Waiver Wire: AL, Week 19

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Just a few days and one Lollapalooza weekend’s worth of shows after I declared that Jeremy Hellickson would not be in the Rays rotation, Wade Davis (who I was going to write about for this week) gets a shoulder injury. As a result, Hellickson slides right into the rotation’s No. 5 role and I look like a moron. The fickle life and health of a major league starting pitcher, right?

All stats current through at least Aug. 10.

Jose Bautista Watch (Aug. 2-8): .250 AVG, 2 HR, 6 R, 5 RBI, 0 SB. A very solid week for Bautista, whose ownership rate is up 5 percentage points to 91 percent in Yahoo leagues.

Jeremy Hellickson | Tampa Bay | SP | 12 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 1.29 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 8.36 K/9, 1.29 BB/9
Oliver ROS: 3.93 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, 2.6 BB/9

If it weren’t for Stephen Strasburg, Hellickson might have been the most exciting/hyped pitching prospect of the 2010 season. Ranked the 20th best prospect in the majors by Baseball America heading into the season, Hellickson did nothing but live up to (and exceed) his hype this year. Over 117.2 Triple-A innings for the Durham Bulls, Hellickson posted a robust 123:35 K/BB ratio (3.51), surrendering only five home runs. Those numbers are good enough for a 3.13 park/luck neutral Triple-A FIP and a pole vault into top five prospect status in Baseball America’s midseason prospect rankings.

Per Minor League Splits, Hellickson’s 2010 Triple-A performance is worth a 3.47 MLE FIP, which, though already strong, should play well in front of a neutral HR/FB park (0.999999 factor over the past four seasons, per THT’s top secret park factor data) and the major leagues’ second best defensive posture (+32.9 cumulative team UZR). If one can find a chink in Hellickson’s armor, it is his neutral groundball/flyball tendencies (41.7 percent MLE GB rate). However, given Hellickson’s high strikeout potential (career 9.8 MiLB K/9) and solid control (career 2.1 MiLB), a lack of superior worm burning ability should be no impediment to prospective success.

Hellickson made his major league debut last week against the Twins, the team with the third best wOBA mark in baseball (.343 team mark). Hellickson managed to hold his own just fine, posting seven strong innings of two earned run baseball with six strikeouts to two walks. With an impending DL stint for Davis, Hellickson came up Tuesday and pitched seven innings of two-hit, no-run baseball against Detroit, striking out seven and walking no one.

Hellickson is likely to pitch next against the Rangers, the A’s, the Red Sox, Toronto and the Red Sox again (if Davis andJeff Niemann stay injured through September). Not exactly the easiest of match-ups for an inexperienced pitcher. The Rays do play the Orioles twice in that span, but the “every fifth game” approach to figuring out prospective match-ups indicates that Hellickson will not likely see action against the Orioles until the last week of the season (and only if he lasts in the rotation that long).

Regardless of his upcoming schedule, Hellickson’s minor league numbers, pedigree, and MLE numbers (per MLS) indicate that he is a pitcher worth starting. Oliver seems to agree, pegging Hellickson as capable of a sub-4.00 ERA, a strong WHIP and above average strikeout numbers. My own (and less than scientific) zFIP calculations (an xFIP calculation which incorporates park factors) based on MLS’s MLE data has Hellickson pegged for a 3.62 ERA. He may not strike out as many hitters as Strasburg, but his potential is just as tantalizing for AL-only owners in need of pitching help down the stretch. Mixed leaguers should also pick up Hellickson where available. I know I’ve said this before, but Hellickson likely is the last great infusion of waiver wire talent (not just AL talent) . . . especially where pitching is concerned.

Where Hellickson is not available on the waiver wire for cheap pickup, I offer a word of caution. I am not sure what kind of innings limit Rays manager Joe Maddon has in mind for Hellickson. An abbreviated innings limits could severely limit Hellickson’s value, so trading for him has its risks. The +30 rule (see the Verducci Effect) for pitchers under 25 indicates a health-conscious team with pitching depth might cap Hellickson at five or six more starts this season (especially if that team plans to use him out of the bullpen during a postseason run. Hence, I would trade for him with caution.

Recommendation: Hellickson must be owned in all eligible formats.

