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May 28, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Weekly Planner #9

by Craig Brown

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It feels like a virtual buffet of starting pitching as there are quite a few opportunities this week await owners who can juggle their rotations.  If you are in a head to head league and don’t have start limits, this could be a week where you obtain a serious pitching advantage over your opponent.

As always the asterisk next to the pitcher’s name means he’s owned in less than 50% of ESPN or Yahoo leagues. The starters are provided by Heater Magazine and are subject to change.  You can download the weekly pdf file that contains this list here.

Start
Bronson Arroyo - @ STL, @ WAS
Chad Billingsley - vs ARI, vs ATL
*Kevin Correia - vs NYN, @ PHI
*John Ely - vs ARI, vs ATL
Jaime Garcia - vs CIN, vs MIL
Tommy Hanson - vs PHI, @ LAN
Ubaldo Jimenez - @ SF, @ ARI
Tim Lincecum - vs COL, @ PIT
Ricky Nolasco - vs MIL, @ NYN
Roy Oswalt - vs WAS, vs CHN

Hanson has been cuffed around in his last three starts, but still has a 2.3 SO/BB ratio in that stretch.  Consider it a minor bump in the road to excellence.   After a rough start, Arroyo has steadied himself with a 2.66 ERA and numbers (2.6 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9) that closely mirror his career rates.  He owns a 4.19 career ERA in 144 innings against the Cardinals, but has allowed only three earned runs in 17 IP this year.  Maybe that has something to do with Arroyo’s success against right-handed batters who are hitting just .181/.245/.326 against him. The Cards lineup this year usually features seven right-handers.

Just 66% of all plate appearances end with a ball in play against Correia.  Even better, of those balls in play a full 50% are ground balls.  It would be great if he could actually pitch past the sixth inning and if the Padres could support him with some runs.  San Diego bats have presented him a grand total of six runs in his last four starts.  They try to make up with their defense, which according to our defensive efficiency ratings is the fourth best in baseball.  Before his speed bump this week against the Cubs, Billingsley had limited his opponents to a .211 BA in his six previous starts.  Still, his percentage of swinging strikes is down to 13% from last year’s 19% which is worth monitoring going forward.  Still, he's worth his starts this week.

So Oswalt wants to be traded to a contender? Troubling news for NL-only owners.  He’s at the top of his game as his 9.0 SO/9 and current 1.01 WHIP are both career bests.  The third best walk rate in the NL belongs to Nolasco who checks in at 1.7 BB/9.  I’d get real excited by that, but my enthusiasm has been tempered by the fact his strikeout rate has tumbled from last year’s 9.5 SO/9 to 6.4 SO/9.  He did the same thing last year, before pouring on the whiffs after the All-Star Break.  Patience is the key word here, but I like his chances in both starts this week.

Still with me on the Garcia bandwagon?  Just checking.  Not happy about the eight walks he scattered in his last two starts, but I’m still onboard.  With just four walks in 31.2 IP, Ely has set up shop in the strikezone.  It’s a good thing he’s limiting the base runners (1.04 WHIP) because his 65% strand rate leaves a little to be desired.  Actually, it’s not that big of a deal as you figure his strand rate and WHIP will rise in concert.  His 3.11 SIERA reflects this.  Time to catch Ely fever.

A Lincecum versus Jimenez match-up early this week in San Francisco? Must see TV.

Consider
*Joe Blanton - @ ATL, vs SD
Tim Hudson - vs PHI, @ LAN
*Brett Myers - vs WAS, vs CHN
*Nate Robertson - vs MIL, @ NYN
*Hisanori Takahashi - @ SD, vs FLA

Hitters are barely getting good wood on pitches from Hudson, who owns a 12% line drive rate and a .218 BABIP.  I bet those numbers jump upward this week as he makes starts against the Dodgers and Phillies - who rank number one and two in team batting average in the NL.  He has a pair of difficult match-ups as well in Hamels and Ely.

Two starts for Takahashi and he’s thrown 12 innings while punching out 11 and walking just one.  Blanton’s 4.43 SIERA suggests he’s been better than his 5.63 ERA indicates.  He says he’s fully recovered from the oblique strain that sidelined him in April.  Based on 76% of all PAs against ending up with the ball in play and his subsequent mediocre results, I believe him.  He has a couple of decent opponents lined up this week, so he could finish the week slightly better than mediocre.  That counts for something.

Robertson has put together a solid May with a 3.10 ERA and 1.34 WHIP.  Before you get all excited, know that May has always been his strongest month.  For his career, he has a 3.80 ERA in the season’s second month.  Still, he’s on a roll and has a couple of decent match-ups this week to earn the upgrade.  Hitters own a .331 BABIP against Myers, which is a large reason he has a 1.41 WHIP.  He’s really buckling down with runners in scoring position though, allowing the opposition a line of .219/.305/.260.  That helps keep his strand rate at 79% and his ERA at an extremely attractive 3.22.  He draws a favorable first match-up as the Nationals have struggled against RHP this year.  

