Greetings, fellow fantasy travelers. Just five days ago, Nolan Arenado was a fantasy neophyte looking to establish himself in the vocabulary of casual fans, but that was before he cranked out two home runs, including a grand slam. Brian Dozier, still the Twins’ primary leadoff hitter for the time being, has yet to establish himself as a regular fantasy play, though Justin Grimm posted nine strikeouts in a start against the White Sox on Thursday night.
Speaking of waiver wire alumni, Garrett Richards lost his rotation spot to Jerome Williams, Andrew Cashner’s control issues surfaced in a bad start against the Cubs, and Aaron Hicks actually hit a home run in Week 5, even though he continues to struggle to keep his head above water at the big league level.
But you didn’t come here to read about yesterday’s mashed potatoes. Let’s get to work dissecting some new guests on today’s waiver wire column.
Scott Kazmir | Cleveland Indians | SP | 2 percent Yahoo ownership; .3 percent ESPN; 6 percent CBS
YTD: 14.1 IP / 5.79 FIP / 9.42 K/9 / 3.77 BB/9
ZiPS updated: 64.3 IP / 5.72 FIP / 7.13 K/9 / 4.48 BB/9
Ah, 2007. Motorola’s RAZR was the hot cell phone to own. Rudy Giuliani was the odds-on favorite to represent the Republican Party in the upcoming presidential race, where he was sure to face Hillary Clinton. The Mets? They were actually good—well, good if you subtract the last 17 games of the season.
But it was also a season in which a young phenom named Scott Kazmir ran the table in the American League, leading the pack with 239 punchouts while compiling a tasty 5.1 WAR. For the 23-year-old, the future couldn’t look brighter, as the ace so many thought the Mets gave away in the Victor “10 minutes to glory” Zambrano trade made his bones among Major League Baseball’s best.
Unfortunately, the baseball gods would have no part of it, banishing Kazmir to an odyssey of arm problems that destroyed his former ace-like ceiling. He made just one start in 2011, none in 2012, and by the time we ushered in 2013, he had gone from being a former strikeout king to a fantasy oversight.
But then came the invitation to Indians’ spring training. Kazmir, now 29, pitched well enough in 13 innings, and with some help from the Indians’ reluctance to start the year with Trevor Bauer at the big league level, snuck into Cleveland’s rotation, though a strained rib cage delayed his debut until April 20, when he got vaporized by the Astros.
Still, Kazmir has turned in two decent starts since, including a six-inning, two-run job on Saturday against the Twins. Yeah, they’re the Twins, but I’ll take seven strikeouts any day, whomever they’re against, and a player who has a strikeout title on his resume should forever deserve some respect.
With Kazmir, two things really matter: his health, of course, and the zip on his fastball, which is not unrelated to his health. The good news is that through his three starts, Kazmir’s average fastball velocity, as per FanGraphs, is 91.7 mph, and overall, he’s earning a 9.9 SwStr percentage, both of which are his best since 2008.
Obviously, we’re dealing with a microscopic sample size, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction, especially when you consider peripherals like a BABIP (.350) and HR/FB rate (18.2 percent) that won’t suck so much once he adds a few more starts to his season.
Kazmir, that super prospect from Mets days of yore, is a pitcher I’d like to see succeed, so maybe I’m reading too much into two weeks’ worth of performance while ignoring the shrieking reality that Kazmir could (will?) get injured again. It’s also hard to ignore Bauer’s looming presence, as he’s sure to get a tour in the Indians’ rotation at some point this year, which would squeeze out either Kazmir or Corey Kluber.
But it’s time to get back to considering Kazmir as a potentially viable fantasy baseball starter, a former phenom still chasing that upside as he looks to make good on the promise of yesteryear.
Recommendation: I want to see one more good start. Then I’m going to add him in deeper mixed leagues with the intent of using him as a match-up guy.
Dee Gordon | Los Angeles Dodgers | SS | 13 percent Yahoo ownership; 7.4 percent ESPN; 22 percent CBS
YTD: 5 PA / .500 / .600 / 1.000 with 0 HR and 2 SB
ZiPS updated: 176 PA / .253 / .301 / .323 with 1 HR and 14 SB
If cynicism is a disease, then consider me a terminal case. Example: When I saw Hanley Ramirez limp off the field with the help of trainers on Friday, I didn’t think about his career, his pain, his family, or the rest of his 2013 season because, hey, I don’t own him in any of my leagues, so why should I care? He’s an often-cranky multimillionaire who gets paid to play a children’s game, and in a country where millions of people are out of work and the desperate among us eat out of trash cans for subsistence, I’ll choose to donate my concern elsewhere.
