Fantasy Waiver Wire: Week 19, Vol. III

It’s been a minute since we checked on recent Waiver Wire subjects, and I’m fairly bitter about Karl switching our schedule this week to steal the timeliness of the Biogenesis suspensions, so let’s just get on with it.

(PS – Hi Karl! Enjoy your vacation buddy!)

Last week I advised owners to add Alex Rodriguez, on the chance his appeal might actually keep him in the lineup through the fantasy season. Lo and behold, that looks like strong advice now. A-Rod will undoubtedly be the most talented player you can acquire for the price of free at this stage in the game. Go for it.

Tyson Ross had another strong start, and I’m still intrigued by him.

Nate Schierholtz wasn’t traded, nor was David DeJesus, and neither stands to see an increase in playing time anytime soon, which scuttles their respective upside.

Colby Lewis needs hip surgery, and that effectively ends his comeback bid. Cut him if you listened to me, and do not listen to me the next time I call for a DL stash.

Randall Delgado has held onto his job in the Diamondbacks rotation for the time being, and the results haven’t been quite as good as they were, but he’s still producing, and still worth adding.

Charlie Morton has been decent, and I still like what I see. Henderson Alvarez has been very good (results wise) and I am still terrified by what I see. Do with that what you will.

Today let’s check out one National League outfielder close to returning from the DL, and a tumultuous closer situation in Seattle.

Ryan Ludwick | Cincinnati Reds | OF | ESPN: 1.6 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 7 percent; CBS: 19 percent
YTD: Pretty much N/A
ZiPS projection: .253/.338/.451 in 98 plate appearances

At this stage in the game, the waiver wire in most leagues has been picked over. The big breakout players have long since been added. Impact prospects are either up and producing or have seen their stock drop. The trade deadline has passed, and any jobs created or lost therein have been accounted for. It’s also close to playoff time in head-to-head leagues, and the stretch run for roto versions, so teams are mostly in need of extremely short term help. Perhaps the best avenue to address all of these issues is by jumping on players returning from injury, particularly those who aren’t upsold on hype.

Enter Ryan Ludwick.

Ludwick dislocated his shoulder on Opening Day this year, but is seemingly very close to returning. His injury was a shame both because of its timing (right when the season began) and because Ludwick had potential to be a huge value for fantasy owners.

Coming off a mostly superb 2012 season in which he triple slashed .275/.346/.531 and hit 26 home runs, Ludwick was probably undervalued in week one when he was owned by just 52 percent of CBS leagues. If that last statement is true, that bargain has increased exponentially now that most fantasy ballers have forgotten all about the veteran Reds outfielder.

Fangraphs’ Matt Klaassen wrote about Ludwick’s 2012 season here. The short version: he probably isn’t as good as he was then, but he probably wasn’t as bad as he seemed during his down 2010 and 2011 seasons. (And, more importantly, Klaassen’s greater point is in how we view players in general, and specifically the lens with which we observe current production. It’s a good piece; go read it.)

It’s impossible to say what effect the shoulder injury will have on Ludwick’s game, most notably regarding his power. Power and counting stats are the goal here, and it’s attainable, but it’s still a gamble on Ludwick’s true talent, whatever normal age-related decline he’d have seen from last year, and the effect of that aforementioned injury. Still, at this point in the season that’s a bet worth taking on a guy unowned in four out of every five leagues.

Recommendation: If you need a power bat at this point in the season, you won’t find many better zero cost options.

Tom Wilhelmsen | Seattle Mariners | RP | ESPN: 64.9 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 49 percent; CBS: 52 percent
YTD: 4.37 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 4.50 xFIP, 24 saves in 47.1 innings pitched
ZiPS projection: 4.04 ERA in 68 IP

Danny Farquhar| Seattle Mariners | RP | ESPN: 50.2 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 39 percent; CBS: 29 percent
YTD: 4.95 ERA, 1.89 FIP, 2.05 xFIP, three saves in 36.1 innings pitched
ZiPS projection: 4.49 ERA in 55 IP

Confession time, waiver friends. I spotted the warning signs on Tom Wilhelmsen months ago (probably around the same time I rang the alarm bells on Rafael Betancourt). I didn’t want to write anything, though, because I own him in my dynasty league (signed through next year) and I either did not want to believe what I saw, or chose to ignore it in the hope it would go away.

