Waiver Wire: NL 2009 Hits and Misses

As the 2009 season winds down, it’s time to look at the NL Waiver Wire recommendations I’ve made this year to check out the Hits and Misses in my prognostications. I was pleased to see that most of my calls were good ones, with caution advised when appropriate, along with stronger recommendations to pick up good guys and leave the ugly ones on the wire.

I wasn’t as good as True Talent, the predictive system you’ll find only in Heater Magazine, which typically was spot-on in telling you who’d succeed and who wouldn’t, even for guys with minimal major-league experience. To take a random example, Eugenio Velez’s True Talent line of .266/.314/.398 almost exactly nailed his actual .266/.310/.408 line—and he’s not alone.

John Burnson’s great stat work often made me look like a genius, as you’ll see in the “Hits” below, counting up from No. 5 to No. 1. Now and then, either True Talent or my own instincts steered me wrong, and you’ll read about those in the “Misses,” arranged from near-miss to worst miss.

Additionally, I invite the THT readers out there to share their own stories of success or failure based on the Waiver Wire columns. Did we help you win your league with that one crucial HR? Blow your lead in SB? We only get better when you let us know how we’re doing, so feel free to comment, and I look forward to the offseason, 2010 season (and beyond) with THT Fantasy!


5) Mike MacDougal | Washington | CL
YTD: 5.4 K/9, 0.8 K/BB, 4.42 ERA
True Talent: 7.9 K/9, 1.6 K/BB, 4.18 ERA
Performance Since Column: 4.9 K/9, 0.8 K/BB, 4.29 ERA, 18 Saves
This is a little Hit, a little Miss, but it’s mostly a Miss. I said in my June 12 column that MacDougal “can throw strikes—he just doesn’t know when they’re coming” and that he was suitable for “any team that needs saves without strong ratios.” That much was right. But True Talent was way off on strikes and K/BB, just as I was wrong in saying “he’s a short-term pickup” and that “Manny Acta has hinted he won’t be closing for long.” I didn’t expect him to outlast his manager, and nobody saw his whacked ratios, let alone how they’d translate into a half-decent ERA.

Most importantly, I didn’t advocate strongly enough to pick up a closer who’s still closing games more than three months later, and that’s why this is a Miss. That MacDougal did so without striking batters out doesn’t matter; he got the job done, blowing just one save in 19 chances, and that can easily make the difference in the fantasy standings for your team.

4) Chris Snyder | Arizona | C
YTD: .200/.353/.332
True Talent: .250/.354/.442
Performance Since Column: .147/.272/.221 in 20 starts
On May 29, I said Snyder had grabbed the D-backs’ starting backstop job and that he’d “continue to gain ground on Montero, particularly since he’s added a career-best batting eye of .84 BB/K to his power. If he can hold his plate discipline gains, he’ll beat that True Talent OPS. … Grab this guy in 8+ team NL leagues and all 10+ team leagues.” Well, he didn’t come close to True Talent or my expectations, but I’ve got a legitimate excuse here. Snyder lost a month to back problems, a problem that would lead to season-ending back surgery in late August. Now it looks like Snyder, whose massive $17.25M contract extension through 2012 makes him untradeable until he proves himself healthy, will be Montero’s hugely overpaid backup.

It’s hard to predict injuries, and there were a few other guys who missed the mark because they got hurt, but I was way off here, particularly in my exuberance about the urgency of grabbing Snyder. At least I got Montero right a few weeks later, as you’ll read below.

3) Joel Pineiro | St. Louis | SP
YTD: 4.3 K/9, 3.9 K/BB, 3.44 ERA
True Talent: 4.9 K/9, 1.8 K/BB, 4.78 ERA
Performance Since Column: 4.7 K/9, 4.75 K/BB, 3.40 ERA, 14-13 record
When I reviewed Joel Pineiro on May 1, I said, “His ERA exceeds his expected ERA by almost a full run, and those peripherals (1.0 K/BB, 2.1 K/9) are awful. … Don’t expect much more than a few extra luck-inspired wins, very few Ks and a sub-par ERA.” To my credit, I didn’t say he’d be awful, and a lot of forecasters got Piniero wrong. True Talent slightly undershot his expected Ks, and who would have thought Pineiro would lead all of baseball with 1.1 BB/9? That’s where he got that gaudy BB/K ratio, and how he beat ERA expectations by almost a run and a half. He also tossed two shutouts (tied for the NL lead), and gave his owners 21 Quality Starts in 31 outings, for an overall record of 15-12.

