NL Waiver Wire: Week 12by Jeffrey Gross
June 24, 2011
All statistics current through at least June 21.
If you haven't been following Frank McCourt's precarious situation (the Dodger's Divorce), then I highly recommend reading this insightful and comprehensive article about how McCourt has been exploiting the Dodgers for his personal gain, why Bud Selig rejected his negotiated deal with Fox, and how much of a convoluted pyramid scheme McCourt converted the Dodgers' operations into. It's a great read.
With Danny Espinosa's ownership rate skyrocketing from below 20 percent to near 60 percent in the past 14 days on the heels of a .326/.333/.609 triple-slash line (.942 OPS, three homers, 10 RBI), we'll have to seek a new mainstay fixture for this year's NL Waiver Wire column. In search of such, here's this week's gaggle of targets and under-appreciated sources of winning.
Zack Cozart | Reds | SS | 0 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD (AAA): .318/.361/.496
Oliver MLE: .288/.328/.450
With Reds shortstops batting a combined .225/.274/.263 (a composite .246 wOBA, 47 wRC+, and -0.5 WAR, with fielding, batting and base-running considered), there is nothing standing between anyone who can pretend to be a shortstop at the minor league level and the Reds' current starting shortstop jobs. GM Walt Jocketty must surely be kicking himself for signing Edgar Renteria for $2.1 million. Thankfully for the Reds—who would benefit from simply getting rid of Renteria and Paul Janish and replacing them with a random middle infielder from the high minors at the league minimum—they have a quality shortstop prospect, Zack Cozart, waiting at Triple-A.
From a fantasy perspective, Cozart is not particularly exciting—he owns a career minor league line of .270/.332/.424 (.756 OPS)—but in the "post-Jeter" era of non-hitting shortstops (i.e., an era where shortstops have gone from hitting like the old Derek Jeter to hitting like old Derek Jeter), such numbers could be fantasy relevant. Whereas major league shortstops posted OPS marks above .715 (often above .735) between 2000 and 2009, this year they are hitting a combined .261/.316/.373 (.690 OPS).
They fared equally poorly last year (.262/.318/.373), and, even with the emergence of Hanley Ramirez, they have been trending in the wrong direction as a group since the start of 2008. This is why, unless you shell out the big bucks for Ramirez or Troy Tulowitkzi or rolled the dice on a $33+ bid on Jose Reyes, fantasy experts caution against overpaying a premium to fill the vacuum that has become shortstop in recent years. On the flip side of not overpaying for underwhelming production, however, is seeking out the best shortstop bargains available.
Cozart's 2011 performance at Triple-A could be called a breakout, though his batting line, in light of his career rates, leaves me a bit skeptical. Over 63 games (285 plate appearances) this year at Triple-A (the International League, not PCL), Cozart has hit .318/.361/.496, slugging seven home runs and stealing eight bases. Last season he hit 17 homers last season while stealing 30 bases. Overall, Cozart has 50 home runs and 54 stolen bases, profiling as a balanced power/speed combo up the middle.
In terms of offensive contributions, his production has looked a lot like Jason Knipis with fewer walks and a 20 point lower batting average. Oliver also likes Cozart's 2011 performance to date, equating it to a .288/.328/.450 major league line, though, as hinted above, his 2008-2009 minor league production numbers would have been akin to a sub-.700 OPS performance at the major league level.
At the major league level, Cozart profiles as a solid shortstop who will not kill your team's power/stolen base numbers, but help you little else elsewhere. Per 600 plate appearances, Oliver sees Cozart able to post 15+ home runs and double digit stolen bases, but doing so while batting in the .240s. Cozart does not walk a whole ton, which means he would be getting on base less than, or at most, 30 percent of the time. Limited times on base limits Cozart's speed and runs potential.
On the positive, Cozart has elite defense, so could easily stick with the Reds once called up. To my unrefined eyes of analysis, Cozart's immediate offensive ceiling looks akin to Ian Desmond with fewer steals and a few more homers or Danny Espinosa. That might seem unexciting in a vacuum, but you take what you can get out of shortstop at this point in the season. I would probably rather have Dee Gordon's speed and batting average upside, but in a league where you'll need Cozart, I guarantee you Gordon's off the board by now.
