Welcome to JKJ’s School of Waiver Wire Wizardry. This is Lesson One. Please, take your seat. Feel free to drink adult beverages in class. I encourage it.
It’s been a good while since I’ve blessed your brains and your eyeballs with my writing. And I’ll be honest, in the meantime I wasn’t fully confident we’d have baseball at all. But yay! I was wrong! For now…several teams didn’t play at all this weekend, and I just can’t see this being the last time something like this happens. Maybe I’ll be wrong again. Hope so. First the Marlins, now the Cardinals, maybe still the Phillies, but it seems they may have dodged a giant bullet. Time will tell.
For now, though, we still have baseball, which means we still have fantasy baseball, which means you lucky folks get to read the first of my brand-spankin’ new weekly column here at the Razzball on fantasy baseball waiver targets.
Gonna keep it pretty straightforward. No particular order. Bats in one section, arms in the other. I’m only interested in players owned in the 30-range percentiles or less in either Yahoo! or ESPN leagues, but I’ll list both platforms just cuz I’m nice. That way, there’s a better shot the guys you’re reading about are actually out there for you to get. Ownership rates are always a-changin’, of course, so keep that in mind. I mean, duh, but friendly reminders never hurt. Also, keep in mind this doesn’t include Saturday’s stats since I’m writing before games have started.
Teoscar Hernandez – OF, TOR (Yahoo!: 35%, ESPN: 37%)
.321/.355/.821, 4 HR, 6 XBH, 6 RBI, 2 SB
More like Teeing-Offscar Hernandez, amirite? One quick glance at his Statcast profile on Baseball Savant tells you all you need to know: his hot start isn’t an accident (91st percentile or better in all the major batting categories). Now let’s not get silly here, he’s not going to keep it up, but he just may keep it up long enough to be a waiver steal in this wacky, unpredictable 2020 season. He’s still striking out a ton, and he always has. That right there limits the upside, and it’s why he didn’t get drafted much. That, and he’s known as a streaky player, but streaky players are league winners this year. So far, he’s maintaining a healthy BABIP to further support his numbers. The Jays have a sneaky good offense, especially when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. starts finding a rhythm (and he will). Hernandez is clobbering the ball right now, hitting it very hard and smacking four dingers already. He even has two stolen bases with that above-average sprint speed. I’m encouraged by something I noticed in his plate discipline thus far in 2020: his Zone Swing% is down from 72.4% to 63.8% while his Zone Contact% is up from 72.9% to 78.4% (2019 to 2020). He’s being more selective, and the results are good. Lots of hard hit balls. Expect a dip in batting average due to Ks, but I’m buying the power. Scoop Tee-Offscar up before someone else does.
Colin Moran – 2B/3B, PIT (Yahoo!: 36%, ESPN: 36%)
.333/.385/.875, 4 HR, 5 XBH, 5 RBI, 0 SB
Here’s one probably no one saw coming. The Pirates have some nice fantasy options (I will always stan Bryan Reynolds), but Moran wasn’t on anyone’s list. Except maybe in NL Central-only leagues. Even then it’s close. Moran has never displayed much power in the bigs, but he did hit 18 HR in just 338 Triple-A plate appearances back in 2017. So it’s not like this is totally uncharted territory for him. Why is he blasting off this year? He’s hitting less ground balls and more fly balls, for one. He’s also pulling the ball and barreling the ball much more this year than he did last year. But other than that, nothing is standing out approach-wise. I also found this piece where he talks about using analytics to adjust to what pitchers have been doing against him. That’s all well and good, but he also talks about chasing pitches, and for now he’s still chasing about as much as he did last year. I’m not as sold on Moran as I am on Tee-Offscar, but that doesn’t mean he can’t help you while he’s hot. This season is bananas short, so any hot streak is a good hot streak to take a chance on.
Kevin Pillar – OF, BOS (Yahoo!: 18%, ESPN: 23%)
.409/.435/.682, 1 HR, 4 XBH, 5 RBI, 0 SB
I had Pillar on my deep sleeper radar back in the spring because Alex Verdugo’s injury, and it turns out he’s still getting ABs with Verdugo back in the lineup. The Red Sox have been doing some outfield shuffling every day, but Pillar is still getting as many ABs the others. You can’t expect much power from Pillar, but he did hit 21 bombs last year. He also stole 14 bases and has stolen at least that many in every season since 2015. So, I mean, he’s hot, right? You could do worse right now, right (looking at you, Andrew Benintendi owners)? If Benny Baseball keeps playing like this, he’s going to lose time to Pillar’s benefit. Hurts to say it, since I halfway worship Benny because we share an alma mater. All that aside, Pillar is riding a ridonkulous .444 BABIP right now, so the wheels will spin right off this speeding bus sooner or later. Why not take a chance on later if you have someone detrimental taking up valuable roster space. You really don’t have time to wait for “your guy” to snap out of it. Unless it’s a major star, of course. Then you just gotta eat whatever’s on the menu.
