2015 Fantasy Baseball Week 14 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 of the most interesting players for fantasy owners, with perspective on who deserves your attention, who deserves your patience, and who deserves to go straight to bed without dessert.
Any questions, thoughts? Hit me in the comments or on Twitter.
3 TO CATCH
Players to be picked up; available in most standard leagues
Patrick Corbin | Arizona Diamondbacks | SP
When we skim the waiver wire for pitching, we’re most often looking for ceiling. In most mixed leagues, there are always a few pitchers available who can credibly fill a hole in your roster with average-ish production, but really can’t hope to produce better than that, save for the occasional run of BABIP-fueled dominance. Every once in a while though, there’s a guy out there who can really change your outlook.
Patrick Corbin is one of those guys. Certainly, there’s risk involved, but dude’s got some ceiling.
The last time we saw Corbin for a full season, he flashed arguably the best slider in baseball, leading the league with a 52.7% whiff/swing rate. Tyson Ross was the only other pitcher in baseball to post a 50% swing rate and 50% whiff/swing rate on his slider. Last season, with Corbin out recovering from Tommy John surgery, nobody did it.
Betting on a pitcher returning from TJ is always iffy, but Corbin’s fastball and slider velocity looked fine in his first start, right in line with his career norms. His change was quite a bit slower than normal, but that might actually turn out to be a good thing.
The movement on his slidepiece looks perfect as well. He’s still getting outstanding vertical drop on the pitch and has already flashed bat-missing ability in his first start back.
That start was encouraging on several levels, not the least of which is that fact that he didn’t walk a batter. Control is often the last thing to return after Tommy John rehab, but Corbin was around the zone all game long and threw strike one nearly 60% of the time.
If you’ve got a revolving door roster spot, Corbin is worth a look for at least a couple of weeks. If he can maintain the kind of velocity and movement that we’re used to, he’ll be a fantastic find.
Andrew Heaney | Los Angeles Angels | SP
It seems like hardly anybody noticed, but top prospect Andrew Heaney has been excellent in his first two starts as an Angel. After predictably rolling through his minor league assignment, he’s silenced two of the top seven offenses in baseball, holding the Yankees and Astros to one run in each of his first two starts, striking out 12 batters in 13 innings along the way. Heaney has reaped the benefits of a favorable BABIP, but he’s also consistently missed bats in both outings.
For teams looking for strikeout upside, Heaney is an excellent under-the-radar pickup. He can get major league hitters to chase and he can get them to miss, though he’s struggled to keep them in the ballpark. The fantasy community seems to have largely written him off after his disappointing debut last season; in fewer than 30 innings, Heaney surrendered six home runs, three with men on base. It’s not a good look, but also not something that you’d expect to continue, especially since Heaney never struggled with the long ball as a minor leaguer and he’s now pitching his home games in Anaheim, which is among the pitcher-friendliest parks in the game..
Jeremy Hellickson | Arizona Diamondbacks | SP
Remember Jeremy Hellickson? He was briefly the foremost among a stable of lauded Rays (or were they still the Devil Rays back then?) pitching prospects. He dominated as a reliever in his debut season in the major leagues, then posted excellent ERAs that significantly outperformed his below-average peripherals in his first two seasons as a starter. The shit predictably hit the fan soon thereafter and Hellickson was flipped to Arizona, where he’s been largely unremarkable, until the last month.
He’s been tagged a couple of times during this stretch; his 5.03 ERA won’t turn any heads. But underneath that, his peripherals have been spectacular. He’s struck out than 25% of the batters he’s faced and walked less than 5%, good for a FIP- of 89, which equals what Jon Lester and Cole Hamels have produced this season. Certainly, Hellickson isn’t in the same layer of atmosphere as those two, but it’s a reminder of what he’s capable of when he’s on.
