Waiver Wire: AL, Week 10

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds . . . .” Moral: Admit when you’re wrong, know when to give up, and always be looking to improve. Today, my “Chicago Bias” (and unwitting “Toronto Bias”) will shine hard in search of good buy talent . . . just keep in mind that I’m a Cubs fan.

All stats current through at least June 8, 2010.

Jose Bautista watch (6/1-6/7): .235 BA, 2 HR, 3 R, 4 RBI, 0 SB. His ownership is still at 100% in ESPN leagues.

Gavin Floyd | Chicago (AL) | SP | 37.2% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 6.64 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 7.23 K/9, 2.13 K/BB
True Talent: 3.95 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 7.35 K/9, 2.40 K/BB

Early last offseason, I came to realize how wrong I was about Gavin Floyd heading into the 2009 season. Whereas in the 2009 preseason, I said “A flyball pitcher who plays at the Cell with one of the league’s worst outfield defenses? No thank you.” (though, granted, I was also way off base with Jon Lester and King Felix …), Floyd took all of my criticisms from the preseason and improved upon each and every one of them. He went from an Armando Galarraga look-alike (peripheral-wise) to a legitimate upper-middle-of-the-rotation starter (a quality No. 2, top-shelf No. 3 guy). Last season, Floyd started using his fastball less and slider more, and the result was more swinging strikes, more strikeouts, fewer fly balls/more ground balls and slightly improved control. Floyd’s 3.69 end-of-season xFIP (3.77 end-of-season FIP) said that this was a man poised to break out big. His No. 120 preseason Yahoo ranking said he was going to be a huge value.

Flash forward to June 2010, and Floyd has burned many fantasy owners to the tune of a 6.64 ERA and 1.81 WHIP over 61 innings. While the swinging strikes (the 9.2% swinging strike rate is the second best of his career), strikeouts (7.23 K/9 is his second-highest rate since 2004) and ground balls (46.8% this season, his highest mark since 2004) are still there this season, Floyd has taken two steps back in his control (from 3.05 BB/9 in 2008 and 2.75 last season to 3.39 this season) and his strikeout rate has nonetheless regressed. The result has been a half-run increase in xFIP this season (currently 4.27).

While the increased ground balls and higher-than-average strikeout rate bode well for Floyd at the Cell, the White Sox defense perennially ranks in the bottom half of the league and this season is no exception. Chicago’s (lack of) defense will probably keep Floyd’s numbers sufficiently depressed that they will not reach elite levels without some strong luck (and even that is not always enough, as John Danks can surely attest).

Irrespective of the above, Floyd remains one of the AL Central’s better (possibly top five) starters, and he will almost certainly end the season as a top-20 or top-25 AL-only starter. Floyd is more of a wild card in mixed leagues, but he has the potential to do something special if he can cut down a bit on the walks and get his K/BB back up to last season’s mark (all while retaining the ground balls). In terms of buy-low guys, Floyd is about as good as they come. He’s a good medium-risk, low-cost, high-reward pitcher for those teams in need of making a bold play to be competitive in their league this season.

Recommendation: Must own in AL-only formats, should be owned in most mixed leagues (especially those with higher innings limits).

Bobby Jenks | Chicago (AL) | RP | 83.1% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 5.14 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, 11.14 K/9, 2.36 K/BB
True Talent: 3.85 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 8.00 K/9, 2.50 K/BB

Last week, Ozzie backed up his boy and proclaimed that the “bullpen is better if Bobby’s the closer.” Jenks has been rock solid his last four outings (4 IP, 0 ER, 0 R, 3 H, 0 BB, 5 K) and has not had a late-game explosion since May 26 (1 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 3 BB, 1 K). This is all fine and dandy, but there is still a lingering concern that Jenks hasn’t pitched like vintage Jenks over the past two seasons. Even though Jenks’ K/9 and fastball velocity have been on the rebound over the past two seasons, so has his walk rate (4.70 per nine this season), which currently sits almost as high as his ERA (5.14).