Sit
*Luis Atilano - @ HOU, vs CIN
*Dave Bush - @ FLA, @ STL
*Tom Gorzelanny - @ PIT, @ HOU
*Rodrigo Lopez - @ LAN, vs COL
*Chris Narveson - @ FLA, @ STL
*Ross Ohlendorf - vs CHN, vs SF
*Craig Stammen - @ HOU, vs CIN
*P.J. Walters - vs CIN, vs MIL

Narveson has a 5.01 ERA and 1.45 WHIP since joining the Brewers rotation at the end of April and has yet to venture past the sixth inning.  The rookie Atilano draws a pair of tough opponents this week.  That doesn’t change anything as under optimal circumstances he’s a sit with his 0.79 SO/BB ratio.  Bush owns a walk rate of 4.6 BB/9 through nine starts which is exactly twice his career rate of 2.3 BB/9.  His strikeouts (4.7 K/9) are well off his normal pace, too.  With a 5.49 ERA, Ohlendorf hasn’t pitched especially since his return from the DL.  Plus, he’s not going deep into games.

After taking a line drive off his pitching hand, Gorzelanny did in fact have his start pushed back this week.  Coincidence that it was his worst start of the season?  Now, with Carlos Zambrano set to rejoin the rotation, it could be Gorzelanny on the chopping block.  Hardly seems fair given his 3.44 SIERA, but we’re talking about a Cubs team that pushed Big Z to the bullpen, so I guess anything goes in Wrigleyville.  Uncertainty again makes him a “sit.”

Stammen pitches to contact and hitters are touching him for a .304 BA against.  He owns a 48% ground ball rate, but has struggled with runners on base.  His 55% strand rate is among the worst in the league and hitters are raking him for a .350/.386/.650 line with runners on base.  Jumping ahead of batters by throwing a first strike 67% of the time, Lopez ranks behind only Carlos Silva (70%) in taking the early advantage.  Unfortunately for Lopez, despite his first strike proclivity, hitters are making contact on 89% of their swings, the highest rate in the NL.  Arizona's defense (currently 27th in defensive efficiency) doesn't help.

A good first start for Walters bought him at least another as the Cardinals try to hold together their rotation.  After posting a 4.6 BB/9 in Triple-A in 2009, anticipate a few control issues going forward.

Best Bets
Correia’s ground ball tendencies and quality defense behind him make the right-hander an ideal candidate this week.  Ely is picking up true believers as you read this.  You’ll have to act fast if you want him on your roster next week.

On to the AL...

Start
Douglas Fister - vs MIN, vs LAA
Matt Garza - @ TOR, @ TEX
Francisco Liriano - @ SEA, @ OAK
Andy Pettitte - vs CLE, @ TOR
*Joel Pineiro - @ KC, @ SEA
*Ervin Santana - @ KC, @ SEA
Justin Verlander - vs OAK, @ KC

Nine starts into the season and Pettitte is putting together his finest season since 2005.  You have to think it's not going to last all summer as his strikeouts are down as you would expect from a guy who turns 38 in a couple of weeks, but the walks are holding steady.  His 81% strand rate is well above his 71% career mark, so expect a correction to his excellent 2.62 ERA.  Still, with the run support he’s a no doubter for the time being.  Santana is going to eventually get crushed by the home run.  He’s surrendered 12 in 69 innings this year and has a 13.8% HR/FB rate.  His 1.26 WHIP is saving him for now.  Should it move upward, his ERA will go right along for the ride.  I don’t see it happening this week as he gets starts against Kansas City and Seattle, two teams that are well below league average in home run power.

A little luck never hurt and the early season consensus is Fister has that in spades.  Maybe that’s the case, but you have to admire a 54% ground ball rate and a 1.5 BB/9.  He keeps the ball in the park, doesn’t shoot himself in the foot and has two home starts this week.  Speaking of luck, Garza hasn’t had any in his last couple of starts.  He gave up two runs and took the loss against Houston and then got hammered by the suddenly resurgent Red Sox.  Still, most of his numbers are falling right in line with what he accomplished last year.  SIERA agrees and has him at 3.82, but he could help matters by pushing his strikeout rate above it’s current 7.4 K/9.

I’ve been extolling the virtues of Pineiro all season, and I’ll continue to do so.  A 57% ground ball rate and a 2.4 SO/BB ratio make me a huge fan.  He’s also neutralized the running game this year - opponents have yet to attempt a stolen base against him.  Nice.  He’s still not back to the 2006 version, but Liriano is pretty damn close.  And being close makes him a great bet, especially on the road in Oakland and Seattle.  

I hope you weren’t really worried about Verlander.  With a 2.41 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in his five May starts he’s rolling right along.

