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Welcome to Week Five of The Free Agent Watch, Baseball Prospectus’ weekly free agent answer to Dear Abby. This column is designed to offer a brief glimpse into the top free agents in 12-team mixed, 15-team mixed, and AL and NL-only formats, with the idea being that while we can’t address every unique free agent situation in your league, we can guide you through the waters and help with the broader strokes of the decision making process.

Mike will be tackling all the mixed league formats, while Keith will be handling the only-league duties.

12-Team Mixed Hitter

SEASON STATS

Player

H/AB

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

%OWN

+/-

Andre Ethier, LAD OF

16/52

12

4

9

0

.308

14.4

+13.8

Freddy Galvis, Phi SS

28/82

9

1

8

0

.341

9.7

+8.5

Kevin Pillar, Tor OF

28/97

14

1

14

4

.289

10.5

+6.7

Wilmer Flores, NYM SS

18/75

10

3

8

0

.240

13.3

+5.3

Justin Maxwell, SF OF

14/58

8

3

9

0

.241

11.1

+5.2

Kelly Johnson, Atl 3B, 1B, OF

14/56

9

4

11

0

.250

4.5

+4.5

Andrelton Simmons, Atl SS

24/91

13

1

14

0

.264

63.9

+4

Colby Rasmus, Hou OF

19/71

12

5

10

1

.268

3.0

+2.6

Yunel Escobar, Wsh SS, 3B

22/80

9

2

5

0

.275

5.3

+1.6

Tim Beckham, TB 2B

14/54

9

3

10

1

.259

2.6

+1.4

Source: ESPN, Razzball Expert League. Stats through Saturday, May 2

Repeaters from Week 4: None

Send in the shortstops. Three of this week’s most picked up players in ESPN leagues are National League shortstops, with a fourth— Escobar—manning third but hanging onto his shortstop eligibility from last year. Of the four, Flores is probably the guy I’d be most likely to pick up in the hopes for 10-14 home runs. However, his defense is worse than anything I could have possibility imagined, and I keep thinking that at some point the Mets are going to have to either make a trade or stick Ruben Tejada back in there. The other guys are all decent (and Galvis has been better than I thought he possibly could have been, BABIP fueled AVG aside), but are fringy at best in standard mixed.

If you gambled one or two dollars on Johnson in an NL-only in March, congratulations. That bid has already paid off. The good Kelly Johnson has shown up thus far, and the result is a decent amount of pop along with a solid batting average. The speed is likely gone, but the third base eligibility is pretty cool, I guess. I still would leave Johnson on the free agent pool in 12-team mixed.

Kevin Pillar stands to be the biggest beneficiary of the Dalton Pompey demotion. As a starter, Pillar’s steals are the biggest appeal (he stole 27 bases in Triple-A in 2014), but there is a little sneaky pop in the bat as well. I always worry with players like this about the mirage factor, but Pillar could probably survive as a starter with his ceiling being a .260 batting average range with 10 HR pop and 20 steals. The name isn’t there, but those stats would play in mixed.

Mike Recommends: Colby Rasmus. Andre Ethier isn’t a bad option either, but Rasmus is the kind of hitter I love riding in a mixed league as long as he is hot. Rasmus has primarily been playing against right-handed pitching so you will want to make sure you watch the Astros’ matchups carefully, but the potential for a 25-home run season has always resided in Rasmus’ bat.

