A blockbuster deal between the Cubs and Athletics provides a couple of players to discuss in this week’s article. They are joined by a couple repeat visitors to the column from the American League West, as well as a former closer back in the bullpen fold in Texas, and a speedy Mariners outfielder that can really move the needle in stolen bases but remains widely available.
Dan Straily, SP, Chicago Cubs
Ownership: ESPN: 38.2% Yahoo!: 10% CBS: 18%
Straily was sent to Triple-A Iowa upon his acquisition, and his upside isn’t so great that he needs to be stashed in most leagues, but his value is up a great deal. He was buried in Oakland, and unlikely to receive anything more than an emergency start for them. With the Cubs, and as a member of their 40-man roster, he’ll almost certainly have a chance to join the rotation soon. Most of the scouting writers I respect label believe Straily’s stuff makes him a back of the rotation starter, and with a fastball that hovers around 90 mph it’s hard to argue with that take. That said, he is more exciting than your typical back end arm thanks to his ability to miss bats.
Among starters with a minimum of 30 innings pitched in the majors this year, FanGraphs’ plate discipline leaderboard has Straily tied for ninth in swinging strike percentage (12.2 percent), and much of that dominance has come on pitches in the strike zone as hitters aren’t going fishing on pitches out of the strike zone (26.4 percent outside the strike zone swing rate compared to 30.3 percent league average). Part of the reason for Straily failing to get hitters to chase could be his low first pitch strike rate of 48.4 percent (60.4 percent is league average). In 2013 his first pitch strike rate was 60.0 percent, and a return to that form would serve him well. He is getting in the zone at a slightly above league average rate, so he certainly has the ability to pound the zone, it seems his low first pitch strike rate is of his choosing. His ability to miss bats has been on full display in the minors as well, and Minor League Central has his strikeout rate at 26.2 percent, and 20.3 percent of his strikeouts coming swinging (14.2 percent as the Pacific Coast League average).
Straily’s biggest problem this year at the major and minor league level has been the gopher ball. His flyball batted ball profile will lead to dingers, but in the minors he’s allowing 1.29 HR/9 and he was hammered in the majors allowing 2.11 HR/9. The 25-year old starter had never had homer problems previously in his career, so some steep regression is most likely in order. If Straily is going to fully maximize his reality and fantasy potential, he’ll also need to cut back on the free passes as he has a 9.4 percent walk rate in the majors this year and a 10.1 percent walk rate in Triple-A. It’s a palatable walk rate given his high strikeout rate, but there is room for improvement (his 2013 walk rate was 8.9 percent).
My biggest concern with Straily is diminished velocity this year on his pitches. Perhaps working with a new pitching coach will allow him to rediscover his missing heat, and his swinging strike rate suggests as long as he doesn’t lose any more velo that he can have success (though, it might also be a contributing factor to his homer problems since the room for error is lower with lesser velocity). If you have a bench spot and a pitching need in weekly change leagues or NL-only and large mixed leagues (14 teams or larger), Straily is a solid stash candidate that could pay dividends down the stretch.
Neftali Feliz, RP, Texas Rangers
Ownership: ESPN: 8.1% Yahoo!: 14% CBS: 13%
It’s that time of the year to speculate on who could move into a closing role if a selling club moves their ninth inning stopper. Manager Ron Washington has already said that Feliz won’t be pitching in the ninth, but after a very good run as the closer at Triple-A Round Rock, my money is on him closing when the Rangers move Joakim Soria.
I say “when” as opposed to “if” because general manager Jon Daniels is no dummy, and I’d be shocked if he didn’t move a Soria and his affordable contract at the deadline. According to Baseball Prospectus, Soria’s contract for this year is $5.5 million, and there is a 2015 club option for $7 million with a $0.5 million buyout. There are performance thresholds he could reach that increase his salary this year and his salary and buyout next year, but even if he hits those his contract remains affordable. The Dallas Morning News reports that the Tigers are interested in Soria and fellow Rangers reliever Jason Frasor, and other suitors could very well line up for Soria’s services.
Until Soria is dealt, Feliz can bide his time on fantasy rosters by improving ratios and recording strikeouts. After seeing his velocity rise and fall in the spring, Feliz had an average fourseam fastball velocity of 94.20 mph in his first appearance with the Rangers this year according to Brooks Baseball, and he topped out at 97.02 mph with his heater in that appearance. The pitch was too much for Mets hitters to handle, and he totaled nine whiffs on his 30 heaters. Feliz is my favorite closer handcuff as we approach the trade deadline, and he should be owned by all save starved owners in leagues as shallow as 12-team mixers.
Logan Morrison, 1B, Seattle Mariners
Ownership: ESPN: 3.8% Yahoo!: 3% CBS: 15%
Justin Smoak now joins Jesus Montero in purgatory, I mean, Triple-A Tacoma, and even with Corey Hart back Morrison is in line for everyday playing time. The former Marlin doesn’t have a staggering line this year entering play Sunday with a slash line of .260/.316/.413 in 114 plate appearances, but he has reached the seats four times, and his legs appear to be fine with him having swiped two bases in the majors and two in the minors. His batted ball profile is promising, as is his low strikeout rate.
