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Waiver Wire: Which starters should you prioritize?

Michael Hurcomb
Fantasy Writer
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About a week and a half ago, my colleague Jamey Eisenberg stopped by my desk to ask a waiver wire question regarding his 10-team, AL-only roster. He asked which pitcher should he add -- Drew Pomeranz, Andre Rienzo or Vidal Nuno?

I instantly told him Pomeranz, and didn't give much thought to Rienzo or Nuno. Obviously, I don't regret my recommendation given how well Pomeranz has pitched for the A's. However, I do regret so easily passing over Rienzo, which has been the trend in Fantasy. As Jamey summarized, "Rienzo doesn't do enough to win weeks for you, but he doesn't do enough to hurt you either."

I don't know if I totally agree with that, because Rienzo has surprisingly scored well among pitchers the last few weeks, and he's probably won some games for some owners.

Over the last four scoring periods, Rienzo is averaging 18 Fantasy points per week. In that span, he's totaled more Fantasy points in standard Head-to-Head formats than Jordan Zimmermann, Gerrit Cole, Homer Bailey, Michael Wacha and Ervin Santana, whose ownership is way higher than Rienzo, who is owned in just 11 percent of CBSSports.com Fantasy leagues.

Most added players on CBSSports.com
Player Own %
1. Dallas Keuchel, SP, HOU 84 (+45)
2. Zach Britton, SP, BAL 54 (+41)
3. A.J. Pollock, OF, ARI 56 (+38)
4. Drew Pomeranz, SP, OAK 88 (+30)
5. Sean Doolittle, RP, OAK 33 (+27)
6. Juan Francisco, 3B, TOR 66 (+26)
7. Jake Odorizzi, SP, TB 47 (+26)
8. Bronson Arroyo, SP, ARI 60 (+24)
9. Trevor Bauer, SP, CLE 80 (+23)
10. Yangervis Solarte, 3B, NYY 93 (+22)

Rienzo's stats really don't jump off the page. He is 3-0 through six appearances (five starts), but has a 4.20 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and is striking out just 5.1 batters per nine innings. His FIP -- 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 home runs -- is 6.04. He's been helped out by a .196 BABIP. However, he's giving up home runs (six in 30 innings) and his command has been questionable, walking 4.2 batters per nine innings, which definitely hurts him in Rotisserie formats. Yet, Rienzo continues to make an impact in some Fantasy formats.

I feel there's more talent here than Rienzo is showing. For one, he had a 3.49 ERA over 556 2/3 innings in the minors, which is pretty impressive given how many innings he logged. And while he hasn't shown much of a presence as a strikeout pitcher in the majors, he struck out 9.6 batters per nine innings in minors. He even struck out 9.0 batters per nine innings at the two highest level in the minors (Double-A, Triple-A).

With all that said, I do feel like Fantasy owners' intuition about Rienzo is correct. While I do think he's a bit overlooked, he continues to be a deep-league option. It was a little surprising given his recent performance in Fantasy and that he's a two-start pitcher in Week 8 (May 19-25) that his ownership didn't spike this week. But it got me to thinking, who would you drop for Rienzo?

In an eight-team, AL-only league, I dropped Zach McAllister for Rienzo, but in a mixed league, you are going to have to be in a pretty deep format to consider clearing a roster spot for the right-hander. Even with his recent run, I might move Rienzo into my starting pitcher rankings, but it's likely going to be at the bottom of the list at best, which goes 125 pitchers deep.

Rienzo has definitely made his mark as a blip on the radar. But that might be as far as he gets in Fantasy leagues.

Chad Qualls, RP, Astros

Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 31 percent (up 21 percent)
Usually when a new closer emerges, Fantasy owners sprint to waivers to add that player, but in Qualls' case it's been more like a jog. His ownership is less than Zach Britton, who hasn't even officially been named the Orioles' closer. However, the Astros have totaled just eight saves and 16 save opportunities, which are two numbers near the bottom of the league, so Fantasy owners seem to be worried about save chances for Qualls. Also, the signing of former Mets closer Kyle Farnsworth adds another wrinkle to the mix, but for now it's Qualls' job to lose and he's been pretty good over the last two seasons. Since the start of 2013, he's 6-3 with a 2.74 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. This season, he's even striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings. The key for Qualls has been the velocity with his sinker. He's averaging 94.4 mph (per BrooksBaseball.net), which is just behind his career-high 95.1 mph from last season and better than he was throwing earlier in his career. Qualls said he's getting a lot of movement on his sinker and he's keeping it down in the strike zone. The stats back up Qualls' claim, as he's getting more groundballs per balls in play on his sinker than at any point in his career.
Leagues worth owning him: 12-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Phil Hughes, SP, Twins

Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 62 percent (up 18 percent)
I'm beginning to warm up to the idea that Hughes might be better than expected. He's been on a real tear lately, going 4-0 with a 1.95 ERA in his last five starts. We have seen a hot streak before from Hughes, but then he usually reverts back to being an average arm. So what's the difference this time? It looks like it's going to be his home ballpark. Hughes is a flyball pitcher that gives up a lot of home runs. If there is one thing we know about Yankee Stadium, it's that its a home run ballpark and not good for a pitcher like Hughes, who has a career 4.82 ERA and 1.34 WHIP at Yankee Stadium. Well, Target Field is not a home run ballpark, especially for left-handed hitters, and wouldn't you know Hughes has pitched well in his new home park. He is 4-2 with a 3.02 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in eight career starts at Target Field. Hughes gives up a lot of hits, but he doesn't compound the problem with walks. He also has a decent strikeout rate. I guess if I can like a pitcher like Bronson Arroyo, then I have to start buying into Hughes, especially now he's out of Yankee Stadium.
Leagues worth owning him: 12-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals

Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 48 percent (up 16 percent)
You won't need to lobby me on how valuable Wong can be in Fantasy. When he was demoted to the minors a few weeks ago, I was advising Fantasy owners to stash and not drop the 23-year-old second baseman. I figured he was going to have a short stay in the minors and the team just needed to get his confidence up. He's performed well since his recall, and it's a glimpse of the potential Wong can bring to the table. He's not going to hit a lot of home runs, but he has enough power and speed to leg out doubles and triples. He's also a decent threat on the base paths. He already has two stolen bases in three games since returning. He's also not going to kill owners in points league with a high strikeout rate. Wong hasn't been great in his young MLB career, but he went down the to minors to iron out his swing and it seems he might finally be on the right track.
Leagues worth owning him: 12-team Head-to-Head, 10-team Rotisserie

Josh Reddick, OF, Athletics

Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 48 percent (up 16 percent)
Reddick is coming off his best Fantasy week of the season, but he's quietly performed well since mid-April. In his last 28 games, he's batting .298 with a .511 slugging percentage and .857 OPS. He even has 19 RBI in his last 28 games. In the last four scoring periods, Reddick was a top 25 Fantasy scoring outfielder in Head-to-Head formats and a top 35 outfielder in Rotisserie. With all that said, however, I'm still not ready to buy into Reddick. His surge has gotten his slash line (.237/.385/.685) closer to his career line (.239/.423/.724). He does have a little more room for improvement it seems, but not much. Reddick continues to play every day, but he still struggles against lefties, batting .182 against them in 23 games. Reddick is one of those players that is a bench option in deep formats you consider starting when the A's are facing a slew of right-handed starters.
Leagues worth owning him: Deep formats

Danny Duffy, SP, Royals

Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 24 percent (up 15 percent)
Duffy's ownership would probably be a little higher had he gained relief-pitcher eligibility before joining the rotation. Still, Duffy deserves some credit for pitching well since becoming a starter. He's not getting a lot of run support -- he is 1-2 -- and the Royals have scored all of four runs in his three starts, but he has a 1.06 ERA and 0.77 WHIP in that span. Duffy is dealing with some command issues, but he didn't issue a walk over seven scoreless innings Saturday against the Orioles and has allowed just six hits since joining the rotation. His strikeout rate isn't great either, but don't forget Duffy was a highly regarded pitching prospect before missing most of the 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery. He seems to be going down the path that the farther he gets away from the injury, the better he gets. I must admit I'm a little bearish on Duffy, but even as I wrote this analysis, I started to change my opinion. Even when Bruce Chen comes off the disabled list, I'm not convinced the Royals will take Duffy out of the rotation. My only concern is that Duffy will face an innings limit after totaling just 93 1/3 innings last season, which obviously curbs his Fantasy value.
Leagues worth owning him: Deep formats

