NL Waiver Wire: Week 17by Jeffrey Gross
July 29, 2011
All stats current through at least Monday, July 25
Hey everybody! Did ya miss me? A hearty thank you to Paul Singman and Derek Ambrosino for taking over my weekly column the past few weeks. I was able to catch their pieces, and they made some fantastic recommendations which I hope helped everyone's team. Today marks my 24th birthday, so make sure to give me a shout-out in the comments below!
Let's look at this week's best waiver wire fodder and trade deadline trade targets as I rediscover the sitcom "Sports Night" on Netflix.
Johan Santana | Mets | SP | 31 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: N/A (injured)
Oliver ROS: 3.68 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 3.25 K/BB
Johan Santana is finally beginning his rehab stint this week. Unless I am mistaken, a player can do this for a maximum of 30 days, so Santana should be on track to rejoin the Mets rotation by the end of August. Santana will likely get a maximum of 30 or so innings and could be rusty, but he's always been a reliable pitcher when on the mound. Owners of young pitchers like Jordan Zimmerman and Michael Pineda (despite what the Mariners have previously said) should monitor Santana's progress and stash him on an available DL spot now, before he gets closer to returning.
Recommendation: Santana should be owned and stashed on the DL in mixed leagues with 12 or more teams and all NL-only formats.
Dexter Fowler | Rockies | OF | 17 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .258/.348/.398
Like Travis Snider, Dexter Fowler is a post-hype prospect (albeit to a substantially lesser degree) who got sent down after struggling in the majors, subsequently struggled in the minors, and has been red hot since getting called back up. Despite going yard exactly zero times thus far this year, Fowler's ISO sits as a surprisingly league average .131 mark. More importantly, however, the speedster, despite all his batting average woes, continues to float a robust walk rate, getting on base over 35 percent of the time despite barely finding a hole in the opposing team's offense one out of every four at bats.
Fowler has good wheels (6.2 speed score this year, 7.0 mark career), and at only 25 years is still quite capable of using them. Since being recalled 10 games ago, Fowler has hit .324/.439/.588 with three stolen bases. Fowler is not a .300 hitter, but .270 could be in the cards courtesy of a career and in-season line drive rate north of 21 percent—if he cuts down his atypically high in-season popup rate (10.6 percent this year, 5.4 percent career) and can get his strikeout percentage back down to about 20 percent. This late in the year, waiver wire talent tends to be slim pickings in all but the shallowest of leagues, with most owners having caught on to the good/breakout players by now. Embrace the post-hype sleeper market inefficiency; it may be your best shot at making up points.
Recommendation: Fowler should be owned in all NL-only leagues and mixed leagues that employ 60 or more outfielders.
Bud Norris | Astros | SP | 50 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 3.70 RA, 1.29 WHIP, 8.93 K/9, 2.67 K/BB, 38.6% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.46 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 2.03 K/BB
The past 28 days have been particularly rough for my good friend Bud Norris. Over his past four starts (25 innings), Norris has allowed 14 earned runs and 36 baserunners, good for a 5.04 ERA and 1.48 WHIP on the season. Norris' ownership rate has sunk 15 or so percentage points over that span, including a drop by a fellow owner in the THT Fantasy Experts League.
All pitchers go through some struggles each year, Norris has retained all the gains he has made in his game this season. In July, Norris has faced 109 batters and walked only eight, plunking zero. His walk rate in July (21.1 percent) is down from his season rate of 23.8 percent and career rate of 23.1 percent, but most of that low strikeout rate over this small sample of innings comes from a single seven-inning, three- strikeout performance against Pittsburgh. In his other three outings this month (18 innings), Norris has punched out 20.
All in all, for all his struggles this month, Norris has maintained a walk rate under 3.0, a strikeout rate above 8.0, and a K/BB ratio of 2.9. The Astros of course will not win many games behind any pitcher—their offense outside of Hunter Pence and perhaps Carlos Lee is absolutely atrocious—but Norris, for all the damage those sliders may do to his arm in the future, is emerging as a legitimately good Astros pitcher in the vein of Wandy Rodriguez. In fact, did you know that Norris has six intentional walks, but only one plunk? That gives him an unintentional walk rate per nine under three. He is certainly worth owning down the stretch, and if an owner in your league has foolishly cut ties, be ready to pounce.
Recommendation: Norris must be owned in all NL-only leagues, and should be owned in all mixed formats with an innings cap of or above 1,400. Shallower formats would be wise to stream him in favorable match-ups.
