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Digging Deeper: NL-Only Waiver Report for Week 22

Every week in baseball, a significant player will hit the injured list, slip into a slump, or get traded out of a good spot. How fantasy owners adapt to these situations can make or break the season as a whole. One lousy add might not hurt the long-term standing of a team, but failing to take advantage of breakouts or impact bats before others sure can.

The primary challenge of playing in an NL or AL-only league is often the lack of options regarding adding and subtracting players when needed. In mixed leagues, the players on the waiver wire are usually starting for an NL-only staff. So then how does one wade through the names of players that even regular fantasy players have never heard of, and that often will not even start for their teams, to begin with? That is where this series comes in.

Instead of owners spending time digging the waiver wire of 0% owned players, this article will give owners a player at each position to fill the gap, or at the least, keep an eye on to add or stash. Not all of these players will replace that injury, but offer the best option off the scrap heap. Often the players advocated for here are long shots due to the nature of shallow leagues. No quick fixes, but some upside that could turn into much more. With that, onto the Island of Misfit Fantasy Toys. Note: all FAAB bids assume a $1000 budget.

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C - Matt Wieters (C, STL)

1% owned, FAAB $4 

Signed this offseason as a placeholder for Andrew Knizenr, Wieters is flashing the bat that made him a top prospect early in his career. While the batting average sits at a career-low .219, the backstop has slugged 10 homers in 58 games so far. While the OBP is also low at .272, the .411 SLG is above league-average. Add in a single steal, and Wieters has been at least a decent reserve option all season.

The main reason to buy-into Wieters, the rest of the way, is the playing time. While he is the clear second at the spot, with the team in the playoff race, this is not the time to blood a new catcher. This means that while the unit is competitive, Wieters has a role. At the very least, as a leader on the bench. Even more, the .215 xBA and .300 xWOBA show there might be some gain in the rate lines. For now, a cheap add, with at least the power base to factor into roto leagues. 


1B - Neil Walker (1B/2B/3B/OF, MIA)

3% owned, FAAB $8

The wily old vert is becoming a bit of a fan favorite, with his recent comments about wanting to be in Miami. While he slots best into a corner role, based on his usage this year, Walker also looks to be a reliable middle option as well. While the park will always hurt raw power, when Walker has never been that type of bat, he can hit well into any park. While he has missed some time with injuries, Walker has managed to appear in 91 games. With the leadership he offers, expect him to keep getting playing time.

The bat has been better this year, with a .270/.344/.400 slash line so far. Even more, Walker has 27 runs scored and 29 driven into his line a well. Again, power is down for the position, with only six bombs this year. Still, a .276 xBA show that the batting line is at worst .270, and might see a bit of run as well. Walker's batted ball profile looks the same from last year, but with a higher BABIP, he is starting to see some balls drop in. Best case is a batting average source, and worst case, a utility bat with playing time guaranteed.


2B - Kyle Farmer (C/1B/2B/3B, CIN)

0% owned, FAAB $5

After leaving the Dodgers this off-season, Farmer has taken no time getting on the fantasy radar. Entering the year as a corner bat, Farmer has added catcher and second to his repertoire. That alone will make him a nice stash, but the rest of the profile should encourage owners to jump quickly. Over 84 games, Farmer is slashing .252/.294/.444 with eight homers and four steals. While the power and speed are not enough to carry him, the chance to add a 10/10 option behind the plate is worth the dart alone. 

The batted-ball profile does raise some questions, with a flat 85 exit velocity. Well below league average, Farmer is reliant on the park for his power. For example, at home, he has five homers and a .286 batting line, and on the road, three bombs and a .222 average. He is walking more at home and is striking out less, so clearly, the park is critical for the profile. Best suited for daily leagues, with the chance to pop him at home Farmer is still a better-than-average reserve option on most mixed-league squads. 


3B - David Freese (1B/3B, LAD)

1% owned, FAAB $8

As the season winds down, Freese tends to start getting a bit of run in fantasy leagues. While the veteran, corner bat is stuck in a platoon role for the Dodgers, they also have a history of playing him more than expected. With the team running away with the NL West, the opportunity to rest starters gives Freese even more of a floor. While Freese is dealing with a knock, Tyler White is also on the Injured List. Freese is expected back sooner and will take most of the chances that he was splitting with the corner bat prior. 

The production has also been there at the plate, with a .300/.399/.579 slash over 66 total games. Add in the nine homers with 32 runs scored, and Freese is posting a better than league-average runs per game line. In terms of his batted ball profile, Freese looks much the same. A bit more launch angle might be there, but within the margin of error so far based on the sample size. The change has come with his walk rate, up six points from last year and four over his career mark. If Freese can keep patient, he can offer a solid batting average floor with run-scoring upside. 

*after this piece was written, the Dodgers announced that Freese was targeting a return this upcoming week.


SS - Brandon Crawford (SS, SF)

4% owned, FAAB $3 

No longer the All-Star from a few years back, Crawford still deserves to be owned in more leagues. Right off the bat, Crawford does not have great underlying numbers. He is below league-average in xBA, xWOBA, and in fact, most of the other numbers. Still, he has slashed .236/.305/.368 so far this year. Add in 10 homers and three steals, and the overall profile is passable for the position.

