Fantasy Waiver Wire: Week 15, Vol. 1

Happy birthday, America! While we celebrate the legacy of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and a whole host of other super patriots, we continue to pay tribute to the gods of fantasy baseball, who, in their most charitable moments, reward our long-shot waiver claims with enough production to boost our teams as we near the season’s home stretch.

This week, we’ll take a look at three once-heralded fantasy names who, despite falling recently on hard times, still could provide some help in our ongoing excavation of the fantasy silver mine.

Wilson Ramos | Washington Nationals | C | 8 percent Yahoo ownership; 7 percent ESPN; 19 percent CBS
YTD: 60 PA / .304 / .350 / .518 with 3 HR and 0 SB
ZiPS updated: 178 PA / .278 / .329 / .456 with 7 HR and 0 SB

It’s been a tough couple of years for Ramos. After a 2011 season in which he bashed 15 home runs in just 435 plate appearances, the 25-year-old established himself as one of fantasy’s hidden gems at the backstop heading into 2012.

But a harrowing offseason kidnapping incident was the prelude for a torn knee that ruined his season, and after entering 2013 in a battle with Kurt Suzuki for dibs behind the dish in DC, he first suffered a recurring left hamstring injury in May that has relegated him to fantasy Palookaville so far as his ownership levels are concerned.

But not only is Ramos back, he’s back with a bang after knocking in eight runs in his first two games since returning on July 4. With Suzuki’s .608 OPS not doing much to help what’s been a lackluster offense, the door certainly is open for Ramos, still considered the team’s top catcher, to get some playing time.

Ramos, who was at the heart of the 2010 Matt Capps trade between the Nationals and the Twins, certainly has pop, though his recent hot streak shouldn’t be confused with the second coming of Mike Piazza. But he is a guy with a nearly .300 lifetime average at Nationals Park, and with the season-killing knee injury to Yasmani Grandal, alert owners should pounce on Ramos before he returns to prominence in standard fantasy leagues.

Recommendation: A relative glut of catchers this year should allow owners in 12-team leagues to wait on Ramos a bit, but he’s a must-add in 14-team mixed leagues and beyond.

Edinson Volquez | San Diego Padres | SP | 6 percent Yahoo ownership; 2 percent ESPN; 35 percent CBS
YTD: 99.1 IP / 5.26 ERA / 7.7 K/9 / 4.2 BB/9 with 6 wins
ZiPS updated: 174 IP / 4.75 ERA / 7.9 K/9 / 4.4 BB/9 with 10 wins

What’s more depressing: that it’s been five years since Volquez busted out with a 17-win season, or that his 4.74 ERA and 1.50 WHIP since have relegated him to the ash heap of fantasy mediocrity?

Whether you want to blame Tommy John surgery, a PED suspension or just plain bad luck, Volquez has never been able to return to the glory of his old Cincinnati days, and while the ERA in 2013 isn’t pretty, we’re still talking about a 30-year-old hurler who has proven MLB success and just maybe isn’t as bad as his numbers might indicate.

Consider the 3.86 FIP and the low 65.4 percent strand rate, or the fact that over his past five starts, Volquez has posted a 2.73 ERA and 10.9 K/9. Yes, two of those starts was against the hapless Marlins and pitching-dependent Giants, but the Braves, Red Sox and Dodgers all feature competent batting orders, and three of those outings were on the road away from pitcher’s haven known as Petco.

In terms of pitch selection, Texas Leaguers says Volquez has leaned more heavily on his slider than his fastball over that stretch, which, as far as FanGraphs’ pitch values data is concerned, means he’s relying less on a heater that’s been ineffective throughout his career.

Whatever the reason, his swinging-strike rate has spiked to 11 percent over those 29.2 innings, helping to reverse a season-long trend that was headed in the wrong direction.

The command, forever an issue for a guy with a career 4.8 BB/9, didn’t drastically change course over the last month, and the words “Edinson Volquez” and “consistency” will never be found alongside each other in the dictionary.

So while Volquez has a lot more to prove before he regains fantasy owners’ confidence, I guess I’m trying to say that some recent success provides hope that a guy with a career 8.5 K/9 is worth keeping tabs on in case he magically rediscovers the 2008 success.

He lines up for two home starts in Week 15, though one of those appearances is against the Rockies, a team that has positively abused the right-hander in three starts so far this year (19 earned runs in 11.2 innings), though his matchup against Tim Lincecum and the Giants provides a bit more optimism. I wouldn’t trust Volquez in any league where I have alternative options, but he might be worth a flier if you’re looking for two-start options.

Recommendation: Still largely an NL-only league option.

Brian Roberts | Baltimore Orioles | 2B | 8 percent Yahoo ownership; 20 percent ESPN; 24 percent CBS
YTD: 33 PA / .267 / .281 / .400 with 1 HR and 1 SB
ZiPS updated: 114 PA / .252 / .298 / .376 with 3 HR and 4 SB

I’m not exactly sure what to say about the 35-year-old second baseman who, entering Sunday, was hitting a measly .167 since returning from right hamstring surgery, other to say that he’s a) still alive and b) offers some upside at a shallow position.

Yes, it’s just a matter of time until Roberts gets hurt again, but until then, he’ll be hitting in one of baseball’s most productive lineups. Although he’s been back a week, his ownership levels clearly indicate that most fantasy owners are either too scared to waste a waiver claim on him or forgot that the two-time All-Star compiled a .290/.365/.438 line from 2004 through 2009 while averaging more than 100 runs and 35 stolen bases in that period.

Okay, that’s not exactly recent history we’re talking about, but Roberts did smack a home run on Tuesday and is playing for a new contract after this season. He’s strictly a churn-em-and-burn-em candidate right now, but you could probably do worse on the wire in deeper leagues.

Recommendation: Deeper mixed-league material.

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