Fantasy Waiver Wire: Week 11, Vol. III

Although the major league season is only the midst of its third month, it’s at the halfway point for many fantasy leagues. As Jack mentioned in Wednesday’s column, he’ll be conducting a review of the first half’s booms and busts, and at the risk of preempting him, I figured it’s about time I conduct a midterm exam of my own.

Of course, that could unearth some unpleasant memories, since I’ve profiled several dozen players thus far in 2013. And for every success story, there are probably at least two or three losers, so this could get messy. To keep things brief, I’m going to look at the waiver wire posts I’ve submitted this year through the end of May and pick one player to check in on. (I figure we might as well give the June guys some more time to play ball before rendering judgment on their post-waiver wire performances.) Let’s just hope that hindsight has been gentle to my acts of faith in some of these guys.

WEEK 1: March 29

Patrick Corbin | Arizona Diamondbacks | SP
YTD at time of writing: n/a
Since: 86.2 IP / 2.28 ERA / 6.96 K/9 / 2.28 BB/9 with 9 wins

I began the season with a pretty good pick in Corbin, who had yet to be tapped as the team’s fifth starter. But the guy had a spotless spring and pitched decently in his rookie season last year, so I figured he would surpass Oliver’s modest expectations for him (4.13 ERA, 1.367 WHIP). Boy, was I wrong: Corbin has blown away just about everyone’s wildest dreams, going 9-0 with a decent strikeout rate and very little in the way of walks. Of course, he’s done so with a very high 81.2 percent strand rate, which, while not completely unsustainable, would certainly bump his ERA back up toward 3 were it to fall back to earth, and a 4.8 percent HR/FB rate that’s a far cry from last year, when he fed his gopher 14 times in a little over 100 innings. Still, my faith in Corbin was rewarded (to say the very, very least), so this recommendation was one that’s stood the test of time.

Verdict: One for one so far on my test.

WEEK 1: April 5

Collin Cowgill | New York Mets | OF
YTD at time of writing: 12 PA / .167 / .167 / .500 with 1 HR and 0 SB
Since: 40 PA / .154 / .175 / .231 with 1 HR and 0 SB

So if Corbin was a home run pick, Cowgill was a strikeout. Or a ground ball double play. Or a seppuku ritual. That’s because Cowgill, who hit a grand slam on Opening Day, has done diddly squat since, losing playing time in center field to Jordany Valdespin before being sent down when the Mets picked up Rick Ankiel. Cowgill, whose on-base abilities and stolen base potential made him someone to watch in my eyes, is now back up in the majors, but is clearly not worth much in any league. Granted, I was a bit hesitant in my advocacy, but he was clearly not worth picking up in NL-only leagues, revealing just how foolhardy my recommendation was.

Verdict: Wrong answer.

WEEK 2: April 10

Trevor Rosenthal | St. Louis Cardinals | RP
YTD at time of writing: 6 IP / 3.00 ERA / 12 K/9 / 1.5 BB/9 with 0 saves
Since: 26 IP / 1.38 ERA / 13.2 K/9 / 1.7 BB/9

Some guys, no matter how talented, are just not cut out for the ninth inning (hey there, Armando Benitez). That’s not to say Rosenthal, a legit fireballer, won’t return to the closer’s role later in his career, but I wasn’t buying the converted starter’s bid to replace Mitchell Boggs and his terrible start. Since I wrote about Rosenthal, Jason Motte has been lost for the year, and while I give myself some credit for at least mentioning Edward Mujica’s name, hindsight suggests I should have trusted the established reliever more to be a long-term save artist than Rosenthal.

Verdict: I’ll call this a split decision; I was bearish on Rosenthal, which was the right call, though I underestimated Mujica’s potential to blossom into a No. 1 relief pitcher.

WEEK 2: April 12

Nick Tepesch | Texas Rangers | SP
YTD at time of writing: 7.1 IP / 1.23 ERA / 6.1 K/9 / 3.7 BB/9
Since: 59.2 IP / 4.68 ERA / 6.8 K/9 / 2.1 BB/9 with two wins

Ah, April. How quaint such sentences look just two months later:

“Must-add” labels shouldn’t be given out frivolously, and mixed league owners might benefit from waiting an extra start or two from the 24-year-old Tepesch before kicking someone off the island.