He’s always had strikeout rates that have underrepresented the quality of his stuff; his career swinging strike rate of almost 10% is a tick above the MLB average, but his career 17.5% strikeout rate is well below average. For Hellickson, unlocking his full potential likely has something to do with sequencing, and there has been a measureable change there in his last few outings.
Early in counts, he’s leaning even more heavily on his fastball. Later in counts, he’s leaning more on offspeed pitches, specifically his curveball, which he’s throwing more often than ever. As he gets deeper into games, however, he’s become much more willing to throw the changeup early in counts, which has helped to keep opposing batters from getting into too much of a rhythm against him.
Hellickson has always had excellent stuff and it looks like he’s finally unlocked a way to turn his bat missing abilities into a more consistently excellent strikeout rate. In deeper mixed leagues, that upside is certainly worth a look.
3 TO CUT
Players to be traded or dropped, depending on the depth of your league
Cody Anderson | Cleveland Indians | SP
There will never be a better time to trade Cody Anderson. He’s followed the Chi Chi Gonzalez playbook to the letter, shutting down opposing offenses for a 0.76 ERA in his first three major league starts, despite showing very little bat-missing ability. He’s ridden a .181 BABIP and 95.6% strand rate to incredible success against two below-average offenses, handling the 25th-ranked Rays twice and the 19th-ranked Pirates (in an NL park) once. He’s pitched in three ballparks, all of which ranked among the nine best offense suppressors in baseball last season, per FanGraphs.
It’s been an incredibly start, but from here, unfortunately, there’s nowhere to go but down.
Anderson will eventually face better offenses and eventually have to pitch in tougher parks. He’ll eventually need to get a strikeout in a big spot, because he’ll eventually allow more than an .091 BABIP with runners on base.
His control is outstanding and he’s got a pretty good changeup, but until that pretty good changeup starts to turn into strikeouts, I’m not interested. Pitching to contact is a perfectly defensible approach, but against the offenses he’s faced, even a plan that prioritizes efficiency above all should have resulted in more than a grand total of ten strikeouts in 23.2 innings.
Michael Cuddyer | New York Mets | 1B/OF
Ah, Cuddles. One of my favorite pastimes as a younger man was buying cheap tickets to Tiger games at Comerica Park, sitting with my buddies in the (mostly empty) front rows in right field, and talking Michael Cuddyer’s ear off for the evening. It reminds me just how long he’s been in a major leaguer. And that reminds me that he has no business being owned in in 30% of ESPN leagues.
Cuddyer became a full time major league player back in 2004 and has been mostly solid since then. This season, he’s on pace for a career lows in batting average (.241), on base percentage (.294), and slugging percentage (.361). In just about a half-season’s worth of plate appearances, he’s scored only 32 runs and driven in just 31, despite often occupying the cleanup spot in an admittedly weak Mets lineup. Not so solid anymore.
At 36 years old, I can’t imagine that we’ll see any kind of renaissance for Cuddyer. He was revived by a three-season turn in Colorado, but those friendly park factors just delayed an inevitable decline. In New York, there are no such park factors to aid in a bounce back.
Cuddyer has been awful this season and will continue to be awful. And with his team still hovering just a few games out of wild card contention, there are more and more reasons for the Mets to displace him with a more productive player. He isn’t ownable in any mixed formats; if you squint, there’s probably a better option in NL-only leagues as well.
Matt Cain | San Francisco Giants | SP
I spent a good deal of time this past Friday afternoon examining Matt Cain’s stat line. I mean, he looked alright in his return from the disabled list, but unless there was something markedly different from the approach he’s taken over the past two seasons, there couldn’t be much reason to be interested in him for fantasy purposes.
So I looked for a difference. There were some little oddities. His velocity is down a tick, but that’s probably to be expected in his first start back. His pitch mix looks a bit different, but we can’t really draw conclusions from only one start. The movement on his pitches, both vertical and horizontal is right around the range that we’ve come to expect from Cain.
