Waiver Wire: AL, Week 20

With September quickly approaching, major league rosters will expand from 25 to 40 players. This means that many top minor league prospects will get some major league playing time, though most will likely see only sparse action (see Buster Posey, circa 2009). Next week, I will take a look at a handful of the top AL prospects who might get a call.

Thereafter, the AL waiver wire will likely cut back to four or five players per week and focus on hot bats and arms that are widely available and might give you that needed edge to win your league. It is also worth noting at this juncture that Luke Scott has not cooled off. Scott is hitting .286/.400/.476 over the past seven days with a .326/.392/.522 line over the past 14. Beyond comprehension, Scott is still available in 34 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

Apologies for the light material, but I am diligently moving to Madison this week and transitioning back into “law school mode.” Look out for a Keeper League Mailbag piece on THT sometime in the next week.

All stats current through at least Aug. 18.

Jose Bautista Watch (Aug. 9-15): .227 AVG, 2 HR, 4 R, 3 RBI, 1 SB. Not the best (or worst) week for Bautista, who is mashing in August. His ownership rate in Yahoo! leagues stayed stable at 91 percent this week.

Adam Lind | Toronto | OF | 70 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: .236/.294/.412
Oliver ROS: .245/.303/.425

Most people would not think twice of a player hitting a pedestrian .236/.294/.412 (.307 wOBA, 10 percent below the MLB average) this late in to the season. Especially if said player had only one successful year under his belt. However, despite what you may think of his composite 2010 season, Adam Lind is secretly having a very good second half. Normally, I would not cover a player owned in 70 percent of fantasy leagues, but considering that he was available in two of my primary four (competitive) fantasy leagues until I picked him up, I feel it relevant to discuss him.

After posting a less-than-spectacular .214/.271/.370 (.640 OPS) line in the first half, Lind has turned things around in the second half. Since Chris Young proved to America that he did not belong in the Home Run Derby, Lind has hit a cool .300/.364/.539 (.900 OPS) with 5 HR in 110 AB (a 25-30 HR pace per full season). Even when he struggled in the first half, Lind provided fantasy owners with plenty of power output, blasting 12 home runs (and 40 RBI) through his first 213 AB of the season.

Per THT’s xBABIP calculator, is .321. This mark is right around his xBABIP for last season, .319. My xBABIP-based 2010 player forecast for Lind spit out an expected .302/.368/.560 (.927 OPS) line for him in the preseason based on a minuscule -0.007 xBABIP-BABIP split in 2009. Lind seemed like the real deal heading into the season and, from what I can observe, not much changed about Adam Lind between 2009 and 2010 (outside a small dip in LD% which has been offset by a larger decline in IFFB%). The only real difference between Lind in 2009 and 2010 is the 27-year-old has further developed his power stroke, regressed a bit in his strikeout rate (though that too has improved in the second half) and simultaneously been bit by the bad luck spider.

Just to dwell on the K/BB ratio for a moment, Lind posted a 1.90 mark with an 18.7% K% in 2009. In 2010, Lind’s splits reveal a 3.52 K/BB and 27.3% K% in the first half and a 20.9% K% and 2.55 K/BB in the second half. Clearly there has been some regression this year, but much of Lind’s 2010 failures seemed to be exaggerated by some first half hiccups.

Going forward, I recommend all owners pick up Lind where available. He should be 100 percent owned in eligible leagues. If we adjust his current triple slash line to reflect his xBABIP, pessimistically assuming that all additional hits gained would be singles, Lind’s overall line on the season inflates to a much more reasonable .267/.323/.443 line. That’s far from elite (and top-60 player status), but when paired with good power output and plenty of RBI opportunities, Lind starts to look almost as attractive as other outfield-eligible sluggers like Adam Dunn.

Recommendation: Pick up Lind in all qualifying leagues where available. Immediately.

Kevin Slowey | Minnesota | SP | 61 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 4.22 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 6.57 K/9, 1.67 BB/9
Oliver ROS: 4.20 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, 1.6 BB/9

Kevin Slowey is a relatively high ownership player flying under the radar in the second half. Since the NL broke its losing streak to the AL in the midsummer classic a month and a half ago, Slowey has accumulated three wins in six starts with a 3.13 ERA and a 30/6 K/BB ratio over his last 37.1 IP. Yahoo! fantasy ranks Slowey thus far in the second half as a top-30 player, while Baseball Monster values Slowey’s past 30 days of production as worth No. 25 overall amongst all fantasy baseball players.

