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Buyer’s Market: Fantasy Baseball trade and waiver wire targets

Time to ‘scoop’ Baz after Rays call up pitcher
With Shane Baz scratched from his Triple-A start, Eric Samulski and Scott Pianowski evaluate how the pitcher will fit into the Tampa Bay Rays rotation.

Back in May, I used a custom leaderboard to find hitters that I wanted to target and while there were more misses than hits in that article, I thought it would be fun to do it again for both hitters and pitchers. Since I’ll be doing both, I won’t be as in-depth with my analysis, but I hope we can unlock some players that are worth trading for or adding off the wire in shallower formats.

As a reminder, I created a custom leaderboard on FanGraphs of some of my favorite process-oriented stats. I’ve created one for pitchers and one for hitters. I then found the league average marks in all of the categories and removed any player who wasn’t better than the league average in each one, leaving us with a list of hitters and a list of pitchers who have been above average in my favorite stats, regardless of their surface-level results.

For hitters, I use barrel rate, swinging strike rate, overall contact rate, and O-Swing% (or chase rate). To me, these are the most important stats when looking at a hitter’s process because we can see who is forcing pitchers to throw them pitches in the strike zone, who is doing a good job of making contact on those pitches, and who is making authoritative contact when they do swing. All of that should line up to produce hitters more likely to give you solid results.

For pitchers, I used swinging strike rate (SwStr%), K-BB%, Stuff+, and SIERA. I acknowledge that this relies a lot on strikeouts to provide value, but that tends to be a good indicator of fantasy value in pitchers. I could have used Location+ rather than Stuff+ to add some value for pitchers who get by with control, and maybe I’ll do that next time; however, I think K-BB% will properly punish pitchers who can’t find the strike zone enough.

Hitter Targets from Custom Leaderboard

NameTeamPAO-Swing%Barrel%SwStr%Contact%
Kyle HigashiokaSDP5824.419.58.779.6
Andy PagesLAD11226.8168.681.7
Heston KjerstadBAL2416.214.39.882
Enmanuel ValdezBOS7522.712.75.286.2
Matt ChapmanSFG11717.212.79.178.5
Wilyer AbreuBOS3726.7129.178.3
Rowdy TellezPIT7324.811.55.686.6
Brandon NimmoNYM10924.411.38.780
Spencer HorwitzTOR7823.111.15.187.9
Jonathan IndiaCIN11314.810.78.778.4

Trading for Heston Kjerstad might be hard given that he’s a top prospect who is finally getting a chance to play, but his early performance has popped on here. I also covered Brandon Nimmo is my last article on Statcast bat speed data for June and think he remains an underrated asset in fantasy baseball who could be acquired in a trade. Andy Pages is another player who might be tough to trade for since he’s had a good rookie season and is on the Dodgers, but if people are remembering his cold streak in May then you might still be able to get him. He’s making a good deal of contact and hitting the ball hard, so a hot stretch could be incoming.

Both Enmanuel Valdez and Wilyer Abreu will only play against right-handed pitchers and Valdez only plays part-time against right-handed pitchers, so that hurts their fantasy value. However, Abreu was playing well before landing on the IL with an ankle injury, and his underlying metrics over his 34 plate appearances since coming off the IL are better than his surface-level stats. He could be a solid pickup on the waiver wire in leagues where he was dropped.

Kyle Higashioka was in the waiver wire article three weeks ago, so you should make sure you check those out every Sunday. He’s always had solid power but is lifting the ball more this season and also being slightly more selective, swinging less overall, and chasing out of the zone less than in previous years. However, that has led to a 21% called strike rate that isn’t ideal, and I don’t see much in the profile that tells me Higgy is much different than the guy who hit around .230 over two seasons with the Yankees. You should certainly add him in two-catcher formats since he’s starting with Luis Campusano on the IL, but I don’t think this is some major breakout.

I do think you should be going and trying to get Jonathan India though. He has been popping on many leaderboards for a while now and is hitting .368 over the 113 plate appearances that accompany this search, so the manager who has him may not want to move on. India is showing tremendous plate discipline, which has led to real strides in his overall contact rate and zone contact rate. He’s taking a lot of called strikes, but he rarely swings and misses, so we don’t mind it so much because when he finds a pitch he wants to attack, he usually makes good contact. Considering he’s now leading off with TJ Friedl out, that gives him even more fantasy value.

