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April 4, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Weekly Planner #1

by Craig Brown

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The Weekly Planner will run each Friday during the season, but this week, you’ll get a Monday and a Friday edition.

The Planner returns for the 2011 season with your weekly list of two start pitchers. It used to be, you got two starts from your ace right out of the gate, but with the first fantasy week being a short one, we have more of a mixed bag to get us started. With most teams turning to their fourth and fifth starters, there are certainly options available. Choose wisely, though: to quote The Sitch, there are some grenades out there.

We’ll open the 2011 fantasy season in the American League.

START

CC Sabathia - 4/5 vs. MIN, 4/10 @ BOS

CONSIDER

Josh Beckett - 4/5 @ CLE, 4/10 vs. NYY

*Dallas Braden - 4/5 @ TOR, 4/10 @ MIN

*Brian Duensing - 4/5 @ NYY, 4/10 vs. OAK

*Jeff Niemann - 4/5 vs. ANA, 4/10 @ CHW

With a home ERA (3.55) a full run lower than his road ERA (4.85), Niemann is the biggest toss-up in the league this week. PECOTA likes him, but I see an average to below-average fantasy pitcher. Beckett didn’t have the best of springs with a 5.33 ERA but with a 1.22 WHIP. Obviously, we take spring stats from established pitchers with a grain of salt, but in Beckett’s case, coming after a 2010 where he finished an abbreviated season with a 5.78 ERA and 1.54 WHIP, it’s a little disconcerting. As miserable as his year was last summer, the primary cause for the pain was the Yankees, who pounded him for 31 runs in 26 innings of work and drew 13 walks against him while clubbing nine home runs.

PECOTA pegs Duensing as a league average starter, projecting a 4.34 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. In 22 starts, he owns a 2.93 ERA and a 2.3 K/BB ratio compared to 55 appearances as a reliever where he has a 3.18 ERA and 1.6 K/BB ratio. No, we haven’t seen enough of him to make a solid decision based on his performance, but he’s off to a good start. Side note: When he makes his start against the Yankees, it will be the first time he’s started a major league game in a season before the month of July. After Braden’s breakout fantasy year (3.50 ERA and 1.16 WHIP) I’m just a tad skeptical that he can keep it consistent from season to season. Blame his 5.9 SO/9 and 83 percent contact rate. Marc Normandin agrees.

SIT

*Scott Baker - 4/4 @ NYY, 4/9 vs. OAK

*Erik Bedard - 4/4 @ TEX, 4/10 vs. CLE

*Ivan Nova - 4/5 vs. MIN, 4/9 @ BOS

*Rick Porcello - 4/4 @ BAL, 4/10 vs. KC

*Jo-Jo Reyes - 4/5 vs. OAK, 4/10 @ ANA

Reyes lands in the rotation for the Blue Jays after my main man, Brandon Morrow starts the season on the DL. In 194 major league innings, Reyes has a 5.9 SO/9 and a 4.5 BB/9. Get well soon, Brandon.

It’s just been two seasons for Porcello, but he’s been better in the second half in both of them. Last year, he posted a 6.14 ERA in 13 first half starts compared to a 4.00 ERA after the break. Speaking of slow starters, Baker made the Twins staff as the fifth starter after a successful spring where he finished with a 2.66 ERA. However, he’s making his first major league starts after undergoing elbow surgery in October to remove bone chips. Don’t forget he pushed himself in his recovery and suffered a mild setback in February. It’s one thing to pitch in Florida in March—it’s another to make a regular season start. I covered Nova earlier in the week (Cliff’s Notes version: not impressed). Can you blame me for taking a pass on Bedard, given he hasn’t started a major league game in 18 months?

On to the National League…

START

Yovani Gallardo - 4/5 vs. ATL, 4/10 vs. CHN

Cole Hamels - 4/5 vs. NYN, 4/10 @ ATL

Hamels got rocked in spring training to the tune of a 6.67 ERA, but still whiffed 26 batters in 27 innings. Hopefully those home runs he surrendered (six total) were a Florida aberration.

CONSIDER

*Jason Hammel - 4/5 vs. LAD, 4/10 @ PIT

Jair Jurrjens - 4/4 @ MIL, 4/9 vs. PHI

Anibal Sanchez - 4/5 vs. WAS, 4/10 @ HOU

*Randy Wells - 4/4 vs. ARI, 4/10 @ MIL

With a 3.2 BB/9, Sanchez rediscovered his command and had his finest season since his rookie campaign in 2006. Unless he loses it again, he will easily outpace his 4.23 ERA and 1.46 WHIP projected by PECOTA. He could move up a rung to “Start” in the next month with a hot start. Honestly, Jurrjens doesn’t excite me. He struggled on the road last summer with a 5.81 ERA compared to a 3.51 ERA in his home starts.

Hammel has refined his delivery, and a successful spring where he posted a 2.60 ERA and walked just four batters in 17 innings has me intrigued. PECOTA projects a 5.13 ERA and 1.5 WHIP, but the command is there so if he can get his BABIP under control (it was .328 last season) he should easily outpace the computer. Last season, Wells finished with a 4.13 SIERA. His command (2.9 BB/9) means he won’t shoot himself in the foot. Still, he will have to overcome his inconsistency—check his game logs from August—to hold onto a “consider” spot in The Planner.

SIT

*Barry Enright - 4/4 @ CHN, 4/10 vs. CIN

*Kyle Lohse - 4/4 vs. PIT, 4/10 @ SF

*Jason Marquis - 4/5 @ FLA, 4/10 NYN

*Chris Narveson - 4/4 vs. ATL, 4/9 vs. CHN

*Bud Norris - 4/5 @ CIN, 4/10 vs. FLA

Enright was impressive in making the leap from Double-A to The Show last summer, but an 85 percent strand rate and .248 BABIP make me think a repeat is unlikely (especially given his 5.13 SIERA). I haven’t abandoned Norris, who I expect to become a decent fantasy option, but a rancid spring where he struggled with his command (10 walks in 21 innings) and a road start in the bandbox in Cincinnati has me placing him on the virtual bench this week.

Marquis was plagued by the long ball last summer (along with elbow issues) and posted a 64 percent strand rate. His 4.79 SIERA from last summer says he wasn’t as horrible as his final 6.60 ERA would suggest, so while there’s room for improvement, it’s not enough to entrust him with a pair of starts. Over 75 percent of all plate appearances against Lohse ended with the ball in play and of those 23 percent hit line drives. He’s had exactly one decent season in 10 years. 

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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