Fantasy Waiver Wire: Week 25, Vol. I

The end is upon us, fellow dumpster divers. After nearly six long months, we’re at the end of the 2013 season, and we have now earned the right to look ahead to next year with an eye on keepers. Since we’ve profiled dozens of players on this page over the season, we’ll take a look back this week on some of the best value picks we grabbed after the draft through the lens of keeper upside.

Patrick Corbin | Arizona Diamondbacks | SP |
YTD: 197 IP / 2.92 ERA / 7.6 K/9 / 2.2 BB/9 with 14 wins
ZiPS updated: 214 IP / 3.01 ERA / 7.6 K/9 / 2.3 BB/9 with 15 wins

The crown jewel of my fantasy soothsaying this season, Corbin also happened to headline my first waiver wire column back on March 29, when I wrote the following:

[L]ook for him to build upon his 2012 stats, when an inflated HR/FB rate and BABIP conspired to boost his ERA. I wouldn’t expect lights-out production, but I could see Corbin outdoing his Oliver projections by a tad and becoming a useful fantasy pitcher on a team that should provide him with opportunities at wins.

Obviously, Corbin exceeded everyone’s expectations, particularly in the strikeout department. But the 24-year-old had posted a 7.5 K/9 down in the minors, and he improved a decent 8.7 percent swinging strike percentage to a very impressive 10.8 rate this year. Factor in an uptick in Corbin’s average fastball velocity to the low- to mid-90s, and a heavier emphasis on his slider over his change-up, and voila—you have one of 2013’s best breakout stars.

Can we expect similar production next year? The 78.4 percent strand rate is a bit off-putting, though the .268 BABIP is not impossible to reproduce, especially for a pitcher with a solid 47-percent groundball rate. His FIP and xFIP (3.29 and 3.44, respectively) are a tad higher than his ERA, but neither is particularly worrisome.

I’m skeptical that Corbin will replicate his eye-popping 70.3 percent first-strike rate, but his professional body of work already tells us that he simply does not walk people, so I think a BB/9 under 3.0 next year is well within bounds.

True, the production faded a bit in the second half—as if not maintaining the level of a 11-1 record with a 0.997 WHIP is somehow a crime—but that’s perfectly reasonable given a guy who’s making his first 200-inning major league season.

Ceiling-wise, Corbin, a second-round pick in 2009, was a solid prospect in the D-backs’ minor league system, though he was never on the level of Trevor Bauer or Tyler Skaggs, and he never cracked Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list. That’s not a knock against him, per se, though he shouldn’t be counted on to anchor a fantasy rotation next year, and a good pitching staff probably won’t depend on him to be a No. 2.

But considering Corbin’s ridiculously dirt cheap price this year—he was undrafted in nearly 99 percent of drafts across the three major fantasy platforms—you shouldn’t have any reservations about keeping him for next year as an extremely valuable fantasy starter.

Daniel Nava | Boston Red Sox | OF
YTD: 488 PA / .300 / .388 / .443 with 11 HR and 0 SB
ZiPS updated: 522 PA / .298 / .386 / .440 with 12 HR and 0 SB

Let’s rewind the videotape back to April 22:

It isn’t hard to like Nava, who, despite so far not having been able to translate a successful minor league career into major league numbers, has still produced a quality walk rate and an ability to make contact at the big league level. The .342 average he flashed entering Sunday’s game was backed by a perfectly reasonable .310 BABIP and 21.2 percent line drive rate. And while I wouldn’t expect the home run production to continue, 15 to 18 over the course of a full season sounds about right.

It might be easy to dismiss Nava, 30, as a fluke, since the 2013 season wasn’t exactly his first rodeo. But while the batting average eventually came back down to earth, his BABIP since has jumped to .348 (validated by a cowhide-bashing 25.7 percent line-drive rate). That might be, in part, because he decided that walking his way to first was just as effective as swinging the bat, evidenced by a .388 on-base percentage that’s currently fifth in the American League among qualified hitters.

One also shouldn’t forget that what kept Nava on the Red Sox radar for all these years was his ability to hit minor league pitching, as he flashed a .317/.425/.525 line across parts of six seasons.