Recommendation: Cozart could be a valuable shortstop or middle infield option in deeper mixed (14-team) and NL-only formats, but can be safely ignored in shallower leagues.
Ike Davis | Mets | 1B | 60 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .271/.346/.474
Ike Davis was a major sleeper heading into the season, capable of hitting .280+ with 20-25 bombs and good RBI production out of the middle of what should have been a productive offensive lineup, (Two years ago, you'd surely fear having to consecutively face Jose Reyes, David Wright, Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran.) But an ankle injury part way through May derailed a breakout campaign. Hitting .302/.383/.543 (.395 wOBA) over his first 36 games, with an 11.4 percent walk rate, seven home runs and 25 RBI, Davis' production ranked top of the crop, vaulting from solid corner infielder to borderline top 10 first baseman.
Unfortunately, that ankle injury has not healed as expected and Davis might need season-ending surgery. Given the lack of progress and healing, even if Davis does return this year, I'd be skeptical that he could pick up where he left off. Davis was a nice, cheap first baseman who provided a lot of value for the first 20 percent of the season for very little money, but there is no point in continuing to waste a DL spot on him if there's a better or more useful player in need. It pains me to say this, but it's probably time to cut ties with Davis in non-keeper leagues, and hope he has a great year for cheap in 2012, though I suspect the "under the radar" train will have departed by then.
Recommendation: Davis can be safely dropped in all but the deeper leagues, with even those following suit if the Mets first basemen needs ankle surgery. He should be kept in keeper leagues, however.
Brandon Beachy | Braves | SP | 23 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 3.45 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 9.34 K/9, 3.83 K/BB, 31.0% GB%
Oliver ROS: 3.85 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 2.83 K/BB
I have a sneaking suspicion that Brandon Beachy is owned in so few leagues only because he's been injured for quite some time. However, with Beachy being activated this week, he immediately returns to must-own commodity status in all eligible formats.
Having been out for so long, Beachy, despite elite numbers, is ranked outside the top 250 in Yahoo, and will not show up in any "past 30 days" (or shorter) searches. Accordingly, if he's been dropped, he might be flying under the radar in your league. I dropped Beachy in one league back when he got injured. (My roster at the time, in a two DL spot league, included Geovany Soto, Ike Davis, Aaron Hill, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Jason Heyward and Josh Johnson, all of whom were on the DL when I dropped Beachy). Someone was able to swoop-in in our competitive league before I could snatch him back up.
Here is some perspective on just how good my preseason NL Rookie of the Year pick had been before his injury. Among all pitchers who have tossed at least 40 innings this year (a 155-player sample), Beachy's K/9 rate (9.34) ranks ninth overall (sixth among starting pitchers). Furthermore, among this same group, Beachy's xFIP (3.27) ranks 23rd overall (21st among starting pitchers, 15th among NL starting pitchers) overall, while his xFIP- (87) ranks top 35 overall as well.
Beachy's surface stats have been quite strong as well. He has pitched 44.1 innings of 3.45 ERA, 1.08 WHIP baseball with 46 strikeouts to only 10 unintentional walks, both rates ranking top 15 among all pitchers with 40 or more innings pitched this season. His 1.08 WHIP may "only" rank top 30 among all pitchers with 40 or more innings, but his 1.11 xWHIP ranked 10th overall back when I calculated the xWHIPs of every pitcher who made at least one start through the end of May.
Beachy's homers-per-outfield fly rate (10.0 percent), is dead in line with the major league average rate this year (10.1%). Thus, even without any home run luck on his only clear pitching weakness (a low, sub-35 percent groundball rate), he's managed to put up elite numbers. In Beachy's first rehab start, he threw five strong innings with eight strikeouts and only two walks, with good velocity.
Beachy pitched so well, in fact, that the Braves fast-tracked his rehab and started him Wednesday. The result: a win on six innings of one-run, 11 strikeout pitching. All signs point to Beachy as ready and able, and he is a pitcher you want to own. Having been injured for so long, it is unlikely that an innings cap is going to hinder Beachy's production the rest of the way. If you can acquire him at an injured discount, you should do so immediately. Heck, I would even trade Michael Pineda—a similar pitcher, only in the AL, and with a looming innings pitch cap (allegedly)—a similar pitcher, only in the AL, and with a looming innings pitch cap (allegedly)—for him.
