Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire Pickups: Week 4
With injuries and poor performance ravaging so many fantasy rotations, this week’s waiver-wire column begins by breaking the rules.
Although the ownership benchmark is usually set at below 35%, some intriguing names hovered slightly below that mark on Monday. Based on Yahoo rates, some of those players may already climb closer to 50% and up by Tuesday. I didn’t want to flood the column with those types of recommendations, but go get Caleb Smith (43%) and Frankie Montas (37%) wherever still available. Given the early plight of pitching, another hurler receives special consideration. Many of the players following him are receiving recognition for the second time this season.
Priority Pickups – <40% Owned
Sonny Gray (SP – CIN): 37% Owned
Metting the minimal requirements of a quality start never looked as good as when Gray yielded three runs over six frames last Wednesday. The start came against the red-hot Dodgers after leaving his previous outing with an elbow injury. He also compiled his most strikeouts (nine) in a game since September 12, 2017.
This is 2019, so let’s hope nobody is reading anything into his 0-4 record. Gray also sports a 2.79 ERA, 0,93 WHIP, and 22 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. His 53.3% ground-ball rate is right on par with his career norm, and his 74.3% contact rate matches the mark filed when registering a 3.55 ERA in 2017. Declines in first-pitch and swinging strikes pour some cold water on his promising start, but the righty at least looks poised to erase a nightmarish 2018 and contribute as a steady mixed-league depth piece.
Ryan McMahon (1B/2B/3B – COL): 30% Owned
Mentioned here to start the season, McMahon has since spent 12 days on the IL with a left elbow strain. Although he went deep twice in his return, everyone has taken their sweet time re-claiming the Colorado infielder.
That should change in a hurry. He has started all four games since his activation and batted either fourth or fifth each time. He’s eligible for three positions in Yahoo leagues and, oh yeah, he plays for the Rockies. McMahon went down before Colorado even made its home opener, but he wielded a career .372 wOBA at Coors Field prior to Monday night. The Rockies play 21 of their next 34 games at home following a road-heavy start to their schedule. Garrett Hampson is more likely to lose playing time to a returning Daniel Murphy.
Hector Neris (RP – PHI): 29% Owned
Maybe Philadelphia’s ninth-inning situation is maddening for fantasy purposes, or maybe there just hasn’t been enough opportunities. If Gabe Kapler is spinning a wheel to determine his closer as some like to believe, it happened to land on Neris twice last week. With David Robertson on the IL and a struggling Seranthony Dominquez still searching for his first save of 2019, this situation may not be so confounding after all.
Neris is hardly just a boring saves source either. The 29-year-old has registered 15 strikeouts in 9,2 innings and has not relinquished a run in nine appearances since Opening Day. He ranks among the top-10 relievers in both contact (59.7%) and swinging-strike rate (19.8%), both of which merely represent slight upgrades over last year’s returns. While Neris still may not receive every single chance, the contending Phillies should start offering more to go around. He needs to be rostered in all leagues.
Franmil Reyes (OF – SD): 26% Owned
Plugged-in fantasy players are probably tired of reading about Reyes’ Statcast exploits by now. Well, everyone will stop mentioning them when he’s rostered in more leagues.
Hitting just .200/.275/.433 with -0.3 fWAR, some may wonder why the Padres haven’t already benched him permanently for Hunter Renfroe, who is conversely slugging .525. It’s because they’re watching Reyes pummel baseballs despite not getting the results. He has hit half of his 46 batted balls at an exit velocity of at least 95 mph. A spike in launch angle has also led to nine barrels, contributing to a .322 xBA, .676 xSLG, and .437 xwOBA. Even before taking these fancy new metrics into account, a .190 BABIP with more walks (10.1%) and fewer strikeouts (23.2%) hints strongly at better days ahead. Grab the 23-year-old before he catches fire.
Luke Weaver (SP – ARI): 21% Owned
It’s strange to see Weaver’s ownership remain so low. Last year’s trendy breakout pick has tallied 17 combined strikeouts in his last two turns, including nine over five scoreless frames against the Braves. The 3.92 ERA still requires repair, but a 2.90 FIP and 21.6 K-BB% inspires memories of the popular breakout selection.
Perhaps the biggest blemish on his portfolio, Weaver has bumped his swinging-strike rate into double digits (10.3%) with better success (and more usage) from his cutter. He looks like a possible top-50 starter to add and hold, but those unsure about his long-term viability should at least take him for a spin Tuesday night against the Pirates.
