Waiver Wire: AL, Week 17

Thank you to everyone for the birthday wishes. I hope readers followed my “Luke Scott is getting hot” advice. In the seven days since I wrote about him, he’s batted .417 with three homers and six R/RBI. Another personal note: I will be returning to law school during the last week of August and hence the September editions of the AL Waiver Wire will be slightly abbreviated from what I’ve been writing since May.

In honor of the trade deadline, I am going to look at a few players you should trade forCthe underperforming assets of fantasy —or trade away.

All stats current through at least July 26.

Jose Bautista watch (07/19-07/25): .333 AVG, 2 HR, 3 R, 9 RBI, 1 SB. His ownership is up 3 percent, to 86 percent, in Yahoo leagues. A great week for Bautista’s owners. Also, Bautista crossed the 30 HR plateau this week, which marks me beating TBO in a gentlemen’s bet that Bautista couldn’t hit 30 this year.

Dan Haren | Los Angeles | SP | 96 percent Yahoo ownership
TYD: 4.60 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 9.00 K/9, 1.85 BB/9, 40.8% GB%
My ROS Projection: 3.82 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.43 K/9, 1.88 BB/9
Oliver ROS: 3.56 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.70 K/9, 1.60 BB/9

Over the weekend, Dan Haren was traded to the Angels and I extensively analyzed his rest of season prospects as an Angel. My analysis yielded an expected pitching line of 80 IP, 3.82 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 75 K and a 4.5 K/BB ratio. Those numbers are much improved over the Angels’ current 4.40 team ERA/1.40 team WHIP.

From a fantasy perspective, Haren is an immediate FAAB buster. He may not have the ERA upside of Cliff Lee, but he’s got a superb WHIP (he’s top 10 in WHIP over the past three seasons combined) and tantalizing K-upside. The move away from Chase Field should do wonders for Haren’s home run problems (1.47 HR/9), but the Angels’ team defense (-26.2 UZR) might present the man with disturbing consistency with all new problems.

Nonetheless, Haren remains a top 50 rest of season starter. If you have the FAAB and are in an AL-only league, spend it now. If someone owns him and is frustrated, take the opportunity to buy Haren at a discount, especially if that owner buys into the myth of Haren’s second half failures (look at the xFIP splits, but be comforted). Only a possible Adam Dunn infusion could make a worthy alternative.

Recommendation: Must own in all formats.

Matt Wieters | Baltimore | C | 64 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: .245/.315/.355
Oliver ROS: .283/.356/.436

One season removed from a Baseball Prospectus projection that could not have been any more wrong (unless you are Garrett Atkins), Matt Wieters continues to disappoint fantasy owners. Prior to going on to the disabled list on July 9, Wieters was hitting .245/.315/.357 (.672 OPS) with a modest six homers in 269 at-bats. On a positive note, he was posting an improved BB rate (8.9 percent) which was more akin to his 14.7 percent minor league record than his 7.3 percent rookie showing. However, his .110 ISO is disappointing, even by his 2009 ISO standard of .124.

In the minors, Wieters hit a composite .341/.437/.576 (1.013 OPS) across High-A, Double-A and Triple-A ball. Per Minor League Splits, this line is worth an MLE triple slash of .272/.345/.433 (.778 OPS), which is, batting average excepted, significantly better than his current .270/.329/.388 (.670 OPS) career line over 687 PA. Per his career batted ball profile, Wieters has a .318 xBABIP. Through 302 PA this season, his BABIP is much lower at .290. If we adjust Wieters’ current triple slash line to reflect his xBABIP and assume all additional hits would be singles, hiss offensive numbers inflate to .266/.334/.376 (.710 OPS).

Of course, those numbers assume that Wieters’ power outage continues. However, as indicated above, Wieters had an MLE ISO of .160 in the minors. Oliver projects Wieters with a ROS ISO of about .150. And in the two days since returning from the DL, Wieters already has two homers. He may not post the .300/30/100 numbers that BP predicted only a season ago, but his final two months could be productive enough to warrant 100 percent ownership. Though I am a firm believer that catcher is a shallow position in which everyone hits .260 with 15 HR and 60 R/RBI, I also think Wieters is a top five-capable catcher and his current ownership rates indicate that he is available in more than one of three fantasy leagues. Wieters is definitely worth the pick-up and likely worth the effort to trade for.

Recommendation: Must own in all formats.

James Shields | Tampa Bay | SP | 83 percent ownership
YTD: 4.89 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 8.04 K9, 2.10 BB/9
Oliver ROS: 4.17, 1.32 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 2.0 BB/9

Despite a declining trend in swinging strike percentage, James Shields has a career high K/9 with a 8.04 mark (though this runs contrary to logic). Perhaps the increased punch-outs have something to do with his 1 mph increase in velocity.

