Fantasy Waiver Wire: Week 4, Vol III

Since we last checked in, Didi Gregorius and Marwin Gonzalez have shown flashes of playing above the AL and NL-only level I originally dismissed them as, though they’ve yet to earn their way onto mixed league rosters in all but the deepest of leagues. Meanwhile, our old friend Justin Maxwell is going to miss a few weeks due to a fractured hand, while Monday’s guest, Jose Quintana, has seen his ownership start to climb thanks to a win he earned on Wednesday against the Indians.

But that’s in the past. Let’s look ahead to some more waiver wire candidates who could provide a boost in this still-young season.

Lucas Harrell | Houston Astros | SP | 3 percent Yahoo ownership; 1 percent ESPN; 12 percent CBS
YTD: 28.2 IP / 5.55 FIP / 6.28 K/9 / 4.71 BB/9
Oliver: 170 IP / 3.73 FIP / 6.13 K/9 / 3.96 BB/9

Let’s start with some basic facts about Lucas Harrell’s team, the Astros.

• The Astros are doody.
• Doody teams that play alongside meat-craving Bengal tigers like the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels in their division tend to get torn apart.
• Teams that get torn apart don’t generate wins for their starters, which hurts their fantasy value.

Simple enough, right? The Astros stink, it’s not like Harrell is some latter-day Nolan Ryan (or Larry Dierker, or J.R. Richard), and thus his fantasy value is zilch, right?

Well, maybe. But maybe not.

The fact is, Harrell’s numbers are a bit too complicated for my taste, since we can basically divide his season between one horrific start (4.1 innings, eight earned runs, three home runs) and four pretty decent outings (a combined 24.1 innings with a 1.85 ERA and 6.66 K/9), two of which were against those fearsome Rangers and Angels. Yes, he’s benefited from a favorable 84.6 percent strand rate this season, but his BABIP is right where it should be, and his fine 54.7 percent groundball rate, if anything, feels a tad low given his career average (56.1 percent).

A look at Harrell’s minor league numbers don’t suggest a future ace here, but the 27-year-old held his own in 2012, his first full major league season, when he posted a 3.76 ERA (backed up by a similar FIP and xFIP) along with a not-bad 6.51 K/9 and 3.62 BB/9. Of course, that was back when the Astros played in the NL Central, a far cry from the AL West, but even if the improved competition takes a bite out of his performance, a second season for a guy who keeps the ball on the ground in Minute Maid Park might bear the fruits of maturity and experience.

If you’ve read this far and haven’t raced out to pick up an Astros rotation man, I don’t blame you, since Harrell’s ceiling this year feels very limited. But surely, someone, somewhere in a deep AL-only league needs a starter, and since it seems certain that Harrell is available in your league, he might be a guy worth taking a look at.

Recommendation: Worth a look in AL-only leagues.

Andrew Cashner | San Diego Padres | SP | 11 percent Yahoo ownership; .4 percent ESPN; 32 percent CBS
YTD: 13.1 IP / 4.43 FIP / 9.45 K/9 / 4.73 BB/9
Oliver: 64 IP / 2.95 FIP / 8.99 K/9 / 3.51 BB/9

This might be the easiest waiver wire entry I’ve ever written.

Cashner throws mid-90s gas and gets ground balls to the tune of a lifetime 50.6 percent rate. Add in Petco Park, and the fact that Cashner is entering the prime of his career, and you have a bona fide sleeper who could work wonders for mixed fantasy leagues everywhere.

But there was a problem coming out of spring training: Anxious to limit Cashner’s innings this season, and mindful of an offseason hunting accident that hurt his right thumb, the Padres placed him in the bullpen and handed his rotation spot to Tyson Ross, whom I wrote about in early April.

But then Ross went ahead and partially dislocated his left shoulder, forcing him to the DL. Has that opened up a spot for Cashner? It’s still a bit too soon to say for sure, but it definitely looks that way, since the 26-year-old was stretched out in a four-inning start on Saturday. He took the loss, thanks to a two-run Pablo Sandoval home run, but otherwise looked sharp, punching out five hitters against one walk. Tonight, he faces those same Giants again, this time at home, and manager Bud Black seems ready to move Cashner into the starting rotation.

A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

Cashner isn’t without his faults, not the least of which is an injury history and a difficulty avoiding the free pass (lifetime 4.33 BB/9). But the upside is real, and the only reason he’s unowned in so many leagues—and the only reason he appears in a column that’s typically about under-the-radar fantasy assets—is because people forgot about him. Don’t make the same mistake. See how he does tonight if you’re hesitant, but I think he’s going to be in the rotation going forward, and once that’s official, the key piece in last year’s Anthony Rizzo trade will disappear from the free agent pool in everything resembling a fantasy baseball league.

Recommendation: Buy. Buy. Buy. Buy.

Felix Doubront | Boston Red Sox | SP | 17 percent Yahoo ownership; 8 percent ESPN; 52 percent CBS
YTD: 16.2 IP / 2.89 FIP / 11.34 K/9 / 4.86 BB/9
Oliver: 125 IP / 3.85 FIP / 8.06 K/9 / 3.74 BB/9

Compared to, say, mapping the human genome or researching faster-than-light travel, finding starting pitching in fantasy baseball is a relatively easy proposition: Look for guys who get strikeouts and then climb aboard. In the case of Doubront, 25, he’s already done that, compiling a career 9.17 K/9 in 213 innings, and was able to maintain his strikeout-per-inning goodness through 29 starts last year.

But like Quintana, Doubront’s ownership level is surprisingly low, perhaps because people are scared off by the 4.32 ERA (which his FIP laughs at), or the 4.86 walk rate (which is not supported by his minor league history), or they’re confusing the 2012 trainwreck that was the Boston Red Sox with this year’s team, which was off to a 14-7 start entering Thursday.

Regardless, Doubront offers upside playing for a team that should at least give him a fighting chance to win every night. Yes, the baserunners could be a potential problem (nine walks combined in his last two starts after a 1.45 WHIP last year), but this guy is still young and has a chance to blossom in his second full major league season. For a lot of owners playing in deep leagues, that certainly justifies some consideration, and when the walks come down to earth, a look in many mixed leagues.

Recommendation: Worth owning in all AL-only leagues.

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Karl, a journalist living in Washington, D.C., learned about life's disappointments by following the Mets beginning at a young age. His work has appeared in numerous publications, and he has contributed to the 2014 and 2015 editions of The Hardball Times Annual. Follow/harass him on Twitter @Karl_de_Vries.

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