Note: Hello, everybody. My name is Jeffrey Gross. I am the new guy around here at THTF and I will be doing the AL component of the Waiver Wire weekly feature from now on. You can also catch me blogging baseball over at the Game of Inches blog under the pseudonymous David “MVP” Eckstein. Please feel free to contact me by e-mail with any questions, comments or feedback you may have. And now, on to the show …
All stats current through May 17, 2010.
Jack Cust | Oakland | OF, DH | 0.4% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .245/.380/.460
Once a prodigious three-true-outcomes guy, Jack Cust’s power and plate discipline have steadily eroded (while the strikeouts have remained quite high) over the past three seasons. After posting a .240/.356/.417 (.342 wOBA) line—which was almost completely erased by subpar defense in the outfield—last season, Cust was non-tendered and later re-signed by the A’s to a minor league contract. With Eric Chavez hitting a Ronny Cedeno-like .250/.297/.360 (.291 wOBA), the A’s have demoted Chavez and called Cust back up to the majors. Cust was hitting .273/.444/.436 (23 percent walk rate) with four home runs for Oakland’s Triple-A Sacramento affiliate, which translates into a less-than-inspiring .229/.367/.347 (.715 OPS) triple slash per Minor League Splits. Though Cust is no longer the .250 ISO guy he was two or three seasons ago and though the offensively struggling A’s are unlikely to give Cust nearly as many RBIs as his home-run-slugging contemporaries, Cust still possesses above-average home run talent for those in need of power and strong on-base abilities for leagues that count OBP as a category. ZiPS pegs Cust for a .242/.375/.428 triple slash line with one home run every 25 plate appearances, though I think Cust has a little more pop left in his bat. Think of him as Adam Dunn-lite.
Recommendation: Ownable in AL-only formats and OBP leagues, player to watch in deeper 12-team mixed leagues.
Justin Masterson | Cleveland | SP, RP | 2.9% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 5.92 ERA, 10.18 K/9, 3.87 BB/9
True Talent: 3.90 ERA, 8.70 K/9, 4.20 BB/9
There is a lot to both love and hate about Justin Masterson. Among all major league pitchers who have tossed 20 or more innings this season, Justin Masterson’s 10.18 K/9 ranks 10th highest overall (3rd in the AL), and his 58.8 percent groundball rate ranks seventh overall (and second among AL starters). These peripherals have translated into a quietly quality 3.41 xFIP/4.09 FIP and the sixth-highest FIP-ERA split in the majors. His putrid 4.74 BB/9 (3.61 MLB average) ranks in the bottom 10 among major league starters with 20+ innings (bottom 15 overall), and his inability to get out lefties, who are hitting .366/.469/.537 (1.006 OPS) against him this season, has led to an ugly 5.92 ERA and 1.82 WHIP. Given his history of struggles with lefties (career .871 OPS against) and control (career 4.22 BB/9), Masterson is a high-risk pitcher, but his pure dominance against righties, his obscenely low 63.8 percent LOB% and his obscenely high .412 BABIP suggest a high ceiling of potential as well. Tread with caution at your own risk. Consider Masterson the AL’s answer to Charlie Morton.
Recommendation: A must own in AL-only formats, while ownable (but not yet playable) in mixed leagues with 12 or more teams.
Brandon Morrow | Toronto | SP, RP | 5.0% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 6.15 ERA, 11.85 K/9, 5.93 BB/9
True Talent: 4.15 ERA, 10.20 K/9, 5.65 BB/9
Like Masterson, Brandon Morrow is another high-risk, high-reward pitcher with big stuff (MLB-leading 11.85 K/9) and no control (his 5.93 BB/9 is the fifth worst among major league starters). Also like Masterson, Morrow has an ERA (6.15) well above his xFIP (3.89). Morrow, however, is not a groundball pitcher (39.2 percent GB%), and the Blue Jays are not exactly defensive wizards (-1.3 team UZR/150 this season). Morrow’s high K upside makes him an enticing option, especially if you are desperate for strikeouts, but the poor control will make Morrow a rocky ride. If you can stomach a poor WHIP and patiently live start to start by the seat of your pants, Morrow’s your man.
