Fantasy Waiver Wire: Week 25, Vol. III

On Monday, we ran down four waiver wire alumni who had keeper upside for 2014. Since I don’t see any reason to slow down a good thing, we’re going to look at four more bargain pickups from the season who should provide high upside next season.

Rick Porcello | Detroit Tigers | SP
YTD: 168 IP / 4.45 ERA / 7 K/9 / 2.3 BB/9 with 13 wins
ZiPS updated: 4.46 ERA / 6.9 K/9 / 2.3 BB/9 with 14 wins

Ah, Porcello, the man to whom I practically wrote a love song back in May only to watch him completely self-destruct the day it was published. But regardless of whether you share my mancrush on the Jersey native, there’s little doubt that he took tremendous steps forward in 2013, establishing himself as not just a competent fantasy starter, but a sleeper pitcher for next year who could very well become a must-start, mid-rotation man.

Where to begin? Those seven strikeouts per nine innings? That’s an improvement of two more punchouts per nine compared to his previous career average. Swinging strike percentage? A respectable 8.2 percent, another career high. As for the ability to prevent batters from reaching base via the free pass, nothing changed there, as the walk rate stayed in line despite the increased strikeouts.

But wait, there’s more. An unlucky 14.4 percent HR/FB rate is responsible for a 3.32 xFIP, and if you subtract a horrific outing against the Angels back in April, when he was nuked for nine earned runs in just two-thirds of an inning, you get a 3.98 ERA, a number that makes sense given his 3.70 FIP. No, a crazy BABIP (.312) isn’t to blame for his success, nor is an insane strand rate (69.6 percent). Instead, what we saw was a decision from Porcello, forged in spring training, to basically ditch his slider in favor of his curveball, which has radically upgraded his fantasy status from AL-only fodder to mixed league respectability.

Where do we go from here? Porcello won’t even turn 25 years old until Christmastime, and the Tigers like to score runs, giving the groundball-happy hurler a supporting cast that could very well boost him to the 15-17 win range next year. Porcello still doesn’t strike out enough batters for a fantasy owner’s liking, but now that he’s at least competent in that department, he should provide help across the board in a five-category league. Given that he likely came at a significant discount this year, Porcello should yield a great return for 2014.

Matt Adams | St. Louis Cardinals | 1B
YTD: 279 PA / .271 / .326 / .481 with 14 HR and 0 SB
ZiPS updated: 304 PA / .271 / .325 / .478 with 15 HR and 0 SB

Well, it would be easier to write about Adams if he wasn’t currently being bothered with a right elbow injury, but the overall season results for the 25-year-old are certainly impressive. With a .204 ISO and a 126 RC+, Adams, who bashed minor league pitching at a .318 / .364 / .563 clip, has so far made good on his excellent promise as a young power hitter and stands to enter the 2014 fantasy draft as one of the best upside guys available.

That’s not to suggest that Adams is without any problems, as he was posting a 25.1 strikeout percentage entering Thursday’s action and has struggled in the limited opportunities he’s been given against left-handers, compiling a sub-par .636 OPS in 44 plate appearances. But down on the farm, the strikeouts came at a mere 17.1 percent rate, a percentage that will surely climb but provides hope that we’re not looking at the next coming of Pedro Alvarez.

This year, Adams had to contend with a crowded outfield and Allen Craig at first base (not to mention the threat of Oscar Taveras’ promotion) to find playing time, but Carlos Beltran’s contract expires at the end of the season, allowing Craig to move to right field full time. An absolute demon down the stretch (.574 slugging percentage, five home runs in September), Adams seems ready to explode into stardom come 2014, and won’t be much of a secret once those fantasy magazines hit the newstands. If you picked him up off the wire, do yourself a solid and hold onto this guy for what should be solid power production next year.

Felix Doubront | Boston Red Sox | SP
YTD: 154 IP / 4.15 ERA / 7.9 K/9 / 3.9 BB/9 with 10 wins
ZiPS updated: 162 IP / 4.16 ERA / 7.9 K/9 / 3.9 BB/9 with 10 wins

Okay, so Doubront wasn’t able to build on his outstanding 9.3 K/9 last year, but the 25-year-old southpaw improved in almost every other way, compiling a 3.69 FIP, improving his groundball rate slightly and cutting down on longballs allowed. The 1.41 WHIP is still too high, thanks to a mediocre walk rate and a 8.9 H/9, but it’s worth mentioning that Doubront cut down significantly on his line drive rate from last year, so hopefully that will portend a drop in hits allowed next season.

What really hurt Doubront in 2013 was likely fatigue as the season wore on, as a dreadful pair of starts in September conspired to inflate his ERA from 3.74 to 4.15 and helped push the Red Sox to give him some time off recently. But as his body matures, I’m optimistic that Doubront will improve in his third full major league season next year, and hopefully some maturity will allow him to straddle the line between generating strikeouts and not walking hitters.

I can’t endorse Doubront as strongly as Porcello until we see better indication that the WHIP will come down, but I think he’ll be an upside guy heading into next year’s draft, even if he won’t come off the board in many 12-team mixed leagues. But there’s a potential bargain here, and his strikeout ability should motivate owners in deep keeper leagues to consider keeping him for next year.

Nolan Arenado | Colorado Rockies | 3B
YTD: 485 PA / .268 / .300 / .407 with 10 HR and 2 SB
ZiPS updated: 518 PA / .268 / .301 / .408 with 11 HR and 2 SB

In the end, Arenado didn’t burst out of the gate as a fantasy stud, but the highly-touted prospect will still finish 2013 with a respectable statline for someone who’s just 22 years old. And if you take a closer look, you’ll find a guy who could be primed for stardom as soon as next year.

Consider the 24.1 percent line drive rate that only yielded a .294 BABIP. Strikeouts weren’t to blame, as a 13.8 percentage shows the neophyte wasn’t crazily overmatched in his first major league season. Did he fade down the stretch? A .303 / .325 / .426 slash line in the second half certainly doesn’t seem to think so.

What we have instead is a very competent rookie season that happened to take place in the Mike Trout / Bryce Harper / Manny Machado era of Instant Fantasy Gratification, which makes the fact that the Rockies’ third baseman wasn’t instant fantasy gold a seeming disappointment. But fantasy owners who can afford to take the long view shouldn’t have any complaints for a guy who calls Coors Field home and who will be joined once again by Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Wilin Rosario. Third base has never been the most flush fantasy position, and Arenado’s waiver wire price, coupled with a seemingly pedestrian rookie year should help depress his keeper value. That being the case, don’t think twice about hanging onto him for next year.

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