Your team may start at the draft, but it’s those savvy waiver wire moves that can catapult your team for ordinary to supernatural. Alright, that may be exaggerating things a bit, but a few key pick-ups can certainly make a difference if you can get in on the ground floor. Look at last year with Jose Fernandez. Some people took a wait and see approach thinking there was no way this guy can have much of a fantasy impact. Even after his first few good starts there were some skeptics. Those that hesitated missed out on a phenomenal year and that is just one example. Career years and great seasons can come at any time for any player. Rookies can come up and produce numbers out of nowhere with little to no explanation. Veterans who have slumped or done little can have the stars align. Players who have slumped or are on the downside of their career can come back to have one last hurrah (who picked up Raul Ibanez last year). You never know, so when you see a hot player on waivers, don’t sit there with the mentality that “this guy can’t keep it up”, pick him up and ride him. You never know, you just may have a long-term winner (like the men below).
The players below represent the best waiver wire pickups for 2014. They may have been added to give you a short-term boost or replace an injured or slumping star, but their bats forced you to see them as more than you thought they could be.
Russell Martin (Pirates) – Talk about production from a player that probably wasn’t drafted in your league (and if he was, it was with one of your last picks). Martin is currently the 6th best catcher on ESPN’s player rater, bested only by Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy, Yan Gomes, Devin Mesoraco and Carlos Santana (nice company). Considering he hadn’t hit higher than .250 since 2009, and .296 average is a shocker. That puts him 3rd among qualified starters for batting average along with ranking 12th for runs and 9th for RBIs. Were you in an OBP league, well Martin was aces there as well with a .409. Each year you hear about how you should wait on the catcher position, well this is a prime example why. Someone unexpected always steps up, this year it was Martin’s turn. Well played Martin, now go sit down.
Todd Frazier (Reds) – Technically he belongs at third, but a Joey Votto injury expanded his eligibility. Frazier was a late round gamble for some and a waiver wire darling for others that found him on waivers after a rocky start in April. There were some hiccups along the way with his batting average, but from May on it was all systems go. Looking at ESPN’s player rater, Frazer is currently 5th among first basemen and ranks 3rd for third basemen. His RBI totals are below some of the big guns ranked above (and below) him and the .276 batting average isn’t great, but we can overlook those things for a 20/20 player. Frazier currently sits with 27 home runs and 20 stolen bases. It seems Price was just what the Reds needed to bring out the best in Frazier. Some may be skeptical of Frazier going into 2015, but I will not be one of those people.
Honorable mention goes to Lucas Duda of the Mets. Power hitters have been on the decline for some years so whenever you can grab someone off waivers who will hit 28 home runs and drive in 86 with a batting average above .250, it’s a win. Duda comes in at #16 for first basemen and #34 for outfielders making him a great option for CI or as your 3rd or 4th outfielder. Nice.
Dee Gordon (Dodgers) – Gordon wasn’t much more than a late round dart thrown at the board for some, a speculative waiver pick up in the first month for others. What owners got was the second best second baseman in the league (and top shortstop). Look at all the names taken early in the draft. Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Kipnis, Matt Carpenter, Brandon Phillips. With the exception of Cano and Kinsler, no player drafted held a candle to Gordon (Except Altuve, he takes the top spot). Gordon will finish the year with a batting average close to .300. While he only has 33 RBIs, nobody really cares since he has scored 90 runs and stole 64 bases. Pony up the check book in 2015.
Josh Harrison (Pirates) – He wasn’t even an afterthought once drafts were completed. Here we are in September and Harrison has played all over the diamond (except first and catcher) and is the 6th best third baseman on ESPN’s player rater (6th for second base, 17th for outfield). If you look at his numbers individually (72 runs, 52 RBIs, 13 HR, 17 SB) you don’t see anything special, but combined with a .318 batting average and it’s a nice package. Harrison pushed his way into the lineup in May and never gave the Pirates a reason to take him back out. Maybe he just needed a chance to play full-time or maybe this was just a very good year. If you want to find out which one it was, you’ll have to spend a mid round pick (or higher) next year to find out.
Danny Santana (Twins) – When Santana was called up in May, nobody expected much more than a mediocre average and some steals given his minor league numbers and lackluster start in AAA. Fast forward 5 months and Santana is batting .318 and has hit .300 in four of the five months he has been on the roster. In 377 at bats he has 7 home runs, 40 RBIs, 19 steals and has scored 65 runs. That’s good enough for 9th place on ESPN’s player rater, coming in ahead of the likes of Elvis Andrus, Ben Zobrist, Jean Segura, Jed Lowrie and a host of other shortstops that were drafted in the early and mid rounds. There were not many bright spots at short this year; Santana was one of them. Despite those numbers, he may still slip through the cracks in some drafts next year.
