Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire: Nathan Eovaldi, Jordan Zimmermann turn back clock
Two starting pitchers most Fantasy players had left for dead are showing real signs of late. Is it for real? Should you add them?
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Nathan Eovaldi and Jordan Zimmermann aren't supposed to be doing what they're doing. That they are makes them the top waiver-wire targets heading into Week 16 of the Fantasy season. Let's see what they're doing.
You're not supposed to pitch as well as Eovaldi has coming back from the kind of injuries he's had. Eovaldi, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow just before Opening Day after recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, blanked the Mets over seven innings of work Sunday.
Sure, it was the Mets, however he also held the Marlins to two runs in his last start, and allowed just one hit in six shutout innings against the Nationals in his previous outing. He has nine strikeouts in two of his last three starts, including Sunday's, where he racked up 16 swinging strikes in the win.
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Through his first eight starts of the season, Eovaldi has struck out 24.3 percent of opposing hitters while walking just 3.3 percent. Both would represent the best marks of his career for a full season, and it might not just be a fluke. Eovaldi is a different pitcher than he used to be, relying less on his fastball and more on a cutter while largely ditching his curveball. That cutter isn't much of a swing-and-miss pitch itself, but it gives him another pitch hitters have to account for, sitting between his high-90s fastball, high-80s splitter and high-80s slider.
This may turn out to be nothing but a hot streak, especially given the recent string of easy competition he's faced. On the other hand, Eovaldi has always had the kind of arm we get excited about, and the changes to his repertoire could be making a difference. Either way, with how good he's been, I want him on my team just to make sure.
It's been a while since Zimmermann was Fantasy relevant. You might have drafted him in 2016, but you almost certainly didn't keep him for long, and the former ace had a 5.60 ERA between 2016 and 2017. However, he's looked a lot better this season, and he looked about as good as he ever has in his domination of the Rangers Friday. Zimmermann limited the Rangers to one run on four hits over eight innings, while racking up 11 strikeouts. That gives him 56 in 56 1/3 innings on the season, his best strikeout rate for even a partial season since 2009. Can he sustain it? Impossible to say, though Zimmermann does have his best swinging strike rate since 2014, thanks to that old pitcher's trick: Just throwing your breaking ball a lot more than ever before. Zimmermann told reporters after Friday's outing that his slider is "probably the best it's been in … maybe my whole career." Maybe the recipe for success really is that simple. Or maybe not. Either way, it's working right now, and it's making Zimmermann look like a must-own pitcher for the first time in years. That's something.
Sometimes we get too excited about prospects. Sometimes, we obsess over tools and potential, and forget a simple fact: Hitting major-league pitching is really hard. For as much potential and excitement young players bring to the table, they flop as often as they hit.
Which makes it all the more surprising when it takes Fantasy players too long to buy into a top prospect in the majors. I wasn't terribly excited about Jake Bauers' potential when he was called up, because his value seemed to be more based on good plate discipline and doubles than the kind of production that typically wins Fantasy titles. However, he's been better than I expected to date, hitting .240/.372/.460 after his 2-for-3 showing Sunday. The average isn't great, of course, but he's got a 27.5 percent line drive rate and 46.4 percent hard-hit rate, two numbers that suggest he's hitting the ball even better than his results suggest. Bauers hasn't been a star yet, but he's been more than serviceable, with the potential for a lot more.
Speaking of surprises, it's hard to quite make sense of why Fantasy players aren't more excited about Hector Rondon. Not only is he pretty clearly the undisputed ninth-inning option for the Astros – he has seven of the last nine saves for the Astros since June 1, with Ken Giles' only save coming in the 10th inning of a game this week – but he's also a proven commodity having a huge season. Rondon has a 1.39 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, with 42 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings. Maybe Giles comes back for that job at some point, but for now, Rondon is a must-own and must-start reliever.
This one seems less settled than Houston's bullpen, but Arano looks like he could wind up the closer in Philadelphia. His first save last week was of the two-inning variety, as he relieved starter Aaron Nola and picked up the final six outs of the game to close it out. However, Saturday's save might have been more illustrative, for this reason: Seranthony Dominguez was available, and even worked the eighth inning to set up Arano for the save. That might have just been the result of the heart of the Pirates' order coming up in the eighth, but this is at least a situation worth watching now. The Phillies seem to prefer the flexibility of not saving Dominguez solely for the ninth, and if he takes over as a true fireman reliever, Arano, with his 27.9 percent strikeout rate and 2.11 ERA for this career, could become a Fantasy steal.
It's hard to know exactly how much stock you should put in a major-league debut. Between a pitcher's nerves and the batters' unfamiliarity, strange things can happen. Success in a debut is never a guarantee, and Ryan Borucki's debut certainly didn't portend big things; he allowed just two runs over six innings against the Astros, sure, but also walked four and struck out just three. He's been a lot more convincing since. Borucki struck out eight over seven innings against the Tigers and then struck out five over seven more innings against the Yankees on Sunday, while allowing three runs over 14 combined innings since his debut. Overall, he has a 2.25 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, with 16 strikeouts and six walks in 20 innings. Borucki isn't overpowering, but the lefty had a 3.05 ERA over 227 1/3 innings since the start of 2016 in the minors, mostly in Double-A and Triple-A, so there's something here, even if that something is limited to just 15-team mixed leagues these days.
We can't let Mark Reynolds' 10-RBI day Saturday go unremarked on, so here I am, remarking on it. It was, in fact, a remarkable occurrence. But not one Fantasy players should be too interested in. The veteran is hitting .300/.368/.600 on the season, but he's still largely been limited to a reserve role, and that's not likely to change with Ryan Zimmerman potentially set to begin a rehab assignment this week. It was an incredible performance from Reynolds – and he went 8 for 10 with five extra-base hits over the weekend overall – but it probably won't matter for Fantasy in the long run. If you happened to have him in your lineup for Saturday's outburst, please email me the winning lotto numbers for this week. Thanks.
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