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May 13, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Weekly Planner #7

by Craig Brown

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Interleague is coming! Interleague is coming!

Yes, it seems like the season just got underway, yet we are suddenly preparing for what has become the annual domination of the AL over the NL. Last year, the Junior Circuit stomped their elderly counterparts by a final tally of 134-118. It was the seventh consecutive year the AL finished with a winning record.

What does this mean to the fantasy player? No rest! Because of the interleague schedule, each team plays seven games this week, marking the first time all year that this happens. In other words, it’s like somebody cut the price of the all you can eat buffet at the Bonanza in half. There is so much to choose from at a bargain basement price, but some of it isn’t safe for consumption.

As always, the starters listed in this article are tentative and subject to change. Pitchers marked with an * are available in more than 50 percent of ESPN or Yahoo leagues and those marked with a ^ can be had in more than 80 percent of those leagues.

Because I picked on the poor National League in my open, let’s begin there…

Start

*Homer Bailey - 5/16 vs. CHC, 5/21 @ CLE
Matt Cain - 5/17 @ COL, 5/22 vs. OAK
Jaime Garcia - 5/17 vs. PHI, 5/22 @ KCA
Matt Garza - 5/16 @ CIN, 5/21 @ BOS
Tommy Hanson - 5/16 vs. HOU, 5/21 @ LAA
Daniel Hudson - 5/17 vs. SD, 5/22 vs. MIN
Josh Johnson - 5/16 @ NYM, 5/21 vs. TBA
Hiroki Kuroda - 5/16 vs. MIL, 5/21 @ CHA
Cliff Lee - 5/16 @ STL, 5/21 vs. TEX
Derek Lowe - 5/17 vs. HOU, 5/22 @ LAA
Shaun Marcum - 5/16 @ LAD, 5/21 vs. COL
Ricky Nolasco - 5/17 @ NYM, 5/22 vs. TBA
Roy Oswalt - 5/17 @ STL, 5/22 vs. TEX
Wandy Rodriguez - 5/17 @ ATL, 5/22 @ TOR
Jonathan Sanchez - 5/16 @ COL, 5/21 vs. OAK

Why not Bailey? He has looked great since his return from shoulder impingement, striking out 12 and walking just one in 13 innings of work. Garza has made the transition to the NL look easy with league best 11.8 K/9. I'm betting that he keeps rolling once he crosses back into familiar territory.

Over 19 percent of Lowe’s strikes are of the swing-and-miss variety. If he keeps that up, it will be the highest rate of his career—the same can be said for his current 8.3 K/9. I don’t know what the guy is doing differently (don’t answer that) but he is worth a long look. Through his first seven starts, Rodriguez owns a 3.98 ERA and 3.82 SIERA. His home run rate is up a notch, but his walks are down—balanced.

Consider

Ubaldo Jimenez - 5/17 vs. SF, 5/22 @ MIL
Brett Myers - 5/16 @ ATL, 5/21 @ TOR
^Tim Stauffer - 5/17 @ ARI, 5/22 vs. SEA
*Jordan Zimmermann - 5/17 vs. PIT, 5/22 @ BAL

Jimenez has walked 13 batters in 15 innings since returning from the DL. He faces two of the least patient teams in the NL this week, which could be the magic elixir. His 4.19 SIERA suggests there is some upside, but I’m not sold. A 57 percent strand rate isn’t helping Zimmermann. Stauffer owns a 3.47 ERA and a 3.47 SIERA. He owns a 55 percent ground ball rate and pitches his home games at Petco. Intriguing.

By the time you read this, Myers’ ownership rate may have dipped below 50 percent. He has been dropped in 32 percent of ESPN leagues over the last seven days and we can lay the blame at the Cincinnati Reds. He has faced them his last two starts and surrendered six runs each time. It hasn’t helped he has become prone to the long ball once again, owning a 1.8 HR/9. His starts this week come against a pair of power teams. Use caution here.

