2015 Fantasy Baseball Week 9 Waiver Wire: 3 to Catch, 3 to Cut, 3 to Keep
In the Week 9 edition of fantasy baseball 3×3, we’re giving getting in on the ground floor with Mike Foltynewicz, disbelieving the hype on Gregory Polanco, and giving Shawn Tolleson a vote of confidence.
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
Mike Foltynewicz | Atlanta Braves | SP
Mike Foltynewicz has only pitched 55 innings as a big leaguer, but it seems he’s already got a reputation. He’s easy to pigeon-hole. He’s a hard thrower (95.6 career average fourseam velocity) with a history of elevated walk rates in the minors; I’m sure at least one of his managers has tried to outfit him with a pair of these, hoping for a quick fix.
Foltynewicz is undeniably a Wild Thing type, but so far this season, he seems to be reformed. He’s taken just a bit off his fastball, though he’s still getting it up there in the mid-90s with consistency. Giving back just that much velocity has allowed him to corral his location; the Ball% on his fourseamer is down from 40% in 2014 to 31% this season, per Brooks Baseball.
Despite the slight dip in velocity, Folty is still generating a boatload of swings and misses, with a 36.5% chase rate, 10.5% swinging strike rate, and 24.4% strikeout rate. He’s been spectacular at coaxing hitters into swings at pitches in and around the edges of the zone, which both beefs up his strikeout rate and limits his walks.
His 15.9% K-BB% would rank on the fringes of the top 30 in baseball, if he had enough innings to qualify.
And it’s probably only going to get better as MLB umpires begin to separate this current version of Folty from the reputation he earned as a prospect. Despite the fact that he’s showing a much-improved ability to hit his spots, Foltynewicz still isn’t getting all of the called strikes he should, especially when he’s behind in the count.
Compare that to another recently reformed wild child, Edinson Volquez.
Clearly, the veteran Volquez is getting a more frequent benefit of the doubt for pitches on the fringes of the strike zone. Catcher framing likely has little to do with the difference, neither Salvador Perez nor A.J. Pierzynski grades out as particularly skilled at stealing extra strikes. I think this is really just a matter of reputation, something that should get better for Foltynewicz as the season wears on.
The projection systems aren’t convinced that Folty has tamed his wildness, but I really like what I’ve seen. He’s worth a look in even shallow-ish mixed leagues.
Dexter Fowler | Chicago Cubs | OF
I recommended this other half of this trade last week, so why not follow up with some kind words for Dexter Fowler? I’ve always been a fan of his, and as a Cub, Fowler seems to be leaning in on the skills that make him a valuable fantasy commodity.
He’s continuing his trademark excellent plate discipline, sporting a double-digit walk rate for the seventh consecutive season. His batting average sits at a disappointing .235, but that’s mostly due to a .285 BABIP that lags almost 60 points behind his career average. He’s showed off both power and speed, with a .173 ISO and six home runs alongside 11 steals in 15 tries. Just over 200 plate appearances in, he’s only two homers short of matching his power/speed production from all of last season.
Fowler’s been excellent (if a bit unlucky) as a Cub and there’s no reason to think he’ll slow down. His solid success rate shows he has the wheels to produce 20-plus stolen bases, provided he takes enough attempts. I can’t imagine that’s going to be a problem; only the Tigers (???) have attempted more swipes than the 60 tries that Joe Maddon has ordered this season.
The power has always been gravy for Fowler, but it looks like his uptick here can continue as well. Though his increase in fly ball rate (above 40% for the first time in his career, per FanGraphs) will likely take a bite out of his batting average, he’s taken an even more patient and choiceful approach that could maximize his home run production. He’s swinging at fewer pitches up in the strike zone, instead choosing to attack pitches down in the zone, where he’s historically had more success hitting for power.
Those pitches down in the strike zone are turning into fly balls more often this season, and Fowler has correspondingly bulked up his ISO in those zones.
There’s 15/30 upside here, which makes Fowler much more than just cheap speed.
