NL Waiver Wire: Week 7by Jeffrey Gross
May 20, 2011
Julio Teheran | Braves | SP | 5 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 5.19 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 2.08 K/9, 0.50 K/BB, 36.4% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.62 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 6.3 K/9, 2.00 K/BB
With Brandon Beachy on the shelf for several weeks, the Braves are giving 20-year-old Julio Teheran a chance to prove he belongs in baseball's deepest rotation, from the major to minor league level. Teheran, however, has not shown himself to be ready—either in Triple-A—where he was sent again Thursday—or the major leagues. On the surface, Teheran's Triple-A numbers look solid. Over 37.2 innings pitched at the Triple-A level this year, Teheran has posted a solid 1.91 ERA and 1.06 WHIP, bettering fellow top pitching prospect Mike Minor (44.2 IP, 2.42 ERA, 1.14 WHIP).
The deeper you dig, however, the less comfort you find in Teheran's superficial stats and prospect pedigree. For one thing, Teheran plays in the International League, which is renowned as the pitcher-friendly Triple-A league (while the PCL is the hitters' haven). More worrisome, however, is the appreciable drop in strikeouts as Teheran has advanced through the minors. A relatively lower strikeout rate is expected in the upper minors compared to the lower minors, but Teheran's 7.65 K/9 in Triple-A is far from dominant. To give some perspective, Tommy Hanson's career Triple-A K/9 was 12.2, Kris Medlen's was 10.5, Minor's is 10.5, and rookie of the year candidate Beachy's was 9.5. Teheran's control has not been particularly inspiring either. Over 77.2 innings of work between Double-A and Triple-A, Teheran has unintentionally put 3.71 runners on base per nine innings by either ball four or the onomatopoetic "kerplunk."
Teheran's major league work has not impressed either. Though 8.2 innings is hardly a reliable sample to work from, Teheran's a 5.9 percent swinging strike rate and a mere two strikeouts to four unintentional walks issued indicates that this is a pitcher who needs more seasoning. Now, and this is critical, Teheran is only 20, and none of the above indicates a need to panic long term; keeper league owners can relax. However, in the short run, Teheran might not be ready for The Show. Strangely, Oliver's major league equivalency (MLE) for Teheran's minor league work this year translate well in some regard: 3.14 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. Still, his peripherals point to a major league strikeout per nine rate of 5.7 and a walks per nine rate of 3.5, for a sub-2.00 K/BB ratio (my "Mendoza line" for pitchers). Given Teheran's less optimistic ERA/WHIP MLEs for his other body of work in the minors, I suspect that Oliver's Triple-A MLEs for Teheran may just be the result of sample size.
The Braves do not need a fifth starter again until May 31, and Beachy does not project to be activated by then. Given the requirement of making a 25-man roster move to call up Rodrigo Lopez, the short list of who will fill that May 31 start (and beyond) will likely come down to Minor and Teheran, both of whom the Braves have already burnt options on for the year. It is too early to accurately speculate on who will get the call (both Minor and Teheran have struggled in their brief major league cameos), but if it's Teheran, then you can probably take a pass on the stream.
Recommendation: Teheran should be rostered only in keeper leagues, and can be avoided in all but deep NL-only leagues. If you have him, and are not in a keeper league, either cut him or try to trade him (as a "throw in").
Kelly Johnson | Diamondbacks | 2B | 63 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .265/.338/.457
There are only a few who have been as loyal to Kelly Johnson's fantasy stock as I over the years, but something is currently wrong with Johnson, and it's something bad enough to make it worth cutting ties with him. First the positive, however. Johnson has a career BABIP of .314, and despite his precipitous drop in line drive rate this year (14.4 percent compared to a career mark of 21 percent), his persistent failure to hit popups when he hits the ball in the air (2.4 percent infield fly rate, compared to a 6.3 percden career mark and about a 9.5 percent major league average) gives him credit for an expected BABIP around .330. That is some .080 points above his season BABIP of .250. Additionally, with four home runs and six stolen bases through a mere 40 games played, Johnson is on pace for a solid 15 to 20, which would match his average career home run pace.
But the cup is not just half full with Johnson. Even if you adjust his abysmal .186/.256/.308 triple slash line to reflect his xBABIP, pessimistically assuming that all gained hits would have been singles, Johnson's line improves to a still paltry .238/.301/.360 mark. That adjusted sub-.700 OPS likely has a lot to do with Johnson's newfound swing-and-miss infatuation. He's had a 20.3 strikeout-per-plate appearance for his career, but that has skyrocketed to a career worst 29.9 percent mark this year.
Johnson's plate discipline numbers show that he is chasing pitches outside of the zone (34.4 percent) at a substantially higher rate than normal (23.9 percent career average, 28.7 percent major league average), while making contact with less pitches inside of the zone (career low 77.7 percent), which has manifested in the form of a career worst 13.1 percenyt swing-and-miss rate that matches Michael Pineda's ridiculous inducement rate.