Recommendation: Beachy is a must-own commodity, even in shallow 10-team leagues with low innings pitched caps.
Cory Luebke | Padres | RP | 2 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 3.45 ERA, 1.00 WHIP
Last week, I explained the general fantasy value of elite non-closing relievers. Continuing that theme, but digging deeper than your popular names (e.g., Sergio Romo (13 percent owned), Sean Marshall (17 percent owned), and Mike Adams (32 percent owned), I suggest taking a look at the barely owned Cory Luebke.
A former first-round pick and top 10 Padres prospect each of the past few seasons, Luebke has the potential to be a valuable upper middle-of-the-rotation major league starter. With a strong slider and solid change-up, "Luebke the Starter" has the tools to get batters out on both sides of the plate while inducing above-average strikeouts and a healthy amount of ground balls.
As a reliever, however, Luebke, like Marshall, could potentially be one of baseball's elite non-closing relievers. Being a reliever rather than a starter, Luebke can lean more heavily on his slider without worrying about putting as much stress and mileage on his arm as he would if he were starting. More quality sliders means more swings and misses (12.4 swinging strike percentage this season), which in turn means more strikeouts (9.92 K/9, up from a minor league rate of 7.5). As might be expected of a starter turned reliever, Luebke gets an extra mile per gallon on his fastball out of the pen, raising the utility of his already above-average fastball.
All said and done, Luebke has been an elite reliever thus far at the major league level, pitching a composite 56.2 innings since his call-up last year. Over that span, he has posted a quality 3.49 ERA and 1.09 WHIP that should and could improve in the future in light of a composite 2.93 FIP, 3.04 xFIP (80 xFIP-), and 2.56 tERA, though pitcher peripheral measurements— due to smaller samples, variable leverage usage, etc.—tend to be relatively weak when applied to relievers.
Oliver thinks that Luebke is for real, projecting a 3.59 ERA and 1.21 WHIP for the rest of the season. I think that Oliver is underselling Luebke's ERA a bit, due to the fact that most of his minor league numbers come as a starter. I would peg Luebke capable of posting a low (3.30s) three ERA with a 1.20ish WHIP and strong strikeout stuff the rest of the season, emerging as the Padres' "next" Mike Adams/Luke Gregerson.
Recommendation: Luebke should be owned in any mixed league with an innings limit cap above 1,200, and is a must-own commodity in NL-only formats. As with any non-closing reliever, that advice tends to apply more to Roto leagues than H2H formats.
Jonathan Broxton / Hong-Chih Kuo | Dodgers | RP | 71/21 percent Yahoo ownership (respectively)
YTD: 5.68 ERA, 1.89 WHIP, 7.11 K/9 // 9.53 ERA, 1.94 WHIP, 14.29 K/9 (respectively)
Oliver ROS: 3.47 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 9.9 K/9 // 2.97 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.9 K/9 (respectively)
Don Mattingley has said that Broxton will inevitably regain his closer job at some point after coming off the DL. That's what Brad Mills said about Brandon Lyon, however, and we all know how that turned out. I guess the lesson is never say "will." Broxton has not been at all sharp this season, with his fastball velocity and strikeout rate continuing to trend in the wrong direction.
Broxton claims much of his struggles come from pitching through injury since the second half of last season, but even with the extended rest, big fat Broxton has not been sharp in his rehab outings. If Broxton, irrespective of performance, is truly destined to return to the closer role, then he should be owned in all leagues.
However, as someone who does not believe in fate in baseball, I'd buy the short stock and nab Hong Chih-Kuo in light of Mattingly's announcement. Unlike Broxton, Kuo, other than being fragile, is not showing any real chinks in his peripheral armor. Kuo does not have as much gas on his fastball as Broxton (though a career average of 92.8 is not exactly a Tim Wakefield soft-toss), but has always exhibited equally impressive strikeout stuff (career 10.56 K/9) with slightly better control (career 3.65 BB/9) that's been vastly improved in two of the past three seasons (being injured in the third...).
