Ah, late August, the time when fantasy owners either (a) gear up for the playoffs or (b) begin to tune out and hope for 2014. It’s also that period right before September call-ups, before future phenoms get their chance to crack big league rosters, and thus, leave us dumpster divers with a lack of super interesting options on the waiver wire.
But, never fear: In the topsy-turvy world of fringe fantasy talent, there are always a name or two to kick around, and in this case, two high-ceiling talents that just might bolster your squad, whatever your ultimate destiny in 2013 might be.
Jake Arrieta | Chicago Cubs | SP | 3 percent Yahoo ownership; 0 percent ESPN; 15 percent CBS
YTD: 36.2 IP / 4.91 ERA / 7.9 K/9 / 5.4 BB/9 with 2 wins
ZiPS updated: 62 IP / 4.91 ERA / 7.8 K/9 / 5.1 BB/9 with 3 wins
Who loves betting on players based on miniscule sample sizes? Well, nobody, though at this point in the season, those looking for pitching help in NL-only leagues certainly wouldn’t complain if they were picking up a guy with a big ceiling. In the case of Arrieta, 27, one start won’t serve to anoint him as a fantasy savior, but then again, he did just shut down the Cardinals’ vaunted offensive attack on Friday, limiting St. Louis to just two hits over seven shutout innings. That’s now two good starts for the former top prospect since he was traded from the Orioles to the Cubs, and hey, why not indulge in a little optimism at this point in the season, especially now that he has a rotation spot all to himself?
Well, there’s the control issue, to name one reason. Arrieta has maintained a roughly 4 BB/9 throughout his 371 career major league innings, and a career 3.8 BB/9 in the minors isn’t exactly Greg Maddux-like. That’s not good when you’re allowing nearly a hit per inning throughout both Triple-A and the majors this year, especially when you’ve repeatedly displayed problems at the major league level in holding runners on base (66.8 percent strand rate).
On the other hand, Arrieta will now be pitching in the NL Central, home to teams such as the Reds, Pirates and Brewers, the lineups of which, according to wRC+, are below league average. And while it might be a bit premature to crunch Arrieta’s 2013 pitch data—the guy has logged less than 40 innings this year—a glance at Texas Leaguers shows Arrieta relied far more on his sinker than his four-seam fastball over his past two starts, the former being a more effective choice for him in 2013, as per FanGraphs’ PITCHf/x values.
Who knows? Perhaps a change in scenery—and less pressure as 2013 comes to a close—will reveal a new Arrieta, similar to the one who appeared on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list twice. It’s not a bet on which to place high hopes, to be sure, but still, at least he offers upside at a cheap price.
Recommendation: I wouldn’t trust him just yet in mixed leagues, but NL-only owners might as well take a flier.
Jon Niese | New York Mets | SP | 35 percent Yahoo ownership; 30 percent ESPN; 44 percent CBS
YTD: 89 IP / 4.25 ERA / 6.4 K/9 / 3.5 BB/9 with 5 wins
ZiPS updated: 127 IP / 4.19 ERA / 6.6 K/9 / 3.3 BB/9 with 7 wins
Yeah, calling Niese a “high-ceiling” talent is a bit of a stretch. And yeah, he’s hardly the most under-the-radar talent available out there. But his ownership levels suggest that (a) owners in too many leagues have forgotten about the southpaw because (b) they’ve soured on him after a dreary start to the season.
But Niese’s early-season performances shouldn’t be held too much against him, as he pitched with a slight tear in his rotator cuff, which led to an unsightly 10.6 H/9 and a .293 opponents’ batting average. He says he’s completely healthy—as if he was going to say anything else—though he looked sharp in three minor league performances and has pitched decently in two starts since returning from the disabled list. (Though one of those starts resulted in four earned runs against the D-Backs, and another was against the Padres, so some skepticism is perfectly in order.)
In the past, Niese has looked the part of a blossoming 26-year-old hurler, who posted a 3.97 ERA with a 7.6 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 over the past three seasons. Yeah, the Mets are terrible, but Niese will be in the rotation for the rest of the year and offers mild help across the board. That might not be glamorous, but in the right situation, it could certainly be useful.
Recommendation: I’d pick him up in 14-team mixed leagues and above.