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

Like Haren, Shields has pinpoint control of a four-pitch mix (2.10 BB/9) and a consistent enough release point with enough unique movement to keep hitters off balance. This, combined with a neutral GB/FB rate (1.16 career, 1.11 in 2010) gives Shields quality sabermetrics reading material (3.86 career xFIP, 3.71 2010 xFIP), though the results, like Javier Vazquez’ before him, have never quite synced up (4.14 career ERA, 4.90 2010 ERA).

Working against Shields, of course, is the fact that he pitches in the AL East. Between the Yankees and Red Sox and a rising Orioles offense in a disproportional divisional schedule, Shields is likely to continue to post an above xFIP ERA. However, the WHIP (1.25 career) should be strong enough and the wins plentiful enough (the Rays are averaging 5.12 runs per game) and the strikeout rate above average enough (7.28 career K/9) for Shields to be worth a buy-low investment to round out a pitching staff.

Though I do not peg Shields as a top 50 rest of season starting pitcher, I do think he has top 50 starter upside. Given the uptick in velocity and continuously consistent walk rate, Shields might approach his 2007 season for the rest of 2010. If that isn’t worth 50 cents on the dollar, I don’t know what is.

Recommendation: Must own in all formats.

Justin Masterson | Cleveland | SP | 5 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 5.19 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 7.17 K/9, 3.89 BB/9
Oliver ROS: 4.22 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 3.8 BB/9

In his last two turns versus the Twins and Rays, Masterson has given up only six ER (seven runs) over 13 innings with 12 strikeouts and a healthy diet of ground balls (71.1 percent) as always. Masterson’s ERA-xFIP splits are by no means new to the regular reader, but it is worth noting that you can’t exactly subtract ERA from xFIP. Still, his 5.19 ERA/3.93 xFIP/4.01 FIP split is too glaring too ignore. Perhaps a comparison of Masterson’s ERA-xFIP standard deviations would be more telling, but I have neither the time nor the means (new laptop, no Excel yet; does anyone want to do it in the comments?).

Though it may be baffling to some as to why Masterson struggles so mightily with the best groundball rate in baseball, improved control and an above average K/9, a look at Masterson’s splits indicates that it may be less bad luck than the 65.1 percent LOB and .345 BABIP against seem to indicate. Simply put, Masterson cannot get lefties out. While Masterson has a 9.11 K/9, a 2.88 BB/9 and a 3.23 xFIP against righties this season (8.69 K/9, 2.95 BB/9, 3.40 xFIP career), he has a 5.40 K/9 with a horrendous 4.82 BB/9 and a merely average 4.56 xFIP against lefties (his career rates are even worse, with a 6.34 K/9, 5.19 BB/9 and 4.75 xFIP against lefties). Unless Masterson can start getting lefties out more consistently, he will continue to underperform as a starting pitcher and may eventually be converted into a ROOGY. Given his age (25) and minimal MLB experience (335.2 IP), I still believe in Masterson’s upside.

For now, Masterson is an elite spot starting option. Against RHB-heavy teams (especially where the nucleus of a team’s lineup is mostly right handed), Masterson is a must deploy starter. I’d just keep him on the bench against teams with lots o’ lefties.

Recommendation: Must own in AL-only formats, worth a RHB-heavy spot start and bench spot in deeper mixed leagues with larger innings limits (1,400+ IP) or deeper benches (six-plus BN spots).

Scott Baker | Minnesota | SP | 76 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 5.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 7,76 K/9, 1.72 BB/9
Oliver ROS: 3.94 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 1.9 BB/9

Scott Baker is a poor man’s Dan Haren. He mixes elite control (career 2.00 BB/9, 172 mark in 2010) with plentiful punchouts (7.01 career K/9, 7.76 mark in 2010, 10.0 percent career SwStr%) to post strong peripherals (3.77 xFIP this season). Where Haren and Baker deviate most is groundball rates: Haren is a neutral GB/FB pitcher, Baker is an extreme or semi-extreme flyball pitcher (career 34.1 percent groundball rate, 0.76 career GB/FB ratio), which prevents him from becoming an elite pitcher (especially with Twins outfielders averaging a -7.0 UZR/150). Though the lack of a quality outfield defense in Minnesota explains some of why Baker’s ERA does not match his peripherals, Baker’s ERA should nonetheless be closer to the high 3’s/low 4’s than its current 5.00 mark.

