Waiver Wire: Pitchers on the Mend

Injuries can lead to opportunity in fantasy leagues. Talented players may have been cast aside after impatient owners cut bait. Once those players are ready to return to the majors, they become hot commodities on the waiver wire. That’s not always the case when players are rehabbing. If you act early enough on a potentially valuable starter, there’s a chance you can get him on the cheap. Marco Estrada and Jason Vargas may currently be in the middle of their rehab assignments, but both can have value going forward.

SP Marco Estrada 35% owned in CBSSports.com leagues

It’s difficult to evaluate Estrada’s performance this year. He’s failed to live up to his breakout 2012, but he’s also allowed home runs at a ridiculous rate. At the same time, Estrada has developed a reputation as a homer-prone pitcher. Through 331.2 career innings, Estrada has a 1.38 HR/9. The culprit this year has been Estrada’s four-seam fastball. Opposing hitters have destroyed the pitch, hitting .331, with a .655 slugging percentage. He’s already given up 12 home runs with his fastball.

Estrada’s four-seamer doesn’t come in hard, averaging 90.91 mph over his career. When hitters make good contact with the pitch, or Estrada misses his stop, it can get hammered. The fact that Estrada has seen his fastball velocity drop to 89.87 mph hasn’t helped.

Still, his 3.90 xFIP hints that there’s a chance he’ll improve. Estrada has kept the ball on the ground more this year, with a 39.3% ground ball rate, but he’s allowed home runs on a career-high 15.7% of his fly balls. The last two years, his HR/FB rate hovered around 10%. That seems more likely moving forward. His strikeout and walk rates have both taken small steps backward, but are still strong enough to help owners. He’s worth a shot if you’re desperate for help in mixed leagues, and probably should be picked up in most NL-only leagues.

SP Jason Vargas 41% owned in CBSSports.com leagues

Vargas has a similar skill set. He’s not a high-upside pitcher, but he’ll produce decent numbers at the end of the year. He’s also had his struggles with the long-ball. Despite those struggles, Vargas has been able to out-pitch his xFIP the last four years. He’s been able to out-pitch his FIP in three of the last four. Vargas was likely owned in a few leagues prior to having surgery to remove a blood clot, as he was pitching relatively well. Through 91.1 innings, Vargas has a 3.65 ERA.

Due to the long layoff, Vargas finds himself available in a number of leagues. Like Estrada, he’s been able to show some improvement with his ground ball rate. He’s steadily increase his grounders from 36.4% in 2011, to 42.2% in 2013. Vargas has been prone to wild swings in his HR/FB rate over his career, but has been solid, sitting at 7.9% this year. While that number could rise, Vargas’ career rate in the category is 9.0%, which isn’t awful for a player considered homer-prone. Vargas is also a stash candidate in mixed leagues where owners are desperate for pitching help. He should be owned in most AL-only leagues.

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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What about McCarthy? Looked great his last few turns before hitting the DL.