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June 26, 2015

Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner

Week 13

by Wilson Karaman

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Forty-one total options will toe the rubber this week, with the edge—at least in terms of volume—going to the AL. Within the 22 junior-circuit options, however, six are non-starters with a full 12 more piled into a clown car for consideration. We’re still waiting on the Royals to announce their second potential two-start option for meetings with Houston and Minnesota, but odds are that dude’ll make for a baker’s dozen in the “consider” bag. The NL outlook is slightly rosier, though the quality of options deteriorates rapidly in the middle of that “consider” stack.

As far as the nuts and bolts guidelines for what lies within, the pitchers will be split by league and then by categories:

Auto-Starts – These are your surefire fantasy aces. You paid a handsome sum for these guys, either with an early draft pick, high dollar auction bid, or significant haul of prospects or MLB talent. These are the top 20 or so starters in baseball, so you’re starting them anywhere, anytime. Guys can emerge onto or fall off of this list as the season evolves. There won’t be many—if any—notes associated with these groupings each week, unless a player has just moved up or is in imminent danger of moving down.

Starts – These are the guys I’m recommending you put into your lineup this week. Some will be obvious, but not quite auto-start excellent, while others will be waiver-wire fodder who find themselves with a pair of favorable outings that you can take advantage of in your league.

Considers – As mentioned earlier, these guys will be on the fence and your league settings and position in the standings will really be the decider here. A pitcher in this category can be your number two starter with a tough week of matchups in Boston and Colorado. Or conversely if the Cincinnati Reds’ fifth starter is slated to face the Braves at home followed by a stop-over in Philadelphia, he will appear on this list because the matchups are great even though he might not be. Your particular league settings will have a lot to say here; if you are in a 10-team mixed league you probably don’t need to take the risk, but a 10-team AL-only leaguer might see it as a nice opportunity to log some quality innings from a freely available resource.

Sits – These are the guys I’m staying away from this week. They will range in talent from solid to poor. With mixed leagues smaller than 16 teams my default position for all two-start pitchers who rank outside of the top 60 or so is to sit them unless the matchups dictate otherwise. Additionally, mid-rotation starters who face a couple tough draws will find themselves in this category more often than not.

At the season’s outset the majority of these recommendations will come to pass as a combination of ADP/auction price and PECOTA projections for opponent strength. As the season rolls on and we get some more concrete data points for how both the pitchers themselves and their opponents are actually performing, the formula will gradually evolve into a performance-based projection.

As a general frame of reference, when I talk about “deep” leagues I’m talking very broadly about mixed leagues with at least 16 teams and –only leagues with at least 10. “Medium-depth” leagues refer to mixed 12- and 14-teams and –onlies with eight or nine. “Shallow leagues” will refer to mixed 10-teamers and –only leagues with less than eight teams.

As always the standard disclaimer applies to these match-up previews that all start schedules are subject to unfortunately frequent change on account of rainouts, injuries, managers arbitrarily shuffling their rotations, etc. And of course, if you have questions about any of the starters I don’t expand upon in the body of the article feel free to inquire in the comments.

With that, on to the Starting Pitcher Planner!

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Cole Hamels

MIL, @ATL

Gerrit Cole

@DET, CLE

START

Shelby Miller

WAS, PHI

Jaime Garcia

CHW, SDG

Jordan Zimmermann

@ATL, SFG

Mike Leake

MIN, MIL

Notes:

The peripherals continue to suggest imminent regression for Miller, whose performance to date has looked on paper like that of a league-average starter instead of the borderline-top 15 guy he’s been on account of his topline numbers. Still, the gains he’s made with his ground-ball rate are real and they’re spectacular, and the Nationals tend to hit a lot of those. The Phillies, when they hit anything, don’t tend to hit it hard regardless. The more difficult Nationals start leans Miller’s way on account of a collective .488 OPS against for that team’s hitters in 69 plate appearances, and Miller makes for a solid play this week in all formats.

Start Jaime Garcia this week! Quick, before his shoulder explodes! The matchups are awesome! He’s pitching great baseball! Hurry up! Go now!

While you’re at it, stream Mike Leake. He doesn’t have the rosiest of underlying indicators, but he does boast a sweet schedule this week. He’s pitched pretty well lately, with a 2.45 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 26 strikeouts to six walks over his past five starts (33 innings), and he’ll see two of the four worst offenses in baseball by TAv this week. Yum.

