2014 Fantasy Baseball Week 6 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, leftover Easter candy to share? Hit me in the comments or on Twitter.
3 TO CATCH
George Springer | Houston Astros | OF
Shouldn’t we all have known that this was going to happen? I mean, Springer posted bad strikeout rates at every level of the minors. Even this season, he fanned in nearly a quarter of his plate appearances while slashing .353/.459/.647 at Triple-A.
Yeah, it’s not hugely encouraging to see Springer flailing helplessly at balls in the dirt, but again, we knew this was going to happen. He’s never been a good contact hitter, he likely never will be a good contact hitter, but he is great at just about everything else that happens on a baseball field. He can still run, he can still hit for power, he still has the job security that comes from being one of the few players with actual baseball talent suiting up for the Astros. His .289 BABIP doesn’t look like a number primed for positive regression, but Springer has always had high BABIPs in the minors; I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him maintain a BABIP somewhere north of .330. It likely still won’t net a batting average much better than .250, but it will come with some power and ought to get him on base often enough to swipe 20 or so bases.
In an era when prospects are expected to excel right away (and often do), it feels a bit uncomfortable to play the long game with Springer, but it’s absolutely the right thing to do. If an impatient owner cut ties too early, scoop him up and park him on your bench for some ripening.
Corey Hart | Seattle Mariners | 1B
Lineup position is a sneakily important part of fantasy valuation. Great hitters tend to both score and drive in a lot of runs, but average hitters (we’ll deal with you later, Mr. Phillips) in cozy lineup spots can bring a nice bit of somewhat hidden value.
For instance, I bet most of the non-Mariners fans among you probably weren’t aware that Corey Hart has hit in the cleanup spot for 16 consecutive games. Yep, ‘ole “Sunglasses at Night” is hitting right behind Robinson Cano and his .355 career OBP.
It seems like a pretty cushy spot, but in those 16 games, Hart has driven in a grand total of four runs. He hasn’t hit particularly well overall during the last couple of weeks, owing mostly to a .227 BABIP, but even so, four RBI in 16 games is a bit ridiculous.
And it’s really not Hart’s fault; he’s had only 21 chances with runners in scoring position, the sixth-lowest total among qualified hitters. He hasn’t driven himself in much lately, but I think the power will come. His batted ball rates look pretty much in line with career norms; even after all of the injuries, there’s still 20-plus homer pop in his bat. He’s been more aggressive at the plate, but actually cut down his strikeouts.
The BABIP will come around when Hart’s luck turns and the RBI will come as Robinson Cano finds his hitting stroke, which I assume he lost as a result of his rigorous, if unconventional, offseason swimming regimen.
Going forward, Hart is a very solid option as a corner infielder in deepish leagues.
Marcus Stroman | Toronto Blue Jays | SP
Marcus Stroman is over Triple-A. Since jumping up to the level to start this season, he’s obliterated the International League, fanning one out of every three hitters he’s faced and walking just seven in 26.2 innings. He’s allowed more than five hits just once in his five starts and surrendered an earned run only twice. The Blue Jays have called him up to pitch out of the bullpen, but as much as his height would indicate that he might stick there, I don’t think it’ll be long before Stroman snags a slot in the rotation.
The constant focus on his height has become a bit tired and as much as I don’t want to dwell on it, it can’t be completely brushed aside. It limits his ability to get a good downward plane on his fastball, which in turn, limits his ability to generate ground balls. Stroman’s fly ball profile isn’t what you’d draw up for a pitcher playing half of his games in Toronto, but he’s got enough guile to make it work.
Stroman’s stuff is an interesting combination of the raw electricity you’d expect from a top prospect with the command and polish you’d expect from a player with much more seasoning than the 150-ish total innings he’s pitched in the minors. Aside from his 92-95 mile-per-hour heat, he flashes a disappearing slider and an improving changeup. The changepiece is still developing, but it’s been great so far this season; the right-handed Stroman struck out 17 of the 46 lefties he faced in Triple-A.
Steamer projects Stroman to whiff about a batter per inning with an ERA just a tick below 4.00. That seems like a very reasonable (and certainly outperformable) expectation for him this year.
If that’s not enough to convince you, my colleague Landon Jones wrote a great profile of Stroman before the season, check it out for more insight.
3 TO CUT
Shelby Miller | St. Louis Cardinals | SP
Shelby Miller has a very good fastball, but if he’s going to succeed over the long term, he’s going to need to show something else. His usage of his fastball and cutter has risen every year since his big league debut, peaking at almost 80% of his mix through six starts this year. It’s fine to focus on your best pitches, but with Miller, it seems to be more about avoiding his worst ones. His curveball and changeup are rarely enticing enough to coax hitters into swinging, and when they do take a cut, they tend to make contact. Neither pitch has generated even average whiff rates for this season, or for Miller’s career.
On top of his lack of great secondary stuff, Miller has lost his ability to command the strike zone with his fastball. His first strike rate is well below league average and he’s issued at least three walks in every start this season.
It all sounds pretty disastrous, but due to some startlingly good luck (.237 BABIP, 94.7% strand rate), Miller has still managed to maintain a 3.15 ERA and win half of his starts. The uh, stuff, is hovering very close to the fan.
Miller still hasn’t turned 24, so there’s a possibility that he’ll shake this funk, but aside from a blind faith in the potential of youth, there’s nothing here that signals a turnaround. Deal him with the quickness.
