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June 4, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Weekly Planner #10

by Craig Brown

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Interleague returns next week for another round, but the big story will be some dude named Strasburg who will pick up a pair of starts, first at home against the Pirates and then on the road in Cleveland.  You think the Nationals know what they’re doing?  He couldn’t draw a better pair of teams out of the chute.  I hope you decided to take a flier on Strasburg in a late round of your draft a couple of months ago.  The dividends are on their way.  Make sure you start him now, because those inning limits will push him to the sidelines later in the season.

OK, at this point, you know the drill.  The week starts on Monday and the starters are provided by Heater Magazine and are subject to change.  The asterisk next to a starter means they’re owned in fewer than 50% of Yahoo or ESPN leagues.  Hopefully, if you’re interested, they’ll be available.  You can download a handy pdf of all starters and match-ups here.

We’ll begin this week in the American League...

Start
*Fausto Carmona - vs BOS, vs WAS
Felix Hernandez - @ TEX, @ SD
Phil Hughes - @ BAL, vs HOU
Cliff Lee - @ TEX, @ SD
Colby Lewis - vs SEA, @ MIL
Jeff Niemann - vs TOR, vs FLA
Jered Weaver - @ OAK, @ LAN

There’s still much to like about the direction Carmona is going.  His ground ball rate is still a healthy 57% and he’s showing improved control.  Since the opening of the season where he walked 12 batters in his first three outings, his walk rate is 2.5 BB/9 over his last eight starts.  He also has a pair of favorable head to head match-ups this week.

You know what to do with Hernandez, Hughes, Lee, Lewis, Niemann and Weaver.

Consider
*Gavin Floyd - vs DET, @ CHN
*Armando Galarraga - @ CHA, vs PIT
*Daisuke Matsuzaka - @ CLE, vs PHI
*Ben Sheets - vs LAA, @ SF
Kevin Slowey - vs KC, vs ATL
*Tim Wakefield - @ CLE, vs PHI

Sheets has pitched well of late with a 3.32 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over his last six starts.  A weak Oakland offense has prevented him from getting more than one Win over that stretch.  With a 72% strand rate and a .302 BABIP for the season, it would appear he’s settled into something of a groove and his 4.53 SIERA looks right on target for the rest of the season.  Two starts ago, Matsuzaka walked eight but gave up only two hits.  Then in his last start, he walked none, but gave up 10 hits.  If that weren’t frustrating enough, he’s thrown a couple of gems this year - he has a 3.00 ERA and 0.963 in four starts where he’s picked up the victory - but he’s dropped his share of stinkers, too.  He owns a 10.29 ERA and 2.29 WHIP in his losses and no-decisions.  With starts against Cleveland and Philadelphia this week, I bet he keeps this feast or famine trend with one of each.

If there’s an issue to be had with Slowey, it’s that he’s just too hittable.  Opponents are tagging him for a batting average of .289 and he’s allowing over 10 hits per nine innings.  That will happen when you set up shop in the strikezone.   With a 3.99 SIERA you could say Floyd has had some rotten luck this year.  His .355 BABIP and 61% strand rate could serve as Exhibits B and C in the bad luck department.  Try telling that to his owners who have thus far abandoned him in droves.  It’s difficult to preach patience here, but it will get better.  Maybe even this week as he draws Galarraga in his first start since his should have been perfect game and then the offensively average Cubs.

After a great 2008 season and a poor 2009 and now the near perfecto, where do you fall on the aforementioned Galarraga?  With an 85% contact rate, he’s been finding bats, but his fastball has a little more life than it’s had in the past.  He showed some decent control in the minors this year - 2.8 BB/9 in seven starts and has walked only four in his first 21 major league innings this year.  Let’s split the difference and say he’ll end up somewhere between the two extremes.  I could see him stumble a bit in his first start since his “one” hitter, but his second start against the Pirates should balance that later in the week.

You know my policy on knuckleballers: Fun to watch, but I don’t want one on my fantasy team.  Wakefield is just like the pitches he throws:  Unpredictable.