The raw materials seem to be mostly there there; the same as they’ve been the past two seasons, but also not far from where they were back in 2009-2012. By many measures, Cain has been essentially the same pitcher for the entirety of his career.
A big part of that is consistency of approach. He’s always been a pitcher who’s led with his fourseamer. He’s thrown it three times as often as he’s thrown any other pitch, per Brooks Baseball. In aggregate, the results have been excellent. Cain generates a lot of fly balls and pop ups with his heater, while limiting power against the pitch. He can also lean on it as a reliable bat-misser.
And there, unfortunately, is the one big difference. Starting in 2013, Cain’s ability to generate whiffs with hard stuff, particularly his fourseam fastball, has begun to evaporate.
And without that heater, Cain’s not the pitcher he used to be, he’s the pitcher he’s most recently been. The slight deficiency in his velocity in his first start isn’t really a cause for worry, but it is a reason to further doubt the effectiveness of his fastball. It further cements the expectation that his current ceiling is 2014 Matt Cain, not 2012 Matt Cain.
3 TO KEEP
Players to hold or trade for; owned in most standard leagues
Carlos Rodon | Chicago White Sox | SP
Among all of the electric prospects who’ve been called up this season, Carlos Rodon has kind of slid between the couch cushions. It took only ten Triple-A innings to convince the White Sox to add Rodon to their rotation; since then, all he’s done is flash a slider that’s been every bit as good as we expected it’d be. Among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 200 sliders this season, Rodon is one of only 12 pitchers to coax swings against 50% his sliders and misses on at least 40% of those swings. The rest of that list is fantasy royalty, including three of the top five strikeout artists in baseball: Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Chris Archer. That slider alone isn’t enough to make Rodon a fantasy star, but it’s a darn good place to start. A lefty who sports 93.6 mile-per hour heat and complements it with this Houdini act isn’t going to struggle to keep whiffing more than a batter per inning.
Especially because the magic trick works against righties too.
Rodon has had some control issues, but he’s been throwing strike one more often in recent starts and his putaway stuff gives him the ability to pitch around a few walks. The bigger issue for Rodon has been bad BABIP luck; his .349 mark is bound to regress a bit, likely bringing his 4.18 ERA down with it.
Rodon is an excellent trade target in all formats.
Miguel Sano | Minnesota Twins | 3B
The top of Miguel Sano’s FanGraphs page is just about all I need to see.
When there’s a big ‘ole “80” next to raw power, that’s more than enough to convince me to put in waiver claim. And Sano’s been about what we could have realistically expected so far; he’s laced two doubles and six total hits in 16 plate appearances, walking once and striking out five times. He hasn’t homered yet, but I can’t imagine it’s going to be long. In his last 805 minor league plate appearances, Sano cranked an even 50 home runs.
He’s clearly run out of challenges in the minor leagues. Sano will be in the majors for the rest of this season, and he’s the type of player who can dominate right away. He’s already owned in most leagues, but he remains a great trade target, at least until he really gets it going.
Adam Lind | Milwaukee Brewers | 1B
Under the cover of playing in Milwaukee, Adam Lind has quietly had a spectacular season. RBI streaks aside, his .298/.373/.518 slash line is his best since his breakout 2009 season and he’s right about on pace for 26 home runs, which would tie his best output since the 35 he hit during that magical year.
Lind has always been a pretty good hitter, but he’s been better this season partly because of an adjustment against offspeed pitches. His ISOs against hard and breaking stuff this season are right in line with his career numbers, but his ISO against offspeed pitches is up more than 100 points. Much like back in 2009, he’s not trying to pull everything.
Lind will continue to hit and with the trade deadline approaching he may well be hitting in the middle of a much better offense over the second half of this season. The Cardinals, Royals, and Nationals could all use a bit of pop from first base for the stretch run, and each of those situations would be an upgrade over Lind’s current place in the heart of a weak Brewers order. His homers might suffer a bit from a less favorable home park, but Lind will make up the difference with improved run scoring a production. He’s an excellent asset.