Corey Dickerson (Rockies) – Dickerson was a late round pick in some drafts, but overall he was widely available. He was sent down within the first few days and his ownership sank even further. Even when he was recalled about 2 weeks later it didn’t look like the Rockies would have room for him. Dickerson found his swing near the end of April, forced his way into the lineup and sent owners scrambling to pick him up or reacquire him. It wasn’t until June that he started receiving full-time at bats which is why he only has 428 for the season right now, but he has done a lot of damage with those plate appearances. He will finish the season with a batting average above .300 along with 24 home runs, 75 RBIs, 74 runs scored and 8 stolen bases. That’s good enough for #14 on ESPN’s player rater and a potential savior to guys who drafted players like Shin-Soo Choo, Alex Rios, Jay Bruce or Wil Myers.
J.D. Martinez (Tigers) – How many of you out there even had him on your draft board? OK, that guy over there on the left wearing the Tigers jersey, there’s always one. Other than deep leagues, Martinez wasn’t a player we looked at or a name we even remembered on draft day. Considering he flopped for 3 straight years in Houston, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The .214 he hit in April solidified that decision to hit the ignore button. He hit .279 in May with only 2 home runs which made for a nice injury fill in, but nothing more. It wasn’t until June when his value really took off. Martinez hit .345 over the next two months. He came back to earth some in August but hit close to .400 in September to cap off a remarkable season. Currently ranked #19 on ESPN, Martinez is assured to finish inside the top 20 for outfield. 23 home runs, 76 RBIs, 56 runs and 6 steals may seem low, but add-on a .320 average and the fact you got him for free and he was a god.
Steve Pearce (Orioles) – His career has been one major disappointment, but every dog has his day. Pearce received only a handful of at bats in April. In May and June he hit over .300 with 9 home runs and 25 RBIs. Those with daily lineup changes that took a chance on him were highly rewarded. When he came crashing back to earth in July, I (like many of you) thought the streak was over, but he was just recharging his batteries and added another 9 home runs and 17 RBIs over the final two months. For the season, Pearce has 20 home runs, 48 RBIs and has scored 50 runs with a batting average close to .300. The RBI and run totals are way low until you consider the fact he did that in 327 at bats. Pair up those numbers with whatever other player you had in Pearce’s slot for off days and you’ve got a winning combination regardless of who that other player is. Don’t look for lightning to strike twice next year, but don’t discount the notion either.
Honorable mentions go to Charlie Blackmon. He was taken all over the board in drafts but slipped through the cracks in a number of early drafts. Owners who were fortunate enough to grab him off waivers in April heard the familiar sound of “Cha Ching” when they hit the submit button. Blackmon is in 9th on ESPN’s player rater and would have been the first player listed here if he were drafted a little lighter than he was.
Corey Kluber (Indians) – He was a late round pick in drafts if he was taken at all. After a really bad April that ownership was cut in half, and those that cut bait early are still kicking themselves (even more after his last two 14 strikeout games). Since May, Kluber hasn’t posted an ERA above 3.00 and it was 2.10 or below for 3 months. Of the 33 games he started, 25 were quality starts. Kluber currently has 258 strikeouts with one more start to go. A win in that final game could push him to 18 for the year tied with Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto. He is the ranked #4 on ESPN with only Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Johnny Cueto ahead of him. We hoped he would improve this year, but I don’t think Anyone could have seen this season coming.
Garrett Richards (Angels) – He didn’t do much in 2013 and if he was drafted, it was on the hopes he would improve. He did that and more. Of his 26 starts, 19 were quality starts. He failed to pitch at least 6 innings only 3 times, the last one was his final game of the year. Richards was also a strikeout machine, posting 6 or more strikeouts in 17 starts and four games with at least 5 K’s. He ended the season prematurely with an injury, but his final line will still rank him number 13 on ESPN. His final numbers was 13 wins, 164 strikeouts, 2.61 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. Aces.
Jake Arrieta (Cubs) – He didn’t pitch his first game in the majors until May 5th and it took him a few starts to work out the kinks and build his stamina, but once that happened Arrieta turned into a solid number 2 pitcher. Sure he had two nightmare games in August against the Reds and Rockies, but 2 stinkers over the course of a season is just a drop in the bucket. 17 of his 24 starts were quality starts. From June 8 until the end of the season he went at least 6 innings in every game except the two bombs I just mentioned. Arrieta’s walks were low and he was throwing just over a strikeout an inning. The only thing missing from his game were wins, but most owners were willing to overlook that with everything else he brought to the table. A 2.65 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, .208 BAA and 157 strikeouts in 149.2 innings are ace numbers for a guy who probably wasn’t drafted in any league, and good enough for #22 on ESPN.
There are a number of other pitchers that did well that deserve an honorable mention. Not all of them produced quality numbers all season, but they produced enough for long enough to be valuable commodities.
