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May 6, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Weekly Planner #6

by Craig Brown

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If you’re mining for two-start pitchers this week, the pickings on the waiver wire are slim. Aside from the obvious starters, there aren’t many “hidden” gems. As always, starters are tentative and subject to change. Those pitchers preceded by an * are owned in less than 50 percent of ESPN or Yahoo leagues. Those with a ^ are owned in less than 20 percent.

Start

Josh Beckett - 5/9 vs. MIN, 5/15 @ NYY
Trevor Cahill - 5/9 @ TEX, 5/15 vs. CHW
Brandon Morrow - 5/9 vs. DET, 5/15 @ MIN
Michael Pineda - 5/9 @ BAL, 5/15 @ CLE
Max Scherzer - 5/9 @ TOR, 5/15 vs. KC
C.J. Wilson - 5/9 vs. OAK, 5/15 vs. LAA

After missing his first few turns through the rotation with a forearm strain, Morrow has picked up right where he left off, punching out 23 batters in 17 frames.

Consider

^Jake Arrieta - 5/10 vs. SEA, 5/15 @ TB
*Edwin Jackson - 5/9 @ ANA, 5/15 @ OAK
*Ervin Santana - 5/9 vs. CHW, 5/15 @ TEX
Josh Tomlin - 5/10 vs. TB, 5/15 vs. SEA

Poor Jackson. He has been wildly inconsistent, and when he turns in his second-best start of the season, his team gets no-hit. Remember, on his start on April 7, he threw 120 pitches. Over his next four starts, he was pounded for 21 runs in 21 innings. It’s not the first time he has thrown a bunch of pitches and then struggled in his next several starts. Perhaps his latest outing shows he has recovered—at least until he tops the 120 mark in a future start.

And let us spare a thought for Santana, who was rolling through four no-hit innings before the rains came to Boston, hung around long enough and washed out his chance for a win. His strikeouts have jumped to 8.4 K/9, up from last season’s 6.8, but his strand rate is undermining those gains at 62 percent. It looks like a slow start, but once his strand rate normalizes (career 71 percent) and if he can keep that strikeout rate elevated, he can exceed his 2010 value.

Exhibiting the inconsistency typical of young pitchers, nevertheless Arrieta is showing a skill set that will lead him to be a decent fantasy commodity. The 2.2 K/BB ratio is a good place to start. Worth a look in deeper leagues. Tomlin has seen his ownership rate jump a full quarter in the last week, but he is surviving on the starting pitcher’s version of smoke and mirrors—in this case, an astronomical 91 percent strand rate. The 1.9 BB/9 will help once the regression to the mean kicks in.

Sit

^Kyle Davies - 5/10 @ NYY, 5/15 @ DET
^Freddy Garcia - 5/10 vs. KC, 5/15 vs. BOS
^Jeff Niemann - 5/10 @ CLE, 5/15 vs. BAL
Francisco Liriano - 5/9 @ BOS, 5/15 vs. TOR

Niemann left his last start after four innings with back stiffness and reports are he’ll land on the DL. He is still listed as the tentative starter, but, if they’re talking DL four days prior to his next appearance, that is an indication that a short rest isn’t going to be enough. Risky.

Yes, it was an ugly no-hitter. Liriano is still struggling with command and his velocity still isn’t where it should be. It’s also possible he’ll be pushed back a day after throwing 123 pitches. He is a big risk for the week ahead. Garcia’s 38 percent ground ball rate and 87 percent strand rate are the blinking lights on the train to Retreadville. Yes, he has provided value in the first month of the season. No, he can’t continue to do so.

Under no circumstances should you ever start Davies. Unless you are in a league where you get points for poor performance.

On to the NL…

Start

Chad Billingsley - 5/9 @ PIT, 5/14 vs. ARI
Chris Carpenter - 5/10 @ CHC, 5/15 @ CIN
Jhoulys Chacin - 5/9 vs. NYM, 5/15 vs. SD
Zack Greinke - 5/9 vs. SD, 5/15 vs. PIT
Tim Hudson - 5/10 vs. WAS, 5/15 vs. PHI
Tim Lincecum - 5/10 vs. ARI, 5/15 @ CHC

Greinke wasn’t sharp in his 2011 debut, but he gets a chance to recover against a pair of the NL’s lowest scoring teams. Home runs have been Carpenter’s Achilles Heel. His 1.3 HR/9 is the highest it’s been since he was in the AL.

