2016 Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: 3 to Catch, 3 to Cut, 3 to Keep (Week 3)
Let’s get into it. Thoughts, questions, whatever… you can always find me on Twitter.
WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM THE RAMS
The lesson is this: save your bullets for when you know your aim is true.
That’s the real stupidity in this trade. It’s not that the Rams packaged up a bunch of lesser assets to go get one extremely valuable asset, it’s that the asset they traded for has been proven to be, at best, a coin flip at greatness.
When applied to fantasy baseball, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t package a whole bunch of assets to trade for one great player, it means that if you should only do it when that great player is as close to a sure thing as you can get. Trust yourself, but know that you’re fallible.
3 TO CATCH
Players to be picked up; available in most standard leagues
Domingo Santana | Milwaukee Brewers | OF
Phrases like “holes in his swing” and “contact issues” come up quite often in anything you read about Domingo Santana. The Brewers’ young slugger has unquestionable power, but he’s posted unsavory strikeout rates at every level. He got a few sips of MLB action as a Houston Astro back in 2014 and a little taste last year, but really, it’s taken a trade to a team in mid-teardown to get Santana a real crack at the majors.
So far, you could call his debut “pretty good, but he’s no Jeremy Hazelbaker”. Santana’s .261/.358/.413 slash line is fine, but he’s only managed one home run in 53 plate appearances after cranking eight bombs in just 187 PAs last season. That drop in power production isn’t great, but it’s not like he’s lost the ability to hit the ball hard. Santana is still smashing his way to a 96 mph average exit velocity, per MLB.com, and he’s still doing stuff like this; turning around a Trevor Rosenthal heater for a 437-foot blast to dead center.
But the really encouraging thing about Santana’s start is what’s happening when he’s not swinging. He’s dramatically improved his plate discipline, cutting his strikeout rate to 20.8% and boosting his walk rate to 13.2%, per FanGraphs. Santana still swings and misses some, but he’s lopped his swinging strike rate almost in half by drastically decreasing his chase rate. He’s still just as aggressive in the zone, swinging at about two-thirds of the strikes he sees, but instead of hacking at pitches on the fringes, he’s chopped his chase rate down to just over 10%, a number that would lead the league by a mile for a full season.
Santana has always had the power. Now it appears he’s finally learning the discipline needed to unlock it.
Rich Hill | Oakland Athletics | SP
Before you read anything, check out this recap of his dominant outing in Seattle.
That is a masterclass in what Tigers radio color commentator Jim Price likes to call “the art of pitching”. Hill changed speeds, varied his arm angle, worked up in the zone, worked down in the zone, and covered both sides of the plate. He treated the Mariners to a buffet of breaking balls, even using his signature lollipop curve to whiff Nelson Cruz at the top of the strike zone.
Yet the aggregate of Hill’s three starts has produced a 4.15 ERA and two losses. He shows the skills of Picasso, but emerges from the studio holding a smeared children’s finger painting.
It should come as no surprise then that he’s suffered through the worst BABIP of any starter and if we’re being honest, it’s not entirely bad luck. I think of Hill almost like a knuckleballer. He keeps hitters off balance by being unpredictable, but when a hitter guesses right on a pitch in the zone, it’s leaving the bat in a hurry. Hill is one of only eight starters to whiff at least 25% of opposing hitters and surrender a hard hit rate over 35%. It’s less than ideal, but as long as it comes alongside the strikeouts, I’m fine with it from the back end of my fantasy rotation.
Much like Chris Tillman last week, Hill’s worth a look. He might have something here…
Kevin Jepsen | Minnesota Twins | RP
I know this one’s a bit obvious and it happened a few days ago, but with so many closer roles around the league in a seemingly constant state of upheaval, I want to make a bigger deal of the truly tectonic shifts in save producers. I want to call out the times when I’d recommend spending an extra few bucks of FAAB or burning a top waiver priority.
Glen Perkins is headed to the DL and if he’s smart, he’s probably only booked a one-way ticket. “Shoulder strain” is an ominous catch-all; it could be just a scratch, but I fear it’s the start of something much worse, especially considering the severe dip in Perkins’ velocity this season. The Twins are hopeful, but I don’t think he’s coming back on time.
Meanwhile, Kevin Jepsen has been excellent in the earlygoing. He’s getting whiffs on nearly 15% of swings and getting grounders on more than 60% of balls in play, per FanGraphs. His control has been a little shaky, but I’m not worried about it long term. Jepsen is posting the kind of strikeout numbers (22.7% so far) that can help him strand those walks.
He already proved last season that he has the skills to keep the job, and with Perkins ailing, I love Jepsen’s chances to rack up some saves over at least the next few weeks.
3 TO CUT
Players to be traded or dropped, depending on the depth of your league
Brandon Finnegan | Cincinnati Reds | SP
I’m being a little selfish here. Mostly, I’m writing about Brandon Finnegan to force myself to drop him in one of my leagues. Like owners in 32% of ESPN leagues, I was romanced by his excellent outing at Wrigley back on April 11, when he carried a no-hitter into the late innings and limited the unfairly excellent Cubs offense to just a couple of runs. That, coming off a nine-K opener against the Phillies made Finnegan a hot pickup as a post-hype prospect.
But there’s a lot of reason to be skeptical.
The first red flag is easy. Finnegan is dishing out free passes like a struggling nightclub owner. There’s never any cover charge at Club Finny’s; he’s walked nine over his last two starts and sports a poor 45.1% Zone%, per FanGraphs. A .133 BABIP has limited the damage from those baserunners, but very soon, those walks are going to start crossing the plate. Finnegan is surrendering hard contact on 31.8% of balls put in play and is on pace for a career low groundball rate.