We’ve seen Rowdy Tellez be fantasy-relevant before, and many of us have a weak spot for him, but it seems that this recent stretch has gone unnoticed in a lot of places. Over his last 73 plate appearances, Tellez is hitting .338 with three home runs and 14 RBI. He’s striking out just 22% of the time and has a 5.6% SwStr% over that stretch, which is wild. The 11.5% barrel rate is solid and an 86.6% overall contact rate is so good it feels unsustainable for Tellez. However, he’s hitting in the middle of the order and playing against all right-handed pitchers, so maybe he’s a good deep-league add right now.

Spencer Horwitz and Matt Chapman are two corner infielders that I think could be worth an add in most formats. Chapman is rostered in far more leagues, but I’m not sure people appreciate that he’s having a pretty solid season. He’s pulling and lifting the ball less, perhaps in response to his new home park, but he’s swinging more and making far more contact. It’s possible that he’s no longer trying to sell out for power and that increased contact has led to a dip in barrel rate but an increase in Ideal Contact Rate, which also takes into account hard-hit groundballs. Chapman is hitting .240 over this stretch, and I think a .240-.250 average with nearly 25 home runs and solid counting stats is in the cards. You won’t get that kind of power from Horwitz, but he will post a much higher batting average and be a real asset in on-base percentage leagues. He hits second against righties for the Blue Jays and could see full-time playing time if they make some trades at the deadline.

NameTeamPAO-Swing%Barrel%SwStr%Contact%
Hunter RenfroeKCR5424.8106.384.6
Jose MirandaMIN10228.6109.581.4
Trevor LarnachMIN7623.49.810.377.7
Jesse WinkerWSN10118.29.76.583.4
J.P. CrawfordSEA125179.66.982.7
Ben RiceNYY4419.39.48.882.4
Yandy DíazTBR12427.896.287.7
Will BrennanCLE6027.48.27.885
Jake CronenworthSDP11823.587.683.1

We’ve talked up Jose Miranda on the Rotoworld Baseball Show a bunch and he was featured in my Fantasy Baseball Add/Drop this week, so check out the video for my thoughts on him. His teammate, Trevor Larnach, is hitting just .239 over this stretch, but he’s batting third for the Twins and has been showing gains in contact. He’ll never be a high batting average player, but if he can make more consistent contact and let his power shine through a little bit, there could be some deeper league fantasy value here.

Jesse Winker has been a regular in the waiver wire column and has been added in a lot of leagues, but I’d still be adding him if he were on the wire. His plate discipline has always been elite and now that he’s running, his fantasy value has reached another level. I wouldn’t be trading for Winker though because I think he gets moved at that trade deadline, and it’s unclear if he winds up in a starting role. I’m happy to get another 2-3 weeks of production from him, but I don’t want to give up any meaningful assets in case he gets moved to a worse park or moved into a small role.

Jake Cronenworth and J.P. Crawford both strike me as underrated veterans who produce value in everyday roles. Cronenworth’s barrel rate was just under the cut-off here, so he could have easily been left off, but I think he remains viable in deeper formats, and his impressive contact rates and good swing decisions could make him a deeper league trade target if you just want somebody with a full-time job who will produce fine but not great value across the board. Crawford is a bit more exciting because he’s hitting the ball harder and showing a little bit of pop. He’s hitting just .204 over his last 125 plate appearances, but he has just a 6.9% SwStr% and an 83% contact rate, so I have to believe that his batting average starts to trend up.

I added Hunter Renfroe myself in a few places over the weekend. He has just 54 plate appearances over this stretch due to a stint on the IL, but he is making solid contact, which you like to see from somebody who has good raw power. He has a .313 batting average and four home runs over those 54 PAs too, so that’s confidence-inspiring. At the end of the day, it just comes down to a belief that Renfroe was never going to hit .210. He’s proven himself to be a .230-.240 hitter with plus power and now he’s being far more selective, which has led to chasing fewer pitches outside of the zone and a higher barrel rate than we saw last year. He’s sporting the lowest SwStr% of his career, and I think there’s a chance we get something closer to the 2022 version of Renfroe, who hit .255 for the Brewers with 29 home runs. The power numbers will be at Kauffman Stadium, but I think he could be viable in deeper formats.

