Fantasy Waiver Wire: Week 3, Vol. I

Good news, you guys! The ambitious letter writing campaign by rabid Waiver Wire fans (c/o “The Powers That Be,” 1 THT Way, Madeupville, BS, 01234, USA, America, Plant Earth) has resulted in said The Hardball Times’ brain trust deciding what the Waiver Wire columns need is more cowbell waiver wire. So, starting today, my good friend Karl de Vries (@Karl_de_Vries) and I (@jackweiland) will be posting our waiver wire finds three times a week on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule.

In addition, rather than segregating our columns by league (Karl had been doing the National League after doing the American League last year, and I had been doing the American League this season) we will no longer be shackled by these cumbersome restraints.

Or, in other words, Karl finally will (at long last!) be allowed to write about players on the Astros you might want to add for some reason. Which, if I’m honest, is a little disappointing for me on a personal level, because I have really enjoyed giving him a hard time about getting screwed out of covering the Astros the past two seasons. Such is life.

To recap some of our recent WW subjects:

Kyuji Fujikawa – Karl highlighted the Cubs reliever on Friday, as it seemed only a matter of time before Carlos Marmol‘s high wire act would wear out its welcome in Chicago. Turns out that matter of time happened to be two days, as Fujikawa was officially tabbed as Marmol’s replacement. He’s now a must-add if you’re in need of saves.

Stephen Drew – The Red Sox shortstop is expected to be activated Wednesday, and it’s worth gambling that his power still will be there and can help him crack the top ten shortstops.

Brandon Maurer – Debuted Thursday in Oakland and gave up six runs in six innings of work, including home runs to Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes. His fastball was working mostly in the 91-92 mph range, and although the end result wasn’t pretty, he didn’t look as bad as his line might indicate. He’s still a good buy in dynasty leagues and worth using in his next start against the Astros, who have struck out like 5,000 times already this year. (Slight exaggeration.)

J.A. Happ – Looked very good against the Red Sox Saturday, throwing 5.1 scoreless innings, striking out six and walking three. He’s still owned in just 18 percent of CBS leagues and can be a nice addition for teams in need of starting pitcher depth.

Dylan Axelrod – Also posted a nice line in his debut Saturday against the Mariners, pitching 5.2 innings of scoreless ball, walking two and striking out three. He remains useful in a pinch while he hangs on to the last starting job in the White Sox rotation, but matchups and park factors must be considered.

A few names to consider heading into Week 3:

Jim Henderson | Brewers | RP | ESPN: 1.4 percent ownership | Yahoo!: 24 percent | CBS: 17 percent
YTD: 2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.79 FIP, 3.09 xFIP, 9.00 K/9, 0.00 BB/9
Oliver Projection: 3.95 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 9.12 K/, 4.77 BB/9, 66 IP

Early-season blown saves are by no means the end of the world. (After all, Fernando Rodney blew his first save opportunity this season, and no one is saying it’s time to bail on him after he had the most amazing year in the history of forever last year.) But John Axford‘s early season struggles, including a mysterious drop in velocity, should have owners ready to pull the trigger.

Axford entered the 2012 season slotted safely in the ninth-inning role after a superb 2011 season in which he racked up 46 saves, had a 1.95 ERA, a 2.41 FIP, and a 2.85 xFIP. He struck out 28.2 percent of batters faced in 2011, and walked just 8.2 percent.

For whatever reason, 2012 didn’t work out quite as well. His ugly 4.67 ERA and nine blown saves caused a temporary demotion from the closer role while fellow 6-foot-5 hard-throwing Canadian righthander Jim Henderson took over. (Side note: are all Canadian relievers exactly the same? This sample seems to indicate that).

Axford’s 4.06 FIP and 3.79 xFIP indicate there was a fair amount of bad luck in those 2012 statistics, including an absurdly high 19.2 percent HR/FB rate. It’s worth noting, however, that Axford also saw his walk rate jump by more than four percent (from a workable 8.2 percent in 2011 to 12.6 last year) and did not see a corresponding increase in his strikeout rate (from 28.2 percent to 30 percent).

Obviously speculating on one or two bad outings is a fool’s errand, but there’s certainly reason to be concerned for Axford owners, and reason to speculate on Henderson, who has already taken over the ninth-inning duties in Milwaukee once and is poised to do so again should Axford’s struggles continue.

