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Week 7 Waiver Wire - Starting Pitchers

It's the middle of May and baseball has already descended into its prime chaotic form. We've got Robinson Cano getting popped with an 80-game suspension after breaking his hand, A.J. Pollock out for 4-8 weeks, DJ LeMahieu possibly out for over a month and Adrian Beltre is back on the DL. As I'm typing this, Nelson Cruz is being helped off the field after being hit by a pitch on the foot. But those are all hitters and we're here to talk about arms!

There's no shortage of excitement on the mound this week, with plenty of young impact arms making noise while others are closing in on reactivation.  As always, you can find me on Twitter @NMariano53 and ask any follow-up questions or about other pitchers not touched on here.

You know the drill, we're using Yahoo ownership levels and cutting things off around 40%. Here are my starting pitcher waiver wire targets for Week 7.

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Starting Pitcher Waiver Wire Targets

Caleb Smith (MIA - SP/RP): 39% owned
Fans of the column have owned Smith for a while and surely won't have bailed already, but the ownership is still too low so grant me this podium one last time. Since being given the “Be Aggressive” order by manager Don Mattingly, Smith has produced the following line: 24 IP, 4 ER, 4 BB, 31 SO. His .250 BABIP and 84% strand rate portend some luck, but nothing egregious. His 1.50 ERA is backed by a 1.60 FIP, 2.43 xFIP and 2.43 SIERA with a healthy 63.6% first-strike rate that we love to see out of a guy who’s been plagued by control issues in the past. It’s a little concerning that his swinging-strike rates have fallen from 11.7% and 16.5% in his April 22 and 29 starts (respectively), to 6.1% and 7.9% on May 5 and 10. Don’t expect the world of Smith, but he can be a solid SP4/5 with strong whiffs to compensate for a likely lack of Ws.

Alex Reyes (STL - SP): 39% owned
This is the last call. Reyes tore through the Low-A Clinton LumberKings in his latest rehab start, striking out 12 out of 15 batters over five scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and two walks. According to scouts on the scene, his fastball was sitting around 95-99 MPH and occasionally hit triple digits. The results are lovely, but no one was expecting Peoria to be able to battle against stuff like his. What we’ll need to monitor as he progresses toward activation is his control coming off of Tommy John surgery, especially since his pre-TJS walk rate of roughly 12% was already on the high side. That said, the upside demands adding right now. NOW.

Kyle Gibson (MIN - SP): 25% owned
Heading into Tuesday night, Gibson’s overall xwOBA of .323 was 61st out of 155 pitchers with at least 100 PAs against them. More impressive -- and logical given his high walk rate -- is his xBA of just .228, good for 35th out of the same 155. His current BAA is .200, which has joined forces with a 26.5% strikeout rate to help him mitigate an 11.6% walk rate. Remember his streak down the stretch last year? He had strikeout rates of 23% in August and 22.6% in September, though they came with walk rates around 5-6%. His current 14.8% K-BB rate is a bit down from the ~17% mark from the end of the ‘17 season, but the trend is still upward and he deserves more attention. Also notable is a 13.5% pop-up rate and a low 5.4% HR/FB rate, with the former more likely to hold than the latter but both indicating a good zone profile. That 1-1 W/L record is helping him fly under the radar, so don’t scoff at the name.

Trevor Cahill (OAK - SP): 18% owned
Haha, you know I can't write one of these without mentioning Killa Cahill! Cahill’s overall 35.98% whiff/swing rate is the fourth-best mark in the Majors, trailing just Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Shohei Ohtani while beating out strikeout mavens such as Gerrit Cole, Robbie Ray, Luis Castillo and Chris Sale. Oh, and Cahill’s 14% line-drive rate is the best out of pitchers with at least 200 pitches thrown per Baseball Prospectus’ PitchF/X leaderboard. I can’t get enough of what he’s done so far and I really hope this brief DL stint and right elbow impingement doesn’t derail his momentum too much (or crop up again in the near future due to such a quick return).