Either way, it didn’t work, and that’s why I’m writing about him today.

Wilhelmsen was removed from closing duties last week, initially as a short term plan while he attempted to figure out how he was broken. The recipient of his ninth inning duties was a guy named Danny Farquhar, who was mostly anonymous at this time last year. Given Wilhelmsen’s successful 2012, and a superficially solid start to 2013, it may have appeared to some (and still might) that this change is temporary.

I’m afraid it probably isn’t.

Wilhelmsen was a feel good story last year, a guy who went from tending bar to closing games in the relative blink of an eye. I turned a nice profit on him, investing before the season on a hunch from some scouting reports and the fact that I hated Brandon League (as a major league pitcher, not as a person, that would be weird since I don’t know him, he’s probably a very fine dude).

Wilhelmsen was great last year. Really great. Sub-3 ERA, sub-3 FIP, 26.7 percent strikeout rate, 8.9 percent walk rate, 48.3 percent groundball rate, 29 saves in 34 chances. Like I said, really great.

This year? Different guy. Strikeouts are down (17.7 percent) and walks are up (13.1 percent). He’s generating fewer swings outside of the strike zone, and throwing fewer first pitch strikes than he was a year ago. It’s entirely possible these are sample size issues, and it’s hard to tell where the true talent level of a guy with such a limited track record falls. But it’s quite clear the Tom Wilhelmsen we’ve seen this year is not the same guy we saw last year, and that’s what he and the Mariners are currently trying to figure out. That may happen tomorrow, or never.

There has been some rumbling about Wilhelmsen getting a look in the rotation, but I’m not buying that for now. It seems far more likely that Wilhelmsen’s value (both short and long term) is in the bullpen, and I find it hard to put hope in a guy walking nearly as many batters as he’s striking out.

So I’m selling on Wilhelmsen, who seems an awful lot like one of those generic relievers who comes out of nowhere, shoves it for a little while, and then drops completely off the face of the Earth.

Which brings us to Danny Farquhar.

It’s not so much that Farquhar came out of nowhere, because he was a legitimate prospect, but he was more accurately labeled a relief prospect, and those are more accurately filed in the Nobody Cares At All bin.

What owners do care about, however, are results. And because Farquhar hasn’t had the best set of those, he’s undervalued right now. His ERA is just a shade under five, it’s true, but that will change, because it has to. It really, really has to.

Farquhar has fanned an absurd 36.4 percent of the batters he’s faced, due in large part to his immense swinging strike rate — his 14.7 mark is ninth-best among pitchers who have thrown at least 30 innings this year. His control hasn’t exactly been Wainwrightian, but when you’re sitting down as many batters as Farquhar you can easily thrive with a walk rate of 9.3 percent.

If those rates continue, and Farquhar’s ERA doesn’t nosedive closer to his FIP and xFIP, literally nothing about baseball will make any sense anymore, and then we’ve all got far bigger problems than finding a closer on the wavier wire. He seems a good bet to retain his current role for at least the rest of this season, and possibly longer. They aren’t a great team, but there’s value in that. Wilhelmsen was owned by more than 90 percent of CBS leagues to start this season, and with good reason.

Recommendation: A year ago, the reliever who came out of nowhere to seize ninth inning duties was Tom Wilhelmsen. It seems entirely plausible that we’ve just seen Danny Farquhar do the same. Grab him now, cut bait on Wilhelmsen, and enjoy another ride on the crazy train that is the closer stock market. Wilhelmsen may not be totally cooked, and Farquhar may see his superb strikeout rate decline, but it’s worth the gamble, especially for the rest of this season.

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