AL Waiver Wire:  Week 5

Sean Rodriguez| Tampa Bay Rays| 2B/3B/SS| ESPN: 10.4 percent ownership, Yahoo! : 7 percent ownership
YTD: .228/.298/.315
Oliver Rest of season: .235/.310/.386

He certainly isn’t the flashiest player to own, but this multi-position eligible Ray has some fantasy value. His most obvious value comes from the roster flexibility his positional eligibility awards owners. That said, a bad player who can play every position on the diamond doesn’t have any value. Rodriguez isn’t a bad player, though, and if you can get past his low batting average, his power and speed contribution is solid for a middle infielder.

In two seasons with the Rays, he has flirted with double digit home runs, hitting nine in 2010 and eight in 2011, in spite of receiving only a part-time work load. In those same seasons he swiped 13 bases, and 11 bases respectively. Not the type of numbers that will carry a fantasy team to a championship, but the type that can move the needle a bit in large mixed leagues and AL-only formats.

He’s seeing the field daily for the Rays this year, and a hamstring tear for starting third baseman Evan Longoria all but assures that will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.

While the bulk of Rodriguez’s playing time has come at shortstop, the Rays’ need to fill third base serves to award him a bit more leash to struggle than he would otherwise have. While I pointed out he could be a drag on batting average, he isn’t as bad as his current average would suggest. His BABIP is on the low side thus far in 2012, and that is largely a result of hitting too many pop-ups and too few line drives. His plate discipline rates are mostly in line with his last few seasons, so it seems likely his batted ball data will drift to previous norms. If that’s the case, he should hit somewhere in between his 2011 average of .223 and his 2010 mark of .251. That would still leave his average on the low side of rosterable, but the rest of his line plays at the middle infield position in large mixed leagues and AL-only leagues.

He is at his best again southpaws, with a career .776 OPS against them. In leagues with deep benches, he makes for an interesting platoon option, where his splits can be maximized.

Recommendation: Should be owned in most large mixed leagues starting a middle infielder, and all AL-only leagues.

Nolan Reimold| Baltimore Orioles| OF| ESPN: 21.8 percent ownership, Yahoo! : 31 percent ownership
YTD: .313/.333/.627
Oliver ROS: .258/.336/.448

Owners who drafted or scooped Reimold off the waiver wire in the early going were rewarded for their genius. In just 69 plate appearances, he smashed five home runs and added a stolen base. A herniated disk in his neck has sent him to the disabled list (retroactive to May 1), and many owners have responded by casting him off their teams.

Playing with a bulging disk upon activation from the disabled list is less than an ideal situation, but one that Will Carroll says is possible in his May 2 Under The Knife article. Orioles manager Buck Showalter has suggested Reimold will need to play in a few rehab games before being activated, according to the Orioles official website. It does, however, sound promising that he’ll be back shortly after his eligible date.

Owners with bench flexibility, or an open DL spot, would be wise to grab Reimold now. His stellar play extends back to September of last season, making his hot start this year seem much less flukey. In 81 plate appearances last September, he clubbed five home runs, was perfect in stealing six bases in six chances, hit .281, and sported a sterling walk-to-strikeout ratio (BB:K) of 9:14. His plate discipline didn’t carry over to the early part of this season, but he has a history of walking at an above average rate, and it is hard to fault a hot hitter for wanting to swing the bat and smack the ball around the yard. If the pain caused by his neck can be kept in check, he could be a very cheap source of 20-plus home runs the rest of the year.

Recommendation: Should be owned in all leagues that start five outfielders on theams that have a bench or disabled list roster spot.

Wil Myers| Kansas City Royals| OF| ESPN: 0 percent ownership, Yahoo! : 0 percent ownership
YTD: .339/.394/.722 (Double-A)
Oliver ROS: .290/.335/.627

Myers had a rough 2011 season, but began to put that in his rear view mirror with an explosive Arizona Fall League campaign. His hot stick has stayed ablaze in his return to the Double-A Texas League. He has hit a home run in each of his last four games, and five of his last six (he’s playing as I write this on Thursday night).

