Real life has a nasty habit of throwing obstacles in our path. While Jeffrey Gross hits the restricted list for personal reasons (law finals), I will be coming off the bench to provide the usual NL waiver wire treats. Let’s get down to business.
Hong-Chih Kuo | Dodgers | RP | 29 percent Yahoo! ownership
Vicente Padilla | Dodgers | RP | Six percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD (Kuo): 3.38 ERA, 1.88 WHIP, 13.5 K/9, 13.5 BB/9
YTD (Padilla): 3.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 3 K/9, 3 BB/9
Oliver Projection (Kuo): 2.94 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
Oliver Projection (Padilla): 4.31 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
The big news of the week came after Jonathan Broxton‘s first blown save of the season. From the bare stats alone, the demotion to committee closer may seem a bit hasty, but Broxton’s been skating on thin ice for awhile now. His struggles last season are well known and he appears to be even worse this season despite generally satisfactory results including a win, five saves, and the aforementioned lone blown save.
However, that glosses over the damage he’s done this season. In his 10.1 innings, his strikeout rate has almost halved from this career rate (6.97 per nine compared to 11.57) while his walk rate has nearly doubled (6.10 per nine compared to 3.72). His average fastball velocity has dropped a second consecutive year as well. Your gut reaction might be to say “small sample” but even the number that is most guaranteed to regress in a positive manner, his 22.2 percent home run to fly ball ration (HR/FB), is at least partially due to the number of cookies he has served up. Until he improves his command and control, he’s going to continue to ignite more rallies than a respectable “closer,” even if some of his peripherals improve.
So who is there to replace him? The long term answer for dynasty leagues might be Kenley Jansen, but it appears a mutating monster composed of Broxton, Kuo, and Padilla will handle ninth inning duties for the bulk of 2011.
Padilla stepped in on Wednesday for an uneventful save. He’s a pretty pedestrian reliever when all is said and done but when your alternative is as combustible as Broxton, pedestrian will do. Padilla the reliever may strike out close to eight per nine innings pitched, walk about three per nine innings, and post ERA and WHIP numbers that will neither help nor harm you—about 3.50 and 1.30 respectively. Keep in mind, those projections depend on Padilla experiencing the typical uptick in talent from the rotation to bullpen transition. If he pitches like he does when he starts, he will not be touching many ninth innings.
Kuo is the most interesting option in Dodgerland, both because he took over for Broxton in 2010 and because he might just be a top 10 reliever on a per inning basis. The Oliver projection system envisions 9.6 strike outs per nine, a stingy 2.5 walks per nine along with a glowing 2.79 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. Given he’s struck out 10.51 batters per nine over his career, he could best those numbers by a small but significant margin.
Of course, the problem with Kuo is well known: He’s more fragile than porcelain. In fact, he’s on the disabled list as we speak, although he is currently on rehab assignment and could rejoin the team as early as today. He got roughed up a bit on Tuesday so the Dodgers may try to get him a couple of strong appearances before activating him. In any case, the time to act is now. Bear in mind that Kuo’s injury history will probably lead the Dodgers to handle him carefully, opening plenty of opportunities for Padilla and Broxton.
Recommendations: Kuo should be owned in any league that counts saves, uses linear weights, or has reliever slots. If you can, toss him on the DL and use Padilla as a handcuff. Speaking of Padilla, he should be owned in NL-only leagues, all 14-team mixed leagues, and any other league where an owner has bench space and is interested in scraping together five or 10 saves. For now, Broxton should be held in NL-only and most 12-team formats.
Ryan Madson | Phillies | RP | 65 percent Yahoo! ownership
Antonio Bastardo | Phillies | RP | seven percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD (Madson): 0.90 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 10.8 K/9, 2.7 BB/9
YTD (Bastardo): 0.87 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 13.94 K/9, 3.48 BB/9
Oliver projection (Madson): 3.39 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 2.5 BB/9
Oliver projection (Bastardo): 4.08 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 3.9 BB/9
On paper, the Phillies closer is Brad Lidge. However, his timetable to return appears to be sometime in July and it’s unclear whether the Phillies will even really want him around by then. Plan B was Jose Contreras, but a five-appearance stretch over six days seems to have contributed to his own trip to the disabled list with a strained elbow, not that Charlie Manuel is having any of that.
Plan C is Ryan Madson, a man who despite being an elite reliever, simply has failed in the ninth inning role. A stroll over to Baseball Reference shows that his numbers in the ninth inning are considerably worse than his other relief innings (he spent some time in 2006 as a starter). This lack of success under pressure—whether the result of nerves, bad luck, or Grand Conspiracy—is at least part of the reason the Phillies opted to go with Contreras as closer.
What can we expect from Madson the closer? If you are willing to lay aside the rough ninth inning history, we are looking at a reliever who will strike out a batter per inning, post an ERA of roughly 3.00 and throw together a WHIP of about 1.00. These are very good things to have when they come packaged with saves. However…
It comes with a caveat, Madson is one of two pitchers Manuel trusts in his bullpen. The other is the left-handed reliever Bastardo. He has some things in common with the aforementioned Kuo: He’s an oft-injured, full-inning lefty with a strikeout rate that will probably be above 10 per nine innings. He’ll walk more guys than Kuo, about four per nine, but otherwise he’s a potentially valuable arm who could scrounge a few saves. Manuel recently complained about Madson asking for a day off last Sunday, so Bastardo may find some favor from ol’ Chuck for being available for the one-pitch save in that game.
