by Will Overton
We’re getting to a point in the season where it’s time to make your move or you’re never going to make it. To do this you need to know where to shore your team up at and where you can give a little bit of slack. An informed fantasy owner is a more successful fantasy owner.
The mistake that way too many fantasy owners make is they blindly add guys without consideration of their team. Maybe the guy you are adding is a fine player, maybe he’s the best overall player on the waiver wire, but if he doesn’t fill a need what good is he?
Before you hit the waiver wire in search of your next big addition you should make a pit stop by the standings page in your league and see where you line up in each category. If you are winning stolen bases by 15 steals and trailing the 5th place guy in HR’s by just a few, add a slugger, even if he’s not the best overall player. That’s the beauty of fantasy baseball, it takes a whole lot of strategy. Often times it’s the most attentive and hardest working manager that wins the league, or at least overachieves with a poorly drafted squad in some cases.
So with this lecture in mind, we’re going to focus on finding help in one specific category, and today it’s strikeouts. Maybe Matt Harrison is the best pitcher available in your league, if you need K’s and not wins his 5.36 K/9 rate won’t do you much good, even if he does have a bunch of wins and a respectable ERA.
So I think I have firmly driven home my point now and so we’ll move on and look at some of the waiver wire’s top strikeout artists:
Francisco Liriano – Minnesota Twins: He should already be owned in a whole lot more than the 20% of leagues he’s currently rostered in. What this tells me is that everyone has owned Francisco Liriano at some point over the last couple of seasons and has been burned by his terribleness. It’s hard for any of us to believe he’s finally putting it together, and I can’t blame you for being hesitant. But if you need K’s, you should be bold and take the leap. It’s not like he can’t be dropped when/if trouble arises. In his six starts since returning to the rotation though he has 40 K’s in 37.1 IP. And while it isn’t great, he’s only walked 14, which is pretty good for him. It’s hard to stomach, but this guy might be the best strikeout pitcher available in any league.
Jonathon Niese – New York Mets: There is something in the water in New York and the Mets are striking guys out at an alarming rate. Niese though has a history of being a solid K guy with a 7.89 K/9 last season. He’s just stepped it up a notch this season and currently sits at 8.71 K/9. And he’s doing more than striking guys out, he’s keeping them from crossing home plate in general with a 1.89 ERA for the month of June. Niese doesn’t get talked about with the big time strikeout pitchers in the game, but he’s got the numbers this season that puts him up there. Anyone with a K/9 close to 9.0 and an ERA in the mid 3’s is deserving of more than 35% ownership.
Phil Hughes – New York Yankees: I mentioned him the other day in my morning recap post and I am bringing his name back up again, Phil Hughes deserves a look in standard leagues, especially for teams looking for K’s. If one of these other two guys are available, I’d probably take one of them, Niese being my first choice. But Phil Hughes looks good right now and you can’t just ignore that cause you assume the wheels are coming off soon. Hughes strikeout rate suffered last season, but his whole game struggled last season. In 2010 he struck out 7.5 per nine and out of the bullpen in 2009 he was over 10 K/9. Hughes can throw the ball by people and he’s pitching well right now. Four of his last five starts were quality ones and were also wins. He has a 2.67 ERA in June and most importantly he’s struck out 32 guys in his last 33 innings. He has to be considered.
Jake Arrieta – Baltimore Orioles: This guy goes from good to bad and back again in a hurry so buyer beware. But he has standard league talent if he could just pull it all together. Arrieta is currently on one of his hot streaks at present with just six runs allowed in his last three starts and a strong 18 K’s in his last 20 IP. Despite his inconsistencies this season Arrieta has maintained a K/9 right around the 8.0 mark, which is about what he showed the ability to do in the minor leagues as a top prospect. There are also signs that the rest of his game should catch up to his K’s considering he has a remarkably low 60% LOB and a higher than normal .314 BABIP against. The tools are there, he’s just got to keep it together for multiple starts, if you need K’s you might have to gamble here.
Michael Fiers – Milwaukee Brewers: The Brew Crew were set to move Fiers from the rotation to the bullpen it looked like, but considering Shawn Marcum’s recent injury and Fiers’ success he should be in the rotation for a while now. So far in 33.1 innings, spanning five starts and a relief appearance, Fiers has 31 strikeouts including seven his last start against the White Sox. And he only has five walks allowed which is even better. With a fastball that averages 88 MPH and barely tops 90 at its best it’s hard to imagine him maintaining a strong K rate, but the numbers don’t lie. Fiers has posted a K/9 rate of 9.0 or better in each of his three minor league seasons and so far he’s getting it done in the majors too. Guys don’t come out of nowhere like this too often for deep leaguers, so it might be best to leave the reservations to the side and take a chance.
Luke Hochevar – Kansas City Royals: This one might be a stretch, but I still believe Luke Hochevar has strikeout potential and he’s pitching well right now. Hochevar has never posted dominant K/9 rates, but he is over 7.0 this season so far and he ended last season with 56 K’s in his final 60 IP. So he appears to have learned something and is putting it to good use. He’s also been getting the rest of his game put together nicely with a strong showing in June, ending with his current 16.2 IP scoreless streak, which includes 14 K’s. Hochevar won’t ever be an elite strikeout pitcher, but he has the ability to be a 7.5 – 8.0 K/9 guy still, possibly still this season.
Are you in need of strikeouts? Who are some of the top strikeout pitchers on your waiver wire right now? Did I not dig deep enough for your league? Feel free to leave me some names and I’ll be more than happy to give my opinion.