CONSIDER

Mike Bolsinger

@ARI, NYM

Kyle Hendricks

@NYM, MIA

Ian Kennedy

SEA, @STL

Rubby de la Rosa

LAD, COL

David Hale

@OAK, @ARI

Mat Latos

SFG, @CHC

Ryan Vogelsong

@MIA, @WAS

Jorge de la Rosa

@OAK @ARI

Taylor Jungmann

@PHI, @CIN

Jimmy Nelson

@PHI, @CIN

Notes:

The thing about Mike Bolsinger is he’s kind of a unique guy. He throws three different pitches, each with similar trajectory moving down and away to right-handed hitters, and he offers a distinct arm slot for each pitch. And yet, despite the similarities in arsenal and distinct “tell,” he’s been able to consistently get major-league hitters out, well, all season long. You’d have to think eventually one or both of these realities will conspire to knock the gravy train off the tracks, and there’s been some evidence of that possibly creeping in over his last couple starts. But for the time being, he’s still pitched to the 26th-best DRA- of any starter and been one of the better values in all of fantasy baseball. The schedule’s fairly balanced, and I’d just as soon roll with him and try to stretch that value for at least another week.

You know what’s kind of crazy? Kyle Hendricks has been a pretty okay starter thus far in the 2015 campaign. His 99 cFIP puts him just inside the top 60 starters in baseball, though poor win karma and an unduly inflated ERA have suppressed his standard-format value to date. He draws two mediocre-to-poor offenses this week and makes for a nice little NL-only play or mixed-league streaming option where he’s available.

Rubby De La Rosa has been quite the rollercoaster ride this year, and one of the biggest reasons why has been an extreme split versus left-handed batters, who’ve pummeled him to the tune of a .960 OPS against in about 190 plate appearances. That’s not a typo. Unfortunately for him, he’ll draw two of the better offenses in baseball for performance by left-handed hitters against right-handed pitchers. His recent performance has been encouraging, but I’d be skeptical about trusting him for two this week.

David Hale is an interesting dude this week, somehow. Hidden beneath an ERA and home-run rate that five out of six starts at Coors Field can produce lies an intriguing 30-to-7 K:BB ratio and a DRA well below his ERA. The slider and change have both produced above-average whiff rates, and he’s started going to each more often over the past month as he’s had success with them. Two starts outside of Coors mitigate a whole bunch of risk and make him a nice under-the-radar stream option for NL-onlies and even some deeper mixed leagues where you’re feeling randy.

Mat Latos’ velocity has ticked back up to where it was at the end of 2013 since his return from the DL, and while he’s still giving up unpleasant contact, he’s at least missing enough bats now to where he’s on the cusp of being a viable fantasy starter again. The Cubs are a rapidly improving offense, perhaps, but they’re also a crew that strikes out more than their fair share. The Giants, meanwhile, are a very sneaky offense, as despite their reputation and overall production they’ve actually been the best hitting club in baseball on the road this year. So while Latos’ reemergence is a welcome sight to his owners, some caution is warranted before tossing him into your lineup for the two-start without a second thought.

Bartolo Colon for two starts. BARTOLO COLON FOR TWO STARTS! On the real though, these aren’t the best matchups for ol’ Bartolo, and while he’s a nifty bet to get you close to a quality start against the more modest offenses around, his struggles with the long ball make him a risky play against teams that can hit bombs like both of his opponents this week. I’d limit his usage to NL-only formats where you need the innings and win potential.

It’s awfully difficult to get excited about the prospect of starting Jimmy Nelson for two turns. That’s especially true on the road, where he’s staggered his way to a 4.74 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, and 31-to-23 K:BB ratio in over 40 innings now. He’s worth considering only in NL-only leagues on account of that date with the Phillies. The Reds have been a decent/respectable/mediocre offense at home, but the balance of the week’s matchups tilt decidedly in Nelson’s favor with the field trip to Citizens Bank on the docket. I’d just as soon turn to his rotation-mate Taylor Jungmann, and that’s saying something give my inherent bearishness in trusting rookie hurlers.

SIT

Allen Webster

LAD, COL

Sean O'Sullivan

MIL, @ATL

Notes:

The Allen Webster Project just hasn’t ever really come together despite a premium arsenal, and not even in the deepest, darkest corners of 15-team NL-only sim leagues should Webster he be on the radar as a potential start.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Sonny Gray

COL, SEA

STARTS

Carlos Carrasco

@TAM, @PIT

Danny Salazar

@TAM, @PIT

Kendall Graveman

COL, SEA

Notes:

Honestly, I’m tired of parsing recommendations for both of these Cleveland starters. Both Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco have rated as elite options according to cFIP pretty much all year, but they both continue to suffer from Cleveland’s terrible defense (and in Salazar’s case an inflated home-run rate that may just be the cost of doing business with him). These are two of the best strikeout options in the American League, though, and they’ll both draw the same neutral set of matchups this week. Both opponents can be struck out, and each of these guys makes for a perfectly reasonable start in any format despite some modest frustrating WHIP and ERA liability.

