In last week's edition of Waiver Wired, I profiled two early surprises among hitters, one bad and one good. This week, I'll turn my attention to two pitchers.
We'll start with the bad. I'll concede that it was wrong to expect R.A. Dickey to duplicate what he did in his Cy Young campaign with the Mets last season, as he was making the switch to the more difficult league and a more hitter-friendly environment. However, I certainly wasn't expecting him to struggle this much, as he owns a disappointing 5.36 ERA and 33/17 K/BB ratio across his first seven starts with the Blue Jays. So, what's the deal?
Dickey has lost about 2 mph on the average velocity of his knuckleball from last season, which makes me wonder if his recent neck and back issues have contributed to his struggles. It's easy to forget that the 38-year-old was very good pitcher from 2010-2011, so I'm not ready to write him off after a few lousy starts. Getting back to full health will likely be the big key to a potential turnaround, but I would consider a buy-low with him. Just don't expect the 2012 version.
As for the good, we'll go with Patrick Corbin, who was featured in Waiver Wired just two weeks ago. After beating out Tyler Skaggs and Randall Delgado for a rotation spot during spring training, the 23-year-old southpaw ranks fifth in the National League with a 1.80 ERA and 12th with a 1.08 WHIP. He also owns a solid 32/10 K/BB ratio in 40 innings and has induced ground balls right around the league average.
Corbin's ERA is bound to go up, as he has only allowed two home runs and has benefited from a fortunate strand rate, but I wouldn't necessarily sell high on him. I'm encouraged by the uptick with his fastball velocity and his slider just keeps getting better. He has the building blocks to be a useful pitcher in mixed leagues all season.
Junichi Tazawa RP, Red Sox (Yahoo: 47 percent owned)
Now that Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan are both on the disabled list, Red Sox manager John Farrell has selected Tazawa to serve as the fill-in closer over Koji Uehara. It makes sense, as Tazawa gets plenty of swings and misses and has quietly been one of the best relievers in the game dating back to the start of last season. Meanwhile, Uehara's workload needs to be managed and he has had issues with the home run ball during his career. Hanrahan is headed to the 60-day disabled list while Bailey has a lengthy injury history, so there's a chance Tazawa could run away with the job. He's a must-own in all fantasy leagues.
Dee Gordon SS, Dodgers (Yahoo: 25 percent owned)
Gordon began the season with Triple-A Albuquerque, but the Dodgers finally called him up over the weekend after Hanley Ramirez strained his left hamstring. The 25-year-old is still a bit shaky defensively and offers nothing in the way of pop, but with 59 stolen bases in 148 major league games, he has the potential to be a major difference-maker in fantasy leagues if he can get on base at a reasonable clip. His walk rate in the minors this season provides reason for hope on that end. Gordon is worth owning in all fantasy formats in the short-term and could be relevant all season if the Dodgers decide to move Ramirez back to third base.
Jose Fernandez SP, Marlins (Yahoo: 40 percent owned)
Fernandez was dropped in some fantasy leagues after a recent rough patch, but the rookie right-hander bounced back last Saturday with the best start of his young career, limiting the Phillies to just one hit over seven shutout frames while striking out nine and walking just one. The 20-year-old now has an excellent 3.48 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 32/12 K/BB ratio in 31 innings across his first six starts in the majors. Some hesitation is understandable, as the Marlins won't offer much run support and Hernandez will have to adhere to pitch-counts and an eventual innings limit, but he should still be able to help in most mixed leagues.
Domonic Brown OF, Phillies (Yahoo: 27 percent owned)
Brown has been a bit of a mixed bag after an excellent spring, but the good news is that he already has six home runs in 34 games. That's a new career-high for the 25-year-old outfielder, who hit five homers in 56 games in each of the previous two seasons. His plate discipline hasn't been as good as we have seen in the past, but we're still talking about a small sample and his strikeout rate isn't higher than the league average. Brown is hitting plenty of line drives, so his .247 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) appears to be the product of some bad luck. With that in mind, look for his batting average to rise in the days ahead. There's 20-25 homer potential here if the Phillies do the right thing and stick with him.
Jesus Montero C, Mariners (Yahoo: 41 percent owned)
Many fantasy owners were hoping that Montero was ready to take a step forward this season, but things haven't worked so far. Through 22 games, the 23-year-old is hitting just .205/.250/.359 with three home runs and a .609 OPS. While he delivered a go-ahead homer on Wednesday, his lackluster production on offense hasn't been able to make up for his deficiencies behind the plate. This has caused Mariners manager Eric Wedge to give more playing time to Kelly Shoppach in recent days. It's possible that the effort put into his catching has hindered his progress at the plate, but I still have some optimism for Montero moving forward, especially if Mike Zunino's eventual arrival pushes his focus to the DH spot. Of course, there's a chance that Montero could be demoted if he continues to struggle, but that's a risk I'm willing to take in deeper formats.
