Brett Cecil, Toronto Blue Jays (15% Yahoo!, 14% ESPN, 27% CBS)
In his first three starts since being recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas in late June, Cecil looked shaky, allowing 10 runs in 20 and one-third innings. In his three starts since, he has allowed four runs in 22 innings while striking out 17 and walking six. Those most recent three starts were against the Texas Rangers twice (AL's third-best offense) and the Rays—certainly high-quality competition. Cecil plays best in AL-only leagues but could be worth the risk depending on your place in the standings and the categories you need in deep mixed leagues.
Joe Saunders, Arizona Diamondbacks (13% Yahoo!, 12% ESPN, 33% CBS)
I feel dirty for suggesting Saunders, who has a 4.81 FIP, but he has been on a prolonged hot streak. In his last nine starts spanning 62 and two-thirds innings, Saunders has a 2.30 ERA. While a lot of that has to do with a .234 BABIP, he also faces NL West competition quite frequently. The Dodgers, Giants, and Padres are the league's 14th, 15th, and 16th-worst offenses, respectively. If you are smart in your application of Saunders, he could pay dividends for you between now and the end of the season. Avoid lineups heavy with right-handed hitters, and start him against the Dodgers, Giants, and Padres whenever possible.
Rubby De La Rosa, Los Angeles Dodgers (3% Yahoo!, 2% ESPN, 16% CBS)
Rubby hit the disabled list this week, electing to undergo Tommy John surgery after being diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. This ends his 2011 season and potentially all of his 2012 season as well. If everything goes better than expected, you may see him at some point in the second half next year, but for now, all you can do is drop him.
David Huff, Cleveland Indians (1% Yahoo!, 1% ESPN, 3% ESPN)
Huff gets the boot after the Indians acquired Ubaldo Jimenez from the Colorado Rockies. Huff certainly pitched well enough to earn more opportunities, but for now, he is the weakest link. In the event of an injury or a spot start, Huff should get the first phone call, so keep an eye on him between now and the end of the month.
James McDonald, Pittsburgh Pirates (14% Yahoo!, 15% ESPN, 35% CBS)
McDonald was roughed up by the Phillies in his last start, allowing five runs on 10 hits in five innings of work. Before surrendering a lead-off home run to Ryan Howard in the second inning, McDonald had gone nearly 13 innings without surrendering a run—the most noteworthy part of his turnaround since the beginning of May. In his last 16 starts, McDonald has a 3.21 ERA with an 8.4 K/9 and a 3.8 BB/9—impressive numbers from a pitcher who was completely abandoned after heavy preseason hype.
If McDonald's improved control is real, that along with his above-average ability to miss bats makes him playable in most mixed leagues. He has walked three or fewer in each of his last six starts, but due to the sample sizes, we cannot yet make any strong conclusions about his control as it may just be a fluke. Since you do not have time to wait for a sufficient sample size, however, McDonald remains a high-risk, high-reward type of pickup. He could tank in WHIP or he could help you make big strides in the strikeouts category. Such is life with waiver wire players in August.
Brandon McCarthy, Oakland Athletics (7% Yahoo!, 4% ESPN, 28% CBS)
McCarthy's last start on July 31 against the Minnesota Twins was, arguably, his best start of the year. He gave up three runs in six innings, which does not sound impressive, but he struck out nine and did not issue a walk. The nine strikeouts marked a season-high while he notched his fourth walk-less start. Some of that success can be blamed on the Twins' incompetence, but the right-hander has been solid all season long, as his 2.75 FIP indicates.
McCarthy has only four wins in 15 starts, however, thanks to an impotent Athletics offense. In the other three standard roto categories for pitchers, though, McCarthy should be average in strikeouts and above-average for ERA and WHIP. You can do much, much worse in mixed leagues.
