Ace Analysis: Wacha Wacha

Since the trade deadline for most leagues has either already passed, or is about to, this series will now focus on pitchers whose ownership percentages do not correspond with their ability level. Most of the pitchers featured here will be potential free agent pick ups, but occasionally I may feature a pitcher who is owned in too many leagues.

All ownership data is current as of 8/8/14

Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals

Wacha is owned in 83% of Y! leagues, 56% of ESPN leagues and 93% of Fantrax leagues.

Michael Wacha is one of my favorite young pitchers in the game. He has awesome stuff and great make up. There are not many pitchers I would rather own in a long-term keeper league. The trouble is, Wacha last pitched on June 17th due to a stress reaction in right scapula. The Cardinals have announced that he has begun light throwing and that they hope to get him back in mid-September. Obviously keeper and dynasty owners are going to hold on to Wacha, but what about those in re-draft leagues?

There are many possibilities for what Wacha’s role will be upon his return, but for now, lets take the best case. If Wacha is able to make his first start on September 14th, he will get three starts. The last day of the regular season is September 28th and the Cardinals have a couple off days mixed in there. If his return gets pushed back a couple of days, he will only get two starts. Also, the Cardinals just added another starter at the deadline, so their already deep rotation just got even deeper. There is a real possibility that Wacha returns to a bullpen role if he returns at all.

What are three starts worth? Will Wacha even get three starts? How good will Wacha be after three months off? There are too many question marks for fantasy owners in standard redraft leagues to continue holding on here.

If Wacha can be stashed away on the DL without affecting your day-to-day lineup, then keep him. If you play in a deep league, or in a head to head league where the last two weeks of the season are fantasy playoffs, then he could be worth stashing. Remember though, stashing only makes sense if you can afford to burn a roster spot. In roto leagues, if you face any type of roster crunch at all, Michael Wacha can safely be dropped. There is only so much that he can do in three starts and Wacha owners have over a month to make use of that roster spot. During that time, Wacha is not helping you.

Michael Pineda, New York Yankees

Pineda is owned in 27% of Y! leagues, 11% of ESPN leagues and 63% of Fantrax leagues.

Michael Pineda was an elite pitching prospect for the Mariners and he took the fantasy world by storm in 2011. Since then, his career has been marred by one injury after another. Still, there is plenty of time for the big righty to get things going in the right direction. Pineda is due to return from the DL this week and his ownership numbers look far too low given his potential.

As usual, Fantrax owners are ahead of the curve on this one and Pineda’s ownership numbers will surely be on the rise between now and his scheduled return on Wednesday, 8/13. Let’s discuss what owners might expect for the rest of the season.

It is very difficult to project Michael Pineda with any degree of accuracy given that he has pitched a total of 19.2 major league innings since 2011. While we can make a few educated guesses based on those terrific, pine tar tainted innings from early April, do not take anything for granted here.

Pineda is a fly ball pitcher. For his career, 46.2% of batters have hit the ball in the air. This certainly helps Pineda’s BABIP and by extension his WHIP, but now that he is pitching half of his games in Yankee Stadium instead of Safeco, HRs could be an issue. Pineda’s career splits actually look pretty balanced, but since he relies a lot on a fastball/slider combo, he could have some issues facing lefty hitters moving forward. That short porch in right is pretty scary too.

Pineda’s April return also showed a pretty substantial dip in fastball velocity. He averaged 94.2 during his rookie season, but was clocked at just 91.4 back in April. He is still young, so the hope is that he can regain some of that velocity when fully healthy, but there is also a chance that Pineda will be nothing more than an average pitcher moving forward. Accumulated injuries can take a toll.

Pineda was not striking out many batters before the dreaded pine tar incident. His K/9 sat at just 6.86, but his swinging strike rate was still a respectable 10.1%. In his brief minor league stints, Pineda has been able to generate close to a strikeout per inning over the past 2 seasons. The best guess for the rest of this season would be a K/9 in the neighborhood of 7.75. He is not going to be anywhere near a strikeout an inning unless his velocity spikes and he is able to get more whiffs on his fastball, but he should still be able to post a helpful K rate. Since his BABIP tends to be pretty good, if Pineda is able to keep the walks down he will continue to be a big asset in the WHIP category.

