Part of the challenge and enjoyment of writing this column is dealing with the ebb and flow of the fantasy season.
April: Spring training surprises, camp success stories, early breakout candidates, relief pitcher job frenzy.
May-June: Major breakout candidates emerge as legitimate, early prospect call-up speculation, first disabled list stash returnees.
July-mid August: Trade deadline changes, adjustments, tons of notable prospect call-ups, setting up for next year in dynasty leagues.
Late August-September: Silly season. Desperation central.
As owners (and as writers), we’re looking for different things during each of these periods, and the depth of the waiver options varies along the way. But when we get to this part of the year, these last few weeks, when head-to-head leagues are entering the playoffs and when roto leagues are in the home stretch, it’s a particular challenge.
Many of our preseason favorites have either broken out or fallen flat, but the story has been written. Many of the impact call-ups either have been called up or stalled somewhere in the minor leagues. There’s a dearth of talent out there at the same time fantasy owners are looking for immediate, short-term help, sometimes in very specific areas of need.
It isn’t easy, nor ideal, but that’s where we find ourselves. So, with the hope of aiding ailing owners out there, let’s take a look at two starting pitchers and one power-hitting first baseman available in most leagues.
Nathan Eovaldi | Miami Marlins | SP | ESPN: 0.7 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 4 percent; CBS: 18 percent
YTD: 2-4, 3.82 ERA in 12 starts
ZiPS updated projection: 3-6, 4.03 ERA in 17 starts
Bruce Chen | Kansas City Royals | SP | ESPN: 17.9 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 21 percent; CBS: 43 percent
YTD: 5-2, 2.88 ERA in 27 appearances (eight starts)
ZiPS updated projection: 6-4, 3.36 ERA in 33 appearances (12 starts)
This part of today’s column comes from reader James C., who asked in the comments section of Friday’s Waiver Wire whether he should add Eovaldi or Chen. My answer was Eovaldi, but I think elaborating might be useful. So here we go.
(Also let this serve as a reminder that we love comments and questions, even/especially silly ones. Keep them coming, folks.)
On the face of it, Chen has better numbers: more wins and a better ERA. He also has a much longer track record, although in this instance that’s not a good thing because Chen also suffers somewhat from “We Know What He Is” syndrome, which is not a real medical condition but a thing I just made up.
Chen’s been around awhile, and he’s been in and out of the spotlight over his 15 major league seasons. From 2000 to 2004, he played for eight different teams, which has to be some kind of record. Over his 15 seasons, he’s posted a slightly below average ERA- of 104.
We have 11 years of Pitch-f/x data for Chen, and there aren’t any obvious (deliberate) changes in his data. His fastball velocity has floated between 85-89 miles per hour, and his groundball rates have been consistently in the 30s.
Currently, he’s succeeding despite a career-low groundball rate (just 27.2 percent) because his batting average on balls in play is lower than his career average (.254 vs. .281), his strand rate is higher than average (79.4 percent vs. 73.5 percent), and his HR/FB rate is about half of what it normally is (5.3 vs. 11.6). It’s not fair to expect the worst-case scenario of Chen, but what we have there is not a profile that makes me want to add him.
In short, we know what Bruce Chen is. He’s okay, plain and simple. We have a pitcher who has been around for a very long time and has been average (or worse) for most of that time, but he currently is pitching well above league average. It doesn’t seem very likely (or founded in current fact) that Chen is in any way different from the Chen we’ve known for the previous 14 seasons.
This is not at all the case with Eovaldi, a once highly regarded prospect in the Dodgers system now getting an extended look with the woeful Marlins.
Here’s what we do know of Eovaldi. He has a dynamite fastball, a pitch he throws 70 percent of the time that ranges from 95-98 mph. He also has a somewhat checkered injury history, as Tommy John surgery as a high schooler caused him to drop in the 2008 draft, and a strained lat muscle shut him down in July of 2010. He’s healthy now, though, and pitching well. It remains to be seen how the heavy reliance on his fastball will affect his ability to make quality starts, and time will tell in that regard.
Neither of these pitchers is flawless, but we have two guys with similar strikeout and walk rates (Eovaldi: 16.4 percent strikeouts and 9.7 percent walks; Chen: 16.7 and 7.7) and neither plays on a good team.
The biggest differentiating factors are their respective groundball rates (Eovaldi: solid; Chen: awful) and the unknown of Eovaldi’s ceiling. That alone is worth taking Eovaldi for a spin. Chen may be owned in twice as many leagues, but that is not indicative of who the better pitcher is right now.
Recommendation: What this comes down to is rolling the dice on a potential upside play versus a weak known commodity. That, and Chen’s groundball rate horrifies me.
Chris Carter | Houston Astros | 1B | ESPN: 31.5 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 23 percent; CBS: 41 percent
YTD: .212/.311/.433 in 460 plate appearances
ZiPS updated projection: .215/.312/.438 in 580 plate appearances
At this point in the season, owners scanning the waiver wire can’t be picky. There ain’t no beauty queens in this locality.
So it is with Carter, a player who will hurt you in many areas (average, on-base percentage, runs, stolen bases, etc.) but will also help in one very elusive category—-POWER!
As major league players go, Carter has managed to be exactly replacement level on account of sub-par defense and a less-than-thrilling .744 OPS. This is in spite of the fact that Carter possesses one skill in which he’s among the league’s elite. Carter’s .222 ISO is 20th in the league among qualified hitters, and his 23 home runs are tied for 20th, as well. In a way, he’s like a poor man’s Adam Dunn, one with slightly less power and who strikes out even more (yeah, yikes).
At this point in the fantasy season, though, it’s hard to imagine a drastic change in Carter’s playing time. The Astros are well on their way to locking up another first overall draft slot, Jonathan Singleton hasn’t forced their hand with his minor league work this season, and the team likely is interested in accumulating as much major league data on their young first baseman as possible.
Recommendation: While the average and strikeouts may hurt, owners in need of a power injection should consider the young Astro slugger. He is what he is, and at this point, beggars can’t be choosers. So plug him in, cross your fingers for some power, and look away at the inevitable whiff display.