Brandon Morrow | Toronto | RP, SP | 37 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 4.45 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 10.67 K/9, 4.03 BB/9
Oliver ROS: 4.32 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 4.6 BB/9

One month and one 17-K almost no-no bid since I last covered him and Morrow has barely seen an uptick in his Yahoo ownership numbers (up from 27 percent). This despite the fact that Morrow (a) now has won four straight starts, (b) leads all major league starters in K/9, and (c) has a 2.96 ERA, a 40:10 K/BB ratio and a 1.02 WHIP in the second half (27.1 innings). Perhaps many leagues have tight IP limits (I often see 1,200-1,300 in public leagues). Perhaps the majority of the fantasy world reads my weekly AL advice column (in Week 15, I cautiously pointed out that Morrow’s improved control has come on the heels of a decreased F-Strike percentage). Whatever the reason, Morrow’s “should be owned” status (at least for the purpose of strikeouts and spot starts) is getting overripe.

Over his last 27.1 innings, Morrow has done a much better job at getting ahead of hitters. His 57.8 percent F-Strike rate in the second half is still a smidge below the major league average (58.9 percent, though Morrow pitches in the DH-using AL), but it is much improved compared to both his career (54.4 percent) and the 30 days preceding the All-Star break (51.9 percent). Given the relationship between a pitcher’s F-Strike percentage and BB/9, Morrow’s improved contro, makes much more sense (and inspires more confidence).

In 2010, Morrow has posted the following consistent/elite K/9 numbers by month: 10.61 (April), 10.24 (May), 9.27 (June), 9.78 (July), 16.33 (August). He also has posted xFIPs of 3.85, 4.36, 3.46, 4.20 and 1.74 respectively. Though Morrow’s WHIP may never be close to elite (1.37 in 2010, 1.43 career), his elite strikeout talent and above average ERA upside are far too alluring to ignore. When I started writing for THT a few months ago, Morrow (along with Justin Masterson) was a moderate risk/high reward sleeper in my book. He’s done nothing since to diminish his potential and in fact, gotten better. How he is not owned in at least 60 percent of leagues at this point is baffling.

MLB’s Diversity Fellowship Is a Step in the Right Direction
It is not a perfect program, but it certainly counts as progress.

The market works in mysterious ways. It does not always perform efficiently. Economists label large deviations as market failures. George Soros make billions on the European currency market in the ’90s exploiting one such market failure. While I cannot promise that kind of profit or return on your investment, I would nonetheless label Morrow’s ownership rate as a market failure. Morrow could pay huge dividends for the mere cost of your worst rostered player. He’s the Jonathan Sanchez, circa last year, of this year. Don’t let a poor, deflating start to the season deter you. Morrow is worth owning and you should own him.

Recommendation: Morrow is a must-own AL-only player and should be owned in most mixed leagues, especially those with larger innings pitched limits (>1,400).

Brian Matusz | Baltimore | SP | 11 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 5.08 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 7.02 K/9, 3.51 BB/9
Oliver ROS: 4.52 ERA, 1.41 WHIP 7.7 K/9, 3.4 BB/9

Four-plus months into the season and fantasy owners seem to have forgotten the name of Brian Matusz. I can’t say I much blame them. A former top 10 prospect just one year ago (ranked one slot behind teammate Chris Tillman), Matusz has been a disappointment for fantasy owners in 2010. In 125.2 big league innings this season, Matusz has a 5.08 ERA, a 1.46 WHIP (thanks largely to 135 hits surrendered) and a 98:49 K/BB ratio (2.00). With below average control (3.51 BB/9, 3.32 MLB average) and the 12th lowest groundball rate (35.9 percent) among all pitchers with 100-plus innings this season, it is no surprise to see Matusz struggling (4.76 xFIP).

Scott Pianowski of Yahoo Sports likes Matusz as a possible post-hype sleeper down the stretch (and in 2011) worth watching based on a few useful turns of late. However, a quick glance at Matusz’s pitching splits by month reveals that he has hardly done any improving worth noting.

Matusz has posted a strikeout rate of 6.00 or lower in three of the five months of the season (May, June, and so far in August). His best strikeout month (July, 9.45 K/9) came paired with an equally pungent walk rate (7.20). Though Matusz has shown solid control in April, June and August, his BB/9 by month has been wildly inconsistent (2.93 in April, 3.75 in May, 2.54 in June, 7.20 in July, 1.50 in August). One thing about Matusz has been relatively consistent, however: His GB/FB ratio has remained below 1.00 in every month except May. Correspondingly, Matusz has posted a below average xFIP in every month of the season (including August, the only month on the season where his xFIP has been below 4.45).