But because it was immediately clear that HanRam and his strained left hamstring will be gone for at least several weeks, I, like a vulture waiting for its prey to gasp its last breath, immediately wondered whether a replacement, blessed with steady playing time, could provide any hidden fantasy value. And as fate would have it, he might.
You remember Gordon, 25, that speedster shortstop who was supposed to provide a fantasy kick in 2012 when he broke camp with the team. Too bad his bat was screamingly inadequate at the plate, as he was only able to compile a .561 OPS in 330 plate appearances, and when you factor in the 18 errors that were second-highest among shortstops last year—in only 79 games, I might add—you saw a raw talent who looked out of his depth in the big leagues.
But let’s get one thing straight: Gordon steals bases. Lots of ‘em. One hundred and ninety-two at the minor league level. Fifty-eight in the majors despite having appeared in just 144 games entering Sunday. That kind of speed, coming from a shortstop, deserves notice in fantasy.
As long as he can hit, of course. Gordon was smacking the ball around to the tune of a .314/.397/.431 line in the Pacific Coast League at the time of his call-up, and he carries a lifetime .303/.357/.390 line over his 1,963 plate appearances in the minors. Gordon also has flashed the makings of a top-of-the-order hitter when you consider a very decent 13.7 percent strikeout rate down on the farm, which goes nicely with an 85 percent contact rate.
Even when he was drowning in Los Angeles last year with a .228 average, Gordon’s 18.8 percent K rate suggested he wasn’t going up to the plate to flail around helplessly. But a solid average in the hitter-friendly PCL does not end the discussion over whether he can produce a better batting average than, say, .260, and a lack of walks is very troubling.
Also, keep an eye on his defense. While it won’t hurt us fantasy folks, abysmal play at the infield’s most critical position could affect his playing time, and with eight errors in 25 Triple-A games, it’s far from clear that he can play a competent shortstop. Fortunately, the bats of shortstop alternatives Justin Sellers and Luis Cruz have been nothing more than putty so far in 2013, and with the Dodgers needing offense, Gordon should get a serious opportunity to play.
I’m not a scout nor a soothsayer, so I don’t know whether Gordon will get on base regularly enough to be a significant fantasy factor in the month or so that he’ll have shortstop all to himself. But I think about Everth Cabrera and his lifetime .657 OPS, which hasn’t prevented many fantasy owners from using him. Obviously, Cabrera has more experience than Gordon and is probably a better player, but it’s not the worst comparison.
The bottom line: Middle infielders who steal bases always will have a place in fantasy, and in deep enough leagues, they typically find themselves on more than a few rosters.
Recommendation: If you need steals and can live with Gordon’s offensive shortcomings and lack of long-term job security, grab him in leagues mixed and otherwise.
Yonder Alonso | San Diego Padres | 1B | 19 percent Yahoo ownership; 21.4 percent ESPN; 65 percent CBS
YTD: 121 PA / .284 / .347 / .450 with 4 HR and 1 SB
ZiPS updated: 608 PA / .270 / .339 / .417 with 15 HR and 6 SB
No, Alonso will never mutate into a 35-home run fantasy wildebeast, and in standard mixed leagues, that hurts his value as a first baseman. But we don’t often look for shallow mixed-league players on the fantasy scrap heap, and if you can get a guy who will help you across the board in deeper leagues without hurting you in any particular area, you count your blessings.
Enter Alonso, 26. A key piece in the Mat Latos trade a couple of years ago, Alonso has proven his ability to take a base without striking out too much, witnessed by a career 16.5 percent strikeout rate against a 9.6 percent walk rate. He’s off to a good start this year, with a solid slash line and four home runs.
Part of what makes Alonso intriguing is his offseason efforts to improve his swing. Working out alongside Alex Rodriguez (a sentence that feels strange to write, let alone read), Alonso watched video and looked to incorporate more power into his swing. That improvement helped lead to five home runs in spring training, and, with four dingers already under his belt, a good bet to double up on last year’s home run total of nine.
Chase Headley is back, Jedd Gyorko’s bat is showing signs of a pulse, and those fences at Petco Park remain moved in. Alonso won’t appear on any fantasy baseball magazine covers heading into next season, but if you believe his ZiPS projections as I do, then you agree he can provide some help at a corner infield spot in many a mixed league.
Recommendation: Not yet a standard mixed-league play, but he should be owned in deeper leagues.