There are signs of hope, however, that Jenks can be effective and lock down the closer job long term for the rest of this season (though he is a very likely non-tender candidate this offseason). As I hinted above, Jenks’ fastball velocity and K/9 are on the rise. After bottoming out at “only” 93.8 mph and 5.55 K/9 in 2008, those figures are up to 94.7 MPH and 11.14 K/9, respectively—right in line with, or above, his career averages. Further, Jenks’ GB% is back above the 50% mark this season after dipping to his lowest mark since 2005. The result is a 3.44 FIP and shiny 3.11 xFIP in a limited 21-inning sample. Now FIP/xFIP is not the best representation of a reliever’s true talent because of variable leverage index usage or specific context, but these concerns apply more to LOOGYs and “The Lock Down Guy” and less to closers, whom managers tend to use when there is a save situation at hand (irrespective of who is coming to the plate in the ninth). Maybe it’s the increased use of a change-up this season, but Jenks is secretly pitching the best he has since 2005.

A dual point of concern regarding Jenks is that his swinging strike percentage is down to 8.1% this season (8.2% MLB average, 10.0% career average) and his first strike percentage is down to a career-low 54.9% mark (63.1% career average). These two metrics give me concern regarding the sustainability of his 11+ K/9. If Jenks loses K’s and maintains the walks, things could get real ugly real fast in the ninth. Just remember, Ozzie is a loyal guy who loves Bobby.

Recommendation: At the right cost, Jenks is a buy-low candidate in all leagues. Just make sure you get some handcuffs for this cheeseburger.

Matt Thornton | Chicago (AL) | RP | 22.4% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 2.10 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 12.62 K/9, 6.00 K/BB
True Talent: 2.70 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 10.90 K/9, 4.55 K/BB

Handcuff No. 1 is Matt Thornton. The electric lefty has been nothing short of dominant for the Sox over the past three seasons. Since and including 2008, Thornton’s K/9 has been above 10, his BB/9 has been consistently around 2.5, his ERA has not eclipsed 2.75 and he has posted WHIPs of 1.00, 1.08 and 0.82. Meanwhile, Thornton’s GB% has been above 45% every season with the White Sox and his fastball value per 100 times thrown is second to none who has tossed 20 or more innings in the AL (third best overall). Thornton, in short, is a special kind of pitcher who can crush same-sided hitting and (since 2007) opposite-handed hitters. He is the rare kind of reliable reliever worth paying money to keep around (his +5.6 WAR since 2008 is second among all relievers only to Jonathan Broxton).

Late last season, the Sox gave Thornton the first shot at closing when Jenks went down, and if things remain turbulent for Jenks this season, Thornton is likely to be first in line again for saves, despite his left-handedness. Even if Thornton is not closing, he should be owned in all leagues for three reasons: (1) his awesome strikeouts, (2) his amazing ratios can balance out guys like Brandon Morrow (or just improve your pitching staff’s bottom line overall), and (3) his leverage index is in the top three in the AL, meaning he will get his fair share of wins when he’s not pitching in the ninth. A smart manager would not use Thornton as a closer, but rather keep using him as the high-leverage shut-down reliever. However, this is Ozzie Guillen we are talking about here, so consider Thornton the first handcuff for Jenks.

Recommendation: Must own in all formats.

