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Waiver Wire: The 'Stros are relevant?!?

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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The Astros have recently been a hot-button topic in Fantasy Baseball. It started with George Springer's earlier-than-expected promotion to the majors. It continued with the speculation of when Jon Singleton will make his MLB debut. And it hasn't stopped thanks to Collin McHugh's surprising performance.

But while the Astros have generated plenty of headlines as of late, one player that is being overlooked is starter Dallas Keuchel, who is owned in just 26 percent of CBSSports.com leagues.

McHugh has been in the majors for just a week and he's already at 41 percent ownership. Granted, he did have two pretty outstanding starts and is coming off 65-point Fantasy week, but this situation reminds me of The Tortoise and the Hare. McHugh might be off to a quick start, but Keuchel's slow-and-steady pace shouldn't be ignored.

It's a pretty interesting story when your pitching coach can't even explain your success, which is the case with McHugh. Houston pitching coach Brent Strom had some pretty revealing quotes after McHugh's last start Sunday. He said the right-hander is winning without his trademark pitch (sinker). Strom added "he's a different guy than I saw in spring." McHugh has been successful because he's working up in the strike zone, which is helping add life to his breaking ball and cutter.

I tend to agree with my colleague Adam Aizer, who said on Monday's Fantasy Baseball Today podcast that it's unrealistic to believe a player can completely change in such a short amount of time. McHugh entered 2014 with an 8.94 ERA in two major-league seasons. He had a 14.29 ERA this spring. He also had a 4.50 ERA at Triple-A prior to his promotion and his Adam Wainwright-like transformation.

Most added players on CBSSports.com
Player Own %
1. Joe Smith, RP, Angels 57 (+53)
2. Collin McHugh, SP, Astros 41 (+41)
3. Dayan Viciedo, OF, White Sox 66 (+39)
4. Tanner Roark, SP, Nationals 58 (+32)
5. Franklin Morales, SP, Rockies 38 (+31)
6. Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies 59 (+28)
7. James Loney, 1B, Rays 58 (+28)
8. Mark Melancon, RP, Pirates 49 (+26)
9. Alcides Escobar, SS, Royals 53 (+25)
10. Josh Beckett, SP, Dodgers 51 (+21)

Keuchel's track record isn't much better than McHugh's. He came into 2014 with a 9-18 record and 5.20 ERA in his first two MLB seasons. But Keuchel hasn't built unrealistic expectations like McHugh, and there is some history to suggest Keuchel could continue his sustainable pace.

Keuchel has relied on his changeup being a game changer for him this season. It's been the pitch he's used the most behind his sinker and the whiff rate on his changeup is at 20.8 percent, according to BrooksBaseball.net. That's significant because it's the highest whiff rate Keuchel has had on his changeup since June 2013, when it was at 23.1 percent. Keuchel even threw the changeup at pretty much the same frequency -- 15.4 percent in June '13 to 15.5 percent in April.

You ask -- How did Keuchel do last June? I answer -- He went 2-2 with a 3.00 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, .257 opponents' batting average and had a 9.3 K/9 rate. In April, Keuchel is 2-1 with a 3.56 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .267 opponents' batting average and 8.9 K/9 rate. Pretty similar results.

Although Keuchel had 5.15 ERA last season, his xFIP -- which is an estimate of what his ERA would be using the factors that a pitcher can influence directly, including strikeouts, walks, hit batters and fly balls -- was 3.58, per FanGraphs.com. It's also worth pointing out Keuchel has improved at stranding runners, posting a 78.2 percent strand rate, which is above his career rate (69 percent).

I'm not preaching Keuchel is going to be a Fantasy savior or you are missing out by not adding him off waivers. But while everyone is going cuckoo for McHugh, if you are really looking to add more than a short-term option, Keuchel might be the Houston starting pitcher that meets your needs.

James Loney, 1B, Rays


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 58 percent (up 28 percent)
Loney is often an overlooked option because he doesn't have great home run power at a loaded Fantasy position. Still, Loney can be a reliable contributor. He averaged 14.4 Fantasy points per week in Head-to-Head formats and was the 139th ranked player (including pitchers) in Rotisserie leagues last season. This year, he's averaging 18 Fantasy points per week. However, he has just one home run and a .416 slugging percentage in 24 games. He had just 13 home runs and a .430 slugging percentage in 158 games last season. Loney is a good major-league first baseman and a solid contributor, but it doesn't translate into high-end Fantasy potential, which will continue to hold Loney back from being a must-add player.
Leagues worth adding him: 14-team Head-to-Head Rotisserie

