Fantasy baseball Waiver Wire: Pick up Chris Johnson, Vernon Wells
One factor considered highly important in fantasy football, but often overlooked in fantasy baseball, is a player's team context. Anyone who has ever played fantasy football takes it as gospel that players on good offenses have more of a chance to make a fantasy impact simply because of the environment. Fantasy baseball owners don't always follow the same tack -- just ask anyone who invested a high pick in Giancarlo Stanton this year -- but the wisdom remains.
If you're looking to get in on the ground floor with a great offense, take a look at Atlanta's Chris Johnson (available in 52 percent of Yahoo leagues, 31 percent of ESPN leagues, and 48 percent of CBS leagues). When Freddie Freeman hit the disabled list with an oblique injury, it opened up an everyday spot for Johnson. He entered the year as part of a platoon at third base with Juan Francisco, but Johnson has shined since moving across the diamond to first, hitting .407 with two homers to this point. Freeman is expected to come off the DL April 22, but Johnson's surge likely means he's firmly on top of the depth chart at third base. Francisco has hit the ball well, too, posting a .292/.320/.479 slash line with three homers in 48 at-bats. However, manager Fredi Gonzalez said Johnson deserves to be in the lineup given what he has done thus far, and all signs point to him taking over as the everyday third baseman when the Braves activate Freeman. Johnson is the beneficiary of a .477 BABIP, but he's earning those hits, evidenced by his 26.1 percent line-drive rate. Johnson holds value in mixed leagues with at least 12 teams, and his multi-position eligibility will allow you some roster flexibility.
Let's get to the rest of the waiver wire:
• Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants (Yahoo: 62 percent, ESPN: 38 percent, CBS: 33 percent) -- Ever since becoming a major league regular in 2011, the Giants have been able to tolerate Crawford's bat because of the wizardry he pulls off at shortstop. However it appears that his bat has caught up a bit, if the first three weeks of the 2013 season are any indication; so far, Crawford's hit .317/.403/.524 with three homers. Crawford never showed any real power before this season, and his home run/fly ball ratio sits at 23.1 percent, so we shouldn't expect the pop carry on at this pace. What could be real, though, are the rates. Crawford has displayed maturing plate discipline this year. He has swung at 28.5 percent of balls outside the strike zone, down from 34.7 percent last year, and has cut his swinging-strike rate to 8.9 percent from 11.4 percent. As such, his walk rate is up to 10.1 percent and his strikeout rate is down to 15.9 percent. He's worth a shot in most mixed-league formats.
• Vernon Wells, New York Yankees (Yahoo: 64 percent, ESPN: 12 percent, CBS: 29 percent) -- In 2012, Ichiro Suzuki's career was injected with some much-needed life after donning the pinstripes. This year, Wells appears to be the aging outfielder resuscitated after bathing in the Bronx waters. We probably shouldn't expect him to continue hitting home runs at a video-game clip (20.8 percent home run/fly ball ratio), but even when he slows down, 20-25 homers feels like a realistic expectation. Moreover, he has a .289 BABIP to go along with his .310/.394/.638 slash, so there's no reason to think he has just been fortunate this April. Wells should be rostered in deep mixed leagues.
• Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox (Yahoo: 82 percent, ESPN: 93 percent, CBS: 36 percent) -- Quintana had an impressive rookie year in 2012, but he has looked like a different guy this season, all starting with the strikeouts. Last year, Quintana struck out 5.35 batters per nine innings, and this year, that's up to 8.66. There are two major differences between the 2012 and 2013 versions of Quintana. First, his average fastball velocity has crept up to 91.3 MPH from 90.4 MPH. Secondly, he is throwing his curveball nearly 50 percent more than he did last year, and is getting great results. To this point, Fangraphs ranks his curveball as the 14th most effective in the majors. These are changes with lasting effects. I'd grab Quintana in all but the shallowest of leagues.
• Ted Lilly, Los Angeles Dodgers (Yahoo: 98 percent, ESPN: 99 percent, CBS: 89 percent) -- The Dodgers are expected to activate Lilly to start against the Mets on April 24. With both Chris Capuano and Chad Billingsley on the shelf, Lilly has a chance to really take a hold of a rotation spot. Lilly's strikeout rate dipped significantly last year, falling all the way to 15.4 percent from 19.8 percent in 2011. However, Lilly's 2012 season was compromised by shoulder woes from the start, and chances are the decline in strikeouts was due to that more than anything. If you're looking for a cheap starter with the opportunity for a healthy return on your investment, Lilly is your guy.
• Marco Scutaro, San Francisco Giants -- If we can take percent ownership at something close to face value, fantasy owners are still holding out hope for Scutaro's 2012 postseason performance to carry over to 2013. The problem with that is Scutaro's entire 2012 season was anomalous. In nine seasons with at least 379 plate appearances, Scutaro his hit over .300 just once and has had an OBP of at least .350 just twice. He retains value in NL-only leagues thanks to his semi-reliable, double-digit home run power, but you shouldn't be holding on to him in even the deepest mixed leagues.
• Barry Zito, San Francisco Giants -- I don't mean to pick on the Giants, I swear. Remember, I had Brandon Crawford in the good part of this column. I just don't see how Zito can be owned in any mixed league with fewer than 14 teams. Even in a league that deep, I wouldn't trust him in every matchup. His one terrible start submarined his numbers, but even with two good outings he still has a 4.86 ERA and 4.28 FIP. He's likely to strike out fewer than seven batters per nine innings for the third consecutive season. This just isn't a guy you want on your roster.