With the countdown of games left winding down and the stakes getting higher, there are actually some intriguing pitchers to be found on waivers in the vast majority of leagues. But is there any enough reward to balance the risk with any of the widely-available ones who are scheduled to start Friday?
Here are the eight most-available starters or primary pitchers from Friday’s slate. I have been using a 25 percent ownership rate on Fantrax as a cutoff point for inclusion in these reports, but I extended it by a percentage point, just so I could write about Ian Kennedy.
Ian Kennedy – KC at DET (26%)
Heading into this month, Kennedy had put up a 5.28 ERA over his 48 most recent starts (going back to 2017), so any enthusiasm we might have about his last two starts needs to be tempered. Since coming back from a strained oblique, Kennedy has turned in a pair of quality starts against the Twins, allowing a total of three runs (two earned) over 12 innings. In spite of decent control and a respectable 31.4 percent O-Swing%, he has walked five batters, but on a more positive note, Kennedy gave up only two extra base hits (both doubles).
The biggest change to Kennedy’s approach since coming off the DL has been his choice to throw more curveballs, as they have comprised more than 30 percent of his pitches in each start after compiling a 17.2 percent usage rate over his first 18 starts this season. Given that he has allowed just an .076 Iso on the pitch this year, maybe he can continue to avoid extra-base hits over his remaining starts.
Though some caution is warranted, Kennedy is my favorite option on this list. With a favorable matchup against the Tigers, he is worthy of consideration in deeper leagues.
Francisco Liriano – DET vs. KC (21%)
Kennedy’s counterpart is a fellow mid-thirties pitcher who has been on the wane for awhile, yet is currently enjoying a modest resurgence. Over his last three starts, Liriano has allowed nine runs over 18 innings, but four were earned. A ratio of 19 strikeouts to seven walks is a clear upgrade over what he has produced the last couple of seasons. We should keep in mind, though, that Liriano’s most recent start came against the Indians the day after they clinched the AL Central, and Josh Donaldson was the only regular in the lineup.
For only the second time this season, Liriano has put together three straight starts in which he has induced chases at a rate of at least 30 percent. That has helped his strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a 63.3 percent ground ball rate has helped him to avoid extra-base hits (.044 Iso). That rate was likely skewed by facing a stripped-down Indians lineup and a White Sox squad that is prone to hitting grounders. Their last two games notwithstanding, the Royals have been hitting well, and they put the ball in the air, so this does not look like a favorable matchup for Liriano.
Joe Ross – WAS vs. NYM (17%)
Ross limited the Cubs to two runs over five innings in his first game back from Tommy John surgery. He did not get a single swinging strike and only four ground balls. On the positive side, he averaged 93.6 mph on his fastball, and only two of the 17 hit balls he allowed were classified as hard contact.
For a first start after a 14-month layoff, it was highly encouraging. However, with the Mets being one of the more productive offenses over the last three weeks, there is probably too much risk to rely on Ross for this start.
Erasmo Ramirez – SEA at TEX (17%)
This will be Ramirez’s eighth turn in the Mariners’ rotation since rejoining it in mid-August. His first three starts were promising, but since then, he has allowed 14 runs and six home runs over 17.1 innings. That does not appear to be a fluke. Of the 418 pitchers who have allowed at least 100 batted balls this season, Ramirez has the eighth-highest barrel rate and 18th-highest rate of batted balls with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph (per Baseball Savant). There is no reason to take a gamble on him.
Sean Reid-Foley – TOR vs. TB (16%)
Reid-Foley is tough to figure out. His slider has been sensational, but by his own admission, his fastball command has been erratic. In the last three weeks, Reid-Foley has had dominant 10-strikeout starts against the Marlins and Yankees, but in between, the Indians pounded him for six runs in 4.2 innings. The Rays have been tough customers lately, and they have several hitters who have fared well against sliders this season. Their aggressive approach could also eat into the healthy called strike rate Reid-Foley has compiled over his last three starts (19.4 percent).
If you need strikeouts and nothing else, it might be worthwhile to take a chance on Reid-Foley, but otherwise he looks too risky.
Eric Lauer – SD at LAD (14%)
Lauer did not extend himself beyond five innings in any of the three starts he has made since returning from a strained forearm, but he has performed admirably in each outing. While he had introduced a cutter into his arsenal back in early July, it has only been since his activation off the DL that it has become an effective pitch for inducing grounders. A lower release point has coincided with a lower rate of cutters left in the upper half of the strike zone.
While Lauer has made progress recently, so have the Dodgers against left-handed pitchers. In the month of September, no team has a higher wOBA against southpaws, thanks in part to the addition of David Freese and surges by Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez.
Especially if Lauer has a good start on Friday night, he will be a viable streaming option for his final scheduled start against the Giants at AT&T Park. With what promises to be a difficult matchup, he’s best left on waivers for now.
Ariel Jurado – TEX vs. SEA (4%)
Balls could be flying out of Globe Life Park in Arlington in the early innings of this game, especially after opener Connor Sadzeck departs for the Rangers. As prone to hard contact as the Mariners’ Ramirez has been, Jurado (scheduled to be the Rangers’ primary pitcher) has been even more so. Among pitchers who have thrown at least 40 innings, Jurado ranks 11th in hard contact rate (44.9 percent), and of pitchers who have allowed at least 100 batted balls, no one has a higher rate of balls hit with at least 95 mph in exit velocity (49.7 percent). Combine those tendencies with a 3.9 percent swinging strike rate — the lowest by more than a percentage point of any pitcher with at least 40 innings — and the potential for implosion is extraordinary.
Yefry Ramirez – BAL at NYY (3%)
It’s too bad Ramirez is winding up his season against the Yankees and then the Red Sox, because it seems like he could be figuring some things out. He showed promise late in the first half, compiling a 3.09 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 24.7 percent strikeout rate over 23.1 innings, but after the break, hitters ceased to whiff and chase after his out-of-zone pitches. During a brief demotion to the bullpen, Ramirez allowed two runs in seven innings, and though he issued four walks, he boasted a hefty 36.2 percent O-Swing%. In his return to the Orioles’ rotation on Saturday, he gave up one run in 5.2 innings against the White Sox with seven strikeouts and one walk.
Cruising through a start against the White Sox is one thing; repeating the feat against the Yankees is another. This could be an interesting start to monitor, but I don’t want my fantasy fortunes riding on the outcome.
While there are some promising pitchers on this list, Kennedy is the by far the best target for a waiver claim. If you’re in a risk-taking mood, there is upside to be had by starting Ross or Reid-Foley.
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.