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May 20, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Weekly Planner #8

by Craig Brown

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There is some trickiness afoot as the Rockies and Diamondbacks play a doubleheader on Tuesday and the White Sox are still using a six man rotation as we enter the season’s eighth week. I’ve chosen to exclude the doubleheader starters, since we’re still so far out and both teams are in extended stretches of games, which will likely lead them to juggle their rotation in some manner. Meanwhile, in Chicago, the recently activated Jake Peavy will take the hill on Tuesday, but while the Sox have a full slate of games, he likely won’t have two starts this week—unless Ozzie Guillen does something to shake up the rotation. Never discount that happening.

As always the starters listed are tentative and subject to change. Those denoted with an * are owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo or ESPN leagues. Those with a ^ are owned in less than 20 percent.

We start in the American League...

Start

Josh Beckett - 5/24 @ CLE, 5/29 @ DET
Zach Britton - 5/24 vs. KC, 5/29 @ OAK
Clay Buchholz - 5/23 @ CLE, 5/28 @ DET
Dan Haren - 5/24 vs. OAK, 5/29 @ MIN
Jeremy Hellickson - 5/23 @ DET, 5/29 vs. CLE
Justin Masterson - 5/23 vs. BOS, 5/29 @ TB
Alexi Ogando - 5/23 vs. CHW, 5/29 vs. KC
Ricky Romero - 5/23 @ NYY, 5/28 vs. CHW
^Jason Vargas - 5/23 @ MIN, 5/29 vs. NYY
Justin Verlander - 5/24 vs. TB, 5/29 vs. BOS
Jered Weaver - 5/23 vs. OAK, 5/28 @ MIN

I (deservedly) caught some heat last week in assigning Vargas to “sit.” An oversight on my part, so I will take advantage of the Mariners getting washed out in Cleveland over the weekend to make things right. He is succeeding right now on the back of a 2.2 BB/9 and a 0.6 HR/9. Basically, he doesn’t hurt himself. That makes him a good value play this week, even if the Yankees are on deck for his second start.

Ogando is coming off a career high 116 pitch outing against the Royals. He has topped 100 pitches two previous times and was just as awesome in the start following as he has been all year. Really, he has thrown just one clunker (4/18 vs. the Yankees) in eight starts. That is as steady as they come.

Consider

^Bartolo Colon - 5/23 vs. TOR, 5/29 @ SEA
^Brandon McCarthy - 5/23 @ ANA, 5/28 vs. BAL
^Carl Pavano - 5/23 vs. SEA, 5/29 vs. ANA

I remain skeptical that Colon can keep this up in the long term, but in the short term, why not? He is relying almost exclusively on his fastball, throwing it 85 percent of the time, and he is doing a great job of locating it while maintaining his velocity. His ground ball rate is strong at 46 percent, which should help against the Toronto home run barrage. Plus, the start in Seattle looks especially tasty this week.

McCarthy is going through a bit of a rocky stretch where, while he hasn’t been horrible, he hasn’t impressed either. The good news: he is still getting ground balls close to half the time the ball is put in play and he is keeping the limited amount of fly balls in the yard. Does Pavano finally have his act together? This may be a good week to take a flier with the Mariners and Angles coming to town. Both teams average fewer than four runs per game. Plus, his 58 percent strand rate can’t remain this low for much longer. He has put together a couple of decent starts in a row, so we could be in the middle of a decent run of form.

Sit

^Phil Coke - 5/23 vs. TB, 5/28 vs. BOS
John Danks - 5/23 @ TEX, 5/29 @ TOR
^Luke Hochevar - 5/24 @ BAL, 5/29 @ TEX
^Jesse Litsch - 5/23 @ NYY, 5/28 vs. CHW
^Tyson Ross - 5/24 @ ANA, 5/29 vs. BAL

Danks has been walking the proverbial tightrope for years and it’s now finally (and unfortunately) caught up with him. His strikeouts and ground balls are down, his walks are up and his line drive rate is topping 21 percent. He picked up his first win of the season this week against the Rangers, despite issuing six free passes in 6 1/3 innings of work. He gets them again this week along with an unfavorable match-up against the Blue Jays, who have tuned up left-handers to a line of .303/.376/.465. As a Royals fan, I’m tired of talking about guys like Hochevar. As a fantasy player, I’m tired of talking about guys like Hochevar.

