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It’s the beginning of April and you know what that means! It’s fantasy baseball season and it’s time to overreact to everything! Step out of the fantasy football mindset that may still have its hold on you and remember that while each day does matter, this is a marathon and not a sprint. As is tradition, I’ll be here to scope out some widely-available arms that range from “short-term useful” to “could be a stud”.

Since this is the first run of this on the year, I’m going to try for more names with a little less meat to the paragraphs. This will soon flip-flop, but the beginning of the season brings a lot to the table and I want to help a wide range of fantasy owners. With that said, here are my starting pitcher waiver wire targets for Week 1.

For our purposes, we’re going to use Yahoo ownership levels and try to cut things off around 30%.

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Starting Pitcher Waiver Wire Targets

Marco Estrada (TOR - SP): 31% owned

Estrada kicked off his 2018 by holding the Yankees to three runs with an even 1.00 WHIP over seven frames, which shows promise that the righty has reclaimed his form after an up-and-down ‘17 campaign. While he only induced five swinging strikes on the day, he scored an impressive 17 called strikes -- 10 with his fastball alone -- and only allowed an average exit velocity of 83 MPH. His 2017 was ruined by sleep/stress issues in relation to the Trade Deadline, evidenced by his 3.15 ERA with 78 K’s and just 17 walks in April and May before crumbling with an 8.87 ERA between June 1 and July 28. If he’s more relaxed and able to recover between outings with a good night’s sleep all season long then we’ve got some serious value here.

Tyler Skaggs - (LAA - SP): 25% owned

Skaggs only needed 79 pitches to shut out the A’s for 6 ⅓ innings, throwing 30 curveballs, 22 four-seamers and 22 two-seamers with five changeups mixed in for good measure. It’d be nice to see the curve getting more than a 10% whiff rate, but he kept the ball low and changed eye levels effectively. The Halos should have no problem winning enough games to vie for a Wild Card spot (or even the division), meaning Skaggs could find himself with nearly 15 wins should he somehow stay healthy throughout the 2018 season. You’ll want a Plan B on tap with his health records

Jakob Junis - (KC - SP): 16% owned

Junis picked up right where he left off this spring by dominating the Tigers in his first regular-season start of ‘18, scattering three hits and a walk over seven-plus empty frames while ringing up six for the win. The outing illustrated the full command of his arsenal, as he nibbled with the fastball so well that the maximum exit velocity off of 24 thrown four-seamers was just 80 MPH. He had struck out 20 hitters while issuing one lonely free pass in 14 ⅓ spring innings and while we need to keep our pants on here, this was against Detroit after all, it was a lovely debut for a young arm that throws three pitches very well (fastball, sinker, slider) and will get to face Detroit and the Chi Sox often enough to balance out the Cleveland/Minnesota days.

Brent Suter (MIL - SP/RP): 16% owned

Suter isn’t going to blow anyone away with his velocity, but owns an unorthodox delivery and is currently 1-0 on the young season after holding the Padres to three runs over five innings of work on Saturday. I realize the 5.40 ERA isn’t impressive, but Milwaukee just made Zach Davies a 17-game winner last year and though I feel Suter would be best used as a multi-inning reliever, his opportunity here makes him a worthy add. The career 6.9 K/9 won’t help you much, but the career 3.49 ERA, 2.33 BB/9 and a solid 0.88 HR/9 mark from last season do paint him as a useful arm. I would keep expectations tempered, but he should be a good matchup play if Milwaukee yanks him before hitters get a third look at him (9.49 ERA third time through the order).

Tyler Mahle (CIN - SP): 15% owned

I’m not one of those who scrambled to the waiver wire to add Mahle after his dismantling of the Cubbies over six strong innings. The seven strikeouts are tough to project moving forward given how he only induced nine swinging strikes out of 86 pitches, but perhaps he’ll just own some sneaky K potential if he’s able to paint the corners with his two-seamer (12 called strikes) like this with frequency. I’ll speculate on him for sure, but the 23-year-old carried a good-not-great 8.3 K/9 more throughout his 558 innings of Minor-League ball. Just don’t go in expecting the world.

Marco Gonzales (SEA - SP): 11% owned

Gonzales found himself on top prospect lists and was named the Cardinals’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2014, but had Tommy John in 2016 and spent much of last season building himself back up in the Minors. The 26-year-old had held the Giants to one run through six innings in his ‘18 opener on Tuesday, but two more of his runners would cross the plate in the seventh to weigh his stat line down a bit. Still, he would pick up the win and the quality start as he looks to finally enjoy a smooth season uninterrupted by injury. Like Mahle, I’m not expecting big K’s out of him given his post-TJS whiff numbers in the Minors, but the ratios could be quite helpful as the W/QS’s roll in.