Tanner Roark, SP, Nationals


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 58 percent (up 32 percent)
My colleague Al Melchior has been touting Roark for quite some time, but I've always been hesitant to buy into the hype because he was a late bloomer in the minors. Well, it's time to clear a spot on the bandwagon. Roark -- who went 6-17 at Triple-A in 2012 -- credits his career turnaround to better controlling his emotions and scrapping his four-seam fastball. Roark relies on a four-pitch arsenal -- sinker, slider, changeup and curveball -- that he commands well and throws for strikes. Nationals manager Matt Williams says Roark isn't afraid to go after hitters and reminds him of former Giants pitcher John Burkett, who was once a 22-game winner in 1993. Roark might never develop into Justin Verlander, but he's not a bad back-of-the-rotation option for Fantasy owners.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Alcides Escobar, SS, Royals


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 53 percent (up 25 percent)
Escobar is having an out-of-body experience offensively, batting .358 with a .507 slugging percentage and .918 OPS in his last 20 games. The number that really stands out is the .507 slugging percentage, which is largely due to seven doubles in that span. You shouldn't expect the power numbers to continue. Escobar slugged just .377 in the minors and had a .342 slugging percentage in the majors coming into 2014. Though, I'm not totally ready to write off Escobar in Rotisserie formats or Head-to-Head leagues that reward heavily for steals. He's just entering the prime of his career, so a breakout season is realistic. He's capable of hitting for a decent average while stealing some bases. Escobar is a poor man's Elvis Andrus. He does a lot of the same things Andrus does, but what separates Andrus is the run total. It's the difference of Andrus hitting at the top of the Texas order and Escobar at the bottom of the Kansas City lineup.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Rotisserie, 14-team Head-to-Head

Josh Beckett, SP, Dodgers


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 51 percent (up 21 percent)
It's very unusual to see a pitcher with a 2.45 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and striking out 9.0 batters per nine innings owned in less than 50 percent of Fantasy leagues, but that's the case with Beckett, as veteran Fantasy owners are being very cautious in adding the injury-prone right-hander to rosters. I can't really blame the skeptics because I hadn't paid much attention to Beckett until he tossed eight innings Friday against the Rockies. Prior to that, he hadn't lasted more than five innings in his first three starts. If you have a free roster spot, adding Beckett isn't a bad idea because he does have some upside, even at 33 years old. But my big hesitation with Beckett is that he isn't talking like a confident pitcher. After Friday's game, he called it a "step in the right direction" and it showed him he "can do some things he hasn't done in a while." Beckett said he will take Friday's eight-inning outing "as a stepping stone and keep pushing forward." It would have been a lot better had Beckett said he's back to form, so a cautious approach here is certainly warranted.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie formats

Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 59 percent (up 28 percent)
Ruiz is coming off a big week, batting .500 (11 for 22) with one triple, one home run, four doubles, five walks, seven RBI and eight runs in six games. It was good enough for Ruiz to take home NL player of the week honors. Ruiz is off to a productive start, batting .296 with a .479 slugging percentage and .891 OPS in 20 games. He hasn't looked this good since his career year in 2012. There are obviously some concerns if his 2012 production is legit since Ruiz missed the start of the 2013 season while serving a 25-game suspension for testing positive for an amphetamine. He didn't perform as well last season until late in the year, when he hit .288 with a .444 slugging percentage and .788 OPS over his final 44 games. My take is that Ruiz is a suitable injury replacement for Devin Mesoraco or Russell Martin owners. He's even a decent NL-only or No. 2 Fantasy catcher in Rotisserie formats. I'm just not buying he will get back to his 2012 level.
Leagues worth adding him: 10-team Rotisserie, 14-team Head-to-Head

Adam Dunn, DH, White Sox


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 55 percent (up 7 percent)
The White Sox have sat Dunn on most days when a left-handed starter is on the hill, and it seems to be a successful formula. He is only batting .176 in 13 games against lefties, but he is batting .304 with a .420 on-base percentage, .571 slugging percentage and .992 OPS in 20 games against righties. It seems not having to face lefties regularly is boosting Dunn's confidence and keeping him sharper against righties. It probably hasn't hurt either the added lineup protection from Jose Abreu. The only negatives in Fantasy are Dunn still strikes out a lot, which hurts his value in Head-to-Head formats, and he could be a bad Fantasy play in weekly leagues when the White Sox are set to face a bevy of left-handed starters. Dunn is putting up some decent power numbers, but his Fantasy ownership is right around where it should be.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Rotisserie, 14-team Head-to-Head