Matt Shoemaker | Los Angeles Angels | SP
Ostensibly, Matt Shoemaker plays his home games in a pitcher-friendly park. Angels Stadium is typically one of the toughest parks in the league for both righties and lefties to find the seats. I certainly don’t doubt the veracity of these numbers, but right now, it doesn’t jibe with reality. Specifically, it doesn’t jibe with the fact that heading into Sunday’s duel with the Tigers, Shoemaker sported a 29.6% HR/FB rate at home this season, almost quadruple last year’s rate, and a mark that would lead the league by seven percentage points.
Are we sure they didn’t move those fences in?
Aside from that hiccup, Shoemaker has been excellent this season. His strikeout and walk rates are almost identical to last season’s sparkling numbers; he remains among the league leaders in K-BB%.
Eno Sarris has rightly pointed out that Shoemaker’s K-BB% won’t necessarily help him to lick his home run issues, but I’ve got to believe that his home park is going to help him out at some point. He wasn’t overwhelmingly lucky on homers last season and he pitched to a 3.04 ERA. He probably won’t get there again, but Shoemaker hasn’t done anything to make me think that his strikeouts are going anywhere and he’s absolutely capable of wrangling his ERA back toward his 3.83 xFIP, which, coincidentally, is exactly the ERA that ZiPS projects for the rest of this season. That’s not a top 25 pitcher, but it’s a guy who still deserves to be owned in most mixed leagues.
3 TO CUT
Players to be traded or dropped, depending on the depth of your league
Gregory Polanco | Pittsburgh Pirates | OF
Gregory Polanco entered the league last season on about as impressive a roll as any prospect in recent memory. Before his overdue call-up to Pittsburgh, Polanco thrashed International League pitching to the tune of a .328/.390/.504 line with seven homers and 16 steals in just under a half season’s worth of action. Since joining the big leagues, he’s consistently flashed excellent wheels, but has left quite a bit to be desired in the power and batting average categories.
On the surface, it looks like Polanco should have a better batting average. He’s hitting more grounders than he did last season and pulling more of those grounders to the right side. That can be a great formula for a hitter with speed, and it’s very encouraging to see his hard-hit rate on grounders increasing, but I worry that too many of those pulled grounders are pitches he’s rolling over into easy outs.
Indeed, very few of his grounders are making it through the the outfield.
And most hit to the right side are turning into outs, according to Brooks Baseball.
With that pattern of grounders, it seems Polanco’s current .315 BABIP has reached its ceiling. His best hope for a batting average bounceback will likely require a corresponding increase in his wimpy .107 ISO.
If Polanco is going to pick up his power production, he’ll either need to increase the volume of fly balls he hits, or get more bang for his buck when he does. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem inclined to make either of those changes.
His fly ball rate is down by about 25% this season. Per FanGraphs, his 23.6% fly ball rate ranked as the 16th-lowest in baseball entering Sunday’s action. That’s not a death knell for power production on it’s own. Polanco need only look over to his teammate, Starling Marte, for an example of high efficiency home run hitting. Despite sporting the 12th-lowest fly ball rate in the league, Marte has already popped 10 home runs this season, owing to a 38.5% HR/FB rate and a 312-foot average fly ball distance.
At 6’4” and 220 pounds, Polanco seems to have the frame to consistently put that kind of a charge into the ball, but so far this season, his looks have proven quite deceptive. Polanco ranks 152nd in the league in average fly ball distance, trailing the likes of Jose Altuve, Michael Bourn, and Jordy Mercer in both average distance and number of qualifying fly balls, according to Baseball Heat Maps.
Until I start to see some sign that Polanco’s power bat is waking up, I can’t buy that he’ll reach double-digit bombs or a .270 batting average this season. Without those, he’s just an overly expensive source of speed.
Carlos Gonzalez | Colorado Rockies | OF
You’ve probably missed your window to trade Carlos Gonzalez on name value, but even so, anything you can realistically get for him at this point will likely be more than enough. The kind of early decline that we’ve seen over the past few months of baseball isn’t something that projection systems are great at picking up on; both ZiPS and Steamer remain quite optimistic on the remainder of his 2015 season. FanGraphs’ Depth Charts aggregation of those two systems has CarGo pegged for a .271/.339/.480 line with 14 homers and seven steals the rest of the way. I’m sure that lines up well with the dictionary definition of “Carlos Gonzalez”, but he hasn’t been anything like himself this season.