Kendall Graveman is on quite the heater of late, working at least seven innings and allowing two runs or less in each of his last four starts. His sinker/cutter combination has shown effectively, and he’s generating enough swings and misses from his curveball to legitimize it as a third pitch. By DRA he hasn’t pitched as well as the numbers suggest thus far, and by cFIP we shouldn’t expect the numbers to continue. He draws two bottom-third road offenses this week, however, and given the recent body of work and schedule, he’s a nice back-end starting option.

CONSIDER

Clay Buchholz

@TOR, HOU

Miguel Gonzalez

TEX, @CHW

Phil Hughes

@CIN, @KCR

Mike Montgomery

@SDG, @OAK

Lance McCullers

KCR, @BOS

Nathan Karns

CLE, @NYY

Marco Estrada

BOS, @DET

Wandy Rodriguez

@BAL, LAA

Colby Lewis

@BAL, LAA

Mike Pelfrey

@CIN, @KCR

Danny Duffy

@HOU, MIN

C.J. Wilson

NYY, @TEX

Notes:

By the advanced numbers at least, Clay Buchholz continues to be among the better starters in the American League, checking in 31st overall in DRA- and 20th in cFIP. He’s benefitted greatly from the value of Sandy Leon’s Firehose as his personal catcher, and the underlying performance suggests he is (or at least is near) the ace that the Red Sox have supposedly lacked. Problem is, he runs into the best home offense in baseball followed by an Astros team that’s been a top-three unit over the past 30 days. He’s actually pitched quite well at the Rogers Centre throughout his career, including a quality start earlier this season, but that’s an awful lot of landmines to dodge in one week of work. I’d be careful and play the context: If you’re in reasonable shape pitching-wise right now, there’s probably no use taking on this kind of risk. If you need to hit a couple of inside straights to get back into the thick of things, gambling on a solid starter with poor matchups isn’t the worst way to go about it.

I’m a fan of Miguel Gonzalez’s work in general, though he’ll be a bit of a tough read this week making just his second and third starts off the DL from a strained groin. The match-ups are right, however: Texas has been a below-average offense outside of its friendly home confines, and the White Sox continue to set the pace at the bottom of the team TAv barrel. In AL-onlies and medium-depth mixed leagues, he’s pretty good to go, but I’d probably play it cautiously in shallower mixed formats.

What stood out as much as anything (other than the results) from Mike Montgomery’s gem against the Royals last time out was a significant boost in his cutter usage to anchor what is basically a full-on five-pitch arsenal. He’s generating a 21 percent whiff rate with the pitch, and I suspect we haven’t seen the last of it. He’s generating absurd horizontal movement with his pitches: nigh-on double-plus with three and 80-grade action on the cutter. That’s helping him significantly limit hard contact thus far, and given that he plays in front of one of the more efficient defenses in baseball, it’s been a nice symbiotic relationship. He’ll draw a nice set of road matchups against manageable offenses in good pitching parks this week, making him a solid play in AL-only and medium-depth mixed leagues.

I’m not writing anything else about Mike Pelfrey this year. #blessed

C.J. Wilson has posted solid overall numbers to date, and by our metrics projects to continue posting solid overall numbers. These matchups look pretty ugly for the lefthander, however, as the Old Man Yankees have pounded lefties (including Wilson recently) all year. For their part, Texas hasn’t been outstanding against southpaws by any means, but they have been outstanding at home and boast several regulars with a four-digit career OPSs against this particular lefty. I’d look elsewhere where I’m able.

SIT

Bud Norris

TEX, @CHW

Eduardo Rodriguez

@TOR, HOU

Justin Verlander

PIT, TOR

C.C. Sabathia

@LAA, TAM

Erasmo Ramirez

CLE, @NYY

R.A. Dickey

BOS, @DET

Notes:

As a Red Sox fan especially, I’ve absolutely loved what I’ve seen from Rodriguez since his call-up, with the one big exception of course being the rude greeting he received from these same Blue Jays a couple of starts ago. I buy what he’s done otherwise, but the hard truth remains that he’s still a rookie starter, and he’ll see two of the best offenses in baseball against left-handed pitching this week, including those Blue Jays (who lead the world by a lot in offensive efficiency against fairer-handed starters). Watch him intently, by all means, but do so while he comfortably rides your pine this week.

I actually lobbied, albeit modestly, for Sabathia as a cheap, solid option for the back end of fantasy rotations recently. And while I stand by that conclusion in general, it is awfully tough to trust a guy who goes out and gets his bell rung by that awful Philadelphia offense, especially when he’s rocking the topline numbers Sabathia is currently rocking. The CC Reclamation Project is on hold this week, as I can’t in good conscience recommend him for two starts.

Erasmo Ramirez has been a nice surprise, and while he’ll apparently be able to avoid a DL stint after leaving his last start with a groin issue, the injury uncertainty is enough to push him to the bench rather than risk another short turn or compromised mechanics to protect the weakness.

Wilson Karaman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Wilson's other articles. You can contact Wilson by clicking here

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