Fantasy Waiver Wire: Week 8, Vol. III

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.

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Comments

  1. DAVID SILVERWOOD said...

    When Johnson was a Brave I FELT HE HAD A CHANCE OFFENSIVELY TO BE AS GOOD AS Bobby Grich .

  2. Jack Weiland said...

    Dammnit, KdV, I have a claim in on Florimon right now that won’t go through until Monday. If you blow it for me … well, I will be really bummed out.

  3. Jim G. said...

    You lucked out on Porcello, Karl. You’re just “kinda dim”.
    It looks like Florimon hurt his hand sliding into 3rd yesterday. I’m not sure how serious it is, though.

  4. Karl de Vries said...

    Jack,

    Ah, yes, the LEGIONS of fantasy readers who nod their heads and memorize my fantasy prose by rote are now scrambling to pick up a weak-hitting SS who’s only real fantasy skill is speed. But if, in fact, I’ve denied you Florimon’s season-changing fantasy impact, well, I owe you a beer next time I visit my uncle up in Mass.

    —Karl

  5. Karl de Vries said...

    Jim,

    “Kinda dim”? That’s letting me off a bit easy after I spent 650 words gushing over Jersey Boy Rick without allowing for the possibility that he could implode against the Twins right before my column appeared, don’t you think?

    As for “lucking out,” if you’re referring to the Tigers getting him off the hook last night, I don’t really take a whole lot of solace given the ugliness of his start. But I’ll stand by my optimism and believe that it was just a hiccup in what I still believe is a positive evolution for him so far this season, even if I just got smacked with a reminder that four starts is, well, just four starts.

    As for Florimon, thanks for the heads up, though his injury, at least at first blush, doesn’t seem all that serious. Throw that on the pile of events from last night’s Tigers/Twins matchup that didn’t go my way.

    —Karl

  6. Karl de Vries said...

    David,

    Yeah, KJ sure looked good when he first appeared on the Braves. (Though as a Mets fan for 20 years, there was a looooong stretch when just about every guy they debuted seemed to be really good.) As much as I dump on him, though, I should concede that, in the grand scheme of things, he really has had a solid career; maybe I’m just disappointed that he could be so much more.

    Karl

  7. Jim G. said...

    I was yanking your chain anyway, Karl.
    I’m part Tiger fan and still hold hope for Porcello, too. I don’t know how long he can hide behind the “weak defensive infield”, though. He seems to get hit pretty hard when he struggles. You have to keep reminding yourself that he’s only 23 (because it seems like he’s been around forever), and most guys his age are just arriving.

  8. Donald Trump said...

    Jumping: nobody cares about your team, and adding profar in your question reveals your level of stupidity.

  9. jumping james said...

    Trump??? is that you, I was wondering where your comb over had gone, thought the North Koreans stole it when you flip flopped to their agenda, communistic socialism fantasy play.  lol, good to hear from you. Glad that you finally made it onto a decent board for advice. IN THE FUTURE though, Id read more into the underlying joke of my post and not the possibilty that Karl would have aswered it. He got it, why didn’t you?  lol lol lol lol

  10. Karl de Vries said...

    Jim,

    I know you’re a regular here at the old saloon, so no offense taken. And I have no problem getting razzed when I’m the one walking around with egg on my face. But yeah, when it rains, it certainly pours for Porcello. His age is definitely an X factor, because it provides hope that, perhaps, what we’ve seen from Porcello at such a young age can improve over time. Let’s just hope that that evolution begins sooner rather than later.

    —Karl

  11. Karl de Vries said...

    Patrick,

    Man, that’s a good question (and a personal one for me, since I own both in my primary league). I’m big on Belt this year; I wasn’t buying the slow start when his batting average was low despite an above average line drive rate, so I’m not blinking now that he’s starting to produce. How high will he go? I’ll be optimistic (biased?) and say .260-.270 with 20 HR with 80 RBIs as a baseline.

    LaRoche also was getting royally screwed over earlier with a terrible BABIP despite a high line drive rate, though his luck is beginning to stabilize a bit. While I don’t quite see him returning to the 30 HR/100 RBI maestro performance of last year, he’s absolutely going to play better in 2013 (especially when the Nats’ offense, currently second-to-last in MLB in wOBA, switches on).

    In keeper leagues, this is a less excruciating question, given that LaRoche is 33 and Belt is 25. But for 2013, I’ll give it to LaRoche by a nose—even if we harshly pretend that he’s looking at a 20 percent decrease in his counting stats from last year, that still translates to roughly 27 HR, 80 RBI and 61 runs when all is said and done. Belt could certainly surpass those numbers, but unless one chooses to believe that LaRoche’s ability has suddenly shut off like a faucet, I think the Nats’ first baseman is a safer bet.

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

    —Karl

  12. Patrick Essex said...

    Thanks, Karl! I have Laroche, but Belt was sitting on the waiver wire and I was getting trigger happy. I agree with everything you wrote and happy I didn’t pull the trigger.  We’ll see…..
      Thanks, again!

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