12-Team Mixed Pitcher

SEASON STATS

Player

IP

K

W

SV

DRA

ERA

WHIP

%OWN

+/-

Ubaldo Jimenez, Bal SP

22.2

22

2

0

2.93

1.59

0.79

69.5

+37.8

Jarred Cosart, Mia SP

25.1

12

1

0

3.40

2.49

0.91

26.6

+25.3

Mike Leake, Cin SP

35.2

25

1

0

3.28

3.03

0.90

35.9

+24.6

Travis Wood, ChC SP

23.2

26

2

0

3.52

3.04

1.06

28.8

+23.2

Aaron Harang, Phi SP

32.1

27

2

0

3.15

2.51

0.96

63.3

+22

Hector Santiago, LAA RP, SP

28.2

26

2

0

3.87

3.14

1.40

50.2

+21.8

Mike Pelfrey, Min SP

24.0

15

2

0

3.43

2.25

1.13

14.8

+14.8

Jesse Chavez, Oak SP, RP

17.2

18

0

1

3.45

2.55

1.13

10.2

+7.4

Dan Haren, Mia SP

30.0

21

3

0

3.56

2.70

0.87

19.6

+7

Wei-Yin Chen, Bal SP

22.2

16

0

0

3.45

2.78

1.06

12.5

+5.4

Source: ESPN, Razzball Expert League. Stats through Saturday, May 2

Repeaters from Week 3: Harang, Santiago, Haren.

It is inevitable; fantasy managers chase good statistics based on small sample sizes even though we are all wise enough to know that players will regress to the mean, the sun inevitably sets at the end of the day, and someday this, too, shall pass. The logic isn’t so much that Ubaldo Jimenez is going to put up a 1.59 ERA, but rather that he has figured something out and is more likely to put up something resembling his magical 2010 season as opposed to his erratic 2011-2014 campaigns.

Free agent pitchers at this time of year in deep leagues remind me of the Jay Mohr romantic comedy Christmas Do-Over (a complete rip-off of Groundhog Day that isn’t worth your time), in which Mohr spends Christmas with his ex-wife and son. In the rom-coms of this ilk, revisiting the past always produces nothing save for optimal results by the time the movie ends, with the usual setbacks and travails thrown into the movie in order to try and fool us into believing it won’t work out (even though it pretty much always does).

We tend to do the same thing with these free agent pitchers. Instead of looking at their established body of work, we focus on their first 20-30 innings and the superficialities of their ERA and WHIP instead of diving deeper into their underlying numbers and the cumbersome baggage of their complicated pasts. Don’t worry, Jesse Chavez. I know you faded as the season dragged on last year, but I believe in you! Welcome back to the fold, Mike Pelfrey. I know you haven’t even been reliable enough to be the Twins’ #5 starter, but I’m sure whatever was wrong with you in the past is fixed now. In the romantic comedy, the screen goes dark and we are led to believe that Jay Mohr and Daphne Zuniga will live happily ever after forever and ever. In fantasy baseball, the life that we cobble together with these free agent pitchers isn’t as rosy or unequivocally happy.

This isn’t to say that all of these pitchers are merely examples of small-sample-size noise and inevitable victims of the dreaded “R” word. But unless there is a demonstrable and documented example of something the pitcher is doing differently, it is safer to assume that the pitcher in question is going to revert back to something closer than his prior results than take a big step forward and wow us all.

I am going to sound like the proverbial broken record (if you are under 25, you can look that one up here), but what I like to look at in the early going are the K/IP numbers. Pelfrey and Cosart are the kind of pitchers I eliminate from consideration almost immediately in standard mixed. Even if their performance remains amazing, their low whiff rates hurt in fantasy. It is a gross oversimplification, but batters who strike out a high number of hitters don’t have to worry as much about their defenses, bad luck, poor umpiring, or all the other stuff that plagues pitch-to-contact guys. To that end, I like Santiago despite the high WHIP thus far, Harang despite the poor win potential, and Wood. If I had to recommend one of those guys this week, though, I’m going with…

Mike Recommends: Travis Wood. I can’t quit you Travis Wood. I saw your third career start in Philadelphia in 2010, where you threw eight perfect innings against the Phillies and nearly gave me a heart attack of the happy variety. In 2013, I grabbed you for a buck in NL Tout Wars and watched you proceed to flirt with a sub-3.00 ERA all year long. I know that you’re not this good. But I can’t help myself.

Are the improved numbers this year sustainable? Any explanation is going to make me sound like the dopey male lead in the romantic comedy I just spent 546 words eviscerating above. But I did go back and pull Wood’s pitch location for 2014 and 2015 just to see if maybe there is something tangible to this improvement or if like Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in The Notebook, I’m just all wet.