J.J. Putz | Chicago (AL) | RP | 0.2% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 2.75 ERA, 0.97 WHIp, 12.36 K/9, 6.75 BB/9
True Talent: 3.00 ERA, 10.50 K/9, 4.00 K/BB

After falling from dominant-closer grace and suffering a malady of injuries from 2008 to 2009 that limited his effectiveness and innings, Putz has found new life as a non-closing late-inning reliever for the White Sox this season. Though Putz’s fastball velocity is not in the 95 mph range as it was in his glory days (2006-2007) with the Mariners, it is still reading around 93.5 this season and steadily increasing as the season wears on (see Velocity Chart). Putz’s bread and butter is, and always has been, his splitter, but his “secondary” stuff—the fastball and slider—is back to positive value, granting him a more effective pitching arsenal to work with.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

No longer wrought with and limited by injuries this season, Putz has regained his control (1.83 BB/9) and strikeout talent (12.36 K/9) of yesteryear (2006-2007). The results have been a gorgeous 2.75 ERA/2.29 FIP/2.08 xFIP through 19.2 innings of work. If Putz keeps his comeback season up at least another month and the Sox keep struggling, Putz—who is only making $3 million this season—will surely be on the move to a team both in contention and in need of a top-shelf reliever (or a reliable closer, cough cough Reds cough cough) by the trading deadline. For now, the Putz is probably second in line for saves, given his closing history, or perhaps first in line if Ozzie (intelligently) decides to keep Thornton where he belongs (high-leverage shut-down guy) and Jenks keeps struggling. The potential for more saves after the deadline makes Putz and interesting, bench-worthy talent, while his good strikeout stuff and quality ratios make him a reliever worth owning to balance out your pitching staff’s bottom line. ESPN’s 0.2% ownership is criminally low; If Thorton is not available in your league and you could use a better ERA/WHIP or some K’s and have the roster space to work with, make a play at J.J. Putz ASAP.

Recommendation: Must own in AL-only formats, should be owned in most mixed leagues.

Sergio Santos | Chicago (AL) | RP | 0.3% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 1.80 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 10.80 K/9, 2.40 K/BB
True Talent: 3.75 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 9.45 K/9, 2.00 K/BB

The White Sox have an incredibly talented and deep bullpen this year, and it is sad to see such a strong late-inning core go to waste behind one of the AL’s most ineffective offenses this season (the Sox are in the bottom 10 in wOBA). Another interesting arm the Sox have in their bullpen is former shortstop prospect Sergio Santos. The 27-year-old who couldn’t hit (career minor league .699 OPS) was only recently (last year) converted into a pitcher and did not flash anything special (velocity excepted) in 28.2 innings of minor league ball spread between the A, High-A, Double-A and Triple-A levels (26 ER, 30 K, 20 BB, 37 H, 1.98 WHIP and a putrid 32.7% GB%). Santos, however, broke camp with the Sox after a strong spring training and has been lights-out thus far in to his major league career (1.80 ERA/2.35 FIP/3.45 xFIP).

Santos throws a 95.6 mph fastball, but his true talent lies in a strong slider (+3.48 runs prevented per 100 times thrown)/change-up (+2.39 runs prevented per 100 times thrown) combo. Though he is still having problems locating the plate this season (4.50 BB/9), Santos is whiffing 10.80 per nine behind of a strong 13.0% swinging strike rate (8.2% MLB average). Santos has yet to allow a home run this season, but that obviously won’t continue—especially with just under 60% of opponents’ batted balls not being hit on to the ground.

In terms of talent, Santos seems to have plenty as a power-arm reliever. His ability to sustain success long term will likely hinge upon control. Similar to another former position player converted into a reliever from the North Side (Carlos Marmol), Santos might be best described as “effectively wild.” Given his pitching style, Santos has the potential to be either really good (like Marmol) or really bad (like Daniel Cabrera). In terms of position, Santos may be a long-term closing option for the White Sox. Short term, however, the Sox have better options in the pen ahead of Santos, who is third in line for saves at best. Santos may get some closing experience toward the end of the season if the Sox fall out of it and make an early decision that Jenks will not be returning in 2011. Otherwise, Santos’ value, at least outside of strikeouts, remains nil in most fantasy formats.

Recommendation: Ownable on teams in need of K’s in AL-only formats, not particularly ownable in mixed leagues.

