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April 30, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Weekly Planner #5

by Craig Brown

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A smorgasbord of pitchers with two starts for your fantasy consideration this week.  Quite a few duds, though.  There are plenty of the easy picks, but there are still a plenty gems to examine this week.

I decided to shake up the formatting a bit.  The starters are still divided by league, but now they come with a recommendation.  Either “Start,” “Consider” or “Sit.”  Obviously, there’s going to be a bit of a “duh” factor when it comes to who you should start and who you should sit.  My aim is to provide an interesting tidbit that is relevant and supports the recommendation, no matter who we’re discussing.  

Please leave feedback on the format and questions on the starters in the comments section.

This week there are 41 pitchers who will make two starts.  As always, the list of starters is provided by Heater Magazine.  

You can download a pfd of the starters and their upcoming match-ups here.

We’ll begin in the American League.

Start
Clay Buchholz - vs LAA, vs. NYA
Brett Cecil - @ CLE, @ CHA
Jon Lester - vs LAA, vs NYA
Carl Pavano - vs DET, vs BAL
Ricky Romero - @ CLE, @ CHA
CC Sabathia - vs BAL, @ BOS
James Shields - @ SEA, @ OAK

Historically, April is Lester’s worst month - he owns a 4.76 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in 17 April starts.  He closed the books on this opening month in fine form with seven innings of one hit, 11 strikeout dominance.  He’s fine. His rotation mate Buchholz gets a pair of starts at the Hub where he owns a career 3.72 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 104 innings.  Contrast to his road splits of a 5.42 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in 111 innings.  

Romero is off to his second strong start in as many seasons.  Last year, he had a 1.71 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in April.  He’ll face the White Sox again, who he dominated with a career-high 12 strikeouts in his second start of the year.  The left-handed Cecil gets a thumbs up because of his favorable match-ups:  He’s squaring off against two of the lowest scoring teams in the AL.  Also, he draws the over-achieving Talbot in his first assignment and the woefully under-achieving Peavy in his second.  I smell two wins.

Shields has added velocity to his fastball and pumped his strikeout total to 9.3 K/9, well ahead of his career rate of 7.2 K/9.  He is also getting a ton of grounders - almost a quarter of at bats against him now result in a ground ball out.  Pavano has faced 127 batters this year and walked three - one intentionally.  He isn’t flashy, but his 3.40 SIERA supports his April performance.    

Are complete games the next counting stat to be debunked?  Sabathia has two, but has yet to throw nine innings.  He earned a complete game for a six inning start in a rain-shortened win, and went eight innings in a road loss.  

Consider
Scott Baker - vs DET, vs. BAL
Dallas Braden - vs TEX, vs. TB
Justin Duchscherer - vs. TEX, vs. TB
Jeremy Guthrie - @ NYA, @ MIN
Brian Matusz - @ NYA, @MIN
Max Scherzer - @ MIN, @ CLE

With 29 punch outs in 30 innings, Matusz has dominated at times and his 2.96 SIERA against a 4.40 ERA promises there’s more to come.  I’d like to put him in the “start” category, but not this week as he faces two of the best offenses in the AL.  Scherzer was supposed to thrive in the pitchers park of Detroit, but he has a 8.31 ERA at home (starts against the Twins and the Royals), where the opposition is hitting .463 against him.  He makes both starts this week on the road where he has a 2.37 ERA and limits the hitters to a .194 BA.

According to Pitch f/x data, Baker threw more two-seam fastballs in his last two starts (33% of all pitches) than in his first three (17% of all pitches).  He’s getting more grounders with the two-seamer, but the tradeoff is that pitch often catches too much of the plate - opponents are hitting .422 against him in his last two starts.  

Braden struck out 10 Mariners in his first start of the season.  In his next four starts combined, he’s whiffed nine.  He’s at home for both starts where he owns the split advantage - 4.20 ERA in Oakland against a 5.16 ERA on the road.  His teammate Duchscherer isn’t all the way back from the elbow injury that lost him the entire ’09 campaign as his control (3.9 BB/9) isn’t where it needs to be, but he’s close.  His 4.76 SIERA against a 2.89 ERA underscores the risk.  

Guthrie has improved his control, which is quite amazing since he posted a 2.7 BB/9 last year.  He owns a walk rate of 1.8 BB/9, but remains winless.  The Orioles have yet to score more than three runs in any of his starts.  His control will be tested this week as he squares off against the Yankees and Twins - two of the three AL teams that have drawn the most walks this season.  

Sit
Scott Feldman - @ OAK, vs KC
Gavin Floyd - vs KC, vs TOR
Rich Harden - @ OAK, vs KC
Luke Hochevar - @ CHA, @ TEX
Gil Meche - @ CHA, @ TEX
Jake Peavy - vs KC, vs TOR
Ryan Rowland-Smith - vs TB, vs LAA
Ervin Santana - @ BOS, @ SEA
Joe Saunders - @ BOS, @ SEA
Jake Westbrook - vs TOR, vs DET
Dontrelle Willis - @ MIN, @ CLE

Hochevar’s sinker has a little more bite this year.  Almost 21% of the opposition’s plate appearances have resulted in a ground ball this year, compared to 11% in 2009.  He's still too inconsistent to earn a recommendation for two starts in one week.  Westbrook isn’t worth a look, but with a 4.88 SIERA, he’s done slightly better than his numbers suggest.  Willis is surviving.  Somehow.  Still can’t escape the feeling he’s going to hit that third rail in every start.

