Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: Top 10 Pickups for Week 22
Life would be much easier if fantasy baseball leagues followed MLB rules.
When the calendar flips to September, the league's roster limit magically increases from 25 to 40. The added flexibility makes life much easier for managers, especially when delegating a bullpen and National League bench.
Unfortunately, this fake game of ours doesn't offer the same luxury. The roster spots stay stagnant during the season's final month, which often forces fantasy managers into tough decisions. As nice as it would be to stash that top prospect or slumping regular, nobody can waste space with only five weeks remaining.
Meanwhile, useful players are shouting for attention on the waiver wire. All available in over 50 percent of Yahoo Sports leagues, these guys are rolling at the right time. Capitalize on their recent successes while they last.
James McCann, C, Detroit Tigers
Ryan Zimmerman, 1B, Washington Nationals
Trevor Plouffe, 1B/3B, Minnesota Twins
Clay Buchholz, SP, Boston Red Sox
Alex Cobb, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
Colby Lewis, SP, Texas Rangers
Derek Holland, SP, Texas Rangers
Daniel Hudson, RP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ronald Torreyes, 3B/SS, New York Yankees
Avisail Garcia, OF, Chicago White Sox
Brandon Guyer, OF, Cleveland Indians
Guillermo Heredia, OF, Seattle Mariners
Andrew Triggs, SP/RP, Oakland Athletics
Jorge Alfaro, C, Philadelphia Phillies
Daniel Descalso, 1B/2B/3B/OF, Colorado Rockies
A.J. Cole, SP, Washington Nationals
Robert Gsellman, SP, New York Mets
Brock Stewart, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
10. Jose Peraza, 2B/SS/OF, Cincinnati Reds (19 Percent Owned)
Billy Hamilton isn't the only Cincinnati Reds speedster of note. In 41 games, Jose Peraza has poached a dozen bases.
Like his fast teammate, the 22-year-old has struggled to create opportunities by reaching first. The rookie has walked twice this season, making Brandon Phillips look like Ben Zobrist.
When he registers 15 hits over eight games, it's not a problem. Since getting recalled on August 20, the infielder has boosted his batting average from .250 to .300. His reality likely falls somewhere in the middle, but the speedy slap hitter just needs to put the ball on the ground to have a chance.
Peraza has played regularly at shortstop, but Zack Cozart reclaimed his starting spot over the weekend. Nevertheless, the versatile newcomer could move to left field and spell Phillips at second. A three-game road series against the Los Angeles Angels buys Cincinnati some time.
If Peraza keeps hitting this well, the Reds will have no choice but to bench Scott Schebler, who owns a minus-0.4 WAR despite homering three times over the weekend. Even when he slows down, Peraza is still the better option for an extended September look.
9. Alex Reyes, SP/RP, St. Louis Cardinals (28 Percent Owned)
After a few stellar bullpen outings, Alex Reyes made his first career MLB start on Saturday in place of Mike Leake, who came down with shingles. The fiery right-hander lasted only 4.2 innings and coughed up four walks.
With a strong start, the St. Louis Cardinals rookie would have sent the hype machine into overdrive. Despite his control issues, MLB.com's No. 8 prospect flaunts salivating upside. Upon returning from a 50-game suspension, he stockpiled 93 strikeouts over 65.1 Triple-A innings, upping his career minor league strikeouts-per-nine rate (K/9) to 12.1.
Yet optimists can't ignore his limitations. He also left the minors issuing 4.6 walks per nine (BB/9), a rate he must drastically reduce to survive as a big league starter. If not, he has a career as a shutdown reliever, which he displayed by amassing 13 strikeouts over 9.1 scoreless innings with St. Louis.
His short-term role also remains unclear. Unless another injury creates a vacancy or he replaces struggling starter Jaime Garcia or fellow rookie Luke Weaver, Reyes will spend September in the bullpen. This may actually prove better for his 2016 fantasy appeal, as his stuff quickly translated to dominance as a reliever.
He's more of a speculative add in meatier leagues with larger rosters, but the 22-year-old will pile up the strikeouts regardless of his role.
8. Nick Markakis, OF, Atlanta Braves (17 Percent Owned)
Dating back to last year, Nick Markakis homered five times in 233 games and 1,024 plate appearances before July 1. He has since hit seven long balls in 222 plate appearances over 52 contests.
