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July 17, 2013
Last week in this space, we looked at some starters who have shown a penchant for doing their best work while in front of their hometown crowd. They aren’t widely rostered in 10- and 12-team leagues, giving you an opportunity to take advantage of those home starts while avoiding the road starts, assuming your league rules allow such frequent transactions. Unsurprisingly, they all play in comfortable environs, but they don’t consistently perform on the road, keeping them from being thoroughly sought-after assets.
Today’s group is the same, but opposite. They play in tougher home ballparks which cause inconsistent work while at home, but their skills shine through on the road, though the composite numbers hide that fact in many instances, creating a buying opportunity. Let’s start in the most obvious of these venues.
Ah, Coors Field: fantasy baseball’s cruel mistress. We love what she does for hitters, but how much of those standings gains do we give back via pitching performance when our pitchers make the trek to Denver? Chatwood is a little different from the rest of the group in that his composite ERA is actually amazing at 2.56, but that hasn’t really earned him much love, as he is on just 14 percent of rosters at both ESPN and Yahoo!. Thus, he makes the list.
His 4.01 home ERA isn’t exactly soul-crushing, but the 1.66 WHIP and 1.5 K:BB portend an ERA surge if he doesn’t improve. His 57 percent ground-ball rate is special, but it is 50 percent at home (still great) compared to an incredibly elite 64 percent mark on the road. He can be trusted outside of Coors and his skills have the potential to work within the unfriendly confines of his home ballpark. For now, though, you’re playing with fire if you leave him in your lineup for those home starts.
We’ll stay in Colorado for one more name as Chacin’s return from an injury-shortened 2012 has been mostly positive. He leads all of baseball with a 0.2 HR/9 rate as a 2.0 groundball-to-flyball ratio at home has kept his ERA in Denver from being a complete disaster. Meanwhile, the composite numbers are modest because so much more of his work has come at home, masking the strong 21 percent strikeout rate on the road (league average is 19 percent). He is actually showing some signs of improvement at home with a 2.63 ERA in his last four spanning 27 1/3 innings of work. His road work has been nearly flawless, though, as he has yet to allow more than two earned runs in any of the seven outings.
With some of his work coming in relief, his numbers are a bit skewed, but not in the way you might think. His ERA as a reliever is actually 0.80 worse than his starter work, which has yielded a 3.13 in 69 innings (out of 87 1/3 total innings). As a starter, he has a 2.58 ERA on the road and a 4.01 ERA in U.S. Cellular. The White Sox’ home ballpark has always been a great place for hitters, especially lefties, and thus it’s no surprise to see southpaws posting a .308/.429/.462 line against him there compared to the .263/.340/.442 line righties have amassed.
The major issue with Santiago, at least as it relates to our usage of him as a spot start, is his role. He has been yo-yoed in and out of the rotation this year as the White Sox deal with various injuries, but with John Danks back (and pitching quite well) and Jake Peavy on the road to recovery, someone will be shuffled into the bullpen again. Hopefully the Sox see that Santiago has done more than enough to maintain a spot, especially compared to Dylan Axelrod (5.33 ERA, 1.56 WHIP). I think Santiago is safe, but stay tuned as Peavy works his way back.
Keuchel isn’t someone I expected to see generate many useful fantasy innings this year, but as the season has evolved, he has become a nice little bright spot for an Astros team that knew they’d struggle this year. In fact, in his last eight starts, he has a 3.86 ERA and 3.9 K:BB over 49 innings which even includes some decent work in Houston. The Minute Maid Park dimensions have just brought out the worst of him overall, as he has allowed 63 hits and 22 walks in the 49 2/3 innings of work. Do the walks beget hits or do the hits beget walks? Either way, it’s been trouble despite a strong 52 percent ground-ball rate at home.
On the road, his walk rate tumbles to an excellent four percent rate; he’s allowed just 44 hits in 40 innings, and his ground-ball rate shoots up to 58 percent. The 25-year old lefty doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, but he has a deep pitch mix and, as he gets better at deploying it against arm-side batters, we could see him develop into an “everywhere” play. For now, pounce on those away starts, particularly when he is completely out of the state. He only gave up two earned in five innings in Arlington, but that’s a dangerous venue for any pitcher.
This road warrior is particularly frustrating because his skills at home are markedly better and actually quite elite, but his troubles boil down to the one thing that his home ballpark exacerbates: home runs. Hughes is 1-7 with that 5.64 ERA at home despite that shiny 4.6 K:BB because he has allowed 12 homers in 54 1/3 innings, or two per nine innings. No one can be successful when allowing long balls at that clip, even if he is not giving away free bases via the walk.
On the road, that home-run rate plummets to 1.1, which is still shaky, but far more palatable than the home figure. If only he could bring the home skills to the road, his ERA away from Yankee Stadium would likely be near one of the Rockies or at least on par with Santiago. The talent is obvious and even shows up at home sometimes—as evidenced by his passable 3.73 ERA there in his last three starts—but the 2.3 HR/9 that goes with it (five homers in 19 1/3 IP) suggests that he was remarkably fortunate to escape with a sub-4.00 ERA. He’s not a pure road play, as I wouldn’t trust in any yard that is prone to home runs, meaning he rides the pine for trips to Toronto, Houston, Chicago, Texas, and Baltimore, plus other NL venues that may or may not come into play the rest of this year via interleague.
As we enter the second “half”—we are well past the 81-game mark—we will start to see innings limits pop up for certain young arms and the dog days of summer will wreak havoc on the ERAs of some pitchers. Thus, streaming useful starters becomes even more important as you chase down the pennant. Now you have 10 names to put on your waiver wire watch list and utilize as their favorable splits comes into play.