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May 4, 2012

Weekly Planner

Week Six

by Paul Sporer

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In last week’s season debut of the Weekly Planner, I said of Phil Hughes and Clay Buchholz, “If you aren’t starting them in these matchups, then why even roster them at this point?”  While both still have their weekend start yet to come, neither impressed in their first start of the week with Buchholz completely imploding against Oakland.  You can safely move on from both. 

Two AL sits, Jason Hammel and Kyle Drabek, excelled in their first starts this week, both of which came against the tougher of their two opponents (New York and Texas, respectively).  I stand by both calls, but both proved a lot in their starts. This is especially true of Hammel, who almost seems to be getting better with each outing.  In the NL, Chris Volstad was only listed as a “consider,” but he is not improving at all and is an unequivocal “sit” at this point. 

(Starts and Sits are ranked in order of confidence)

Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, James Shields, and Ricky Romero

Romero is a cut below the other three, but he is someone I have always liked, and his upcoming starts in Oakland and Minnesota make it pretty easy to auto-start him.  He is a groundball machine with great stuff, and the cost you likely had to pay for him merits playing him regardless of the opposition. 

Jarrod Parker (vs. TOR; vs. DET)
Duane Below (@ SEA; @ OAK)
Daniel Bard (@ KC; vs. CLE)
Felix Doubront (@ KC; vs. CLE)
Neftali Feliz (@ BAL; vs. LAA)
Ivan Nova (vs. TB; vs. SEA)

A pair of guys with ERAs north of 5.00, Doubront and Nova, find their way into this week’s “starts” on the merits of their generally favorable match-ups, but both are doing some nice things apart from the rancid ERAs.  Doubront leads the league in strikeout rate (10.4 K/9) with six or more in four of his five starts.  His problem has been efficiency.  He has 94-plus pitches in all five of his starts yet he hasn’t seen the seventh inning in any of them. 

The knock on Nova last year was a lack of peripheral skills, but his 8.2 K/9 and 3.1 K/BB are greatly improved from last year’s marks.  He has been eminently hittable, though, with a 13.2 H/9 and 1.8 HR/9.  He has a chance to get right against a Longoria-less Rays team and the Mariners.  For Detroit, Below gets arguably the two most favorable matchups possible in easily the two most favorable parks, making an otherwise waiver wire-worthy guy into a solid starter for the week. 

Jake Arrieta (vs. TEX; vs. TB)
Phil Humber (@ CLE; vs. KC)
Matt Harrison (@ BAL; vs. LAA)
Justin Masterson (vs. CHW; @ BOS)

Arrieta decimated the Yankees this week, going eight scoreless while allowing five hits and striking out nine (with nary a walk).  Is that enough to make him a start with two more difficult outings on the docket?  His gem against the Yankees came after a pair of flops against LA and Oakland—the 22nd and 30th-ranked teams in OPS—so let’s not get crazy.  Keep an eye on the potentially emerging Oriole, but don’t overrate his great start. 

Humber just got done walking six Indians on Wednesday, his control all of a sudden abandoning him. His home run issues returned as well with a three-home-run outing against Boston, leaving him as a shaky start for the upcoming week.  He isn’t worth the risk in 10-team mixed leagues, but he gets more intriguing in leagues with 12-plus teams. 

Baltimore is 11th in runs and seventh in OPS thus far; it is no longer a cakewalk for pitchers to stroll into Camden Yards.  Harrison, meanwhile, has been brutal in his last two outings, making the decision even tougher.  The offensive support will be there, but will the 2011 Harrison return?

John Danks (@ CLE; vs. KC)
Brian Matusz (vs. TEX; vs. TB)
Blake Beavan (vs. DET; @ NYY)
Josh Tomlin (vs. CHW; @ BOS)
Francisco Liriano (vs. LAA; vs. TOR)
Jonathan Sanchez (vs. BOS; @ CHW)
Liam Hendriks (vs. LAA; vs. TOR)

Danks is a mess right now. He is more talented than this, but let him iron it out on your bench in mixed leagues.  Those in shallow mixed leaguers should even consider making a waiver move with him.

All of that times 10 applies to Liriano.  These sit options are slam dunks as far as I am concerned, and some aren’t even rostered in AL-only leagues.

Roy Halladay and Tommy Hanson

Yes, Halladay is still an auto-start despite the destruction inflicted upon him against the Braves.  Hanson was also tossed around in that game but, aside from that, has been great this year and remains an auto-start even with a St. Louis start this week.

Lance Lynn (@ ARI; vs. StL)
Wandy Rodriguez (vs. MIA; @ PIT)
Jonathon Niese (@ PHI; @ MIA)
Edwin Jackson (@ PIT; @ CIN)
Ted Lilly (vs. SF; vs. COL)
Jeff Samardzija (vs. ATL; @ MIL)
Edinson Volquez (vs. COL; @ PHI)

I was thisclose to putting Lynn in the auto-starts; I love what he has done so far this year, but then I reality-checked myself and realized it has been 34 innings of greatness, that’s it.  So while he did have the best fastball in baseball in April, I decided to “slow my roll,” as the kids might say, and leave him as a start instead of an auto-start.  Speaking of best pitches, Niese tied Erik Bedard for the best curveball in April.

Rodriguez has been excellent this year, and while his K/9 has dipped a good bit from 7.8 to 6.3, he has also cut a walk per inning, lowering his BB/9 to 2.3 and creating his best strikeout-to-walk rate in three years.  He has been instrumental in Houston’s solid start.  They’re 11-14, but that is incredible compared to projections that almost universally had them losing 100-plus games. 

Marco Estrada (vs. CIN; vs. CHC)
A.J. Burnett (vs. WAS; vs. HOU)
Joe Saunders (vs. STL; vs. SF)

Estrada has excellent peripherals with a 9.5 K/9 and 3.6 K/BB in 17 innings, but he has a 2.1 HR/9 so far and a 1.5 HR/9 for his career.  The consistent home runs issues make it difficult to fully recommend the 28-year old despite his impressive skills.

After what Burnett did to a team’s ERA on Wednesday, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was cut posthaste.  At the very least, it will make some, if not all, of his managers gunshy going forward, but the skills are there for success; he did have two excellent starts before this abomination.

Saunders is due for some regression, but a career-high groundball rate (51 percent) and his best strikeout rate since 2006 (5.9 K/9) suggest he could at least remain usable going forward.  Of course, after seeing what St. Louis did to Burnett, a much better pitcher, I cringe at the thought of what could be in store for Saunders. 

Carlos Zambrano (@ HOU; vs. NYM)
Bronson Arroyo (@ MIL; vs. WAS)
Barry Zito (@ LAD; @ ARI)
Unnamed Colorado Starter (@ SD; @ LAD)

Zambrano is exhibiting virtually the same exact skills from last year when he had a 4.82 ERA.  His ERA is 2.53 against a 4.18 xFIP.  The big difference?  A .244 BABIP.  No thanks.  Zito’s line is even crazier.  His 1.76 ERA is counterbalanced by a 5.24 (!) xFIP.  Have fun rostering either of these guys. 

Jhoulys Chacin was slated for a pair of starts for the Rockies, but he was sent down yesterday, hence the “Unnamed Starter”.  There is no one they could call up who would be worth starting, even with a trip into San Diego on the schedule.

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

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