- Collin McHugh (Astros) – Rosterable in May and June, had a forgettable July and lights in August and September. Right now he has a 2.73 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, just over a strikeout an inning and is ranked at #18 on ESPN. Waiver wire gold if you got him at the right time.
- Phil Hughes (Twins) – He had 3 very good months surrounded by 3 clunkers. His bottom line was fantasy worthy for a guy who was barely drafted. He comes in at #32 on ESPN’s player rater.
- Dallas Keuchel (Astros) – Another lightly drafted pitcher who produced steady numbers every single month (May and September were all-star numbers). He comes in at #34 just two spots behind Hughes
- Jacob deGrom (Mets) – June was a month to forget, but otherwise it was a solid season for deGrom after his May promotion. July and September were his ace months and he will finish with an ERA 2.63, a 1.13 WHIP and a strikeout an inning. That earns him the rank of 36 on ESPN making him a number 3 pitcher in 12 team leagues.
- Chris Tillman (Orioles) – Lightly drafted to start but heavily owned by seasons end. May was a month to forget but August was one for his scrapbook where everything clicked. Overall he delivered an ERA right around his season total of 3.26. The 1.21 ERA was acceptable and we would have liked more than 145 strikeouts, but overall great production from what probably was a free player.
- Alfredo Simon (Reds) – He was just supposed to be a temporary replacement for Mat Latos to start the season, Simon saw things differently. May and August were rocky times and September was average at best, but his ERA was below 3.0 the other 3 months. Low strikeout totals decreased his value, but the 15 wins made up for it some. He doesn’t win the gold, but he deserves a bronze medal (and a ranking of 42 on ESPN) for his contributions.
- Edinson Volquez (Pirates) – Nobody drafted him and he didn’t give anyone reason to. The month of May reminded owners why they ignored him, but his ERA sank every month after that and he finished with a 1.37 ERA in September. Volquez rounds out the top 50 in ESPN and made a nice back-end starter for your fantasy team.
Zach Britton (Orioles) – Those few who did draft Britton did so on the belief he would be a starter. Once he was officially made part of the bullpen, most of those owners threw him back. In mid May the Orioles decided they had seen enough of Tommy Hunter and gave Britton the first crack at the job. This surprised many as lefties aren’t usually called upon for 9th inning duties (at least not on a full-time basis). He took the job and ran becoming the 4th most valuable closer in the league. As an added bonus, Britton qualified as a starting pitcher allowing those who added him to play one additional closer than their opponents (I love those players). He doesn’t strike out batters like typical closers, but with an ERA under 2.0, and ERA under 1.00 and 35 saves, who cares.
Dellin Betances (Yankees) – Those that saw the potential acted early, others were fortunate enough to get him in May, it took most others a little more time to see his value. I know fantasy owners value wins and saves, but every year there are a few middle relief pitchers that throw enough innings, have a high strikeout rate and have ratios that you just can’t ignore. Then there is Betances who took things to the next level. He has thrown 89 innings so far amassing 133 strikeouts with a 1.42 ERA and 0.76 WHIP. Tack on 5 wins and you are left with a monster that is good enough to roster in any league size and format. It’s not often you see a non closing relief pitcher in the top 10 on ESPN’s player rater, but that just goes to show you how good Betances was this year.
Wade Davis (Royals) – If it wasn’t for Betances, owners would be singing the praises of this once failed starter turned reliever. Davis has 69 innings in so far and has 103 strikeouts, and ERA and WHIP both below 1.0 and 9 wins (count em, 9). Most owners are lucky to get 9 wins from a starter at the back-end of their rotation. He even tacked on a few saves at the end of the season for good measure if those numbers aren’t good enough for you. Nobody expected much from Davis and judging by his ownership levels there are a bunch of owners out there who still can’t see the value he could have brought to the table. I know RP slots are limited, but Davis had the added advantage of being available as a starting pitcher. He’ll finish the season at #15 on ESPN’s player rater.
Neither Betances or Davis were drafted (except maybe in the deepest of leagues), but if you were lucky enough to get both men, their final line will look like this.
Innings Pitched: 158 Wins: 14 Strikeouts: 236 ERA: 1.20 WHIP: 0.79
Honorable Mentions go to Sean Doolittle who did the opposite of his last name from the middle of May through August. April and September skewed his bottom line, otherwise he would have ranked much higher. With the higher ERA and only 22 saves he ranks #24 on ESPN, but he had more value than that to those that snatched him up.
It is amazing to think that you could have put together a winning team from the waiver wire. I know not all of these players were available in every league. The point is that it is important to pay attention to the waiver wire regardless of how good your draft went or how well you team is doing. Yesterdays garbage can be todays golden goose. Remember that next April when you see that player off to a hot start or turn things around in the months to follow. It may be nothing, but if it turns out to be something you can laugh all the way to the playoffs.
Who was your waiver wire All-Star? Sound off in the comments below.