Welcome back to JKJ’s School of Waiver Wire Wizardry. It’s time for Lesson Two, where I hope to improve upon my decently successful Lesson One.
James Karinchak doesn’t have the closer gig like I and many others thought he would, so that’s a big time bummer, not only as-an-analyst-wise, but also multiple-Karinchak-owner-wise. Still worth a stash because Brad Hand really isn’t all that great anymore, and Karinchak is a good ratios and strikeout guy, and holds if your league counts ’em. Hand’s K-rate is still very healthy, but man he’s given up a lot of barreled balls already and the xERA is over 4. I really think it’s only a matter of time.
Colin Moran predictably has gone cold. Teoscar Hernandez a little bit as well but the BA is still healthy (for now). JaCoby Jones has been holding up nicely, at least. Oh, and that Trent Grisham guy is raking. He’s looking like a budding superstar, with the rare power and speed combo we just don’t see much in baseball anymore. I tossed in a quick note about Donovan Solano at the end, and he’s been smacking base hit after base hit since. Planned to cover him this week but his ownership rates ballooned.
Nothing to write home about with my other picks from last week. Let’s see if I do better this time around.
Remember, students, 2020 is a weird one. The hotties need to be given a shot. Don’t be the guy who looks back at the missed opportunities that could have given you your asterisk-laden fantasy baseball title! Just kidding, for the record. No asterisks this year. We’re all in this same crazy boat together.
Note: Only players in the 30th percentiles (39% or below) on either Yahoo! or ESPN are considered. All stats as of 8/7/2020.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa – C/3B, TEX (Yahoo!: 18%, ESPN: 24%)
.353/.405/.471, 6 R, 0 HR, 2 XBH, 1 RBI, 4 SB
I can’t say for sure I had even heard of Isiah Kiner-Falefa before this season. All I know is he popped onto my radar after a hot spring and good intersquad games because he was a C-eligible guy who could steal bases and maybe provide some pop. So far this season, he’s done just that. I am more than a little bamboozled as to why he’s not rostered in at least like 75% of leagues. Really 100%. Who couldn’t use more stolen bases at any position, LET ALONE CATCHER?! Do you people not realize he already has four swipes? League-leader Tommy Pham has five! That’s just one more! It’s entirely feasible that Kiner-Falefa ends up among the league leaders in stolen bases. It’s already set in stone he will lead all catchers, right? That right there makes him one of the top picks at the position in my book. Not to mention he’s 85th percentile in xBA and strutting a .405 OBP. He can play 3B too! The Rangers would be dumb as a bucket of juiced baseballs not to find ways to play this guy as much as possible.
There’s no power to be had here, but really you had me at “a catcher who can steal bases.” Beware, he hits way more ground balls than the average MLB hitter (61.5%) and hits less line drives (23.1%), and that .462 BABIP is obviously unsustainable. Whatever. I’m all aboard the Kiner-Falefa train. There aren’t a ton of fantasy relevant Cs out there (except I’m about to eat my own words with some more names on the list later), so why not slot in a guy who won’t tank your ratios, can score runs, and provide oh-so-precious steals?
Mitch Moreland – 1B, BOS (Yahoo!: 5%, ESPN: 8%)
.292/.320/.833, 5 R, 4 HR, 5 XBH, 9 RBI, 0 SB
If you need some power and RBIs, take a peek at Mitch Moreland, who is vastly under-owned, if you ask me. If you have had him on your team, kudos! I have him in RazzSlam and I’m very happy about it. Basically paid nothing for a top-25 RBI guy, a surprisingly good BA, and a top-8 HR guy. The Red Sox lineup is still pretty good and is definitely heating up. Lots of chances for Moreland to keep producing, provided he gets playing time.