Henderson also was unlucky last year, posting a 3.52 ERA but a 1.95 FIP and a 2.73 xFIP. Most of that discrepancy is due to a high BABIP of .352, which should return to Earth this season. His strikeout rate (34.4 percent) and walk rate (9.9 percent) both were very strong.

Contributing to this excellence was a superb swinging-strike rate of 14.9 percent. Oliver sees the strikeout rate dropping a ton, all the way down to 22.9 percent, with a rise in walk rate at the same time, but that seems unlikely without a change somewhere unforeseen (velocity, etc.) and is probably the result of Henderson being a somewhat unique case as a 30-year-old with just 30 innings of major league experience.

Recommendation: Henderson is worth a stash now if you have room, with the understanding that Axford’s grasp on the closer’s role is not as tenuous as Marmol’s was last week. That said, both Axford and Henderson bear watching, and owners should be ready to move if the Brewers make a switch. If the change is made, Henderson can be a solid second-tier option for saves. He’s an elite relief option for strikeouts and holds as is.

Eric Sogard | Athletics | 2B | ESPN: 0.1 percent ownership | Yahoo!: 1 percent | CBS: 1 percent
YTD: .188/.278/.188 in 18 PA
Oliver Projection: .263/.328/376 in 457 PA

Seth Smith | Athletics | OF | ESPN: 0.1 percent ownership | Yahoo!: 1.0 percent | CBS: 5 percent
YTD: .333/.400/.778 in 10 PA
Oliver Projection: .256/.335/.448 in 487 PA

We’ve had some good stuff here at THT lately about fantasy platoons, most notably by Scott Spratt and Brad Johnson. For those of us in absurdly deep leagues, my advice last week on three big-name middle infielders who have relatively low ownership rates could be filed in the “Yeah, right!” folder. In leagues like these, sometimes you have to get creative. And that means looking for value absolutely everywhere, including platoons.

Johnson mentioned Smith in his piece, and he’s one of my favorite options because:

1. He’s widely available.
2. There isn’t much guesswork at play with him.
3. I own him.

Smith debuted with the Rockies in 2007 and has exactly 1,900 career major league plate appearances, during which he has posted consistently above-average numbers against right-handed pitchers (.283/.361/.503). If he was able to post that kind of production over a full season against pitchers from both sides, he’d basically be Cespedes last year, and you’d have no hope of finding him anywhere near the waiver wire.

As solid as Smith has been against righties, though, he’s been equally bad against left-handed pitchers, to the tune of a .194/.266/.320 triple-slash line. Or, put another way, 2012 Drew Stubbs territory. He’s going to be rather useless against lefties (if the A’s even have him in the lineup, which they probably won’t), but given that two-thirds of major league pitchers are right-handed, this presents an opportunity to add a quality bat to fantasy lineups a few times a week and at very little cost.

Sogard also finds himself in a platoon for the A’s in the early going, splitting second-base duties with Scott Sizemore. The fact that he’ll see a majority of the at-bats against right-handed pitchers means he could provide sneaky value in the same way that Smith can.

The only problem is he isn’t particularly good at hitting. We can pretty much throw out all of Sogard’s MLB numbers, given their small sample size (73 games split over three seasons) and the fact that he’s had some crazy bad luck for most of them (a .181 BABIP last year).

His minor league stats do little to excite, as well. He’s had below-average power at every stop of his career but has posted encouraging walk rates (above 10 percent every year since 2008) and acceptable strikeout rates (less than 11.4 percent every season during the same stretch).

While Sogard is getting playing time at the moment, that’s subject to change at a moment’s notice. Sogard, Sizemore, Jed Lowrie, Jemile Weeks, and Hiroyuki Nakajima all will be in the mix at some point for two positions. The relative upside for Sogard does not merit wading into such a messy situation. Unless you’re desperate. Really, really desperate.

(Hat tip to reader Rafi for the question on Sogard in last week’s AL Waiver Wire column.)

Recommendation: Smith is a pretty safe bet to provide average-or-better production against right-handed pitchers and should see plenty of at-bats against them this season. Sogard is a worse bet, in a potentially much more complicated platoon, and should be used only in case of emergencies.