Instead, what’s been most troubling for Nava owners was the dip in playing time in the second half, as Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp have eaten into his share of plate appearances. The switch-hitter has proven vulnerable against lefties, compiling a human .657 OPS.

If you want to zoom out, Nava isn’t an across-the-board fantasy producer, as his home run production will be lucky to reach the 15 dingers I outlined five months ago, his runs (68) and RBIs (62) will probably settle in the good-not-great tier of fantasy production, and he’s only attempted two stolen bases this season—both of which ended with him being thrown out.

But I think Nava’s batting average will be back to .300 come next year, and in a league that counts on-base percentage, he can provide significant help while contributing a bit in three other categories. Nava’s keeper value isn’t universal—I’m thinking deep five-outfielder leagues—but given his skill set, he could be a terrific guy to hang onto next year.

Jose Quintana | Chicago White Sox | SP |
YTD: 179.2 IP / 3.56 ERA / 7.5 K/9 / 2.6 BB/9 with 7 wins
ZiPS updated: 196 IP / 3.61 ERA / 7.4 K/9 / 2.6 BB/9 with 8 wins

I know I treat Corbin like a favorite son, but Quintana has a special place in my heart, as well, being that I positively gushed over him back in April and have since been rewarded with solid fantasy production:

About those strikeouts: his 2012 rate is not good, to be sure, but he posted an excellent whiff rate in 300 minor league innings, and as he develops, I don’t think a 7.0 K/9 is an unreasonable expectation. His walk rate is no joke, either, as evidenced by an above-average first-strike rate.

If you throw away the wins issue—not that they don’t count in fantasy, but the guy has had no fewer than 17 no-decisions this year, many of which weren’t his fault—Quintana offered help in fantasy’s major categories, adding a 1.22 WHIP to his stat line.

We knew the strikeouts would take a step forward after he underperformed in that category, but his swinging-strike rate is approaching 9.0 percent, which keeps his good K/9 in touch with reality. Like Corbin, Quintana’s average fastball velocity picked up a mile per hour, and he greatly increased his wFB (fastball runs above average). As discussed back in the spring, a consistent ability to pound the strike zone (65.7 percent first-strike percentage) kept the free passes under control.

Also like Corbin, the FIP and xFIP are right where they should be, as is the .284 BABIP. Even if a minor correction to his 75.6-percent strand rate next year might boost his ERA a tad higher. I don’t think Quintana is as good as Corbin, but depending on your keeper system, that might not matter, since he’s probably as cheap (if not cheaper) and surely will improve on his wins next year.

So, once more, for good luck: the strikeouts are solid, and the base runners are low. If Quintana can pick up, say, 13 to 15 wins (which doesn’t sound unreasonable after his showings of 2012 and 2013), he’ll emerge as a serious fantasy starter. The fact that he still remains under the radar should only help savvy fantasy owners next year as they build their teams with bargain players.

Wilson Ramos | Washington Nationals | C |
YTD: 261 PA / .274 / .307 / .480 with 14 HR and 0 SB
ZiPS updated: 287 PA / .273 / .307 / .476

Catchers are typically a poorly-held secret in fantasy because the good ones are in short supply, and in two-catcher leagues, nearly every one pops onto owners’ radars. But after a rough couple of years that included a kidnapping incident and a series of serious injuries, quick-minded waiver-wire scroungers scooped up Ramos when he returned from a left hamstring injury in early July.

Despite still having to contend with Kurt Suzuki for playing time, Ramos has been a steady presence in Washington’s lineup, and he has absolutely responded with a nice power performance.

This is no surprise, since Ramos has always shown an ability to hit and was one of fantasy’s hot sleepers entering 2012 before a bad knee injury in May torpedoed his season. But the .206 ISO and 15 homers this year (one long ball every 18.6 plate appearances) are legit, as is the .286 BABIP and very good 14.6 strikeout percentage.

Let me make this quick: Ramos won’t be a secret come draft day, as you can bet every fantasy magazine in the country will tout him as a potential sleeper at catcher. If you were wise enough to grab him on the cheap in 2013, why not keep a good thing going by holding onto him for next year?

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