By Eriq Gardner
Time to take a look at some more “toxic assets,” or players who may have been highly drafted but have done little so far this season to warrant fantasy roster spots, besides a recognition of past accomplishments and potential upside.
Deciding when to cut bait on these underperforming players often requires a gut check. But with so much potential help on the waiver wire in standard leagues, teams can only afford so much latitude in giving players time to get their act together.
Let’s examine some pitchers who are candidates for dumping.
Wandy Rodriguez has been a tremendous disappointment this season. He entered the year as a borderline fantasy ace, with solid peripheral skills. In 2009, he posted 14 wins, a 3.02 ERA, and a 1.24 WHIP. He backed those numbers up with a strong strikeout rate (193 in 205 IP), nice command (more than 3 Ks for every BB), and a respectable ground ball rate (45%).
Right now, he’s showing just 3 wins, a 5.60 ERA, and a 1.67 WHIP. He’s gone from a potential #1 on a fantasy team to just the third-based SP on the awful Houston Astros, behind Roy Oswalt and Brett Myers (perhaps behind Felipe Paulino too). What’s especially concerning about Rodriguez is the big dip in his strikeout rate: It’s gone from 8.45 K/9 IP to 6.22 this season. Most recently, he’s shown modest improvement in striking out batters, but unfortunately, it’s gone hand-in-hand with rising numbers of walks and home runs allowed. His xFIP is a pedestrian 4.48 at the moment – much better than his ERA, but still nowhere near his former ace status.
Rodriguez has never been a hard thrower, averaging just over 89 MPH on his fastball throughout his career. Velocity readings show not much change this year, and other than an increased use of his changeup, there doesn’t seem to be that much difference in his pitch selection. Instead, his buckling curveball has become a lot less effective this year, as word spreads that he hasn’t been able to locate it well.
Perhaps this is a minor adjustment, but if it was so easy, he probably would have made it already. Rodriguez’s next two games are both at home, against Texas and San Francisco. He’s traditionally played much better at home. He’s probably a hold for at least another couple of games, but if he can’t turn in a solid game against the weak-hitting Giants at home, he deserves to be cut.
Rich Harden recently went on the injured list, which in some ways may have been good news for some owners with DL roster allowances. Before succumbing to the inevitable injury, Harden was terrible, posting just 3 wins, a 5.68 ERA, and a 1.68 WHIP.
Harden wasn’t great in 2009 with an ERA over 4 and a WHIP at 1.34. But he performed better than his superficial stats may have suggested, striking out nearly 11 batters per 9 innings and posting a solid xFIP of 3.70.
This year, Harden’s strikeouts are down to 8.17 Ks per 9, which would be a strong enough rate if not for the fact that his command has been truly lousy. He’s walking nearly 6 batters per 9 IP, the worst rate in the major leagues. Harden is also allowing more HRs (nearly 2 per 9 IP) and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that putting men on base by walk and then allowing HRs is not a formula for success.
If he wasn’t on the DL, we’d recommend he be dropped. After all, the injury-prone player misses a lot of time anyway and plays in one of the friendliest hitters’ environments. If fantasy teams have room to stash him on DL in hopes of a turnaround after getting healthy, that’s fine. However, he shouldn’t be given much rope even when he does return.
Ricky Nolasco hasn’t won many fans this season with 5 wins, a 5.05 ERA, and a 1.38 WHIP.
He’s also no stranger to bedeviling fantasy owners. Last season, his ERA was in the 9’s in May before he got demoted to the minors. Nolasco eventually brought his ERA down to 5.05 by season’s end; his xFIP was an outstanding 3.28.
But last season, Nolasco was striking out more than a batter per inning and flashing elite command. In 2010, his strikeout rate has dipped down to 6.6 K/9 and his flyball and HR rates have both climbed. According to an analysis by Mike Axisa at Fangraphs, the problem seems to stem from lost movement on his pitches, which has made them easier for batters to connect.
Nolasco has a neutral upcoming schedule, with battles against the Rangers, Orioles, and Mets. It’s also important to note that Nolasco could be a trade candidate for the Marlins, which may take him out of the stadium that ranks fourth-best for hitters this season. For now, Nolasco shouldn’t be dumped, but his leash is definitely growing shorter.
For more on hold-or-dump toxic assets, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools