2014 Fantasy Baseball Week 5 Waiver Wire: 3 to Catch, 3 to Cut, 3 to Keep
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 your attention, who deserves your patience, and who deserves to go straight to bed without dessert.
Any questions, thoughts, fish taco recommendations? Hit me in the comments or on Twitter.
3 TO CATCH
Kyle Farnsworth | New York Mets | RP
Mastery of a newfound cutter has led to renaissance for several pitchers in recent seasons. Never one to just go with the flow, Kyle Farnsworth has taken the opposite route. He’s scrapped the cutter that was formerly a big part of his arsenal and focused on his four-seamer and sinker, mixing in sliders and the occasional changeup.
In losing the cutter, Farnsworth has sacrificed a weapon capable of generating swings and misses at a better than average rate, but he’s also given up a risky pitch that generated a lot of airborne (read: dangerous) batted balls. It’s a very self-aware move, signaling that Farnsworth has realized that he can’t succeed at age 38 in the same ways that he did at age 28. He can’t pitch up in the zone; he knows that as his fastball loses zip, the damage done when hitters connect with it is only going to get worse. So he’s adjusted. He’s not only abandoned the cutter, he’s also focused more than ever on staying down in the zone.
Check out his zone profile for this season:
And now his aggregate zone profile for 2011-2013:
Oddly enough, the change hasn’t immediately resulted in a jump in ground ball rate. Instead, it’s delivered a huge increase in weak contact; Farnsworth’s 27.3% IFFB rate is by far a career high.
The most encouraging part is that he’s done all of this without sacrificing the whiffs and while controlling the strike zone well enough to post a career-best walk rate. His 13.4% swinging strike rate is his best since 2003 and his chase rate and overall swing rate are both career highs.
In all, this may not mean he’s suddenly become and elite pitcher, but it does mean that he can hold the closer’s job long term. He’s clearly a much better pitcher right now that Jose Valverde, and I don’t see any other serious competition in the Mets bullpen. He should be owned in all formats.
Adam Dunn | Chicago White Sox | 1B
Adam Dunn is baseball’s answer to Paul Pierce. He’s got an old man game and the lumbering slugger has continued to develop it in his age-34 season. He patiently waits for his pitch (this year’s chase and swing rates are both career lows) and does not miss when he gets something he can handle. His swinging strike rate is at its lowest point since 2009 and his HR/FB ball rate is predictably astronomical. His current 26.3% isn’t quite a career best, but put him on pace to break the 20% mark in HR/FB for a remarkable 11th season.
I don’t think we’ve quite recovered from the fact that Dunn hit .159 with 11 home runs in 2011, the one time in his career when his HR/FB rate didn’t exceed 20%. Granted, I can’t ever recall experiencing a much worse season of offensive production, but since that season, Dunn has quietly been finding his form. His strikeout rate and batting average have both improved in every subsequent season; this year’s .265 AVG would be his best since 2009, if it holds. It probably won’t, but his power numbers almost certainly will.
Gregory Polanco | Pittsburgh Pirates | OF
The Pirates won’t be able to keep Polanco down much longer. The plan was almost certainly to wait until the Super Two deadline, but with their top prospect mashing Triple-A pitching for a .402/.458/.655 slash line and Pirates right fielders currently slashing .250/.306/.339, I’m not sure that’s going to happen.
Our own Landon Jones pegged him as a Top 35 outfielder before the season, and I can’t disagree. Polanco is worth a bench spot in every fantasy format.
3 TO CUT
Justin Upton | Atlanta Braves | OF
It’s quite obvious that Justin Upton is not going to maintain a .400-plus BABIP or a near-30% HR/FB rate, especially not when he’s hacking at a career high rate and coming up empty more often than ever before. He’s crushing the ball when he makes contact, but Upton won’t be successful with this approach over the long term. It takes little more than a cursory glance at his FanGraphs page to come to this realization, but even so, I think Upton is excellent early-season trade bait.
He’s one of those guys who makes you double-take every time you check his birth date.
“Seriously, he’s not even 27? What the hell have I been doing with my life?”
I’m inclined to believe that Upton pretty much is what he is at this point (h/t to this great piece by Jeff Zimmerman). He’s still young, but after six full seasons, I just don’t see a renaissance coming without a measureable change in approach. I suppose you can say he’s done that this season, but the deterioration of his already bad plate discipline doesn’t exactly give me the warm fuzzies.
You may have to work at it, but I don’t think there’ll be a better time to deal Upton this season. Somebody in your league will be willing to buy off on his potential.