Pitch f/x says Feldman has lost close to 3 mph on his four-seamer from 2009.  The opposition is exploiting the loss in velocity and hitting .321 against him this year.  Not only does Harden lead the AL with 23 walks, he also leads in the league in hit batters, with five.  Would you be surprised to learn his 1.86 WHIP is also the worst among AL starters?  Home runs continue to be an issue for Santana.  After allowing 1.5 HR/9 last year, he’s at 1.6 HR/9 through his first five starts in 2010.  A full 76% of all plate appearances end up with the ball in play for Saunders, well ahead of the major league average of 70%.  He’s allowed 10 walks and five HR against 10 strikeouts.  

Rowland-Smith can’t keep the ball in the park (2.2 HR/9) and has a 0.69 K/BB ratio.  Ick.  The only starter in the AL who has performed worse than Peavy is his rotation comrade, Floyd.  Pretend they’re quarantined and stay far away from both. Meche has starts this week against Peavy and Harden?  I hope you enjoy walks.  Those match-ups need to apply for a parade permit.

On to the National League...

Start
Ryan Dempster - @ PIT, @ CIN
Jaime Garcia - @ PHI, @ PIT
Cole Hamels - vs STL, vs ATL
Ubaldo Jimenez - @ SD, @ LAD
Roy Oswalt - vs ARI, vs SD
Adam Wainwright - @ PHI, @ PIT

Did you write off Oswalt after last year’s eight Wins and 4.12 ERA?  Through his first five starts, he’s held opponents to a .236 BA. He's back.  Dempster’s opponents are hitting a line drive in just 11% of all plate appearances and own a miniscule .197 batting average against.  His starts this week are against teams who have two of the four lowest team batting averages in the NL.  

Hamels’ 3.11 SIERA is two full points lower than his ERA and he’s punching out 10.6 K/9.  His 2.1 HR/9 is high, but is the product of one poor start.  He’s actually getting more ground balls this year (0.96 GB/FB ratio) than at any point in his career.  Lefties are hitting .133/.235/.133 against Garcia while right handed batters are .184/.262/.211.  The Phillies are a tough assignment, but left-handers neutralize their power.  They’re slugging just .386 against southpaws.  

A pair of starts from Jimenez in two of the most pitcher friendly parks in the league?  Sign me up.

Consider
Kevin Correia - vs COL, @ HOU
Ian Kennedy - @ HOU, vs MIL
Mike Leake - vs NYN, vs CHN
Paul Maholm - vs CHN, vs STL

After walking 12 in his first 14 innings, Leake has issued only three free passes in his next 14.  You have to like that kind of rapid improvement.  Correia is throwing more two-seamers and the result is a ground out or strikeout in almost 50% of all plate appearances.  The opposition is hitting .243 against him this year.

Love Kennedy’s WHIP (1.06) and SIERA (3.29) but don’t like the fact he’s getting ground balls on balls in play only 37% of the time.  With a 2.1 HR/9, too many fly balls are leaving the yard.  

Maholm seems an unlikely candidate for the “consider” category, but he is at home for two starts.  His career ERA at PNC Park is 3.57 compared to a road ERA of 5.24.  He's had success against the Cardinals, but the Cubs have had his number in the past.

Sit
Livan Hernandez - vs ATL, vs FLA
Kenshin Kawakami - @ WAS, @ PHI
Clayton Kershaw - vs MIL, vs COL
Chris Narveson - @ LAD, @ ARI
Felipe Paulino - vs ARI, vs SD
Oliver Perez - @ CIN, vs SF
Anibal Sanchez - vs SF, @ WAS
Todd Wellemeyer - @ FLA, @ NYN

I wavered putting Kershaw in the “Sit” or “Consider” category.  I love the strikeout rate of 10.8 K/9 but ultimately, the 6.8 BB/9 puts him on my bench. 

Sanchez is featuring his cut fastball more this year, but the results are less than encouraging.  Last year, his most common outcome was a strikeout, which he registered in 21% of all plate appearances.  This year, his strikeout rate has dipped to 13% and now his most common outcome is a single (occurring in 24% of all plate appearances).  

Kawakami isn’t jumping ahead in the count like he did last year and is paying for it with an elevated contact rate (85%, up from last year’s 83%) and a higher percentage of balls in play (78% of all plate appearances ended with a ball in play compared to last year’s rate of 71%.)  With a 1.07 K/BB ratio, Paulino is battling control issues which, in turn, lead to run issues.  Same for Wellemeyer.

Narveson takes Jeff Suppan’s spot in the rotation. There’s absolutely no reason he should be in your fantasy rotation. He’s allowed 20 runs in 21.2 innings.  Perez is allowing a ton of base runners.  Always has.  Always will.  That means I always avoid.

Hernandez has surrendered two home runs on the year and three runs total.  His gap between his ERA and SIERA (0.87 ERA, 5.37 SIERA) is massive. I would not want to be the engineer on this train.

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

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