Brandon Morrow | Toronto | SP, RP | 5.7% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 5.48 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 10.41 K/9, 2.11 K/BB
True Talent: 4.10 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 10.20 K/9, 2.05 K/BB

Since I detailed Morrow a few weeks back, his K/9 has come down almost a full strikeout and a half per inning (though his 10.40 K/9 is still second in the majors and first in the AL), but so has his walk rate. What once stood at 5.93 per nine has now come down a full walk per nine to 4.92. Meanwhile, Morrow’s GB% has remained steadily within the 39%-40% range. Though his xFIP has “inflated” from 3.89 to 4.00 over the past 3 weeks, Morrow’s decreased walks are a sign of improvement and much-sought-after consistency. Talent has never been a question for Morrow, a former first-round pick with mid-90s gas, a strong slider and an improving curveball. Control is the one thing that stands between Morrow and effectiveness.

Over his last 29 innings, Morrow has issued a mere nine walks and has posted a 4.03 ERA with a 1.21 WHIP—signs of what he is capable of when he’s not too wild. Morrow also crushed the Yankees’ powerhouse offense on June 6 (7 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 8 K). In terms of potential, Morrow offers the kind of upside/downside that could make or break a fantasy team. Given his walk-happy ways, Morrow is a turbulent ride and high-risk pitcher, but he’s also a possible Hail Mary for teams who have fallen behind in strikeouts and wins in the early going of the season. Morrow’s value won’t get any lower than it currently is, and his peripherals support the sustainability of his recent performance. Buyers should buy with caution and monitor his walks per start very closely. If you do decide to roster Morrow, I highly recommend pairing him with a quality ratio-stabilizer like Matt Thornton or a comparably good non-closer-candidate reliever.

Recommendation: Should be owned in AL-only formats, spot starter (for now) in mixed leagues of 12 or more teams with higher innings limits.

Justin Masterson | Cleveland | SP, RP | 0.9% ESPN Ownership
YTD: 5.46 ERA, 1.82 WHIP, 8.34 K/9, 1.67 K/BB
True Talent: 3.90 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 8.50 K/9, 2.00 K/BB

Justin Masterson, another power arm with lots of walks and lots of strikeouts, is a pitcher who is jamaican his owners crazy. Beneath the 5.46 ERA is a 4.03 xFIP which demands regression without avail. Since I covered Masterson a few weeks back, his K/9 has fallen from 10.18 to 8.34 and his BB/9 has ballooned from 3.87 to an outrageous 5.01. On a positive note, Masterson has since upped his worm-burning rate from 58.8% to 61.6%. Despite the fact that both Morrow and Masterson have identical 4.03 xFIPs at the moment, I have grown weary of Masterson’s ineffective platoon splits against left-handed hitting. Masterson’s inability to put away hitters has burned me one too many times this season, and even though he recently had a good outing against the Yankees, Masterson came back and was terrible in all but ERA against the punchless White Sox the other night.

Objectively speaking, Masterson offers comparable real-life upside to Morrow. However, unless GB% is a stat in your league, Morrow will undoubtedly have more fantasy value as an elite strikeout pitcher than Masterson, a good strikeout pitcher on the worst offensive team in baseball (one win this season). If he does not learn how to sit down lefties (5.23 xFIP against lefties this season, 2.88 xFIP against righties), Masterson’s long-term role may be in the bullpen. All of these factors collude to push Masterson’s risk threshold well above where is was only a month ago, and at some point, prospective value is outweighed by downside. In my mind, that threshold has been crossed—at least for mixed leagues. Still, there is a reason the Victor Martinez deal was centered around him . . .

Recommendation: Spot starter in AL-only formats, unownable in mixed leagues.

Vernon Wells | Toronto | OF | 100.0% ESPN Ownership
YTD: .306/.355/.613
True Talent: .275/.320/.475

Call me a skeptic, but I do not believe in Vernon Wells. This season excluded, how many .900+ OPS seasons do you think Vernon Wells has played? Based on his behemoth contract, I bet you didn’t answer one. That’s right, one (2003, though he came awfully close in 2006). Though Wells seems to hit .300 every other season (2001, 2003, 2006, 2008) and his BABIP is only .308, that BABIP is almost 20 points higher than his career average, and his 16.7% K% is at the highest rate since his first season in the majors over a decade ago. Such numbers indicate a batting average regression is in order (somewhere in the .275 range seems about right).