The MLE for his Double-A production is .290/.335/.627. That line is nothing to sneeze at. What may be as important to his immediate future as his hitting prowess is his new defensive home. Myers is patrolling center field for Northwest Arkansas, and according to Hisashi Iwakuma| Seattle Mariners| SP| ESPN: 1 percent, Yahoo! : 0.3 percent
YTD: 6.75 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 2.25 BB/9, 10.13 K/9, 47.3 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 3.22 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 1.9 BB/9, 7.5 K/9

He didn’t receive the acclaim of fellow Nippon Professional Baseball import Yu Darvish, but Iwakuma was a star there, and his Oliver projection reflects that. He doesn’t possess the stuff of Darvish, but according to his Brooks Baseball player card, he mixes three fastballs, a four-seam fastball, a sinker, and a splitter, with two breaking balls, a curveball and slider, to attack opposing batters. The average velocity ranges from 73.86 mph on his curveball to 90.54 on his four-seamer, giving him a variety of looks to keep hitters off balance.

Working exclusively in relief as a long man, his pitches have been effective. He worked multiple innings in two of three appearances, which may diminish the impact of his stuff “playing up” in the bullpen. All three of his fastballs are generating ample empty swings, but his curveball is drawing a lot of wood. The curve does draw some called strikes, and it also induces ground balls at a healthy clip, so it has its purpose.

As his stats above illustrate, he is pounding the strike zone, racking up strikeouts, and inducing ground balls at a strong rate. His strikeout rate is higher than it was in Japan, so some regression is probably in order there, but his walk rate and ability to induce ground balls are an extension of his play in the NPB.

Kevin Millwood and Hector Noesi have been beaten like drums so far this year, and Blake Beavan‘s 3.78 K/9 would fit right into the league leaders, if it were the late 1800s, and could pose problems for him in the future. Iwakuma’s most recent relief appearance came after Miguel Cabrera line drive”>Beavan exited with an elbow contusion that resulted from getting struck by a Miguel Cabrera line drive.

Beavan’s next start may be pushed back, but he doesn’t appear to be in any danger of needing a disabled list stint, so for now, the Mariners’ rotation is full. But as I alluded to above, there are three candidates for flubbing their starting pitching roles, and Iwakuma is on a short list to fill that role when it presents itself. His value is limited in the short term, but owners in large mixed leagues should add him to their watch list, and owners in AL-only leagues in need of pitching help should preemptively nab and stash him in the anticipation of a role change.

Recommendation: Should be on watch lists in large mixed leagues, and stashed by owners with bench flexibility in need of pitching help in AL-only formats.

Felipe Paulino| Kansas City Royals| SP| ESPN: 0.3 percent ownership, Yahoo! : 3 percent ownership
YTD: 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 3.00 BB/9, 9.00 K/9, 53.3 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 4.83 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 3.8 BB/9, 8.0 K/9

If one didn’t know better, they may believe I’m a closet Royals fan having, unfortunately, touted Luke Hochevar before the season, Danny Duffy early this year, and now Paulino here this week. That assessment would be incorrect; my interest in Paulino dates back to his tenure on the Astros’ active roster.

The reason is pretty simple: Paulino throws really, really hard, and he has some idea where the baseball is going (3.74 BB/9 in his career, and 3.47 BB/9 with the Royals last year). His average velocity on his four-seam fastball in 3,398 pitches tracked by PITCHf/x is a blistering 96.02 mph. He backs it with a slider, curveball, and change-up, with the slider getting the bulk of the usage. It’s his best secondary pitch, so it only makes sense that he’d turn to it more often than the others, but his curveball and change-up give him the type of pitch mix to go after batters of either handedness. His batted ball data have fluctuated throughout his career, but he t has shown an ability to keep the ball on the ground.

In many ways, Paulino is a poster child for the dangers of blindly relying on advanced metrics. He has routinely had an ERA above his FIP, xFIPand other advanced measures that normalize certain component stats.

One culprit for Paulino’s “poor luck” is a sky high career BABIP of .339. Having pitched 87 games in the majors, including 55 starts, that have spanned over 350 innings, it is probably safe to say he’s not simply a victim of bad luck. The old adage is that power pitches provide the power to hitters, and that may apply to Paulino, though, I’m not sure how to prove or disprove that notion. Suffice to say, expecting Paulino to suddenly stop giving up hits on batted balls put in play at a higher than average rate is wishful thinking at best, and foolish thinking at worst.

One positive fantasy attribute he has displayed consistently is the ability to strike out batters at a high rate (8.30 K/9). If his control gains from last season stick for the long haul, he should provide value to large mixed league and AL-only owners. Pitching his home games at Kauffman Stadium should help suppress his home run rate below his career mark. A high three-to-low-four ERA is well within reach, and good enough to make him ownable for his strikeouts in certain leagues.

Recommendation: Should be owned by strikeout-needy owners in large mixed leagues and AL-only leagues.

Casey Janssen| Toronto Blue Jays| RP| ESPN: 11.1 percent ownership, Yahoo! : 21 percent ownership
YTD: 4.76 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 0.79 BB/9, 9.53 K/9, 43.8 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 3.60 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 2.4 BB/9, 7.9 K/9

If a closer’s mentality doesn’t prove to be enough, do the so-called baseball purists make a noise? Similar to the philosophical debate about a tree falling in the woods with no one around, except for the fact it is not similar at all, the cries of closer mentality have turned to whimpers north of the U.S. border, where Francisco Cordero, veteran of 329 career saves, has coughed up the interim closer gig to Janssen.

Sergio Santos, the Opening Day closer, is on the disabled list with a shoulder strain. If he doesn’t suffer any setbacks, he should be back by June, though, it is anyone’s guess how his shoulder will hold up as he works to rebuild strength after his period of inactivity. Regardless of the length of his absence, Janssen is the man to own on the Blue Jays by those in need of saves.

He doesn’t bring the cheddar of a prototypical hard throwing closer, but his formula for success is clear: Throw strikes, and get ahead of hitters. The throw strikes part of the equation is the clearest it has ever been in Janssen’s career if you use his walk rate as the measure, but his first pitch strike rate this year is merely average, as opposed to notably above average as it has been the last two years.

Three home runs have inflated his ERA a bit this season. Last year he allowed only two in 55 appearances, and his HR/9 in 2009 and 2010 were in the general vicinity of league average, making his propensity for serving up gopher balls a recent problem, not a career long one. A reversion back to his groundball rates of previous years should also help quell his tater issues.

Snarky comments about closer mentality aside, Janssen doesn’t have a lengthy track record of saving games, so his leash may be short. It’s also possible, but not necessarily probable, that the pressure of pitching in the ninth inning of games will turn Janssen into a lump of coal as opposed to the diamond fantasy owners who invest in his services hope for. As his inclusion in this week’s article would suggest, taking a chance on Janssen is a worthwhile endeavor.

Recommendation: Should be nearly universally owned while he serves as the Blue Jays’ closer.

Ernesto Frieri| Los Angeles Angels| RP| ESPN: 11.5 percent ownership, Yahoo! : 17 percent ownership
YTD: 1.88 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 4.40 BB/9, 15.07 K/9, 22.2 percent GB
Oliver ROS: 4.36 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 4.7 BB/9, 9.2 K/9

Frieri is a tightrope walker, succeeding in spite of his high walk rate and his flyball-centric approach. He’s able to navigate through this challenging approach by striking out batters in bunches.

He came to the Angels by way of a trade with the Padres at the beginning of this month. With a number of other talented relievers in the Padres bullpen the last two seasons, Frieri wasn’t often called upon for the highest leverage situations at the end of ballgames. Since joining the Angels, he has been thrust into an integral late inning role, and he may be in line for some save opportunities should demoted former closer Jordan Walden fail to seize back his previous gig.

Scott Downs is serving as the team’s closer at the moment, but may best aid the Angels bullpen by remaining available to get tough lefties out before the ninth inning. Hisanori Takahashi is the club’s only other left-handed pitcher in the bullpen, and he hasn’t been as tough on left-handed batters in his career as Downs has.

Owners hoping to vulture every save possible should scoop up Frieri and hope for the best. He has large mixed league and AL-only value currently as a high strikeout reliever who can help ratios.

Recommendation: Should be owned in all large mixed leagues and AL-only formats as well as by saves-strapped owners in shallower formats.

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