One of the nice things about fantasy baseball, as opposed to real baseball, is our ability to focus on nothing but the numbers. We don't have to march out riff-raff every five days just because our ace pitcher needs a rest. We can choose from a wide array of free agents and take a chance that they have one good game, and then cut them loose.
At this point in the year, the waiver wire is the only place to improve your team. So this week, I'll focus on guys who are available in 75 percent or more of ESPN leagues and highlight which stat categories they can help you with.
Looking for: Wins
Jeff Weaver, SP, Mariners: It's actually quite astounding that Weaver is still available in 98.7 percent of ESPN leagues, but it also shows that fantasy owners aren't ones to forgive and forget. Weaver has burned many veteran fantasy baseball players at one time or another. Let's face two facts though: The Mariners are winning and Weaver is pitching well. There have been only a couple of blowouts in his record since he came back from the DL in June. He is the best free-agent target for anyone looking for all-around pitching numbers. Just watch the matchups for any sign of trouble.
Noah Lowry, SP, Giants: Lowry's only drawback is quite evident when you look at his walk numbers. He is not going to help you win WHIP. However, he has allowed more than three earned runs only once since June 18. His strikeouts are marginally useful as well, but you want to target Lowry for leagues where you need consistent help in ERA. He is a little less available than Weaver, but is still on the wire in 76.3 percent of ESPN leagues.
Joe Saunders, SP, Angels: You can find a lot of documentation on the Web telling you that Saunders doesn't offer anything to your fantasy team, and that a blowup is on the way. Yes, he is allowing a few too many hits, but by limiting his walks and keeping the ball on the ground he is getting out of trouble. He is allowing fewer than 1.00 home runs per nine innings and pitches for the second-winningest team in baseball. His availability borders on 97 percent in ESPN leagues and as long as you aren't looking for a whole bunch of strikeouts, Saunders is someone to add. Only consider benching him against teams that are really strong versus lefties.
Jeff Francis, P, Rockies: Francis is for those fantasy teams that aren't really concerned with their ERA and WHIP. He'll be slightly below average in those two categories at the end of the year, but his wins and strikeouts are going to be well above average. The Rockies can overcome any extra runs he surrenders with their strong offense and he pitches deep enough into games to give them that opportunity. Francis is on the wire in 79 percent of ESPN leagues and offers a great way to improve on the aggregate pitching stats.
Kyle Kendrick, SP, Phillies: Kendrick is one of the most boring options there is, but he'll get you those wins. His ERA, WHIP and strikeouts are all exceptionally average. However, Kendrick is on the team that sits third in the league for OPS (.809), so as long as he hangs around long enough the offense will get him the win. Kendrick can be plucked from the pool in 98.4 percent of ESPN leagues and if all you are looking for are a few wins to move up the standings, Kendrick is as good a bet as anyone.
Jon Lester, SP, Red Sox: Lester's Tuesday night performance really defines how he can be valuable in fantasy. He allowed five runs and four hits over 5 1/3 innings, yet still picked up the win. Lester has powerful stuff, but his command is still developing. That leaves him open to being rocked on occasion. Nevertheless, even a blowup can still result in a win when you are pitching for the league's best offense. Lester is available in 91.3 percent of ESPN leagues.
Looking for: Strikeouts
Shawn Hill, SP, Nationals: I love watching Hill's breaking stuff, and it's no personal swipe against the Montreal … er … Washington Nationals, but the only stat I see lacking for Hill is wins. The Nats certainly have had a lively offense at times this year, but it hasn't been consistent enough to count on getting wins from their staff. That said, Hill is going to smoke in every other fantasy category you want from your starters. He's available in 94.6 percent of ESPN leagues and offers a great boost to any staff that isn't depending on wins to move up the standings.
Dustin McGowan, SP, Blue Jays: Seven of his nine starts since the start of July have been quality starts. This future No. 2 fantasy starter is coming into his own this season. While he hasn't quite been a strikeout-per-inning guy, McGowan has 97 K's in 122 1/3 innings. He is available in 94.6 percent of ESPN leagues. McGowan's home runs allowed are going to keep his ERA out of the elite range, but if it's strictly strikeouts you are after, he makes a good pickup. He doesn't walk too many guys either and will keep a tidy WHIP.
Dave Bush, SP, Brewers: Through all the trouble with earned runs that Bush has had all season, the strikeout has been with him consistently. If that's all you need, Bush's availability of more than 80 percent should make him an option.
Looking for: Ratios
Matt Garza, SP, Twins: Still available in 76 percent of ESPN leagues, Garza is for those who need to try to chip away at their ERA and WHIP. He won't be that reliable for wins or a lot of strikeouts, but Garza keeps men off the base paths and when they do get on, holds them from scoring. His ERA before his Aug. 20 hiccup against Seattle was a sparkling 2.05. The only caution with Garza is that he is approaching his innings from last season and if the Twins don't start gaining some ground in the wild card or AL Central, they might shut him down. If not, he offers great ERA and WHIP numbers from here on out.
Brian Bannister, SP, Royals: For crying out loud, just because he's a Royal doesn't mean you can ignore him. Bannister's availability in 90.6 percent of ESPN leagues is atrocious. He has maintained an ERA of 3.00 or better for three straight months now, while collecting all 10 of his wins in that span. If you need a big impact on your ERA or WHIP, Bannister is your man.
Lenny DiNardo, SP, Athletics: The vast majority of DiNardo's starts are of the six-inning-or-fewer variety, so his impact on ERA and WHIP won't be as strong. It's hard to argue with someone who has only three of 15 starts where more than three earned runs were counted against him, though. DiNardo's on the wire in 96.5 percent of ESPN leagues for those needing just a mild, but safe, boost to their ERA and WHIP.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com and TalentedMrRoto.com. He can be reached at alla_rino@TalentedMrRoto.com.