Ian Kennedy, SP, Padres


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 70 percent (up 8 percent)
If you have to act now on adding Kennedy off waivers, it might be worth the investment before it's too late. His 2014 stats are starting to look a lot like the numbers he had when he was a 21-game winner in 2011. The real telling signs are Kennedy's low walk rate (1.9 BB/9) and low home run rate (0.5 HR/9). He had a 0.8 home run rate and a 2.2 walk rate in 2011. There's more good news. Kennedy has been really strong on the road as opposed to at home in pitcher-friendly PETCO Park. He is 0-3 with a 5.00 ERA in three home starts. Still, he's given up just one home run and has a 1.17 WHIP at home. The ERA is bound to come down, so there is still plenty of upside potential here with Kennedy.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Lucas Duda, 1B, Mets


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 32 percent (up 6 percent)
It would have been nice to see Duda go on a hitting spree once the Mets dealt Ike Davis to Pittsburgh, but that hasn't happened. Since a four-hit game April 14, Duda is batting .211 with one home run, two doubles and six RBI in 11 games. The Mets seem convinced Duda can get back to the power hitter he was in 2011, when he slugged a career-high .482. The team could be onto something since Duda's ISO, which is a measure of a hitter's raw power, is identical (.189) to what he produced in '11, per FanGraphs.com. But his so-so start leads me to believe Duda will probably continue to be a streaky hitter, so only rush to add him in waivers if he starts to heat up. He could be a potential reserve option in Rotisserie leagues if you are looking for a potential cheap source for home runs.
Leagues worth adding him: NL-only, 14-team Rotisserie

Jonathon Niese, SP, Mets


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 65 percent (up 12 percent)
It's nice to see Niese's ownership on the rise because I've been touting him as an undervalued option for quite some time, especially in points leagues. Niese dealt with some shoulder problems last season, but when he returned from the disabled list he averaged 20.5 Fantasy points over the last eight scoring periods. He was even a top 30 Fantasy starting pitcher in Head-to-Head leagues in 2012. He might not be as strong an option in Rotisserie formats because of an OK strikeout rate and his WHIP can be erratic. But since the start of the 2012 season, he is 22-19 with a 3.46 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and is striking out 7.0 batters per nine innings. He's no Fantasy ace, but you could do a lot worse. Niese is a more valuable asset at the back end of your rotation than you think.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

American League options

Juan Francisco, 1B, Blue Jays


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 9 percent (up 2 percent)
I must admit I was a little shocked to see the Brewers part ways with Juan Francisco after he put together a pretty strong spring, batting .346 with a .731 slugging percentage and 1.231 OPS in 13 games. However, it didn't seem the team was comfortable with his defense at first base, so they parted ways. Francisco eventually latched on with the Blue Jays and made his way to the big-league roster a few weeks ago when Adam Lind (back) hit the disabled list. Francisco has been seeing regular at-bats between DH and first base and is doing fairly well, batting .286 with a .571 slugging percentage and .946 OPS in eight games. Still, all of Francisco's success has come against right-handed pitchers. He's hitless in six at-bats against lefties. Lind is also terrible against lefties and the Blue Jays are not going to bench Edwin Encarnacion, so Francisco will be looking at a playing time crunch or be jettisoned off the roster once Lind returns.
Leagues worth adding him: Stopgap option in AL-only

National League options

Scooter Gennett, 2B, Brewers


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 24 percent (up 11 percent)
Gennett is technically in a platoon with Rickie Weeks, but Gennett gets the better draw since he's a left-handed hitter. He's started 20 times to Weeks' six starts at second base, and it's not like Weeks is pushing for more playing time since he's off to a poor start. Gennett, on the other hand, is batting .303 through 25 games. Though, he hasn't had much success when he's faced a lefty, batting .200 against left-handers. Gennett is a good contact hitter than can find the gaps, but he doesn't even have moderate home run power and isn't much of a stolen-base threat. He hasn't shown a lot of offensive upside in his pro career, so don't look to Gennett as a steal off waivers. He is what he is -- a low-end Fantasy option best used in deeper Rotisserie and NL-only formats.
Leagues worth adding him: NL-only, 14-team Rotisserie

Player you might reconsider dropping

Jedd Gyorko, 2B, Padres


Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 82 percent (down 8 percent)
It's a little shocking to see Fantasy owners give up so quickly on Gyorko since he just seems to be a slow starter. He hit just .247 in April last season before breaking out with a .303 average, .545 slugging percentage, .907 OPS, six home runs, six doubles and 12 RBI in May. If you look at Gyorko's batted ball numbers this season, nothing really stands out besides he's not chasing as many pitches outside the zone and isn't swinging at as many pitches overall. But it's just a small sample size. The numbers that really stand out are Gyorko's .197 BABIP and .067 ISO. He had a .287 BABIP and .195 ISO last season, so he hasn't even scratched the surface of his potential yet. I can't imagine in most formats there is a player on waivers at second base with more upside than Gyorko, so it doesn't make sense to be dropping a starting option onto waivers if you can just stash him on your bench.
Leagues worth adding him: 12-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Q &A

