2015 Fantasy Baseball Week 15 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
Jarrod Dyson | Kansas City Royals | OF
Jarrod Dyson is the American League’s answer to Billy Hamilton. He’s an ace defensively, a wet noodle at the plate, and an absolute menace on the basepaths. Since the start of 2013, Dyson and Hamilton are the only players in baseball to rank in the top ten in steals without registering more than 1,000 plate appearances. Hamilton’s stolen 113 bases in 949 PAs. Dyson’s swiped 81 bags in 650 PAs. On a per-plate appearance basis, Dyson has actually been the superior thief, albeit by only about 0.005 SB/PA. There’s a bit of unfairness in there given that Dyson has been likely to appear as a pinch runner a bit more often than Hamilton, but still, it’s fair to say that Dyson will produce stolen bases at almost the same rate as Hamiton, given the opportunity.
And now that Alex Gordon is down for the next two months, he’s got the opportunity. With at least six weeks of everyday playing time ahead of him, Dyson will easily steal every other AL hitter. FanGraphs Depth Charts is with me, projecting Dyson for 22 steals the rest of the way, trailing only Hamilton and Dee Gordon. He should be owned in every league.
Jim Johnson | Atlanta Braves | RP
The logic for Jim Johnson is exactly the same as it was for his predecessor: saves are saves.
Now that Jason Grilli is officially out for the year with a ruptured Achilles, Johnson slides in as the Braves’ full-time closer, at least until the trade deadline. There are other options (flamethrowers Mike Foltynewicz and Arodys Vizcaino come immediately to mind), but the Braves are rightly prioritizing the development of their young pitchers over the ability to lock down tight wins in a completely lost season. In a perfect world, Johnson pitches well enough for the Braves to flip him to a contender at the deadline, but even then, he’ll have about a month to rack up a few saves.
And he’s plenty capable of doing so. Johnson has corralled the control issues that scuttled him last season by throwing more strikes (his 48.0% Zone% is his highest since 2010) and coaxing more swings on the fringes of the zone (his 37.5% O-Swing% is a career best). And he’s done this while maintaining his signature approach, a 60% groundball rate that’s surely extinguished the worm population at Turner Field.
Johnson won’t help a ton with strikeouts, but his ability to keep the ball on the ground limits the chances for meltdown innings, which should keep him buckled into the closer’s chair (at least until he’s traded). He’s a must-add in every format.
Manny Banuelos | Atlanta Braves | SP
Manny Banuelos is the post-hypeiest of post-hype sleepers, finally emerging as a starter with the Atlanta Braves after spending the last few years setting the hearts of Yankee fans aflutter. It seemed just a matter of time before he and fellow Yankee savior Dellin Betances would be dominating in the Bronx, but Banuelos’ UCL had other ideas; he was felled by Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2013 season.
He’s finally made his big league debut at an ancient 24-years old and in two starts, he’s been quite good, particularly in his first start, when he whiffed seven Washington Nationals in 5.2 shutout innings. Banuelos most recently appeared as a reliever, but I expect the Braves to feature him in a starting role during the second half. His fastball doesn’t have the giddyup that he featured as a minor leaguer, but he’s maintained his velocity well through his starts this season.
That’s a great sign for a pitcher coming back from TJ, as is the solid command that Banuelos has shown so far. He’d only pitched 12 innings heading into Sunday’s action, but his 66% F-Strike% is excellent. The ability to get ahead early sets up Banuelos to unleash his breaking and offspeed stuff; unlike many young pitchers in their first taste of the majors, Banuelos has excellent offerings in both categories.
His changeup almost perfectly matches the arm-side run of his fastball, but features excellent vertical drop and a full ten miles-per-hour of velocity differential. It’s a miniscule sample, but righties have hit just .071 with four strikeouts against the 37 changeups Banuelos has thrown to them this season. Against same-sided hitters, Banuelos turns to his curveball, which has been every bit as effective as his change. Not one of the 11 benders he’s thrown to lefties this season has been put in play.
We haven’t seen much of Banuelos and he’s not the same guy he was pre-surgery, but he has the type of polished arsenal that can succeed early, provided he maintains the good command he’s flashed so far. He’s certainly a worthwhile lottery ticket in deeper leagues.
3 TO CUT
Players to be traded or dropped, depending on the depth of your league
Melky Cabrera | Chicago White Sox | OF
I have been waiting for this all year. I owned a couple of shares of Melky Cabrera at the beginning of the season, thinking that another season in a favorable home ballpark would lead to a repeat of last year’s excellent campaign in Toronto, when he paired a .301 batting average with 16 homers and six steals.
And I couldn’t have been more wrong. Cabrera’s power has evaporated this season and the batting average hasn’t been near what we’ve come to expect from him. As a whole, the White Sox offense has been a dumpster fire, but Cabrera has arguably been the chief arsonist. Yet it seems that he’s recently found a way to put a stopper in his gasoline tank; Cabrera has been raking over the last couple weeks, slashing .364/.400/.636 since June 28. He has more homers (3) in those last 12 games as he had in the 72 games prior (1).
Which makes now the perfect time to deal him. This recent hot streak is a red herring. His power is just as limited as it looks. Even prior to this season, his happy zones are pretty easy to spot. Against both righties and lefties, all of Cabrera’s power comes against pitches on the inner half of the plate.
