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April 11, 2014

Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner

Week Three

by Wilson Karaman

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Welcome to the Weekly Pitching Planner! Every Friday this season, I’ll be taking you through all of the two-start options for the coming week to help you decide who to start and who to sit. Outside of the elites, two-start pitchers are often as much or more trouble than they’re worth, as rare is the week in which the stars align to offer your starters not just one but two consecutive tasty matchups. As a result, you’ll notice that sometimes the better starters will find themselves in the “Consider” category, because they might have one good matchup, but a second tough one. And similarly, less-talented hurlers might just meander their way into “Start” territory on account of a plum schedule. The pitchers will be split by league, and then by categories:

Auto-Starts – These are your surefire fantasy aces. You paid a handsome sum for these guys, either with an early draft pick or high dollar auction bid. These are the top 20 or so starters in baseball, so you’re starting them anywhere, anytime. Guys can emerge onto or fall off of this list as the season evolves. There won’t be many—if any—notes associated with these groupings each week, unless a player has just moved up or is in imminent danger of moving down.

Starts – These are the guys I’m recommending you put into your lineup this week. Some will be obvious, but not quite auto-start excellent, while others will be waiver-wire fodder who find themselves with a pair of favorable outings that you can take advantage of in your league. There will be accompanying notes supporting the decisions.

Considers – As mentioned earlier, these guys will be on the fence and your league settings and position in the standings will really be the decider here. A pitcher in this category can be your number two starter with a tough week of matchups in Cincinnati and Colorado. Or conversely if the Minnesota Twins fifth starter is slated to face the Astros at home followed by an interleague trip to San Diego, he will appear on this list because the matchups are great even though he might not be. Your particular league settings will have a lot to say here; if you are in a 10-team mixed league you probably don’t need to take the risk, but a 10-team AL-only leaguer might see it as a nice opportunity to log some quality innings from a freely available resource.

Sits – These are the guys I’m staying away from this week. They will range in talent from solid to poor. With mixed leagues larger than 10 teams my default position for all two-start pitchers who rank outside of the top 60 or so is to sit them unless the matchups dictate otherwise. Additionally, mid-rotation starters who face a couple tough draws will find themselves in this category more often than not.

As always the standard disclaimer applies to these match-up previews that all start schedules are subject to change on account of rainouts, injuries, managers arbitrarily shuffling their rotations, etc.

And now, on to your Week Three two-start options:

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Homer Bailey

PIT, CHC

Cliff Lee

ATL, @COL

Gerrit Cole

@CIN, MIL

Stephen Strasburg

@MIA, STL

Jordan Zimmermann

@MIA, STL

Notes:

  • Bailey was bumped back from a scheduled two-start week last week and draws two divisional starts at home in Week Three instead. You paid for him, continue to roll with him.
  • Lee’s one of about a half-dozen pitchers on the planet I wouldn’t think twice about starting in Coors. Somewhat surprisingly for a guy with over 2,000 big-league innings this’ll only be his second career start at Rocky Mountain High.

START

Shelby Miller

@MIL, @WAS

Lance Lynn

@MIL, @WAS

Franklin Morales

@SDG, PHI

Juan Nicasio

@SDG, PHI

Zack Wheeler

@ARI, ATL

Notes:

  • Miller’s a borderline auto-start with an ADP a hair outside the top 25, but he’s also been decidedly mediocre in his first two starts of 2014. Still, he’s owned the Brewers in five career starts and also pitched extremely well in two starts against Washington last year. He gets a little bit more leash and the nod for this two-start week.
  • Bucking his personal trend of the previous two seasons Lynn has not gotten off to a scorching hot start this season. Still, the match-ups are fairly neutral, and despite unimpressive top-line numbers, Lynn’s 11-to-1 K:BB ratio though his first 11 innings is encouraging, and he’s an attractive option this week.
  • Morales and Nicasio both have very tasty match-ups this week, first travelling to Petco and then welcoming one of the worst road offenses in baseball of a year ago (Philadelphia) to Coors. The Coors risk is inherent, but both make for nice NL-only and deeper mixed league plays this week.
  • Chase Field isn’t the greatest venue to visit, but Wheeler’s handled both of these teams well so far in his career, albeit in just one start to date against the Snakes. He’s been a bit hittable in his two starts this season, but his peripherals are strong and he makes for a good play in deeper leagues this week.