Consider

*Kevin Correia - 5/10 vs. LAD, 5/15 @ MIL
Ian Kennedy - 5/10 @ SF, 5/15 @ LAD
Mat Latos - 5/9 @ MIL, 5/15 @ COL
Ted Lilly - 5/10 @ PIT, 5/15 vs. ARI
^Jason Marquis - 5/10 @ ATL, 5/15 vs. FLA

Marquis is off to a hot start and it looks legit. He is stranding 72 percent of all baserunners, but the key is his 56 percent ground ball rate and his command. He owns a spiffy 1.6 BB/9. That is quite an improvement over his career rate of 3.5 BB/9. Put him on the watch list. Correia is off to a good start as well, but over 80 percent of all batters are putting the ball in play against him. Plus, he owns an 84 percent contact rate. Last time he made an appearance here, I noted Kennedy’s low strand rate and fly ball tendencies. The strand rate is inching toward “normal” (65 percent) but he is still keeping the ball out of the air. For the season, just 37 percent of all balls in play against him have been fly balls. He has been doing this long enough, it’s caught my attention.

Is it a hangover from last season’s 184 innings? Whatever the reason, Latos’ velocity is down and his ERA and WHIP are up. He was successful last year because he kept the walks down (2.4 BB/9) and the ball in the park (0.8 HR/9). This year, his walks have jumped to 3.9 BB/9 and he has surrendered five home runs in 27 2/3 innings. Never been much of a Lilly fan, but I’ll give credit where it’s due… He put together a couple of fine fantasy seasons in Chicago. But losing a couple of strikeouts off his totals (he’s at 5.9 K/9 compared to last season’s 7.7 K/9) hurts.

Sit

^Joe Blanton - 5/9 @ FLA, 5/15 @ ATL
^Chris Capuano - 5/9 @ COL, 5/15 @ HOU
^Jeff Karstens - 5/9 vs. LAD, 5/14 @ MIL
^Aneury Rodriguez - 5/9 vs. CIN, 5/15 vs. NYM
^Javier Vazquez - 5/9 vs. PHI, 5/15 @ WAS
^Travis Wood - 5/9 @ HOU, 5/15 vs. STL
*Carlos Zambrano - 5/10 vs. STL, 5/15 vs. SF

I'm not quite sure what to make of Zambrano’s start. Sure, he has sliced about a walk per nine off his career rate, but he is also missing about two strikeouts per nine. And he has shed about three mph off his fastball from the salad days of the middle part of the last decade. His penchant for volatility lands him here.

Karstens has lowered his fly ball rate to 32 percent, but it’s had an adverse effect on his home run totals as he is surrendering 1.7 HR/9. He has always been a pitcher prone to the home run, but this is crazy. Blanton returns after a sojourn to the DL with elbow impingement. He has thrown better than his 5.92 ERA suggests, and his .357 BABIP is well above his career rate of .298. If he hadn’t missed a couple of starts, he could have fallen into the consider category, but as it stands he is a risk for the week ahead. Likewise, Capuano’s 1.61 WHIP is the byproduct of a .352 BABIP. He will improve, but not enough to be of interest in mixed leagues. I still like PECOTA’s projection of a 4.15 ERA and 1.34 WHIP.

With the return of Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto, Wood may be squeezed out of the rotation. He remains for now, however, but will need to improve his peripherals (.365 BABIP and 60 percent strand rate) if he is to survive. Rodriguez replaced Nelson Figueroa in the Astros rotation and did extremely well in his first outing, throwing five innings of one-hit ball. Still, he is a fly ball pitcher in a park that has been known to yield a few more home runs than average. Vazquez is owns a 6.1 BB/9 and a 4.6 K/9. Easy call.

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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