Replacements for Injured Staring Pitchers

The trade deadline has passed for most leagues.  Playoffs are on the horizon and may even be starting soon in leagues that try finish up a bit early.  Many teams are struggling with injuries, particularly injuries to their pitching staff.  James Paxton just went onto the DL, the Yankees plated both Sabathia and Tanaka on the DL Saturday, and we’re still waiting on guys like Kershaw, Fulmer, Strasburg, and Ray to return.  Then there are the walking wounded like deGrom who got hit on his arm putting his Monday start up in the air.

This column is dedicated to trying to find guys to gamble on to replace that kind of production.  Of course, you can never replace ace types completely, but these are the kind of guys that can get hot and be a faux ace for a few weeks at a time.  That’s honestly the most you can hope for out of waiver guys.

Trevor Bauer: Indians
Availability: 49% Y!, 58% ESPN

I know we’ve been through this before with the former 1st round pick.  He’s gotten hot and teased us.  He has great stuff and plays for a great team so we’ve wanted it to be true in the past.  Maybe he’s not truly breaking out, but Bauer is the kind of guy who can go on a run and carry your staff for a while.  Let’s take a look at what’s going on with him.

First of all, it seems like he’s been a bit unlucky to this point in the season.  His 4.79 ERA contrasts with his 3.80 FIP and 3.61 xFIP.  He has also been a victim of high BABIP with a .343 this year.  This is especially surprising since he has a pretty good infield defense behind him, anchored of course by Francisco Lindor.  His HR/FB rate has jumped just a bit as well.  Only 4 points, but just one more potentially negative luck factor.  His strikeout percentage is at a career high with a very respectable 25.6%.  The walk rate is a bit high for my taste at 8.5%, but that too is good enough for a career best for Bauer.  

He’s still eliciting a high number of grounders as well at 46.9%.  And he is doing all of this while continuing to throw reasonably hard (94.5MPH average) and having nasty stuff.  There is also a narrative that the Cleveland pitching coach told both Bauer and Kluber to throw their breaking pitches more and that is contributing to their success.  This too is supported by numbers though as Fangraphs shows Bauer throwing his curve 10% more than he did last year.

There’s a lot to like about Bauer.  The only reason I’m not all-in on him is that he has tricked me in the past.  All the numbers look good and he’s on a really nice run right now.  It’s time to add him, even if you’re hesitant like me.  He may be owned in a lot of leagues, but his ugly season long numbers have scared away many suitors as well.  He is only owned in just 41% of ESPN leagues so it is worth a check.  

Bauer has the pedigree to be a legit breakout. This is especially true given the fact that he has a great team supporting him as well.  I don’t think I can start him at Boston just yet, but he’ll have better matchups down the stretch.  Even if this isn’t a true breakout, this guy has shown the ability to get hot for a month or two in the past. – that’s what we need right now.

Mike Clevinger: Indians
Availability: 70% Y!, 75% ESPN

On to Bauer’s rotation mate, Mike Clevinger.  I’m less excited about him than I am about Bauer even though his season long stat line doesn’t look too bad.  Still, there’s some upside here, and it might be worth gambling down the stretch run if you are in a situation where you need some strikeouts and wins.

The main appeal about Clevinger to me is those strikeouts.  He has a 26.8% K rate.  That’s amazing for someone who is widely available on waivers.  The walk rate makes me a little sick to my stomach at 12.2%, but again, this isn’t the 3rd round of the draft – this is late season waiver adds to help triage your wounded staff.  

Clevinger has a solid 3.65 ERA that has been a bit lucky.  Both his FIP and xFIP have him as more of a low 4.00s kind of guy which is probably right.  He has been a bit lucky stranding 77.2% of base runners as well.  On the plus side,Clevinger has shown an ability to get pop ups in the infield.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, those kinds of fly balls are as good as strikeouts.  He’s managed to induce 10.7% infield flies this year; that’s right in line with his 11.5% last year.  This isn’t quite Marco Estrada level, but it is something that might help him outpitch his peripherals a bit.

Clevinger is young and has some control issues, but I still like the idea of targeting him on the very solid Indians team.  He was dropped in a large number of leagues because of a pretty bad three game stretch (I think we can forgive the Yankees and Red Sox games).  I also doubt you’ll be able to find much higher upside on waivers.

Marco Estrada: Blue Jays
Availability: 43% Y!, 47% ESPN

I’ve profiled Estrada in the past, and most of what I said then still applies now. Still, he is still reasonably available and seems to have righted the ship.  He only throws 89-90MPH so control and command are a big part of his game.  That rough stretch has him ownership just above 50%.  I would add him with confidence.