Ubaldo Jimenez | Rockies | SP | 96 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 4.20 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 8.56 K/9, 2.47 K/BB, 46.8 GB%
Oliver ROS: 3.57 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 2.2 K/BB
Ubaldo Jimenez does not like the spotlight. When no one's paying attention, he's great, but when people do start to catch on, something in his genes say "ughhhh, I better start being bad for a little while so no one pays attention to me."
Do not get me wrong, he's great—when on, he has some of the best velocity in baseball with a great groundball rate and plenty of strikeouts to over-match his poor walk rate. However, for all the talent, he seems to frustrate owners annually. In 2008, he started to show flashes of brilliance that led some to think 2009 was his year. That was pretty good, but too inconsistent to call an "arrival" or breakout year—his ERA by month, April thru September: 7.58, 2.88, 2.89, 4.18, 1.77, 4.17. Last season was clearly great, but owners who bought into his first half (127 IP, 15 W, 2.20 ERA, 1.05 WHIP) were probably sorely disappointed by his second half (94.2 IP, 4 W, 3.80 ERA, 1.30 WHIP).
So far, 2011 has brought the same kind of frustration for owners who bought into the total package in 2010. Over 122 innings, he has turned in a below-average ERA (4.20) and WHIP (1.34), with just six wins. Hidden in those struggles, however, is an Ubaldo Jimenez with a strikeout rate (22.2 percent rate is a career-second best) that is at least as good as it has been over the past few years, a walk rate that is back to 2009 levels (9.0 percent walk rate is a career best), and seven strong starts over his past eight games. You should use those selective stats to sell him to an overly ambitious owner.
Since the middle of June, Jimenez has won five of his past eight outings. Over his past eight games, he has a 3.96 ERA, but five of his past 22 runs allowed (23 percent) came in his outing on July 24 at Arizona (10 percent of past eight outings' innings total). Despite the poor ERA in these past several starts, he has struck out 23.5 percent of the batters he has faced, walking only 7.1 percent of them for a robust 3.3 K/BB ratio.
Those are strong peripherals, but there are plenty of signs that the wheels are more likely to continue to come off rather than turning the season around. For the improved strikeout and walk rate on the year, Jimenez is struggling to get ahead of batters with a first pitch strike (a near-career low rate (55.3 percent F-Strike%, versus a 59.1 percent major league average) and inducing swings-and-misses from batters at a career low 7.7 percent rate that is well below both his career (9.0 percent) and the major league (8.5 percent) average.
More concerning, however, are his ever-declining groundball rate (career low 46.8 percent this season, 47.8 percent in his past eight outings, 60.5 percent career) and fastball velocity (93.4 mph on the season, 93.9 mph over his past eight outings). That's more than 1.5 miles per hour lower than his 2009-2010 level (96.1) and a full tick lower than his career velocity (95.4). He has flashed all the right makings over his career to not only succeed as an ace-style pitcher, but also flourish in Coors Field. However, "flashes" is the best way to describe how his talents seem to ebb and flow. For all his worth, he might be worth most on the trading block.
Recommendation: Ubaldo Jimenez is a sell stock who is not to be bought from other owners in the second half.
Pedro Alvarez | Pirates | 3B | 34 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .244/.329/.448
Despite their romantic fling with first place in the NL Central, the Pirates are not a good team. Outside of Andrew McCutchen (great) and perhaps Garrett Jones (average), they are not even a decent team. To the contrary, they are a team with a poor offense (collective .300 team wOBA, 86 wRC+), league average defense, and a lackluster pitching staff (4.01 xFIP 4.02 FIP that ranked sixth worst and ninth worst in the league, respectively).
Fact: the only major league team that Oliver projects to perform worse than the Astros for the rest of the season is the Pirates. So how have they risen from worst to first? Unlike the Rays, who did it with great scouting, the Pirates have done it with incredible, unsustainable luck. No team has performed better than the Pirates in "clutch" situations according to the Fangraphs' clutch metric that compares high leverage situation performance to overall performance.
Think about it: The Pirates are playing Michael McKenry (.269 wOBA) at catcher. They're rotating over-the-hill players Lyle Overbay (.293 wOBA) and Matt Diaz (.291 wOBA) with the league-average Jones (.322 wOBA!) at first base and right field. Brandon Wood (.284) keeps getting major league chances, even though his career has played out exactly like that of fellow Quad-A player teammate Ronny Cedeno, albeit with more strikeouts. McCutchen and Alex Presley, who has been "good" for only about a year and a half, are the only two players on the Pirates offense other than slightly better than average Neil Walker who have actually done something constructive for the team. The Pirates' pitching staff, meanwhile, has the largest ERA-FIP split in the major leagues, as the Pirates are the only team with more than a half-run differential between their pitchers' "talent" and results.
