2016 Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: 3 to Catch, 3 to Cut, 3 to Keep (Week 14)
Thoughts, questions, whatever… you can always find me on Twitter.
3 TO CATCH
Players to be picked up; available in most standard leagues
A.J. Reed | Houston Astros | 1B
Is it possible for a prospect to become a post-hype sleeper within a week of his call-up?
A.J. Reed is pioneering a whole new category of fantasy asset. The first seven games of his major league career have been disastrous; he’s struck out in 11 of his 26 plate appearances. It’s not a great look.
But his one moment of brilliance illustrates why I still have faith.
That bomb is enough to prove that the skill that got him to the big leagues in the first place, his power, is good enough to produce results. Beyond that, we know that Reed is going to swing a miss a lot, but he doesn’t chase outside the zone and he’s stayed patient enough to draw three walks already. It’s unlikely that his strikeouts will continue at such an overwhelming pace.
He’s a good hitter, just one who happened to have a really bad week at a really bad time. He’s been recycled onto a great deal of waiver wires, but I still have him at the top of my pickup list.
Seung Hwan Oh | St. Louis Cardinals | RP
From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch…
“Manager Mike Matheny said Sunday morning that doesn’t mean Oh necessarily is the Cardinals’ new closer with Trevor Rosenthal having been taking out of that role temporarily.
Matheny said Oh was ‘an option. I don’t see an urgency to do anything different,’ he said.
‘It’s not like we put a ‘C’ on their chest because they’re the closer or give them a better locker. I don’t feel like we have to give titles and roles right now.’”
Respectfully… that’s a load of shit, Mike.
There’s a reason that very few modern managers can successfully execute a closer by committee strategy. For all of our logical prattling about how saves are meaningless and relief roles are silly, there are practical benefits to knowing and sticking to a preferred order of bullpen deployment. Eventually, Matheny is going to fall into a pattern. When he does, odds are Seung Hwan Oh will be the closer. Oh has converted the only save chance he’s been given so far, and otherwise, he’s been among the best dozen relievers in baseball, sporting a ridiculous 27.3% K%-BB% and an unfair 18.2% swinging strike rate.
Bud Norris | Los Angeles Dodgers | SP
I did not expect to ever write anything nice about Bud Norris in this column, but then I read this from Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs, about how Norris has begun to lean more heavily on his cutter. And then I saw Norris carve up a pretty decent Rockies offense on Friday.
That cutter is generating a ton of swings lately and surrendering very little damage. Hitters have whiffed on nearly 40% of their cuts against Norris’ cutter and managed only a .138 slugging percentage against it. Norris doesn’t show up as a pitcher who generates a lot of weak contact, but this flyball from Nolan Arenado is a good example of what that pitch can do.
That won’t go in the books as weak contact, but shallow fly balls like that are just about the most harmless sort of contact a pitcher can induce.
I don’t know that Norris can maintain that kind of performance, but I do know that this new-ish cutter is a legitimately good pitch and that his newfound success is tied to more than just random chance. That’s enough to get him a turn on the back-of-the-rotation carousel.
3 TO CUT
Players to be traded or dropped, depending on the depth of your league
Starlin Castro | New York Yankees | 2B/SS
Starlin Castro sizzled out of the gate, but as he’s come back to earth, the effects of that electric April have warped his season-long stat line. A 20-homer pace from a second baseman sounds great; but Castro has trotted the bases just once since June 8. He has power, and he’s earned every inch of the handful of monster home runs he’s hit this year, but his approach at the plate isn’t conducive to generating much fantasy value. Since his hot start, his groundball rate has been on the rise while his exit velocity on grounders has declined.
He’s still pounding the ball when he elevates it, but he’s not elevating the ball nearly enough. In June, just over a quarter of his batted balls were flies. Castro doesn’t convert grounders into hits well enough to hit for a high average with this approach, so it’s not as though he’s trading power for average. Unless he switches things up and injects a little Brandon Moss into his hitting strategy, there are better middle infield options out there.
CC Sabathia | New York Yankees | SP
Despite allowing his highest fly ball rate in a decade, CC Sabathia has chopped his HR/9 by more than a full home run from last year’s embarrassing 1.51 mark. Before a couple of stumbles last week, he was on an unbelievable hot streak, stringing together seven straight starts with two or fewer runs allowed and allowing just one home run in 44 innings.
I don’t want to say that it’s all luck, but here’s a simple visual that illustrates just how artificial Sabathia’s recent success is.