Well is also on pace for 40+ homers. This despite the fact that he is over 30 years old and he has only twice hit 30 or more dingers in a season. Wells has not even eclipsed the 20 mark since 2006. No one in his right mind could claim that Wells’ current .306 ISO (Albert Pujols power) is legit—not from a guy with a career-high ISO of .239. Sure, Wells may have a career year this season, but what is the likelihood that a 32-year-old outfield has a career season? The odds are stacked against him.

Wells’ early-season (consistent) output makes him a prime sell-high candidate. An owner in need of batting average and power with stolen-base upside may be intrigued by a trade depending on what you ask from him (or her) in return. A decent, struggling pitcher with high upside—like Max Scherzer—would seem to be a fair return on an outfielder you in all honesty probably got off waivers. Maybe you could pry Jake Peavy from a disgruntled owner? Some analysts (Matthew Berry, specifically) have said it’s not worth selling Wells because you won’t get back what he’s actually worth, but I honestly do not think he is legitimately worth too much to begin with. Wells is, at best, a 20/15 outfielder with injury concerns. That’s the upside. The downside is how Wells has played from 2007 to 2009. Take your profit and run.

Recommendation: Must own in AL-only formats, should be owned in mixed leagues. However, Wells is a prime sell-now candidate.

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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13 years ago

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the article.  Has Masterson’s performance against the Red Sox this past WED. changed your view of him at all?  From what I read about the game, Francona loaded the line-up with port-siders.

Jeffrey Gross
13 years ago

Masterson’s GB% is legitimate and an invaluable asset. Look at how worm burning propped up Derek Lowe in LA for several seasons. However, the problem with Masterson is several fold and nothing in his last few outings has changed my opinion of him

1) Poor indians infield defense
—Groundballs are nice, but if nobody can field them, what does it matter? The indians are bottom 5 in team UZR/150.

2) extremely High walk rate … groundballs are nice way to clear the bases, but lots of walks increase the potential leverage and runs scoring opportunity of an opposing team in an inning. Masterson gives opposing teams to many chances for implosion. If Masterson can cut down the walks and maintain the 8 K/9, he will be the next coming of Brandon Webb. If not, well, he’ll still be valuable but volatile.

As an analyst, I like Masterson’s peripherals long term. However, I’ve owned him and I know just how bad he can be start to start. As currently situated, masterson is a live-by-the-seat-of-your-pants pitcher. He’ll either be golden or rotten. Patient ROTO owners can stomach that (especially with WHIP/ERA stabilizer RPs), but H2H guys cannot.

Personally, I was so badly burned by Masterson earlier this year that I had to cut ties. No matter how Masterson pitches, it seems he is destined for a high WHIP given his high-contact style. WHIP is one of those commodities that becomes harder and Harder to lower as the year goes on. True, 50 innings of bad WHIP now is just as damning in Roto as 50 innings of bad WHIP in the last week of the season, but having a strong WHIP early lets you know you can take gambles to catch up in Ks or Ws, rather than have to scrounge for WHIP later on.

Personally, I like to front load on ratios early and fill in the blanks later. Masterson does not fit that build. Masterson’s K/9 should stay around 8.0-8.5 for the whole season given his Swinging Strike rate, but the poor defense plus high walks make him a recipe for disaster. There are other ways for teams to score off a pitcher than homers.

Josh Shepardson
13 years ago

Definitely a fan of the inclusion of Brandon Morrow.  His k-rate is tantalizing, and his last few starts give hope that he can keep his walks in check to some degree.  It would be nice if his GB rate was a bit higher, but all things consider, definitely a pitcher of interest IMO.