CONSIDER

Tim Lincecum

LAD, @SDG

Ervin Santana

@PHI, @NYM

Matt Garza

STL, @PIT

Marco Estrada

STL, @PIT

Robbie Erlin

COL, SFG

Bronson Arroyo

NYM, @LAD

Wandy Rodriguez

@CIN MIL

Josh Beckett

@SFG, ARI

David Hale

@PHI, @NYM

Notes:

  • Lincecum has held his own even in his more recent post-prime incarnation against the improved offenses of the Dodgers, and he’s dominated the Padres thoroughly and routinely throughout his career. He’s a nice back-end play for two starts this week on paper, but as any Lincecum owner knows his performance is all over the map these days. Still, he’s a borderline “Start” on account of the match-ups, and I’d definitely consider taking the risk.
  • Santana looked fantastic in his debut start against the Mets, with eight shutout innings on three hits and no walks. Two road starts, including a return engagement with New York, and the last lingering questions about his late start are the only things keeping him out of the “Start” column. As with Lincecum I’d lean strongly towards starting.
  • Garza and Estrada both get the same difficult pair of match-ups this week, as the Brewers are set to host the defending NL champs at home followed by a road trip to Pittsburgh. Both have pitched fantastic baseball out of the gate so far, so your decisions here are more a reflection of the tough schedule than anything else. Between the two I view Garza as a slightly safer bet, as Estrada’s a true Jekyll and Hyde act for these opponents, having dominated the Pirates at every look (2.06 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 59-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ration in 56 career innings) while getting eaten alive routinely by St. Louis (5.74 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 37-to-18 K:BB 46 career innings).
  • I was on the fence for a straight “Start” recommendation for Erlin on account of the home-and-home at Petco, but I’d like to see more from him in mixed leagues before he graduates into obvious streamer territory. He’s a strong option for NL-only leagues and deeper leagues though with the favorable schedule.
  • We come to the untrustworthy crusty veteran portion of our program with Arroyo, Rodriguez, and Beckett. The latter has the best schedule on paper, but he’s also coming off an unpredictable injury and the rust of missing two-thirds of last season. His velocity looked solid in his last start, but I probably wouldn’t touch him just yet. Rodriguez and Arroyo both have at least one difficult match-up each, and I’d leave them for the deepest of leagues this week.
  • Hale looked decent in his inaugural start of the season, but makes for a risky play outside of NL-only leagues.

SIT

Brad Hand

WAS, SEA

Eric Stults

COL, SFG

Roberto Hernandez

ATL, @COL

Notes:

  • I don’t trust Hand even despite the two home starts, as his control is spotty and he’s not stretched out enough to where anything more than five innings a start is your best-case scenario. Washington also just saw him, and I’m always skeptical when a non-elite pitcher faces the same offense for the second time in under a week. I would look elsewhere.
  • Stults has posted middling numbers against both of these divisional opponents over significant samples sizes, with a WHIP over 1.40 and a strikeout rate under six-per-nine against both. The Petco factor is nice, but I see him as a strict match-up play in even NL-only leagues right now, and the familiarity of both of these opponents with his mediocre repertoire makes him a dangerous play.
  • Hernandez has posted an impressive and out-of-nowhere 14-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his first two starts, and he’s done it despite featuring a fastball that’s short two miles an hour in over three-quarters of his pitches to date. He’s someone to monitor in NL-only leagues to see where he goes from here, but I wouldn’t put myself in the position of having a vested interest with an upcoming trip to Coors on the docket.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Anibal Sanchez

CLE, LAA

Masahiro Tanaka

CHC, @TAM

STARTS

Yordano Ventura

@HOU, MIN

Chris Archer

@BAL, NYY

Notes:

  • These guys put on quite a show in opposing each other in Kansas City the other day, with Archer tossing seven scoreless to Ventura’s six. They’re two of the best young starters in the American League, and while Ventura has a decisive advantage in the match-ups next week they’re both virtual must-starts—particularly in AL-only leagues—until further notice.

