We haven’t finished April yet and injuries are already taking their toll on a lot of teams. I’m talking “real” teams in this instance, but that of course trickles down to our fantasy clubs so we’re also left looking for replacements for the likes of Adam Wainwright, Brandon McCarthy, and now Masahiro Tanaka (although this will be focused on NL arms, so you’ll have to be in a mixer to use one of these as a replacement for Tanaka).
The first two are done for the season while Tanaka’s timetable is a bit murkier, but appears to be at least a month. Let’s talk about some of our options to replace these guys. I’m going to drop three names on you, one for shallow leagues, one for medium-sized leagues, and one deeper league option. Obviously, I can’t guarantee these guys are available in the league formats they fit under, but we’re playing the odds here.
Jason Hammel, CHC (ESPN 17%, Yahoo! 53%, CBS 69%) – I came into the season pretty high on Hammel. He was returning to the Cubs where he enjoyed a 2.98 ERA in the 109 innings of his breakout season last year. He faltered upon arrival with the A’s, but closed strong with a 2.49 ERA in his final 50.7 innings, allowing more than 3 ER just once in his last nine outings (eight starts and a 3-inn. relief appearance). He hasn’t pitched poorly this season, but he wasn’t lights-out in his first three starts, either, which likely led to a lot of folks cutting bait.
He had a baseline quality start (6 IP/3 ER) for his season debut, then followed it up with two similarly uninspiring outings from an ERA standpoint (7 ER in 11.3 IP) leaving him with a 5.19 mark after the first three starts despite a 16-to-1 K:BB ratio. His fourth and most recent start no doubt put him back on the map for some as he used eight scoreless to cut that ERA to 3.55 while continuing his dominant K:BB ratio with seven punchouts and zero walks. That has him at an MLB-best 23.0 K:BB ratio through his first 25.3 innings.
Hammel isn’t an overpowering arm, but he is far from strikeout-deficient, too. He first showed his strikeout stuff back in 2012 with a 23% rate, but it was short-lived as an injury capped him at 118 innings that season. The strikeouts dipped back to 16% in 2013, but again injuries were in play as he managed just 139.3 innings that season. The 2014 breakout saw him back at 22% with greatly improved control (his 6% BB rate was a four-year best) and this year he has held the strikeout rate while getting all Phil Hughes with his walk rate (currently at 1%).
The walk rate will rise, but the rest of the profile is believable and in fact, his ERA indicators point to even further improvement of the 3.55 mark. Even if he kind of lives in that range (3.30-3.60), he is still a useful asset because of his positive strikeout rate and strong WHIP mark. He wound up with a 3.47 ERA last year and paired it with a great 1.12 WHIP. Also, it may be early, but I feel like we can say that he’s in line for some more Ws this year as a part of the Cubs. Their offense is markedly improved from the 2014 iteration as is their bullpen, both of which should give Hammel ample opportunity to set a new career mark in wins (currently 10).
Brandon Morrow, SD (E 22%, Y! 24%, C 67%) – I thought there was more hype surrounding and his early start, but maybe I just happen to follow a host of pro-Morrow folks on Twitter. I was surprised to see his percentages as the three major outlets, I expected much higher, even with 10- and 12-team leagues being a primary focus of both ESPN and Yahoo!. Coming into the year, Morrow as a “show me something” guy as I wasn’t too interested in drafting him – even as a late pick – given both his extensive injury history and the fact that he wasn’t even good when pitching in each of the last two seasons.
Petco Park can cover a lot of mistakes, but it doesn’t give a pitcher health and that’s the real issue with Morrow. However, we’re four starts in and he’s shown me enough to buy in and enjoy him while he remains upright. He’s only hit the road for one of the starts and of course it was Colorado so he allowed more runs in that outing (5) than he’s allowed in the other three combined (3), but we don’t start marginal guys in Coors anyway, so I don’t really hold it against him that much.
We haven’t seen the electric strikeout rates from Morrow since 2011 (26% that season and in 523 IP to date by the end of ’11), but the stuff we’ve seen thus far merits better than the 19% rate through four starts. More importantly, he is currently toting a career-best 6% walk rate, well below his 11% career mark. I’m definitely willing to trade some strikeouts for a more controlled approach to pitching.
He has become less fastball-reliant, dropping from 59% to 55% usage, with his curve (from 3% to 8%) getting a nice boost and the addition of a cutter that he’s using about 5% of the time being the biggest changes in his secondary arsenal. The 2.67 ERA we have seen to date isn’t necessarily supported by the skills he’s displayed with it as the 79% LOB rate will almost certainly drop some and push the ERA up, but we could also an uptick in punchouts to offset that drop in stranding runners leaving him with something around a 3.25 ERA as a legitimate full-season upside, especially in Petco.
Chase Anderson, ARI (E 3%, Y! 6%, CBS 30%) – We could’ve also gone with teammate Rubby de la Rosa here as he’s widely available, too, and in the midst of three straight quality starts (3.20 ERA, 20 Ks, 6.7 K:BB ratio in 19.7 IP), but let’s focus on Anderson as he also had an intriguing 2014 to put him on the radar as a late-round flier in drafts this spring. Anderson’s velocity is up a little bit (from 91.9 to 92.6 MPH) and he hasn’t been afraid to lean on it with a jump in usage from 61% to 66%. While he still has a three-pitch mix that includes his changeup and curve, it’s been mostly fastball (he has the four- and two-seamer)/changeup for the 27-year old righty.
I’ve really liked the improvements from Anderson early on when compared to his 2014 line. He has essentially held his strikeout rate (from 21.6% to 21.3%) while cutting his walk rate from 8% to 6% and sharply increasing his groundball rate from 40% to 49%. Given his home run issue from 2014 (1.3 HR/9), I’d have been happy trading a little bit of the strikeout rate for that improved groundball rate, but the fact that it’s come with almost no degradation to his strikeouts is huge. Unfortunately, it hasn’t translated into results just yet as his 4.24 ERA is actually higher than his 4.01 mark from 2014. But getting hung up on early ERAs is dangerous because of how sharply they can change from start to start in the opening month.
Anderson had a 3.00 ERA with 16 Ks and a 4.0 K:BB ratio in his first three starts (18 IP), but the Rockies touched him up for 5 ER in 5.3 innings in his last start which jumped him to that current 4.24 mark. The skills yield a 3.31 FIP, or 85 FIP- if you prefer. I think Morrow has more upside than Anderson, especially since he plays on a team expected to hang around all summer which improves the win potential, but I have a hard time seeing Anderson totally crater, either. I can’t say the same for Morrow, especially since we’ve seen it.
There you go. Three arms to look for on your waiver wire, especially if you’re being stung by the rash of injuries that hit in the last few days. Other names I like considered here in addition to the aforementioned de la Rosa are Travis Wood, Vance Worley, and Kyle Lohse. I know you AL folks are looking for at least a little something, too, so I also like Nathan Eovaldi, Drew Pomeranz, and Joe Kelly among those who should be widely available.