JaCoby Jones – OF, DET (Yahoo!: 20%, ESPN: 42%)
.423/.464/.885, 3 HR, 6 XBH, 7 RBI, 0 SB
Just like everyone expected, the Detroit Tigers lead the majors in homers. Totally not surprised by this. A 5-3 record is even less surprising! I also totally saw JaCoby Jones’s 1.349 OPS coming a mile away. Easy.
Okay, enough not funny sarcasm. Is JaCoby Jones for real? He did enter the bigs with an above-average raw power tool according to his 2017 scout report on FanGraphs. His Savant profile right now looks very, very nice indeed. His average is of course too elevated right now, but his xBA is still 92nd percentile. The power looks real, too. He’s bashing the living hell out of fastballs right now, with a .556 xBA and 1.333 xSLG against them. He’s much less successful against breaking balls, though his numbers are drastically better than what he’s shown in previous years. I’d expect pitchers to stop throwing as many fastballs here pretty soon, so it’ll be interesting to how Jones adjusts. Some notable adjustments in plate discipline are his Swing% and Chase% are down while Barrel% is way up compared earlier seasons. His K-rate isn’t great at 25%, but that’s a damn sight better than what it’s been before. Would like to see Jones walk more and use that above-average speed as well. If he keeps mashing like this, though, you gotta think he moves up from the ninth spot in the lineup. That insanely potent deadly powerful Tigers lineup.
J.P. Crawford – SS, SEA (Yahoo!: 11%, ESPN: 32%)
.393/.514/.571, 0 HR, 3 XBH, 4 RBI, 2 SB
Is J.P. Crawford gonna mess around and finally live up to some hype? Dude has been on top prospect lists for years now and was even top-five overall at one point. The amount of underwhelmingness attached to his career thus far is Zoolander 2 levels of epic. But just look at that healthy slash line for 2020! And Statcast supports it! Whole lotta red bars on that profile page, especially in the K- and whiff-rate territories. Crawford was a massive afterthought in drafts this year, for good reason, but is making a big splash in the early going. Something has clicked. Just look at that minuscule strikeout rate and that delicious 20% walk rate. It’s almost like he’s finally learned how to recognize pitches and work the count. Late bloomers are real, peeps. Just remember Nelson Cruz used to suck, too. Crawford is handling fastballs well (extremely well) for the first time in his career. His xBA against breaking balls is .320, but his actual BA is only .143, so his numbers should be even better than what they really are. Interestingly, he’s chasing a little more pitches than usual but is also making contact on those pitches much more than usual. He’s also not swinging at the first pitch nearly as often. Patience is a virtue! Except when you recognize a pitch to chase that you still know you can hit! More line drives and more solid contact, too. I like what I’m seeing. I’m in on Crawford, especially in OBP leagues.
Trent Grisham – OF, SD (Yahoo!: 31%, ESPN: 71%)
.267/.389/.567, 2 HR, 4 XBH, 5 RBI, 2 SB
Not sure why there’s a 40% difference in ownership on those two platforms, but another Yahoo! fantasy baseball GM’s trash could be your treasure. There was a good deal of hype surrounding Grish heading into the season, but playing time worries tagged right alongside. Then the best news ever for Grish hopefuls came when Franchy Cordero was dealt to the Royals (where he has sucked). The Padres look super smart after that one. Grisham is turning into a category filler in a hurry. He’s not the best batting average out there, but the power is good and the speed is elite. 98th percentile elite. Grisham’s plate discipline has always been good, too. Decent strikeout rate paired with a good walk rate at all levels. He’s also rocking an itty bitty 8.6% chase rate at the moment, so me likey that as well. I really, really like what Grisham has to offer. Hop on this dude quick. The upside is too good to pass up.