The excellent news is Crawford is right in the middle of the league in terms of exit velocity and launch angle. The ball is leaving the bat 87.2 MPH, and he has a launch angle of 8.5. The issue for Crawford is that his career average launch angle is 11.1, so the decline is limiting the contact upside. While the sample size is too large for owners to expect a change in the batted ball profile, the skills, and track record are there to bet on this shortstop. If he can start to hit a bit better the rest of the way, Crawford has the power to be an impact option at short.  


OF - Alex Dickerson (OF, SF)

2% owned, FAAB $17

Waived by the Padres to start the year, Dickerson has found a role and home in San Francisco. While he was still in San Diego, the team wanted to hang onto him, as they kept Dickerson on the 40-man even with struggles in the Bigs. A career peak in the batting line at .257 turned out to be too much, as the team finally moved on. 

This year has been different with Dickerson slashing .323/.384/.594 over 40 games with the Giants. Six homers show the limit on the power, but Dickerson is on a better pace than any previous year before. Even more, with an OPS of 1.013 with the Giants, Dickerson has been one of the best hitters in the league over his small sample size. With a .285 xBA, Dickerson might start to slow down, but even the floor is startable in most leagues. Easiest add this week on the list. 


OF - Jose Osuna (1B/3B/OF, PIT)

3% owned, FAAB $13 

Osuna tends to drift on and off of these lists all year. While the skills are there, there has never been a good run of games for him to show off what he can do. Even more, when there has been a sharp dropoff each time he has appeared with the Pirates, there is no track record to bet on for fantasy owners. And yet, in 65 games this year, Osuna is slashing .297/.342/.559 with eight homers. Owners should also be excited about 24 runs scored over that time, demonstrating four-categories of value.

At the plate, Osuna is hitting the ball slightly harder, and has added 1.8 degrees to his launch angle. While small changes, there has seemed to unlock a bit more loft, and with that, an increased doubles rate. While the .271 xBA expected Osuna to cool off a bit, even this line would be 20 points higher than his career batting average. With the ability to play around the field, Osuna is at worst a starting CI, and at best, a solid starter at every other spot.   


OF - Phillip Ervin (OF, CIN)

1% owned, FAAB $8

Ervin makes the list, partially for lack of other options, but also success for his so far. OVer 65 games this year. Ervin is slashing .310/.368/.514 with four homers and three steals. The power will be the question, as even with the good hitters' park, Ervin has only 14 career homers in 142 total games. While decent return for an outfielder with decent speed, Ervin is only a slightly above-average runner, with 14 bags to his name. Still, Ervin can score with the best of them, and his 20 runs scored to date, show at least the speed helping him round the bases. 

Moving forward a .258 xBA expects a drop in production, but would still be his best line in the Bigs. Even more, Ervin has started to see his exit velocity dip and is not only averaging a flat 85 line. Even more, while listed on the bench for now. Ervin has played at least four games each week since the call. Owners might be buying a player trending down, but the raw skills and sample size are enough reason to buy-in. A player who can get a power boost at home, and seems to be a smart runner on the bases, will at least contribute runs.  


SP - Tim Melville (SP, COL)

3% owned, FAAB $11

Typically owners would be smart to avoid Colorado starting pitching, but with two strong starts to start his season, Melville is at least worth the deep dive. With one start on the road and one at home, Melville has posted a .75 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Add in 10 Ks in 12 innings, and the counting numbers are there as well. The other piece is that Melville is no spring chicken, and at 29 years of age, has already played for both the Padres, Twins, and Reds in his career. A bit more experience than others who might get a spot start, at the very least, there is more insight into how he will approach opposing hitters.

Melville's main pitch is the slider, which he has thrown 55% of the time this year. An evident change from past stints, Melville usually has a 40% cap on the pitch. Fastball velocity is way down this year, from 94.2 in 2017 to 89.7 this year. While this might be the reason for more offspeed offerings, the returns are there no matter the justification. Opposing hitters are missing the pitch 42.4% of the time, and Melville has a 19.1 PutAway% on the pitch as well. While the park is a clear red flag, the reliance on the slider has worked for other Rockies arms.  Melville is one more start away from jumping up the ownership rates, so owners should throw this dart now.


RP - Alex Claudio (RP, MIL)

3% owned, FAAB $7

Claudio is a unique fantasy option. While he only tops out at 88 and is pitching in Miller Park, he has been effective at reducing hard contact. So far this year. Claudio has been in the top 5% of the league with an average 84.7 exit velocity. Add in a 3.7 launch angle, and Claudio is generating a ton of ground ball outs this year. Even more, six homers allowed in 56 innings is an elite line out of the pen.

Fantasy value comes from holds, as while he has closed in the past, he is best suited for a match-up role. Still, the team likes to pitch him for multiple outs, adding the floor for the counting numbers. While he relies on a variety of pitches, the sinker has been the primary offering so far in his career. While still 43.4% of his pitches, this is well down from a 52% career mark. The most significant change in usage has been the slider, up to 17.9% this year. When the slider is generating a 30.2 Whiff%, the change is working. Damage limitation is the name of the game, and Claudio has the right mix to figure it all out.    

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