First base has become a little but of a thin position in fantasy, but ole Mitch keeps on keepin’ on. It’s really pretty bonkers the way he’s started the season. Despite a .200 BABIP, his ISO sits at .504 (that’s absurd) and his wRC+ is 212 (also absurd). Barrel rate, you ask? Well, it’s 26.3%. That’s obscene! The fact he doesn’t have enough ABs to officially qualify just makes it even crazier that he’s up that high on the HR and RBI leaderboards. The batting average will likely drop 30 or 40 points before too long if career trends continue. Though, a short season could be just the trick to keeping it above what he normally provides, perhaps?
Wilmer Flores – 1B/2B, SF (Yahoo!: 11%, ESPN: 10%)
.320/.340/.540/, 5 R, 3 HR, 5 XBH, 8 RBI, 0 SB
Oh my goodness. I kind of want to take a victory lap here. Alas, I can’t. In my Universal DH: West Division piece, I pegged Wilmer Flores as the Giants hitter most likely to benefit. Truthfully, I wasn’t even all that for real. I just had to pick a guy, after all. In hindsight, I even wanted to change it to Mauricio Dubon. Turns out I was right all along! Flores has had a really solid start to 2020, failing to record in hit in just one single start.
Dude ain’t tearing the cover of the ball by any means, but a .290 xBA and very few strikeouts are a plus. Some good news is his pull rate and line drive rate are at a career-best right now. Guess that doesn’t say too much in this tiny sample we have so far, but hey it’s something. So far, Flores has been a very cheap source of BA, HR, and RBI. Extra points in leagues that ding hitters for strikeouts. Slots in at 1B or 2B, so he has extra versatility in the CI/MI leagues. Look, he’s not an All-Star, but right now the floor is decently high.
Austin Nola – C/1B/2B, SEA (Yahoo!: 7%, ESPN: 6%)
.324/.395/.588, 4 R, 1 HR, 6 XBH, 7 RBI, 0 SB
Can’t get Kiner-Falefa? Austin Nola has four multi-hit games already this month, raising that BA up to a nice shiny .324. And wouldn’t you know it, in 55 Triple-A games last year, he slashed .327/.415/.520. His MLB numbers weren’t quite as sexy, but it just goes to show he’s done this before against pretty good competition. As a Tom Murphy owner, I’m a tooch worried by this hot start, but really I figure they find a way to get both in the lineup when Murphy is finally ready.
Nola possesses some pretty nice plate discipline. Got that K-rate down to 18.4% from last year’s 23.6% mark. His chase rate is down significantly and his zone contact rate is up from 2019. Also hitting 40.7% line drives compared to last year’s 26%. So, in short, things are looking up for the second-year big-leaguer. He spent seven years in the minors before finally cracking the bigs in 2019, but it looks like he’s here to stay. You OBP folks pay extra attention to him.
Max Stassi – C, LAA (Yahoo!: 16%, ESPN: 39%)
.333/.393/.833, 6 R, 4 HR, 4 XBH, 10 RBI, 0 SB
Can’t get Kiner-Falefa or Nola? Well, here you go, another catcher. Maybe you just want Max Stassi over the other two, That’s cool, man, you do you. Stassi has four dingers in his last seven games, begging the question, “Just how juiced are these baseballs, anyway?” I mean, Whit Merrifield is all of a sudden slugging bombs. Shohei Ohtani managed an opposite field homer with one good arm. Anyway, doesn’t matter for fantasy purposes; the point is Max Stassi is doing some thangs. ESPN owners are more on top of it than Yahoo!, it seems.
And for the record, it may not just be juiced baseballs helping Stassi out. Metrics are in favor, thus far: .291 xBA, .791 xSLG (!), and .465 xwOBA. Launch angle has improved to 19.8 degrees. Most importantly, Stassi’s K-rate has nosedived almost 20% from last season (2019: 33.3%, 2020: 14.3%). Sound like a broken record (all fantasy baseball analysts do these days) when I say it’s a very small sample. Sound like another broken record when I say it’s still encouraging! For now, Sassy Stassi (think that one’ll stick?) seems to be doing everything right. Who out there has a catcher you’re rostering who’s doing more for you right now? Put your damn hand down. Not even J.T. Realmuto is doing this well right now. Christian Vazquez has as many HR and RBI but not nearly the rest of the slash line you see above, plus he hasn’t done anything since like Opening Day it feels like.
