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2021 MLB Hot Stove Update: Anthony DeSclafani and Michael Wacha find quality landing spots

Heath examines the latest (noteworthy) MLB transactions.

Milwaukee Brewers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Here’s a description of the origin of the “Hot Stove” from MLB.com, just because I think it’s awesome:

In the early days of baseball, Hot Stove Season referred to an actual baseball season: Hot Stove Leagues, in which MLB players would stay in shape by playing baseball in their hometowns while staying warm with actual hot stoves.

The term soon expanded to become a kind of predecessor to the water cooler — on a cold day, fans would gather around the hot stove to discuss their favorite team.

How nostalgic! Anyway, obviously the “Hot Stove” now refers to this time in our lives when free agent signings and trades are prevalent. And if we don’t discuss them as they happen, I’ll lose track. So that’s the aim in this space.

If you’re looking to see EVERY transaction, here’s a helpful link to MLB.com. However, in this space I’ll be discussing only the most fantasy-relevant news. On the docket today are a pair of veteran starting pitchers, each landing in a pretty favorable spot for 2021.

Anthony DeSclafani signs a one-year deal with the San Francisco Giants

“Tony Disco” lands with San Fran for a cool $6 million for 2021. This seems like a smart career move, as the Giants are quickly becoming a desired locale for pitchers seeking to rebuild their value (see Smyly, Drew and Gausman, Kevin). Anyway, DeSclafani has had a couple of good seasons recently (2016, 2019) and a couple of not so good ones (2018, 2020). Of course, the 2020 year was a small sample, and DeSclafani reportedly struggled with tipping his pitches. However, his average fastball velocity held steady at 94.9 MPH, and it was even up a tick from 2019’s 94.7 MPH mark. So odds are, he’s healthy...which is great news for a guy who missed all of 2017 with a UCL injury.

Like Kevin Gausman, DeSclafani could probably benefit from less fastball usage, and more usage of his secondary offerings. In DeSclafani’s case, that would be beefing up the use of his slider. Even in a 2020 season when he struggled, batters still only managed a .220/.261/.350 slash against the pitch. It was also the primary means by which DeSclafani induced swings outside of the zone, at an above-average 33.3% rate. This was an area where DeSclafani struggled overall in 2020. Expect DeSclafani’s fastball usage to continue trending down, as it has already been doing since 2018. Here are his numbers since that time: 57.9%, 55.5%, and 51.3%. For what it’s worth, Kevin Gausman was on a similar trend prior to joining up with the Giants. In 2018 and 2019, Gausman leaned on the heater plenty, at 58.5% and 57.1%. But in his 2020 season with San Francisco, that usage dropped to only 51.2%. Let’s hope “Tony Disco” follows that pattern, and beefs up the use of his sneaky-deep arsenal (he can throw five pitches). DeSclafani’s current ADP for the full the NFBC draft season (Draft Champions format only) is 550. If you sort for the full month of December he’s being selected on average at 525. And if you only consider the last five Draft Champions tilts since December 7th, his average is up to 479. That’s a price I’m happy to pay, to see if the Giants can help another 30-year-old build up his value.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Mets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Michael Wacha signs a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays

The AL Champions let Charlie Morton walk, electing not to pay the $15 million club option it would have taken to retain his services. Instead, they now have Wacha for a fraction of that cost, at only $3 million. Wacha is 29 years old, and coming off of eight appearances for the Mets (seven starts) in 2020. Over his 34 innings, Wacha stuck out 37 batters and only walked seven. And the small sample caveat applies to all of this, but Wacha allowed far more hard contact in 2020. The 8.2% barrel rate was the highest of his career, as was the 43.6% hard hit rate. The average launch angle allowed by Wacha took a disturbing turn upward, at 15.2 degrees on average. For reference, from 2015 to 2019, here are his average launch angles (in degrees): 10.5, 8.9, 10.0, 9.2, and 9.7. I’m no genius, but elevating more AND making more hard contact seems like a bad recipe.

All that said, the Rays are noted wizards with pitching, and it would be foolish to ignore the signing of a veteran guy with three pitches, one with a career 4.01 ERA. Of note, Wacha’s 11.3% swinging strike rate in 2020 was his best mark since his rookie 2013 year, when he posted an 11.4% mark. He also induced more swings outside of the zone than ever before (34.3%) and allowed the second-lowest contact rate and zone-contact rate of his career. The 6.62 ERA was ghastly, but Statcast gave him an xERA of 4.45, while his FIP (5.25) and xFIP (4.30) also painted a prettier picture than his actual ERA. Still, that added swing-and-miss appears to have come at a price, given all the hard contact and the career-high 2.38 HR/9. But we are still only talking 34 innings, folks. If the added strikeouts and minuscule walk rate continue, the Rays could have something here.

As for NFBC ADP, if you consider all 33 Draft Champions tilts since October, Wacha’s ADP is 709. If you just consider the month of December (10 drafts) he’s up to pick 646. And if you consider the last five drafts since December 7th, he’s up to pick 601. His price still isn’t prohibitive, and I’m pretty into taking a late-round shot on a guy the Rays are betting on.

What about you, gamers? Thoughts on this pair of reclamation projects? I’m a sucker for so-called “boring” veterans, especially pitchers on the move to quality pitching environments.