Before we begin, let’s pay tribute to fellow fantasy dumpster-diver Jack Weiland, whose prescient endorsements of Scott Feldman and Eric Chavez have paid dividends for readers who followed his advice, while Yunel Escobar, who Jack wrote about a few weeks ago, has also been hot lately. (Matt Joyce is another one of Jack’s quality recommendations, despite missing time this week with a hamstring injury.) Meanwhile, Jeff Locke is ignoring my naysaying as he turned in another solid outing for the Pirates, while Jake Odorizzi stood his ground against the Blue Jays on Monday.
If you want to read about those guys, I won’t stop you from adding another couple of page views to THT’s metrics. But since you’re here now, why don’t we examine a few more waiver candidates.
Rick Porcello | Detroit Tigers | SP | 10 percent Yahoo ownership; 15.4 percent ESPN; 40 percent CBS
YTD: 38 IP / 4.38 FIP / 6.39 K/9 / 1.89 BB/9
ZiPS updated: 163 IP / 4.14 FIP / 5.75 K/9 / 2.15 BB/9
Note: Deadlines being what they are, I’m writing this article before Porcello’s Thursday night start against the Twins, so both the stats listed, and, perhaps, my thoughts on this guy could be in dire need of updating by the time you read this. If he threw a no-hitter last night, I’m a genius. If he got torched, I’m an idiot. So this disclaimer is a way of hedging my bets so I can save face in the morning, ya dig?
After resisting the, um, urge to write about Ubaldo Jimenez over the past couple of weeks—I think he still sucks, and I suspect most of you guys do, too—I figured I’d instead pull the trigger on another typically frustrating fantasy starter. Porcello, who had a wonderful spring (.75 WHIP, 21-to-0 K/BB ratio and a rejoinder about why March stats don’t matter), has really turned it on of late, going 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA, 8.64 K/9 and just five walks over his last 25 innings (four starts).
Not that you’ve forgotten, but while Comerica Park plays favorably to pitchers, a tag team of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder rarely leaves the Tigers wanting for offense and the team’s bullpen led the American League in both FIP and WAR entering Wednesday’s action. Put those factors together, and you have the baseline for a successful waiver wire addition—provided, of course, that the man in question does his part.
It’s hard to imagine Porcello is still only 24 years old, as he’s been a full-time player for the past four seasons. In that span, he’s established himself as a sub-par fantasy pitcher, a guy who kills owners with his paltry strikeout totals (lifetime 5.07 K/9) and doesn’t help in ERA, WHIP or wins. So far this year, however, Porcello has looked (sorta) like a new man, as his 6.39 K/9, 1.89 BB/9 and 54.9 percent groundball rate would all be career highs were the season to end today. (Before you sneer at the meh strikeout rate, understand that he only had three—that’s three—strikeouts in his first four appearances.)
What’s changed? He’s basically ditched his slider this year and has instead leaned much more heavily on his curveball and changeup, two pitches that have combined for nearly 36 percent of his offerings, as per FanGraphs. That might be responsible for the 7.6 percent swinging strike rate and 62.9 percent first-pitch strike percentage, both of which are career highs.
Out of curiosity, I looked to Texas Leaguers to compare his first four outings of the year (when he totally sucked) against his recent hot stretch to see if he’s done anything different. It’s a bit unfair to compare to the two sample sizes (he’s thrown significantly more pitches over his last four starts compared to his first four appearances, one of which was in relief), but, at least as far as Texas Leaguers is concerned, he’s recently reintroduced his slider a tad and thrown more changeups, a pitch that has seen a much-improved whiff rate. (To what extent TL’s PITCHfx may have confused his slider and curve, I can’t say.)
I’m sensitive to CBS Sports’ Al Melchior’s observation that two of Porcello’s good starts were against the Astros and Braves, two teams whose strikeout rates are, respectively, first and second in baseball. But that still doesn’t explain how he’s neutralized the Indians and Rangers, two first-place teams whose wOBA are among the majors’ best.