Yan Gomes, C, Indians

Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 76 percent (up 8 percent)
Gomes didn't have a very productive March/April, but he's bashing away here in May and finally living up to the potential of being a top 12 Fantasy catcher. He is batting .320 with a .580 slugging percentage, .950 OPS, three home runs, four doubles and 10 RBI in 13 May games. He's even cut down on his strikeouts. After striking out 26 times and drawing just four walks in 25 games through April, he has just seven strikeouts and has drawn four walks in May. This is more like the hitter Gomes was in the minors, when he produced a .287 batting average, .484 slugging percentage and .830 OPS in 307 games. Or even last season when he hit .294 with a .481 slugging percentage and .826 OPS. Gomes has settled down after a rough first month and now is the time to scoop him off waivers before it's too late.
Leagues worth owning him: 12-team Head-to-Head, 10-team Rotisserie

Dexter Fowler, OF, Astros

Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 57 percent (up 12 percent)
Like Gomes, Fowler has gotten hot in May following a slow start. After batting .231 through the first month, he is batting .323 with a .468 on-base percentage, .435 slugging percentage and .904 OPS in 17 May games. He's been particularly good at getting on base this month, as he's already drawn 16 walks. He's totaled at least 20 Fantasy points in three of the last four weeks, and has been a top 15 Fantasy outfielder in Rotisserie formats in that span. However, I'm just treating this like another hot streak from Fowler. We've been here plenty of times before with the 28-year-old outfielder. He was always up and down during his career with the Rockies, and he's been inconsistent again to start his first season with the Astros. In fact, his recent surge has pushed his slash line (.267/.375/.393/.768) closer to what he's produced in his career (.269/.365/.422/.787). He's better long-term in formats with deep rosters, like Rotisserie leagues. He's droppable in Head-to-Head leagues when he starts to cool off.
Leagues worth owning him: 12-team Rotisserie, 16-team Head-to-Head

Kurt Suzuki, C, Twins

Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 53 percent (up 9 percent)
The Twins signed Suzuki this offseason for his defensive prowess. However, he's surprised everyone, including Fantasy owners, with how well he's performed offensively. In points leagues, he hasn't had less than 10 Fantasy points in any of the first seven weeks, which surprisingly had him as a top 5 Fantasy scoring catcher headed into Week 8. Even with one home run, he's a top 12 Fantasy catcher in Rotisserie formats. It's taken eight seasons in the majors, but Suzuki is finally looking like the offensive catcher he was in the minors, when he was a good contact hitter that produced doubles and got on base. In his minor-league career, he hit .283 with a .381 on-base percentage and .804 OPS. Even with Josmil Pinto pushing him for playing time, Suzuki isn't succumbing to the pressure to perform. However, the lack of home run power definitely hurts Suzuki's Fantasy outlook, especially in Rotisserie formats, where it's already bringing down his value. Suzuki deserves recognition for a nice start, but there's still more downside than upside here.
Leagues worth owning him: Deep formats

Jorge De La Rosa, SP, Rockies

Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 36 percent (up 12 percent)
It's amazing Fantasy owners continue to ignore De La Rosa, despite the veteran left-hander winning five straight starts. He's done a complete turnaround after going 0-3 with a 7.58 ERA in his first four starts. De La Rosa blamed his early season struggles on communication issues with catcher Wilin Rosario, but pitching coach Jim Wright has a different take. Wright said when De La Rosa used to get into trouble, "he would step on the gas more," per The Denver Post. Now Wright says De La Rosa is "focused on making the right pitch." Wright also added De La Rosa's cutter has been more effective lately, which is setting up his changeup. De La Rosa's strikeout rate is even on the rise. He is striking out 7.4 batters per nine innings in 2014, as opposed to 6.0 last season. De La Rosa is prone to giving up home runs and his command gets away from him at times, but he was a 16-game winner last year and already has five wins through nine starts this year. Don't shy away from De La Rosa just because he pitches at Coors Field, where he has a career .760 winning percentage and is 13-1 with a 2.77 ERA since the start of 2013.
Leagues worth owning him: Deep formats

Jenrry Mejia, SP, Mets

Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 42 percent (up 13 percent)
It seems Baseball America was the first to hint Mejia might have a future as a major-league closer, as they wrote in Mejia's prospect profile in 2011, "Even if he flames out as a starter, he can be a dominating late-inning reliever." Well, it seems the Mets are now buying it as well. Manager Terry Collins, who is continuing the carousel at closer, said over the weekend Mejia has "everything it takes to be a closer," and if he can "handle it physically," then "he'll be as good as there is." It hasn't taken long for Collins to thrust Mejia into the closer's role after removing him from the rotation. Mejia recorded his first career save Saturday at Washington, and he would have been called upon again Sunday had another save chance presented itself. It seems the Mets don't even want to ease Mejia into the role. They want to see if he can handle it right away. The Mets' closer situation still seems a bit unsettled, but Mejia has the most high-end profile of the late-inning relievers, so if you can afford to stash him while he gains relief-pitcher eligibility in Fantasy, consider clearing a bench spot.
Leagues worth owning him: Deep formats