While sustained health is never something that one can count on for Michael Pineda, there is still enough talent in his arm that he should be owned in 80% of fantasy leagues in advance of his first start back. I would advise owners to leave him on the bench for his first start or two just to gauge how effective he can be, but anyone with roster space available should be looking to make this add. If healthy, Pineda will be able to contribute an ERA near 4.00 with a strong WHIP, solid K totals and the Yankee offense will surely give him some good run support.

Dillon Gee, New York Mets

Gee is owned in 26% of Y! leagues, 17% of ESPN leagues and 45% of Fantrax leagues

Dillon Gee’s ownership rates are down somewhat because he had a few rough outings immediately following his return from the disabled list. He was pitching very well before the injury and is now coming off two good starts in a row. Despite the rough patch, his ERA of 3.54 and a WHIP of 1.10 are still very strong. Have owners have overreacted to Gee’s struggles, or is he pitching over his head this season?

Gee’s peripheral stats look pretty average. He is only striking out 6.37 per nine, but he also does a pretty good job limiting walks. As a result, his K/BB rate is a solid 2.35. While the K/9 numbers are roughly in line with career averages, Gee is not getting nearly as many swinging strikes as he had in past seasons (7.4% in 2014, 9.1% career). Owners should anticipate some regression in the strikeout category moving forward.

Gee has typically enjoyed above average BABIP success with a career BABIP of .276. He is typically able to induce grounders at close to the league average rate, but he does not give up a ton of line drives. There is nothing obvious in his batted ball profile to suggest that the low BABIP is skill related, but history is certainly on his side. I think most would agree, however, that Gee’s .230 BABIP this season is begging for some regression.

HRs have been an issue for Gee at times, but his HR rate has never been terrible. This season, he has allowed 1.21 HRs/9 and a HR/FB rate of 11.8%, which is above league average. A dip in velocity could be behind both the uptick in HRs and the drop in swinging K rate, but so far Gee has been able to navigate these issues pretty well.

All in all, Gee’s overall numbers look like he should be owned in more leagues, but the peripheral data says otherwise. BABIP regression along with a possible reduction in Ks should make his rest of season production much closer to league average. If you need a pitcher to eat innings and provide an ERA near 4 with few Ks and a WHIP that won’t kill you, then Gee could be your man.

Deep League Special

Roberto Hernandez, Los Angeles Dodgers

Hernandez is owned in 8% of Y! leagues, 7% of ESPN leagues, and 18% of Fantrax leagues.

Roberto Hernandez (not the former closer) has not been fantasy relevant since he was Fausto Carmona. Even then, he had some pretty rough years. He has pitched extremely well over the past month, and now that he is wearing Dodger blue, there could be some value here for deep league managers.

Hernandez has been pretty inconsistent over the years, but the key to his success has always been how well he limits his walks. He has never been a big strikeout guy. This season, his K/9 sits at 5.67, which is right in line with his career average. His BB/9, however, has fluctuated from as low as 2.26 to as high as 5.22. Needless to say, anybody with a K/BB approaching one is going to have a difficult time being fantasy relevant, but in the seasons where he has kept the walks in check, he has been quite useful.

Overall, Hernandez is walking 10% of the batters he has faced for a BB/9 of 3.90 and a K/BB ratio of just 1.45. However, over his past five starts, he has only walked 6 batters in 34.2 innings. Since he has also enjoyed a flukey BABIP of just .180 over that stretch and allowed just 1 HR, his numbers have been absolutely remarkable. He has had an ERA of 2.08, a WHIP of .75 and has grabbed three wins during this run.

Obviously these numbers are unsustainable, but Hernandez actually has a pretty nice skill set if you can get past the K/BB issues. He is a sinker baller with a career ground ball rate of 57% (51.4% this year). He also does a nice job limiting line drives (17% for his career) and since he does so well keeping the ball on the ground, he does fairly well avoiding HRs too.

While Hernandez has enjoyed a high degree of BABIP luck this season, he is capable of being a fantasy contributor for the rest of the season if he can keep the walk rates down. He will not be an asset in the WHIP category, but if he can pitch to a K/BB rate over 2, he might not kill you there either. Playing in the spacious NL West is likely to help as long as owners avoid those dangerous matchups in Colorado and Arizona.

Hernandez could be worth a pick up, but keep a close eye on the BB rate and be careful how you choose to use him.

Tommy Landseadel

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Tommy is also known as tlance on the CBS and Sports Hoopla message boards. He has been playing fantasy baseball for 16 years in many different format types and looks forward to helping you with your fantasy baseball questions! You can now follow me on Twitter @tlandseadel