2015 Fantasy Baseball Week 4 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 a your attention, who deserves your patience, and who deserves to go straight to bed without dessert.
Any questions, thoughts, long-promised podcast links?
For anything else, hit me in the comments or on Twitter.
3 TO CATCH
Players to be picked up; available in most standard leagues
Edinson Volquez | Kansas City Royals | SP
Aside from possibly San Diego, I don’t think there’s a safer place for pitchers than Kansas City. Not only do Kauffman Stadium’s broad expanses limit any home run problems, the Royals’ seemingly never-ending lineup of outstanding defenders turn just about everything that does stay in the yard into an out. Hell, they’ll do it for balls that leave the field of play, too.
With that kind of support behind him, it’s no wonder that Edinson Volquez might just be at the outset of the best season of his career. He’s always had the stuff, it’s apparently just taken until a few months shy of his 32nd birthday for him to learn how to harness it.
Volquez’ walk rate, which was over ten percent in each of the first eight seasons of his career, has sunk to 3.6% this season, which isn’t just the lowest of Volquez’ career, but also one of the best walk rates in baseball. It’s a small sample, yes, but it doesn’t look like a mirage. Whether it’s a new pitching coach, a connection with new catcher Salvador Perez, or just the confidence that comes from pitching in front of the best defense in baseball, Volquez is suddenly unafraid to throw strike one; his 69.1% F-Strike% ranked 15th in the league coming into Sunday’s start, per FanGraphs. A rate like that is typically a harbinger of an excellent walk rate. Last season’s leaders in F-Strike% were all among the best in baseball at limiting free passes.
The key for Volquez is maintaining that control without losing the explosive stuff that makes him such an exciting pitcher in the first place. So far this season, he’s done that and more. He’s getting more depth and movement on all of his pitches; his overall swinging strike rate is his best since 2011, when his strikeout rate was back up at 21%. His changeup, in particular, has been devastating, racking up whiffs on over a quarter of the swings against it.
It’s very early, but it looks like Volquez is able to find the zone without losing any sharpness in his pitches. It’d be an incredible improvement for a pitcher so late on in his career, but it’s not totally impossible. At the very least, he’s worth a pickup.
Dalton Pompey | Toronto Blue Jays | OF
The hype around Dalton Pompey was probably a bit louder than it should have been in the preseason, but even so, nothing that’s happened in the first few weeks of the season should have owners who invested in him jumping ship.
His plate discipline, which has always been his biggest issue, has actually improved. It’s still not good, but it’s workable. He’s chasing and missing less, containing his aggression to pitches inside the strike zone. It’s the right response to pitchers who know they don’t have to know him anything to hit, but a change in approach like this will take some time to sink in.
It hasn’t helped that his BABIP, which routinely sat around .330 in the minor leagues, has settled in at a less than robust .265 through 19 games. That ought to perk up, and when it does, he’ll be something close to the very valuable power and speed source we all thought he’d be before the season.
Just in general, I’m willing to take a chance with anybody who can both steal 20 bases and do this to Felix Hernandez.
Jake Marisnick | Houston Astros | OF
Under cover of Astro-ness, Jake Marisnick is off to a flying start, slashing .364/.408/.591 and capping off the weekend with a homer and two steals on Sunday. The batting average (and BABIP supporting it) won’t stick around all season, but there’s a ton of power/speed potential here and a good chance that where his average does land won’t be nearly as painful as projected.
Marisnick is a .241 career hitter; he struggled through some plate discipline and contact problems during his first two seasons as a big leaguer. It’s early, but so far this season, he’s put those problems behind him, dropping his swinging strike rate to a career low and his contact rate to a career high. His 94% contact rate on pitches in the strike zone ranks 30th among qualified hitters so far this season. Last season, Marisnick ranked 228th among players with at least 230 plate appearances.
These kinds of improvements can stabilize quickly. If Marisnick really has licked his contact problems, he’ll be worth owning in just about any format.
3 TO CUT
Players to be traded or dropped, depending on the depth of your league
Danny Santana | Minnesota Twins | SS/OF
Danny Santana was a hacker last season, but he’s taking it to new extremes this year. Nobody has chased more pitches outside the strike zone; Santana is flailing at half of the balls he sees. It shouldn’t come as any surprise then to read that he’s yet to take a walk in 2015. Without last year’s .405 BABIP to prop up his OBP, Santana’s speed hasn’t translated to value on the basepaths. He’s only been on base 14 times in 15 games and has just one stolen base to show for it.
Even this early in the season, having more strikeouts than hits is not a good look.
Santana’s .300 BABIP should rise a bit; he’s maintained the line drive stroke that led to his excellent batting average in 2014. But without a change in approach, Santana’s value relies on a high BABIP generating opportunities for steals. If he hits .262 with a sub-.300 OBP, as FanGraphs’ Depth Charts projections suggest, he’ll be hard pressed to even match last season’s total of 20 stolen bases. Even at a shallow position, there are plenty of available players that I’d rather roll with.
