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The Watchlist: Aaron Ashby, George Kirby, Cody Poteet (2022 Fantasy Baseball)

by Ben Rosener
May 6, 2022
Aaron Ashby

Aaron Ashby should help your weekly ERA and strikeout numbers as a multi-inning relief option.

This is The Watchlist.

The Watchlist is a weekly column designed to help you monitor and pick up players in the coming weeks. Whether they’re waiver wire or trade targets, these are the players you’ll want to add now before becoming the hot waiver commodity or trade target in a week or two.

Using underlying and advanced metrics, The Watchlist will help you get ahead of the competition in your league and reap the rewards later from your pickups.

The players could be anyone from a prospect in an ideal situation close to the Majors, a reliever in a saves+holds league, or even a starter doing well with misleading surface-level stats like ERA.

They might even be hitters with quality underlying stats. Or they could be none of those types of players and a different kind of player entirely. The point is that they’ll help you find success in your fantasy league while staying ahead of the curve of your league mates.

The payoff might not be immediate, but they should eventually provide significant value, more often than not.

These are some of those players for this week.

Aaron Ashby (SP – MIL)

The Brewers seem set to continue with something resembling a six-man rotation.

Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, Adrian Houser and Eric Lauer have gotten the bulk of the starts so far, with Ashby serving as the sixth starter.

The 23-year-old has pitched to a 2.33 ERA and a 3.66 FIP in 19.1 innings. He’s made six total appearances, including a pair of starts. In fact, in his last four outings (all on regular rest as if he was a full-time starter), the left-hander has alternated between the rotation and throwing multiple innings out of the bullpen.

For the short term, or rather until he becomes a starter full-time, Ashby should help your weekly ERA and strikeout numbers as a multi-inning relief option. But, should he eventually move into the rotation, the upside is sky-high.

Ashby has a reasonably deep pitch arsenal fronted by a sinker that he throws 37% of the time. Like most sinkers, it doesn’t have a sky-high whiff rate (18.3%), but generally, good things tend to happen when he throws the pitch. It has one of the best-run values in the league among all pitches, right up there with elite offerings like Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon‘s four-seam fastballs and Kevin Gausman‘s splitter.

Best Run-Value By Pitch:

  • Justin Verlander’s Four-Seam Fastball: -8
  • Carlos Rodon’s Four-Seam Fastball: -8
  • Michael Kopech‘s Four-Seam Fastball: -7
  • Corbin Burnes’ Cutter: -7
  • Aaron Ashby’s Sinker: -6
  • Chad Kuhl‘s Slider: -6
  • Zac Gallen‘s Four-Seam Fastball: -6
  • Joe Ryan‘s Four-Seam Fastball: -6
  • Kevin Gausman’s Splitter: -6
  • Logan Gilbert‘s Four-Seam Fastball: -6
  • MacKenzie Gore‘s Four-Seam Fastball: -6

That alone with Ashby’s performance so far makes him someone to watch, especially considering the potential for pitcher wins in Milwaukee. The Brewers have raced out to a 17-8 start as of the beginning of play on Thursday.

But the real reason to add Ashby now before his fantasy stock skyrockets is his ability to pair that effective sinker with a bevy of secondary offerings that miss bats.

The pitcher’s non-fastball offerings currently sport a whiff rate of 40% or better.

Aaron Ashby Whiff Rate By Pitch:

  • Slider: 34.5% usage rate, 40.7% whiff rate
  • Changeup: 17.9% usage rate, 41.4% whiff rate
  • Curveball: 7.3% usage rate, 40.0% whiff rate

Ashby is one of just three pitchers – Burnes and Shane McLanahan are the others – with three pitches sporting a whiff rate of 40% or better among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 25 of each. Their slider, changeup, and curveball all logged a whiff rate of 40% or better for all three pitchers.

The only concern for Ashby is walks. That, coupled with the fact that he doesn’t have a consistent rotation spot, might be why he’s available in your league. The left-hander has a 15.3% walk rate through his first 19.1 innings, ranking in the ninth percentile league-wide. It’s hardly ideal, but Ashby’s upside and bat-missing stuff are just too hard to ignore. Much like Tylor Megill earlier in the season, Ashby is a hurler who could rise to fantasy relevance in a hurry. He’s scheduled to start on Sunday.

George Kirby (SP – SEA)

We stick with the theme of starters potentially stepping into rotation roles with Kirby.

Unlike Ashby, he’s yet to pitch in the Majors this season, and he’s not even on Seattle’s active roster at the moment.

But the Mariners optioned starter Matt Brash to the minors on Thursday, and Seattle only brought up two relievers to replace Brash and relief pitcher Matt Festa (who was placed on the 10-day injured list). In short, they’re going to need another starter to take Brash’s turn in the rotation eventually.

If it’s Kirby, you’ll want to scoop him up in leagues where he’s available.

Currently ranked as the 29th-best prospect in the sport by FanGraphs, ahead of Jeremy Pena, Hunter Greene, and Ashby, Kirby is approaching the point where he has nothing left to prove in the minors.

He’s struck out 32 batters in 24.2 innings spanning five starts at Double-A this season, walking just five batters in the process. He’s also turned in a 1.82 ERA and a 3.67 FIP in those 24.2 innings.

If Kirby sticks in the Seattle rotation for an extended amount of time, he’ll likely run into some pitcher wins. From the start of the 2020 season through the end of last season, Mariners starting pitchers accounted for 66 pitcher wins, the sixth-highest total in the league during that span. So far this season, they have the fifth-highest number of pitcher wins at nine despite a recent nine-game road trip in which the team dropped seven games.