In the recent past, Gonzalez has succeeded by crushing just about everything he puts in the air. From 2010-2013, he never ranked lower than 15th in baseball in average fly ball distance, per Baseball Heat Maps. In both 2014 and 2015, he hasn’t even hit enough of a sample of fly balls to crack the leaderboard.
While we can’t look at his raw distance, we can deduce something from the frequency with which he’s putting the ball in the air and the pop he’s generating when he does. His fly ball rate is down to just 25.5%, the lowest of his career and among the lowest in baseball. His hard hit rate on fly balls is just 35.5%, his worst output since 2009. Perhaps worst of all, his pull rate on flies is just 6.5%, a ludicrously low number that couldn’t be a worse omen for CarGo’s home run production.
Gonzalez isn’t a dead pull hitter overall, but based on his performance in his last healthy and productive season (2013), an inability to pull the ball in the air will almost certainly lead to decreased home run production.
His HR/FB rate this season sits at just 12.9%, his worst rate since his rookie year.
As grim as his power outlook is, the future of Gonzalez’ stolen base production looks even bleaker. Over the last two seasons, he’s stopped running almost entirely. Since stealing at least 20 bases in four consecutive seasons from 2010-2013, Gonzalez has only attempted one swipe in his last 461 plate appearances. ZiPS likes him to snag 8 more bags this year; that feels awfully generous given his recent history.
There are signs of life in his plate discipline, notably that Gonzalez has stopped flailing at so many pitches outside the strike zone, dropping his chase rate by 25% this season, per FanGraphs, but if swinging smarter isn’t going to lead to more potent contact, it’s tough for me to get too excited about it.
Carlos Gonzalez just isn’t “Carlos Gonzalez” anymore. The stat line makes it pretty clear, but let’s hope at least one of your leaguemates isn’t ready to admit it yet.
Sean Doolittle | Oakland A’s | RP
I love Sean Doolittle, but the guy’s just not right. After tearing his rotator cuff sometime during the 2014 season, he battled through an offseason of rehab, making a long-awaited return to the big leagues last week, striking out two in an uneventful inning of work against the Tigers. He was easing his way back, but all but assured to regain the closer role for the A’s. And then somebody looked at a Brooks Baseball chart and saw that little black dot in the bottom right corner, representing Doolittle’s only outing this season.
Doolittle doesn’t succeed on the back of overpowering velocity, but when a recently injured reliever’s max velocity can’t even get within two miles-per-hour of his output from the previous season, his team can’t in good faith send him back in to close. Doolittle was placed back on the DL on Saturday after experiencing discomfort in his shoulder both after his outing on Wednesday and after throwing on Friday. Though his MRI showed no tears in the shoulder, it’s not great to hear that Doolittle will be completely shut down for a least a full two weeks. You’d expect at least another couple of weeks of rehab after that, which would put the most optimistic scenario at a post-ASB return.
That’s not out of the question, but given the circumstances surrounding the A’s and Doolittle, I’d be floored if they weren’t as cautious as possible. Oakland already trails the Astros by nine games in the AL West and Doolittle’s in just the second year of a five-year contract. The A’s have committed to Doolittle as their long-term answer at closer and Billy Beane is both self-aware enough to feel this season slipping away and smart enough not to risk his club’s future in futile pursuit of an unlikely comeback. Shoulder injuries are tricky. Elbows are terrifying, but at least Tommy John surgery provides a relatively predictable route to a successful comeback. No such silver bullet exists for shoulder injuries, which makes rehabs from them even tougher to project.
Knowing that, I don’t expect that we’ll see Doolittle in a major league uniform until there’s irrefutable PITCHf/x evidence of his return to full health. Can we really expect that to happen before late July?
I’m not saying that you should drop Doolittle outright, but if your league doesn’t have slots of players on the DL, or if he’s competing for that slot with another player whose return path is less of a minefield, I’d be fine with cutting Doolittle loose in favor of a reliever who can help right away. And he’s certainly not worth a trade for owners speculating on future saves.
3 TO KEEP
Players to hold or trade for; owned in most standard leagues
Shawn Tolleson | Texas Rangers | RP
The Texas Rangers probably aren’t this good, but Shawn Tolleson absolutely is. The hottest Ranger this side of Prince Fielder has locked down the ninth inning with a firebreathing 32.3% strikeout rate, a microscopic 4.3% walk rate, and an outstanding 2.29 FIP.
