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NL-Only Waiver Wire Team of the Week: MLB Week 12

Every week in baseball, a significant player will hit the disabled 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.

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NL-Only Team of the Week

C - Nick Hundley (C, SFG) - 3% owned

While not the starting backstop in San Fransisco, Hundley has shown that he can produce for fantasy teams in limited opportunities. 39 games so far have resulted in a line of .257/.294/.531 which puts him in the top half for most catchers this season. In addition to the slash, Hundley has eight homers and has driven in 23. Both are good counting numbers which show that he is taking advantage of that high slugging mark. The strikeout rate hits a bit high at 26.9%, but that is only slightly higher than last year’s 26.7% mark. When overall the numbers are better than last year's production, owners can stick with this punch-out rate, and still expect a good offensive catcher to roster.

1B - Peter Alonso (1B, NYM) - 1% owned

This should be a name known to most fantasy owners, as Alonso has quickly emerged as one of the top prospects in the Mets’ system, if not the majors as a whole. Profiling as a power-hitting corner bat, Alonso has shown marked growth at fielding the position as well. If he can be an average fielder, this could be the making of a building block for the Mets. Recently promoted to Triple-A by the team after a top offensive season at Double-A, Alonso should be up before the end of the year. In 2018 Alonso is slashing .314/.440/.573 with 15 homers, adding to a strong track record in pro ball. Now, all rookies are risks regarding what they will do in their first shot at the bigs, but this is the profile that should translate quickly. Besides, with Adrian Gonzalez leaving the team, and Dominic Smith struggling in his second stint with the team, expect Alonso to be the next option. When the position is weak on the waiver wire, use that roster spot to grab a potential break-out player before others.

2B - Jose Pirela (2B/OF, SDP) - 14% owned

While perhaps owned is most mixed leagues, Pirela is making a case to be owned in all NL-only competitions as well. First, the position flexibility makes him a great play at MI knowing that he will play more than that in the Padres lineup. Second, while not the breakout 122 WRC+ from last season, this campaign has shown the average and runs will keep up at the very least. So far he is slashing .274/.326/.361 with one homer and four steals. Focusing on the runs is critical for this profile and Pirela's value. Last season in 83 games he had 43 runs scored, and this season in 73 he already has 40. Not only is he on pace for more this season, but should be able to add 80+ to most rosters with a full season of playing time. That being said, the most significant drop has been the RBI count, with a decline from 40 last year to 22 this year, in almost the same amount of games. Do not expect power, but celebrate the odd steal when it comes.

3B - David Freese (1B/3B, PIT) - 0% owned

Freese is not a starter on most teams but is also not the 0% owned player so far this season. Through 49 games this season he is slashing .269/.339/.423 with four homers. Not bad production for a bench bat on this team and owners should expect that this is the low end of playing time. Either Freese is dealt at the deadline or sticks around to replace those who are. A few other numbers stand out. First, the K% is down three points, but the walk rate is also down a few points which drops the overall OBP. This limits some of the positive gains Freese is showing this year, but again, some hints in the right direction. Second, with Freese, owners either get singles or homers. Of this 28 hits, 20 have been singles, four have been doubles, and four have been bombs. With the FB% ticking up as the season progresses, owners can expect a few more homers to add to the stable profile. Freese looks to be a better fantasy option than expected and should be at worst a decent injury replacement in the short term.

SS - Kike Hernandez (2B/3B/SS/OF, LAD) - 4% owned

Owners should not let one big hit change their opinion of a player, but in this case, it could be a sign of much better things moving forward. 2017 and 2018 have been rough for Hernandez with a combined .217 batting average. At the same time, he still looks to be league average sitting at a 100 WRC+ over that time as well. Back to the homers. Last season, in 140 games Hernandez had 11 homers. This season, in 63 games, he already has 10 bombs. What might be leading to this production? The FB% is way up from the 39.7% line last season, to 52.9% this season. The increase in fly balls has led to a three-point bump in the HR/FB%, which makes sense, but also shows that this is not just a small sample, but a real trend this season. If Hernandez can hit .220 with 25+ HR owners should get excited and use him all around the fantasy diamond.

OF - Jesse Winker (OF, CIN) - 4% owned

Winker was expected to play a prominent role in the Cincinnati offense this season after a strong end to the 2017 campaign. One of the limiting factors many noted this season was a four-way split in the outfield playing time, but with the strong 2017 season, Winker was expected to still play enough to make him worth a roster spot. This led to him being drafted later than the value, and to be honest; the timeshare has played out as predicted. To date, 2018 has been a solid but not spectacular for the contact first player. Even with a brief demotion to Triple-A, Winker has managed to play in 61 games and in those appearances has slashed .255/.361/.352 with three homers. Not the power hitter that typically patrols the outfield, Winker does offer a higher than average floor for OBP boosted by a 13.4% BB/9 rate. In fact, his walk totals are the highest for outfielders on the waiver wire and shoot provide that necessary boost for teams in need. Winker has played better than the start of the season shows, and the ballpark should push up the power numbers.