Merrill Kelly – SP, ARZ (Yahoo!: 13%, ESPN: 22%)
1-0, 7.2 IP, 7 K, 1 BB, 1.17 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 0.52 WHIP
Okay, yeah, it’s only been one start. But it was hella good. Kelly took a no-no into the seventh against the Rangers. Everyone, including me, was worried about quality starts in 2020, but Kelly is one for one. Still, I get it. One start is tough to trust. Kelly hasn’t been anything special in the past, even in his four years in the KBO he was just pretty average. It is worth noting, however, that his pitch movement has gotten a lot better since last season. His cutter and changeup were especially good in his first start. If that keeps up, Kelly could turn into a nice little contributor who was on absolutely no radars at all on draft day. Don’t go expecting a 9 K/9 every time out, but he could still help out in the other departments.
Spencer Turnbull – SP, DET (Yahoo!: 18%, ESPN: 22%)
1-0, 11.0 IP, 14 K, 5 BB, 2.45 ERA, 1.91 FIP, 1.00 WHIP
Another Tiger is going ham early, how 2020 is that? Spencer Turnbull looking real good, limiting batters to a .188 xBA and rocking a 97th percentile whiff rate. On one hand, the fact that all 11 innings have been against the Reds tells you those have been good innings, cuz those Reds can rake. On the other hand, you’d like to see him dominate more than just one team. The Twins! Let’s see him against the Twins! Or Cleveland! Still, the Reds have a potent lineup and Turnbull has gotten through them rather easily. He walked four in his first start but only had one in his last outing, even tossing a quality start. Turnbull’s second-most thrown pitch is his slider, and those Cincy batters have whiffed on it 63.2% of the time. That’s grody. Somehow they’ve managed a .250 BA against it despite a .188 xBA (not to be confused with his overall .188 xBA). Turnbull’s minor league pedigree is pretty ding dang good; he’s always been a great strikeout guy and shown solid command, consistently producing a 20- or 30-something strikeout percentage and a single-digit walk rate most of the time. Upside is legit. Take a shot if you need SP help.
James Karinchak – RP, CLE (Yahoo!: 25%, ESPN: 16%)
0-1, 4 IP, 5 K, 2 BB, 0.00 ERA, 2.09 FIP, 0.50 WHIP, 1 SV, 1 HD
Brad Hand owners, time to cut the cord and go get James Karinchak instead. The closer role is all but his. The 24-year-old has looked electric so far and clearly is the better option over Hand these days. That 80-grade fastball xBA? Point zero zero eight. Curveball xBA? Point zero zero five. I wanted to spell it out for you. Karinchak has thrown both pitches pretty much equally, and they’re both equally good apparently. In the minors, he struck out just about everyone ever. Last season in AAA he racked up FORTY TWO strikeouts in 17.1 innings. Control is a bit of an issue, but with the kind of whiffs he’s getting, he’ll be fine no matter what. You need to own this guy. Saves are at a premium this season.
Cristian Javier – SP, HOU (Yahoo!: 20%, ESPN: 16%)
0-0, 6.2 IP, 9 K, 1 BB, 1.35 ERA, 2.79 FIP, 0.60 WHIP
Cristian Javier looked like a seasoned vet in his first career start against none other than the Los Angeles Dodgers. There’s a whole buncha red on the Savant profile for a rookie. Digging back through minors numbers and I’m like “Why is this dude just the #6 Astros prospect?” His H/9 and K/9 are video game worthy, but that BB/9 definitely needs some work. He doesn’t throw all that hard, but damn does it work. With a lineup like the Astros offering run support, I want all the Javier shares I can get my hands on. Oh, and he’s never had an ERA worse than 3.60, and that was as an 18-year old in his first pro gig. Probably not gonna be an innings-eater any time soon, but I’m all in on the upside here.
Other Quick Notes
RP Taylor Williams in Seattle is barely owned and is two-for-two in save opportunities. Not stoked about him, though. His pitches have been smacked real hard, he’s just been fortunate not to blow a save yet.
Tyler Chatwood might be out there for you (Y!: 38%, E: 61%) and is a solid add at SP for now. Looked good against the Brew Crew en route to eight Ks, a QS, and a dub.
Need a 2B/SS? Maybe look at Donovan Solano? Last year he was a good contact guy (.324 xBA!) and it’s carried into 2020. His xBA is 94th percentile while his xSLG is 91st. I mean, late bloomers are real, remember?
Jonathan Schoop is “hot,” but I’m not buying it. Look at the Statcast profile. Yucky.