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June 18, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Weekly Planner #12

by Craig Brown

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The quality is on the National League side of the ledger next week, meaning if you’re shopping for bargains, your attention needs to be focused on the American League.  That’s not to mean you should ignore the NL altogether, just that the bargains are a little more difficult to uncover.  It’s the final week of inter-league play.  For the lone NL games, Houston hosts San Francisco early in the week and the Padres travel to South Florida to play the Marlins on the weekend.

As always, the list of two start pitchers is provided by the fine people who bring you Heater Magazine.  The list is subject to change.  For a full color-coded list, download a handy pdf file here.

We’ll begin this week in the AL...

Brett Cecil - vs STL, vs PHI
John Danks - vs ATL, vs CHN
Jon Lester - @ COL, @ SF
Ervin Santana - @ LAN, vs COL
Justin Verlander - @ NYN, @ ATL

Cecil is owned in 71% of ESPN leagues.  This may be the week to pick him up as both the Philadelphia and St. Louis offenses rank in the bottom half of the league against left-handers.  Strikeouts are up, walks are down and a .318 BABIP and his 3.90 SIERA says Santana is doing just fine.  One area of his game that could use improvement: Holding runners.  Base stealers have swiped 16 bags in 18 attempts  

Scott Baker - @ MIL, @ NYN
A.J. Burnett - @ARI, @ LAN
*Wade Davis - vs SD, vs ARI
*Gio Gonzalez - vs CIN, vs PIT
*Tommy Hunter - vs PIT, vs HOU
*Jason Vargas - vs CHN, @ MIL

Burnett leads the league in steals against with 19 in 22 attempts.  He has scuffled of late, with a 6.36 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP over his last eight starts where he’s only twice posted a Game Score greater than 50.  For the year, his strikeout rate is down to 6.5 K/9, which is well below his career mark of 8.3 K/9.  For the most part, Baker is Mr. Consistency.  His walk, strikeout and home run rates have been static for the last three seasons.  The difference is his hit rate, which jumped from 8.6 H/9 last year to his current 9.6 H/9.  That’s been enough to push his ERA and WHIP to heights he hasn’t experienced since 2007.  He could get back on track this week as he has generally done well against the NL, with a career 1.084 WHIP and 3.81 ERA in 12 inter-league starts.

Hunter was pulled from his last start with a strained hip flexor.  It’s supposedly a minor issue and he’s throwing a bullpen session on Friday.  If he’s fit and with the Pirates and Astros this week, I’d take my chances.   Davis has allowed three or more runs in seven of his last eight starts.  While he has a 2:1 K:BB in that stretch, he’s surrendered 9 long balls which works to a 1.9 HR/9.

Nearly 50% of all balls in play have been classified as fly balls, but Vargas has been a little on the lucky side more haven’t left the yard as he owns a 5.3% HR/FB rate.  The Cubs and Brewers have the muscle to launch a few long balls this week.  Whle he has a 4.53 SIERA, he’s been extremely effective this season with 11 of his 13 starts being “quality.”  His bullpen hasn’t helped his fantasy cause, blowing two potential wins.  His 4.33 SIERA is within spitting distance of his 4.21 ERA, but the issue with Gonzalez remains his lack of control.  He’s walked at least three batters in eight of his 14 starts while averaging under six innings per start.  This week he faces Pittsburgh, one of the more impatient teams in the NL.

*Bruce Chen - @ WAS, vs STL
*Jeremy Guthrie - vs FLA, vs WAS
*Mitch Talbot - @ PHI, @ CIN

Over 77% of all plate appearances end with the ball in play against Guthrie.  It has been his good fortune that hitters are managing a .254 BABIP against him.  He’s found wins difficult to come by as the weak Baltimore offense has scored more than three runs in only three of his 14 starts.  Those games have been his only wins this year.  Since moving into the rotation, Chen has a 4.71 ERA and 1.43 WHIP with a pair of wins.  He doesn’t pitch deep into games, averaging just over five innings per start.

At 5.20 Talbot’s SIERA is a full run higher than his real ERA. With a walk rate of 3.3 BB/9, he issues far too many free base runners while lacking the ability to put hitters away on his own - he has a 4.0 K/9. Also working against him this week: Cincinnati destroys right handers.  

To the Senior Circuit...

Ryan Dempster - @ SEA, @ CHA
Jaime Garcia - @ TOR, @ KC
Tommy Hanson - @ CHA, vs DET
Clayton Kershaw - vs LAA, vs NYA
Mat Latos - @ TB, @ FLA
Mike Leake - @ OAK, vs CLE
Tim Lincecum - @ HOU, vs BOS
Roy Oswalt - vs SF, @ TEX
Anibal Sanchez - @ BAL, vs SD

You have to start Hanson, but he will have a tough time picking up a pair of wins this week with head to head starts against Danks and Verlander.  Back to back rough outings have me wavering on Leake.  He’s given up five earned runs in three starts this year, and two of those have been against the Dodgers.  Maybe they just match-up well against him.  I’m playing a hunch here, keeping him in the “start” category in his first go-round in inter-league. Especially against a pair of weaker offensive teams.

*Jhoulys Chacin - vs BOS, @ LAA
*Livan Hernandez - vs KC, @ BAL
*Jamie Moyer - vs CLE, @ TOR
*Jonathon Niese - vs DET, vs MIN

I almost thought about promoting Moyer to “start.” Seriously.  He faces two of the three worst teams in the AL when it comes to dealing with left-handed pitching.  Sure the Blue Jays are pounding the ball, but they own a miserable team OPB of .266 against LHP.  The Indians at .315 aren’t much better.  He’s in this category because I favor Cecil to get the win in their head to head match-up of dueling southpaws.  Still, Moyer has a great opportunity to slice a few digits off his ERA and WHIP this week.

Chacin is punching out a batter per inning and batters are managing a line of .229/.320/.318 against him.  He’s been much better away from home (where he faces the weaker of his two opponents this week) with a 2.35 ERA compared to a 6.17 ERA at Coors.  Niese has been outstanding since returning from his hamstring injury, allowing just four runs in 23 innings.  He faces a pair of tough head to head starts though, going against Baker and Verlander.  The Twins and Tigers do well against lefties as well.

Was his last start the beginning of the end for Hernandez?  Owners are dumping him in ESPN and Yahoo leagues and his last outing of eight runs on seven hits and six walks certainly suggests this may be the case. Perhaps he just needs to face NL bats to get the job done.  If that’s the issue, maybe you should avoid him altogether for this week.  Still, that start against Baltimore looks awfully tempting.

*Dave Bush - vs MIN, vs SEA
*Zach Duke - @ TEX, @ OAK
*Rodrigo Lopez - vs NYA, vs TB

With a 1.2 SO/BB ratio, Bush is treading water between mediocrity and disaster.  Blame the walk rate of 4.0 BB/9.  He’s allowing far too many base runners to trust.  Lopez has struggled with a 5.85 ERA and 1.4 WHIP over his last six starts and runs the dreaded AL East gauntlet this week.

No starter has a higher hit rate than Duke and his 12.4 H/9.  His 1.71 WHIP and 5.49 ERA are the second worst rates in the NL.  If that doesn’t convince you…

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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