All-Star Week is a time when most managers, guilty of familial neglect, take a break from fantasy baseball and reconnect with loved ones. But those managers lose. Because while they’re playing with their kids or gardening with their significant others, you’re scouring the waiver wire for cheap sources of saves and power. You’re welcome.
Ryan Dull (8% Yahoo, 3.8% ESPN, 7% CBS) – it feels like I’ve been writing about relievers a lot in recent weeks. Maybe it’s due to the nature of bullpen volatility. Or rather, given the relative lack of it this season, it’s that I find myself scouring the waiver wire for even the faintest whiff of saves. Well, if you’re an owner of Ryan Madson, the stench is strong. And the saves, while useful, haven’t covered up his rotting underlying peripherals. It’s similar to dousing a room with Febreze when a trash can spilling over with diapers stares you right in the face. Since in my metaphor, I guess the Febreze represents saves and the diapers a decaying skill set, I suppose that makes Ryan Dull a new bedroom? Sure, that works.
In the midst of a breakout season, Dull appears poised to grab the reins in Oakland if not immediately, then soon. Madson’s 5 blown saves is tied for the league lead. And since blowing his first on May 17th, Madson is sporting a 5.95 ERA/5.57 FIP/4.23 xFIP. It’s gotten particularly bad over his last 2 appearances, a 1.1 inning stretch during which he allowed 4 runs on his way to blowing 2 saves. Between those two clunkers, Dull stepped in to lock down his first save of the season, an occasion which inexplicably warranted the shaving of his ratty looking goatee. I guess he finally found an excuse. Congratulations, Ryan?
And then there are the trade rumors. Both Madson and Sean Doolittle have apparently drawn interest from contenders. Dull’s closest competition is renowned walk-specialist, John Axford, and Liam Hendriks, winner of the Frank Grimes Award for Luck. While the latter might possess the skill set to close, neither have exhibited the results to warrant first crack at the 9th.
As for Dull, his 14th ranked BB/9 and 23rd ranked K-BB% paint a picture of young arm riding his control to success. But Dull is also the recipient of a .173 BABIP and despite possessing the league’s 4th highest fly ball rate, a better than average HR/9. Given his fly ball tendencies and that he’s coughing up line drives at the 6th lowest rate in the league, we can expect a suppressed BABIP, just not nearly to this degree.
Regardless of any regression coming Dull’s way, his situation is clear. He’s an obvious favorite to take over a closer role currently inhabited by a costly veteran who’s both under-performing and is likely to be traded. His only other real competition is rehabbing a nagging shoulder injury and has also been linked to trade rumors. I’ve snagged Dull in a couple leagues where I’m thin at saves and fully expect him to receive a generous opportunity to take over closer duties by the July trade deadline.
Kennys Vargas (3% Yahoo, 2.2% ESPN, 6% CBS) – it’s entirely too easy to fall in love with the skills. Double digit walk rates, manageable strikeouts, and .200 ISOs throughout the minors. He had that nice run in 2014 when he hit a few homers without hurting your batting average, the best type of cheap power. And there’s his size. Listed at 280 pounds, Vargas draws comparisons to David Ortiz. Unfair? Totally. Tempting? Completely.
So needless to say that in the face of such crippling expectations, it was both disappointing and unsurprising to watch him struggle to elevate the ball and make contact last season. His 2.21 GB/FB ratio and 29% K-rate led the Twins to send him down to hone his craft. After a year tearing up the high minors with a 16% walk rate and .206 ISO, the big man is back.
In 6 games since his call up on July 4th, Vargas has gone yard 3 times and walked twice as often as he’s struck out. His OBP sits at .609! Barry Bonds, eat your heart out. Oh wait…
I suppose the responsible thing would be to call out the small sample size caveats here but you’re Fangraphs readers. You knew to roll your eyes after reading the last paragraph’s opening sentence. You dove straight for the inflated BABIP and staggering HR/FB% rates, both present and glorious for sure. But while we haven’t reached any sort of meaningful stabilization points, we’re about halfway there for swing% and a quarter of the way there for contact%, both of which are trending nicely compared to league average and Vargas’ career.
As for his batted ball data, Vargas is crushing it with an average exit velocity of 95.5 mph and an average distance that ranks 15th out of 528 batters with at least 10 balls-in-play. No, this isn’t sustainable. Yes, his .824 ISO and 2.0 BB/K ratio will disappear faster than a snow blower on sale at Menards. But early on he’s cut his chase and whiff rates and stopped pounding the ball into the ground. In other words, the things you’d like to see happen are happening. Over 23 plate appearances, this is probably little more than noise. But in leagues where I could use the extra power, I’m not going to wait to find out it wasn’t.
Rylan writes for Fangraphs and The Hardball Times. Look for his weekly Deep League Waiver Wire and The Chacon Zone columns this season.