Sit

^Casey Coleman - 5/17 @ CIN, 5/22 @ BOS
^Paul Maholm - 5/16 @ WAS, 5/21 vs. DET
^Clayton Mortensen - 5/16 vs. SF, 5/21 @ MIL
^Armando Galarraga - 5/16 vs. SD, 5/21 vs. MIN
^Jon Garland - 5/17 vs. MIL, 5/22 @ CHA
^John Lannan - 5/16 vs. PIT, 5/21 @ BAL
^Charlie Morton - 5/17 @ WAS, 5/22 vs. DET
^Jonathan Niese - 5/17 vs. FLA, 5/22 @ NYA
^Mike Pelfrey - 5/16 vs. FLA, 5/21 @ NYA
^Clayton Richard - 5/16 @ ARI, 5/21 vs. SEA
*Edinson Volquez - 5/17 vs. CHC, 5/22 @ CLE
^Jake Westbrook - 5/16 vs. PHI, 5/21 @ KCA
*Randy Wolf - 5/17 @ LAD, 5/22 vs. COL

Mortensen gets a pair of starts with Esmil Rodgers on the shelf. He has looked good in a pair of spot starts against the Giants, but his minor league pedigree (4.76 ERA and 6.4 K/9 in just under 400 Triple-A innings) suggests it will be difficult for him to find consistent success. Galarraga is facing the two worst offenses in baseball this week and I still wouldn’t even think about putting him on my roster. Almost half of the balls put in play against Coleman are fly balls. It's a bad week (at Cincinnati and Boston) to pick him for a pair of starts.

Pelfrey has allowed a ton of base runners this season which, when combined with his increase in home run rate, is a toxic mix. His contact and walk rates are static, but his fly ball rate has jumped about eight percent above his career norm. Garland has a 4.47 SIERA and 3.66 ERA. His home run rate is up because his fly ball rate jumped to over 45 percent. His career FB rate is 34 percent. Richard’s Opponents Quality OPS is 764, the fourth highest rate in baseball. Maybe that is why his strand rate is at 55 percent–he is facing difficult opposition. That is not enough to convince me to give him a chance, though.

Sorry, not buying Maholm’s solid start to the season. The 4.31 SIERA against a 3.60 ERA, the uptick in walks and his career track record is enough to convince me to stay away. Same for his teammate Morton, who has 24 strikeouts and 24 walks through his first 46 innings. His 4.39 SIERA has a little separation from his 3.13 ERA.

Lannan is putting the clamps on the left-handed batters, limiting them to a line of .190/.306/.333. It’s the right-handers doing the damage, torching him to the tune of .333/.403/.467. Wolf’s last two starts have owners abandoning him in droves. He has been dropped in 37 percent of ESPN leagues in the last seven days. When the Padres touch you for 12 hits and 5 runs in less than 4 innings, people tend to notice. Niese had minimal value after last year, but it’s dropped even more as he has lost about a strikeout per game off his totals. Westbrook has seen his walk rate jump to 4.6 BB/9, and faces two of the better offenses in the game this week.

Volquez owns a 7.0 BB/9. What do you think?

On to the AL…

Start

Brian Anderson - 5/16 vs. ANA, 5/21 @ SFN
Gio Gonzalez - 5/17 vs. ANA, 5/22 @ SFN
Felix Hernandez - 5/16 vs. MIN, 5/21 @ SDN
Colby Lewis - 5/16 @ CHW, 5/21 @ PHI
Justin Masterson - 5/17 @ KC, 5/22 vs. CIN
Joel Pineiro - 5/16 @ OAK, 5/21 vs. ATL
David Price - 5/16 vs. NYY, 5/21 @ FLA
James Shields - 5/17 vs. NYY, 5/22 @ FLA

Fun with small sample sizes—through three starts, Pineiro has allowed just one base runner to score. That puts him at a 99 percent strand rate. Yeah… that is not going to last. Anderson scuffled in his last start against Texas, but figures to right himself this week

Consider

*Scott Baker - 5/17 @ SEA, 5/22 @ ARI
Zach Britton - 5/17 @ BOS, 5/22 vs. WAS
A.J. Burnett - 5/16 @ TB, 5/21 vs. NYN
John Danks - 5/17 vs. TEX, 5/22 vs. LAN
Edwin Jackson - 5/16 vs. TEX, 5/21 vs. LAN
^Jesse Litsch - 5/17 @ DET, 5/22 vs. HOU
^Rick Porcello - 5/16 vs. TOR, 5/21 @ PIT

With a 5.8 K/9, Porcello will always be a pitch to contact type of pitcher. Good thing he is getting a ground ball roughly half of all balls put in play. That can neutralize Toronto’s power in his home start this week. Jackson is on one of his patented hot streaks, surrendering just one run in his last 15 innings. Stay vigilant in his start against Texas at home, but he has pitched well at The Cell this year, allowing just a single home run in 20 innings of work.

