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Starting Pitcher Waiver Wire Pickups for Week 9

As I'm attempting to fill in for our inimitable Kyle Bishop, I want to point out that pitching help is tough to find, but that history favors owners who are willing to take risks and acknowledge that sometimes old dogs can learn new tricks.

This week's waiver wire list features a number of arms which might emerge to bolster teams in a variety of leagues. Occasionally, we're best off ignoring the name and focusing on the tools, performance, and statistics.

A reminder before we begin: This column focuses on players who are owned in fewer than 50% Yahoo leagues, and standard 5x5 scoring. Your mileage may vary, in terms of availability or league settings. Using that cutoff point for ownership rate, however, these are your starting pitcher waiver wire targets and adds for Week 9 of the 2019 fantasy baseball season.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off, with exclusive access to our season-long articles, 15 in-season lineup tools and over 200 days of expert DFS research/tools. Sign Up Now!


Pickups for Shallow Leagues

Kyle Gibson (SP, MIN) — 38% Owned

I wasn’t going to include Gibson on the list because his ownership level is relatively high AND I championed him pretty hard last year only to be frustrated by a season of mediocrity. Despite those reservations, I couldn’t leave him off the list after he threw a gem against the White Sox on Saturday night. The Sox aren’t the greatest offensive team in the league, but they sure as heck aren’t the Marlins. The start improves Gibson’s season to a 4.08 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 3.28 xFIP, 25% K%, and a 1.21 WHIP. He’s not my favorite pitcher on this list, but he’s available in some leagues for the same reason that I almost left him off: we think we know what he is, a pitcher who will tease solid starts, but not deliver. However, the Twins will provide him real offensive support, and it entirely possible that Gibson could finish the season with a 3.90 ERA, 15 wins, and 180 strikeouts.

Trevor Williams (SP, PIT) — 35% Owned

2017-2018 IP ERA FIP WHIP K%
Pitcher A 224.2 3.16 3.72 1.17 18.2
Pitcher B 204.2 3.74 3.69 1.31 17.5

Those stat lines are the collected bodies of work from 2017 and 2018 for Williams and one other pitcher. The mystery pitcher was being selected in the top 200 and is still owned at a 54% rate. The mystery pitcher hasn’t thrown all year, and we don’t know when he’ll get back on a Major League mound. If you guessed that the mystery pitcher is Dallas Keuchel, you’re spot on. Even in the vacuum of playing time, Trevor Williams still looks like a better asset. Williams’ breakout was ignored last year, got some early-season chatter, and seems to be getting ignored again. Williams’ peripherals are better this season, and he’s continuing where he left off last year. He should be owned in all 12-teamers.

Gio Gonzalez (SP, MIL) — 34%

Gonzalez is one of those pitchers who seems to be aging well and disrupting what we know about how to predict pitcher performance. He outperformed his ERA predictors last year, and he’s doing it again this year. He’s bumped his Swinging-Strike rate to 10.4% and his O-Swing rate to 32.1%. Gonzalez is generating grounders (47.3%) and limiting opponent’s power output, which helps to explain how he’s outperformed his FIP, xFIP, and SIERA, all of which have trouble with pitchers who induce poor contact. Notably, Gonzalez has been relying more on his slider and changeup this season, which seems to be working for him, especially at home, which is good given that he pitches half his games in Miller Park. Gonzalez is going to regress from his current 2.39 ERA, but he’s a good candidate to ride while he’s hot or faces weak opponents.

Griffin Canning (SP, LAA) — 33%

If Trevor Williams’ ownership rate is unjustifiable, then Canning’s is just silly. After a pair of strong starts, this might be the last window to acquire him. If Canning excels in his upcoming start against the middling Athletics, it wouldn’t be a shock to see his ownership level rise over 50%. Canning has gotten a bit overlooked in the prospect bonanza of the last month, but in the PCL, he did everything to warrant more hype than he’s getting. Let’s pump up those ownership levels by getting this guy on some additional rosters. If Canning had enough innings to qualify he would rank 19th in WHIP, 23rd in K%, 29th in K-BB%, 24th in O-Swing%, and 4th in SwStr%. Those aren’t Blake Snell numbers, but they definitely belong to a top-30 pitcher who should be owned in all leagues.

Tyler Skaggs (SP - LAA) — 31%

Skaggs came into this season as a potential breakout candidate, but he struggled to get swings and misses early in the season. Outside of an ugly start at Detroit where he was hurt by errors and poor defense, Skaggs has been useful as he’s racked up more than a strikeout per inning and a win every other start. Among the pitchers so far, he’s the least desirable, but he’s also coming off a year when his peripherals justified a top-50 pitcher in Steamer’s projections. If you need innings, he’s worth a look, but owners hunting for upside are likely better off with Canning or one of the pitchers lower on this list.