Recommendation: Rosterable in AL-only formats, spot starter in deep 12-team mixed leagues.
Gio Gonzalez | Oakland | SP | 6.7% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 4.08 ERA, 8.39 K/9, 4.31 BB/9
True Talent: 3.90 ERA, 8.65 K/9, 4.40 BB/9
Gio Gonzalez is the definition of a post-hype sleeper. After being traded by, to and by the White Sox for Jim Thome, Gavin Floyd and Nick Swisher, this former first-round pick was finally given a cup of coffee in the majors in 2008 and a half-season gig in 2009. Though Gio destroyed the minors (3.58 ERA, 10.3 K/9) with a low-90s fastball and plus curveball, he struggled heavily with his command in the majors and posted a 6.24 ERA over his first 132.2 innings pitched. Given Gio’s ever improving trends in control and groundball tendencies, however, there is plenty of room for improvement for a guy who is already posting useful fantasy numbers. Over his last 24.2 innings, Gio has only issued nine walks (3.28 BB/9). Perhaps these are signs of better things to come, but for now Gio’s xFIP (4.02) and FIP (3.33) say that he is a legitimate high-strikeout guy worth owning.
Recommendation: Must own in AL-only formats, roster-worthy in most mixed leagues (especially those with higher innings limits)
Derek Holland | Texas | SP, RP | 10.2% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 0.00 ERA, 10.50 K/9, 1.50 BB/9
True Talent: 3.80 ERA, 7.30 K/9, 3.00 BB/9
There is a lot to like about Derek Holland. For one thing, his minor league numbers suggest strikeout potential (9.7 K/9) and good control (2.5 BB/9). Additionally, he is not a flyball pitcher, which is always a good way to succeed when you play half your games at Arlington. Though Holland’s first go in the majors was superficially disappointing (6.12 ERA), a deeper look at his numbers reveals a bloated HR/FB rate (14.7 percent) and an unsustainably low 64.7 percent LOB%. Holland’s 4.38 xFIP last season made him a candidate to watch this year, and his 2010 minor league numbers (38.2 IP, 0.93 ERA, 5.93 K/BB) and first major league start (6 IP, 0 ER, 7 K, 1 BB) hint that Holland is ready for something big. Get him now, while he is still obscure. Like teammate Colby Lewis, people will catch on quick.
Recommendation: Must own in AL-only and deeper/keeper mixed league formats, should be owned in most 12-team mixed leagues.
Brennan Boesch | Tigers | OF | 26.1% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .272/.305/.425
The Tigers must feel pretty satisfied at the moment with rookie outfielders Boesch and Austin Jackson leading the charge for AL Rookie of the Year through mid-May. Per Minor League Splits, Boesch’s career minor league numbers do not translate into anything major league worthy (.203/.240/.314), but his limited 2010 Triple-A work translates into a tidy .317/.379/.500 triple slash line. Honestly, I had never heard of Boesch before the Tigers promoted him, and nothing about his peripherals catches my interest outside of the .313 ISO (and ISO takes 550+ plate appearances to become statistically significant). Though Boesch does not strike out with the propensity of Jackson, his allergy to walks (2.9 BB%) flags him as a hot hitter with nothing to offer once he cools down. If you like riding a hot hand, go for it, but Boesch is not worth the roster spot—even if over 25 percent of all ESPN owners think otherwise.
Recommendation: Watch/roster while hot in (deeper) AL-only formats, not worth a bench spot in mixed leagues.
Hank Blalock | Tampa Bay | 1B, DH | 0% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .258/.325/.485 if in a righty platoon, otherwise .240/.305./.450
Entering this season, Bill James predicted Blalock to post a .234/.320/.460 (.336 wOBA) triple slash line with 15 homers in 364 plate appearances. CHONE, likewise, saw a .254/.308/.449 (.328 wOBA) line with 20 homers over 493 plate appearances. So far this season, Blalock has hit .355/.412./.514 (.926 OPS) with four homers in 118 plate appearances for the Tampa Bay Rays’ Triple-A affiliate. Per Minor League Splits, this translates into a .312/.361/.431 (.792 OPS) major league line. With Pat The Bat out, Blalock has been recalled from the minors as the righty-masher in a DH platoon for the foreseeable future with Willy Aybar. Do not expect a .300+ batting average from Blalock, but if he has rekindled his 2003-2006 form, a .270 average with above-average pop and plenty of RBI opportunities is not out of the question when he plays. Given how fragile Carlos Pena has been in recent years, do not be surprised to see Blalock get some time at first base, too.