Nick Martinez | Texas Rangers | SP
I didn’t think that Nick Martinez was worth writing about in this space, but then I saw him on the list of most added pitchers in ESPN leagues, climbing above 50% ownership. Based on these trends, it looks like more than a few owners are deciding that it’s a good idea to drop Drew Hutchison or James Paxton for Martinez.
This is not a good idea. He’s a fly ball pitcher who struggles to miss bats and pitches in one of the friendlier offensive environments in baseball.
Though his .250 BABIP doesn’t make him spectacularly lucky overall, Martinez has found a way to drum up some extra good fortune when he needs it most. Coming into Sunday’s start, he’d allowed only a .111 BABIP with men on base. And just in case you’re thinking it’s a result of an ability to bear down when the pressure’s on, consider that Martinez has managed to strike out just one of the 31 batters he’s faced in those situations.
Martinez wriggled off the hook due to a high rate of infield pop ups, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Generating pop ups is a sustainable skill, but his current rate (23.8%) is not. There is some precedent for a starting pitcher maintaining an excellent pop up rate without striking out many batters, but that precedent has been set up guys like Mark Buehrle and Chris Young, who aren’t exactly fantasy royalty. Knowing that’s Martinez’ upside with this approach, I’ll pass in mixed formats.
Nathan Eovaldi | New York Yankees | SP
It took me quite a long time, but I’m out. I’m done with Nate Eovaldi.
Sunday night’s start against the Mets was the perfect summation of Eovaldi. He looked dominant at times, lost at times, and gave up quite a bit more hard contact than you’d expect from a pitcher whose stuff consistently grades out as excellent. In shallower leagues, he’s not worth a roster spot until he actually shows signs of turning that stuff into fantasy production.
3 TO KEEP
Players to hold or trade for; owned in most standard leagues
Joey Votto | Cincinnati Reds | 1B
I forgot how good Joey Votto is when he’s healthy. Now that he’s finally recovered from the injuries that have nagged through parts of the last three seasons, Cincinnati’s slugging first baseman is making us all remember why he was regarded as one of the best players in the game. The power that those injuries sapped is back in a big way.
Through 18 games, Votto has slugged nine extra base hits, including six home runs. He’s slashed .338/.451/.657 and ranks sixth in baseball with an average batted ball distance of over 330 feet, per Baseball Heat Maps.
He’s looking like his old self, punishing mistakes like this one with a more aggressive approach at the plate.
Per FanGraphs, His swing rate on pitches in the strike zone is up over 70% for the first time since 2010, which, perhaps not coincidentally, is when Votto set his career high with 37 home runs. His contact rate on pitches in the zone is down a bit as well, but it makes sense that heftier cuts would come up empty slightly more often. This also lines up with pre-injury Votto.
However, this isn’t exactly a reprisal of his earlier approach. Votto has actually improved upon what is generally regarded as the best batting eye in the game. He’s offered at fewer than 15% of pitches outside the strike zone; only Curtis Granderson has been more patient.
Yep, Votto is having his cake and eating it too. He’s maintaining his patient approach when it suits him, but attacking pitches in the strike zone and driving the ball with authority. Neither ZiPS nor Steamer thinks he’ll crack 20 homers, but I can’t agree. Those systems are distorting weight to his most recent performances, which they should, but those seasons aren’t reflective of the healthy player that Votto is now. After this hot start, I think he’s a shoo-in for at least 25 bombs, which should more than deliver on whatever you invested to get him on draft day. Resist the urge to sell at the peak of his hot streak.
Jake Odorizzi | Tampa Bay Rays | SP
Jake Odorizzi has turned a corner. He’s built onto the improvements that he made last season and turned into an outstanding and consistent fantasy asset. Even as he benefits from a favorable BABIP and his strikeout rate tails off, the positive signs below the surface are enough to make him a terrific value. He won’t keep the 1.65 ERA for much longer, but something well below the 3.94 projected by FanGraphs Depth Charts is definitely doable.
He’s generating significantly more grounders and missing more bats, particularly outside the strike zone. It hasn’t come alongside a boost in walk rate, as Odorizzi has been able to both entice hitters into chasing and limit contact when they do. He’s flattened his slider into a harder, more consistent cutter and amped up the effectiveness of his splitter; hitters make contact on barely a third of their swings on splitters outside the strike zone.
There’ll be a bit of blowback as his BABIP escalates, but on the back of his career-high swinging strike rate, an escalating strikeout rate ought to come along with that. Just ask the Boston Red Sox…
Steve Pearce | Baltimore Orioles | 1B/OF
Steve Pearce is fine.
His HR/FB rate is 15.4%, just a couple ticks below last year’s mark. His plate discipline has regressed a bit, but not to the point that you’d be concerned in such a small sample. His line drive rate is actually up, but don’t tell that to his .216 BABIP, which has sapped all his fantasy value and dropped his batting average almost 100 points from last season’s final tally.
Pearce is going to be fine. FanGraphs Depth Charts projections have him popping 24 homers and scoring and driving in 70-plus runs the rest of the way. If somebody’s trying to get rid of him, I’m buying.