NL Waiver Wire: Week 5

Andres Torres | Giants | CF | 28% Yahoo! ownership
YTD: .286/.375/.393
Oliver projection: .260/.328/.444

When Derek Ambrosino advised us to make use of our disabled list slots, he had guys like Andres Torres in mind. Before we delve into Torres’ virtues, let’s define exactly what he is to fantasy owners. In an ideal world, Torres is the perfect replacement level outfielder. If you can say that the first guy off your bench is Torres, you have an enviable offense.

He is such a perfect role player for fantasy teams due to his jack of all trades, master of none skill set. On any given day, you can expect Torres to contribute a little bit across the board, making him useful in daily leagues where he can sub in for the Matt Joyces of the world.

Torres is returning from an Achilles injury and is expected to be activated on Friday. He has spent his rehab stint in extended spring training, so statistics are not easily accessible. At this point he has played at least one full game and has also stolen at least one base, both of which are encouraging signs for this type of injury.

However, playing time could be a concern. The Giants have a full stable of outfielders—Torres will join Aaron Rowand, Cody Ross, Pat Burrell and Nate Schierholtz. He is almost certainly the best of the bunch but his return from injury, the competent play of Rowand and Burrell, and Ross’ own recent return from injury may conspire to keep Torres to five games a week in the early going.

Since the veteran members of the outfield are so similarly talented, a slump could eat into Torres’ playing time. Finally, Brandon Belt is absolutely murdering PCL pitching following his recent demotion. The Giants brass have indicated that Belt will need to show extended success to earn a call-up, but that probably means only another 10-15 days if he can keep up anything like the otherworldly 1.443 OPS he currently owns. If Belt rejoins the Giants, it will be as an outfielder. which will further crowd the picture for Torres.

The last major concern with Torres is that he will be batting leadoff for a terrible lineup. With Pablo Sandoval out for the next four to seven weeks, the Giants’ already bad offense has been effectively reduced to Buster Posey. This means that Torres will find scoring to be difficult no matter how often he reaches base. Furthermore, the bottom of the Giants’ lineup is unlikely to help Torres to drive in runs.

With such a long laundry list of concerns, you might be wondering why he’s at the top of this week’s list. Simply put, his potential to pop 15 home runs and steal between 20 and 30 bases makes him a valuable plug and play option. It’s also possible that Torres may be shifted to the middle of the order since he’s likely to be the second best bat in the lineup until Sandoval returns. Even if he isn’t, he should be given a green light on the bases once his health is ascertained since the Giants will need to manufacture every run that they can. And while he strikes out too often for a player of his skill set (about 25 percent), he walks in close to 10 percent of his plate appearances, has an expected isolated power just shy of .200, and he does a very good job of squaring the ball up at the plate, leading to an elevated average on balls in play.

Recommendation: Should be owned in any league with more than 50 outfielders. Use as a plug and play option in shallow leagues. Deeper leagues can use him at will.

Bud Norris | SP | Astros | 41% Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 3.03 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 10.85 K/9, 3.03 BB/9
Oliver projection: 4.60 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 4.3 BB/9

Jeff Gross, for whom I’m subbing this week, wants me to tell you that “if you like Brandon Morrow, you have to love Norris.” The two pitchers are similar brands of nasty. They both lean on wipe-out sliders that they pair up with high velocity fastballs. They both have swinging strike rates above 10 percent and feature identical 11.1 percent rates for their career. In 2011, Norris has garnered a higher rate of swinging strikes than Morrow. Both pitchers have also been know to get in trouble with walk,s although they appear to be improving in that regard. Norris has a history of being better at limiting the free passes than Morrow.

Then there are the additional factors. Norris plays a boatload of games against light hitting, National League clubs. Morrow gets to face designated hitters and plenty of stacked American League East lineups. Working against Norris is his supporting cast, an indifferent defense and downright bad offense. Morrow at least gets the benefit of an offense that likes to pound the ball and scamper about the bases.

So there’s the obligatory comparison to Morrow that Jeff insisted I make.

Moving on to the more savory meat, Norris appears to be trending positively in a couple of crucial controllable skills. His walk rate is hovering near three per nine innings after clocking in at 4.5 per nine last year. His ground ball rate also appears to be creeping up (now 45 percent) which in turn should help limit the damage done by the long ball. It is still quite possible that his early season gains on these two fronts will regress all the way back to his career rates, but if at least some of these gains are real, Norris will not only be a valuable fantasy pitcher, he’ll be a borderline ace.