Litsch just hasn’t gotten on track this year as he attempts to throw his first complete season since undergoing Tommy John surgery. He had difficulty finding consistency when he returned at the end of 2010, and has been plagued by the same issues in 2011. While his velocity is where it was pre-injury, his command is off. He is posting a 3.5 BB/9 this year, a walk and a half above where he was before his surgery. Ross is the scheduled starter, but left his previous start after throwing just seven pitches and was diagnosed with an oblique strain. Sounds like the A’s will need to do a little rotation juggling. 

Coke started the season in the bullpen, but has acclimated himself to the rotation. He has had a decent month of May where he has posted a 2.92 ERA and a 3:1 K/BB ratio. The good: his strand rate is 72 percent.  The bad: he is getting a swinging strike just seven percent of the time. He is the best of this bunch if you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel.

On to the NL...

Start

Matt Cain - 5/24 vs. FLA, 5/29 @ MIL
*Ryan Dempster - 5/24 vs. NYM, 5/29 vs. PIT
Yovani Gallardo - 5/23 vs. WAS, 5/29 vs. SF
Cole Hamels - 5/23 vs. CIN, 5/28 @ NYM
Clayton Kershaw - 5/23 @ HOU, 5/29 vs. FLA
Kyle Lohse - 5/23 @ SD, 5/29 @ COL
Ricky Nolasco - 5/24 @ SF, 5/29 @ LA
Bud Norris - 5/23 vs. LAD, 5/29 vs. ARI

Dempster had a bit of a set back in his last outing, but looks to have finally put an abysmal April, where he finished with a 9.58 ERA and 1.87 WHIP, behind him. Plus, his 3.73 SIERA is almost exactly in line with his performance from his last three seasons. I’d grab him off the wire and start his with confidence.

Long-time readers know my fantasy-crush on Norris, who is still available in roughly 20 percent of ESPN leagues, runs deep. No clue what they’re waiting for.

Gallardo is still walking too many batters (5.0 BB/9 in May), but at least the strikeouts have returned (9.7 K/9 in May.)

Consider

Johnny Cueto - 5/24 @ PHI, 5/29 @ ATL
^Tom Gorzelanny - 5/23 @ MIL, 5/29 vs. SD

Cueto has looked good in his three starts since returning from the DL, but his swinging strike rate is down to 10 percent (versus a 16 percent career rate) and his contact rate has ballooned to 87 percent (against a 79 percent career rate.) A 4.12 SIERA confirms that Gorzelanny has exceeded expectations, but he has a pair of favorable match-ups this week. The caution stems from a .227 BABIP and an 82 percent strand rate.

Sit

^Bronson Arroyo - 5/23 @ PHI, 5/28 @ ATL
^Joe Blanton - 5/24 vs. CIN, 5/29 @ NYM
^Dustin Moseley - 5/23 vs. STL, 5/29 @ WAS
^Jon Niese - 5/24 @ CHC, 5/29 vs. PHI

SIERA has Arroyo at 4.24, so he hasn’t been that bad, and his strikeouts are up, but he has been bitten by the home run bug a little too frequently this season, surrendering 10 in his first 57 innings. Moseley has solid command, but he is around the plate a little too much and doesn’t have the stuff to overpower hitters. As such, his 88 percent contact rate will always keep him toward the bottom tier of fantasy starters.

Blanton would be in this category anyway, but after being scratched from his start on Thursday with elbow discomfort, he is now officially a last resort.

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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