Felipe Paulino, Kansas City Royals (1% Yahoo!, 0% ESPN, 6% CBS)
Paulino was in line for his second win of the season on Saturday, but Joakim Soria had other ideas and blew a save, negating Paulino's victory. He had tossed six shut-out innings, lowering his ERA with the Royals to 3.51. On the season, he has a 3.37 FIP—nearly a full run lower than his 4.20 ERA—leading us to believe that Paulino should experience some regression between now and the end of the season.
Since being inserted into the Royals' rotation, Paulino has posted a 3.75 ERA with an 8.7 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. If he had enough innings to qualify, his 3.48 strikeout-to-walk ratio would rank ninth in the American League among starters, placing him between James Shields (3.53) and Josh Beckett (3.30).
There is one important thing to keep in mind with Paulino, though: the defense that plays behind him is bad. The Royals have the fourth-worst defensive efficiency in baseball at .699. While the disparity between his FIP and ERA indicates a huge regression is to come, it may not be nearly as strong due to the Royals' shoddy defense. Unless the Royals put in a lot of long hours or find a genie bottle, the defense will not improve overnight.
Chris Narveson, Milwaukee Brewers (15% Yahoo!, 10% ESPN, 39% CBS)
In previous columns, I have noted Narveson's tendency to be inconsistent. He would have one or two good starts, then follow it up with one or two bad starts, rinse and repeat. Recently, however, Narveson has gone on quite a long streak of decent starts. In his last five starts, the lefty has a 2.93 ERA. The strikeouts have not come quite as frequently (only 6.2 per nine innings), but neither have the walks (2.6 per nine).
Like many other pitchers on this list, including Paulino and McDonald, we simply do not have sufficient sample sizes to make strong inferences about legitimate improvement. The best we can do is recognize how badly the data could be skewed by randomness and take a calculated risk. With Narveson, our sample size for his last five starts spans only 30 innings, so it could very likely all be a fluke. Keep this in mind if you pick him up expecting a continued string of six-inning, two-run starts.
Doug Fister, Detroit Tigers (15% Yahoo!, 5% ESPN, 53% CBS)
There is no pitcher in baseball I have had more sympathy for than Fister. Prior to making his debut with the Tigers on Wednesday, the right-hander had gone ten consecutive starts without earning a win. The punchless Mariner offense is to blame as, during that span of ten games, Fister pitched to a 3.42 ERA. In eight of those ten starts, the Mariners scored two or fewer runs. The lack of wins suppressed Fister's value in roto leagues, but now that he is in Detroit, his value should improve.
In his debut with the Tigers, Fister allowed just two runs in seven innings of work in a BABIP-based performance. He allowed eight hits and did not strike out or walk a single batter. While he is not that extreme overall, he is not the kind of pitcher who strikes out or walks a lot of batters, with per-nine rates of 5.2 and 1.9 on the season, respectively. He has utility in deep mixed leagues as long as you are not in desperate need of punch-outs.
Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays (10% Yahoo!, 10% ESPN, 28% CBS)
Cobb was last week's AL-only VP but pitched well enough in his last start to earn another nomination. In six and one-third innings against the Mariners on Saturday, the right-hander struck out nine and walked one, a significant improvement over his previous three starts during which he struck out three or fewer. In his two years at Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, Cobb showed the ability to miss a good number of bats, so the nine strikeout performance against the Mariners is not entirely due to the incompetence of the offense.
As long as Cobb continues to pitch well, the Rays will press forward with their six-man rotation. As a result, Cobb lines up to face the Oakland A's in his next start, certainly a favorable match-up.
Juan Nicasio, Colorado Rockies (5% Yahoo!, 3% ESPN, 26% CBS)
Nicasio is also a returning VP nominee. In his last start on Sunday, he struck out 10 Padres while walking only two in seven innings. The right-hander has been a bit Jekyll/Hyde on the season but has posted good numbers overall, and his 3.66 FIP speaks well about his future. Nicasio will face the Washington Nationals today—another good match-up. Going forward, Nicasio is the type of pitcher you need to play match-ups with: against good offenses, or those with plenty of lefties (who have an .849 OPS against him this year), it is a good idea to sit him; otherwise, give him the start.