Here’s the bottom line. We know that wins are going to be hard for him to come by with an Astros team that figures to get only worse as the season progresses. Their offensive and defensive woes have been mentioned, but the bullpen is also blowing its share of games, particularly closer Brandon Lyon. We also know that the strikeouts will be there. An expectation of a strikeout per inning is fair. The wild card is ERA and WHIP. Norris is sharp right now and if he retains those previously mentioned peripheral skills, he should be able to post numbers somewhere around a 3.40 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. The more regression you expect, the farther north you should push those numbers.

One final note about Norris: He’s always been a very match-up friendly pitcher. Start him against bad teams and he’ll impress you. Start him against decent teams and he’ll be solid. Start him against a thumping offense and he might get shelled. At least that has been my experience with Norris and a glance through his game logs seems to support that notion.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Recommendation: Should be owned in all NL-only leagues, nearly all 12-team mixed leagues, and some but not all 10-team mixed leagues.

Tim Stauffer | SP | Padres | 37% Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 3.12 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 6.49 K/9, 2.08 BB/9
Oliver projection: 3.77 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 2.9 BB/9

A favorite sleeper entering fantasy draft season, Stauffer has bounced back from a couple rough outings to pick up where he left off last season. As noted in the offseason, he’s not going to impress anyone with his strikeout rate, nor is he going to win a ton of games with the Padres offense supporting him. What he can do is round out a fantasy rotation while providing an almost ace quality ERA and a respectable WHIP. As a bonus, he’s successful both home and away so there is no need to restrict yourself to Petco starts.

Stauffer is about as underwhelming as they come on the mound. One of the keys to his success is to limit walks and make his opponents outhit his strong defense. If he can keep his walk rate down near two per nine innings, he should continue to succeed. If it drifts above three per nine innings, he’s going to find himself in too many jams to escape damage.

Stauffer is not for everyone. Owners in leagues with very low innings caps will be hurt by his strikeout rate. However, owners in leagues with hard-to-reach caps can use him at will. An elite strikeout specialist like Craig Kimbrel, Tim Lincecum or Jered Weaver will take the sting out of owning Stauffer.

Recommendation: Should be owned in all NL-only leagues, most 12-team mixed leagues, and all 14-team leagues.

Vance Worley | SP | Phillies | 4% Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 0.75 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
Oliver projection: 5.06 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 5.3 K/9, 3.1 BB/9

Worley’s a fun pitcher to watch if only because of his Eric Gagne style rec specs. He’s had a strong start to the 2011 season, posting a 2.78 ERA in 22.2 innings pitched for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs before getting the call up to step in for Joe Blanton. After Wednesday’s spin against the Nationals, Phillies fans are wondering if they actually want Blanton to return from injury.

The Phillies have to be happy with what Worley has turned into. With every level he has improved his stock. Scouts originally talked about him as a back-of-the-rotation or swing man type pitcher, but now most in the business seem comfortable calling him a solid mid-rotation starter. Unfortunately, with the Phillies’ well-documented uber-rotation, Worley’s only shot at a regular gig is to beat out Blanton or hope for injury.

As a fantasy option, Worley is a useful short-term option. He limits his walks to under three per nine innings and isn’t particularly hittable. In nearly 35 innings this year, he’s bumped his strikeout rate above one per inning and, given his youth, it is possible that this is fairly sustainable. Then again, in his two 2011 starts, he has featured a mere 4.1 percent swinging strike rate. An abnormally high number of his strikeouts have been of the looking variety. A strikeout rate closer to seven per nine innings seems like an appropriate projection.

Worley should be useful in a wide range of leagues, but the real question is how long he will be with the Phillies. Blanton, who is recovering from elbow soreness, is already throwing off a mound and could be back in a couple of weeks. As such, Worley might have only another two to four starts before he’s back in Lehigh.

Recommendation: I am comfortable saying that Worley is much better than his Oliver projection, though he certainly isn’t an ace. He should be owned in all NL-only leagues and most 14-team mixed leagues, and cycled in 10- and 12-team mixed leagues.

Allen Craig | Cardinals | LF/RF | 1% Yahoo! ownership
YTD: .324/.419/.486
Oliver projection: .279/.333/.457

Consider this your very deep league recommendation. Injuries to David Freese and Skip Schumaker have opened up some playing time for Craig. He was activated from the disabled list on May 2 and pinch hit later that night. The following day, he spot started at third base; he’ll get third base eligibility in Yahoo leagues if he starts five games there. His defense at the position is suspect, but the Cards are drawn thin across the infield and may not have much choice. Alternatives like the all glove, no bat Nick Punto aren’t exactly desirable.

