Hello again, students! You’re just in time for Lesson Three in JKJ’s School of Waiver Wire Wizardry. This weekend has already been tainted by another positive COVID test just as the Cardinals got back in action. The Reds and Pirates game Saturday was cancelled due to a Reds player testing positive Friday. Things were looking up! And then this. Just a reminder that COVID is bigger than baseball, and most especially fantasy baseball. It’s not going away any time soon by the look of it, so please continue to practice safety measures to keep you and others around you safe! This is a class after all, so a teacher has to get on their soapbox every once in a while. Fun fact: I’m a real-life teacher, too. High school English. Not my first go-around getting on a soapbox. Sorry not sorry.
Anyhoodles, let’s dive right in to the hotties you need to pay attention to for Week 4.
Note: Stats accurate as of 8/15/2020, before games began. Remember, only players available in the 30th percentiles (39% or below) of Yahoo! or ESPN leagues are eligible. Thought being that most of who you read about below will be there for you to add. Also, I’m tired of writing stat lines. I just end up retyping most of it in the analysis anyway.
Jesse Winker – OF, CIN (Yahoo!: 26%, ESPN: 35%)
Man, this dude is Reds hot! Get it?! But 2020 done 2020’ed us again; no Reds baseball for the time being. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go scoop Jesse Winker up. In his last 10, he’s slashing .586/.657/1.207, with five homers and seven RBI. Reds hot, I tell ya.
Winker was on my Universal DH radar back in the offseason, but I really figured Aristides Aquino would get the main crack at DH. Aquino hasn’t done squat and has barely seen action, while Winker is cementing everyday ABs from now on. The batting average always figured to be good, but 2020 Winker is crushing the ball, too. His xBA is 96th percentile while his exit velocity is 94th. Dayum, son! Last year, Winker averaged 89.1MPH EV. It’s up five full points this season. Fifty percent of the time he’s hitting the ball hard, and he’s upped his walk rate from 9.9% to 12.5%. And even more good news is it’s not like he’s just feasting on fastballs. He is, but he’s also feasting on off-speed and breaking balls. All the balls. Barrel rate is almost quadrupled from last season. Sweet Spot% is up 12 points. The Reds lineup is great when it’s healthy, and that affords Mr. Winker even more opportunities to hit, score, and drive runs in. Winker has an eye-popping and league-leading 218 wRC+ right now. Don’t Wink, or you’ll miss out! Get it?!
Robbie Grossman – OF, OAK (Yahoo!: 11%, ESPN: 20%)
In a normal season, I might ignore this kind of hot streak from a guy like Robbie Grossman. He’s been around a good while and has never been much to write home about, except in OBP leagues he has been a nice value thanks to his always-consistent K:BB ratio. But 2020 Grossman has been phenomenal lately.
Grossman is currently slashing .306/.460/.612 with three homers, nine RBI, and four swipes. Four swipes! He only had nine last season. There’s a shocking amount of red on his Statcast page – the only blue bit is his outfielder jump. Who gives a damn about that; this is fantasy baseball. Ole Rob had a putrid barrel rate last season and the season before, but it’s up to 10% now. And get this: he’s actually walking more than he’s striking out. Ten walks to only nine Ks. So he’s giving you legit power, good speed, and killer OBP. That’s league-winning type stuff in a 60-game season. Sure, he’s bound to regress some, but I like what I’m seeing, and the metrics mostly support it. He does have inflated numbers against breaking balls, so if pitchers catch on to that and attack him more with those, then who knows. I like the career-low ground ball rate and career-high pull and fly ball rates. Zone Swing% and Zone Contact% are both personal bests right now, as well. Maybe aggressive Grossman is the best Grossman? Always had good Zone Contact%, just needs to keep swinging!
Dominic Smith – 1B/OF, NYM – (Yahoo!: 8%, ESPN: 10%)
The departure of Yoenis Cespedes has been the key reason Dominic Smith has seen regular playing time. He’s been at DH, LF, and even 1B sometimes. The extra versatility is nice for fantasy purposes, but that big booming bat is better. Smith has blasted a homer in each of his last three games, giving him five on the season.