Still liking the ground ball rate for Britton, but his 1.5 K/BB ratio and 79 percent contact rate are factors in his 4.56 SIERA. Hard luck start for Danks, who is winless in his first eight starts. The dreadful ChiSox bullpen has blown two wins for him. His current .327 BABIP is above his career .287 BABIP, but his 4.50 SIERA suggests he is pitching fairly close to reality.

Baker is having a Baker-esque season where he is right in line with his career averages.  That consistency plays better during the long haul of the full season rather than trying to pinpoint a single week. He is the kind of guy I stash at the bottom of my rotation and let him pitch.

A correction may be coming for Burnett, who owns a 3.71 ERA and a 4.11 SIERA. His current .254 BABIP is well below his career rate of .289. Meanwhile, a 3.86 SIERA points to a possible value play for Litsch. He is throwing more sliders than ever before and his strikeout rate has leaped to 7.8 K/9, well above his career rate of 5.6 K/9. Interesting...

Sit

^Carlos Carrasco - 5/16 @ KC, 5/21 vs. CIN
^Tyler Chatwood - 5/17 @ OAK, 5/22 vs. ATL
^Phil Coke - 5/17 vs. TOR, 5/22 @ PIT
*Kyle Drabek - 5/16 @ DET, 5/21 vs. HOU
^Matt Harrison - 5/17 @ CHW, 5/22 @ PHI
*John Lackey - 5/17 vs. BAL, 5/22 vs. CHN
Francisco Liriano - 5/16 @ SEA, 5/21 @ ARI
^Daisuke Matsuzaka - 5/16 vs. BAL, 5/21 vs. CHN
^Vin Mazzaro - 5/16 vs. CLE, 5/21 vs. SLN
Ivan Nova - 5/17 @ TB, 5/22 vs. NYN
Sean O’Sullivan - 5/17 vs. CLE, 5/22 vs. SLN
^Chris Tillman - 5/16 @ BOS, 5/21 vs. WAS
^Jason Vargas - 5/17 vs. MIN, 5/22 @ SDN

Nova is getting ground balls (54 percent GB rate), but his 87 percent contact rate is a little unhealthy. If his 1.1 K/BB ratio doesn’t scare you, his 4.96 SIERA will. Tillman has never won a start when the Orioles have scored fewer than six runs. This year, the Baltimore offense averages under four runs per game. Do I need to continue? It seems like Matsuzaka has been in every one of these I’ve done this year. I have run out of pithy things to say. His teammate Lackey has been even worse. Enough said

Liriano got a post no-hit bounce in his ownership rate, but that is just fantasy negligence.  When we look back at his 2011, we will wonder how in the world that no-no ever happened. Perhaps he is being slowly stretched out, but Coke is throwing only 87 pitches per start. A tale of two starts: Harrison posted a 1.88 ERA through his first four starts, but has posted a 10.97 ERA in his last three.

You may have been tempted to add Drabek during a hot start that saw his ERA sitting at 1.93 after three starts. Unfortunately, the walks (he issued 11 free passes in his first 18 innings) told the true story. He still hasn’t found his control and owns a gaudy 5.9 BB/9. Chatwood has 22 walks and 18 strikeouts in 35 innings. Color me underwhelmed. Carrasco was hammered by the Rays in his return from the DL where he was shelved with elbow inflammation. Mazzaro needed 94 pitches to get through four innings in his 2011 debut. There is just not enough there to warrant picking him up for a pair of starts.

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

Related Content:  Jonathan Niese,  Hot Starts

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