Avoid
*Brad Bergesen - vs NYA, @ NYN
*Kyle Davies - @ MIN, @ CIN
*Scott Feldman - vs SEA, @ MIL
*David Huff - vs BOS, vs WAS
*Scott Kazmir - @ OAK, @ LAN
*Brian Tallet - @ TB, @ COL

Kazmir’s strikeouts are still way down.  He’s whiffing just 5.9 batters a game compared to his career rate of 9.1 K/9. Plus, he’s lost some zip on his fastball and is getting a swinging strike in just 15% of all strikes thrown.  He was a risk entering the season... Nothing has changed. Feldman hasn’t allowed less than four earned runs in a start since April 29.  In his last six starts he owns a 6.69 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP.  He draws Seattle in one start this week, but will square off against Lee.  

Huff took his turn in the rotation after taking one off the noggin', but the results weren’t positive.  His home run rate of 1.7 HR/9 and subpar strikeout rate of 3.7 K/9 are just two reasons to ignore him.  It’s a good thing Davies has sliced a tenth off last year’s WHIP (he’s at 1.45 compared to last summer’s 1.53) because he’s scuffling with runners on base.  His strand rate is 65% and hitters are working him for a line of .346/.390/.538 with men in scoring position.  

Tallet pitched well enough in his first start since coming of the DL with a forearm injury.  He kept the ball in the park and actually got more ground balls than fly balls.  However, one start doesn’t make a trend.  He’s coming up against some difficult opposition this week.  Believe it or not, but Bergesen could have five wins on the year as his bullpen has cost him two “W’s.”  I’m just looking for something nice to say here.  There’s just no way a guy with a 0.78 K/BB ratio can be long for a major league rotation.  

On to the NL...

Start
Matt Cain - @ CIN, vs OAK
Johnny Cueto - vs SF, vs KC
Ryan Dempster - @ PIT, vs CHA
Yovani Gallardo - vs CHN, vs TEX
Cole Hamels - vs SD, @ BOS
Mike Pelfrey - vs SD, @ BAL
Stephen Strasburg - vs PIT, @ CLE

All seven guys here are automatic.  

Consider
*Jeff Francis - vs HOU, vs TOR
Dan Haren - vs ATL, vs STL
Edwin Jackson - vs ATL, vs STL
*Kyle Kendrick - vs FLA, @ BOS
Hiroki Kuroda - vs STL, vs LAA
*Derek Lowe - @ ARI, vs MIN
*Kris Medlen - @ ARI, @ MIN
*Clayton Richard - @ NYN, vs SEA
*Randy Wells - @ MIL, vs CHA
Barry Zito - @ CIN, vs OAK

Marc Normandin neatly summed up the issue with Haren.  Let me add that through 12 starts he owns an average Game Score of 51, with six starts falling above the 50 point threshold, while six starts have been below.  He leads the league in strikeouts and in hits allowed.  He’s fantasy baseball’s version of Sybil.

In the ugliest start of anyone this season, Wells threw only 16 pitches to six batters allowing four singles and two doubles before getting the hook in his start on May 28.  He came back three days later to toss five innings of three hit, scoreless ball.  It was a completely bizarre week.  Otherwise, he’s been solid with a 2.1 BB/9 and a 7.0 K/9.  With a 5.3% HR/FB rate, he’s keeping the ball in the park and his 3.50 SIERA suggests he can improve on his first 11 starts.  Still… That May 28 start is going to make me treat him with caution this week.

It’s only been four starts totaling 24 innings, but Francis is getting ground balls at a healthy rate of 49%, which is the highest of his career.  He took a step back though in his last outing where 21 of the 27 balls in play were either fly balls or line drives.  Since returning from the DL last month, he’s made two good starts and two that left something to be desired.  It’s likely he’ll stay 50-50 after this week as he’ll make one start against the weak-hitting Astros and another against the powerful Blue JaysLowe is gaining traction based on his five previous starts where he picked up four wins while posting a 2.45 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.  I would feel a lot better about him if two of those hadn’t come against the Pirates.  The same could be said for his rotation mate, Medlen who has faced the Bucs twice since moving into the rotation.  In that time, he has a 3.20 ERA and a pair of wins for his effort.  With a walk rate of 2.1 BB/9, his control has been solid, making him worth a look this week.