Not to rant about why the Pirates should not consider themselves contenders, but this contextualizes Pedro Alvarez's recall. Before getting injured on May 21 and subsequently getting sent to the minors, Alvarez was hardly tearing up the league. His .208 batting average, sub-.100 ISO and .587 OPS were a far cry from the .265 batting average, .850 OPS and 25+ home runs projected by many this preseason. Those numbers underwhelm even in light of Wood's 217/.287/.355 line since coming over from the Angels.
Since coming back from his quad injury, however, Alvarez has turned over a new leaf. In 18 games with the Pirates' Triple-A affiliate, Alvarez hit .265/.461/.587 with three home runs (.222 ISO) and 12 walks (15.8 percent) to 18 strikeouts (23.7 percent) over 76 plate appearances. Those rates are on par with what he did for the Pirates' Double-A and Triple-A affiliates in 2009 and 2010, good for a .422 wOBA. Of course major league pitching is light years ahead minor league pitching, and it is Alvarez's major league strikeout rate, which would be second only to Adam Dunn if he had enough at bats to "qualify" for the batting tittle this season, that is of most concern. Alvarez, however, has done everything a fantasy owner could ask to position himself to be back in "the circle of trust," short of losing all the weight that he found after Pablo Sandoval lost it.
In a world where every third baseman not named Michael Young falls prey to injury and ineffectiveness, a .265/10-plus homer capable rest-of-season bat is a valuable commodity in short supply at the hot corner. In the preseason, I had barely ranked Alvarez as a starting third basemen for 12-team mixed leagues because I was concerned about his major league strikeout rate. Though those strikeout concerns have not abated, the current state of play would make lead me to rank Alvarez as a top 10, borderline top eight, third baseman the rest of the way.
If Travis Snider and Dexter Fowler can tear it up as post-hype sleepers who struggled in their minor league rehabs, then surely we can give some faith and credit to Alvarez's attempts to become fantasy-relevant once again.
Recommendation: Alvarez is a must-own player in any mixed league with 10 or more teams.
Jason Isringhausen | Mets | RP | 32 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 2.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 7.79 K/9, 1.88 K/BB, 35.8% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.49 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 1.55 K/BB
There is not much to say about Jason Isringhausen. At age 39, what you see is what you get.
Izzy is a mid/high sevens strikeouts per nine late-game reliever with poor control (4.15 BB/9 this year, 3.88 career). His 4.33 xFIP and 4.14 FIP on the season are quite above career rates of 4.98 and 3.89, respectively, but xFIP/FIP are generally poor predictive measures for relievers, while his dwelling in spacious Citi Field, where he should remain for the rest of the season, should mask most of the effects of his declining groundball rate.
Despite his mediocrity, however, Isringhausen needs to be owned in more leagues because of his saves potential. Despite all of the "time-share" claims that Mets manager Terry Collins has propagated, Isringhausen has racked up all three of the Mets' saves since Francisco Rodriguex was traded during the All-Star break. If Isringhausen and Bobby Parnell are truly sharing ninth inning duties, for all Parnell's triple-digit gas, Izzy and his unquantifiable "experience" are probably the head of that closing committee until he loses Collins' trust. This late in the season, you get your saves where you can get them, and Isringhausen is looking more and more like a more stable source of saves than the Dodgers or the Cardinals. Despite a 2.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, be forewarned that Izzy, like Todd Jones before him, probably will not get the job done cleanly. Still, he will get it done.
Recommendation: Isringhausen is a must-own player in any league that values saves, particularly ones where Javy Guerra is also owned.
Marc Rzepczynski | Cardinals | SP, RP | 2 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 2.97 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 7.55 K/9, 2.20 K/BB, 65.7% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.41 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 1.83 K/BB
Banished from the starting rotation, "The Repo Man" has quietly turned in a nice season out of the pen for the Blue Jays. As might be expected of a starter-turned-reliever, Rzepczynski has seen his strengths amplified and his weaknesses palliated with batters seeing him less frequently. His velocity is up over two ticks this season (from 89.1 mph to 91.3), while his strikeout rate (20.9 percent), swinging strike rate (12 percent), and groundball rate (65.7 percent) all sit at career bests.
Meanwhile, his classically fickle control (4.11 career BB/9) has improved this season (3.43 BB/9) despite getting ahead of batters less often (60.3 percent F-Strike% in 2010, 53.2 percent in 2011, 59.1 percent major league average). Rzepczynski's splits—a 2.00 FIP/2.29 xFIP verus left-handed batters and 4.78 FIP/4.46 xFIP versus righties—indicate that he may be ticketed to a permanent LOOGY role. However, Dave Duncan has the magic touch, and the Cardinals' fourth (Jake Westbrook) and fifth (Kyle McCllellan) starters have not exactly been effective this season.
