Let's take a quick trip around the Senior Circuit and look at some guys who have been making a splash in the last few weeks.
Growing up, I enjoyed the Muppets (yes, this probably dates me). One of my all-time favorites was Fozzie Bear and his tag line, “Wacka Wacka Wacka!” It’s been a long time since I came across a good reason to use it until the recent news the Cardinals 2012 R1 draft pick Michael Wacha was going to be called up to start last Thursday’s game in St. Louis against the Royals. The legend of his minor league and spring training dominance since joining the Cardinals’ organization was quite impressive, and he didn't disappoint in his first career start (7IP, 1ER, 2H, 6K, 0BB). Wacha was aggressive with hitters, getting first-pitch strikes against 14 of 23 batters faced and generating almost 60% ground balls. His fastball averaged 93 while touching 97, and the changeup was just nasty. This start did come against the lowly Royals, who rank 24th in runs scored, but as a team K.C. actually strikes out fifth least in all of baseball. You shouldn't judge a pitcher from just one start, but I’d prefer this one to what Kevin Gausman has done in his first two times out.
Although Dave Duncan is no longer around, the Cardinals do have a history of churning out great young/rookie pitchers (Jamie Garcia in 2010, Lance Lynn in 2012, Shelby Miller in 2013) and a great rotation leader and role model in Adam Wainwright. So the environment is good for Wacha, but the real question is "will he stick?" The Cardinals staff right now looks like a MASH unit with six currently on the DL, so there’s an opportunity here for Wacha to continue to force management’s hand.
The caveats with Wacha are simple. He’s pitched a total of 81 professional innings, and the Cardinals’ brass would’ve preferred he get more seasoning at AAA, so even they acknowledge he’s a work in progress. It’s likely that Wacha will be on a regular pitch count, and he probably has at most 100 more IP in him this season (he’s thrown 60 to date), which means either skipped starts or a move to the bullpen down the stretch. This creates a couple of problems: first, the pitch count reduces the likelihood that he can rack up a large number of strikeouts while working deep enough into games to earn wins. That said, most experienced fantasy players will tell you to seek solid ratios and to avoid chasing wins, and there's a fair argument that Wacha will enjoy the support of an offense ranked in the top ten in runs scored. He should also benefit from a sound bullpen now that Boggs and his 11+ ERA have been mercifully demoted. One other point of interest with Wacha is relevant for H2H gamers-- he’s worth less in that format than in rotisserie, as his fantasy playoff contributions are likely to be minimal. I’m owning and inquiring about him most everywhere I can now, but I’m also willing to field offers, because his fantasy value may be near its peak as your leaguemates think Clayton Kershaw 2.0 has just entered the league.
A non-fantasy note: the draft pick the Cardinals used to select Wacha was the compensatory pick for failing to resign Albert Pujols. Between Jean Segura (mortgaged in the relatively unsuccessful Zack Greinke trade to Milwaukee), missing out on Wacha, and the albatross Pujols contract which already looks bad in year two (we can only imagine how it will look in 2021!!), this must feel like salt in an open wound for the struggling Anaheim Angels and their fans.
I was disappointed to learn of Adam Eaton’s latest setback, as I think he’s an ideal fantasy outfielder with quite a bit of potential. That said, it does create an opportunity for another Diamondback to continue contributing. An example of being more valuable in real-life than in our game due mainly to his strong defense (UZR/150 of 15.7) which does not directly translate in fantasy, Parra sits around 50 in ESPN and Yahoo! YTD rankings for hitters, but he has a top-20 WAR. Parra’s biggest problem historically has been finding playing time, but the Justin Upton trade and injuries have helped him overcome that this year, and he’s responded, registering a .313/.378/.481 triple slash including a 2-for-3 Saturday night with a double, a HR, and a pair each of walks, runs and RBI. Currently, Parra is on pace for a career high in PAs near almost 700, and while I don't necessarily expect him to reach this total, another 350 is not out of the question. So with this opportunity, what type of fantasy production can we realistically expect?