As he told David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it was only a matter of time before he regained his power stroke.
"I know who I am, I know what I'm capable of doing, and I know my body better than anybody," he said on Thursday. "People can say what they want, they can predict what they want, but if you look at a guy's track record and all that, it's pretty evident of what type of player not just myself, but anybody is."
Markakis was never a masher, but he tallied double-digit homers in nine straight seasons before last year's precipitous decline. Through his struggles, the Atlanta Braves outfielder has remained a steady contact hitter with a 10.0 walk percentage.
Batting .283/.347/.444 since July 1, the resurgent 32-year-old can once again contribute in leagues with five outfield slots. His improvements could also help spark a waiver trade before September 1, giving him an opportunity to play in a better lineup.
7. Josh Bell, 1B/OF, Pittsburgh Pirates (11 Percent Owned)
Josh Bell's emergence as the Pittsburgh Pirates' starting first baseman has flown completely under the radar. Although he's not a flashy prospect with exceptional power or speed, he's ready to contribute immediately.
In 33 plate appearances, the 24-year-old has registered 10 hits, seven walks and two strikeouts. Those early returns have earned him an upgrade to the No. 2 hole.
He won't keep reaching base over half the time, but Bell bided his time in Triple-A with a .382 on-base percentage. If Pirates manager Clint Hurdle keeps batting him above his star outfielders, the newcomer will finish the season as an above-average runs source.
This lineup placement is particularly important for a player without a marketable skill in standard five-by-five leagues. He's a younger version of John Jaso with more upside, especially in the average department. Perhaps he's James Loney (in his prime) with a better batting eye.
Although he could morph into a 15-20 home run hitter, don't expect much pop from Bell in September. He's not a must-add in shallow mixed leagues, but deeper gamers will welcome his polished plate approach and cushy lineup positioning.
6. Brandon Finnegan, SP/RP, Cincinnati Reds (21 Percent Owned)
Just like Reds teammate Dan Straily, Brandon Finnegan's poor peripherals have hidden his recent brilliance.
The 23-year-old has labored through his first year as a starter, posting a 4.27 ERA, 4.39 BB/9 and a 5.47 fielding independent pitching (FIP) that's higher than all other National League qualified starters. His pedestrian 7.19 K/9 hasn't made an impact, either.
In his last six starts, however, Finnegan wields a 2.23 ERA with 37 strikeouts over 36.1 innings. On Friday, he collected a career-high 12 punchouts against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Per MLB.com's Mark Sheldon, Finnegan credited his progress to an improved changeup, which Straily helped him adjust.
"It's very satisfying," Finnegan said. "I started off the year well with it and then I hit a spot where I couldn't stop cutting it. It was like a second slider. To get it back and working—if it wasn't for Mr. Straily over there—I'd still be without a changeup. I've been working hard on it. Every 'pen I work on it. Hopefully I can keep it going."
Drafted in the first round two years ago, Finnegan took an express path to the majors. As a result, he's learning on the fly more than most young hurlers. He's an intriguing streaming option against the Los Angeles Angels this week.
5. Ivan Nova, SP/RP, Pittsburgh Pirates (27 Percent Owned)
Look at that: The Pittsburgh Pirates fixed another pitcher.
Minutes before the non-waiver trade deadline, the New York Yankees shipped struggling starter Ivan Nova to Pittsburgh with a 4.90 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. In five starts with his new club, the 29-year-old has netted a 2.87 ERA and 0.99 WHIP.
He only has 22 strikeouts in 31.1 innings with the Pirates, but exceptional command makes his progress noteworthy anyway. Since switching to the National League, Nova has walked one batter (the free-swinging Evan Gattis, of all people.)
Perhaps Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage doesn't deserve the credit. Nova was already turning a corner before the trade with some encouraging July outings. Yet he's not the first Yankees hurler (A.J. Burnett) to recover his career in Pittsburgh, the team that turned J.A. Happ into a major fantasy asset last September.
Escaping the American League East certainly helps, and this is the first time he gets to perform regularly outside of Yankee Stadium. With potential matchups against the Milwaukee Brewers, Reds and Philadelphia Phillies looming, he's a shrewd add for owners concerned about improving their pitching ratios.