It’s been a quietly solid debut for Ben Rice, who has carried over the good plate discipline he had in the minor leagues. He’s making strong swing decisions, which has led to a lot of contact and a .270 average so far. He has no power to show for it, but a 9.4% barrel rate is solid, and we know he has good power to his pull-side, which should lead to home runs in Yankee Stadium. I’m holding in deeper formats and actively looking to get him in leagues where he’s catcher-eligible.

I’ve never been a huge Will Brennan fan when it comes to fantasy, and his barrel rate is pretty low here, but he’s making lots of contact. He’s currently on the 10-day IL but could be a name to monitor in deeper formats when he comes back.

Pitcher Targets from Custom Leaderboard

NameTeamIPSIERAK-BB%Stuff+SwStr%
Taj BradleyTBR37.13.4519920.4119.713
Ryan PepiotTBR353.60679318.9119.711.7
Yusei KikuchiTOR30.13.73494317.3113.214.4
MacKenzie GoreWSN44.13.43078120.5112.913.9
Kutter CrawfordBOS423.5084820.2106.413.7
Hunter BrownHOU493.29454820.7103.211.7
Nathan EovaldiTEX38.23.44960918.899.311.1
Gavin StoneLAD393.59759518.798.911.9
Pablo LópezMIN38.23.21076522.196.413.9
Michael WachaKCR21.23.72894617.296.211.9
Reynaldo LópezATL373.70236718.795.611.8
Kyle GibsonSTL37.23.55168917.99411.9

There are a few pitchers on here that I think we know are good but their managers may not be convinced due to early season struggles (Hunter Brown) or recent struggles (Pablo Lopez, Yusei Kikuchi, Kutter Crawford, and Reynaldo Lopez). All of them have underlying metrics from the last 30+ innings which suggest that continued success or a return to previous success is in the cards. Reynaldo Lopez is likely the riskiest of the bunch given that he’s never been able to produce this kind of value over a full season and his Stuff+ grades are significantly lower than the rest. However, I think Lopez could be a 3.50-ish ERA pitcher from here on out while pitching for a really good team, so if people think a collapse is coming, I’d be looking to buy.

I think we also know that MacKenzie Gore is good, but it took forever for his Yahoo roster rates to climb above 50%, so there are clearly still leagues where people are not convinced by Gore. He’s keeping the fastball up in the zone and the off-speed stuff down, leading to success that I believe he can continue with. I also believe in the growth we’ve seen from Gavin Stone, but I think he’s harder to trade for since he pitches on the Dodgers and everybody assumes everything they touch turns to gold, so fantasy managers likely won’t want to part with him.

I covered Kyle Gibson last week in my Mixing It Up article and went over his increased reliance on his sweeper and how that has given him more strikeout upside. I don’t think he’s reached some breakout level, but I think what he’s doing is both interesting and legitimate.

Nathan Eovaldi is an interesting name here because his fantasy value always seems to be tainted by his injury history. People seem to think that he is always one start away from going back on the injured list. Yet, he has been good yet again. Over his last 38.2 innings, he has a 3.72 ERA with a 3.45 SIERA. He’s got a slightly above-average SwStr% and K-BB% so it’s not like he’s blowing opposing batters away, but he pitches in a good pitcher’s park and with an offense that should heat up a bit. I think he continues to be an underrated fantasy option.

I think both Taj Bradley and Ryan Pepiot make for good trade targets. I still don’t trust Taj Bradley’s command, but he’s made an interesting change of late where he has leaned heavily on his four-seam and splitter. This is the perfect mix for him because his splitter doesn’t need to be well-commanded to succeed. He has been able to have success throwing it over the heart of the plate because it has plus movement. If Bradley can keep his fastball up in the zone and then throw the splitter near the strike zone, he should success without needing to worry about having pinpoint command of his secondaries, which he doesn’t have.

I also think Pepiot is a screaming “buy” candidate right now. He has a 5.14 ERA and 1.26 WHIP over his last 35 innings, but everything under the hood suggests he should have better results. He has a 3.60 SIERA, an elite 119.7 Stuff+ grade, and above-average SwStr% and K-BB%. His fastball has tremendous shape and iVB and he is now regularly pumping it up in the zone, which led to great results in his last start. His changeup and curve have both flashed at times but he struggles with consistency when it comes to locating them in the zone. However, I think the four-seam success will provide a tremendous foundation to build on and he has a deep enough arsenal to vault up fantasy rankings if those breaking balls can fall in line behind the fastball.