Kuo's problems, beside injury, largely stemmed from mental problems, and while there are many psychologists and former baseball players (particularly Steve Blass, LLC) who would tell me what I am about to say is completely wrong, I strongly believe that players with good stuff do well and tend to right the ship in the long run; especially when they get the treatment they need. Hence, I am not worried about Kuo's ability to continue to pitch as well as he has throughout his career.
And heck, even if Kuo does not close, he'll still be a valuable reliever. Until Broxton comes back, though, Kuo should see the majority of the Dodgers' save opportunities.
Recommendation: For now, Broxton should be owned in most formats, but should not be started until he proves himself a reliable and healthy pitcher. Meanwhile, Kuo should also be owned and deployed immediately in the majority of leagues, especially by saves head-hunters.
Chase Headley | Padres | 3B | 24 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .280/.350/.418
True to my preseason prediction, the unsexy Chase Headley has steadily performed under the radar with solid, but underwhelming numbers. Despite near career low power output—a .108 ISO and only two home runs through 74 games (289 plate appearances) this season compared to a .125 career ISO mark with 32 home runs over 408 games between 2008 and 2010)—Yahoo rfanks Headley ranks at the No. 14 overall third basemen, and No. 165th best player overall this season. That puts his value ahead of other, more universally owned players such as Chipper Jones (63 percent owned), Maicer Izturis, Aramis Ramirez (90 percent owned), Casey McGehee (63 percent owned), and even Scott Rolen (35 percent owned).
How is he doing it? Well, some of it is a career-high .377 BABIP (.326 xBABIP, .338 career BABIP), but a lot of it also has to do with improving his approach at the plate. Further exemplifying the silliness of Fangraphs' use of K/AB as the basis for strikeout percentage, Headley's "K%" looks stable between this year (22.5 percent) and last (22.8 percent). Truth be told, however, it has improved, with Headley's strikeouts per plate appearance dipping from a below-average 20.6 percent last season to a much healthier 19.3 percent this year.
Thanks to a huge rebound in his walking ability (from 8.3 percent last year to 12.8 percent this season, 10.1 percent in 2009), an ever-improving swinging strike rate, and better contact with pitches outside of the zone, Headley has been able to better square the ball and put it into play with authority (three-year best line drive rate of 23.8 percent). This all, coupled with Headley's relatively low popup rate, leads me to believe that, while his improved batting average will come down some as he reverts to his true talent line, he should be able to maintain an improved batting average around .280 through the rest of the season.
Given the pathetic performances by third basemen this season, a .280 average, five to seven home runs and 10-12 stolen base production the rest of the way might make him a borderline top 12 (starting) option at third base. Even if not, Headley probably deserves a spot on your bench or some time in your corner infield slot.
Recommendation: Headley should be owned in all leagues with 12 or more teams, especially in leagues that employ corner infielders. Shallow leagues (10-team leagues or 12-team leagues with no corner infielders, 1 utility spot) can safely ignore Headley, who is not a keeper.
Roger Bernadina | Nationals | OF | 9 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .260/.319/.389
A solid source of stolen bases in the minors, the 27-year-old Bernadina (aka "The Shark") seemed blocked by Michael Morse, Jayson Werth, Rick Ankiel, and then later, and surprisingly, Laynce Nix. With Adam LaRoche and Ankiel injured, however, Bernadina is finally getting an extended chance to prove his worth in center field to the Nationals this year. Through his first 40 games, Bernadina has exploited that opportunity. Batting .282/.340/.409 (.350 wOBA, 120 wRC+), Bernadina has already blasted four home runs and stolen 10 bases (zero caught stealing!) in only 162 plate appearances.
Bernadina is attempting to steal just about one out of every five times he is on base, which would put him well above the major league average rate of one in 13. Though he has not shown himself to be particularly adept at walking thus far into his young career (only a composite 56 walks in 714 major league plate appearances for a 7.8 percent rate, Bernadina did walk at a respectable 10.5 percent clip in the minor leagues, and thus could see his on base rate improve in the future, leading to more stolen base opportunities.
