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July 27, 2012

Weekly Planner

Week 18

by Paul Sporer

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Despite actually posting better peripherals than last year, Ian Kennedy’s ERA and WHIP have lagged this year, but he appears to be getting back on track with back-to-back gems and a chance for a third straight and second in a week when he faces the Mets on Saturday. He is still toting a 4.20 ERA, though, so there may still be time to buy at a discount. Anyone paying attention isn’t just going to give him away, but it’s worth a shot. Frankly, I’d buy at market value, so any discount would be icing.

It was supposed to be a star-studded week in the NL with six auto-starters going, but Clayton Kershaw, R.A. Dickey, and Roy Halladay have all been smacked around in their initial start of the week. At least Zack Greinke, Gio Gonzalez, and Josh Johnson have held up their end. Of the three duds, I’m not at all worried about Kershaw, am slightly concerned about Dickey’s horrid July, and am legitimately worried that Halladay simply isn’t 100 percent yet.

Elsewhere, I’d have preferred a stronger outing from Mat Latos (5 IP, 2 ER) against Houston since his second one will come in Coors. The rest of the starts were solid, save for a pair; Clayton Richard and James McDonald failed in their first start of the week, so they have plenty of work to do in their weekend outing.

In the sits, both Joe Saunders and Chris Young were regrettable; both looked great, but they were calculated odds plays. Both allow the ball to be put into play a lot and were facing offenses who could take full advantage of it. We’ll see how they do in their weekend start and will keep an eye on them going forward to see if they merit “start” consideration the next time their two-start week comes around.

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Auto-Starts: Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, and Cliff Lee

Start
Matt Garza (vs. PIT; @ LAD)
Edwin Jackson (vs. PHI; vs. MIA)
Mike Leake (vs. SD; vs. PIT)
Homer Bailey (vs. SD; vs. PIT)
Tommy Hanson (vs. MIA; vs. HOU)
Edinson Volquez (@ CIN; vs. NYM)
Mark Buehrle (@ ATL; @ WAS)
Aaron Harang (vs. ARI; vs. CHC)
Matt Harvey (@ SF; @ SD)
Marco Estrada (vs. HOU; @ STL)
Erik Bedard (@ CHC; @ CIN)
Trevor Cahill (@ LAD; @ PHI)
Jason Marquis (@ CIN; vs. NYM)
Bud Norris (@ MIL; @ ATL)

After a rough three-start patch, Jackson is back on track with back-to-back seven inning gems during which he has allowed just a single run. There is nothing wrong with his 6.7 K/9, which is partly attributable to pitching coach Steve McCatty’s philosophy, but when I see Jackson on the mound, I see strikeout-per-inning stuff a lot of the time.

Bailey was popped for six runs in just three innings back on June 5. It came after a solid string of four starts, but it invariably left those most familiar with him saying, “Oh here we go again with Homer!” as he has continually struggled with consistency throughout his career. He shows flashes of brilliance mixed with bouts of Liriano-ism. Thankfully, this outing was merely a blip; he has been excellent in nine starts since with a 2.63 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, and 3.2 K/BB in 61 2/3 innings of work.

Hanson has been living on a thin wire of late, and if he didn’t have two favorable outings, he’d have found himself much lower on this list (because he definitely reads this!!). After back-to-back flameouts, he played with fire for five innings in Miami this week, walking seven and allowing seven stolen bases yet allowing just one run. He struck out seven, which was nice, but that 2.00 WHIP was not so much.

Harang has allowed more than three earned runs just twice in his last 15 starts spanning from May to July, yielding a 2.67 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 91 innings. His 6.4 K/9 isn’t particularly special, and his 1.7 K/BB is just plain bad, but he is getting the job done. I would be a bit more reticent if he weren’t at home twice with a start against the Cubs on tap.

Harvey just finished carving up the Diamondbacks for 5 1/3 shutout innings, allowing three hits and three walks while striking out 11. That is literally our entire MLB sample for him, but it was very impressive, and he gets two of the most favorable NL matchups and venues a pitcher can get next week, so you should ride the hot hand… err, arm.

Marquis has been quite good since joining the Padres, so he has worked his way up into “start” status for me. I’m a bit nervous about the start in Cincinnati, but his groundball-heavy lean should be able to sustain him there and get you to the more favorable outing against the Mets in Petco.

Consider
Kyle Lohse (@ COL; vs. MIL)

If you have been reading this feature for any amount of time this year, you know how I feel about non-superstars in Coors, so I’m reticent to go with Lohse this week despite how well he has pitched this year. As the cliché goes, your mileage may vary.

Sit
Tim Lincecum (vs. NYM; @ COL)
Christian Friedrich (vs. STL; vs. SF)
Ricky Nolasco (@ ATL; @ WAS)
Carlos Zambrano (@ ATL; @ WAS)
Jair Jurrjens (vs. MIA; vs. HOU)
Jeff Francis (vs. STL; vs. SF)
Jeremy Hefner (@ SF; @ SD)

I don’t trust Lohse in Coors, so you know I can’t trust Lincecum there. How stupid would that sentence have looked at any point prior to, say, mid-to-late May? Even though he was struggling in April and early May, we all thought the “real” Lincecum would return, but it became obvious that he wasn’t himself in the mid-May to Memorial Day area. We’ve only caught a few glimpses of his former self this year, all against awful lineups. Start him at your own peril at this point. He is too talented to cut in a lot of formats, but 10-team mixed leagues probably have too much talent on the wire to keep trotting him out every fifth day.

