Waiver Wire: AL, Week 22

Thank you to everyone for the well wishes this and last week. A special thank you to both Derek Carty, for completing my incomplete Week 21 article, and Taylor Twarowski, for accompanying me to the hospital and making sure I survived to write about baseball another day.

September in fantasy is like finals week in law school. Everyone is cramming down the stretch, seeking that elusive advantage in a tight race to the top. If you can’t hack it in the final weeks, six months of work goes down the drain. My rest of season mission is to give you that edge. I will try to focus more on functional suggestions rather than player ability. With about 30 games remaining, I will put less emphasis on long term regression and highlight trends and riding the lightning.

All stats through at least Aug. 29.

Manny Ramirez | Chicago (AL) | OF | 80 percent Yahoo ownership
TYD: .311/.405/.510
Oliver ROS: .290/.392/.503

Attention AL-only fantasy owners who have been (foolishly) sitting on their FAAB money all season: Manny Ramirez is coming to Chicago and will be, without question, the final FAAB-buster of the season. All passengers must depart the train. If you have the cash and miss out here, you might as well concede your chances at the fantasy baseball title (if you have not already). He did not play Monday or Tuesday, so he should should not clear waivers in Yahoo leagues using default waiver settings until Saturday morning.

The move from Mannywood to the Windy City should benefit Ramirez’s rest of season production. Oliver pegs him as capable of a .290/.392/.503 line down the stretch, while ZiPS sees a more optimistic .303./405/.545 line of production. I am not sure if either system is considering the change of venue in those projections, but whereas Manny was capable of a .311/.405/.510 (149 wRC+, a “down year” by his lofty standards) in a park with 1.25 percent HR/FB inflation index, he should be capable of bigger and better things over at The Cell, where flyball pitchers go to die (21.29 percent HR/FB inflation index). Dodger Stadium has a three-year park factor of 95 for batters, meaning that L.A. is suppressing offensive production for hitters by about 5 percent (B-R uses a half-step index to account for the fact that over the course of a full season, only about half a hitter’s games are at his home park). On the other hand, U.S. Cellular Field has a a three-year park factor of 104 for batters.

Given his ISO of .200 on the season (.276 career), +.310 AVG (.313 career), and +.400 OBP (.411 career), it goes without saying that you will want Manny’s production for your fantasy team if you have the requisite waivers priority or residual FAAB budget. Few outfielders can rival his stats, even in a down year at age 38.

Recommendation: Place an immediate waiver claim or 100 percent FAAB bid on Ramirez in AL-only formats.

Ryan Raburn | Detroit | 1B,2B,OF | 41 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: .249/.314.438
Oliver ROS: .326/.326/.453

What do you get when you infuse a part-time player with Matt Kemp power into the core of a lineup featuring Miguel Cabrera? That is what the Tigers have been trying to answer with the Ryan Raburn experiment, necessitated by the end of Carlos Guillen‘s 2010 season, and so far the results have been quite positive. In fact, Raburn is making a strong push for a 2010 AL Wiggy Award based on his second half performance.

Since getting a full time job on July 25, Raburn has hit .299/.386/.559 with eight homers, 21 runs and 26 RBI over 34 games. Those numbers make him the 13th most valuable player in fantasy over the past 30 days and he’s shown no sign of slowing down. Over the past 14 days, Raburn’s hit .333/.378/.643. Some might be concerned about the .349 BABIP in the second half, but Raburn has a career BABIP of .318 (963 PA) and an xBABIP of around .300 on the season.

Even if you slash about 50 points off the batting average, Raburn’s numbers are still useful given his solid runs/RBI output (which should be sustainable batting around Cabrera). Raburn has been batting in front of Cabrera lately, so perhaps he will keep seeing pitches he can launch—or at least keep scoring runs—though lineup protection has more or less been proven to be a myth by now.

Raburn’s hot bat should be seriously considered for position flexibility, middle infield help (Dustin Pedroia owners, I’m looking at you), power needs, R/RBI boost. It would be silly to rely on Raburn (career .264 hitter) to contribute in the batting average department, but he is a rare available late- season three-category producer with super position eligibility.

Recommendation: Raburn is a must-own commodity in AL-only formats and a solid bench player in mixed leagues with 12-plus teams or MI requirements.

Hideki Matsui | Los Angeles (AL) | OF | 38 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: .260/.346/.436
Oliver ROS: .259/.345/.420

Matsui started the season red hot, batting .291 with four homer, seven runs and 12 RBI over his first 20 games. The-hitter-formerly-known-as-Godzilla cooled off quickly, however, batting .177 over his next 28 games. By the end of May, Angels fans were lamenting the loss of Vladimir Guerrero and Matsui’s early hot streak (and fantasy potential) was quickly ignored and forgotten by fantasy owners. However, since the calendar flipped to June, Matsui has hit .283/.380/.470 with 10 HR, 31 runs and 44 RBI over 236 AB. Over this same time frame, Vlad has hit .276 with 13 HR, 45 runs and 55 RBI over 294 AB. If you pro-rate the numbers, the production quality is about even. Yet, Matsui is owned in less than half as many leagues as Vlad. That does not compute.