Jake Cronenworth – 1B/2B/SS, SD (Yahoo!: 3%, ESPN: 7%)
.360/.385/.840, 6 R, 2 HR, 6 XBH, 4 RBI, 0 SB
More like Jake Cronenwortharosterspot, amirite? Rookie Jake Cronenworth is so hot right now. Mugatu would be proud, and Hansel and Derek Zoolander would be hella jelly. He’s really kinda come out of nowhere, listed as the #17 prospect just within the Padres system. But here he is, with exactly two homers, two doubles, and two triples in just 26 career PAs. The Rays have a pretty nice farm but they may regret letting this guy get away. Last year in AAA (in the Rays system), Cronenworth slashed .334/.429/.520 with 10 HR, 26 doubles, four triples, and 12 steals in 88 games. I’m a sucker for XBH machines, and this guys seems to fit the bill.
Cronenworth also has 94th percentile sprint speed in his repertoire but has no steals yet. Won’t be long now, I’d wager. Given the versatility, he’s pretty much got an everyday role locked up by the look of it. Both his homers have come in his last two games, as well. Only gone hitless once and only failed to score a run in a game twice. Not bad for a rook. Very low ownership and some sexy upside here, folks. The Padres lineup is turning into a lowkey juggernaut full of young hot-right-nows. This is the kind of team I’d love to get my hands on in The Show. You should get your hands on Cronenworthyofyourtime in fantasy.
Randy Dobnak – SP, MIN (Yahoo!: 25%, ESPN: 24%)
2-1, 15 IP, 8 K, 4 BB, 0.60 ERA, 2.73 FIP, 0.87 WHIP
It’s another baseball season, which means it’s time for Rich Hill to be on the IL for an extended amount of time, probably multiple times, if there’s even time for that. Homer Bailey has also hit the shelf. Enter Randy Dobnak. That Uber/Lyft driver sure can throw a baseball. And lucky for him and his fantasy owners, he’s got arguably the deadliest lineup giving him a chance to win. I’m a little surprised he even has a loss already with those bats and a 0.60 ERA, but whatever. Dude is a good add.
Dobnak isn’t the flashiest guy. He’s got sweet facial hair and sweet goggles, though. The K/9 is not at all appealing, and there is quite a gap between ERA and FIP, but that’s still a good FIP. No matter what level he’s pitched at, Dobnak has always managed a good (or great) H/9, BB/9, and ERA. His xERA, however, is 4.68. And his Statcast profile very, very blue. That’s not exactly inspiring. Be that as it may, the results have been good, both this year and last year. Ground balls are his bread and butter – he’s got a 68.2 GB% so far. He throws a sinker or curveball almost 80% of the time and locates them well. As long as he keeps doing that and getting grounders, there won’t be a lot of runs scored and there definitely won’t be very many balls leaving the yard. And remember, he pitches for the Twins. That’s enough for me!
Tyler Mahle – SP, CIN (Yahoo!: 5%, ESPN: 6%)
0-0, 10 IP, 10 K, 3 BB, 1.80 ERA, 2.20 FIP, 1.00 WHIP
Tyler Mahle, once a top-100 prospect, has not had good success in the major leagues. Before this season, he had a career record of 11-23 with a 4.88 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. Pretty yucky if you ask me. Through two outings in 2020, though, he’s looked more like that top-100 prospect version.