Recommendation: Ownable in AL-only formats, player to watch in deep 12-team mixed leagues.
Armando Galarraga | Detroit | SP | 0.1% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 1.59 ERA, 7.94 K/9, 4.76 BB/9
True Talent: 4.65 ERA, 6.30 K/9, 3.80 BB/9
Two and a half games behind the Twins in the AL Central, the Tigers recently demoted a struggling Max Scherzer to work out his kinks and called up Armando Galarraga in his stead. The former Ranger, however, has not seen much major league success in the past (career 4.77 xFIP), nor was he blowing hitters out of the water at Triple-A this year (3.92 ERA). Fantasy owners should be wary of any major league pitcher who has Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen manning the corners behind them, let alone a semi-flyball pitcher with league-average control and poor strikeout abilities. Unless you are in a deep AL-only league, do as Officer Barbrady does: “Move along, people. Nothing to see here.”
Recommendation: Not ownable in any formats.
Mike Aviles | Kansas City | SS | 18.2% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .296/.320/.415
After missing most of 2009 due to Tommy John surgery, Mike Aviles has returned to the Royals and unseated incumbent Yuniesky Betancourt for the starting shortstop job (though unseating a shortstop who can’t hit or field is generally nothing difficult). Through his first first 41 plate appearances, Aviles has hit .366/.366/.537 with two home runs. Though he’s been successful in the past (.325 batting average and 10 home runs in 441 plate appearances in 2008), most of it was luck (.357 BABIP, .316 xBABIP). Right now, Aviles’ BABIP sits high at .371, but his bat nonetheless profiles like a .290 hitter. Given his lack of pop (career .138 ISO), average speed (career 5.1 speed score) and inability to walk (career 3.6 percent BB%), Aviles’ upside is very limited (though he might reach double digits in both stolen bases and homers). Aviles is likely not a top 12 mixed-league shortstop for the rest of the season, but for your middle infield position, you could do a lot worse than Aviles.
Recommendation: Ownable in AL-only formats and as a middle infielder in mixed leagues.
Gordon Beckham | Chicago (AL) | 2B, 3B | 63.1% ESPN Ownership
True Talent: .278/.355/.470
Though I universally drafted him as my starting second or third baseman, I have either traded away or dropped Beckham (or Bacon, as he is ostensibly known in Chicago) in every one of my fantasy leagues by now. Though his upside pegs him as one of the better (top 10) 2B/3B-eligible players in fantasy (think pre-2008 Kevin Youkilis with a little less power and a little more speed), there are too many question marks surrounding Bacon at this point in his young career to recommend him. Let’s do a cost-benefit risk analysis. On the positive, Beckham’s walk rate is up this season and his BABIP is quite low at .245. On the negative, however, Beckham’s strikeout rate is way up (24.2 percent this year versus 17.2 percent last season), his power is way down (from .190 ISO last season to .056 this season) and he is hitting the ball into the dirt almost 50 percent of the time. When Beckham does hit the ball in the air, almost one-fifth of the time it is coming in the form of an infield fly ball. As slugging percentage (and ISO) are inversely related to GB% and IFFB%, Beckham’s batted ball profile through the first month and a half of the season is quite disconcerting. Though ISO takes about 550 plate appearances to become statistically significant, batted ball data requires only 200 plate appearances. Bacon did struggle though his first 50 or so plate appearances last year, so maybe he is just a slow starter. THT’s xBABIP calculator pegs Bacon’s xBABIP at .309, which would translate into a .243 batting average. Gordon Beckham is worth monitoring and perhaps a good buy-low option from a disgruntled owner, but his high risk and moderate upside says he’s not worth paying a speculative premium.
Recommendation: Must own in all keeper leagues, ownable in AL-only formats, and benchable in deep mixed leagues (though you can cut ties with him in shallow mixed leagues).