Though Matusz posted solid numbers in Single-A and Double-A for the Orioles in 2009 (a combined 3.02 MiLB FIP with a 120:32 K/BB over 113.2 IP), Matusz clearly needs more fine tuning (and perhaps some time in Triple-A) before becoming a mainstay in the AL East (at least if he is to succeed long term). Per Minor League Splits, Matusz’s brief minor league resume is only worth a 4.43 MLE FIP. Plus, Baltimore’s offense is pitiful—only the Mets, Padres, Pirates, Astros and Mariners have lower team wOBAs. Thus, there will be little run support and a low probability of wins to go with his poor prospective WHIP/ERA and league average strikeout rate. Hence, at least for now, Matusz really isn’t a guy worth keeping . . . or monitoring, for that matter.

Recommendation: Matusz is not ownable in either AL-only or mixed league formats.

Daisuke Matsuzaka | SP | 46 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 4.09 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 7.58 K/9, 4.27 BB/9
Oliver ROS: 4.31 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 7.7 K/0, 4.2 BB/9

On the surface, Dice-K is having a nice comeback season. After battling injuries and ineffectiveness (5.76 ERA/4.83 xWHIP) in 2009, Dice-K returned from the DL to the Red Sox on May 1 and has pitched 103.1 innings of 4.09 ERA, eight-win baseball with a decent strikeouts total (87). However, a deeper look at the numbers reveals a less than resurgent season for the veteran pitcher from Japan.

Though, Dice-K’s control this season (4.27 BB/9) has rebounded some from his inexcusably wild ways in 2008 (4.55) and 2009 (5.05), his walk rate is still almost a full walk per nine over the league average (3.32) and significantly worse than he had over 204.2 innings in his over-hyped 2007 campaign (3.52). Furthermore, his K/PA is on a gradual decline—from 23 percent in 2007 to 21.5 percent in 2008 to 19.6 percent in 2010. The decline in strikeout ability, however, is made most apparent in Dice-K’s swinging strike rates (SwStr%) by season: 10.6 percent6, 9.8 percent, 8.3 percent, 7.5 percent (2007-2010, chronologically). To add insult to injury, Dice-K’s groundball rate on the season is a career low 32.1 percent (his career rate of 36.7 percent is not much better).

The result of Matsuzaka’s perpetually disappointing outings has been a putrid 4.80 xFIP this season. With Dice-K reaching the 500 batters faced plateau, his season sample of statistics is becoming significant. It is time for his owners (almost half of Yahoo leagues have own) to start worrying.

Or is it?

A look at Dice-K’s seasonal splits by month indicates that if you omit his awful May (5.77 ERA, 25:21 K/BB ratio) from the sample, he has been a much better pitcher than his seasonal peripherals would have you believe—numbers that justify the 4.09 ERA on the season. Since June 2, Dice-K has pitched 69 frames with a 62:28 K/BB ratio (a 2.21 mark, Dice-K’s best showing since 2007), allowing only 26 total runs (25 ER, 3.26 ERA) to cross home plate. Though Dice-K’s groundball rate since May is less than inspiring (34.7 percent), his K/PA is 21 percent and his walk rate is 3.65). If you factor in Fenway’s four-year park factor for home runs (0.87891959, per THT’s top secret park factor data) in the traditional xFIP equation (a measure I oft term zFIP), Dice-K’s post-May numbers are worth a 4.47 expected ERA mark.

Though that number is below average, the context of Dice-K’s plus-strikeout rate, average WHIP “upside,” Boston’s elite (when healthy) defense, and the Red Sox’s still good-enough offense makes Dice-K an intriguing enough option to either spot start or stream against teams not named the Yankees, Rangers, Rays or Twins.

Don’t let Dice-K’s poor season peripherals fool you. He’s a fine back-end fantasy starter—especially in AL-only formats—and should either be available on the waiver wire of your league (or on the cheap in a trade).

Recommendation: Dice-K is a borderline must own starter in AL-only leagues and is bench worthy for spot starts in mixed leagues.