Pickups for Deeper Leagues

Jimmy Nelson (SP - MIL) — 19%

Recently removed from the IL and sent to AAA, Nelson should be called up as soon as he is stretched out and ready. It’s worth remembering that Nelson is two years removed from a breakout season when he delivered a 3.49 ERA, 3.05 FIP, 12 wins, and more than a strikeout per inning. He suffered a labrum tear that took all of last year to heal, and he’s been rehabbing this Spring. The Brewers have decided he is finally healthy and just needs reps to get himself ready for Major League action. Outside of Canning, Nelson’s upside is probably as high as any player on this list.

Tyler Mahle (SP, CIN) — 19%

As a seventh-round pick with modest strikeouts, Mahle hasn’t been the type of player to generate significant buzz. However, he’s bumped his strikeout rate to 26% and dropped his walk rate to 5.3%. Mahle’s 3.51 ERA and 1.17 WHIP are right in line with his 3.46 FIP, 3.27xFIP, and 3.56 SIERA. The sample size is up to 51.1 IP, so it’s odd to see his ownership rate at 19%, but again, if you asked most fantasy owners what they thought of when they heard the name Tyler Mahle, they’d probably answer with a blank stare and the noise of radio static. Mahle may not strike owners as a top-50 pitcher, but that’s what he has been, and there’s little reason to believe he won’t keep it up for the rest of the season.

Pablo Lopez (SP, MIA) — 10%

The rap on Pablo Lopez is fairly simple: He’s a great pitcher at home. He’s downright bad on the road. It doesn’t help that the NL East is a bit of a meat grinder this season, but I’d put just as much stock in the friendly confines of Marlins Park. He currently owns a 1.93 ERA at home and an 8.03 ERA away. He just added more evidence to that assessment over the last week with seven strikeouts across seven shutout innings at home against the Mets. Then he gave up four earned runs at Washington on Friday night. Maybe the splits make him a streamer, but when half of a pitcher's games are gems, he’s going to get scooped and held in deeper settings. For owners who desperately need innings but can’t afford to rely on streaming, Lopez presents a compelling option.

Felix Pena (SP/RP, LAA) — 8%

Pena is another outside the box arm. The 29-year-old primary pitcher for the Angels won’t get any quality starts, but he averages 4.2 IP per outing. With three arms on this list and the return of Andrew Heaney, the Angels just might be building themselves a solid rotation. The situation is good enough to position Pena to earn wins. With the Angels’ offense starting to look functional, Pena could offer some Ws to go with his strikeouts (40 Ks in 40 IP), healthy ERA (3.30) and WHIP (.96).

Mitch Keller (SP, PIT) — 5%

The Pirates just announced that they are calling up Keller who initially struggled to start this season at AAA, where he slogged through his first three starts with a WHIP of 2.00. Since then, he’s settled in, and over the last 30 days, he’s gotten comfortable with the new ball, capped his walks, and executed his pitches with authority. Since April 21st, Keller owns a 1.18 WHIP, a 31.1 K%, and 3.27 ERA. He's cut his walk rate to 7.4%, which is much closer to his minor-league average. The Pirates tend to insist that their pitching prospects limit and master 2 or 3 pitches rather than experimenting with other offerings, so it’s possible that Keller, like Taillon, could look underwhelming this season. However, it’s also possible that the Pirates see Keller as truly having command of his arsenal. He’s worth a speculative add before his big-league debut.


For Your Radar

Josh James (SP/RP, HOU) — 10%

James owns a 3.38 ERA 1.18 WHIP, 3.14 FIP since April 16th. The Astros have been open about using James in the bullpen to limit his innings and then wanting to transition him to the rotation later this summer. We’ve gotten to see James’ abilities for about a year now, and he’s demonstrated the ability to strike out and deal with Major League hitters. At this point, it’s just a matter of the Astros deciding when they want to shift him back to being a starter.

Zac Gallen (SP, MIA) — 5%

Pierre Camus just wrote a great piece on Zac Gallen where he outlined all of Gallen’s strengths and inconsistencies. There’s no guarantee the Marlins will promote Gallen anytime soon, and the cub has some motivation to leave him in the minors since he’s not on their 40-man roster. However, Gallen’s .65 WHIP, 1.79 ERA, and 29.6 K-BB% in PCL illustrate that he has nothing left to prove in the minors, AND Gallen is will turn 24 years old this season. At this point, it’s probably worth it for the Marlins to see what Gallen can do so they know what they have.

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