That bit, oddly, might be by design. You could make a strong argument that Finnegan’s sinker is his best pitch, but he’s throwing it significantly less often this season, per Brooks Baseball.
It could be just a categorization issue, as most of the departed sinkers have been replaced with fourseamers, but that brings along its own set of problems. Either Finnegan has decided to throw a more pitches that move less, or he’s just getting less arm-side run on his sinker. The fact that he’s struggling to get his slider moving the opposite direction further compounds this issue.
Finnegan got to wipe away a disaster inning in his last start because of a fortunately timed fielding error. Treat that as your “Get Out of Jail Free” card and move on before the damage gets worse.
Joey Rickard | Baltimore Orioles | OF
Joey Rickard does bring some value to the table. He’s shown the ability to maintain high BABIPs in the minors, which should quell concerns around his inflated .351 mark this season.
That said, he seems to have left the best of his skills behind on the Triple-A bus.
His plate discipline, which was consistently outstanding in the minors, has been meh in the majors. Rickard has kept his strikeouts under control, but he’s chasing at a rate more than three percentage points above the MLB average, per FanGraphs. He’s flashed good speed at the lower levels, but so far, that element has been absent in Baltimore. Despite being on base a ton, he’s yet to even attempt a steal.
It’s possible that the airline just lost his luggage and the rest of Rickard’s skill set will eventually join him in the big leagues, but I’m skeptical. For now, I’d rather not bet on the continued success of a guy who hasn’t been able to replicate his best qualities at the highest level.
Jason Heyward | Chicago Cubs | OF
So far this season, Player A has an average batted ball exit velocity of just under 83 miles per hour, per MLB.com, and an average batted ball distance of 250 feet, per BaseballHeatMaps. Player B has an exit velocity of 86 miles per hour and an average batted ball distance of 239 feet. Neither has homered this season.
I’m sure you’re wondering: Why is Gerard doing a player comparison of two punchless hitters in a post about Jason Heyward, who’s built like a lumberjack from the beard on down?
Because while Heyward might have the stature of the Brawny man, in practice, his power is the “other brand” the paper towel that falls to pieces after one swipe of that blue goop that seems to exist only in TV commercials.
Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like Heyward’s draft stock always includes the expectation that projection systems are underestimating his power. At 6’5” and 240 pounds, it seems like he should be able to hit for power. But he doesn’t now and he hasn’t since 2012. ZiPS projects him for 15 bombs the rest of the way; that would be his highest output since that 2012 breakout season.
With that in mind, now might be a great time to deal Heyward. He’s still basking in the glow of a move to Chicago, but I think he’s still the same player. Very very good, but not quite the elite talent that at least one of your leaguemates probably thinks he is (unless you play in an OBP league). He’s not even my favorite player in the Cubs’ outfield, but more on that later.
And for the record, Heyward is Player B in the comparison above. Player A is noted power plant Dee Gordon.
3 TO KEEP
Players to hold or trade for; owned in most standard leagues
Vincent Velasquez | Philadelphia Phillies | SP
This one feels a bit obvious, but like our buddy Noah Syndergaard last week, I think there’s a limited time opportunity to buy high on Vincent Velasquez.
In my opinion, the most valuable skill a pitcher can have is the ability to throw bat-missing stuff for strikes. It puts hitters in a constant state of discomfort. There’s not much value in discipline when the pitches you spit on end up would end up as called strikes anyway. It causes forced aggression that can shred whatever game plan an opposing hitter brought to the plate.
Heading into Sunday’s action, Velasquez led all pitchers with a 66.7% Z-Contact rate, and nobody else is even close. The 7.3 percentage point gap between Velasquez and the second-ranked pitcher, Chris Tillman, is larger than the gap between Tillman and 17th-ranked Masahiro Tanaka.
It’s only 15 innings, but Velasquez has the prospect pedigree to back up his breakout, and he sure as shit passes the eye test.
Miguel Sano | Minnesota Twins | 3B/OF
There were a lot of good reasons to like Miguel Sano heading into this season. Despite his shudder-inducing .179/.304/.231 batting line, none of those reasons have ceased to exist. Sure, he’s striking out a ton, but we knew that was going to happen. It’s been a bit more severe that we expected, but it’s only a 12-game sample. He’s still seeing the ball well enough to put up a 15.2% walk rate. And when he does make contact, he’s still hitting the ball hard; hard enough to tally a 50% (!!!) line drive rate and an average exit velocity of nearly 95 mph, per MLB.com.
Sano is just going through a garden variety slump. He’s pressing a bit more, he’s chasing a bit more, but he’s still a really good young hitter and he’s going to be just fine this season. If you can steal him from a nervy owner, make the move.
Dexter Fowler | Chicago Cubs | OF
The league leader (as of Sunday) in BABIP is often an excellent sell-high candidate, but in Dexter Fowler’s case, I wouldn’t move him for anything less than 100 cents on the dollar. He’s been BABIP lucky and has flashed some concentrated power, but there is real sustainable improvement in areas where Fowler was already an above average performer.
He’s juiced his always excellent walk rate up to almost 20% by being even more patient on pitches outside the strike zone. That selectivity has also helped Fowler square the ball up more often; he’s on pace to crush his career high in hard hit rate, per FanGraphs.
Fowler is getting on base at a Bondsian rate and hitting at the top of one of the best offenses in baseball. ZiPS projects Mike Trout to lead the league in runs, but if I’m betting on the most likely winner of that title, I’m taking Fowler.