Luiz Gohara (ATL - SP): 9% owned

I know most of you have already filled out your DL slots already, but this is a friendly reminder that Gohara pitched a two-inning sim game with no reported issues on Monday and could be a beast when healthy. As opposed to the previous names, Gohara can definitely bring more than a strikeout per inning as he provides some youthful pitching in Atlanta to match the incredible hitting talent that has risen in the ranks lately. Don’t miss the boat!

Reynaldo Lopez (CWS - SP): 9% owned

Outside of a solo homer yielded to some dude named Josh Donaldson, Lopez was great against Toronto with a fastball that averaged 96.4 MPH and touched 99 MPH. That four-seamer represented 57 of his 99 pitches, with his secondary stuff combining for 17 swinging or called strikes out of the 42 total pitches. That’s not bad at all. We’ve been waiting for that 70-grade fastball to consistently show itself in the Majors and 2018 just might be the year. The wins will likely be few and far between on this South Sider squad -- even his one-run QS against the Blue Jays wasn’t good enough for a W -- but that’s no reason to completely ignore the 24-year-old.

Kyle Gibson (MIN - SP): 8% owned

All Gibson did last season was end things on a 6-0 run with a 2.92 ERA over his final eight outings, and we simply don’t need to talk about anything that happened before that, right? The jury is still out on whether that run was more of his own improvements or a symptom of a cakewalk schedule, but he threw six hitless innings on Saturday in a 6-2 win over the Orioles so what are you going to believe? I’m not particularly concerned over the five walks either, as I think he deliberately attacked Baltimore on the edges to lean into their rather dubious plate discipline, which led to the overall crummy contact and six strikeouts. Minnesota should enjoy plenty of plus matchups in the AL Central, meaning Gibson could crack his previous career-high of 13 wins in ‘18.

Andrew Triggs (LAA - SP): 3% owned

Triggs wooed many a fantasy owner in 2016 with his 3.20 FIP/3.29 xFIP and 8.79 K/9 in 56 ⅓ big-league innings before the side-armer’s follow-up ‘17 campaign was derailed by injury in June. He had struggled through two outings that I firmly believe were affected by his hip before his season ended, but he had coasted with a 2.64 ERA (3.54 FIP) and 50 percent ground-ball rate in his 10 previous starts. Just looking at his seasonal numbers don’t do his true talent level justice. And of course, he went out and reminded us all of that in his first start of 2018 by striking out seven Rangers over five innings with one earned. His funky delivery gets to call Oakland’s friendly park home and he could be a sneaky source of pitching aid in ‘18.

Brandon Woodruff (MIL - SP): 2% owned

I’ve spoken about Woodruff before, and though he’s gotten unlucky in his first two appearances of ‘18 (both relief), I believe in his potential as a starter over a guy like Suter when the dust settles. While Woodruff doesn’t have the type of putaway stuff to become anyone’s ace (8.1 K/9 in the Minors), he’s been touted as a mid-rotation arm that can rack up innings. His fastball can hit 96 and has a bit of tailing action, his slider and changeup both look like plus offerings when he locates them well, but he’s yet to find any real consistency. If he does then we could be looking at an SP5 type in 12-teamers.

Nate Karns (KC - SP): 2% owned

Karns is unlikely to draw attention before his first start since KC has him stashed on the 10-day DL, but he's fully expected to make his debut shortly and looked good this spring, striking out 18 hitters in 14 innings. That’s the kind of effort that’ll make me give a post-thoracic outlet surgery arm a chance, and while he may ultimately be destined for the bullpen given his health and third-time-through-the-order struggles, he should at least open the season as a starter and help you with big K’s for now. Those in deep enough leagues to even read this blurb would be wise to make the speculative add ahead of his first start.

Yonny Chirinos (TB - SP): 0% owned

I don’t know what the heck Tampa Bay really plans to do about their starting rotation, and I don’t think I’d trust anyone who claimed they did. What I do know is that somebody beyond Chris Archer, Jake Faria and Blake Snell is going to have to start games for the Rays, whether that’s as a true “starter” or simply as the first guy in a “bullpen game”. What I also know is that Chirinos looked good against the Red Sox in his MLB debut on Sunday by tallying four scoreless innings of relief. He’s posted swinging-strike rates above 10 percent at every single level he’s ever pitched at, regardless of sample size, and just shut down Triple-A batters with a 2.74 ERA/0.98 WHIP over 141 innings (22 starts) last year. I understand it’s risky to take on a young arm who has to navigate the AL East while wearing a Tampa Bay uni, but some of us don’t have the luxury of being choosy.

 

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