I’m kind of looking at Smith as a poor man’s Pete Alonso but with a better strikeout rate. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Smith would go out and smash at a 50-HR pace, but you know what I mean. Mediocre batting average with good pop and a healthy OBP. Last year, Smith showed huge improvement by lowering the K-rate and upping the BB-rate. So far in 2020, he’s staying right in line with what he posted a year ago. The walk rate is quite a bit better, even. And he’s hitting the ball harder (and harder more often) than he ever has at the MLB level. That there barrel rate is near tops in the league. Although he still chases pitches a fair amount, it’s at least not as often as he has before. I try not to put too much stock into BABIP, but Smith’s is .267 right now, which is the second-lowest of his pro career. Things could get a little better moving forward.
Nick Solak – 2B/3B/OF, TEX (Yahoo!: 25%, ESPN: 21%)
Nick Solak was a pretty popular sleeper pick coming into the season. He looked pretty ding dang good in his brief stint last year, hitting over .290 and almost posting a .900 OPS. This year he’s slashing .311/.382/.443 with one homer, eight RBI, and three stolen bases.
The power isn’t quite what owners hoped for maybe, but the batting average and speed are there. He’s only barreling like one-third as often as he was last year. Nothing to lose too much sleep over, though. The dude hardly strikes out, walks at a good clip, is above average in the hard-hit department, has great contact skills, and has 93rd percentile sprint speed. Solak started very slow, hitting just .205 until about a week ago. He’s got his average up over .300 now, ripping off four multi-hit games in his last five. Very encouraged by his adjustment to hitting breaking balls this year. Last season, he was .171 against them; this year, he’s at .389. I’m gonna put my money on him figuring out how to barrel more again. Don’t forget he hit a total of 32 HR last season across AAA and MLB.
Austin Slater – OF/1B, SF (Yahoo!: 31%, ESPN: 14%)
So I’ll say this up front: Slater has a 50% HR/FB ratio going right now, and that ain’t gonna hold up. He’s never hit more than 18 HR in a full season, so I wouldn’t expect that to stick. But looking at Statcast, you see a lot of red in the categories that matter for fantasy. Like, 95th percentile xBA and 94th xwOBA. That’s good. Real good. Five swipes with just above-average speed is a teensy bit surprising, but sprint speed isn’t the end all be all as far as steals go. Still, dude has never been a base stealer really, so take it with a grain of salt. I tell ya, I gave Wilmer Flores some love coming into the season, but really the only Giants bat I even had an inkling of drafting was Mike Yastrzemski. Yet here go the Giants, pumping out fantasy relevant guys like Donovan Solano, Flores, and now Slater.
Sorry, I digress. Take a look at Slater if you need OF or 1B (in Yahoo! leagues) help. His wOBA is supported by xwOBA. Hard Hit% is for real. Launch angle is at a career high. Among the very best in wRC+ (195). Chasing fewer pitches than ever. I’m sold, despite the inflated BABIP.
Kevin Gausman – SP, SF (Yahoo!: 14%, ESPN: 19%)
If the Giants having fantasy relevant bats was surprising, I’m absolutely flamboozlegasted by any starting pitching being relevant. Kevin Gausman has been more like Kevin Gasman – 88th percentile FB velocity ain’t too shabby for a guy averaging 93.9MPH a season ago.
Anyone who’s read my stuff before knows I love the per-nine-innings numbers. Gausman’s K/9 is just dandy, his BB/9 is a work of art, but I would be much happier with a better H/9. Nevertheless, he’s been surprisingly good in 2020. Strikeouts haven’t ever been his thing in the bigs, but this year he’s throwing his slider more and his FB velocity has gained some real nice zip, and the Ks have piled up. To be fair, his slider has been smacked all the way around, but I’m still a fan of a little more variety instead of just relying on the fastball and splitter (the latter being his best pitch by far). Gausman doesn’t have a win yet and has only one quality start, but those of you in K:BB leagues should take an especially good hard look.
Dylan Cease – SP, CWS (Yahoo!: 24%, ESPN: 26%)
A whole lotta people, me included, had this guy pegged for a 2020 breakout. It’s been a little underwhelming, but Dylan Cease has sort of turned the corner lately. On the year, he’s up to 3-1 and has two quality starts in his last three appearances.