This wasn’t the worst Miss in the world, but I wouldn’t have picked Pineiro up based on my own recommendations—as, in fact, I didn’t, not in any of my leagues that count QS. And as a further hedge to my Miss here, I’ll add that Pineiro has slowed down significantly in September, with a 2-3 record, 4.0 K/9, 2.2 K/BB, and 4.93 ERA in six starts. But Miss it was.

2) Garrett Jones | Pittsburgh | OF
YTD: .297/.374/.581
True Talent: .245/.303/.421
Performance Since Column: .297/.377/.569, 18 HR, 19 2B, 40 RBI in 70 games.
I don’t feel as bad about this pick since reading Mike Silver’s excellent column on Jones, calling him “among the most confusing players in fantasy baseball.” But on July 10, I said Jones was “worth a short-term flyer in NL-only leagues, and all owners should watch to see if his hot start continues.” Which sounds nice out of context, and I’ll freely admit I was hedging my bets, but most of my writeup focused on his long time in the minors, his strikeouts, and his problems against LHP. And True Talent was similarly pessimistic, so we both got a Miss here.

All in all, it wasn’t the worst recommendation, but I was pretty tepid about someone who went on to produce at amazing levels. And, as regular readers know, I continued to advocate against his ability to maintain his production levels in comments after future columns. I missed the boat on Jones pretty badly, and if you were following my advice, you probably did, too.

1) Milton Bradley | Chicago | OF
YTD: .257/.378/.397
True Talent: .280/.390/.479
Performance Since Column: .280/.383/.429, 6 HR, 19 RBI, 51 games, 1 suspension
What was I thinking? What was True Talent thinking? What were the Cubs thinking? Like TT and Chicago ownership, I couldn’t believe that Bradley would continue to stink up the joint as much as he had. And, if you look at his performance since my July 17 column, he actually did improve over his .243/.379/.381 line at the time. But my final recommendation was pretty inflexible: “If you’ve got a spot, stash him; if you own him, wait if you can; if you need an OF, watch him. He’s coming around.”

He came around a little, and his final line came close to the OBP projections of True Talent, but it’s doubtful that any reader expected his SLG to lose almost 100 points. I said “he’s not a .760 OPS hitter” and I was right on there—he finished with a .775 OPS. My writeup was positive and pumped him up, and his minor improvement didn’t merit that sort of enthusiasm. Though I also dabbled on predicting guys like Barry Zito and Mike Hampton, and did well there, my mistake was trying to scrutinize the inscrutable Milton Bradley. A big Miss here.


Retroactive Review: Ace
Looking back at some of Justin Verlander's most interesting moments.

5) John Smoltz | St. Louis | SP/RP
YTD: 8.4 K/9, 4.1 K/BB, 6.35 ERA
True Talent: 7.8 K/9, 3.4 K/BB, 4.04 ERA
Performance Since Column: 9.5 K/9, 4.4 K/BB, 4.26 ERA
Very few people thought that Smoltz would do much with St. Louis after bombing in Boston, but I pointed out on Aug. 21 that “his secondary ratios were about in line with TT predictions. Now that he’s back in the NL, on a competitive team with a strong defense, he’s definitely going to improve in ERA and wins.” I recommended him as “definitely worth a gamble for a handful of wins and Ks in any league.” Not the strongest recommendation in the world, and I did note that his risky age and health meant you shouldn’t “expect him to blow the doors off in ERA or IP.” True Talent did a good job everywhere but his ERA, which is bloated from all that trouble he had in the AL. Smoltz proved me right with five innings of three-hit ball two days later, with nine Ks and no walks. He then reeled off three quality starts in his next six outings, though St. Louis couldn’t give him any wins.

Smoltz wasn’t amazing, but he was solid, and I give myself the Hit here because of my contrarian stance—few other folks wanted to stick their necks out for Smoltzie, and I did. Owners who followed my advice reaped the reward, albeit a winless one.

4) Seth Smith | Colorado | OF
YTD: .293/.380/.511
True Talent: .284/.364/.470
Performance Since Column: .296/.363/.539 7 HR, 27 RBI
Smith was hitting .292/.395/.489 when I wrote about him on July 24, noting that Tracy named him the starter, making him “an instant add in all NL leagues and mixed leagues, as his True Talent OPS projects him in the top 30 of all OFs, with peripherals to match.” Tracy backtracked a bit when Gonzalez got hot, but Smith still started 36 times in 52 games since my column and continued to produce. My strong recommendation was definitely a Hit here.

