols no longer runs the bases like a wounded gazelle with a hungry cheetah latched on its back.
I know he won’t return to the all-time numbers he routinely posted in St. Louis, but the power is slowly coming back and the run production should soon follow. Despite hitting behind Mike Trout and his .395 OBP, Pujols has driven in only 44 runs this season. While that RBI total does rank among the Top 20 in baseball, it’s at least 10 runs shy of what Pujols’ total should be because, for no identifiable reason, his bat has been a wet noodle with men in scoring position.
With the bases empty, Pujols has hit a downright Pujolsian .299/.340/.609. With men in scoring position, he’s hitting a Zack Cozartian .167/.282/.262. With the bases empty, his slugging percentage ranks as the fifth-best in baseball. With men in scoring position, it’s the 20th-worst among qualified hitters.
“Albert Pujols with men in scoring position” would be by far the worst regular in the major leagues. That’s quite impressive at a time when Jackie Bradley, Jr. is still a starting centerfielder.
Perhaps the 14-year veteran and multiple MVP winner has devolved to a state in which he wets himself at any sign of pressure, but I can’t believe it. Especially when it looks like his bat speed is starting to come back; Pujols has hit fastballs for a .333 ISO and seven home runs this year after managing just a .257 ISO and just nine home runs against heaters all of last season.
Pujols won’t be able to recoup all of the RBI opportunities he’s lost so far, but at the same time, it’s not like Mike Trout is going to stop getting on base. I’d be willing to put more than a few jelly beans down on the prospect of Pujols leading the league in ROS RBI.
Jason Hammel | Chicago Cubs | SP
Heading into Sunday’s start (a start in which he fanned six Pittsburgh Pirates in seven innings), Jason Hammel had registered a swinging strike rate of at least 10% in six consecutive starts. In all, hitters have come up empty on at least 10% of their swings against Hammel in ten of his 14 starts prior to Sunday. As a point of comparison, whiff-meister Yu Darvish had registered a swinging strike rate of 10% or better in only seven of his 13 starts prior to Sunday. Hammel’s pattern is much simpler than Darvish’s, but so far this season, his results have been just as impressive.
No MLB starter is truly a two-pitch pitcher, but Hammel comes damn close; more than 90% of his offerings are either a fastball or slider. His fastball isn’t overpowering, but he’s able to locate it all over the strike zone. Hammel gets grounders on heaters down in the zone, but can also sneak it past hitters when he throws it upstairs.
The slider is much more unidirectional, but fortunately for Hammel, predictability and effectiveness are not mutually exclusive.
Though he throws it out of the strike zone more often than not, Hammel’s slider gets above average whiffs and completely diffuses right-handed power.
Hammel is an excellent source of strikeouts going forward, but be careful against lefty-heavy lineups. His strikeout and walk rates are both much worse against lefties; he’s been saved by a bit of BABIP luck. Against right-handed dominant offenses, however, you can start him with confidence.
Brandon McCarthy | Arizona Diamondbacks | SP
Brandon McCarthy has held on to the velocity gains that he showed early in the season. Unfortunately, he’s also held on to the BABIP increases; it’s jumped up to .370 in June, the ninth-worst mark in the league. His strikeout rate has dropped as well, but all of the ingredients that made him an appealing fantasy commodity earlier in the year are still there. His curveball is still good, his sinker is still outstanding, his Twitter game is still strong. Hang on in deep leagues; things are going to get better.