Kelly Johnson 2B/OF, Rays (Yahoo: 14 percent owned)
Johnson has been a nice surprise for the Rays in the early part of the season, hitting .283 with five home runs, 18 RBI, four stolen bases and an .851 OPS through 29 games while making starts at DH, left field, second base and even first base. Yes, he's the perfect Joe Maddon player. The 31-year-old is no stranger to hot streaks, but his improved pitch selection has led to an increased contact rate. Let's hope he can keep it going. Johnson has always provided pop and speed, so he makes for an intriguing pickup in most formats.
Dayan Viciedo OF, White Sox (Yahoo: 22 percent owned)
Viciedo has been sidelined since April 18 with a left oblique strain, but he began a minor league rehab assignment Monday with Triple-A Charlotte and could be activated from the disabled list as soon as this weekend. The 24-year-old was hitting just .229 with two homers and a 16/0 K/BB ratio in 13 games prior to the injury, but this is a guy produced 25 homers and 78 RBI in 147 games last season. It's not often that you find that kind of power potential just sitting there on the wire. Take advantage.
Stephen Drew SS, Red Sox (Yahoo: 10 percent owned)
Drew got off to a slow start after his concussion, but he has begun to look more like himself recently, hitting .389 (14-for-36) with two homers, one double, one triple, 10 RBI and six runs scored over his last 10 games. Remember, Drew averaged 15 home runs and 63 RBI per season from 2007-2010. It would hardly come as a shock if he approached similar production now that he's nearly two years removed from ankle surgery and will play the majority of his games in hitter-friendly stadiums. Give him a try in deeper mixed leagues.
Heath Bell RP, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 25 percent owned)
With J.J. Putz facing a lengthy absence with an elbow injury, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson has given Bell the first crack to fill in at closer. The 35-year-old worked around a leadoff double to lock down Wednesday's victory over the Dodgers and now holds a 4.40 ERA and 20/3 K/BB ratio over 14 1/3 innings this season. He has actually been quite good since he was knocked around by the Cardinals in his first appearance. Still, this is someone who had a 5.09 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in 73 appearances last season and doesn't throw nearly as hard as he used to. Bell should be owned in all formats as long as he's getting the opportunity, but the job could belong to David Hernandez down the line.
Wandy Rodriguez SP, Pirates (Yahoo: 48 percent owned)
I'll admit that Rodriguez might not be the pitcher that he once was, as his swinging strike rate has dropped off in recent seasons, but I still think the veteran southpaw can be quite useful in certain matchups. With that in mind, his next start will be Friday night against the Mets, who aren't scoring many runs right now and have an especially tough time at Citi Field. And just a bonus, Rodriguez won't have to go up against Matt Harvey. If he's still sitting out there in a shallow league, pick him up and start him.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in less than 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues)
Oswaldo Arcia OF, Twins (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
Arcia had the best game of his brief major league career on Wednesday night against the Red Sox, going 4-for-5 with an RBI double. The big night pulled his batting average up from .255 to .300 for the year and he has now hit safely in six straight games. There figures to be some bumps in the road for the 22-year-old rookie, but Arcia hit for average and power in the minors and the Twins appear committed to giving him regular playing time. For what it's worth, I think he'll be more useful to fantasy owners this year than Marlins' outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who was rushed up to the majors last week and will likely be sent back down once Giancarlo Stanton is healthy. Arcia makes for a fine speculative add in five-outfielder formats.
Mitch Moreland 1B, Rangers (Yahoo: 6 percent owned)
Moreland got off to a really slow start this season, but he has been locked in over the past couple of weeks, hitting an even .400 with three home runs, six doubles and eight RBI over his last 16 games. And while we need to see a lot more, he has been surprisingly productive against southpaws, a trouble spot for him in the past. Moreland has traditionally fared much better at home as opposed to on the road, so it could pay to use him strategically, but I could see him reaching 20 homers for the first time if he can make it through a full season. That's pretty useful production from a corner infielder (CI) spot.
Roberto Hernandez SP, Rays (Yahoo: 3 percent owned)
Hernandez (formerly known as Fausto Carmona) doesn't just have a different name these days, but he also looks like a different pitcher. While his 4.66 ERA isn't all that impressive on the surface, he has a 37/11 K/BB ratio in 36 2/3 innings across six starts. Pretty interesting for someone who averaged just 5.2 K/9 between 2007-2012. While we're still talking about a small sample, the surprising spike in swings and misses appears to be the product of increased reliance on his changeup. And he's still inducing plenty of grounders like usual. Before you dismiss him as an option, just remember that the Rays have a history of making lemons into lemonade. Put him on your radar.