Though I will always have an affinity for Johnson as an underrated middle infield asset, he has almost no value in mixed leagues at the moment, and fringe value in NL-only leagues. Do not be beholden to brand names, and cut ties with Johnson's services if other more widely available second base options with better immediate upside are at your disposal. For example: Danny Espinosa (14 percent ownership), Ryan Raburn (22 percent), Scott Sizemore (3 percent), Alberto Callaspo (32 percent), and heck, even, Aaron Hill (61 percent). Just don't sell your team short gambling on a rebound at the moment.
Recommendation: Johnson should not be owned in mixed leagues, and, if possible, should be benched in NL-only leagues.
Mike Leake | Reds | SP | 2 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 5.70 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 7.93 K/9, 2.46 K/BB, 46.7% GB%
Oliver ROS: 4.19 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 6.3 K/9, 2.42 K/BB
The most ironic thing about Mike Leake may be the fact that his availability and talent level make him a steal. Despite spending no time in the minor leagues until this month, the Reds' first-round pick of 2010 has done impressive things at the major league level. For his brief career (174.2 innings), Leake already owns a 4.00 xFIP, a career groundball rate near 50 percent, and average control of his four-pitch mix (3.19 BB/9).
His 2011 season is only six starts, deep, but Leake has taken noticeable steps forward over last season's solid performance. For one thing, Leake is getting hitters to swing and miss nine percent of the time, compared to a 8.5 percent major league average and 7.6 percent mark last year. Despite possessing a fastball that would make Javier Vazquez look like a fireballer, Leake does a decent job avoiding too much contact with his pitches, and getting a decent amount of pop-ups for a groundball pitcher.
Leake's poor ERA this season can probably be chalked up largely to a 63.6 percent LOB percentage and abnormally high 14.7 percent homer-per-fly ball rate. As Leake's batted ball data normalizes, he could prove to be a top 40 or 50 overall starting pitcher the rest of the way, slotting as a strong fourth or fifth starting pitcher option for mixed and NL-only formats. Leake plays in a bandbox, but the combination of the Reds' quality defense (sans Jonny Gomes), Leake's groundball tendencies, and a weak division should more than offset those worries. If you need pitching help or extra innings, Leake (or his teammate Travis Wood, while you wait for Leake to get called back up) could be your man.
Recommendation: When the Reds call him back up from Louisville, Leake should be spot started (away starts particularly) in mixed formats with lower innings totals and owned in all NL-only formats.
Carlos Pena | Cubs | 1B | 52 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .234/.355/.510
After an incredibly slow start to the season in April (.159/.289/.175 with plenty of warning track flyouts, but no home runs), Pena has been sizzling in May. In 15 May games, Pena is hitting .327/.452/.653. With a .355 BABIP on the month, no one is expecting that batting average, which should be much closer to .250 than .350, to persist, but the five home runs and 12 RBI on the month show that there is still plenty of life left in his bat. Pena is owned in barely half of the leagues out there, but the top 150 preseason pick should be owned in many, many more—especially in this year of the second coming of the pitcher, where even cheap power comes at a premium. (Heck, the White Sox are leaning on Dallas McPherson). Pena owners may try to use his recent hot streak as a reason to unload and jump ship, and frugal fantasy miners should exploit any opportunity. Pena, calling Wrigley Field "home," could be a prime fantasy trade target as the season enters the hot summer months.
Recommendation: Pena should be owned in all but the shallowest mixed leagues (and AL-only formats, of course).
Brandon Belt | Giants | 1B, OF | 5 percent Yahoo ownership
Oliver ROS: .270/.346/.443
The key to successfully rostering minor league players is to not pick them up too early, but grab them before the rumor mills churn out "getting call up soon" tweets. With Belt currently tearing the cover off the ball in Triple-A (.387/.529/.600 triple-slash line, .271/.399/.384 MLE) and the Giants' offense dwelling in baseball's offensive cellar (.300 wOBA) with the likes of the Padres, A's and Pirates, it remains to be seen how long the Giants can keep Belt in the minors delaying service time. The Giants are having Belt play more outfield, so it's likely that Aubrey Huff will stick at first for the time being, which likely makes Pat Burrel the odd man out. I suspect Belt will be up in the majors around June 1 (along with Dustin Ackley), so the sooner you act, the less likely someone else beats you to the punch. Just don't drop Brandon Beachy for him.
Recommendation: Belt should be owned in keeper leagues and deeper formats (12+ teams with CI requirements), and all but the shallowest leagues (10 teams, no corner infielder) should keep a close eye on his ETA.
Also noteworthy this week: Orlando Hudson is off the DL and worth a look in deeper mixed leagues, particularly for teams in need of cheap speed and runs.
As always, leave the love/hate in the comments below.
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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