I’ll be straight up: I really don’t like him much for this season. The season is too short to chance it on unproven SPs outside of matchup-based spot starts or DFS type stuff. I’m not racing to add Cease to any of my redraft teams. I wanted to cover him more for dynasty/keeper purposes for two reasons: 1) his slider is filthy as hell, and 2) his control has improved considerably in 2020. Aside from the slider, Cease also has a fastball and a curveball that show some signs of greatness. The fastball velocity and spin are top notch – he just needs to locate it better. The curve has good spin and good dip – he just needs to locate it better. Cease’s BB/9 has never been below 3.00 until this season – he had one bad outing with five walks in five innings but otherwise has walked just one batter total. Shades of Robbie Ray here; fantastic stuff that just need harnessing. The harnessing seems to be coming along better for Cease than for Ray.
Zach Davies – SP, SD (Yahoo!: 26%, ESPN: 26%)
Give me any start throwing for the Padres right now. That lineup is clicking. Eric Hosmer is healthy again, Fernando Tatis Jr. is THE best shortstop in fantasy, Trent Grisham is a force, Wil Myers has revitalized his career, Tommy Pham is a hoss, Manny Machado is gonna Machado, and Jake Cronenworth has burst onto the scene. The Friars are one of the better run-scoring and home run-hitting squads in baseball.
So Zach Davies. He’s got a 2.78 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. Strikeouts aren’t his forte (though he’s having a career year in tht respect), but he doesn’t allow a lot of hard hits and has a dope lineup giving him run support. Davies has always had a very respectable ERA in his big league career – only once has it been above 4.00. He’s another one of those not-flashy-but-gets-it-done types. I don’t care much for those types unless they pitch for good offenses, and the Padres fit that bill. It’s why I like Randy Dobnak for the Twins. There’s just a good chance there will be lots of run support. Davies is mixing pitches better this year, relying more on his changeup and cutter than in years prior. He hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in a single start and hasn’t allowed more hits than innings pitched in a single start, either. Again, not flashy, but it works. And when you’ve got a good offense backing you up, “but it works” will do just fine for fantasy.
Scott Barlow – RP, KC (Yahoo!: 2%, ESPN: 1%)
Barlow has been a late-innings guy of late, racking up a save and two holds in his last four appearances. His xBA, K%, Sweet Spot%, launch angle, exit velocity, xwOBA, and xERA are all personal bests for now. And, if you didn’t know, T-Rose walked three batters his last time out. I know I’m sitting here talking career bests with a small sample while also bringing up one single not-even-that-bad-all-things-considered outing, but it’s still worth at least mentioning. Rosenthal could fall apart in a jiffy, and I’d put my money on Barlow to take over if that happens. Closer Monkey agrees (side note: bookmark Closer Monkey if you haven’t already. Follow them on Twitter and put their tweets on your notification list. They aren’t paying me to say that, but they should).
Other Quick Notes
Garrett Hampson needs to be owned. I really wanted to take the victory lap and write about him up top, but he’s too owned now, dammit. The Rockies can hit; we all know this. He’s been leading off. He’s very, very, very fast. His xBA and xSLG are DOPE. GET HIM. He’s still not-owned enough to warrant mentioning here.
If you need a catcher and all the ones I’ve been writing about lately are taken, then take a look at Pedro Severino. Pretty solid power and most of the time lately he’s been batting fifth in a weirdly potent Orioles lineup.
Rafael Montero is too highly owned to fit above, but he’s now 4-f0r-4 in save chances and has been perfect each and every time. Just to be clear, that’s a 0.00 ERA and 0.00 WHIP.
Framber Valdez is another pitcher who might be out there for you but also might not. Four starts, three of ’em quality, and hasn’t given up more than two earned runs in any of ’em. Can be slotted in as an RP, too.
One last pitcher you might take a gander on is Brad Keller. His first start was five three-hit innings – zero runs allowed. Seven Ks. His next start was six two-hit innings – zero runs allowed, but only three Ks. Good news is both starts were against quality opposition (Cubs and Reds, respectively). Bad news is he pitches for the Royals lol.
Feel free to hit me up down below in the comments or on Twitter (@jkj0787) with any and all questions! Or complaints! Tag me in those mentions, slide into those DMs, whatever pops your fly.