I'll tell you what I felt when I found out Dane Dunning struck out a career-high 11 over 7 2/3 innings Wednesday: annoyed.
I was due to write Waiver Wire the next morning, and I didn't want to have to make it all about him. What was I supposed to say, that a guy with no more than four strikeouts in any of his past five appearances and an overall 6.2 K/9 rate was suddenly a force to be reckoned with? Maybe not, but then there's also the 3.14 ERA, the 1.14 WHIP, and all the advantages that come with having the league's best offense behind him. Oh, and let's not forget the impending arrival of Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery, which might ultimately spell Dunning's return to the bullpen. How ever would I sort out the rampant contradictions?
Alas, I was spared. Turns out Dunning is already rostered in 80 percent of CBS Sports leagues, which is the maximum allowable threshold for this article. But that presents another problem, doesn't it? If such a pitcher is too widely rostered to discuss in a waiver wire context, what does it mean for the state of starting pitching as a whole?
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It's why I think we have to pay deference to what Nick Pivetta has done recently. We all have pitching staffs to fill out, and we all have to make do at times with what's there for the taking. As flawed as it all is, why not go for the unlikely home run?
I'll explain in greater detail what I mean, but let's begin with an under-the-radar trade acquisition who has already caught fire for his new team.
CHC Chi. Cubs • #9 • Age: 30
Candelario has played two games for his new team. He has eight hits, raising his batting average from .258 to .273. Three of those hits were doubles, and his 33 trail only Freddie Freeman. That's a big reason why he's a top-10 third baseman in points leagues, the format that actually rewards doubles, but you may be just as surprised to learn he's top-12 in Rotisserie, the format that requires every team to start an extra corner infielder. My hunch is that he's been playing over his head, which is supported by his .242 xBA and .414 xSLG. But I'll note that this is his first year outside of Comerica Park, which is the most stifling of venues for a hitter who lives in the gaps. We saw the effect on Nick Castellanos once he escaped (coincidentally, to the Cubs), so maybe it's not a stretch to think Candelario is really this good.
BAL Baltimore • #6 • Age: 26
Mountcastle got off to a poor start this year and then missed about a month with a (possibly related) case of vertigo, so you can understand why his roster rate dipped below the 80 percent threshold even though he's a player of Fantasy renown. In 17 games since returning, he's batting .413 (19 for 46) with two homers and seven doubles. His average exit velocity during that time is 93.8 mph. Clearly, he's feeling like himself again, and he said as much after returning. "I felt like the ball was a pea size, and it was just blowing by me for a couple games there," he said, adding that he feels "like a normal human again." The right-handed slugger plays in maybe the worst possible venue for his skill set, but he hits the ball with such authority (now that he's hitting it again) that he'll be well worth starting in Fantasy, particularly at first base.
HOU Houston • #20 • Age: 28
It was about a week ago that I featured McCormick here as a surprising 28-year-old breakthrough for the Astros, but things have only gotten better since then. He homered twice Wednesday, giving him 15 overall and 10 since June 13, a stretch during which he's batting .339 (42 for 124) with eight stolen bases. It's not too surprising he's the ninth-best outfielder in points leagues during that stretch, averaging as many points per game as Juan Soto. It's almost certainly too good to be true, but his multi-faceted skill set could make for a gentle landing now that he's a true everyday player. At this point, I don't see how you pass McCormick even in three-outfielder leagues.
Nick Pivetta RP
BOS Boston • #37 • Age: 30
With his 10 strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings Monday, Pivetta now has a 2.27 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 14.2 K/9 in his past seven appearances. I've been around a while, I'm familiar with the Nick Pivetta experience, and I'm fairly certain that this latest rendition ends much the same way, with broken hearts and bloated ERAs. But it's August. The waiver wire is tapped out at starting pitcher. What's available is all pretty volatile, so why single out Pivetta, who at least for the moment is looking outright dominant? True, much of it has come as a bulk reliever -- Monday's outing was his first true start during this stretch -- but his success hasn't been contingent on shorter outings. Not only did he go 7 1/3 innings this time but he also had a six-inning outing in which he allowed no hits and struck out 13.
Andres Munoz RP
SEA Seattle • #75 • Age: 24
I've been shouting from the rooftops that Munoz is the big winner from the trade deadline with Paul Sewald going to the Diamondbacks, but the one place I haven't addressed it yet is in the semi-weekly Waiver Wire column. And clearly I need to given that his roster rate has risen only 14 percentage points since the trade. Maybe his perfect ninth inning with two strikeouts Wednesday will say more than I can, alleviating concerns that manager Scott Servais will return to his by-committee roots. It's only injuries that have kept Munoz out of the closer role this long, from his Tommy John surgery while still with the Padres to his shoulder strain earlier this year. The 24-year-old has an arsenal much like former Mariners closer Edwin Diaz, featuring a fastball that peaks at 103 mph and a slider with better than a 50 percent whiff rate.
Cole Ragans SP
KC Kansas City • #55 • Age: 25
If I'm claiming in my case for Nick Pivetta that the well has run dry at starting pitcher and we may have to take bigger risks just to fill out our lineups, then I'd be remiss not to point out what Ragans did in his return to the Royals rotation Wednesday. Filling the spot vacated by Ryan Yarbrough at the trade deadline, he had the Mets flailing meekly at his four-pitch arsenal, which was all brought together by a much slower cutter than he's implemented in the past. Really, it was more of a slider, which he thinks will create more differentiation with his fastball and help to neutralize lefties. They were on the other end of four of his eight strikeouts in this one. One good start may not be reason to rush out and add Ragans, but between this new pitch and the velocity bump he's enjoyed all year, there may be something here.