2015 Fantasy Baseball Week 19 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
Joe Ross | Washington Nationals | SP
After a short-lived appearance back in June, Joe Ross has returned to the Washington rotation with a bang over the last few weeks, turning in four excellent starts and likely securing a starting spot for the long term. In seven outings this season, he’s never allowed more than three runs in a game and has posted an xFIP over 2.71 in just one start.
Much like his older brother (the Padres’ Tyson Ross) Joe Ross leans on a mid-nineties fastball and power slider. He’ll work in the occasional changeup, but those are reserved almost exclusively for left-handed hitters.
Ross throws his fastball with an excellent combination of velocity and command. His heater averages around 93 miles-per-hour and makes out around 97 mph, but he’s controlled it well enough to issue just two walks on the 353 fastballs he’s thrown this season. The fastball gives Ross an outstanding foundation, but that slider is undeniably the crown jewel of his arsenal.
Per Baseball Prospectus, while only Chris Heston has induced more whiffs per swing on his slider, no pitcher can match Ross’ combination of a 61% swing rate and 46% whiff/swing rate. Among starters who’ve thrown at least 200 sliders this season, only Carlos Carrasco, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Sonny Gray can even match the combination of a 55% swing rate and 40% whiff/swing rate.
When he locates it down and away from righties, Ross’ slider is damn near unhittable.
For those of you who may be more analytically minded…
Now that the Nationals have moved the struggling Doug Fister to the bullpen, there are no clear challengers for Ross’ starting slot. Ross just recently passed his previous career high in innings, and I expect that Washington will be careful with its 22-year old star, but he should still be fine to make at least five or six more starts this season.
Rajai Davis | Detroit Tigers | OF
It’s getting to be that time of year, when I spend at least one ninth of this column every week espousing the virtues of an underowned speed merchant who’ll win you a couple roto points in exchange for a new home and a hug. It’s like my own personal ASPCA commercial.
This week, that hitter is Rajai Davis. When the Tigers moved Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets, it cleared a spot for Davis to start just about every day; he’s sat out only one of the nine games Detroit’s played since the trade. And despite the fact that he’s only reached base five times in those games, Davis has already chipped in three steals and a home run.
He won’t give you much more than steals, but with his combination of frequency and efficiency, he really doesn’t need to get on base in order to generate those steals.
FanGraphs Depth Charts projects him to steal another 13 bags the rest of the way; third-best in baseball behind Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon, both of whom are just about universally owned. And yet, Davis is available in 70% of Yahoo! leagues.
Coco Crisp | Oakland A’s | OF
Neck and elbow injuries kept Coco Crisp out for most of this season, limiting him to only 20 very disappointing games of action so far. For the season, he sports an impossible .092/.213/.108 slash line, with just one extra base hit and one stolen base in 75 plate appearances.
Crisp isn’t exactly singing a siren song from the waiver wire, but I’m willing to give him a break knowing that he played his first 13 with the beginnings of that neck injury, and that just about anything can happen in 75 plate appearances. He’s a better player than this.
Going forward, Crisp is a No. 2 hitter with a career .329 OBP who’s just a couple years removed from from a 20/20 season and just a couple more years removed from three seasons in a row with 30-plus stolen bases. He’s not quite that player anymore, but Crisp is still plenty capable of popping five homers and/or swiping five bags the rest of the way.
Sure, there’s a chance he’s done, but in deep leagues, Crisp deserves at least a short term look.
3 TO CUT
Players to be traded or dropped, depending on the depth of your league
Ryan Howard | Philadelphia Phillies | 1B
Don’t look now, but here come the Phillies. They’ve been on a roll since the All-Star break and are finally out of baseball’s basement. And they’ve been led by Ryan Howard, who looks almost like his old self again. Over the last 30 days, he’s slugged five homers and driven in 22 runs; only the scalding hot Chris Davis and Carlos Gonzalez have knocked in more. His .235 ISO in the last month ranks eighth among first basemen, pacing ahead of both proven sluggers like Anthony Rizzo and Adrian Gonzalez and hot streakers like Ben Paulsen and Eric Hosmer.
And there are good signs underneath as well. After drawing only 16 walks through his first 307 plate appearances, Howard has walked eight times in his last 93 trips to the dish. His strikeout rate is down slightly as well in recent weeks.
But things start to fall apart as we dig a layer further. Howard is swinging at fewer strikes and more balls, which makes me very skeptical that the improvements in plate discipline are sustainable. He’s making more contact, but for a player with a career 15.3% swinging strike rate, I can’t imagine that he’s suddenly turned into a better contact hitter. And his .370 BABIP over the last month is more than 100 points higher than the rate he’d maintained over the first few months of the season and nearly 70 points higher than last season’s mark.
There’s no change in approach here, just a garden variety hot streak. Howard has hit well lately, but most of his fantasy production has come in the form of RBI; he’s benefitting from the fact that all of his teammates also seem to have taken a swig of Michael’s Secret Stuff. The Phillies’ .325 team OBP over the last month is more than 20 points higher than it’s been all season. As incredible as this roll has been, that’s not likely to continue.
I’d like to think that Howard could potentially be a cheap source of power over the last couple months of the season, but even during this hot streak, he’s really not hitting the ball out of the ballpark all that often, or all that impressively. Per ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, Howard leads the league with five “Lucky” homers and ranks fourth with ten “Just Enough” jacks. Of his 19 home runs this season, only two have been “No Doubt” bombs.
If you can get anything for Howard at the trade deadline, move him.
Rusney Castillo | Boston Red Sox | OF
With a path finally cleared for him to start every day, Rusney Castillo is rising up most added lists; over the last week, his ownership in ESPN leagues has nearly doubled.
Very smart people thought Castillo would be a very good player when he signed with the Red Sox back in 2014 and right away, he proved them right, hitting .333 with a couple of homers and three steals in his ten-game MLB debut.
Since then, every meaningful hitting stat has gotten considerably worse for Castillo. Despite logging three times as many plate appearances this season as last, he’s failed to set a new career high in either homers or steals. His wRC+ has dropped by half, from 163 in 2014 to 81 in 2015. Bear in mind, he’s still logged a total of fewer than 200 plate appearances as a big leaguer, but the stretch we’ve seen this season has not been impressive.
Castillo’s situation kind of reminds me of the circumstances surrounding Brett Lawrie’s early career. Though it was over a much longer stretch, Lawrie also debuted with a short-fused bang, hitting .293 while smacking nine homers and swiping seven bags in a 43-game sample back in 2011. Logically, it was highly unlikely that Lawrie could sustain those rates of production over a whole season (he would have been on pace for roughly a 30/30 season with a batting average better than .290, something that’s been done just eight times in the last ten seasons, per the Baseball Reference Play Index), but that enticing package of skills had him shooting up fantasy draft boards. Since then, Lawrie has continued to receive more than his fair share of hype, but has never hit better than .273, popped more than 12 homers, or stolen more than 13 bases in a full season since. He’s been a useful fantasy asset, but nothing close to the star we appeared to be.
Castillo’s debut was considerably shorter, but I think the impact to our perception of him has been the same. The combination of hype around his signing and a short display of outstanding production has led the fantasy community to put more faith in Castillo than he probably deserves. As the league has adjusted to Castillo, his power and speed have evaporated. Even the Red Sox don’t seem impressed with him; it took an injury to the dynamic Mookie Betts and a trade of the light-hitting Shane Victorino just to clear a spot for him in the starting lineup, even with Boston locked into a $72.5 million contract for the 27-year old.
ZiPS projects Castillo for a .270/.322/.382 slash line the rest of the way, with three homers and five steals. That’s nice, but ZiPS projects 44 outfielders to hit for a better average, 31 to hit more home runs, and 39 to steal more bases. In 10-12 team mixers, I’m not all that interested.
Mat Latos | Los Angeles Dodgers | SP
Mat Latos has been a disaster since moving to Los Angeles, managing to whiff only one batter while surrendering seven runs in ten innings as a member of the Dodgers. It’s fair to point out that both outings came against very good offenses in the Pirates and Angels, but it’s not like struggling against good teams is anything new for Latos. He’s faced above average offenses in only six of his 18 starts this season and has allowed at least three runs in four of those six starts.
But that’s not even my biggest concern. That honor is reserved for the fact that he’s posted a swinging strike rate below 4.0% in back-to-back starts.
It’s possible that this is just a blip (there hasn’t been a huge change in his pitch mix; though he has been throwing slightly more two-seamers recently), but given that Latos’ strikeout rates had dropped in five consecutive seasons before he joining the Marlins, I’m worried there might be something here. If his whiffs continue to dip, he really doesn’t provide much in the way of fantasy value.
It’s probably too early to drop Latos outright in deeper leagues, but I’d definitely be exploring my options to bundle him into a trade.
3 TO KEEP
Players to hold or trade for; owned in most standard leagues
Bruce Rondon | Detroit Tigers | RP
He doesn’t have the title yet, but Bruce Rondon has never looked more ready to be a major league closer. His 5.94 ERA is ugly, but his 2.14 FIP and 2.22 SIERA tell a whole different story. And recently, the surface results are starting to mirror those outstanding ERA estimators.