Consider
*Brian Bannister - vs LAA, vs DET
*Nick Blackburn - @ SEA, @ OAK
*Jeremy Bonderman - vs CLE, @ KC
Mark Buehrle - vs TEX, vs CLE
*Gio Gonzalez - @ BOS, vs MIN
*Luke Hochevar - vs LAA, vs DET
John Lackey - vs OAK, @ BAL
*Mitch Talbot - @ NYA, @ CHA
*Jason Vargas - vs MIN, vs LAA
Javier Vazquez - vs BAL, @ TOR

The real shame in Buehrle’s balk-shortened outing is we couldn’t see if he could build on his strong outing prior (8 IP, 0 ER vs Florida) beyond a couple of innings.  Aside from that start, it’s been a rough year for the left-hander with 82% of all plate appearances are ending with the ball in play and a White Sox defense behind him that ranks in the bottom third of defensive efficiency.    Bonderman’s SIERA of 3.78 is a perfect match of his ERA.  After stumbling out of the blocks with a 6.97 ERA in April, he’s countered that with a 1.33 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 27 innings in May.  While he’s neither as bad as April suggests or as good as he’s been this month, I’d lean toward the latter going forward.  His strand rate in April was an abysmal 40%.  I like his start against Cleveland, but I’m wary of the Royals who lead the AL with a .278 team batting average.

His strikeouts are down (5.1 K/9 against a career rate of 7.1 K/9) and his walks are up (4.4 BB/9 against a career rate of 2.7 BB/9) making Lackey a very dangerous play.  The run support will always be there and he has two favorable opponents to get back on track.  Still, I’m going to be cautious here.  With a 3.94 ERA in May, Hochevar just put together the best month of his big league career.  Has he finally turned the corner and become a viable fantasy commodity?  His ground ball rate holds the key, and at 48%, he’s getting there.  Plus, his 59% strand rate suggests his current 4.95 ERA should sink a few ticks.  He draws a pair of tough head to head starts this week in Santana and Verlander.

Gonzalez faces a pair of tricky starts this week against two of the AL’s top offenses.  Any other week and he’s a play with his 72% strand rate and his 46% ground ball rate.  However, I get nervous whenever I think of a left-hander starting at Fenway.  So 84% of all plate appearances against Blackburn end up with the ball in play, well above the MLB average of 69%.  However, 49% of those are ground balls which continues a trend we’ve seen in the previous two seasons of high contact coupled with a high ground ball rate.  His BABIPs over the last three years are .308, .303 and this year’s .302.  Mr. Consistency.  The bonus this week is a pair of starts in pitcher-friendly ballparks.

The home runs have been troubling Vazquez (among other issues) this year and his 1.9 HR/9 is the highest in the AL among starters.  Beware his turn against Toronto later in the week.  Hitters own an 89% contact rate against Talbot.  He will get his share of grounders, but at that rate, his .235 BABIP against is awfully low.  His defense (which ranks 22nd in defensive efficiency) won’t help. A SIERA almost two full points above his ERA warns of the potential danger.  Vargas has pitched much better at home this year and has two starts there this week.  His 2.56 ERA at home is almost two points lower than his road mark.

If there was ever a week to start Bannister, this would be the one.  He makes two starts in Kansas City, where has a favorable home split (4.18 ERA at home versus 5.43 ERA on the road) and draws the Tigers in one of those starts.  In his career, he has a 2.12 ERA against Detroit, his lowest ERA against any team where he’s made at least three starts.

Sit
*Trevor Cahill - @ DET, vs MIN
Rich Harden - @ CHA, vs TB
*Brian Matusz - @ NYA, vs BOS
*Brandon Morrow - vs TB, vs NYA
*Jake Westbrook - @ DET, @ CHA

Matusz suffered through a brutal May where he posted a 7.50 ERA and 2.00 WHIP.  Next week, he starts against New York and Boston, two of the three highest scoring teams in the league.  Enough said.

With a 3.48 SIERA, Morrow has almost a three point gap between that and his ERA.  His 11.7 K/9 and 70% contact rate is impressive, but his walk rate of 5.8 BB/9 continues to undermine anything positive he could possibly accomplish.  Westbrook will be making his fourth start against the White Sox already this season.  Chicago has put up 12 runs against him in those starts.

One week, Harden will throw seven innings with no walks and then two starts later he’ll walk six and fail to get through three innings.  He’s limiting hitters to a .255 BA, but his 6.2 BB/9 is second worst in the AL and the primary reason his WHIP is 1.67.  He's still owned in 67% of ESPN leagues and falling. 

Best Bets
I like both Angel pitchers for different reasons: Pineiro for the ground balls and Santana because this week’s opposition won’t be able to take advantage of his penchant for surrendering the home run.  The duo also makes both their starts in parks that favor pitchers this week.

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

2 comments have been left for this article.

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