Bernadina's BABIP (.339) may seem a bit high in light of his high strikeout rate (20.4 K/PA) for a guy with no power and his career BABIP (.300), but Bernadina's xBABIP on the season checks in at .331 thanks to his good wheels (6.6 speed score) and a tendency to chop the ball into the ground (52.8 percent groundball rate). For the rest of the year, I could see Bernadina hitting in the mid .270s with a good on-base clip and 20 more stolen bases, provided he keeps his full-time gig. That kind of production makes him worth owning in more than nine percent of leagues; particularly if the Nationals keep batting him out of the No. 2 hole.
Recommendation: Bernadina should be owned in any eligible format that employs 50 or more outfielders.
Jason Bourgeois | Astros | OF | 12 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .286/.329/.383
Everything that I wrote about Bourgeois a couple of weeks ago remains true and unchanged. Then, classifying Bourgeois as an third or fourth outfielder type, I wrote "If given a full time job for the rest of the year, Oliver sees Bourgeois swiping 20 or so more bases...but he could reasonably touch 30. Bourgeois has that special speed...to make a dramatic impact on the stolen base totals of league laggards."
Playing time, as hinted in the article, and as any Bourgeois owner can attest to this season, has been the one thing standing between Bourgeois and 60-plus stolen bases this season. With Hunter Pence's elbow hurting, however, Bourgeois has been getting a full clip of playing time the past week. With interleague play in full swing, particularly if Pence goes on the disabled list, Bourgeois should continue to see extended playing time with the Astros and thus provide a fountain of stolen bases (and a good batting average to boot) for savvy owners. If Bourgeois is a free agent in your league, and you are in need of speed, call your local temp agency immediately and mention my name for a waiver wire discount.
Recommendation: For at least the next week or two, perhaps longer if Pence goes on the disabled list, Bourgeois should be owned in any league where Rajai Davis types have value (i.e., all but the shallowest).
Buy-low player of the week
Chris Carpenter | Cardinals | SP | 89 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 4.47 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 7.11 K/9, 3.25 K/BB, 45.3% GB%
Oliver ROS: 3.38 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 3.02 K/BB
Along with Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, David Wright and Joakim Soria (to name a few), Chris Carpenter has been one of baseball's biggest high-cost busts this season. Despite being ranked just outside the top 10 in my preseason positional rankings this year (Yahoo more conservatively ranked him as its No. 23 starting pitcher, one spot ahead of Shaun Marcum), Carpenter has not been even a top 900 overall player this season. Currently ranked by Yahoo as the 925th "best" fantasy player in 2011, Carpenter has posted an atrocious mid-fours ERA and near 1.40 WHIP in a season where the "average" starting pitcher has an ERA in the high threes, and a WHIP near 1.30.
Even by "traditional" pitching standards, a 4.47 ERA and 1.39 WHIP would be sub-par. Carpenter has basically done what Daniel Cabrera did back in 2005, only he's doing it with fewer strikeouts and without the upside of age (or health) on his side. Further distressing has been Carpenter's groundball rate, which has dipped to 45.3 percent this year, the lowest mark Carpenter has put up since 2002. In fact, from 2004-2010, Carpenter's groundball rate never fell below 51 percent. Unlike fly balls and line drives, I can guarantee you that that drop in grounders is not the result of scorers' bias.
Even more distressing might be Carpenter's misleadingly high strikeout total. Though he is posting his best strikeout per nine rate since 2006 (7.11), his strikeout rate (K%) has actually declined. While Carpenter struck out 18.8 percent of all of the batters he faced between 2009 and 2010, he has punched out 18.1 percent this season. This drop is not nearly as dramatic as, say, Ted Lilly's (from 21.3 over 2009-2010 to 16.5 percent in 2011), but it shows that one of Carpenter's more "positive" peripheral notes is not as glistening as it might appear upon first glance at his Fangraphs player page.
Carpenter's decline in strikeout rate, despite an uptick in K/9, can likely be explained by both an increase in free passes relative to 2008, and an increase in batters faced per inning due to Carpenter's 2011 struggles to work efficient frames. If a pitcher strikes out fewer batters per inning, but struggles so that he is facing more batters per inning, the latter can offset the former and create a misleading strikeouts profile.
