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We’re over halfway through April and while nearly all data points are far from settled, they’re all we’ve got. Trends in plate discipline metrics can start to surface around this time, but please don’t go blindly extrapolating hot or cold starts into full-season lines.

Let’s look at some arms performing well at various magnitudes throughout baseball and what they’ve done lately, then you can decide just how actionable the information is to you. I'll try to focus on upside this week. As always, you can find me on Twitter @NMariano53 and ask any follow-up questions or about other pitchers not touched on here.

For our purposes, we’re going to use Yahoo ownership levels and try to cut things off around 30%. With that said, here are my starting pitcher waiver wire targets for Week 3.

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Starting Pitcher Waiver Wire Targets

Zack Wheeler (NYM - SP): 27% owned

After crushing the Marlins in his first Major League start of 2018, Wheeler was tasked with handling a much tougher Nationals lineup on Tuesday. While his overall line (6 IP, 7H, 3ER, 3BB, 2K) does count as a quality start, anyone who started him is likely disappointed. I think there’s plenty to be happy about, though. While the whiffs weren’t there (only eight swinging strikes on 99 pitches), he was very tough for Washington to square up, resulting in a meager 79.9 MPH average exit velocity on balls in play.

It's possible that Jason Vargas' eventual return bumps him from the rotation, though Wheeler could force Matt Harvey onto the chopping block with a string of quality starts. Mets' skipper Mickey Callaway also floated the idea of a six-man rotation this offseason, so that route to relevance does exist. For now, Wheeler lines up for a road start against the Braves on April 22. Another tough test, but his upside is worth holding onto in many leagues in case he puts this soft-contact stuff together with putaway jazz.

Sean Newcomb (ATL - SP): 25% owned

Newcomb was robbed of his second victory in ‘18 on April 14 as Atlanta blew a 10-2 lead in epic fashion, but the southpaw still racked up seven strikeouts despite turning in just 10 swinging strikes. That’ll happen when you can nibble 20 called strikes with your fastball alone. So what if he walked another four batters and now has eight walks in just 15 ⅔ IP, because the 2.87 xFIP, 51.2 percent groundball rate and 12.64 K/9 are simply too good to ignore! And he hasn’t been beating up on scrub teams either, with matchups against the Nationals, Rockies (at Coors) and Cubbies to his name. Buy the potential.

Eduardo Rodriguez (BOS - SP): 25% owned

Despite dealing with a .409 BABIP through his first two starts of 2018, Rodriguez has limited the damage by making it difficult for hitters to put the ball in play, resulting in 15 Ks in just 9 ⅔ innings. That profile has also led to a 2.69 SIERA underneath the early 3.72 ERA, but hopefully, that lofty BABIP helps dissuade you from glossing over E-Rod just because of that 1.45 WHIP. He’s never had a BABIP above .300 in any of his three big-league seasons and his whiffs have trended upward each year (7.25 K/9 in ‘15, 8.41 in ‘16 and 9.83 in ‘17). Those of you who value wins may have noticed Boston is good for those as well, so buy into his 200-K potential now before his numbers explode.

Michael Kopech (CWS - SP): 11% owned

The flamethrowing Kopech has pitched 10 innings in 2018, allowing a lone run with 11 strikeouts against four walks. The four free passes are what we’re going to care about because we know the whiffs are going to be there no matter where he pitches. The youngster has shaved his walk rate down as he advances through professional ball, from over a 5.0 BB/9 at Class A Advanced in ‘16 to the current 3.6 BB/9 right now. I think anything below 4.0 will give him a real chance to make it in the bigs, but above that is playing with fire and potentially asking for Tyler Glasnow Part 2: Electric Boogaloo.

Luiz Gohara (ATL - SP): 9% owned

Gohara's first rehab start wasn't all that pretty, as he struck out four against three walks over 3 1/3 innings with one earned (five total runs) allowed. I expected some rust, but also a better focus on just throwing strikes (35-of-62) and ideally better bite on his stuff. Two of those four strikeouts were the opposing pitcher. Still, that's one rusty start and doesn't overshadow any part of his ridiculous body of work. He's got the talent to be a top-30 SP when on the mound this year, though I will want to see improved control in his future rehab outings. The good news for you is that this won't drive up his free-agent price.

Tyson Ross (SD - SP): 6% owned

The last time Ross beasted for our fantasy teams was 2015, when he struck out 212 hitters in 196 frames with a beautiful 61.5 percent groundball rate and paltry 0.41 HR/9 rate to boot. The whiffs were awesome, but you can see that the foundation was generating grounders and not allowing the big fly. In three starts this year, the 31-year-old has a 3.50 ERA (3.52 SIERA) with a 54.5 percent groundball rate and two homers allowed and 14 strikeouts in 18 innings. Do not go seeking “old” Ross here, but he’s still capable of being a top-50 fantasy starter in ‘18 if he can limit walks while keeping that downward movement on the fastball strong.

Daniel Mengden (OAK - SP): 3% owned

I’m willing to accept that we’ve hit a proverbial ownership wall on Andrew Triggs (15 percent owned), if I couldn’t get you on board the past two weeks then I should probably wait a few segments to revisit him. Instead, let’s have a deep-league discussion about his uber-mustachio’d teammate Daniel Mengden. The 25-year-old enjoyed a 3.14 ERA/1.05 WHIP in seven starts last season, though the 4.69 SIERA said don’t bite. Mengden appears to be favoring his curve a bit more in ‘18 and it’s got about two more inches of drop this year compared to ‘16 and ‘17 per Brooks Baseball. I know it’s early and he doesn’t have huge K upside, but he’s issued just three walks in 24 innings and is likely better than you think. Oh, and he shut down the White Sox with eight innings of one-run ball on Monday night. Choo choo?

Freddy Peralta (MIL - SP): N/A on Yahoo

That’s right, this guy isn’t in the Yahoo player pool yet but you’ll want to have his name stashed somewhere in your memory banks. Peralta, who turns 22 in June, has won all three of his starts this year for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, posting a healthy 1.13 ERA and 1.00 WHIP with 20 strikeouts in 16 innings. He’s posted BB/9 marks around 4.5 through most of his Minor League career thus far, but an early 2.81 BB/9 in ‘18 could signal a huge step forward. Oh, and he hasn’t allowed a homer or even a line drive yet. And he’s made two starts in Colorado Springs! You know, the Minor League Cooooors. File him away, folks.

 

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