Between getting ahead of hitters early more often (career best 65.5 percent F-Strike%) and consistently inducing hitters to swing-and-miss (10.0 percent SwStr%, right in line with his 2007-2009 numbers and tied for top 20 among all major league starters with 70-plus innings in 2010), Baker’s numbers should improve in the final two months. Though he had a pair of bad outings versus Toronto and Cleveland (10.2 IP, 11 ER, 5:3 K/BB), he had a nice bounce-back startagainst Baltimore’s anemic offense (7.0 IP, 2 ER, 8:1 K/BB).

Since I wrote about him on June 15 for my Week 11 AL Waiver Wire column, Baker has an atrocious 5.36 ERA. However, over that 43 IP time frame, Baker has a ridiculous 46:5 K/BB ratio. Sure, the groundball rate is still, and will likely always, be an issue for Baker, but his continually improving fastball velocity, quality control, improving strikeout results and spacious home park will continue to make him a tantalizing No. 3 starter for a fantasy team. Some owner, waiting four months for “regression,” may be willing to part ways with Baker on the cheap. If so, exploit the opportunity, especially if you could use some strikeouts and WHIP help.

Recommendation: Must own in all leagues.

Gordon Beckham | Chicago (AL) | 2B, 3B | 55 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: .239/.293/.339
Oliver ROS: .271/.346/.443

Gordon Beckham is no stranger to early-season struggles. Through his first 60 AB last season, Beckham hit .180. Of course, Beckham turned things around, batting over .280 the rest of the way with plenty of HR/SB upside to get labeled a huge sleeper for 2010 by many,including me.

Beckham’s first half numbers were not exactly pretty: He batted .216/.277/.304 (.581 OPS) with three HR and was caught stealing (three) almost as many times as he was successful (four). However, since the All-Star break, Beckham has done nothing but hit, posting a .366/.381/.537 (.918 OPS) triple slash line, which has raised his season OPS by .043 points. These disparate numbers are likely much due to his .255 first half/.314, second half/.300 xBABIP splits. Though it is highly improbable that Beckham will continue to hit above .360 down the stretch, it is more than likely that he approaches my preseason forecasts the rest of the way (prorated): .280 AVG, seven HR, four/five SB, 40 R, 25 RBI. Oliver somewhat agrees, predicting a .271 average with six homers, three steals and 26 R/RBI. Beckham is available in almost half of Yahoo leagues, which is entirely too high given the impact of injury and ineffectiveness on two already thin positions, second and third base. Beckham should be owned or acquired in all leagues; if lady luck leaves him alone (or swings his way), he’s not likely to disappoint (again).

Recommendation: Must be owned in all formats. Beckham is a top 10 option at both 2B and 3B.

Jorge Cantu | Texas | 1B, 3B | 75 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: .259/.308/.408
Oliver ROS: .272/.326/.434

In Roto, it doesn’t matter how you get your numbers, only that you get them. However, in the case of trading within a Roto league (or head-to-head leagues generally), a player’s true talent line is extremely important. Thus, it is important to look not at what a player has done, but what a player will likely henceforth do. On the surface, Jorge Cantu looks like a quality third base option with first base eligibility. In 2008 and 2009 combined, Cantu hit .283 with 195 RBI, 45 HR, 159 R and nine SB over 1,213 AB (though two-thirds of those homers came in 2008). This season, Cantu’s BA is down (.259) and his strikeouts are way up (20.3 percent, compared to 17.7 percent in 2008 and 13.8 percent in 2009), but his power is back (10 homers in 370 AB) and the RBIs are still healthy from the middle of the order (54).

Masked beyond Cantu’s big year in 2008, though, is “Jorge Can’t Do,” the man whose inabilities inspired the Rays to give up on him (a la Johnny Gomes) several years ago. After hitting .286 with 28 HR and 117 RBI in 2005, Cantu floundered in 2006 and 2007 (split between Triple-A and the majors for the Rays and Reds), posting wOBAs of .299 (90 wRC+) and .304 (83 wRC+). Much of his struggles and prolonged slumps likely had much to do with his allergy to walks: In 2004, he walked 4.9 percent of the time, in 2005, at a 3.0 percent clip, and in 2006, 5.8 percent of the time. Cantu may have had much success in 2008, but he still walked just 5.8 percent of the time. Historically, a lack of walks indicates a lack of strike zone command, which often leads to inconsistent results and can really mess with a guy’s head. A hitter who walks is still getting on base; the non-walker flounders completely.