Mike Soroka (ATL - SP): 36% owned
Soroka deserved so much better on Saturday, as he was through 4 ⅔ innings before inducing a grounder toward third base that should’ve ended the inning. Instead, Jose Bautista booted the thing and wouldn’t you know it, a bases-clearing double followed. I’m all for holding a pitcher accountable under pressure and dealing with adversity/poor defense, but he’s only 20 years old and still has a lovely 15-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his first three starts. The early 38.8% line-drive rate is rough and underscores that ugly .408 BABIP, but I expect that to smooth out given his talent. If someone dropped him in your league for the newest shiny toy then swoop on in like the vulture you are.

Nick Pivetta (PHI - SP): 29% owned
Pivetta is another name who seems to be suffering from “old news syndrome”, as owners are already moving on from him despite the strong start thanks to two ugly outings and a likely skepticism of his being able to sustain success. He may not have been a top prospect, but he has an 80-grade first name and responded to the cold shoulders by striking out seven Giants over five shutout innings in his latest start. The control is the key, as he’s walked just four batters over 33 innings outside of the two terrible starts, where he walked a combined six in six innings. No one should be selling the 25-year-old as a stone-cold lock for consistent production, but he’s shown himself to be a good bet for production this season.

Kyle Freeland (COL - SP): 24% owned
Freeland looks to have turned quite the corner over his last four starts, posting a 1.65 ERA with a 27-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio and zero homers allowed against the Padres, Cubs, Mets and Brewers (in that order). And the starts against San Diego and Milwaukee came at Coors, in case you thought he's been getting away with avoiding the Mile High City this whole time. Fangraphs' Craig Edwards did a great job here illustrating how the southpaw is attacking hitters more aggressively, both high and inside, to great results. I have to think the four walks against Milwaukee are a symptom of working the edges of the zone with great fervor, but I respect the approach and can live with that double-edged sword. He won't suddenly be an ace, but the 24% hard-hit rate over this span is very encouraging given the league average sitting over 10 percentage points higher at 34.8%.

Jack Flaherty (STL - SP): 34% owned
The good news is that Flaherty allowed just one run over his 5 2/3 innings of work on Tuesday night against the Twins, lowering his ERA to 2.87 over three Major League starts this season as he looks to establish himself in a crowded rotation. He also walked just one, which is important to see given his fantastic walk rates in the Minors not translating to the bigs over his first seven career MLB starts. The bad news is that he only struck out three batters and notched a paltry six swinging strikes on 98 pitches. I trust his strikeout stuff to be there somewhere given his larger body of professional work, but the 4.18 xFIP over 15 2/3 innings thus far admittedly has me down on him relative to most of my fellow writers. I still like him and advocate adding him in most 12-teamers, but I'm tempering expectations due to uncertain playing time and his hitting adjustments.

Matt Harvey (CIN - SP): 13% owned
I don't trust that scoreless four-inning start in his Cincinnati debut at all. I think his velocity was running on adrenaline and spite, and he still only mustered two swinging strikes on 55 pitches even with the four-seamer touching 95 MPH again! Sorry, I won't be joining this party.

Freddy Peralta (MIL - SP): 4% owned
Remember when we discussed Peralta in this space a month ago? Well, Mr. Stud Rookie went off on the Rockies, becoming the fifth pitcher since 1908 to ring up 13 or more in his Major League debut. He almost exclusively threw a four-seamer that sits in the low-to-mid 90s -- seriously, he threw 90 of them out of 98 pitches. Even with how poorly Colorado has hit, it’s hard to argue with 18 swinging strikes on the straight heat (he mixed in another on one of his eight curveballs). He’ll toe the rubber again on May 19 in Minnesota as he looks to plant his flag in Milwaukee’s rotation -- one that is nowhere near deep enough to keep this momentum out.

Jordan Lyles (SD - SP): 4% owned
There’s something poetic about Lyles dominating the Rockies, a team that he was absolutely awful for the better part of four seasons. The 27-year-old had given up just one earned over five innings with six strikeouts against the Cardinals on May 10 -- his first start of ‘18 -- but had only tallied eight whiffs on 81 pitches. He doubled that with 16 swinging strikes on 85 pitches against the struggling Rockies while averaging 93.6 MPH on his fastball (he averaged 94 MPH in the STL start). I remain skeptical here, but 10-strikeout outings have to be respected no matter the opponent.


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