Martin Perez | Texas Rangers | SP
Jason Vargas | Kansas City Royals | SP
I suppose it’s a bit of a cop out to lump these two guys together, but I’m experiencing identical feelings with both. We all know that neither is going end the season with a particularly impressive stat line, yet somehow, just a few starts can make us forget that, provided they happen to come at the start of the season. In a matter of just a few innings, Vargas and Perez have convinced countless fantasy owners to drop pitchers with considerably higher upside for the honor of hitching their wagon to a star that’s bound to fall. Months of research and draft prep tossed out the window because a few ground balls happened to be hit directly at infielders, or a couple of hitters just missed on balls that they probably should have hit out of the park.
Neither Vargas nor Perez can miss bats at even a league average rate. This is a huge problem. Lucky breaks can cover it up for a while, but over the course of a season, that lack of putaway stuff hurts in more ways that just a reduced K-rate. It means that a pitcher won’t be able to wriggle of the hook quite as often. It turns solo shots into three run bombs and leadoff doubles into almost guaranteed runs.
Perez’ elite ground ball rate gives him a bit of trade value and will keep him relevant in deeper or AL-only formats. Vargas, unfortunately, has almost no positive qualities to fall back on.
3 TO KEEP
Danny Salazar | Cleveland Indians | SP
I’m not going to say for sure that Danny Salazar has been Celtic Prided, but I won’t be surprised if the real Salazar is tied up in some Royals fan’s basement right now. All I know is that the guy currently pitching for the Cleveland Indians is not the same dude we saw last season. Prior to Sunday, he’d given up five runs in three consecutive starts after never surrendering that many in any outing last season; he allowed more than two runs just three times in ten starts in 2013.
His 2014 struggles aren’t difficult to attribute. Salazar’s BABIP is crazy high and his strand rate is significantly worse than average. He’s chosen very poor timing for his worst moments; opposing hitters are slugging 1.071 against him with men in scoring position. All of these things will likely shift in his favor, but that doesn’t change the fact that hitters are swinging less often, chasing fewer pitches outside the strike zone, and making more contact with everything. They’re putting everything in the air; Salazar has allowed five homers in 25.1 innings after allowing seven in 52 innings last season. That stuff will get better, but I want to get back to the whole “not the same guy” thing I brought up earlier.
Salazar has lost two miles per hour on his fastball, but this isn’t just a case where we can expect his velocity to just warm up over time; there’s something different about his delivery. Per Brooks Baseball data, Salazar has raised his release point by about 3-4 inches. He’s coming over the top more, which explains the fact that he’s lost a significant amount of horizontal movement on his slider. His slider and splitter still have enough deception and downward action to get whiffs, but without the extra zip, his fastball isn’t missing bats anymore. Last season, Salazar’s fastball was 2.22 standard deviations better than average at generating swings and misses. This year, that number is down to a pedestrian 0.18.
The movement in his release point seems to be the source of his problems, and it’s only been getting worse as the season’s gone along.
You’ll notice that his 2014 debut against Minnesota is the one game in which his release point mirrored the majority of his outings last season. It should come as no surprise then that it was by far the best start he’s had this year.
I don’t buy the idea that Salazar is tipping his pitches. I’m with Terry Francona; he’s making bad pitches and they’re getting hammered. Salazar has been unlucky, but even so, he’s deserved the poor results he’s gotten.
All that said, I still think it’s too early to give up on him. You probably invested quite a lot to get him; I can’t advocate cutting bait after just a few starts when the issue seems to be completely correctable. I’ve got to believe that the Indians know what’s going on with his delivery and are working to correct it. Mickey Callaway is an outstanding pitching coach; I think he can fix this.
So, Salazar is a hold, not a sell. I’d consider benching him in roto leagues for his next couple of starts while keeping a close eye on his release point. The slight movement and positive results there from his Sunday start are encouraging, but I need to see more. When it settles back in where it was last season, the strong results should follow.
Jose Abreu | Chicago White Sox | 1B
Jose Abreu has 27 hits this season; 17 have gone from extra bases and ten have found the seats. His 325-foot average fly ball distance trails only Giancarlo Stanton and Michael Morse; seven of his ten homers would have carried out of at least 27 of the 30 parks in MLB, per ESPN Home Run Tracker.
This is not a fluke.
Sure, he won’t maintain a HR/FB rate over 30%, but do we really have reason to believe that 25% isn’t realistic? He hits a ton of balls in the air, nearly all of those balls travel a great distance, and he plays in one of the best home run parks in baseball.
Abreu will slow down a bit, but I’m with Steamer, this dude’s hitting 40 bombs this season.
Miguel Cabrera | Detroit Tigers | 1B/3B
Bryce Harper | Washington Nationals | OF
Edwin Encarnacion | Toronto Blue Jays | 1B
Prince Fielder | Texas Rangers | 1B
All four of these players were drafted in the Top 20 in ESPN leagues. All four currently rank outside the Top 250 on the ESPN Player Rater.
Don’t do anything stupid, people. It’s April 28th. Just a friendly reminder.
I wouldn’t trade them for: Come on now.