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Typically in our waiver-wire column, we're focusing on … well, the top waiver-wire targets from the previous day's action. But we do occasionally steer away from the waiver fodder and into other topics, and today is a good day for that.

We'll get to the top waiver targets shortly, but it's worth taking a few minutes to talk about what happened with Gerrit Cole on Thursday. What happened with Cole? He struggled through his worst start of the season, allowing five earned runs on five hits and a pair of walks over five innings of work. He struck out seven still and had a healthy 15 swinging strikes, so it's not like the start was a total disaster -- these things happen occasionally. It's just one start, and Cole didn't quite benefit from the same strike zone Ryan Yarbrough did on the other side:

So, it's not really the results that are noteworthy. You have to get a little in the weeds to understand why I'm taking the time to focus on this. Cole's spin rate was down in this start. Way down. He averaged 2,436 RPM with his four-seam fastball, down from a 2,561 RPM average for the season as a whole. His average fastball spin rate hasn't been that low in a season since 2018, the year before he joined the Astros -- and he hasn't had a start with a lower fastball spin rate since August of 2018. 

In the past, that may have gone unnoticed, but … well, Jon Heyman literally tweeted this in the middle of Cole's start -- probably coincidentally, but still:   

This has been an ongoing topic of conversation around MLB all season, with several reports surfacing that the league is looking to crack down on the use of foreign substances -- four minor-league pitchers were suspended just a few days ago. There haven't been any MLB players disciplined yet, but Cardinals manager Mike Schildt had quite a lot to say about the use of foreign substances by pitchers recently, calling it "baseball's dirty little secret": 

There's no hard evidence that Cole is using any kind of substance, though there have certainly been accusations leveled his way -- and he allegedly reached out to a former Angels employee who was fired for providing pitchers with substances they could use to doctor the ball or enhance their grip. 

Whether that's true and what kind of impact it has had specifically on Cole is sort of unknowable now, but this isn't really about Cole specifically -- whether he is using something or not, pretty much everyone agrees most pitchers are. That may range from sunscreen and rosin to much more sophisticated (and effective) substances, but it's a widespread practice right now, and it seems like MLB is finally about to crack down.

  • We talk Ryan Yarbrough, the MLB cracking down on pitchers and Week 11 sleepers on the Fantasy Baseball Today in 5 podcast. You can follow us to get the latest episodes on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Maybe it won't affect Cole. Maybe it won't affect anyone -- after all, if everyone is using something to get an advantage, does anyone really have an advantage? This isn't to say you should try to trade Cole now, or jump ship on Trevor Bauer, or anyone else, specifically -- again, we don't know for sure who is using what. 

But this seems like it's about to become an even bigger story in MLB, and the repercussions could be real for Fantasy. We'll see what happens in the coming days and weeks, but I felt I should address the elephant in the room while we're here. If MLB does decide to begin handing down punishments for players caught using these substances, the waiver wire could be even more important than usual. It's just another odd wrinkle we have to keep in mind as the 2021 season moves forward. 

Possible waiver wire pickups
ATL Atlanta • #64 • Age: 25
Rest of Season Projections
H2H PTS
255.5
ROTO RNK
278th
ROSTERED
8%
Scott White wrote about Tucker Davidson in Wednesday's look at the waiver wire when it was announced he was returning to the majors, but Davidson deserves another mention after his start against the Nationals. Davidson pitched into the sixth inning for the second time in as many starts as he limited the Nationals to just one hit in 5.2 shutout innings. He struck out five and walked five, with two of those five free passes coming in that partial final frame. He's now made five starts between Triple-A and the majors this season and has 33 strikeouts to 10 walks in 31.2 innings of work. It's not exactly clear if he'll stick in the Braves rotation for the next turn, but given how well he has pitched, you have to take a shot on the youngster if you need pitching help.
TB Tampa Bay • #48 • Age: 29
Rest of Season Projections
H2H PTS
183
ROTO RNK
413th
ROSTERED
39%
At the end of April, Yarbrough sported a 4.86 ERA, but that was heavily weighted by three starts where he allowed five or more earned runs. He has yet to allow more than three in a start since the start of May, and he recorded the Rays first complete game in five years opposite Cole on Thursday, allowing just two runs on six hits while striking out six. Yarbrough has a 3.03 ERA over his past six appearances (four starts) and has allowed more than three earned runs in just three appearances overall. He's better than his overall numbers, and is a solid depth piece for any Fantasy rotation -- especially if he can earn one more relief appearance and earn RP eligibility.
COL Colorado • #26 • Age: 27
Rest of Season Projections
H2H PTS
175
ROTO RNK
621st
ROSTERED
38%
What's gotten into Gomber? Since getting roughed up for nine runs in 1.2 innings on April 26 against the Giants, he's made seven starts and has four quality starts -- and he's allowed more than two earned runs just once in that stretch. He struck out six over six scoreless innings Thursday, limiting the Rangers to three hits, and while he sports a fairly ugly 4.12 ERA overall, that mark is down to 2.68 in that seven-start stretch. Sure, Thursday was just his second home start since that stretch began, but this doesn't just seem like a Coors Field thing, because the biggest change has been his walk rate -- he has just four over his past seven starts after walking at least four in three of his first five starts. It's hard to get too excited about pitchers in Coors Field, but if Gomber can sustain his control gains, he's looking like a must-start pitcher on the road, at least.
STL St. Louis • #27 • Age: 25
Rest of Season Projections
H2H PTS
231
ROTO RNK
88th
ROSTERED
79%
O'Neill scored one of the Cardinals' two runs Thursday and drove in the other, extending his hitting streak to 11 games. That streak includes eight straight since O'Neill returned from the IL back on May 27, and he is 12 for 32 in that time with four homers, nine RBI, six runs and a steal. There's still an awful lot of swing and miss in O'Neill's game -- he's up above a 35% strikeout rate on the season -- but he's also crushing the ball right now, ranking in the top 4% among all hitters with a .621 expected wOBA on contact. In fact, despite his bloated strikeout rate, O'Neill sports a .291 expected batting average for the season, actually slightly higher than his .280 mark. It's going to be tough to sustain this production with O'Neill's swing and miss issues, but right now he looks like a must-roster outfielder in all formats.
CIN Cincinnati • #39 • Age: 27
Rest of Season Projections
H2H PTS
172.5
ROTO RNK
419th
Fantasy
ROSTERED
22%
The Reds haven't named an official closer, but Sims has three of the past four saves over the team's past 10 games after picking up a two-inning save against the Cardinals on Thursday. He struck out two while allowing a pair of hits and walking one, and came into the game after Tejay Antone, who worked a scoreless sixth and seventh inning. Antone is Sims' primary competition for saves at this point, but with Sims having picked up three of the past four, he seems like the one to lean toward if you're chasing saves.