I say this despite Carpenter's 9.3 percent swinging strike rate, an above league-average mark that is in line with his career (note here his career 6.86 K/9), because not all swinging strikes are alike. Higher swinging strike rates on certain pitches tend to produce higher strikeout totals than others, and though I do not have his swinging strike rate by pitch splits, I would bet that Carpenter's slider whiff rate is not, if at all, above the league average mark, and that most of his "whiffy" pitches are coming off less strikeout-inducing pitches.
Still, despite all these knocks on Carpenter's 2011 performance, there are a few lights at the end of the tunnel. Despite a groundball rate that would represent a near-decade low and a decreased strikeout rate (in Carpenter's prime for the Cardinals between 2004 and 2006, he struck out 21.2 percent of the batters he faced), Carpenter's fastball velocity on the season (92.3 mph) is greater than last year's mark (91.4) and his career average (91.6). A 92.3 mph fastball, in fact, would represent his second-best mark since 2002 (93.0 mph in 2009). In addition, despite a walk rate that is lower than what Carpenter did from 2004-2009, on average, his 2.19 mark on the season is still well below the major league average of 3.21 this year. In addition, a 2.19 walks per nine rate this season is a slight improvement over last year, when Carpenter walked 2.41 batters per nine.
All said, Carpenter's strikeout to walk ratio this year, at 3.25, is elite. Even in the "era of the pitcher," the average major league pitcher's K/BB ratio is below 2.20, and Carpenter's career K/BB is 2.65. In fact, last year, Carpenters K/BB was 2.84, and we all know what he did then (3.22 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 16 wins). I mean, how picky do you have to be to knock a 3.34 xFIP (89 xFIP-)?
Plugging Carpenter's numbers into a 2011-calibrated version of the xWHIP Calculator...
...we find that Carpenter's eFIP (3.53, 4.00 league average) and xWHIP (1.27, 1.33 league average) also check in as robust.
So what do you do with Chris Carpenter? If you own him, you have to stay pat. Even though, once park is considered, Carpenter's peripherals say he has been only 11 above average, and even though his strikeout rate is likely to come down some in the future, what do you think you can get for him? Ubaldo Jimenez? Maybe Mat Latos? Each of the "elite" type players that you can get have enough flaws that the move is likely not worth the risk, or a move for making a move at best. In 2011, who is going to trade you a better than 3.34 xFIP player for an aging injury-risk like Carpenter? I suspect any move that you could make with Carpenter would only make your team worse and trade off the upside you are looking for via trade.
But should you trade for Carpenter? That's the real question. Even in light of all of the above, I think that if you can trade for Carpenter, you really need to. Carpenter's "regression" as a player this season only brings him from elite to superior. Carpenter may not be a border-line top 10 rest-of-season player, but he is most certainly top 25, perhaps even top 20 (his 3.34 xFIP is 20th overall among qualified starting pitchers).
Many owners have told me that they are almost done with Carpenter. I was recently offered Carpenter for Bartolo Colon and Brandon Morrow, a deal I am seriously considering taking. Provided you are not paying top dollar to acquire him, Carpenter is a potential difference maker for teams in need of starting pitching. He won't help your team's strikeouts per inning rate (particularly important in leagues with innings-pitched caps), but Carpenter can provide some of the best ERA, wins and WHIP relief for teams who have been burned by the likes of Morrow, Jimenez, and Carlos Zambrano this year. I would put those trade feelers out there sooner than later, as Carpente's last two starts have been particularly offensive (a combined nine earned runs, 18 baserunners allowed over 14.0 innings) and his value should not get much lower than it currently is.
Recommendation: Chris Carpenter is a must-own player in all formats.
Jeffrey Gross is an attorney (and die-hard Cubs fan) who currently resides in the suburbs of Chicago. In addition to writing for The Hardball Times, he also writes about craft beer as part of a side project blog titled "saBEERmetrics." He previously worked for The Daily Illini and Northern Star newspapers as a film critic and sportswriter (respectively). You can reach him by email at saBEERmetrics AT gmail DOT com.
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