Brandon Phillips | Cincinnati Reds | 2B
Six RBI. Six RBI, Brandon! What gives? I thought you were a run producer!
Apparently, Phillips has brought the same aggressive approach he takes with the media to the rest of his work. He’s hacking at almost 60% of the pitches he sees, chasing more pitches outside the zone and whiffing more often than he ever has before. His already poor walk rate has shrunk by more than half and his strikeout rate is worse than league average for the first time in his career.
I think we’ve got some proof that he’s declining.
Frankly, I don’t see one single positive in his profile. Once his .337 BABIP fades, Phillips’ worsening plate discipline will sink his batting average below the .261 mark he posted last season. His accelerating allergy to bases on balls will limit his times on base and in turn, his run scoring. He doesn’t steal bases anymore and while his home run totals have been consistent over the past few seasons, his doubles have been in steady retreat. He has just six extra base hits in 124 plate appearances so far. It’s awfully tough to be optimistic about Phillips poking more than 15 homers.
Ironically enough, the stat where you can expect the most production is probably RBI; Phillips does still get to hit behind Joey Votto, after all. Even so, I don’t have much use his style of run production. I’m cutting ties in all formats.
Christian Yelich | Miami Marlins | OF
I have a theory. Christian Yelich is a Looney Tunes character.
I know, it sounds a little ridiculous, but how can you explain why a player who flashed more than a little bit of pop in the minors and doesn’t have great speed would hit a whopping 62% of his batted balls on the ground?
He’s secretly Daffy Duck in disguise, trying to knock out a burrowing Bugs Bunny with an onslaught of ground balls. I’m sure of it. This is the only plausible explanation I can think of.
Yelich will eventually develop into a really useful hitter, but I think he’s a bit overvalued at this point. Now is a great time to test the trade waters.
3 TO KEEP
Yordano Ventura | Kansas City Royals | SP
Zone contact rate is one of my favorite stats to judge pitchers. It’s perhaps the most accurate measure of the slipperiness that a pitcher’s stuff has at the plate.
Yordano Ventura has the lowest zone contact rate in baseball; hitters put the ball in play on only 77.9% of their swings on his offerings in the strike zone. When it comes to overall swinging strike rate, only eight starters are better. That distinguished list includes such luminaries as Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, and Jose Fernandez.
Most of the heat (pun intended) around Ventura comes from his awe-inspiring fastball, but his changeup and curve are both quite good as well; he ranks just 53rd in baseball in fastball usage. Ventura and the Royals certainly seem to understand that no matter how great a pitcher’s stuff is, major league hitters can succeed if they know what’s coming. Ventura starts off just about every at bat with a heater and tends to work to his breaking stuff when he gets two strikes, but he mixes it up just enough in between. For instance, he actually throws is changeup more often when he’s behind in the count than he does when he has two strikes.
Knowing that, it’s no surprise it’s not just his fastball that gets whiffs at well above the league average rate, both of his most-used secondary pitches get above average whiffs too.
It’s only been a few starts, but I’ve seen enough to believe that Ventura is the real thing. It’d take a Godfather offer to get me to move him.
Justin Morneau | Colorado Rockies | 1B
Justin Morneau is really enjoying his move to Colorado. He’s slugging .611 at home and posting the best overall HR/FB rate of his career. His batted ball distance has leapt up by more than 20 feet, up to 290 feet after settling in around 270 for the past few seasons.
Raw power has never been a question with Morneau, he’s proving that, now that he’s healthy enough to tap into it. Per ESPN Home Run Tracker, every single one of the homers he’s hit this season has travelled at least 392 feet.
Don’t get too attached to the .340 batting average, though. It’ll be good, but it’s not going to stay this good. Coors can support some hefty BABIPs, but Morneau isn’t going to maintain his .344 clip much longer, especially if he keeps hitting almost half of his batted balls on the ground into the shift.
Still, Morneau looks like his old self again and I’m completely buying in on the power. Steamer projects his slash line to settle in at .298/.352/.516. Selling high is not the answer.
Oscar Taveras | St. Louis Cardinals | OF
I feel like I’ve been writing about prospects a little too much lately, but there’s a weird phenomenon that happens at this point in the season where people seem to change their perspective on the prospects they drafted. According to ESPN’s draft results, Taveras was selected 69th among outfielders, on average, almost immediately ahead of Charlie Blackmon, oddly enough. Yet as I write this, he’s owned in only 4% of ESPN leagues.
If you drafted in late March, you pretty much knew that Taveras wasn’t going to be up with the Cardinals by now. If you drafted him, you were banking on the fact that the combination of Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos would eventually prove itself to be incapable of holding down Taveras’ potential. That’s certainly proven itself out; on aggregate, Cardinals’ center fielders have produced -0.1 fWAR this season. So what else changed?
It certainly hasn’t been anything Taveras has done. He has predictably excelled at Triple-A, slashing .301/.357/.495 in 112 plate appearances.
Of course, it’s possible that injuries or other short term needs could have shifted your priorities, and I can absolutely understand if you dropped Taveras for those sorts of reasons.
But that hasn’t happened to everybody. If Taveras’ owner was stung by the injury bug, somebody else in the league should have picked him up.
He’s capable of producing like a Top 40 outfielder; there aren’t many (or any) other players with that kind of ceiling available in more than 95% of leagues. Especially in H2H leagues, it’s worth taking the hit of an empty roster spot to snag Taveras’ upcoming production. He won’t be available much longer.