The picture on the top is Wood’s pitch location in 2014, while the picture on the bottom is Wood’s pitch location in 2015. Yes, there isn’t enough to look at for 2015, but so far what jumps out is that Wood is mixing in far more pitches in and out of the zone. 2014 saw Wood get pounded on pitches in the center and the bottom of the zone; this year thus far has Wood throwing more pitches all over the place in an effort to deceive the hitter. Those pitches at the top of the chart may not seem significant, but in the games I have watched Wood it is where the hitters who used to sit waiting for center-low action have lost their ability to simply hang over the zone and lunge aggressively against Wood’s offerings. He needs to do this all year to be successful. The velocity separation between Wood’s fastball and change is sufficient, but an 89 MPH fastball is an 89 MPH fastball. If he can continue to move his stuff all around the zone, he will continue to see success (with the obvious regression; he won’t continue striking out over a batter an inning).

I am going to see Wood pitch at the Baseball Prospectus event in Milwaukee on Saturday, May 9th. I was going to close this section with a joke about how I would be waiting for him with a lone red rose and the tender hopes in my heart, but in the end decided that this was way too weird and will not be using this joke in this space. For those of you who were expecting this section to close with a killer joke, I apologize for the inconvenience and the lack of a laugh.

15-Team Mixed Hitter

Player

Own%

AB

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

Hechavarria, Adeiny (SS,MI,U)

58.61

89

17

2

16

1

.326

Cozart, Zack (SS,MI,U)

28.12

91

13

5

12

2

.308

Maxwell, Justin (U,OF)

10.30

58

8

3

9

0

.241

Pena, Brayan (C,1B,CI,U)

5.35

50

2

0

3

0

.300

Galvis, Freddy (SS,MI,U)

4.36

82

9

1

8

0

.341

Canha, Mark (1B,CI,U,OF)

3.56

74

13

3

12

2

.297

Stubbs, Drew (U,OF)

2.38

24

2

1

2

1

.042

Susac, Andrew (C,U)

1.78

21

2

1

2

0

.286

Taylor, Michael (U,OF)

1.78

59

3

2

9

2

.271

Young, Delmon (U,OF)

1.19

46

9

0

7

0

.348

SOURCE: RT Sports, LABR Mixed, Stats through Saturday, May 2

Repeaters from Week 2: Hechevarria, Cozart, Galvis, Canha.

Pena’s value remains intact for 15-team mixed as long as Devin Mesoraco’s hip impingement continues to impact him. Mesoraco will get an opportunity to DH in this weekend’s series against the White Sox at The Cell, but this shouldn’t impact Pena’s playing time. Pena should be grabbed in all two-catcher formats. I am not as high on Susac as I am on Pena. Unless there is an injury to Buster Posey or Brandon Belt, Susac’s value is fairly limited.

The free agent list in LABR mixed is dominated by a group of part-time outfielders with varying opportunities for greater playing time. Maxwell has made the most of his opportunity to push ahead of Gregor Blanco and get most of the starts for the injured Hunter Pence. The power won’t be as prolific—and he is a batting average risk—but he is okay to start in deeper mixed formats. Something that’s great about Buck Showalter is that he isn’t afraid to shuffle in his hot hitters and bench the ones who aren’t performing. Young isn’t doing much in the power department, but he has some moderate potential there and shouldn’t kill your average.

Taylor and Stubbs are the weaker options of the outfielders on this list. Taylor did get some play this past week with Denard Span needing some additional rest post-core muscle surgery, but it isn’t a DL scenario. Taylor is worth monitoring due to the injury history in the Nationals’ outfield, but don’t grab him just yet. Stubbs should play if and when Carlos Gonzalez gets hurt, but at the moment this hasn’t happened. Coors helps him, but he would be better off in the NL East based on his platoon splits. Six of the 14 left handed pitchers in the National League reside in the East, with three in the NL Central, and five in the NL West. This doesn’t sound like much of a differential, until you consider that two of those NL West hurlers are Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner and two of them are Rockies (Tyler Matzek and Jorge de la Rosa) that Stubbs won’t get to face. Picking up Stubbs to mash against Brett Anderson at home is a great DFS play. It isn’t really practical in standard Roto formats.