Morrison has struck out in just 19.3 percent of his plate appearances, and for the first time in his career, he’s hitting fewer than 40 percent of his balls in play on the ground. The 26-year old first baseman was able to swat 23 homers back in 2011, and in that season (his last mostly healthy season) he ranked 37th in average home run and flyball batted ball distance. When he has a healthy base, he has plenty of raw power even if his career numbers don’t fully suggest as much. Morrison is a post-hype sleeper that should be rostered as a corner infield or utility option in AL-only leagues and 14-team mixers or larger, and he could play his way onto some 12-team mixed league rosters before the year is over.
James Jones, OF, Seattle Mariners
Ownership: ESPN: 31.2% Yahoo!: 15% CBS: 29%
Jones wasn’t a decorated prospect, but he’s taken over center field duties for the Mariners and run with them, figuratively and literally. The reason for owning him in fantasy leagues is simple, he is a very good base stealer. The rookie center fielder has stolen 17 bases in 18 chances this year, and stole 28 in the minors in 2013 and 26 in the minors in 2012.
Manager Lloyd McClendon has primarily slotted Jones second in the Mariners order, but also hit him leadoff on occasion, and both positions give him run scored upside. Jones doesn’t walk often (just a 4.4 percent walk rate), and a .343 BABIP has helped him post a .279 batting average, so he probably shouldn’t be hitting that high in the order. Regardless, he is, and his speed and acceptable strikeout rate (17.5 percent) should keep his batting average in rosterable territory even if his BABIP dips some. That said, he has high BABIPs throughout his minor league career, and a slappy batted ball profile where he rarely hits the ball in the air (18.4 percent flyball rate), bode well for a continued high BABIP. The center fielder is a better option in roto leagues since punting stolen bases is viable in H2H formats, and he should be owned in all but shallow roto leagues.
Stephen Vogt, C/OF, Oakland Athletics
Ownership: ESPN: 6.3% Yahoo!: 8% CBS: 11%
This could be last call for the versatile Athletics hitter. Vogt is playing basically everyday seeing time in both outfield corners, catching, and even at first base. His positional versatility is sweet in large mixed leagues and AL-only formats, but they’d mean little if he wasn’t hitting. Vogt, however, is hitting with a slash line of .349/.375/.470 and a couple taters entering play Sunday.
Vogt raked in the minors, and the 29-year old is looking like the latest A’s diamond in the rough to establish himself in the majors at an advanced age. His power doesn’t jump off the page at you, .120 ISO, and his batting average is due for correction when his BABIP normalizes, but he almost never strikes out (9.1 percent strikeout rate), and his stellar plate discipline will eventually lead to more walks and help prevent a decrease in batting average from torpedoing his on-base percentage in leagues using OBP. Furthermore, his ability to continue to get on base at a high clip has value in standard leagues, too, since it will keep his run scored potential at the level it is presently.
Using Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), the Athletics have been the fifth best offense this year, and that’s good news for run and RBI potential for anyone receiving regular playing time, including Vogt. Also, as a left-handed hitter that does most of his damage against right-handed pitchers, Vogt will be in the A’s lineup more often than he’s not while the club mixes and matches to take advantage of platoon splits. Vogt is a solid second catcher in all two catcher leagues, and while he doesn’t need to be rostered in single catcher mixed leagues, he is a nice AL-only league option.
Tsuyoshi Wada, SP, Chicago Cubs
Ownership: ESPN: 0.0% Yahoo!: 0% CBS: 2%
Box score scouting will paint the wrong picture of Wada, but the soft-tossing, crafty southpaw has been outstanding in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League posting a 2.66 ERA that is mostly supported by a 3.15 FIP. He’s striking out 25.4 percent of the batters he’s faced while walking just 6.3 percent of them. His run in the PCL reminds me of that of soft-tossing right-handed pitcher Yusmeiro Petit, and what remains to be seen is if Wada has a secondary pitch that is nearly as fierce as Petit’s curveball.
PITCHf/x has only tracked 33 pitches from Wada, all this spring, so there isn’t much to be gleaned from the data other than the fact he features a four pitch mix of a fourseam fastball, changeup, slider, and curve. His average velocity on his fourseam fastball was 90.65 mph, which is actually a little harder than scouting reports indicate he typically throws. One nugget of information that I find promising in Wada’s minor league statistical profile a 17.4 percent swinging strikeout rate (14.2 percent is what Minor League Central has as the league average).
Being crafty doesn’t often translate to big numbers in the majors, but his success in a hitter friendly environment, and his ability to get empty swings in the minors this year is reason enough to gamble on Wada in NL-only formats. He’ll join the Cubs rotation in time for Tuesday’s doubleheader. A good showing should secure him a spot in a suddenly emptier Cubs rotation.