Mahle’s Statcast page is entirely red or pink, too. It’s deep red in the good stuff: xBA, xERA, xSLG, and xwOBA. Even more encouraging is that he’s faced the Cubs and the Indians. It’s not like he’s Trevor Bauer beating up on the Tigers and banged-up Brewers (side note: I’m actually in on Bauer, just had to make the jab anyway). So what’s been the difference for Mahle this season? Can he keep it up? I’ll answer the second question first cuz it’s easier: I dunno. Small sample yadda yadda, but it’s encouraging yadda yadda. Fastball velocity is up a tad and he’s getting wayyyy more whiffs on it so far this season. The biggie is that, compared to 2019, he’s nixed his splitter, cutter, and practically his curve, and is now complementing his fastball with a slider and changeup. The four-seamer and slider are pairing superbly together, garnering whiff rates of 39.4% and 34.8%, respectively. I’d like to see him go deeper into games, but the new Mahle looks great so far.
Yusei Kikuchi – SP, SEA (Yahoo!: 15%, ESPN: 20%)
0-1, 15.1 IP, 16 K, 6 BB, 5.28 ERA, 2.08 FIP, 1.30 WHIP
Yusei Kikuchi got a little fantasy buzz after firing off six scoreless and striking out nine Athletics in his second start of the season, but Friday’s outing wasn’t nearly as good. He gave up four runs and only struck out three. Yucky. Still, overall he’s having a not-so-great season but metrics say it should be better.
Other than exit velocity and hard hit percent, Kikuchi is in the red on Statcast. His hard hit rate is even a little better than it was last year, but it’s the strikeouts that are really popping out so far. And that 5.28 ERA has a 2.79 xERA to go along with it, for what it’s worth. Kikuchi has added a cutter to his pitch arsenal, and he’s relying heavily on it – 43% of the time. He throws his four-seamer about as often, and the really good news there is the velocity is up almost three MPH compared to last year. Ground balls are way up this year, while fly balls are down. Whiff rate is up 10.5%, too. I’m quite intrigued to see how things play out for Mr. Kikuchi the rest of the way. Last season’s numbers were ugly and the metrics were gross. And he gave up THIRTY SIX homers. This year he’s yet to allow one. The numbers may not be super sexy, but again, the metrics are night and day from 2019. I mean, yeah, he pitches for the Mariners. The dubs will be few and far between, but there may be value in the other areas.
Trevor Rosenthal – RP, KC (Yahoo!: 7%, ESPN: 5%)
0-0, 5.2 IP, 7 K, 0 BB, 1.59 ERA, 2.82 FIP, 0.53 WHIP, 2 SV, 0 HD
This won’t be the last time I say it, but saves are mess in 2020. And it won’t be the last time I say “How 2020 is it that _____?” This time is how 2020 is it that Trevor Rosenthal is off to this kind of start? You may remember I’m a Cardinals guy, and the hype surrounding this kid was so real. Always had electric stuff but could never control it. This year has been perfectly in control, to the tune of zero walks.
I can hear you now, saying “Yeah, but, Royals…” Closers on bad teams are still closers and should be rostered, end of story. Especially ones putting up the kind of ratios Rosenthal has so far. Closers on bad teams also play for teams that likely aren’t blowing anyone out most days, so save opportunities still pop up. It’s early, but Rosenthal looks great and is two-for-two in save chances. Ian Kennedy was the guy at first, but he’s just bad now. Rosenthal is likely the guy moving forward, but Greg Holland is around, too, so just be aware and don’t get too mad at me if you add Rosenthal only for Holland to come vulture a save away.
Other Quick Notes
Dylan Cease is still up and down. Notched a couple wins in the past week or so, but he had five walks last time out. Tread with caution, but there’s no denying the upside. Just maybe not 2020 upside.
Corbin Burnes is another pitcher to watch with electric stuff and high upside. Statcast looks really good. Last two outings have been in relief, but the Ks are lookin’ good.
Touki Toussaint impressed in his most recent start, fanning nine over six and two-thirds. Past two appearances, both starts, have been way, way, way better than his first two relief outings.
Really wanted to feature Renato Nunez up above, but his ownership has gone up too high lately. He could still be out there for you, though, and you need to add him if he is. Clobbering baseballs right now and was Yahoo’s #1 overall player the past seven days.