Furthermore, in their publication’s write up of the top 100 prospects in the sport in February, Eric Longenhagen, Kevin Goldstein, and Tess Taruksin of FanGraphs praised Kirby’s command, writing: “There isn’t a prospect in the minors better at throwing strikes than Kirby, who fills the zone with big velo and solid secondaries.”

Kirby’s present and future grades for command? 55/70.

At worse, with his low walk potential and win upside in Seattle, Kirby might be able to help right away in multiple categories should he be called up. If he can continue to miss bats in the Majors, he’ll be a valuable fantasy starter right away and better than most all streaming options in all but shallow leagues.

Cody Poteet (RP – MIA)

Right now, the Miami Marlins bullpen is far from settled in terms of the hierarchy for saves.

Anthony Bender currently paces the team with six saves, but his bat-missing metrics have gone down due to his slider not generating as many swings and misses. The right-hander’s primary bat-missing pitch last year with a 45.2% whiff rate; that metric is down to 32.1% as hitters have made more contact with it to the tune of a 1.067 xSLG. This is also to say nothing of his overall struggles, including allowing a run in four of his ten outings and surrendering three home runs in just 9.1 innings.

There are also recent trade acquisitions, Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott, who have recorded a save this season. Susler also has the most high-leverage appearances relief appearances on the team outside of Bender. Then there’s Anthony Bass, who has been the team’s most valuable reliever in real life from an fWAR standpoint. Plus, Dylan Floro will return from the injured list at some point.

So yeah, this is far from a cut-and-dry type of situation, especially if Bender continues to struggle.

If there’s one name to watch as a potential stash candidate to emerge as a save option down the line this season, it might not be any of those relievers, and it might be Cody Poteet.

Don’t let the modest 7.94 strikeouts per nine innings fool you. Poteet has been a bonafide bat-missing expert so far this season. Entering play on Thursday, he had the fourth-highest swinging strike percentage of any qualified reliever, right around many other potential save stash candidates like Jhoan Duran, Alex Lange, and Andres Munoz.

Best Swinging Strike Percentages Among Relievers:

The 27-year-old has been utilized as a multi-inning relief option at times by Don Mattingly but has also pitched in shorter, one-inning stints. However long he’s been in the game, he’s thrived this season thanks to increased reliance on his changeup. Poteet threw the pitch just 18.2% of the time in 2021, but it yielded a higher whiff rate than any of his other pitches.

Cody Poteet Usage Rates and Whiff Rates By Pitch in 2021:

  • Four-Seam Fastball: 48.8% usage rate, 18.9% whiff rate
  • Slider: 18.9% usage rate, 26.7% whiff rate
  • Changeup: 18.2% usage rate, 35.3% whiff rate
  • Curveball: 14% usage rate, 23.3% whiff rate

Now, Poteet is throwing his changeup even more. More crucially, the new usage of his pitch arsenal has upped the bat-missing efficiency of his other offerings, particularly on his four-seam fastball, as he’s been able to miss more bats up in the zone with it. The UCLA product also utilizes his slider more, and it’s missing more bats than last season. What’s more, the right-hander also seems to have scrapped his curveball in favor of a sinker.

Cody Poteet Usage Rates and Whiff Rates By Pitch in 2022:

  • Changeup: 37.2% usage rate, 52.4% whiff rate
  • Slider: 25.5% usage rate, 39.1% whiff rate
  • Four-Seam Fastball: 23.9% usage rate, 34.8% whiff rate
  • Sinker: 13.3% usage rate, 21.4% whiff rate

And this is all without mentioning that Poteet has allowed just one earned run and no barrels in 11.1 innings pitched. Mattingly and the Marlins certainly aren’t hurting for bullpen options. Still, the longer there’s uncertainty, and the longer Poteet continues to thrive, the better his odds will be of potentially becoming a ninth-inning option.

Cooper Hummel (OF – ARI)

As is the case with many Diamondbacks hitters, Hummel’s production is impacted by a low BABIP. As it stands, Pavin Smith is currently the only Arizona batter with a BABIP north of .300.

In fact, as a team, Arizona has the lowest collective BABIP in baseball at .229 entering play on Thursday. That number was nearly .030 points away from the following closest teams, the Astros and White Sox, at .252 each.

Hummel is sporting a rather unideal .206 BABIP through his first 65 plate appearances, which is undoubtedly impacting his .173 batting average. But he’s doing enough in other metrics to make him an intriguing fantasy option for when the BABIP evens out.

The outfielder is walking nearly as much as he’s striking out, with 13 walks and 16 strikeouts. That works out to a 20% walk rate and a 24.6% strikeout rate. And while the strikeout rate might seem a smidgen high, it isn’t too far from the league average (22.7%). Furthermore, Hummel’s chase rate has been elite so far at 16%. That number has him in the 97th percentile league-wide, so he isn’t getting beat with stuff outside the zone too often.

Hummel’s 82.4% contact rate on pitches in the zone could be better, and it’s also not low enough where it’s clear that he’s either getting beat or missing on pitches in the zone often. For reference, the lowest in-zone contact rate for a batter with at least 50 plate appearances this season is Adalberto Mondesi at 63.6%.

The rest of Hummel’s stats certainly tick the boxes when looking for quality and undervalued fantasy options.

Good barrel rate? Check, it’s 11.1%.

The vast chasm between his wOBA (.314) and his xwOBA (.381)? Double-check.

Solid hard-hit rate? Yep, it’s 41.7%.

Add him now before the BABIP evens out because he’ll probably be a priority waiver wire addition once it does.

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