Considering Slowey’s current level of production, the fact that he is on the waiver wire of almost 40 percent of fantasy leagues and that many fantasy leagues have a Aug. 31 trade deadline (especially keeper leagues), I included Slowey in this week’s AL Waiver Wire column (like teammate Scott Baker before him).

Question: What Would We Name the Team This Day? (American League)
Today is your day. For 24 hours, you can call ’em whatever you want.

Slowey’s is a fickle pitcher with plenty of flaws and upside. He’s got average stuff (career 7.5% SwStr%, 6.83 K/9), but pinpoint control (career 1.49 BB/9). He’s also an extreme flyball pitcher (posting a major league worst 29.6% groundball rate), but he’s also very good at inducing popups (11.3% IFFB%, ask old Barry Zito how that can work out for you) and pitching roughly half of his games in what has so far played out as a desolate pitcher’s park.

Slowey has some risk built into his game, but he’s got plenty more upside. The rule of investment is asking yourself whether the expected outcome is greater than the expected cost. Given the high popup rate and stingy walk rate, Slowey seems like a WHIP specialist (1.26 career, 1.22 in 2010). This is so despite his “hittability” (career .314 BABIP against). Slowey, however, is no Cliff Lee and his high flyball rate often ends up doing noticeable damage. Note the career 1.39 HR/9 rate (10% HR/FB). That is not the byproduct of bad luck (if anything, Slowey has been slightly lucky). Though Slowey’s low WHIP will oft translate into solo shots and mitigated damage, his home run downside inflates his ERA upside to somewhere around the low 4.00s (or high 3.00s at best).

Though we’ve already noted Slowey’s moderate stuff and hinted that strikeouts are not really part of the package, this “Scarlet Letter” is offset by the quality of the team behind him—both on the field and behind the plate. The Twins (+24.3 team UZR) have the fourth-best defense in the AL (behind the Rays, A’s and Rangers) and the third best team wOBA (.345) in all of baseball, trailing only the Red Sox (.351) and Yankees (.347) in offensive prowess. These two factors (and the small sample park factors) indicate that Slowey is plausibly capable of outperforming his peripherals and racking up the wins.

Wins+Decent Peripherals+Likely to Overperform is what makes Slowey profit-investment upside attractive. He is completely worth the investment, but he should be monitored carefully due to his ever-present downside risk. Slowey’s dividends could be huge—especially if you do not start him against unfavorable matchups (at the Cell, against the Yankees/Red Sox/Rangers).

Recommendation: Slowey is a must own commodity in AL-only and mixed leagues.

Jim Thome | Minnesota | DH | 7 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: .269/.389/.585
Oliver ROS: .223/.333/.441

Here is a quick trivia question. Among all major league hitters with 250+ plate appearances not named Jose Bautista, who leads in ISO? No it is not Miguel Cabrera (.304), Albert Pujols (.276), Luke Scott (.278), Adam Dunn (.294) or a Rangers corner outfielder. It is none other than Old Man River himself, 40-year old Jim Thome (.316). The same Jim Thome who the White Sox passed up last offseason, despite a sub-$2 million dollar salary, because a rotating DH and the incorrigible Mark Kotsay seemed like a good idea at the time. The same Jim Thome who last year posted the second-lowest ISO of his career since 1994 (.232 versus a .155 MLB average) and walked “only” 15.9 percent of the time (8.9% MLB average). The very same Jim Thome who was nonetheless the fourth-most-valuable designated hitter in baseball, whom I ranted and raved about plenty in the offseason.

Over a mere 257 plate appearances this season, Thome has smacked a ridiculous 17 bombs out of the park and posted a .389 OBP. His production, worth a .412 wOBA, has been 62 percentage points better than the major league average hitter (per wRC+). Hit Tracker Online says Thome’s long balls are averaging just under 400 feet, with all but two of his home runs on the season having “home run distance” in over 60% of all the major league parks. Sure, almost 70 percent of Thome’s plate appearances have come against right-handed pitchers, but his left-handed pitcher splits on the season (65 PA, 5 HR, .378 wOBA) are nothing to sneeze at or dismiss.