A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

Though Matsui’s power is down from his career average (well, not so much since June) and from last year, his overall season line of .260/.346/.436 has been nonetheless productive. Batting in the center of any lineup, even a Kendry Morales-less Angels, provides a hitter with plenty of R/RBI opportunities and Matsui has capitalized on them (+0.45 clutch rating).

Don’t let the full season numbers or ownership rates fool you, Matsui’s been a very productive fantasy player. Over his past 30 games, Matsui has produced a .310 average, four homers, 15 runs and 18 RBI. Matsui will contribute plenty in runs/RBI with solid HR totals and a good enough average (career .288 mark) to do more good than bad, despite lingering health concerns and a lack of stolen base ability. If Matsui’s available in your league and you have bench space, snatch him up.

Recommendation: Matsui is a must-own commodity in AL-only formats and leagues that employ more than three outfielders. Matsui is also a solid outfield/utility option in 12-plus team mixed leagues.

Jayson Nix | Cleveland | 2B, SS, 3B | 4 Percent Yahoo Ownership
YTD: .243/.300/.439
ZiPS ROS: .250/.318/.400

If you google “David MVP Eckstein” and “Jayson Nix” you will find plenty of places throughout the Internet where I’ve defended the honor of Jayson Nix. On White Sox radio, I have an infamous (and ongoing) rivalry with Chris Rongey over Nix and the important of statistics. On THT, I have written about/praised Nix in two AL Waiver Wire columns. Yet people continue to ignore just how good he is.

Since being shipped to Cleveland and given a full time job, Nix has hit .263/.309/.489. While his on-base percentage is not very pretty (4.9 percent walk rate in Cleveland, 8.4 percent for his career), his power (.226 ISO) has been something to write home about— especially if you consider “home” Chicago, where Pale Hose third basemen have combined for a .102 ISO. Nix’s .346 wOBA in Cleveland has been quite productive for the bottom feeding Indians, and equally productive for fantasy owners. In 206 PA for the mostly Carlos Santana-less Indians, Nix has produced 11 homers with 21 runs and 23 RBI. He’s even swiped a few bags.

In a standard 650 PA season, his numbers for Cleveland pro-rate into a .263/.309/.489 triple-slash line with 35 HR, 67 runs and 73 RBI. Not too shabby for someone with 2B/SS/3B eligibility. Deep keeper leagues and early preparers for future drafts should also take note of Nix’s numbers considering that 1) his flexible eligibility should extend into the 2011 season and 2) Santana’s presence in the Indians’ lineup should only bolster Nix’s numbers in 2011 (assuming, of course, that he continues to get premium lineup placement).

There’s nothing particularly sexy about Nix—his batting average is about average, as have been his R/RBI totals on the season. However, the premium power and three premium position eligibility makes Nix a palatable option, especially considering that he contributes a little bit everywhere else without hurting your team’s bottom line in any of the five standard Roto categories.

Recommendation: Nix is a top 10 option at shortstop, which is a premium in AL-only leagues where shortstop production has been thin. Nix should be owned in all but the shallowest of mixed leagues (10 or fewer teams, no MI/CI requirements).

Scott Sizemore | Detroit | 2B | 3 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: .205/.282/.282
Oliver ROS: .251/.318/.383

Despite a less than inspiring turn in the majors earlier this season (135 PA, .205/.282/.282), Sizemore found his stride in the pitcher-friendly International League (320 PA, .297/.379/.462). Major League Splits pegs this performance as worth a .263/.331/.396 (.727 OPS) major league equivalent line, but he’s flashed enough middle infield pop (.165 ISO) and speed (16-for-19 in stolen bases over 650 PA) in Triple-A that I’d peg him for the over on MLS’ projections.

With rosters expanding this week and the Tigers out of contention for 2010, Detroit will likely give Sizemore a second chance (and a decent leash) to find his major league legs. As someone capable of a 15/15 line up the middle with quality average upside to boot (22.3 percnet LD rate in Triple-A this season), Sizemore presents an intriguing option for AL-only owners in (desperate) need of middle infield/second base production.

Where the getting is thin and guys like Raburn are unavailable, Sizemore may present the most upside of likely available options. Of course, I highly recommend exploring Nix (also 2B eligible) first, but where his services are unavailable, consider giving Sizemore a shot (so long as the Tigers play him).

Recommendation: Sizemore is an ownable 2B/MI option for AL-only and deeper mixed leagues (14-plus teams, MI-requirements) if given a steady diet of at bats. Sizemore’s playing time and lineup positioning should be monitored closely.

Koji Uehara | Baltimore | RP, SP | 27 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 1.80 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 9.60 K/9, 1.50 BB/9
Oliver ROS: 3.89 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, 1.7 BB/9

Closer carousel in Baltimore continues. I’ve lamented plenty in the past about how you do not want a part of the Baltimore and Arizona bullpen situations if you have the luxury to avoid the fiascos. However, with seemingly stable Alfredo Simon out of a job due to second-half turbulence (5.87 ERA, 17:9 K/BB over 23 innings), the Orioles seem to have turned to Koji Uehara ((1.80 ERA/1.47 FIP/3.38 xFIP, 1.07 WHIP) and his 87.9 mph fastball) over the rekindled fastball of Mike Gonzalez (1.97 ERA, 13:5 K/BB over 13.2 IP since returning from the DL, 92.3 mph fastball for the rest of the season.