OF - Cameron Maybin (OF, MIA) - 2% owned

Moving to Miami must have been a shock for Maybin after winning the World Series with Houston. Not much winning happening in Miami, and some of that has to do with the slow start for this player’s season. So far in 2018 Maybin is slashing .226/.306/.302 with no homers and three steals. What is the good news in the batting line? First, the K rate is down two points even when the walk rate is also down. Much of this can be tied to the weak lineup giving little or no protection to a struggling hitter. Second, while the lack of homers is shocking, down all the way from 10 last season, the GB% is down almost 12 points. To add to this, the Hard% is up to 33.9% from 27.4% last season. While the production has not been there, the supporting numbers show that Maybin perhaps has been a bit unlucky and is worth a dart the rest of the season. In an NL-only league, is he can contribute to two or more categories, he is well worth the bench spot.

OF - Lewis Brinson (OF, MIA) - 7% owned

Another struggling Marlin outfielder to make the list, Brinson has been dealing with a tough first season in the majors. At the same time, he is one of the only power sources available on the waiver wire for most NL-only leagues right now. With nine bombs through 69 games, Brinson is showing the power that most prospect analysts liked with his profile. At the same time, the batting average sits at a putrid .176 well below both what was expected of him and his minor league track record. Much like Matt Joyce is the previous column, Brinson should be targetted by owners willing to sell-out for homers and power, but who expect a bounce-back in the other numbers. The .216 BABIP is hurting the overall batting line, and with more time in the bigs, this should improve if Brinson continues to work on his approach. The season cannot get much worse, and if the upside is still there, owners should jump on now. Just remember, owners are not buying what he has produced, but what he will produce. If he is better moving forward, this could be a bargain.

P - Steve Cishek (RP, CHC) - 7% owned

When Carl Edwards hit the DL last month, Cishek was the next in line to take on crucial late innings for the Cubs. So far in 29.2 innings, Cishek has posted a 1.82 ERA with a career-high 10.31 K/9. The FIP sits at 2.86 giving some context but also supports what the pitcher has done this season. The significant trend driving the great season is the HR/FB rate which is down to 5.3% from the 10% line last season. With an increased fastball usage this season, perhaps there is something to be said in connecting the two numbers, but maybe the better hint is the overall swing and miss that Cishek is getting this season. Next in line for saves after Brandon Marrow until Edwards is back, owners do not need to rely on saves to keep this Cub reliever. The ratios alone will give him a spot on most rosters. Owners should grab him while they can.

P - German Marquez (SP, COL) - 6% owned

Avoiding Colorado pitchers is usually a good plan for fantasy owners, but when looking at the waiver wire, bucking the trend seems to be a good idea with this pick. Even while posting a four and seven record, Marquez has seen his K/9 jump to 9.04 from an 8.17 mark last season. The ERA is admittingly high at 5.13 but with an xFIP at 4.12 expect that number to come down as he gets more changes to toe the mound. One small note, but a point that might add some context to the season, Marquez has only thrown two wild pitches this season, compared to six last season. When he is halfway to his 2017 mark regarding starts, this is a move in the right direction, and while not a factor in the overall line, a run here and there can add to the numbers moving forward. Admittingly a risk with Coors, Marquez does have the most K upside of any pitcher on the wire and should be worth at least a bench slot.

P - Jordan Lyles (SP/RP, SDP) - 6% owned

While slowing down a bit since his hot start to the season, Lyles should still be on most fantasy radars in leagues where pitching is scarce. Compared to last season, the walks and strikeouts are moving in the right direction, and Lyles is giving up fewer homers. The 4.46 ERA is also an improvement over the past seasons, and if owners toss out lousy outings against the Dodgers and Braves, the ERA drops well below four for the season. The most significant change this season is that Lyles is throwing fewer fastballs, all the way down to 48.3% from 55.5% last season, and at the same time increasing his change-up usage. In 2017 Lyles threw 5.3% change-ups, and this season that number is up to 15.1%. Owners should keep an eye on the approach, and with an increasing strikeout rate, this could be due to the changing approach. At the same time, if batters can adjust this will be a real test for Jordan Lyles 2.0.

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