Pickups: Small Samples I’m Buying
In fantasy baseball, your April mantra should be “Don’t Overreact, Don’t Overreact, Don’t Overreact.” That said, if you do nothing in April, you’ll miss out on some of the most valuable break outs. Don’t go cutting players you paid good money or high picks for, but every roster has injuries, role changes and late-round flyers that you can use to make room for the new hotness. With that in mind, here are some players I’m picking up where I can.
While we still don’t want to overreact to single-game performances (cough Christian Villanueva cough) There are some reasons to jump on players in the early going. The most basic one is a role change. Guys who weren’t drafted due to uncertainty about playing time are likely worth picking up if they have close to a full-time job.
Jose Pirela, Neil Walker and Luis Valbuena
We talked about these guys when I was on the TDG podcast and they are likely gone in most leagues. Their teams have confidence in them and they’re getting regular (if not every day) at-bats. They don’t have a ton of upside, but they’ll contribute meaningful counting stats, even in shallow leagues. Pirela is younger than Walker and Valbuena, but he’s still 28.
Deep Names: Joey Wendle, Dixon Machado and Preston Tucker
I don’t have as much faith in these guys being good, per se, but they’re playing, and when your DL is full by mid-April in a deep league, that’s all you’re really asking for. They’re also not crusty old vets, so if they do turn into cromulent major-leaguers, they could be actual dynasty assets and not just fill-ins.
There’s a reason we caution you against investing in this type of pitcher. They usually don’t work out, and when they do, they can often be found on the waiver wire in even the deepest of leagues. That’s because it’s really hard to predict if their (usual) combination of command, control and deception will actually work at the big-league level without obvious elite stuff. Heck, it’s hard enough to predict if Great Stuff will work at this level. When it doesn’t work, you get 2017 Nick Pivetta and his 6.02 ERA. When it does work though, you might just get 2018 Nick Pivetta, and that’s someone worth picking up.
When I wrote up Pivetta at the end of our top 200 SP list, I noted that he’s got a real weapon in his slider, and a fastball that looks good on paper in terms of movement and velocity, but hitters have just teed off on it. That appears to still be the case to some extent, but the overall results have been better, as he’s halved his walk rate. Also, as Paul Martin wrote about over on The Pitcher List, he’s added (and increased usage of) a curveball that’s just as nasty as the slider. In theory, this should keep hitters from sitting on the fastball. The good news is that the curve and slider combo have been getting oodles of whiffs, so the Ks will be there, even if they come with some homers and blow up innings. There’s still a lot of noise in the fastball results too, so if that starts performing more like we think it can, we could be looking at a top-30 starter in the Chris Archer/Robbie Ray mold. Pivetta looked good again Wednesday, mowing down seven Reds without a walk and a Jose Peraza double as the only extra-base hit. I’ve added him everywhere I can.
Going into the season it looked like Chirinos would work out of the bullpen, maybe more than one inning at a time. Well, his first appearance was four innings, followed by a five inning “Bullpen Day” start – both against the hot Red Sox offense. All he did was shut them out with 7 punch-outs and just one walk. That alone makes him arguably the highlight of the Rays’ season so far [Ed. Note from a Rays fan- can confirm]. Wednesday afternoon he took the rubber against the rebuilding Chicago White Sox and only a 75 pitch limit could chase him from the game, allowing just four hits and a walk to go with 5 Ks in 5.1 innings. Watching the game, I only heard three instances of “Loud” contact, two deep fly outs and a hit by Tim Anderson that was erased with a slick pick-off. It’s only three starts, and they won’t all be shutouts, but he’s earning his results so far.
Injuries are already mounting for the Rays’ staff, so Chirinos should be in the rotation for the foreseeable future. He threw 141 innings in 22 impressive starts in 2017 (2.74 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 0.98 WHIP), so he shouldn’t be on an especially harsh innings limit. He has been kept on tight pitch counts so far, and Cash isn’t a fan of allowing a 3rd time through the order, so it may be a while before he picks up any “Quality Starts.” But he’s efficient enough that when they give him more pitches and he’s cruising he’ll get there. If he wasn’t picked up ahead of his start in Chicago, go grab him now. I did in all of my leagues.
I already talked about Junis in my De Facto Favorites article, but I’m all-in on him now, even in shallow leagues, following two 7 inning shutouts. The Tigers and Mariners weren’t the scariest offenses, but he should have plenty more good matchups playing in the AL Central. Besides actually giving up some runs at some point, expect K rates closer to 7 per 9, but the WHIP is gonna be good because he rarely walks anybody. I’m likely sitting him Saturday against the Angels, but if he passes that test, he may graduate from matchup play to every day.
Another one we discussed on the podcast, Lucchesi has moved from “Stash and watch” to “Pickup” status for me after he baffled the Rockies in Colorado on Tuesday. Jim gave a full review of that start here, so read that for details. He’s got a funky drop-down delivery with a very over-the-top arm slot that gives him a lot of deception. He’s got enough ability to move the ball around and shape his pitches to keep hitters pretty well off-balance. There will be some days he doesn’t have it, but if Lucchesi’s been overlooked in your league, he’s worth grabbing in mid-sized leagues and at least streaming in shallower ones. Just don’t invest too heavily, because if hitters figure him out the second time around, it could get real ugly.
These are all guys who were likely available even in deep leagues, which again is why you don’t stash them as prospects until they’ve shown they can make it work, or are at least close to getting a shot. It is worth noting that they all put up excellent numbers in the upper minors, so for the deep-leaguers at least it may actually be worth a little “scouting the stat line” on starters who dominate Double and Triple-Alineupss. Just make sure they’ve got a path to the rotation before buying in.