Rondon locked down his first save in two years last week, handling the Rex Sox for his sixth straight scoreless outing and third straight in which he struck out at least half the batters he faced.
Detroit has been grooming Rondon for this role for years; if not for the injuries he’s battled, he might be the Tigers closer already. Though those injuries loom as problems that could return in the future, recent returns have been outstanding. Rondon’s velocity has been on the rebound. Per Brooks Baseball, he’s averaged over 99 miles-per-hour on his heater in five of his last seven starts, something he hadn’t done since July 2013.
And his slider has been more consistent as well, sitting around 10 mph below his fastball, with enough vertical drop to haunt Eric Hosmer’s dreams for months.
Alex Wilson has been by far the most effective Tigers reliever this season and fully deserves his shot to close, but sooner or later, Rondon is going to force his way in. Besides, Wilson’s greatest strength is his ability to pitch multiple innings; moving him back into a more flexible fireman role probably improves the Detroit bullpen as a whole. It might take another week or two, but I’d bet on Brad Ausmus giving Rondon a real shot to close before this year’s over.
Miguel Sano | Minnesota Twins | 3B
The Twins are falling apart at the seams, but Miguel Sano doesn’t seem to have noticed. At only 22-years old, he’s already his team’s best hitter. And he showed off his most major league-ready skill in a big way last week.
Sano’s talent is unquestionable, but he’s also been unquestionably fortunate in the earlygoing of his major league career, BABIPing at a .404 clip that would lead the league by a mile if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. It’s the reason he’s been able to maintain a batting average around .270, despite a strikeout rate hovering near 35%. That combination of whiffs and average is virtually unprecedented; only two other hitters have paired a strikeout rate over 30% and a batting average better than .250 this season and nobody can match the 35%/.270 combination that Sano has produced.
So that’ll probably come down… although it might not come down all that much.
Hitting the ball hard is one way to maintain a higher-than-average BABIP, and with the exception of Giancarlo Stanton, nobody in baseball hits the ball harder than Miguel Sano. Among hitters with at least 120 plate appearances, Stanton leads the league with a 49.7% hard-hit rate, according to FanGraphs. Sano is second at 45.9%, nearly four percentage points better than third place Mike Trout. From Brooks Baseball, check out how their game-to-game batted ball speeds compare:
Certainly, we don’t have as much evidence for Sano, but that’s a pretty favorable comparison. Just about every liner is leaving Sano’s bat at better than 100 miles-per-hour, and aside from the occasional weak grounder, he rarely strays under 80 mph at all.
That kind of violent contact can solve a whole lot of problems. His strikeout issues would be damning for most hitters, but Sano isn’t most hitters. He’s not Stanton yet, but that’s where his trajectory is headed. And after Stanton flailed his way to a 31.1% strikeout rate in his rookie season, he hasn’t topped a 30% K-rate since. He’s also maintained a .328 career BABIP, only dipping below .300 in one season.
Sano may never grow into the .270 hitter that Stanton is, but he can absolutely maintain a BABIP high enough to hang around .250 with plenty of power. And he already has a better eye; Sano’s 16.8% walk rate would rank sixth in the game if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. An excellent OBP won’t directly help you in batting average leagues, but it will prop up his run scoring numbers.
Sano’s numbers will regress a bit, but he’s still a top ten third baseman the rest of the way.
Lance McCullers | Houston Astros | SP
The Astros sent Lance McCullers down to Triple-A last week after an indescribably horrible 0.1 inning start in which he allowed eight of the nine batters he faced to reach base safely. Every ball the Rangers put in play against McCullers dropped for a hit and every fly ball they hit reached the seats. It almost literally couldn’t possibly have been worse.
But it’s one bad start and bad starts happen. And honestly, this one was so bad that it’s impossible to chalk it up to anything other than bad luck.
I’m sure that the Astros weren’t glad to see McCullers implode like that, but there is a silver lining here for them. Houston probably wanted a chance to shut the young righty down for a bit anyway, and this disasterpiece gives them an unimpeachable excuse. McCullers pitched 97 professional innings last season, 104.2 the year before that, and only 26 in his debut season back in 2012. So far this year, he’s thrown 76.2 innings for the Astros after 29 innings in Triple-A. That puts him exactly one inning over his previous career high.
So now he’ll go down to the minors and work with his old pitching coach for a bit, then come back up in a couple of weeks good as new. Yet McCullers has been dropped in droves recently, which is odd to see for a 21-year old starter with a breaking ball that compares favorably to Craig Kimbrel’s. Seems like a bit of an overreaction…
If you’ve got a roster spot to burn, snag McCullers now and stash him for the stretch run.