American League options

James Jones, OF, Mariners

Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 7 percent (up 3 percent)
Jones has taken over in center field for the Mariners and has provided an offensive spark that manager Lloyd McClendon was looking for atop the lineup. He's hit safely in his last nine games and is batting .326 through 15 games, but noticeably absent has been the home runs and RBI production. Jones has shown good plate discipline and is using his speed to leg out doubles and triples. But he was never a top power bat or run producer in the minors, which kind of limits his upside potential. Jones was a decent contact hitter and got on base in the minors. He also had a few seasons of 20-plus stolen bases. His ability to hit for doubles and triples plays a little better in Head-to-Head formats, but his lack of home run power and RBI could hold him back in Rotisserie formats.
Leagues worth owning him: Deep formats

National League options

Rickie Weeks, 2B, Brewers

Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 11percent (up 6 percent)
Weeks has put up some nice numbers the last few weeks, batting .464 (13 for 28) with two doubles, two home runs and seven RBI in his last 10 games (six starts). You would think that surge would have gotten Weeks back into the lineup on a regular basis, but manager Ron Roenicke continues to platoon him with Scooter Gennett. In Roenicke's defense, he asked Weeks to start working in the outfield as an opportunity to play more, a move Weeks declined. It's a shame too since Weeks, who primarily starts against lefties, is performing well against right-handed pitchers. He's batting .400 (10 for 25) in 22 games against righties this season. Gennett has been declining offensively the last few weeks, which under normal circumstances would force the Brewers to start handing Weeks more starts. However, the Brewers seem to view Gennett as the long-term option at second base, so what message would they be sending if they bench him? Weeks' Fantasy value will remain deflated as long as he platoons.
Leagues worth owning him: NL-only

Player you might reconsider dropping

John Axford, RP, Indians

Ownership in CBSSports.com leagues: 56 percent (down 9 percent)
Since his breakout year in 2011, Axford has been a frustrating reliever to own in Fantasy. He seems to keep bouncing in and out of the closer's role wherever he goes. It was surprising the Indians gave Axford such a quick hook after he opened the season with a 2.31 ERA and was 9 of 10 in save opportunities through May 3. But it appears Axford might quickly work his way back into the role. He's tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings over his last four appearances, allowing no hits and two walks, while striking out four. Axford blames his recent cold spell, when he posted a 15.00 ERA over four outings from May 4-9, on fatigue, but he's seems to have quickly found his form again. Axford averaged 17 Fantasy points over the first four scoring periods. Bryan Shaw has been a good fill-in closer, but he seems more valuable to Cleveland not locked into one role. If you can afford to stash Axford on your bench, it's highly recommended.
Leagues worth owning him: 12-team Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Q &A

With Tony Cingrani off the disabled list, I have to drop one player between Chris Archer, Tyler Skaggs and Drew Hutchison. It's a 14-team, Head-to-Head points league. --@Fun_N_Gun

MH: My first instinct is if you aren't limited by how many pitchers you can carry, then I usually recommend dropping a bat before pitching depth, especially when you have three pitchers of this caliber. However, if I had to pick one to drop, it would be Skaggs. I think Hutchison has the ability to be the best of the three pitchers by season's end, so it's between Skaggs and Archer for me. While Skaggs has had higher scoring periods than Archer this season, I think Archer will settle in, while I can still see Skaggs showing some inconsistency. It's close, but I'd drop Skaggs.

Who's the better injured Mariners pitcher to own -- James Paxton or Taijuan Walker? --@mattypswagger

MH: I own both pitchers in multiple leagues and have them close in my starting pitcher rankings, so I think highly of both hurlers. While I do think Walker is the better long-term option to own, he was sidelined pretty much the entire spring and is coming back from the more severe injury. It could take him longer to get back up to full speed. Paxton was pitching pretty well before getting hurt and should be in better condition once he returns. I'd consider owning both pitchers, but I choose Paxton over Walker.

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