4. Denard Span, OF, San Francisco Giants (33 Percent Owned)
As always, nobody is noticing Denard Span.
The 32-year-old outfielder is hitting .346 (37-for-107) with five home runs and three stolen bases this month. The hot streak has repaired his slash line to .277/.339/.394, giving him a slightly above-average 102 weighted runs created plus (wRC+).
Still perched atop the San Francisco Giants' batting order, he'll receive more plate appearances—and therefore more opportunities to reach base, steal bases and score runs—than most fantasy free agents. He's the boring yet effective producer gamers overlook in search of younger, more exciting upside plays.
To be fair, Span's efficiency on the bases has waned. After successfully swiping all 11 stolen-base attempts in 61 games last year, he's 12-of-17 over 119 contests this season. He's no longer a threat to steal 25-30 bags, but he should snatch a few more.
Never a flashy option at his best, the veteran offers steady production in all five standard fantasy categories.
3. Matt Boyd, SP, Detroit Tigers (32 Percent Owned)
One year has made a considerable difference for Matt Boyd, who notched a 7.53 ERA last season.
More accurately, two months have changed everything. He allowed 21 runs over five starts before sharply turning a corner. In his last nine outings, the Detroit Tigers lefty wields a 2.39 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 45.1 innings.
As catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia told the Detroit Free Press' George Sipple, Boyd's other secondary pitches have caught up to his slider.
"Not knowing him, that's what it felt like it was because he definitely threw a lot of sliders," Saltalamacchia said. "But his curveball has come on really well in the last few starts against Toronto and even Minnesota. I think his changeup has become one of his second-best pitches. It's just so much different from his fastball velocity-wise."
According to Brooks Baseball, his changeup has yielded a 42.31 whiff rate since July 1. The slider, however, remains his best weapon. In the past two months, nobody has collected an extra-base hit off the pitch.
Overall, Boyd still possesses a subpar 4.78 FIP in 2016. Yet the 25-year-old is making remarkable progress, and he's in line to make two starts against the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals this week.
2. Jedd Gyorko, 1B/2B/3B/SS, St. Louis Cardinals (37 Percent Owned)
Just like everyone predicted, Brandon Moss and Jedd Gyorko are keeping the Cardinals afloat.
A week after again highlighting Moss' power escapades, Gyorko receives another shoutout for his immense slugging. After roaming the fantasy landscape as a popular breakout candidate for years, the 27-year-old has done so without much fanfare.
In 324 plate appearances, he has clobbered 22 home runs—15 since the All-Star break—with a .495 slugging percentage. Only the red-hot Brian Dozier has procured more second-half long balls than the widely available Gyorko, who has garnered eligibility at all four infield slots in Yahoo leagues.
At worst, some gamers can't use him at first base, where he has played 10 games. Who wants to waste a raking middle infielder at first anyway?
Power always kept fantasy managers interested in Gyorko, but he can't keep up this torrid pace. Nevertheless, his second-half tear has earned him regular playing time as one of 18 middle-infield-eligible players with 20 or more dingers. He should be owned in all leagues.
1. Ryan Schimpf, 2B/3B, San Diego Padres (14 Percent Owned)
Ryan Schimpf went bonkers in July, engineering eight homers over a 14-game window. Despite momentarily fading, he's catching fire again.
After producing a double and triple on Wednesday, the San Diego Padres second baseman went yard on Friday and Saturday before tripling again the following day. He has seven homers this month and 16 in only 226 plate appearances this season.
That's a home run every 14.125 plate appearance. Gyorko comes close, but as noted by FanGraph's Craig Edwards, no middle infielder boasts a better rate.
Why is the current Padres slugging second baseman ranked higher than the former one? Plate discipline. While Gyorko has boosted his walk percentage to 8.0, Schimpf has submitted a 14.2 walk percentage. As a result, his .367 on-base percentage is .61 points higher than Gyorko's clip.
The 28-year-old rookie also has more extra-base hits (33) than the Cardinals infielder (29) in 98 fewer plate appearances. It shows in his stellar .613 slugging percentage.
He also has less of a major league track record, but Schimpf crushed his way to the big leagues by hitting .355/.432/.729 in 51 Triple-A games. When a second baseman performs like Chris Davis, everyone should add first and worry about sustainability later.
Note: All advanced statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.