His fastball is good, but not overwhelming. He complements it with an excellent slider and a devastating changeup. The change was a new addition to his arsenal last year; this season, it’s replaced his cutter (which he’s phased out) as his top secondary pitch. It’s also given him a powerful weapon against lefties, who absolutely owned him (.316/.426/.561) in his debut season in 2012, when he hadn’t yet begun to throw the changeup. This season, with the change in his quiver, Tolleson has limited lefties to a .235/.278/.373 line with a 31.5% strikeout rate, per FanGraphs.
Besides handling lefties, he addition of the changeup has helped Tolleson to corral his walk rate. According to Brooks Baseball, his career 32.7% ball rate on the changeup is his lowest for any pitch. He’s not afraid to go to the change when he’s behind in the count, which helps to keep hitters off his fastball in those situations.
Over the last three weeks, his game log is spotless. He hasn’t surrendered a run since May 7 and hasn’t given up a hit since May 21. He’s fanned two batters or more in four of his last eight outings.
Anibal Sanchez | Detroit Tigers | SP
Anibal Sanchez has been a really good pitcher for a really long time, but he certainly hasn’t looked like it this season. His 5.75 ERA is the highest of his career, his 4.30 FIP is his worst since 2009, and his 3.65 xFIP is his worst since 2010. He’s been tagged for 12 home runs in just 67.1 innings and has seen his groundball rate drop by more than 10 percentage points from last season. Hitters have handled every single one of his pitches with a better slugging percentage than they managed last year.
And he’s going to be just fine.
There’s nothing broken about Sanchez. His strikeout rate is a few ticks above his career average and his walk rate is a few ticks below it. He’s allowing a bit more hard contact than you’d expect, but he’s also missing more bats and throwing more first-pitch strikes. None of his pitches have shown a huge change in movement or velocity.
Though his BABIP isn’t out of order, Sanchez’s struggles are largely due to bad luck, mostly in the form of a 62.3% strand rate. Five of the seven homers he’s served up have come with men on base, despite the fact that those situations make up less than 40% of his total batters faced. The corresponding dip in his strikeout rate in those situations signals that Sanchez might have a bit of a mechanical issue to sort out when he pitches from the stretch, but it’s nothing he can’t solve. After all, these kinds of slumps are nothing new for him.
Last season, Sanchez stumbled through July with a 6.03 ERA. In 2013, he surrendered 10 extra base hits and a 4.10 ERA in a disastrous May. Back in 2012, June, July, and August were all rough; Sanchez couldn’t manage anything better than a 4.65 ERA in any of the summer months.
And yet, even with those hiccups, his aggregate numbers since the start of the 2012 season are gorgeous. He’s pitched to a 3.58 ERA and 3.08 FIP, striking out nearly a batter per inning with better than three and a half punchouts for every walk. By fWAR, he’s been the 12th-best pitcher in baseball over the last three-plus seasons. He deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Charlie Blackmon | Colorado Rockies | OF
BABIP dragons, Charlie Blackmon does not fear you. Despite a .242 BABIP in the month of May and a .185 BABIP on grounders for the full season, Blackmon is having a monster year, posting career bests in walk rate, hard hit rate, and ISO and putting himself on pace for a 20/30 season. He is pounding the ball in the air, with a 52.4% hard-hit rate on fly balls, per FanGraphs. And he’s running just as often as last season, only with increased efficiency, succeeding on 10 of his 13 attempts this year after going 28 for 38 last season.
He’s engineered these improvements by making a huge adjustment at the plate, cutting his chase rate by more than 13 percentage points and his overall swing rate by just as much. He’s maintained his excellent contact rate on pitches in the zone, but focused it on pitches he knows he can drive. He knows how pitchers are trying to attack him and he’s adjusted to successfully fight back against that plan.
Pitchers found a hole in Blackmon’s swing last season, coaxing him to swing at pitcher’s pitches on the lower outside edge of the strike zone.
Blackmon figured that out and adjusted this season, pounding pitches in that zone for a .667 ISO.
When the BABIP turns around, look out. Blackmon is a fantasy star.