Smith did better across the board than True Talent expected, which is what happens when a guy with strong contact skills keeps improving his batting eye, as I’d noted in that column. Colorado won the wild card thanks to guys like Smith—hopefully he helped your team in similar fashion.

3) Leo Nunez | Florida | RP
YTD: 7.8 K/9, 2.2 K/BB, 4.12 ERA, 25 SV
True Talent: 7.3 K/9 2.1 K/BB 3.68 ERA
Performance Since Column: 7.8 K/9, 2.5 K/BB, 4.23 ERA, 23 SV
Because of a goof in my record-keeping, I actually covered Nunez twice, but I’m going to look at the first recommendation on June 12, when Nunez was far from the closer candidate he became two weeks later. He’d mopped up a few times for Lindstrom, but manager Gonzalez insisted that there was no change at the back of his bullpen. I pointed out Lindstrom’s 7.0 BB/9, and called Nunez “mandatory Lindstrom insurance and a strong roster addition for NL-only teams and any deep league where you’re speculating on saves.”

Speculators who heeded my advice got the results above, with 23 saves that hopefully helped you in your fantasy pennant race, once Nunez became the closer and hasn’t let the job go since. True Talent was right on in estimating Nunez’s control, very close in strikeout rate, and close to that slippery ERA mark. Nobody who got those saves is going to quibble about the .44 ERA difference, nor in the scant three Ks that the different K/9 projection translates to.

2) Carlos Gonzalez | Colorado | OF
YTD: .285/.353/.533
True Talent: .264/.312/.421
Performance Since Column: .283/.358/.519, 8 SB, 5 HR, 10 RBI, 23 R
CarGo also got two writeups from me, but I’m focusing on the later one this time, because it was more emphatic, unlike the wishy-washy June 12 column, which noted “every owner should watch to see if this talent finally arrives.” It took Gonzalez a little longer to prove himself, but on Aug. 21, I wrote him up again. In that column, I pointed out the difference in his .289/.350/.547 YTD line and True Talent’s predictions, noting “the truth is somewhere in between; let’s not forget that Gonzalez was once a top prospect, and he may have finally figured it out.” I reminded readers of his superior numbers outside of Coors, and called him “a must-add for all NL leagues and 10-team mixed leagues in the short term, and those in keeper leagues should strongly consider holding onto him even after he cools off.”

As you can see, he didn’t cool off, and his numbers slipped a bit, but not as low as TT said, so those keeper owners (along with everyone else) should still have him in their lineups. True Talent shot a bit low on his final lines, an easy thing to do for a guy who’d shown so little ability in his big-league ABs up to now. Despite this, I gave him a strong thumbs-up, and I hope that THT readers followed that advice.

1) Miguel Montero | Arizona | C
YTD: .299/.357/.487
True Talent: .254/.334/.421
Performance Since Column: .308/.358/.497 7 HR, 30 RBI
On June 23, the D-backs put Chris Snyder on the DL, and my June 26 column advised, “True Talent tells you Montero will improve his power, and NL owners should certainly take notice of this opportunity to pick him up. He’s worth a roster spot in 8-team NL leagues and mixed leagues deeper than 12 teams.” I don’t mind pointing out that Montero did even better than expected—you might call understatement a Miss, but I’m counting this as a Hit, especially since I noted that “he might hang onto the starting role” if he continues to impress, which he did; he’s now the starter in AZ, undoubtedly into 2010.

Trying to get value from the catcher’s spot is difficult, particularly in midseason. Getting this kind of production from a backstop who hits in the middle of the Arizona order is a difference-maker. I’m betting Montero affected the balance of power (literally) in quite a few fantasy pennant races, and I’d like to think I had a small part in that.

Thanks again to all you THT readers for reading and commenting, and I invite you again to comment below. Any other Hits or Misses you want to point out? Did the naysayers at the beginning of the year feel like we turned it around? Is there another aspect to the stats or writeups you’d like to see?

THT has the smartest, most articulate readers of any fantasy Website, and I welcome your thoughts and comments below. Thanks again for a great season, and I look forward to many more!

True Talent Forecasts courtesy of Heater Magazine.

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Mike Silver
Mike Silver

Thanks for the shoutout, Mike. I don’t know of anyone who reasonably expected Jones to do what he did, myself included.

Nice hit on Smoltz, by the way. Even with the good peripherals, a lot of people were jumping ship on him and its never easy to vouch for a player tanking as badly as he was.