Well, if you waited, you probably did benefit, since Tepesch has been mediocre thus far in 2013. Although I correctly took note of his meh strikeout ability and stingy ways when it came to free passes, I thought a pitcher who could hold his own would benefit from a strong supporting cast in Texas. But despite a decent 1.28 WHIP, a 2-6 record and underwhelming ERA make Tepesch no more than pitching depth in AL-only leagues.

Verdict: I didn’t go overboard in recommending him, but Tepesch has certainly disappointed.

WEEK 3: April 15

Jake Westbrook | St. Louis Cardinals | SP
YTD at time of writing: 15.2 IP / 0.00 ERA / 2.3 K/9 / 5.7 BB/9 with 1 win
Since: 23.1 IP / 2.70 ERA / 5.8 K/9 / 3.1 BB/9 with 1 win

Here’s a fun sentence that serves as a reminder of why this is such an unforgiving business:

Westbrook, 35, has largely shed the injury history that gutted a good portion of his career, as he’s made at least 28 starts in each of the past three seasons.

Yep, that was before Westbrook landed on the DL with an elbow problem that’s explained why he’s been MIA since early May. Like Tepesch, I qualified my endorsement of Westbrook by playing down his long-term expectations, but as with the rookie right-hander, I overcompensated on his value by assuming the Cardinals would elevate his fantasy value (and, of course, I ignored his injury risk).

Verdict: No, I’m not a doctor nor a clairvoyant, but I should have assigned more risk to Westbrook.

WEEK 4: April 22

Jose Quintana | Chicago White Sox | SP
YTD at time of writing: 17.2 IP / 2.55 ERA / 8.7 K/9 / 2 BB/9 with 1 win
Since: 59.1 IP / 4.25 ERA / 5.8 K/9 / 2.7 BB/9 with two wins

Let’s cut right to the chase here: Quintana, who I somewhat strongly recommended as an across-the-board pickup in April, simply forgot how to strike out people, despite an increase in fastball velocity. The walk rate, which has been key to his success in the minors and in his solid debut last year, has remained steady, but he’s basically turned into a right-handed Tepesch: good WHIP, good walk rate, mediocre everything else. Right now, he’s a fringe mixed-league starter.

Verdict: I don’t regret recommending him, but the results have clearly not been there.

WEEK 4: April 26

Andrew Cashner | San Diego Padres | SP
YTD at time of writing: 13.1 IP / 4.05 ERA / 9.5 K/9 / 4.7 BB/9
Since: 58.1 IP / 3.39 ERA / 5.7 K/9 / 2 BB/9 with 5 wins

I strongly endorsed Cashner when it became clear that he’d move to the starting rotation in late April, and to be honest, I’d say he’s done pretty well, as he’s yet to allow more than four earned runs in a start since. The big question, of course, is where the strikeouts have gone: FanGraphs’ Chris Cwik (and others) have noticed a drop in velocity on his hard slider, which could be a byproduct of him being stretched out in the rotation. Regardless, he’s not the strikeout machine I’d hoped for, so while he’s mostly lived up to my expectations as a great upside guy, he’s yet to fully deliver on his strong potential.

Verdict: Cashner has justified my faith up to this point, but we will need to see those strikeouts return eventually.

WEEK 5: May 1

Brian Dozier | Minnesota Twins | 2B / SS
YTD at time of writing: YTD: 79 PA / .243 / .295 / .314 with 0 HR and 1 SB
Since: 119 PA / .218 / .271 / .327 with 3 HR and 5 SB

A .308 average in June has helped resuscitate Dozier’s fantasy value to some degree, though he clearly hasn’t blossomed as a dependable middle infield option despite his contact-heavy ways. The five steals, however, is an encouraging sign, and as the season goes on, Dozier might be worth keeping an eye on.

Verdict: I didn’t have the highest hopes for Dozier, but his fantasy value has been zilch since I wrote about him.