Mike Recommends: Zack Cozart. It is time to stop asking if we can believe in Cozart. 2014 looks like the outlier, and Cozart should be good for another 10 home runs the rest of the way at a minimum. This is extremely solid production for a deeper mixed shortstop, and there are probably four or five third middle infielders on 15-team mixed league active rosters who aren’t as good as Cozart will be the rest of the season.

15-Team Mixed Pitcher

Player

Own%

W

DRA

ERA

SV

IP

SO

WHIP

Buehrle, Mark (P)

10.50

3

6.37

6.75

0

28.0

11

1.93

Despaigne, Odrisamer (P)

6.93

2

3.29

2.95

0

21.1

10

0.84

Gausman, Kevin (P)

5.94

1

4.84

4.91

0

11.0

11

1.45

Miley, Wade (P)

3.56

1

4.90

7.15

0

22.2

13

1.54

Warren, Adam (P)

2.38

1

3.94

4.35

0

20.2

12

1.40

Lewis, Colby (P)

1.78

1

3.59

3.00

0

30.0

23

1.13

Matzek, Tyler (P)

1.19

2

4.06

2.70

0

20.0

13

1.55

Hatcher, Chris (P)

0.99

0

4.41

6.75

2

9.1

15

1.29

Osuna, Roberto (P)

0.79

0

3.45

1.38

0

13.0

15

1.00

Feldman, Scott (P)

0.79

2

5.39

4.31

0

31.1

16

1.24

SOURCE: RT Sports, LABR Mixed, Stats through Saturday, May 2

Repeaters from Week 4: Buehrle, Lewis, Matzek

Baseball Prospectus’ new DRA metric tells us that Buehrle has been almost as bad as his ERA this year, and worse than his FIP (5.92) and FRA (5.99) would have you believe. The Blue Jays aren’t going to continue scoring a trillion runs a game for Buehrle, so you can’t even make the wins play and expect dividends. Matzek is a worthy road streamer but he gets two starts at home this week against the Diamondbacks and Dodgers. Pass.

Many of the pitchers here aren’t in the rotation and are spec plays. Despaigne performed admirably for the Padres while Ian Kennedy was out but is going to have to wait for the next injury to get a shot in the rotation. You might not like how the Orioles are jerking Gausman around, but it’s not your call to make any more than it is mine (and DRA tells us that Gausman hasn’t exactly been banging on the door anyway).

Hatcher looks like he will pick up a few saves over the next two weeks or so while Kenley Jansen rehabs. Hatcher’s walk rate bothers me, but he should survive in the role and could be a decent short-term fill in. Osuna is a sneaky set-up play if you don’t believe in Brett Cecil, and could usurp the role at some point.

The pitchers who are actually in major league rotations and available in 15-team mixed don’t do much to warm the cockles. If I had to choose between Warren, Feldman, and Miley, I’d probably grab Warren, but I’m not particularly confident in any of these pitchers. They are extreme streaming options in deeper mixed, and not the kind of guys who you want to plug in there unless the matchup is optimal.

Mike Recommends: Colby Lewis. The 15-team mixed recommendation is always damning with faint praise, but of the pitchers on this list, I lean slightly toward Lewis over Adam Warren, primarily for Lewis’ road starts in pitchers parks in Anaheim, Oakland, and Seattle. I wouldn’t use him this week for his start against the suddenly scorching Astros, but if you can stash him in deep mixed, he’s not a bad matchup play.

AL-ONLY

Kyle Blanks, 1B, Texas Rangers

I profiled Blanks in Friday’s Deep League Report, and since then he smacked home runs on Friday and Saturday night, providing instant offense for the Rangers. We all know Blanks has big-league power, but has not been able to stick in the majors despite his career .304/.392/.520 line over parts of 10 minor-league seasons. He was hitting well once again this year in Triple-A, toting a .327/.419/.635 slash line with three homers and 11 RBI, and coming off PCL Player of the Week honors. Blanks should see a decent amount of playing time in the DH spot while Mitch Moreland is on the DL, and his power potential has always made him a FAAB favorite. His fast start is only going to drive up his price now, so if you want him, you will most likely need to spend a little more than you originally hoped.