Somebody in my league just got rid of Alex Cobb. Should I pick him up or do you think he will be available in May or June? --@whiz23

MH: In shallow formats, there's no need to stash Cobb unless you have DL spots. In deeper formats, you probably want to use the roster spot since Cobb should be better than most waiver-wire options once he is healthy. Cobb averaged 24.5 Fantasy points over the first two scoring periods before getting hurt, so you could make the argument he's worth a bench spot.

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Player News
Giants' Sabean: No plans to talk to Max Scherzer
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) Giants general manager Brian Sabean said that the Giants have not talked to free-agent pitcher Max Scherzer and have no plans to do so, the Mercury News reports.

Scherzer is the biggest name on the pitching market and could be seeking a deal north of the $155-million pact signed by Cubs pitcher Jon Lester. His price tag may not be feasible for the Giants' budget. The 2013 AL Cy Young winner went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA and 252:63 K:BB ratio in 220 1/3 innings with the Tigers in 2014.


Report: Nick Hundley has two-year offer, unlikely to rejoin Orioles
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) Free-agent catcher Nick Hundley has a two-year offer on the table from an unidentified team, making him unlikely to return to the Orioles, masnsports.com reports.

The Orioles declined a $5-million option on Hundley for the 2015 season but had interest in bringing him back into the fold at a lesser salary. He hit .243/.273/.358 with six home runs and 22 RBI in 218 at-bats between Baltimore and San Diego in 2014.


Report: Phillies could join Asdrubal Cabrera market
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Phillies could become involved in the market for free-agent infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, ESPN.com reports.

The Phillies traded their longtime starter at shortstop to the Dodgers this offseason and will be looking to fill that hole in the infield. However, the team will have to shed some additional payroll in order to make a run at the infielder, according to the report. Cabrera hit .241/.307/.387 with 14 home runs, 61 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 553 at-bats between Cleveland and Washington in 2014.


Rangers release Ben Rowen
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Rangers have released relief pitcher Ben Rowen . Rowen, who was designated for assignment earlier in the week, posted a 4.15 ERA in 8 2/3 innings with the Rangers in 2014 as well as a 3.45 ERA and 31:9 K:BB ratio in 47 innings with Triple-A Round Rock.

Nationals sign Mark Minicozzi to minor-league deal
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Nationals have signed infielder Mark Minicozzi to a minor-league deal.

Minicozzi, 31, hit .298/.400/.470 with 12 home runs and 62 RBI in 315 at-bats with Triple-A San Jose in 2014. He has yet to appear in a regular-season game in the majors.


Indians sign pitcher Scott Downs to minor-league contract
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Indians announced they signed pitcher Scott Downs to a minor-league contract Saturday.

Downs also received a non-roster invite to MLB camp.


Red Sox, Padres complete Hanigan-for-Middlebrooks trade
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/19/2014) The Red Sox and Padres completed a trade Friday, with catcher Ryan Hanigan heading to Boston in exchange for third baseman Will Middlebrooks, the Red Sox announced.

Hanigan, 34, is signed for two more seasons with a team option for 2017. He hit .218/.318/.324 with five home runs and 34 RBI in 225 at-bats in 2014.

Middlebrooks, 26, is eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2015 season. He hit .191/.256/.265 with two home runs and 19 RBI in 215 at-bats in 2014.


Giants get Class A hurlers for Marlins 3B McGehee
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/19/2014) The Giants are trading minor league right-handers Kendry Flores and Luis Castillo for Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee.

Both pitched at a Class A level last season and averaged more than a strikeout per inning.


Dodgers dump RHP Brian Wilson
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/19/2014) Three days after designating reliever Brian Wilson for assignment, the Dodgers have released him.

Wilson struggled in 2014 after a strong stint upon his arrival with Los Angeles in 2013. He finished the year with a 4.66 ERA and 29 walks in 48 1/3 innings.


Report: LHP Craig Breslow staying with Red Sox
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/19/2014) Left-hander reliever Craig Breslow is set to sign a one-year deal with the Red Sox for $2 million, per WEEI.com.

Breslow pitched for Boston the last two years, but collapsed in 2014 after compiling a 1.81 ERA the previous year. He finished with a 5.93 ERA and 73 hits in 54 1/3 innings.


 
 
 
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