CONSIDER

Martin Perez

SEA, CHW

Jesse Chavez

@LAA, HOU

Brandon Morrow

@MIN, @CLE

Hector Santiago

OAK, @DET

Wei-Yin Chen

TAM, @BOS

Robbie Ross

SEA, CHW

Jake Peavy

@CHW, BAL

Zach McAllister

@DET, TOR

Jake Odorizzi

@BAL, NYY

Roenis Elias

@TEX, @MIA

Notes:

  • Perez is not far behind the Ventura’s and Archer’s of the league. He looked great in his first start of the season against Philly, then followed it up with six more outstanding innings at Fenway this week before he ran out of gas in the seventh and watched from the dugout as Jason Frasor lit a match to his box score. He’s got a couple home starts this week, and I’d lean towards trotting him out there on merit.
  • Jarrod Parker who? A former journeyman who appears to have found his home, Chavez has picked up right where he left off last year. He’s continuing to throw a bunch more cutters and two-seamers in an A’s uniform than he did anywhere else, only now he’s doing it in the starting rotation. His first start next week in Orange County is a tough one to recommend, but the reward for your bravery is a subsequent date with Houston at O.Co.
  • Santiago’s experiment with becoming a more ground-ball-oriented pitcher has not gone well so far, as a heavier rotation of two-seamers at the expense of his change-up has produced some ugly results. He faces two tough starts this week, and I’d lean towards sitting until he gets back on track. Still, he probably has his place in some AL-only leagues.
  • I similarly waffled on Chen between the “consider” and “sit” recommendations, and it’s a tough call. He’s had eight starts apiece against both Tampa and Boston, with a solid line against the former (3.04 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in 50 innings) and pretty terrible results against the latter (5.24 ERA, 1.70 WHIP over 44 2/3). It’s a mixed bag to be sure, and I’d probably lean towards sitting in anything shy of a deeper AL-only.
  • Ross has the same slate as teammate Martin Perez, but I’m less inclined to roll with him. Despite a shiny ERA through two starts his control has been spotty and he’s survived by dancing around 18 baserunners in his 10-plus innings thus far. He’s an option for AL-only leagues, but I’d stay away in anything but the deepest of mixed leagues.
  • Peavy’s been everything you drafted him to be through his first two turns in the rotation, and what you do with him for his two-start week will say more about the depth and state of your rotation than anything. A trip to US Cellular is never a good thing, but Peavy certainly knows his way around that mound. Not a great week schedule-wise, but neutral enough that if you’re relying on Peavy in the top half of your rotation he’s probably worth a run here.
  • I want to like and trust Zach McAllister, I just don’t yet. He’s looked Peavy-esque in his first two starts of the season, but travelling to the Motor City is always a tough draw and the Tigers have handled him to the tune of a 1.85 WHIP over his six career starts against them. He’s worth a look in some deeper AL-onlies, but not much more than that this week.
  • Odorizzi and Elias are both AL-only considers this week, but not likely anything beyond that. I’d have a hard time starting either, but then I don’t play in your league, so it may be a better idea for you to do it.

SIT

Erik Johnson

BOS, @TEX

Phil Hughes

TOR, @KCR

Lucas Harrell

KCR, @OAK

Notes:

  • I like Johnson in theory as a perfectly serviceable mid-rotation arm, but his skillset is not ideal for his ballpark and he’s got a tough set of opponents to work with this week. He’s given up 19 hits in 10-plus innings so far and now has to navigate two of the best offenses in baseball. Pass.
  • With thanks to Aaron Gleeman for the stat, it should be noted that Phil Hughes has now given up 45 runs in 49 innings since the All-Star Break last season. He’s a sit until further notice.
  • I refuse to say nice things about Lucas Harrell as long as he continues to steal starts that rightfully belong to Brad Peacock. Also, he’s walked more batters than he’s struck out thus far after posting an 89:88 ratio last year, and he’s yielded nine earned runs on 14 hits through his first seven and a third innings. You seem like a nice person, but even if you weren’t and I didn’t like you at all, I still wouldn’t recommend you roster, let alone start, this guy.

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

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