After dissecting the numbers, it appears we're dealing with a player who is clearly trending upwards and not getting too overexposed, even if he is playing a bit above his head. Let's begin with the cautionary signs. After going 30-for-40 in SB attempts in 2011 and 2012, Parra has been thrown out 7 times in 12 attempts this year. He also doesn't show a lot of pop with a sub-30% career FB rate and HR/FB ratio of 6.7% (although it has improved each of the past 3 seasons and sits at 9.3% for 2013). The BABIP sits at .355, which also in part explains the 31-point spike in his BA year-over-year despite minimal changes in either his batted ball profile or plate discipline (slight improvement on SwStrk% and contact rates).
Fortunately, it's not all bad news. Parra turned just 26 years old this season, and he's improved his HR/FB rate in each of the past 3 years so it’s not crazy to think he’s finally growing into some untapped power potential. His current 2013 10.9% HR/FB rate is around the league average so the trend we’re seeing may very well be sustainable. Parra’s BB% and K% are both better than the league norms and continue to improve; he boasts a 0.63 BB/K rate which helps give him more value in OBP leagues, too. He’s also dominated RHP posting a .954 OPS this season (.654 vs. LHP).
So what does it all mean? Parra is the best, most versatile defensive outfielder the team currently has in Eaton's absence, so I'll bank on 325 or so ABs rest-of-season. I don’t believe he’s forgotten how to steal bases overnight, so while I don’t like the sub-50% success rate this year, he’s still getting the green light, so swiping 10 more bags is realistic. HR/FB rates don’t stabilize until later in the season, but with his trending increase in fly balls which leave the yard stretching back to last season, I think there’s some credibility to the bump in his power production. He doesn't hit quite enough fly balls to be a true power threat, but a rest-of-season over-under of 6.5 HR seems about right. Parra typically hits at the top of the order which is likely to cut into his RBI production, but hitting up top with good on-base skills should result in plenty of runs, around 55+ the rest of the way. Still, it’s difficult to improve your BA and slugging the way Parra has without significantly changing your batted ball profile or plate discipline, but he’s one of those players who has generated a strong BABIP at all levels: his MLB career rate is .337 over 1,872 ABs and .339 in his professional career. That said, there’s a good chance he’ll fall to Earth slightly. In today’s game, though, where .260 is the new .280, a .285 ROS clip is still very valuable.
Parra isn't likely to win any weeks for you individually, but he does provide plenty of value and is quite underappreciated. I typically like to seek 20/20 production from my OF, but I'm willing to take 15/15 and trade a few SBs and HRs for solid contributions in the runs department and a plus BA. If you're able to cycle him in daily when he’s facing RHP, his value goes up even more. Currently available in 45% of leagues, I'd take Parra over the more owned B.J. Upton (78%) and Todd Frazier (78%).
A borderline top-ten catcher entering the season, Jonathan Lucroy had perhaps been one of the most unlucky players in the game as the calendar was flipping to June, and this has nothing to do with the freak suitcase injury that sidelined him for several weeks last year. His BABIP sat below .230, and his HR/FB below 5%, each of which were well below both league average and his own career marks. Curious whether this was a matter eroding skills or truly bad luck, I investigated, and discovered some fairly stark results: Lucroy's batted ball profile is nearly identical to his career averages, and his plate discipline has actually improved as he has swung at fewer pitches outside the zone while also making more contact on those pitches. He swinging strike rate is also down 2 points to a very impressive 4.1%; he’s swinging at fewer pitches and also making contact at 90% rate! So what did he do over the weekend? Well, he hit 3 HR in two games and carried a .432/.486/.730 triple slash over a ten-game stretch including Saturday night’s contest. Lucroy is not a superstar, but he should contribute a little everywhere with plus production in the BA department. Truth is, sometimes just not having a liability in your catcher spot is a win, so Lucroy is a guy you should look at. The recent power surge also shows he hasn't necessarily lost his power either. If you're in need of a replacement catcher or he’s been dropped in your NL-only league, the 40% owned Brewer should be a priority add.
For owners looking to stay current on players to target, remember to check out our daily updates to the Waiver Wire Watch List where you can find great updates and feedback on catchers and all position players from the staff here at RotoBaller.com.