WEEK 6: May 6

Scott Kazmir | Cleveland Indians | SP
YTD at time of writing: 14.1 IP / 6.28 ERA / 9.4 K/9 / 3.8 BB/9 with 1 win
Since: 38 IP / 4.97 ERA / 9 K/9 / 3 BB/9 with 2 wins

What can I say? I remember Kazmir’s days as an up-and-coming super prospect in the Mets organization, and wanted to believe that a return to his 2008 velocity would lead to strikeouts. It has, actually, and he’s been able to maintain his strikeout-per-inning rate while keeping the walks in check. Trouble is, he’s been wildly inconsistent in his appearances, and has allowed four earned runs or more in four of his seven appearances since he graced the waiver wire. That doesn’t mean we should write him off completely, but it’s hard to trust a guy who provides such volatile results week-to-week.

Verdict: I remain a fan of Kazmir’s, but he’s not really a mixed-league option right now.

WEEK 6: May 10

Kelly Johnson | Tampa Bay Rays | 2B
YTD at time of writing: 105 PA / .283 / .362 / .489 with 5 HR and 4 SB
Since: 103 PA / .234 / .282 / .457 with 5 HR and 2 SB

So far, we’ve mostly touched upon guys whose disappointment came in the way of my lofty expectations and their inability to fulfill them. Well, in the case of Johnson, I was waiting for him to come back to the pack a bit, thanks to what was a generous BABIP and HR/FB rate. The average certainly has—sorry, but a .300 hitter who’s not producing line drives at even a 15 percent clip are two things that don’t go together—but the power remains, making Johnson a great waiver wire pickup considering his low value. I’m not ready to sign off on him returning to his excellent 2010 level, but he’s clearly doing better than I gave him credit for a month ago—even if I wonder if many value him too highly.

Verdict: Although the average has dipped, the slugging percentage reminds us that Johnson has been solid this year.

WEEK 7: May 15

Jeff Locke | Pittsburgh Pirates | SP
YTD at the time of writing: 45.2 IP / 3.15 ERA / 5.5 K/9 / 3.9 BB/9 with 3 wins
Since: 29.2 IP / 1.21 ERA / 8.2 K/9 / 4.6 BB/9 with 2 wins

I poured cold water on Locke last month, dismissing his strand rate, balls in play average and bad FIP/ERA splits. Not much has changed—frankly, if anything, his peripherals have gotten worse—and since we’re talking about a guy who offers barely acceptable strikeouts and a pedestrian walk rate, I’m still staying away in mixed leagues, even if Locke, who’s now 5-1, continues to defy my nay-saying.

Verdict: Locke has yet to prove my doubts, but I’m not buying his production.

WEEK 8: May 20

David Phelps | New York Yankees | SP
YTD at time of writing: 42.1 IP / 3.83 ERA / 9.8 K/9 / 3.8 BB/9 with 2 wins
Since: 20 IP / 4.05 ERA / 7.7 K/9 / 4 BB/9 with 2 wins

This isn’t a hard one, since Phelps was solid dating back to last year and has impressed thus far in 2013. Michael Pineda still isn’t back from his shoulder injury, Ivan Nova is in Triple-A and Phelps has pitched well all season, though he got bombed by the Mets in a first-inning rout not too long after I sang his praises last month. Still, I felt Phelps could contribute in standard mixed leagues, a sentiment on which I’m standing pat.

Verdict: Not the most difficult of endorsements, but Phelps has continued to roll.

WEEK 8: May 24

Rick Porcello | Detroit Tigers | SP
YTD at time of writing: 43 IP / 6.28 ERA / 6 K/9 / 1.9 BB/9 with 2 wins
Since: 20 IP / 1.80 ERA / 11.3 K/9 / 1.8 BB/9 with 1 win

I’m happy to end this column with Porcello, one of the guys of whom I’m most proud this season. Since rediscovering his curveball and ditching his slider, Porcello, a former top prospect, has suddenly turned into a strikeout machine, posting solid strikeout numbers since the beginning of May. It will take some more time before he grows into a must-start hurler across the board, but my faith in Porcello has been rewarded, as he’s virtually stopped walking people altogether and kept his team in the game more often than not. I’m still on board with Porcello turning into one of the great success stories of 2013, and his recent appearances have only encouraged such optimism.

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