Mike Soroka (SP – ATL): 15% Owned
By now, it’s clear Soroka won’t receive a long rope to develop. The Braves have already shuffled Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright, Sean Newcomb, and Touki Toussaint in and out of their rotation. Mike Foltynewicz could also soon return for a spot, so Soroka’s margin for error is small.
Their latest young starter to get the call, however, is already more polished than those who already auditioned. He looked more than ready for the moment when posting a 3.51 ERA in five big league starts last season. The 21-year-old may have opened 2019 in the rotation if not for an elbow injury. His debut instead waited until last Thursday, when he allowed one run over five innings against the Diamondbacks with six strikeouts. Of the neophytes Atlanta has tested so far, he’s the most valuable from a short and long-term perspective. Don’t expect his stay to be short-lived.
Avisail Garcia (OF – TB): 14% Owned
Garcia’s .375 BABIP and 30.1 K% represent obvious regression harbingers. He has also chased a higher proportion of pitches outside the zone (44.7%) than every qualified hitter besides Javier Baez and the profoundly slumping Jose Peraza. These skills don’t forbode sustainable success, but gamers should not dismiss the positives from his fast start. The 27-year-old has barrelled 11 of his 52 batted balls with the highest average exit velocity (93.7 mph) of his career. Despite all the warning signs, his wOBA and wxOBA resided at an identical .355 as of Monday. He at least might offer some pop in five-outfielder formats.
Deep League Targets – <10% owned
Tommy La Stella (2B/3B – LAA): 3% Owned
OK, the baseballs may be juiced. La Stella, who went deep once in 192 plate appearances last season, homered twice on Sunday. He has already set a new personal high at six.
Those who immediately dismiss the 30-year-old journeyman risk missing out on something real. His fast start comes with a meteoric rise in fly-ball rate to 41.5%, up 10.5% from his career norm. He has also struck out just six times in 67 plate appearances, so he’ll hit higher than .246 if he sustains these contact skills. It’s intriguing enough to warrant a speculative flier in deep mixed leagues.
Pablo Lopez (SP – MIA): 4% Owned
Spencer Turnbull (SP – DET): 3% Owned
Both already highlighted here this month, Lopez and Turnbill have still yet to receive much fanfare. It’s easier to understand the indifference to Lopez, whose 5.84 ERA conceals an elite 23.0 K-BB% and 2.84 FIP. Turnbull, on the other hand, touts a 3.49 ERA alongside his 18.9 K-BB% and 3.19 FIP.
Lopez is worth streaming at Cleveland on Tuesday. While he’s not a recommended option at Philadelphia this weekend, consider keeping him tucked into a bench spot in deeper formats. Turnbull also has one strong and weak matchup in reverse order this week. Managers in leagues with an open waiver wire should wait until after Tuesday’s turn at Boston before grabbing him for Sunday’s scheduled start against the White Sox. Each pitcher may prove deserving of stick around as more than a one-off streamer.
Shawn Kelley (RP – TEX): 3% Owned
Last season, Jose Leclerc ceded seven walks and two runs after the All-Star break. He has already coughed up seven free passes and seven runs to commence 2019. After he walked Jose Altuve with the bases loaded on Sunday, the Rangers yanked him for Kelley, who struck out Robinson Chirinos for his first save since June 4, 2017. Chris Woodward said Leclerc will remain Texas’ closer, but that patience could wither if he doesn’t turn things around soon.
Reyes Moronta (RP – SF): 3% Owned
This is an investment in elite skills rather than speculating for saves. Moronta has stockpiled 17 strikeouts in 10 frames. A two-pitch reliever last season, he has implemented a changeup that has induced a 36.8% swinging-strike rate and -5 wRC+ through nine outings. The 26-year-old righty is emerging as an elite middle reliever worth rostering for strikeouts and ratio help. While Will Smith has San Francisco’s closing gig wrapped up, a midseason trade could land Moronta a promotion down the road.
Brian Goodwin (OF – LAA): 2% Owned
Goodwin has also provided the Angels with some unexpectedly superb April production, batting .346/.435/.615 with three homers in 62 plate appearances. This feels more like a random hot streak. A .405 BABIP has offered him far more help than La Stella’s unfortunate .170, and Statcast assigns him a .272 xwOBA and .363 xwOBA. That regression would still make him a useful piece in 15-team mixed leagues, especially if he keeps batting fifth as an everyday starter.