Despite all of this, fantasy owners, like Kenny Williams this offseason, seem hellbent on passing up Thome in favor of less productive players in their utility spot. Somehow, only 7 percent of leagues feature a team that enlists Thome’s services. Sure, Thome does not play every day, but when he does play, his production more than makes up for his periodic absence. Even with Jason Kubel starting to pick up his offensive game, Thome has seen a continuous trend of increasing playing time from month to month (a slightly injured June excepted).

Heck, even if Thome is not your primary DH, he is certainly worth a roster spot for spot starting and off-day streaming. His current BABIP (.303) is well below his career average (.321) and xBABIP (.336). Even with age and “declining bat speed” considered, Thome’s numbers are legitimate and warrant consideration in all but the shallowest of leagues. Even as a (part-time) DH, Thome should not be making less than $2 million this season and he should surely be owned in more than 7 percent of fantasy leagues.

White Sox fans wonder why they are five games behind the Twins in the AL Central standings (at least as of this writing). Do not be a Kenny Williams.

Recommendation: Thome is a must-own player in all AL-only leagues and should be owned in mixed leagues with four-plus bench spots.

Mitch Moreland | Texas | 1B | 1 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: .267/.377/.422
MLE: .242/.312/.390

Who is Mitch Moreland? He’s another first baseman in the “guys who aren’t Chris Davis and play first base for the Rangers” bloodline. Moreland was posting solid numbers in Triple-A (.289/.371/.484, .316 BABIP) before getting called up to the show, but Minor League Splits is less than bullish on his major league equivalent production. Per MLS’s manual MLE calculator, Moreland’s .855 OPS in the PCL is worth a .702 OPS in the majors (.242/.312/.390 triple slash line).

Though Moreland’s 29 doubles in 412 PA indicates doubles power which may translate into HR potential at the Arlington, Moreland’s AAA stint came in the hitter friendly PCL. His .195 ISO ranks 69th overall amongst all PCL hitters with 100+ PA. Let’s pretend that somehow, by some miracle, Moreland’s AAA ISO were to directly translate into his exact MLE ISO. Then you would essentially have Jason Kubel, who is going to get more PT down the stretch than Moreland (even with Thome around and mashing) and play in a more premium lineup spot (almost exclusively batting fourth, fifth and sixth in a more premium lineup (the Twins, as a team, have a .344 wOBA, third best in baseball)).

Though Moreland’s MLE numbers are better than Jorge Cantú’s .270/.325/.324 line for the Rangers thus far, his numbers are nonetheless lackluster, his playing time is questionable and his prospective lineup placing (bottom third) is less than enticing. (Though batting in the bottom third of the Rangers’ lineup means a lot more than it would compared to, say. the Royals’ lineup.) Moreland’s been productive in the majors thus far (45 at-bats), but he is hardly someone worth picking up (let alone watching). No stamp of approval here. Just pick up Jim Thome.

Recommendation: Moreland should not be owned in even 1 percent of fantasy leagues.

Dallas Braden | Oakland | SP | 33 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 3.44 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 5.69 K/9, 1.72 BB/9
Oliver ROS: 3.98 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 5.8 K/9, 2.2 BB/9

Trevor Cahill may have a better ERA (2.50) and more wins (12) than his teammate Dallas Braden (3.44, 8 wins), but Braden has been pitching strong in the second half. Braden has won four of his last six starts and has a 2.57 ERA (2.80 K/BB) in the second half. Though his xFIP (4.08) says the seasonal ERA (3.44) may have some luck involved, I say the true factor is team and park effects. Braden pitches in one of baseball’s more cavernous parks, and the A’s have one of baseball’s top defensive teams.

It would be nice to see Braden, who threw a perfect game earlier this year, induce a few more whiffs (7.7 SwStr%, 5.69 K/9), but you take your wins how you get them and Braden’s been hot of late. Sure, the A’s .312 team wOBA is less than inspiring, but it only takes a few runs to win when you don’t let any score. I am hardly saying Braden is top-shelf material, but this late in the season, when the waiver wire gets thin and the championship approaches, every hot hand helps. Braden’s been strong in the second half and teams in need of wins/WHIP might do well considering Braden for streaming/spot starts. Oliver’s projection seems to agree.

Recommendation: Braden is worth a spot-start/stream in mixed leagues and a roster spot on AL-only teams.

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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