Though he’s been able to pop a few this season, but he hasn’t shown any power growth outside of those existing zones. If anything, his hot zones have shrunk.
And pitchers have acted accordingly, concentrating their fire on the places where they know Cabrera can’t hurt them.
Use this hot streak to get something worthwhile for Cabrera in a trade. He’s rapidly plummeting toward replacement level.
Justin Verlander | Detroit Tigers | SP
As a Tigers fan, I’ll admit that it’s hard for me to be rational about Justin Verlander. If your team had a fading starter locked in for over $100 million over the next few seasons, I’d expect that you’d always lean toward the the bright side as well. But I’m beginning to come to grips with the fact that I’m chasing a ghost. If I’m being honest with myself, it’s hard to find much evidence that real Verlander is ever coming back.
(I’m well aware that the opening paragraph was far too melodramatic, but the Tigers are in free-fall right now and I’m depressed about it. Indulge me, please.)
And the reason why is pretty simple. When he had great velocity, Verlander could pitch off of his fastball without much fear of retribution. Not so much anymore.
Last season’s .454 SLG against fourseamers was a career high… until this year’s .569 blew it away. Without that overpowering heater, the rest of his pitches don’t work quite as well. Aside from a noisy uptick on his changeup this season, the whiff rates against all of Verlander’s secondary pitches have been trending down for years.
Verlander was legitimately excellent against the Twins last week, but it’ll take several more starts like that to convince me that he’s anywhere near back. Until then, I’ll lean toward ZiPS’ projection of a 4.10 RoS ERA and trade him for 50 cents on the preseason dollar.
Aramis Ramirez | Milwaukee Brewers | 3B
Aramis Ramirez has returned to his old run-producing ways lately, driving in 23 runs in his last 30 games. The RBI have been by far the highlight of this stretch; his batting average has been solid (.279) but not overwhelming, and he’s only managed four home runs. But neither are outside of what we should expect. That’s about the right ceiling for his average, and Ramirez hasn’t been an elite power hitter in nearly a decade.
So going forward, his value depends largely on his ability to drive in runs. And the outlook there doesn’t look great. Milwaukee is a nice park to hit in, but with his home run power dissolving, Ramirez can’t consistently drive himself in; he needs his teammates to get themselves on.
Though the Brewers have been hot lately, getting on base is still not Milwaukee’s strength. Even after after their unexpected winning streak, the Brew Crew owns a .303 team OBP, which isn’t exactly music to a run producer’s ears.
There’s a pretty good chance that Ramirez won’t be shackled to those teammates for long, but new scenery won’t necessarily bring a rosier outlook. The Mets are reportedly top contenders to deal for him and they rank 27th in baseball in team OBP, two spots behind the Brewers.
Ramirez’ big league team is in must-trade mode before the deadline; his fantasy owners should be thinking the same way.
3 TO KEEP
Players to hold or trade for; owned in most standard leagues
Carson Smith | Seattle Mariners | RP
Carson Smith is awesome. He’s the rare sort of reliever who can pair strikeout dominance with precision control; his 28.9% K%-BB% puts him in the company of elite relievers like Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman.
His sinker/slider combination is devastating, but not in the way you’d expect. Sliders often have broad platoon splits; the sweeping motion that beguiles same-sided hitters tends to be obvious to opposite-handers. But the exceptional vertical drop on Smith’s slider makes it equally dominant against hitters from both sides of the plate. Over the last two months, it’s actually been better against lefties!
With that kind of weapon and the consistent command he’s shown all season, there’s no reason to expect him to slow down. He’ll still lose the occasional opportunity to Fernando Rodney, but Smith is by far the superior pitcher. Over time, he’ll get (and convert) the vast majority of Seattle’s save chances.
Jose Bautista | Toronto Blue Jays | OF
The fact that Jose Bautista can club 17 homers before the All-Star break and still have what feels like a disappointing first half is a testament to just how good he’s been over the last few seasons. His .238 batting average has been a drag, but it’s bad luck, not a symptom of approach. Bautista’s 45.4% fly ball rate is right on his career average and his batting average on flies this season hasn’t been an issue, it’s actually a few points above his career average. Oddly enough, line drives have been the culprit. Bautista is hitting just .487 on liners this season, almost 250 points below his career average and dead last among qualified hitters.
That makes absolutely no sense, considering that Bautista’s 35.1% hard-hit rate ranks as one of the best in baseball. He remains one of the best power hitters in the game, and the average will certainly be better in the second half.
The fact that he’s sitting out the All-Star Game is initially concerning, but his shoulder injury is a reality that Bautista and his fantasy owners will have to deal with all season; I’d rather he takes the extra time now to get treatment. I mean, it clearly hasn’t affected him too much lately…
But I hope the injury scares his current owners into action. Bautista is an outstanding trade target at the break.
Lance McCullers | Houston Astros | SP
A few weeks ago, Grantland’s Jonah Keri wrote a wonderful, glowing piece about Lance McCullers, detailing the young righty’s rise through the Houston system and explosion onto the big league roster. Keri is one of my favorite baseball writers, but the subjects of his features have a reputation for nosediving soon after they’re featured.
But not McCullers. In his four starts since June 19th (not including Sunday’s start), he’s maintained a 2.24 ERA and whiffed 21 batters in 22.1 innings.
If he can escape the Keri Curse, he’s definitely for real.