From 2007 through 2015, Sabathia allowed a .257 ISO on pitches in the middle of the plate. So far this season, he’s allowed a .046 ISO on pitches right down Broadway. Either every hitter he’s faced this season has magically transformed into Billy Hamilton, or that hot streak was a total mirage.
Francisco Liriano | Pittsburgh Pirates | SP
Francisco Liriano’s control has talked about it for years. It’s not happy with the variance in the release point on his slider. It doesn’t like constantly depending on coaxing hitters into chasing outside the zone. It thought about just going to stay at its sister’s place for a couple days, but that’s never changed anything before. This time, it’s had enough. It’s finally going to go.
Francisco Liriano’s control has packed up and left him. In June, his walked rate ballooned to an unfathomable 16.1%. And the custody battle for his slider is going to get rough.
Liriano has always lived on the edge, using tantalizing stuff to fool hitters into offering at pitches they can do nothing with, but lately, the smoke is clearing and the mirrors are looking a lot more like windows. His whiff/swing rates are actually still fine, but the overall swing rates on his fastball and slider have dipped to career-worst levels, per Brooks Baseball.
Liriano failed to make it through the fifth inning against the A’s on Sunday, and it was arguably his best start in a month. That outing was the first time since May 18 that he’d walked fewer than three batters in a game and the first time since May 24 that he’d allowed fewer than four runs.
3 TO KEEP
Players to hold or trade for; owned in most standard leagues
Justin Upton | Detroit Tigers | OF
Although the .245/.322/.443 line he posted in the month of June still isn’t close to what we’d expect from Justin Upton, this past month has the looks of a turnaround. For the first time this season, his plate discipline is back within shouting distance of his career averages. After whiffing over a third of his plate appearances in April and May, Upton cut his strikeout rate down to a manageable 22.0% in June.
And he’s been effective in the clutch in a way that feels completely out of step with the narrative around this underperformance this season; Upton is slashing .360/.467/.680 in 30 high leverage plate appearances. Clearly, this isn’t a case of the stage being too big for him. This might all be just a garden variety slump.
So while he hasn’t homered in a couple of weeks and his bounceback month is still marked with too many weak grounders and pop ups, there’s a reason that Steamer still projects him to hit 13 homers the rest of the way. There’s always risk in acquiring a slumping player before he really pulls up, but for a shot at double-digit home runs down the stretch, there’s no better value on the trade market.
Vincent Velasquez | Philadelphia Phillies | SP
Things were touch-and-go for Vincent Velasquez after he had to leave a start after throwing just two pitches, but with some time off, it looks like he’s healed.
His fastball velocity is back where it belongs, consistently in the upper 90s. The jump in velocity on his slider is a bit odd, but the fact that it’s tied to a similar change in vertical drop makes me less worried. I don’t want to say that I’m glad to see that Velasquez might have lost a little bit of the feel for his slider, but I’m pumped about anything that doesn’t directly signal an injury. As long as he’s healthy, Velasquez is going to pitch well.
I don’t think I’d advocate trading for him, but if you already own him, this velocity bounceback should be enough to shut down any thoughts of dropping him.
Jake Lamb | Arizona Diamondbacks | 3B
Jake Lamb hit another home run on Sunday, giving him 19 for the season. This, after hitting only 10 homers in just under a full season’s worth of playing time in 2014 and 2015 combined. His 27.7% HR/FB rate more than doubles his career average entering this season.
It would seem to be a classic sell high situation, except for the fact that there aren’t really many holes to be poked in Lamb’s success.
He’s not hitting wall scrapers. His average home run distance is 406.8 feet, among the best in baseball and better than the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Kris Bryant, and Bryce Harper, per ESPN’s Home Run Tracker. His average fly ball distance is just over 300 feet, putting him in the same rarified company, per Baseball Heat Maps.
He’s not benefitting from a short-lived hot streak. Lamb’s posted an ISO of at least .241 in every month this season.
And he’s not feasting on pitchers who don’t know how to attack him. He’s slugged at least .400 against every pitch type he’s seen at least 100 times. He’s maintained an ISO over .200 against pitches in every area of the strike zone, per Brooks Baseball.
In fact, a look at his exit velocities would suggest that he’s only getting better.
Lamb got here quickly and unexpectedly, but there’s no disputing that he has arrived as an outstanding power hitter. In fact, you might even be able to use assumed regression to acquire him at a below market price…