Send in the Replacements! Deep League Waiver Wire

I just spent that last two weeks on vacation with my family. Hoping to escape the dreariness of the wettest Seattle winter on record, we embarked for the warm and artery-clogging bosoms of New Orleans and Miami. The first week of the season is always a cause for celebration in my house but I have to say watching the grand ol’ game with a mouthful of beignets made the start to this season even more special. I think players would be far more receptive to the tobacco ban if MLB replaced tins of Skoal with beignets from Café Du Monde or Morning Call.

I also picked up a pretty rad souvenir for my 8-month old son at the Miami airport. I know that Legos aren’t really age appropriate since he currently feels the need to fit absolutely everything he sees into his mouth so it’ll remain perched far above where his grubby little hands can reach for some time.

Logo ichiro

But it wasn’t all powdered sugar smiles and medianoches at mediodía. There was plenty of belt-loosening self-loathing, GERD, and of course, fretting over my fantasy teams. You see in my home league, a 14-team keep-6 now in its sixth year as a keeper format, I was the proud owner of both A.J. Pollock and Kyle Schwarber. And while I had tempered expectations for both entering this season, I didn’t expect to have to replace 1/3rd of my keepers before the first week of April concluded.

So as with my son’s new Lego Ichiro, I’m tasked with piecing together a team from the waiver wire in the hopes that it’ll ultimately prove greater than the sum of its awkwardly shaped plastic brick parts. And with that in mind, I’d like to recommend a few players available in deep leagues to replace the Pollocks, Schwarbers, and Tyson Rosses of the fantasy world.

 

Joey Rickard (15% Yahoo, 30% CBS, 17.4% ESPN) – this is a particularly painful first choice for me (and due to recent ascending ownership rates may only border as a DLWW pick), but as my intestines can attest over the last two weeks, I’m nothing if not a glutton for punishment. If you read my column from three weeks ago, you’ll recall I touted Hyun-Soo Kim as someone to target in deeper leagues. And follow my own advice I did (I hope you did not), drafting him in an Ottoneu league for what I fancied at the time was a very well spent $3. Then this news broke. While Kim resisted the minor league demotion to remain on the O’s roster, he’s clearly fallen behind Rickard on the depth chart.

And what has Rickard done with the opportunity? He’s started the season slashing .409/.400/.636 while swatting the first home run of his brief Major League career. By no means am I endorsing him based on the results of a week’s worth of plate appearances nor am I suggesting that in this one week has he bear-hugged the starting job away from Big Kimpin’ for the rest of the season. But the former Rule 5 pick has thus far started all six games for Baltimore, batting leadoff in each of the last four. He boasts speed and commands the strike zone well. He also flashes leather which should help with playing time, especially if Adam Jonesinjury requires an extended absence.

His .397 career MiLB slugging percentage won’t make you forget about Pollock but batting atop a powerful lineup, the speedster could prove a solid three-category contributor which certainly softens the blow. In my opinion, the biggest risk to Rickard is a resurgent Kim but for the time being, Rickard is the outfielder to own.

 

Curt Casali (0% Yahoo, 14% CBS, 0.4% ESPN) – man, the pickins are slim behind the dish. If Rickard won’t make you forget about Pollock, Casali will be an incessant reminder of how much better your life would be with a healthy Schwarber. OK, maybe that’s not fair. Casali does some things well, like control the strike zone and hit lefties. These are not insignificant skills.

While his plate discipline didn’t transfer over 113 PAs in 2015, Casali left the yard 10 times matching a career high set across two minor league levels in 2013. Expect his 32% HR/FB rate to regress given the 381.7-foot average true distance on his 2015 homeruns. That said, Casali’s 31.9% hard% and 45.6% FB% both would have ranked 2nd behind Buster Posey and Brian McCann, respectively had he the plate appearances to qualify. Now, 110 plate appearances is nowhere near the qualifying threshold nor did he hit enough balls in play to reach any batted ball stabilization milestones. But if we’re looking for deep league upside at catcher, it may be worth keeping an eye on Casali.

Currently in a timeshare with Hank Conger, it’s an entirely reasonable supposition that Casali emerges as Tampa Bay’s primary backstop at some point in the season. He’s already started three games behind the plate and it doesn’t appear as if it’s due to a strict platoon rule either – he’s started twice against righties (although one was a R.A. Dickey). Even if the power is a mirage, his walk rate could make him relevant in deeper OBP leagues and if any of the power sticks, you could do a lot worse.

 

Chris Bassitt – (4% Yahoo, 13% CBS, 3.3% ESPN) – I’ve been a fan of Bassitt’s for a while now and feel he’s criminally under-owned. I wrote about him back in January, highlighting the excellent results on his secondary pitches. Last season, the sinker was problematic; he threw it 1/3rd of the time and hitters posted a .394 wOBA against it. Not a recipe for success. I thought with a more effective pitch mix or an improvement to his primary offering, he could take a huge step forward.

Well it appears, at least through his first two starts, that Bassitt is doubling down on the sinker, throwing it 40% of the time. The sinker’s whiff rate (again, through only two starts) has dropped to just 3.9%, however its movement and GB% have jumped. He’s also cut the use of his slider in favor of his curveball, which is generating whiffs 21% of the time. This is an encouraging development.

And as you may have heard, we have shift data! Again, small sample size caveats apply but the A’s are shifting with Bassitt on the hill more than they do for any of his teammates.

% BIP Shifted
Chris Bassitt 45%
Rich Hill 39%
Sonny Gray 39%
Liam Hendriks 38%
Eric Surkamp 38%
Sean Doolittle 33%
Marc Rzepczynski 33%
Ryan Dull 29%
Ryan Madson 20%
Fernando Rodriguez 20%
John Axford 13%
Kendall Graveman 0%

In fact, the A’s have shifted 18 times for Bassit, good for 3rd most in MLB; this includes only ABs ending with a BIP. Now, I understand not everyone has had a second turn through the rotation but compared to last season, the A’s are shifting nearly twice as often for him. Is this part of a plan to limit the damage on Bassitt’s sinker? I’m not sure. Will this continue? It would make sense if it did. Am I just looking for an excuse to dip my toe in the shiny new shift data? Maybe. But if I’m a sinker baller with Marcus Semien, Danny Valencia, and Jed Lowrie behind me, I’ll welcome any configuration that even remotely helps my BABIP.

Command has so far been Bassitt’s biggest problem, having walked 7 batters in just 12.1 IP. That said, he’s been in the zone far more this season while also getting ahead in the count earlier. I’m hopeful that Bassitt’s trouble with walks is just noise at this point but nevertheless, an 8:7 K:BB ratio is something to keep an eye on. Quite honestly, I would start him am starting him in standard leagues so he’s a no brainer in deep leagues.

 





Rylan writes for Fangraphs and The Hardball Times. Look for his weekly Deep League Waiver Wire and The Chacon Zone columns this season.

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thecodygriffin
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thecodygriffin

I also kept Pollock and I am now relying a steady starts from Joey Rickard, Jeremy Hazelbaker, and Austin Jackson at CF in that order. As much as I would love to have a healthy Pollock back, I really cannot complain about what those three have given me thus far.