I was watching the Cubs the other night (something I am sadly prone to do) when recent Waiver Wire feature Welington Castillo came to the plate, drew a 2-1 count, and I thought briefly:
Holy smokes, I am going to will Welington Castillo to his first walk of the season. Right … now. I am the man.
On the very next pitch he swung and missed so hard that his helmet popped off (something it seems he does fairly often), and one strike later he was back on the bench. Still no walks.
Can’t win ’em all. Castillo has continued crushing since he was a recommendation here, though, to the tune of a now .838 OPS. He’s still due for a big drop due to a too-high BABIP of .450, but I still like the dude. A lot. He’s worth a pickup.
Elsewhere in the Waiver Wire records:
Karl wrote about Travis Hafner awhile back, and he hasn’t dropped off since. He’s a must-add at this point.
Chris Johnson was one of the most added players on CBS this week (from 28 percent to 65 percent), but I’m sticking by my guns that he’s due for a massive decline, probably soon, and Juan Francisco is a better buy there. Playing time lately has favored Johnson as the Braves have faced left-handed pitchers in three of their last four games.
Andrew Bailey now has four saves since he appeared in this space, and he’s striking out more than 40 percent of the batters he’s facing. It’s looking more and more like Joel Hanrahan will be returning as the setup man.
Speaking of closers:
Rafael Betancourt | Colorado Rockies | RP | ESPN: 100 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 89 percent; CBS: 85 percent
YTD: 7 saves, 1.93 ERA, 9.1 IP
ZiPS Updated Projection: 3.25 ERA in 55.3 IP
Rex Brothers | Colorado Rockies | RP | ESPN: 0.1 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 2 percent ; CBS: 6 percent
YTD: 1.00 ERA in 9 IP
ZiPS Updated Projection: 3.55 ERA in 71 IP
No, I am not about to recommend picking up Rafael Betancourt, who is clearly owned almost everywhere. My waiver wire brother Karl and I have have good success pinpointing closers about to take over: Kyuji Fujikawa, Jim Henderson, and Andrew Bailey to name a few. It’s probably the result of our staggering intelligence and leading man looks. Or, like, something.
Today I ring the first alarm bells for Rafael Betancourt. The Rockies veteran was seen as a solid B-list closer entering the season, featuring strong strikeout rates and excellent control, but whose value was tempered by a few realities:
1. He closes for a team that is not expected to be very good.
2. He pitches in Coors Field.
3. He’s an extreme flyball pitcher, which, when combined with the above, means he’s going to give up home runs every so often.
4. He’s in the final year of his contract, and therefore makes a good real-life trade candidate, which means he may or not still be closing later in the year.
Despite all of this, I saw him as a safe option entering the year, and have him on an expiring deal in my dynasty league. Well, I put him on the block Sunday night, and if you own him, now might be the right time for you to do the same. This might be especially true because (on a visceral level) things seem to be going fine for the right-hander at the moment. He has seven saves in seven chances, over 9.1 innings during which he’s posted a stingy 1.93 ERA. His job is still seen as secure.
His 3.35 FIP and 5.60 xFIP (5.60!!) point to struggles ahead, though. Most of that is due to a BABIP of just .179 and the fact that he has yet to allow a home run on any of the 15 fly balls he’s yielded this season, but there are other things that concern me as well.
1. Strikeouts are down and walks are up. Way down, and way up. Betancourt is currently fanning 11 percentage points less than his career average, at 15.4 percent. This wouldn’t be a terrible thing, given his pinpoint control in recent years between 3-5 percent, but in 2013 thus far Betancourt is also walking 12.8 percent of the batters he’s facing. That’s more than twice last year’s figure of 5.1 percent.
2. Velocity is down a tick. It’s not a ton, and it’s still early in the year, but Betancourt has averaged just 89.8 miles per hour on his fastball this season, down from 92.8 in 2010, 92.3 in 2011 and 91.4 last year.
3. His O-Swing% is way down (25.6 percent). This figure is below 30 percent for the first time since 2009, and nearly 13 points down from his career high mark of 38.4 percent in 2010.
4. His swinging strike rate has plummeted, as well, dropping below 10 percent for the first time in his career.
None of these factors (by themselves) are a death knell for Betancourt’s fantasy value and it must be stated (as always) that it is still very early. Betancourt has faced 39 batters this season, and he’s generally gotten them out for the Rockies. He has yet to blow a save. And he’s been a very good pitcher for years. But taking all of these factors in concert … I’m concerned. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see Betancourt implode soon, and then again soon after that, and we’ve seen closers replaced for less this season.
If that ends up happening, my vote to replace him is Rex Brothers, although Matt Belisle and Wilton Lopez would be strong candidates as well. All three relievers have been solid for Colorado, with varying degrees of luck sprinkled in. Brothers has the best velocity of the bunch (93 mph this season, 95 the previous two), and he currently has the best actual results. It’s kind of splitting hairs among him, Belisle and Lopez, and there’s literally no telling what the Rockies will do.
Recommendation: The suggestion here is to watch this position closely. It’s certainly possible that Betancourt’s peripherals catch back up with his results, and he hangs onto this job all season. It is equally possible, however, that the points mentioned above signal trouble on the horizon. If you’re desperate for saves, this might be an area in which to capitalize. Brothers, Belisle and Lopez can all provide help in deeper leagues where setup men have value. Otherwise, take a wait-and-see approach to determine whether Betancourt can get his stuff back in line, and whether one of the would-be replacements can separate from the pack.
Allen Webster | Boston Red Sox | SP | ESPN: 1.6 percent ownership; Yahoo!: 2 percent; CBS: 11 percent
YTD: 6 IP, 2 ER, 5 strikeouts, one walk
ZiPS Updated Projection: 4.89 ERA in 114 IP
Webster made his major league debut Sunday night, and held his own, striking out five and walking one over six innings against the Royals. He allowed two runs, both on home runs. His fastball touched 97 before settling down into the mid-90s, but his stuff looked crisp. He didn’t look very out of place, and didn’t look rattled by either of the home runs he allowed. He’s not a household name just yet, but he’s a very good prospect. New THTer Noah Woodward touched on Webster’s movement in his PITCHf/x debut, which is worth a read.
Webster was a late bloomer after being drafted in the 18th round by the Dodgers in 2008, but his recent minor league track record is nothing short of impressive. In 121.2 innings with Double-A Chattanoga in 2011, Webster struck out 117 and walked 57. He had a strong spring this year and continued that with Triple-A Pawtucket, striking out 12 and walking just three in 10 innings before the Red Sox called his number.
Recommendation: He isn’t up for good, but the 23-year-old is certainly a name for redraft leagues to file away for later in the summer, when injuries and ineffectiveness of Boston’s rotation may give him another, longer shot. Leagues can be won or lost on such foresight (or lack thereof). In dynasty leagues, he’s a must-add.