Given Rzepczynski's high groundball rate and strikeout talents, do not be surprised to see the Cardinals give the him another shot at the starting rotation, even if those walks remain a problem. His move out of the AL East into spacious Busch Stadium should do wonders for his peripherals and surface stats. I would keep a close eye on Rzepczynski. If given regular starts, I would consider him a deep mixed streaming option down the stretch capable of a high 3's ERA, 1.30ish WHIP and good strikeout numbers to go with wins potential ahead of Albert Pujols/Matt Holliday/Lance Berkman.
Recommendation: If re-crowned a starter, Rzepczynski is worth spot starting in deeper mixed leagues (14+ teams, 1,500+ innings cap) and NL-only formats.
Jose Altuve | Astros | 2B | 1 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .280/.309/.399
Given the relative shallowness of the middle infield this year, the Astros' recent promotion of Jose Altuve makes for an interesting deep league play. Altuve has always hit for a good average in the minors (.327 career batting average) and shown a good ability to steal bases, swiping a bag every three games. He does not walk much and offers little, if any, power, so OBP and OPS leagues should probably avoid him. Deep 5x5 standard formats, however, could always use another player who is .290/15 capable for the rest of the way. Just do not expect many runs scored or RBI opportunities from the empty speed that Houston is loading its roster with.
Recommendation: Jose Altuve should be owned in NL-only formats and mixed leagues with 14 or more teams and middle infield requirements.
Brandon Allen | Diamondbacks | 1B | 1 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .239/.340/.429
For deep league owners starved for power, Brandon Allen makes an interesting short-term play. I say short-term because outside of power, Allen will offer owners little else and is likely to be dispelled by Paul Goldschmidt sooner than later, with the Diamondbacks trying to fight for first against the Giants.
Allen owns a minor league career batting average of .268 and a strikeout rate north of 23 percent, so owners should expect a Carlos Pena-meets-Russell Branyan like batting average from Allen. His power stroke (.220 minor league ISO, 139 home runs in 797 games) is legit, however, and if Allen sticks for whatever reason, he could pop five to 10 home runs down the stretch. Allen is also known to steal a few bases now and then, so I would not be surprised to see him end the season with three stolen bases to go along with eight home runs and a .230 bating average and above average on-base percentage (is .340 out of the question?).
Allen, a placeholder, is not exactly an enticing option, but deep mixed leagues tend to be short on quality corner infielders this year due to the sheer volume of slots that can hold a first basemen (three per team in most formats) and the shallowness of third base. You could do worse, particularly if you just lost Luke Scott this past week. Allen is most interesting in OBP-utilizing formats.
Recommendation: Allen is ownable in deeper mixed leagues (14+ teams) as a serviceable corner-infielder or bench player in 12-team mixed.
Edwin Jackson | Cardinals | SP | 43 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 3.92 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 7.18 K/9, 2.49 K/BB, 46.9% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.17 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.27 K/BB
When pitchers go from the AL to the NL, they tend to gain 0.57 strikeouts per nine, lose 0.41 points off their ERA, and see their groundball and infield flyball rates rise ever so slightly. While we can reasonably expect Edwin Jackson to experience these effects, moving from U.S. Cellular Field (111 park index for runs, 135 park index for home runs from 2008-2010) to Busch Stadium (93 park index for runs, 82 park index for home runs from 2008-2010) will only exacerbate the expected improvements to his overall value.
For the White Sox this year, Jackson has struck out 18.6 percent (7.18 K/9) of batters faced, while walking only 7.5 percent (2.88 BB/9, 2.49 K/BB). This, paired with a 46.9 percent groundball rate, gives Jackson a 3.42 xFIP on the season that is half a run lower than his league-averageish 3.92 ERA. Edwin Jackson's expected WHIP based on his current output is lower than his current WHIP of 1.42, but is still poor at 1.35. eFIP pegs Jackson's move to the NL worth a 3.70 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, while his adjusted ERA and xFIP would figure around 3.50 and 3.35, respectively.
Jackson's first assignment comes at home against the anemic Cubs, which should prove fruitful for Jackson owners. Jackson's return to the NL probably makes him the best rest of season starter available in more than 55 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Recommendation: Jackson should be owned in all NL-only formats (does a $34 FAAB bid seem appropriate?), and mixed leagues should at least engage his services as a stream starter against weak offenses and at home. Capable of a strikeouts per nine.
As always, leave the love/hate in the comments below.
Jeffrey Gross is an attorney (and die-hard Cubs fan) who currently resides in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In addition to writing for The Hardball Times, he also reviews tasty adult beverages as part of a side project 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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