Hyun- Jin Ryu: Dodgers
Availability: 38% Y!, 42% ESPN

I used to love this guy.  He and Hisashi Iwakuma helped me raise a few banners back in 2013 when they burst on the scene as top 30ish SPs.  Since then, Ryu has barely pitched.  Injury after injury has made him a complete non-factor.  He seems to be back now, though, and I think he’s worth an add at this point.

Ryu is striking out 23% of hitters while keeping the walks at a reasonable 6.9%.  He is keeping the ball on the ground at 45.6% clip as well.  He has been a bit lucky stranding 79.9% of his base runners, but he has also been pretty unlucky with his HR/FB rate.  At 18.2%, his HR/FB percentage is nearly double his career average.  I think what he has done so far looks pretty legit.

I think his ownership levels should be a bit higher than they are.  He’s been striking people out and plays for what is arguably the best team in the league National League.  There’s some question as to who loses their rotation spot when Kershaw comes back (and McCarthy as well), but I wouldn’t worry about that right now.  Try to juice the orange with Ryu for some pretty good all around numbers and hopefully some extra wins.  It’s also not like he came out of nowhere.  He was a borderline fantasy stud before all the injury woes.

Ty Blach: Giants
Availability: 85% Y! & ESPN

Words This one surprises me as Blach has been a bit below the radar. His 4.15 ERA doesn’t scream “pick me up”, and an 11.8% strikeout rate resembles what many pitchers produce in the walk column. So why should you add Blach?

Well, let’s start with the walk rate which sits at just 5%. That’s an elite number right there, putting him sixth in the league among qualified starters. He does give up a little too much contact for my taste at 85%, but 45% of those balls are on the ground. His fly ball rate is average at 32%, and his hard hit rate is average as well which makes that 8% HR/FB look a little lucky. The strand rate actually balances out some of that good luck coming in at a low 68% – below league average.

Overall not a very convincing argument to roster him, but you cannot argue with the results he is getting. Blach has gone at least seven innings in each of his last five starts so he is turning into an innings eater. In fact, he failed to reach the sixth inning only twice in his last 16 starts – 12 of those starts were of the quality variety, and he also won eight of those 16. Not bad for a guy with limited strikeout potential playing for a poor offensive team.

If you are the guy who worries about strikeouts then you will hate Blach. If you want solid ratios, quality starts, a 50% chance at a win, and a guy that will chew up innings, this could be the underrated gem you were looking for.

Jerad Eickhoff: Phillies
Availability: 58% Y!, 84% ESPN

Eickhoff is overlooked due to his 4.45 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. If you judge him by the surface numbers it is understandable why he is so available. However, recent performances need to be address, some of which might change your perception of him.

Looking at his last six starts since returning from the DL I see three quality starts, and two of the non-quality starts both went five innings with a total of one run allowed. There was one clunker, but we’ll forgive him considering the overall body of work. He totaled 36 strikeouts during that time over 34.2 innings. That gives him a K/9 over 9.00 which is a full point over his season total. He also had three wins giving him a 50/50 chance at a win and or quality start.

The underlying metrics are not going to impress the stat-heads. His batted ball profile is average at best; the contact rate is also average, and he has zero heat on his fastball (90.6 MPH). His 3.27 July ERA should have been a point higher looking at the FIP and xFIP, but the 3.55 he has in two August starts seems to pass the smell test. Despite average stuff and a poor supporting cast he is getting the job done. He shouldn’t be, but he is.

If this were April or May I would probably avoid him thinking the regression train would be arriving soon. With the playoffs on the line for some of us, it’s time, at least with some players, to ignore the underlying metrics and any luck that may be driving them and focus on the overall results. After all, those simple scoring categories are what matters most in fantasy – it doesn’t matter how he got them.

If you need further incentive, Eickhoff faces the Giants and Padres this week with both games coming on the road. That right there deserves a stream regardless of your feelings toward him.

Worth Mentioning

Bartolo Colon: Twins
Availability: 95% Y!, 98% ESPN

‘Tolo is now back into my streamer class, especially for points leagues.  Now that he is out of the band box in Atlanta, I am happy to stream him.  Would start him in most two start weeks and any obvious matchups.  And again, this goes double for points leagues.

Luke Weaver: Cardinals
Availability: 93% Y!, 97% ESPN

I love this guy and will profile him at a deeper level next year, maybe this year if someone on the St. Louis staff goes down.  This guy is an instant add if Wainwright or anyone else heads back to the DL.  He was a minor league superstar and has show some promise in the bigs as well.  Might be worth a stash in the very deepest of leagues, but mainly just a watch for now with fingers crossed someone in St Louis goes down. That seems mean to say, but we’re playing for a championship here.


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Mike Sheehan

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Comedian, Powerlifter, and most importantly a Cum Laude graduate of the fantasy baseball school of hard knocks. Double major in points and categories with a minor in roto. Happy to be doing my Postgraduate work here at the Fantasy Assembly.