Jose Fernandez | Marlins | SP | ESPN: 9.9 percent ownership | Yahoo!: 30 percent | CBS: 70 percent
YTD: One freaking awesome start
Oliver Projection: 3.42 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 8.19 K/9, 3.55 BB/9 in 74 IP

The 20-year-old’s earlier-than-anticipated major league debut has been covered in seemingly every corner of the internet. So here I mostly want to say: what is wrong with you ESPN folks? Which players are actually owned over there? Absurd.

Recommendation: Pick him up, ESPN slackers. All joking aside, there probably will be an innings limit at some point, and Fernandez is 20, so the upside here is somewhat limited. That said, it could be nice to enjoy the ride while it lasts.

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  1. Mike said...

    Thoughts on Alex Gonzalez? With injuries to Ramirez, Hart and Segura, he’s been getting work everywhere in the infield.

  2. Hunter said...

    I didn’t pick up Fernandez because yeah, the guy seems good, but I don’t know what to expect.  Could you give me a general feel of where he would rank on a list of pitchers today?  Should I drop Marco Estrada or Alexi Ogando for him?

  3. Justin said...

    What are your thoughts on picking up Herrera, J. McDonald, or Justin Masterson. If I have Teheran, Phil Hughes, Jonathon Papelbon, Jason Grilli, Bobby Parnell, Jose Veras, H. Iwakuma, J. Niese, Zack Greinke, J. Benoit, Matt Garza. Who should I drop?

  4. Jack Weiland said...

    @Mike – I like Gonzalez, particularly with Segura’s injury guaranteeing more PT. You could do much worse with a deep league waiver grab. He’s got some pop, won’t kill you in average, or on base, and he’s going to play while those guys are on the shelf.

  5. Jack Weiland said...

    @Hunter – Can’t blame you … predicting with any accuracy how a 20-year-old will fare in the Major Leagues is mostly impossible. And while Fernandez’ debut was really exciting, and he has tons of talent, it’s important to recognize some of the caveats I mentioned above. I’m a pretty big fan of both the guys you mentioned, so I wouldn’t cut them loose for Fernandez just yet. Unless you’re in a keeper league. Then my answer is GOD YES.

  6. Jack Weiland said...

    @Justin – Tough to answer this without knowing the parameters of your league, or what your needs are. I assume you have a DL spot to stash Garza? Not a keeper league? Looking for saves? Starters? Etc? That’s a pretty varied list, but in general I tend to favor SP over RP (since RP pop up more often) and I’d take Masterson over Benoit, because I think the situation in Detroit is a godawful mess that is far from resolved, and Masterson has solid value.

  7. Jack Weiland said...

    Axford out; Henderson in. Karl and I are officially Pink Slip Ninjas. You’re on notice, closers.

  8. Jack Weiland said...

    @Chris – It’s tough to say with Boggs, since it’s so early, but his PitchFX data is interesting in that 37.5 percent of his pitches so far in 2013 are unclassified. Which could mean his movement has changed, he’s throwing something new, etc. Could be anything. The fact of the matter is he’s walking more guys than he’s striking out right now, and you already had four of my favorite options for B-list closers, including a couple of pretty safe ones in Wilhelmsen and Perkins. So I would definitely cut Boggs to sign Fernandez. you can always play the RP stock market later, but this will probably be your one and only chance to sign Fernandez before he gets shut down for the season later in the year.

  9. Chris said...

    What do you see with Mitchell Boggs at this point?  I start 9 pitchers, would drop him for Fernandez.  I have perkins, Fujikawa, Henderson and Wilhelmson.  Non keeper, H2H, Pitcher Categories(W,L,SV,ERA,WHIP,HR,K)

  10. Jack Weiland said...

    @Josh – Detwiler. I like Maurer a good amount, and I’ve been pumping his tires here a bit, but that’s mostly because he’s still so widely available. He’s still a rookie who could get sent down at any minute and is still a significant injury risk. Between Masterson and Detwiler, you could make a case either way, but I’m going with Detwiler because I think he has higher relative upside than Masterson, who is a few bad ticks on his walk rate from being a guy to jettison out into deep space. Masterson’s main value comes from the fact that he has a relatively secure place in his rotation, he’s racked up more than 200 IP the past two seasons, and has posted decent numbers during that time. But I’m guessing there are other Mastersons more or less freely available on your wire, so I’ll take the calculated risk of going with Detwiler. He’s on more shaky terms in his rotation, and has never put up a 200 inning season, but there’s a lot to like about his control and groundball rates.

    Good question, thanks for stopping by.

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