Chasen Shreve, RP, New York Yankees

It’s a very thin pitching week on the waiver wire in AL-only leagues, so instead of waxing poetic about the Houston Astros bullpen arms for yet another week, let’s mix it up and look at another very valuable bullpen arm that could be flying under the radar. Shreve came out of nowhere in 2014 and posted a 102-to-15 K:BB ratio in 76 innings over three levels, including 15 punchouts with the Braves over 12 1/3 innings. He was dealt to the Yankees over the winter in the David Carpenter deal, and has been providing Joe Girardi with productive innings out of the pen this season. Shreve did have a shaky outing against the Rays this past week in which he walked three batters, but other than that, he has been very solid. Shreve is not going to work his way toward the back end of the Yankees bullpen unless there is an injury to Andrew Miller or Dellin Betances, but middle relievers who can put up peripherals like Shreve’s can always earn a roster spot in deep AL-only leagues.

Other AL-only FAAB options: Ryan Goins, 2B/SS, Blue Jays; Jonathan Villar, SS, Astros; Chris Herrmann, OF, Twins; Tony Sipp, RP, Astros; Evan Scribner, RP, A’s; Will Harris, RP, Astros

NL-ONLY

Junior Lake, OF, Chicago Cubs

I wrote about Lake in Friday’s Deep League Report, but it remains an extremely thin week for hitting options in the NL, so Lake is still the only position player really worth mentioning. The Cubs system is absolutely loaded, so this could be a showcase for Lake. He is just 25, can hit, and can play all over the diamond—hence, he seems like a very good fantasy play in the short term as the Cubs could possibly be trying to build up his trade value.

Michael Lorenzen, SP, Cincinnati Reds

The Reds prospect was called up this past week to replace Homer Bailey in Cincinnati’s rotation, giving him immediate relevance in NL-only leagues. The young righty took his lumps in his first start against the Brewers, allowing three home runs and nine base runners in his five innings. However, Lorenzen has the tools to be a solid mid-rotation arm, and despite his less than stellar minor-league numbers in limited time, his rapid movement through the Reds system illustrates the potential. Lorenzen has a two-start week coming up (vs. the Pirates and White Sox) making him an intriguing streaming option and an extremely attractive choice in keeper leagues.

Other NL-only FAAB options: Tyler Lyons, SP, Cardinals; Carlos Villanueva, SP/RP, St. Louis Cardinals, Scott Baker, SP, Dodgers; Carlos Frias, RP/SP, Dodgers; Luis Garcia, RP, Phillies; Dale Thayer, RP, Padres; Nick Vincent, RP, Padres; Paco Rodriguez, RP, Dodgers.

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JoshC77
5/04
I'd like to throw out another name for deeper leagues as I don't imagine his ownership value is very high: Cody Martin.

For leagues that use Holds as a category, he has put up solid numbers. His peripherals are strong (more than a K per inning and good WHIP). Additionally, he may also be eligible as a SP...meaning you can milk some relief innings out of a SP slot (highly useful if you have daily transactions).
MikeGianella
5/04
Bret and I have Martin in LABR mixed and I just picked him up in Tout Wars this weekend. I'm a big fan, and his ownership percentage is very low across all expert platforms.
JoshC77
5/04
I can't dig-up too much on him other than that his stuff isn't anything to write home about. Any sense on how he has maintained his solid K-rates throughout his minor league career and so far this season in the Majors (is it deception, great command, etc.)? Just wondering from a sustainability standpoint...

jfranco77
5/04
Is Rasmus just sitting against lefties so the Astros can play someone else? It's a shame if that's the case because the Astros have 3 of them this week (Detwiler, Wandy and Hector Santiago). Those are 3 lefties are about as bad as 3 lefties can be, but if he isn't in the lineup, he can't capitalize.
MikeGianella
5/04
He is in a quasi-platoon with Robbie Grossman. Rasmus has played against two of the last three lefties that the Astros have faced and I'd guess he gets another two starts against those guys this week.