Recommendations: Madson is an immediate pick-up in all but the shallowest of leagues. Bastardo should be owned in all NL-only leagues as well as 14-team mixed leagues and most 12-team mixed leagues.
Brett Wallace | Astros | 1B | 12 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver projection: .263/.326/.421
For those few owners out there who stuck with Wallace, his early season success has been a bit of a revelation. Sure, it can’t and won’t continue, a .444 balls in play average (BABIP) is what we in the biz refer to as unsustainable. However, there are some encouraging signs in his early season success that might indicate he’s made an adjustment, and he’s made scant few of those since becoming a professional.
The former Arizona State star has swatted his way to a mean .367/.432/.494 line in the early going with one home run. Regression will catch up to Wallace: That .444 BABIP is supported by a mere .295 expected BABIP (xBABIP). He also boasts a vibrant 25 percent line drive rate. As that does its own dance of regression, the hits will start falling in less frequently. Oliver agrees, projecting a rest of season triple slash around .263/.326./421 with about 18 home runs in full time play.
Before detailing why Wallace is due for negative regression, there was talk of positive signs. Both his strikeout and walk rates have improved considerably compared to last year. He is walking in 9.1 percent of his plate appearances while striking out in a mere 19 percent. Last year, he walked in only five percent of his plate appearances while striking out a brutal 34.7 percent, a number that caused some analysts (including me) to wonder aloud if Wallace could possibly be a major league quality player. He’s never been much of a walker, so expect that rate to drift back near six percent. However, his current strikeout rate is similar to his minor league numbers and could potentially be sustainable. If so, Wallace will be putting a full 15 percent more balls in play, which should help his fantasy numbers across the board.
Given his previous status as a top prospect, it might not be long before other fantasy owners take notice and start buying on Wallace.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all NL-only and 14-team leagues and most deep 12-team leagues. Watch in other formats.
Ryan Ludwick | Padres | OF | Six percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver projection: .258/.329/.465
When Ludwick has a “normal” BABIP, he’s a roughly league average outfielder. He’s not someone you’re dying to employ in any fantasy format, but you probably won’t hate yourself if you’re forced into leaning on him as your last outfielder.
Right now, Ludwick is struggling with some balls in play demons. Most of his peripherals are typical, a 10 percent walk rate, 23.6 percent strikeout rate, and .191 ISO. He’s even lifting the ball more frequently, which is a good thing for a guy with Ludwick’s sock, even in Petco Cavern. But that dastardly villain of chance has stuck him with a .219 BABIP. His expected BABIP is still low at .255, but you can thank his temporarily elevated fly ball rate for that and expect something closer to .290 in the future.
That sets him up to hit his Oliver projections, which jibe with what was mentioned in the first paragraph—average, employable, unexciting. He still has 20-home run upside and bats in the heart of the Padres lineup. Yes, it is an impotent lineup, but RBI opportunities will still appear.
Recommendation: Own in all NL-only leagues. Leagues with 60 or more outfielders should be able to find a home for him. Shallow leagues can ignore him entirely.
Randy Wolf | Brewers | SP | 37 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 2.64 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.51 K/9, 2.35 BB/9
Oliver projection: 4.09 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9
2011 is looking like it might be one of those good Randy Wolf years, the kind where he pitches well enough to give his team a chance to win him 15 games if it deigns to support him with runs. Theoretically, the Brewers should have plenty of pop to help bolster Wolf’s win totals, but Wolf has always seemed to be on the short end when it comes to run support.
By all means, Wolf is not much more than a temporary patch for an owner with rotation troubles. He’s another guy who falls into that won’t help or hurt you category. He’s been exactly the same pitcher since 2005, so there is not much scope for change in his skill set. What we have is a pitcher who can throw together something like a 4.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and seven strikeouts per nine while giving his potent offense a chance to win ballgames for him.
The big thing people are seeing right now with Wolf is a shiny 2.64 ERA and his 29 strikeouts in 30.2 innings. Don’t buy into the glitter expecting those rates to hold up. However, given that some fantasy owners still remember his successful 2009, a savvy owner might be able to claim him off the wire now and sell him a few weeks down the line if Wolf’s luck holds.
Recommendation Own in NL-only leagues and all 14-team mixed leagues. Should be owned in about half of 12-team mixed roto leagues and can be streamed in 10-12 team head-to-head.
Gerardo Parra | Diamondbacks | OF | one percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver projections: .282/.328/.401
Here’s something for those deep leaguers out there. Thanks to a few injured Diamondbacks, Parra has pushed his way into a fairly regular role. He has started the team’s last seven games and has performed well in the short span.
Parra will never set the world on fire. It might be best to think of him as the most recent version of Ben Francisco. He shouldn’t help or hurt you in any category, but he’s a respectable patch to use while searching for a better alternative. His future role with the club is uncertain, so you might find that this is a short term investment.
Currently, Parra’s compiled a respectable .309/.333/.400 triple slash that is partially propped up by a .364 BABIP. He walks infrequently, only two times in his 57 plate appearances this season, but he couples that with a roughly league average strikeout rate so he’s putting the ball in play very frequently. His roughly .100 isolated slugging percentage makes him a bit of an anti-three true outcomes hitter, but he does have the pop and the home park to swat about 10 home runs in a full season of at bats. He’ll even steal a few bases to boot.
Oliver isn’t crazy about him. His projected slash of .282/.328/.401 is unimpressive, but it’s certainly employable in a deep league.
Recommendation: Own in 12-team NL-only leagues. Mixed leagues that use more than 70 outfielders should have a home for Parra. Owners with outfield troubles in deep roster 12-team leagues might also want to take a peek.