Carlos Delgado | Boston | 1B | 1 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: DNP in the first half, rehabbing a hip injury
CHONE ROS: .258/.326/.454 (no Oliver ROS available)

To hit for power, a major league hitter needs contact and torque. Torque is largely derived from turn and extension. Extension is largely upper body (shoulders and wrists), while turn comes from the hips/obliques and lower body. Injuries to a hitter’s hips/obliques, shoulder, wrists and quads (in that order) tend to destroy power the most. Hence, you might note my skepticism about the prospective fantasy value of a power hitting first basemen who is almost 40 years old, has not played baseball in over a year and is rehabbing a severe hip injury that sidelined him in 2009 and the first half of 2010.

Just look at what a shoulder injury did to Geovany Soto‘s age 26 season. Delgado, of course, might prove me wrong. In his prime, Delgado was one of the most underrated hitters in baseball (see this chart). However, 2008 may have been Delgado’s last gasp. Notice the several-year decline prior (2004-07). Matt Klaassen of Fangraphs thinks the Red Sox would be best suited to use Delgado as the right-handed pitching mashing half of a platoon with Mike Lowell. If that happened, Delgado’s prospective fantasy value would be diminished even further.

Recommendation: Delgado is unownable in mixed league formats, but AL-only owners should keep an eye on his minor league league numbers in Pawtucket and monitor his prospective lineup positioning.

Juan Pierre | Chicago (AL) | OF | 58 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: .266/.339/.304
Oliver ROS: .273/.324/.323

Though some were big on Juan Pierre heading into the season, I saw him as nothing more than a Scott Podsednik clone with less speed. Of course, if Pierre (.266/.339/.304) were hitting like Scott Pods (.304/.349/.390) this season, perhaps Chicago fans would be less disappointed with yet another disappointing performing from a trade-acquired outfielder.

Despite the low average, however, Pierre has posted a surprisingly average OBP this season (.339) thanks to the second highest walk rate (6.7 percent, still below the MLB average) of his career. As a result, Pierre has had plenty of opportunities to steal bases (58 attempts) and has been relatively successful (75.9 percent). Ozzie Guillen has also been unflinchingly patient with Pierre and a result, his leadoff positioning has produced a fruitful 64 runs in front of Alex Rios and Paul Konerko.

A look at Pierre’s monthly splits reveals that he has been relatively consistent with the stolen base output: nine in April, 10 in May/June/July, five so far in August. If he keeps up his current pace, Pierre could provide 15-plus down the stretch. Only 36 of the 278 hitters who have accrued more than 200 plate appearances in 2010 have 15 or more stolen bases.

On the season, Pierre has a career low .286 BABIP to go with his career worst .266 average. THT’s xBABIP calculator, however, pegs Pierre’s speed and batted ball profile as worth a much higher .342 xBABIP. If we adjust his 2010 triple slash line to reflect his xBABIP line, pessimistically assuming that all additional hits (+23) gained would be singles, we find that Pierre’s line improves to .309/.393/.352. That huge OBP boost would do wonders for Pierre’s stolen base potential (though I have a theory that struggling speedsters tend to steal more often to compensate).

Pierre’s second half largely reflected his true (xBABIP-based) talent on the season. Over 124 PA, he is hitting .296/.377/.352 with a 12:15 SB/SBA ratio (80 percent). How he is not owned in even 60 percent of fantasy leagues is baffling, especially considering that his 44 steals lead the major leagues and those 64 runs scored. Pierre is an elite stolen base machine and if you need to make up some stolen base ground, you should add him immediately (or buy him on the cheap from an owner who likely undervalues him).

Recommendation: Pierre is a must own asset in all qualifying fantasy formats (though his real life value is somewhat marginal).

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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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Frank Kim
Frank Kim

Hi Jeffery,
I have been holding onto Alex Gordon because of your recommendations and been pretty happy. grin  Another owner really wants him and has been offering me all sorts of players.  Now he has offered Matt Kemp and Neil Walker for Alex Gordon and BJ Upton.  I have Utley coming back so I don’t really need Neil but he’s a nice backup.  So basically it’s Kemp for Gordon and Upton.  I’m pretty tempted even though Kemp has been pretty bad and in the dog house.
What do you think?

Jeffrey Gross
Jeffrey Gross


3 words: take that offer

Frank Kim
Frank Kim

I did.  Thanks!  If it wasn’t for you I might have traded Gordon for Jones.  Fortunately I listened to you and watched as kept upping his offer. grin