Uehara, who has a games-finished clause in his contract, is no stranger to the relief role and had been a solid starter in 2009 (4.00 K/BB, 3.56 FIP, 1.25 WHIP) before durability concerns pushed him to the pen in 2010. Though I think Gonzalez, if healthy, has the better stuff for closing, Uehara is nonetheless a solid relief option with plenty of potential to nail the job down.

So far this season, Uehara has produced 32 strikeouts to only five walks over 30 innings of work. He’s five-for-five in save opportunities and shut down the Boston offense earlier this week. In terms of late-season closers, Uehara is a rare confidence-inspiring option. In contrast to Arizona, where the Juan Gutierrez/Aaron Heilman project always has its roller-coaster highs and lows, I think Uehara will end up providing owners with solid production without the need for Alka Seltzer tablets.

Whereas wild guys like Brandon Lyon and Juan Gutierrez present the risk of the part-inning explosion with their saves package, Uehara’s plus-control (career 1.58 BB/9, 4.71 K/BB) should mitigate any damage. I view Uehara as a stable enough pitcher that owners in need of saves (or in need of preventing others from getting saves) should acquire his services where available. I’d prefer to own him over anyone in the Pirates, Angels, Brewers (sorry John Axford, but the Brew Crew wants to get TrevorHoffman No. 600 this season), Astros, injured White Sox or Diamondback bullpens. Adjust your rosters accordingly.

Recommendation: Uehara is a must-own commodity in all formats.

Fernando Rodney | Los Angeles (AL) | RP | 36 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: 3.79 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 6.59 K/9, 4.61 BB/9
Oliver ROS: 4.56 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 4.7 BB/9

You take your saves where you can find them and in Anaheim, that source is currently Fernando Rodney in the wake of Brian Fuentes being traded to Minnesota, “where closers go to die” (Jon Rauch lost his closing gig earlier in the season and his replacement, Matt Capps, will likely lose his job in 2011). Most depressing to me is that at my league’s trade deadline, I had a choice of Fuentes or David Aardsma and I chose the former.

Rodney is by no means a reliable or sexy option for saves. His transition to the West Coast from Detroit has come with a decline in strikeouts (6.59 K/9 this season, 8.28 career mark) without a corollary decline in walk propensity (4.61 BB/9 this season, 4.63 career mark). The results have been a 4.62 xFIP (4.42 mark in 2009) and a should-be-worse ERA masked by good luck (74.9 percent LOB rate, .283 BABIP) for the second straight season.

Rodney’s lack of control (1.43 K/BB) and volatility may lead to Kevin Jepsen (3.02 FIP/3.40 xFIP, 2.32 K/BB, 56.3 percent GB rate) getting the ninth inning duties sooner rather than later, but for now manager Mike Scioscia has made it clear that Rodney is his man. I’d personally deploy Rodney based on match-ups (not using him against the Yankees, Red Sox or Twins), but those in need of making up saves this late in the season will probably need to stomach the combustible risk that is Fernando Rodney as a daily player.

Recommendation: Rodney should be owned in all formats, but monitored closely. If you have the luxury, play the series match-ups.

Danny Valencia | Minnesota | 3B | 5 percent Yahoo ownership
YTD: .332/.375/.447
ZiPS ROS: .314/.359/.360

The Twins are the A’s St. Louis equivalent: They have no legitimate third basemen who can hit (or field) particularly well. For the present, Minnesota has turned to Danny Valencia to fill that vacancy. I would not recommend you do likewise if you are need of a hot corner stopgap in even the shallowest of AL only leagues (especially given that Nix is available in more leagues).

To sum of my portrait of Valencia: no speed, minimum power, bating seventh, minimum power. Though the Twins lineup (third best in the majors in team wOBA) is quite productive all around, batting in the bottom third of the order does not inspire much confidence in Valencia’s runs/RBI potential. That, paired with a speed score that has only once (Double-A, 2008) eclipsed the 5.0 mark and a minor league ISO of .170, inspires little confidence in Valencia’s Roto value. Per Minor League Splits, Valencia’s .292/.347/.373 line (0 HR) in the International League is worth only a .255/.302/.324 MLE. MLS’s career MLE for Valencia is even more depressing (.243/.284/.362). All considered, there is little like about Valencia, whose .332 average on the season is the prototypical definition of an “empty batting average.”

Recommendation: Unless Valencia gets slotted somewhere in the No. 2-5 hole for the Twins (which is highly unlikely), I cannot recommend Valencia as an option even for AL-only leagues.

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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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Josh Shepardson
Josh Shepardson

Just a little boost to Koji’s value in leagues that distinguish between starters and relievers, but he is starting pitcher eligible.  Nice piece this week as always Jeff, I’ll be watching Sizemore closely in September as I’ve taken over a train wreck of a roster in a dynasty league, and he’s available.