If you’re skeptical that Rick Porcello, midway through the season’s first eight weeks, has mutated into Nolan Ryan, fair enough. But we’re not so far removed from Porcello’s immaculate spring as to completely dismiss that excellent month, and a new emphasis on his pitch selection provides concrete evidence that Porcello is trying a new approach in 2013.
Factor in a 3.42 xFIP that’s two-and-a-half runs better than his ERA, and a 61 percent strand rate that needs to jump 5 percentage points before it meets the worst seasonal mark of his career, and I’ll say it: I’m buying into Porcello’s hot streak and improved strikeout capability. As a member of the reigning AL champs, and with two starts in Week 9 (one home against the Pirates, one at the Orioles), that makes him a terrific upside guy in most fantasy leagues.
Recommendation: Worth picking up in mixed leagues across the board.
DJ LeMahieu | Colorado Rockies | 2B | 2 percent Yahoo ownership; .4 percent ESPN; 7 percent CBS
YTD: 18 PA / .412 / .444 / .529 with 0 HR and 1 SB
ZiPS updated: 375 PA / .303 / .337 / .390 with 2 HR and 8 SB
What happened to Josh Rutledge? Wasn’t he supposed to be a huge middle infield sleeper heading into 2013? Well, with only a quarter of the season over so far, there’s plenty of time for Rutledge to rehabilitate his standing with fantasy owners, but the path back to respectability will now lead through Triple-A, where he was demoted by the Rockies on Wednesday. That opens a spot for LeMahieu to get some time in at second base, thus making him a prime waiver wire candidate.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Kelly Johnson, a guy who should post above-average power numbers for a second baseman, even if I reject the buzz over his recent hot streak. Well, in a sense, LeMahieu could prove to be KJ’s fantasy alter ego, a guy who offers very little in the way of power (nine minor league homers stretched out over 1,669 plate appearances), but has managed an 84 percent contact rate in the major leagues and batted .321 down on the farm.
Since his 2013 debut on May 16, LeMahieu has played well, though he’s obviously not going to maintain the 35.7 percent line drive rate that’s led him to reach base half the time he’s put the ball in play. He’s also not the most patient hitter, as a mere 6 percent walk rate in the minors doesn’t lead to much optimism going forward.
But he puts the bat on the ball, and in case it needs to be said, Colorado is a great hitter’s park and the Rockies’ lineup currently paces the National League with a .333 wOBA. As a bonus, depending on your league’s eligibility rules, LeMahieu could offer help at third base (nine games last year), and, if your league is super liberal, shortstop and first base as well (three games between those spots last year).
With catcher being a relatively flush position this year, and third base adding the likes of Nolan Arenado and Josh Donaldson to its ranks in 2013, there’s little doubt that middle infield, as usual, is the fantasy position most in need of help. If you have a more well-rounded candidate at second base, good for you, but in a deeper mixed league, a guy like LeMahieu deserves consideration.
Recommendation: Worth a look in deeper mixed leagues.
Pedro Florimon | Minnesota Twins | SS | 2 percent Yahoo ownership; 5.1 percent ESPN; 8 percent CBS
YTD: 107 PA / .242 / .311 / .347 with 2 HR and 6 SB
ZiPS updated: 501 PA / .238 / .297 / .336 with 7 HR and 17 SB
Should I be embarrassed that I had no idea who Florimon was until recently? (Put another way, as embarrassed as when I suggested Brian Dozier could have fantasy value?) Well, not really, since Florimon’s career .271 wOBA is underwhelming even for a shortstop. Still, the 26-year-old is making strides, as both his strikeout and walk rates signal improvement over his career numbers, thanks in part, FanGraphs tells us, to an improved ability to lay off pitches outside the strike zone.
Florimon, who brings a weak .105 ISO to fantasy owners, won’t help with power, but the six steals so far are encouraging, a pace ZiPS seems to think is sustainable. With regular playing time—he’s been in the lineup nearly every day, aside from missing some time earlier this month due to a strained hamstring—and a batting average that could settle into the not-awful .250 range, Florimon offers intriguing help for owners in desperate need of speed.
Recommendation: Strictly AL-only league material.