The rest of these guys generated literally zero consideration. One of the six starts among Nolasco, Zambrano, and Jurrjens will likely be pretty good, but guessing which would be pretty close to impossible, and chances are great that they’ll just cancel it out with the other start, so don’t even waste your time.

****

Over in the Junior Circuit, every one of last week’s “starts” has posted at least a baseline quality start in their first outing of the week, and most have their easier start (on paper, at least) of the week coming up this weekend. I’m glad I stayed convicted with Liriano, but I shouldn’t have even put him as a consider. He is totally the Britta of starting pitchers, so I wouldn’t expect to see him anywhere but in the "sits" during his two-start weeks. 

Masterson and Hellickson were strong in their outings as "considers," both against Baltimore as luck would have it, and continued success would bring them back into the "start" category where they both have been at different times during the season. Oswalt, meanwhile, was skipped and hasn’t pitched for 10 days now, adding an injury concern to his spotty record for the 2012 season. Remember when starting pitching was a point of major depth for the Rangers? Now they’re in on just about every trade candidate.

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Auto-Starts: Justin Verlander, David Price, and Jered Weaver

Start
Tom Milone (vs. TB; vs. TOR)
Clay Buchholz (vs. DET; vs. MIN)
Derek Holland (vs. LAA; @ KC)
Josh Beckett (vs. DET; vs. MIN)
A.J. Griffin (vs. TB; vs. TOR)
Jose Quintana (@ MIN; vs. LAA)

Oakland’s improbable run this year has been sustained by a no-name pitching staff; Milone has been a force all year long, while Griffin has been great in his six starts since joining the big league club. They both get a pair of starts at home, where the A’s have been excellent and pitchers have a wide margin for error. The Rays are really struggling at the dish of late, while the Jays still have some thunder, but it is muted with Jose Bautista on the shelf.

Conversely, the Red Sox have actually been a sub-.500 team at home; things just can’t get on track for the team, so I would like their two guys better if they had a couple of road starts away from the noise of their critics in the city. I’m coming around a bit on Buchholz, though. He ended May with a 7.19 ERA despite closing the month with a seven-inning, two-ER outing (yeah, his ERA was so bad that this outing lowered it to 7.19), but since then he has a 2.45 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 51 innings of work with a 7.0 K/9 and 3.6 K/BB supporting the sharp ratios. That bowling-ball sinker needs to be seen in order to truly appreciate it. Hopefully he can develop consistency so he can always be trusted.

Quintana has an every-other-start thing going on with outings of zero, six, one, five, zero, and four earned runs in his last six against a mix of competition. Two of the gems came against Texas and in Boston, but two of the duds were in Kansas City and against Minnesota. Let’s give him a shot here and see if he can earn some trust as a regular start in two-start weeks.

Consider
Freddy Garcia (vs. BAL; vs. SEA)
Cole De Vries (vs. CHW; @ BOS)
Aaron Laffey (@ SEA; @ OAK)
Ricky Romero (@ SEA; @ OAK)

Garcia since joining the rotation on July 2: 3.90 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, and 3.0 K/BB in 30 innings. Not great, but not awful, and while I never recommend chasing wins, times are getting more desperate as we near August.

De Vries has meltdown starts against Chicago and Oakland skewing his overall data; he gave up three home runs in both of those outings, pushing his HR/9 to 2.1. You can’t just ignore those results; he clearly leaves his high-80s stuff over the fat part of the plate at times, which is bound to happen when you hit the zone as often as he does, but even with those starts he still has a 3.64 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 6.3 K/9, and 3.7 K/BB in 47 innings.

I originally had Romero among the “sits” because, frankly, that is where he belongs, but I figured with these matchups this is the perfect litmus test for those battling the decision on him. If you aren’t comfortable starting him in these two matchups, then just cut him because it won’t get more favorable than this.

Sit
Martin Perez (vs. LAA; @ KC)
Hisashi Iwakuma (vs. TOR; @ NYY)
Luke Hochevar (vs. CLE; vs. TEX)
Ervin Santana (@ TEX; @ CHW)
Miguel Gonzalez (@ NYY; @ TB)
Derek Lowe (@ KC; @ DET)
Nick Blackburn (vs. CHW; @ BOS)

Perez isn’t quite trustworthy yet, but it is nice to see the über-prospect staying above water after struggling in the minors and losing some luster on his star stock.

Hochevar loves to vacillate between looking worthy of the no. 1 overall pick and looking like a Single-A fringe prospect dropped into the majors for a spot start because an organization simply had no one else. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me 612 times, shame probably still on you because I don’t want to take responsibility here.

Home run machine Santana faces the fourth- and fifth-highest ranked home run hitting teams in their hitter-friendly venues. This will end well.

COMPOSITE RANKINGS
Auto-Starts

Verlander, Strasburg, Price, Weaver, Bumgarner, Lee

Starts
Garza, E-Jax, Leake, Bailey, Milone, Buchholz, Holland, Hanson, Volquez, Buehrle, Harang, Beckett, Griffin, Harvey, Estrada, Bedard, Cahill, Marquis, Norris, Quintana

Considers
Lohse, Garcia, De Vries, Laffey, Romero

Sits
Lincecum, Perez, Iwakuma, Hochevar, Friedrich, Nolasco, Zambrano, Jurrjens, Santana, Gonzalez, Francis, Hefner, Lowe, Blackburn

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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