The main draw to Craig right now is his opportunity to play four to five games a week while contributing a little to every category. His power and speed are middling skills but he does manage to pop the occasional bomb and swipe a few bags. His plate discipline is solid, so he should be able to contribute to the runs and RBI categories. Given the talent on the Cards roster, it appears that Craig’s playing time will probably evaporate in about two weeks when Schumaker returns. That will free up Danny Descalso to take more turns at third base. As such, he’s nothing more than an injury patch who probably won’t hurt you and could surprise you with solid production.

Recommendation: Craig is for those ultra deep leagues. A few 16-team league owners might have a use for him and most 18- and 20-team leagues probably have a home as well. NL-only leagues that use more than 45 outfielders probably have a short term home for him.

Daniel Descalso | Cardinals | 2b/3b | 1% Yahoo! ownership
YTD: .238/.286/.397
Oliver projection: .254/.308/.376

Here’s another deep league option courtesy of the Cardinals. While Craig is currently benefiting from Freese’s demise, Descalso has garnered everyday playing time in Schumaker’s stead. Descalso’s projected .684 OPS says all there needs to be said about his hitting skills: There isn’t much there. Fortunately, he has two things working for him, playing time and a skill set that could improve.

In the minors, Descalso was one of those rare players who walked almost as often as he struck out. If he can inch his strikeout rate down to the 10-14 percent that he featured in the minors, he just needs a little ball-in-play luck to be playable in a wide range of leagues. The key for Descalso is to take advantage of this opportunity. If he can put together a respectable triple slash while flashing the leather, he could easily unseat Schumaker as the regular second baseman. If you’re considering picking up Descalso, this is what you are hoping for.

The one wild card to consider—and this goes for Craig too—Tony LaRussa. Who knows what mix and match games will be played once Schumaker returns to the lineup.

Recommendation: NL-only leagues that use more than 30 middle infielders. Any league where you would permanently roster players like Schumaker or Wilson Valdez. Those in only moderately deep leagues should keep an eye on him.

Honorable mentions

Jason Bourgeois appears to have had enough words written about him this week. Those of you in need of stolen bases in deep leagues ought to give him a spin but I think his one-tool skill set is getting over-hyped at this point. I’ve seen him picked up in 12- team mixed leagues and that’s a big time no-no.

I have more words to say about Mark Melancon than I do about Bourgeois but I’ll stick with the basics. He’s a solid pitcher who could start picking up some saves. Lyon really shouldn’t be a closer since he’s so prone to these little runs of awful, but at the end of the day he’ll probably get his gig back from Melancon—if he ever officially loses it. Wilton Lopez and Jeff Fulchino could also find themselves with the job when all is said and done. It’s a bit of a fantasy quagmire, I have opted to avoid it, but those in deeper leagues will need to wade in and wager on one of these guys.

You can follow me on twitter @BaseballATeam
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11 years ago

Any thoughts on the closer situation in St Louis?  It looks like Sanchez is emerging and may be worth a pick-up.  He is available as is Melancon and I need reliever help BADLY!  Thanks.

Will Hatheway
11 years ago

I think Padilla is so good that you should have talked about him for a second week in a row…

Will Hatheway
11 years ago

When noting where players should be owned, Norris and Stauffer strike me as reasons why what type of scoring matters, since linear weights doesn’t care about their offenses (though Norris’s defense does matter); just a thought, in case these better systems become more popular than currently versus 5×5, etc.

jeffrey gross
11 years ago

I’m really glad you covered Vance Worley as a phillies fan. I really didnt know what to make of him given his MLEs and minor league numbers. Thanks brad! great work

Brad Johnson
11 years ago

That St. Louis closer situation is more than I can handle, Motte strikes me as the best long term reliever they have, but not right now. Tim Dierkes of MLBTR has a closers updates twitter account that might be helpful to follow and pose questions to.

Will, I’m afraid I had to put this weeks report together in half the time I had last week so I missed the opportunity to mention the linear weights value. That said, I trust that anyone getting involved in linear weights leagues should be able to infer their value based on my comments.

Brad Johnson
11 years ago

The latest on Torres is that he won’t be back today as originally scheduled and that he will split time in the corner OF until he has his strength back. Expect him to return to the roster by Monday/Tuesday and full time CF duties a week or two after that.

11 years ago

Thanks, Brad.  Dierkes’ Twitter account is a great resource although he’s not sure, as no one is, about the Cards situation.