Richard has evolved into a solid, yet unspectacular, fantasy starter.  His 6.7 K/9 is firmly in the middle of the pack, but he’s getting a grounder on 51% of all batted balls and with the Padre defense behind him, is limiting the opposition to a .244 BA against. The Mets are a much better offensive team at home where they hit .272/.350/.419, so he could run into a little trouble in his first start, but Citi is still playing as a park that favors pitchers.  He runs up against King Felix in his second start against the Mariners, otherwise he’d be a “start.” Still, he's my favorite pitcher of the week in the NL who is under 50% owned. Kendrick has a 2.79 ERA over his last six starts on the strength of allowing just a single home run in 39 innings of work.  That’s an unsustainable 2% HR/FB rate that could come to a crashing halt against the Red Sox later in the week.  

Zito
has struggled a bit with his control over his last five starts.  After throwing strikes 64% of the time in his first six starts, he’s hit the target only 61% of the time since.  It’s not surprising opponents own a .281 batting average against while he’s posted a 4.50 ERA over that span.  He had a good start the last time out against the Rockies (7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 8 SO) but color me skeptical.  Kuroda is allowing far too many base runners and hasn’t pitched especially well of late. Plus, he draws a pair of tough starts this week against Carpenter and Weaver.  Both starts are at home where he has a 3.76 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in six starts this year.  Jackson has seen his strikeout rate on the rise to 7.7 K/9, which is currently the highest of his career.  He’s been betrayed by his performance with runners on base - exactly the situation where he could use a whiff - where he owns a 66% strand rate.  A 3.84 SIERA points to his upside, but he draws a pair of tough customers this week.

Sit
*Dana Eveland - vs CHN, @ DET
*Jeff Karstens - @ WAS, @ DET
*Wade LeBlanc - @ PHI, vs SEA
*Brian Moehler - @ COL, @ NYA
*Wandy Rodriguez - @ COL, @ NYA
*Chris Volstad - @ PHI, @ TB
*P.J. Walters - @ LAN, @ ARI

After washing out in Toronto, Eveland lands on his feet (so to speak) in Pittsburgh.  The Jays gave up on him because of his 0.78 SO/BB ratio and an 84% contact rate.  He’ll get a second chance on his 2010 because the Pirates are starved for pitching.  You’re not in the same boat, so don’t replicate their mistake.  

Five losses in the month of May (6.75 ERA and a 1.86 WHIP) for Rodriguez have caused many owners to abandon ship.  With a pair of difficult match-ups this week, give him some time before you hop back on board.  One good start, followed by a stinker and I’m still not considering WaltersLeBlanc is getting by on his 81% strand rate and draws a pair of difficult assignments this week in head to head match-ups against Lee and Hamels.  Pressed into the rotation when Bud Smith hit the DL, Moehler isn’t an option even in the deepest of leagues.  Especially considering the opposition he’s up against this week.

With a 4.43 SIERA, Volstad is allowing 72% of all batters to put the ball in play, which is slightly worse than league average.  However, his 16% line drive rate is slightly better than league average.   I guess what I’m saying… he’s kind of average.  One area where he’s better than average is in the ground ball department where he owns a 52% GB rate.  I’m tempted to put him in the “consider” category, but I’m leery of his starts on the road this week against Philly and Tampa.  Plus, he has a 5.83 ERA away from Miami.

Reports are the Pirates are looking at alternatives for Karstens (they prefer to keep him in the bullpen) and their rotation is as unstable as the Eyjafjallajokull volcano.  Avoid the ash cloud… Avoid the ash cloud...

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

6 comments have been left for this article.

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Premium Article On the Beat: Friday Up... (06/04)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Hot Spot... (06/03)
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