Masked with Cantu’s quality-enough 2009 final season numbers (.289, 16 HR, 100 RBI, 67 R, three SB) was extreme inconsistency. Cantu started the season hot (April: .365, seven HR, 22 RBI, 15 R, one SB) and ended the season strong (September: .339, three HR, 29 RBI, 13 R, one SB), but was nothing to wet your pants about in between (May-August, combined: .261, six HR, 49 RBI, 39 R, one SB). Essentially, Cantu accrued 60 percent of his numbers in 33 percent of the season. Perhaps this kind of “ride” is normal for hitters, but Cantu’s hot/cold ways make him less reliable via trade than his final season numbers indicate over the past couple of seasons.

Cantu has shown similar streakiness in 2010. After hitting .311 with five HR, 23 RBI and 15 R in April, Cantu’s hit .252 or lower in each of the past three months with a combined five homers,, 31 RBI and 24 runs. Also, Cantu has no place in the heart of the order in Texas. Even with Ian Kinsler out (15-day precautionary DL), the best Cantu will likely bat is sixth. That limits the R/RBI upside almost immediately (well, that and his career .321 OBP).

Cantu may be a decent all-season Roto hitter, but he’s incredibly inconsistent and unreliable. When making a trade, you want to acquire future value and in Cantu, that is a question of whether he’s “got any lightning left” (as a sabermetrically inclined person, I realize I shouldn’t have made that statement). By all means, Cantu might be valuable in August and September, but it would be wise to think long and hard as to whether Cantu can help you down the stretch. Is it worth gambling on the possibilities? Streaky hitters are worth a full season gamble in Roto, but when the remaining playing time dwindles, the risk-reward curve bends towards the red.

Recommendation: Cantu should be owned in most AL-only leagues and leagues with CI-requirements and 12-plus teams. I would not count on him as a top 10 third baseman or first baseman down the stretch.

C.J. Wilson | Texas | SP | 67 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 3.03 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 6.70 K/9, 4.23 BB/9, 49.4 GB%
Oliver ROS: 3.54 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 4.0 BB/9

I am substantially more bearish on C.J. Wilson for the rest of the season than Oliver. For starters, Wilson’s swinging strike rate has fallen this year. It’s currently 6.7 percent, the lowest mark Wilson has posted since his 2005 debut. Correspondingly, Wilson’s 6.70 K/9 rate is the lowest of his career since 2005. Wilson’s career SwStr% is 8.4 percent and the only time it’s dipped below that as been when he has pitched as a starter (in 2005 and 2010). Furthermore, Wilson is getting ahead of batters with the first pitch at a career low rate of 53.1 perrcent, which is well below the 58.9 percent major league average for pitchers. This failure to get ahead of hitters early has resulted in plentiful free passes (4.23 BB/9 in 2010, career 4.14 mark).

Though Wilson has a quality groundball rate around 50 percent, his inability to whiff hitters and talent for putting runners on base has resulted in a career worst 4.58 xFIP, which is well above his current 3.11 ERA.

Even Wilson’s 1.20 WHIP is misleading. Per my xWHIP Calculator (which has been updated since its debut, so get a fresh v.1.1 copy if you haven’t already), Wilson’s current batted ball profile pegs him as a 1.34 WHIP pitcher in a defensive neutral alignment (see right, click to enlarge). However, once the Rangers’ stellar defense is considered, Wilson’s WHIP gets a thorough cleaning (1.29).

In my estimation, much of Wilson’s success to date has been the result of smoke and mirrors and one of baseball’s best defensive alignments. Though the defense is likely to keep scooping up balls in play at a great rate, the smoke and mirrors game is no sure thing. No defense can cover all blemishes, especially when super gloveman Ian Kinsler is on the DL and the weather gets real hot in Arlington. Wilson’s groundball rate is declining by month (54.8 percent in April, 51.3 in May, 48.3 in June, and 43.2 this month), which is a disturbing trend to carry into August in the ballpark in Arlington, which inflates home runs as a function of flyballs by 10 percent.

The rule of thumb for reliever to starter conversions is add a full run to the reliever ERA. As a reliever (259 IP), Wilson has a career 3.65 ERA. Add a run to that and you get a 4.65 mark, which is much closer to his current xFIP (4.58) than his ERA (3.11). And that’s before you consider the decline in peripherals across the board. Hence, despite a 2.03 ERA in July, Wilson is a sell high candidate no matter how you slice it. Pretend Wilson is Walgreens stock 10 years ago: and get out now, while it’s still a hot commodity.

Recommendation: I do not believe Wilson is particularly ownable for the rest of the season in AL-only or mixed leagues. Perhaps in AL-only leagues with high innings limits. Well, to be honest, he’s ownable, but should not be owned by you.

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Jeffrey Gross is an attorney who periodically moonlights as a (fantasy) baseball analyst. He also responsibly enjoys tasty adult beverages. You can read about those adventures at his blog and/or follow him on Twitter @saBEERmetrics.

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