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May 2, 2014

Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner

Week Six

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.

The note about rainouts is particularly relevant this week, as a rash of them have kicked several starters originally slated for two-start weeks last week back onto our rolls for this week. Of particular note, the Mariners add a double-header to their already-packed schedule next week, resulting in eight games over seven days and three two-start options. In total we’ve got a whole bunch of two-start options piled up, so I’ll try to be as brief as possible with some of the less controversial recommendations.

And with that, on to our Week Six pitching planner.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Zack Greinke

@WAS, SFG

Clayton Kershaw

@WAS, SFG

Matt Cain

@PIT, @LAD

Notes:

You paid for Cain, but he’s been bitten by the home-run ball a bit so far and the issue has led to mixed results. He’s got a nasty slate of games this week, and I can see an argument for sitting him. Still, his other peripherals are largely in line with past seasons, and it’s probably not panic time for his owners. Yet.

START

Nathan Eovaldi

NYM, @SDG

Jeff Samardzija

CHW, @ATL

Jon Niese

@MIA, PHI

Henderson Alvarez

NYM, @SDG

Notes:

Eovaldi has done right by his pre-season sleeper buzz so far, posting a 2.18 FIP through his first six starts and 38 1/3 innings. He’s burning a ton more worms and striking a bunch more guys out thus far. Whether we’re looking at largely sustainable growth remains to be seen, but he gets two delicious match-ups this week and is a no-questions-asked start.

Samardzija was slated for two starts last week, and winds up with a similarly tough but manageable slate this week instead. He’s dramatically increased his two-seamer usage in six starts this season, and so far results have been largely in line with intention: less strikeouts and more ground balls. It’s an unfortunate turn of events for fantasy owners who drafted him for top-tier strikeout potential, but then again he’s actually pitching consistently well. Continue rolling with him confidently for the time being.

Niese is also a bump from last week, and he avoided a trip to Coors as his reward. He’s a solid play this week.

Alvarez benefits from the same plus-plus schedule as Eovaldi, and while he hasn’t enjoyed quite the same coming out party as his rotation-mate, he’s been a solid back-end option in his own right, and these match-ups are just right. He’s a definite start in NL-only leagues and pretty much everywhere else.

CONSIDER

Tim Hudson

@PIT, @LAD

Matt Garza

ARI, NYY

Shelby Miller

@ATL, @PIT

Charlie Morton

SFG, STL

Aaron Harang

STL, CHC

Kyle Kendrick

TOR, @NYM

Eric Stults

KCR, MIA

Robbie Erlin

KCR, MIA

Jordan Lyles

TEX, @CIN

Juan Nicasio

TEX, @CIN

Roberto Hernandez

TOR, @NYM

Notes:

Hudson has pitched nothing short of spectacular baseball out of the gate, with a sparkling ERA backed up by a 2.83 FIP. His walk rate has been otherworldly, and batters are unlikely to hit .192 against him for the entire season. These match-ups are tougher on paper than they have played out in reality of late, as Pittsburgh’s offense has been pretty poor and the Dodgers have struggled to score of late. I’d be inclined to run him outside of the shallowest of leagues.

Garza’s two-start status is in jeopardy after he injured his thumb swinging the bat and was removed after three innings in his last start. The home-home schedule is attractive, but the injury concern is not. Stay tuned on this one.

The good news for Miller owners is that despite an unsightly FIP north of 6.00, his release point, pitch movement, and velocity are all on par with his performance of last year. His ballooned walk rate and diminished whiff rate both appear to be the product of difficulties throwing first-pitch strikes and a subsequent and notable effort by hitters league-wide so far to wait him out. Hitters are swinging far less frequently at his stuff, indicating results are more the product of an adjusted approach against him than any mechanical or injury concerns. I’d probably err on the side of sitting him until he can successfully counter-adjust, but I’m not worried about him for the long haul just yet.

Morton’s another one who has seen his two-start week pushed into Week Six, and the move benefits him a bit schedule-wise. Still, he’s been a bit inconsistent thus far and warrants some caution. I’d suggest leaving him for deeper mixed and NL-only leagues without innings caps.

The pixie dust finally wore off Harang in his last start, as he got lit up to the tune of double-digit runs. It’s really up to you if you want to keep gambling on him.

Kendrick makes for a decent back-end play in NL-only leagues, as usual. Toronto’s a slightly less scary team on the road, while his visit to Citi Field makes for a tasty assignment. If you can stomach the greater risk of the Toronto start go for it.

Stults and Erlin make the cut for consideration on the strength of their two home starts at Petco. Erlin’s actually thrown together some decent numbers despite the ugly topline of a 5.83 ERA. That number appears the unfortunate by-product of a .340 BABIP and 58 percent LOB double whammy. His 3.03 FIP, built on the back of a shiny 25-to-7 K:BB ratio over his first 29 innings, points to greener pastures ahead. I’d strongly consider him in even medium-depth mixed leagues, while Stults is probably best considered a strong match-up play for NL-only and deep mixed leagues.

Both Rockies’ pitchers face the same pretty gross slate of starts, with a capable offense in Coors followed by a trip to another strong hitter’s park in Cincinnati. Lyles has managed to hold his own despite a woeful strikeout rate of just 13 percent, while Nicasio’s been inconsistent as usual despite flashing strong stuff. I’d just as soon leave both on the bench this week, but between the two of them I’d prefer Lyles for the week. Neither the Rangers nor Reds are big strikeout teams, and minus that kind of a matchup advantage I don’t really trust Nicasio much at all.

Hernandez is a poorer man’s Kendrick for the week, which is…not a pretty comparison. He makes the cut for marginal consideration on account of the match-ups, but your league has to be Jacque Cousteau deep if you’re considering running him out there for two.

SIT

Michael Bolsinger

@MIL, @CHW

Edwin Jackson

CHW, @ATL

Notes:

Bolsinger’s certainly provided some intriguing indicators thus far through an up and down four game sample, with a ground-ball rate in the mid-50ss, over a whiff an inning, and just south of four strikeouts for every walk. But his 88 mile-an-hour heat has been susceptible to the long ball, and he’ll be travelling to two of the better venues around in which to hit baseballs over the wall. Milwaukee’s offense has cooled off a bit and they have several key pieces banged up right now. They still rate middle-of-the-pack though, and the White Sox are leading the world in mashing. I’d like to see more out of Bolsinger before I consider him for a couple starts on hostile soil. Sit tight for now.

Jackson won his last start, but continues to flummox fantasy owners far and wide. I don’t like either of these match-ups for him, and there’s really no reason to consider him here.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Max Scherzer

HOU, @MIN

Felix Hernandez

@OAK, KCR

STARTS

Yordano Ventura

@SDG, @SEA

Scott Kazmir

SEA, WAS

Chris Tillman

@TAM, HOU

Jeremy Guthrie

@SDG, @SEA

Chris Archer

BAL, CLE

Notes:

Some strong match-up options in the AL this week, highlighted by all four of the guys in this section.

Ventura continues to throw disgusting fastball after disgusting fastball, and you couldn’t draw up a much better schedule for him this week. Start with confidence.

Kazmir’s been outstanding through and through thus far, and he draws two favorable home starts on the week.

Tillman’s pitched perfectly fine in his five starts thus far, and he draws a sweet set up this week. He’s done solid work at the Trop in four career starts, and the Astros come to his house at week’s end. Sweet.

Safeco hasn’t play nearly as pitcher-friendly as it used to of late, but it’s still a pretty neutral place to play and Seattle’s struggled to score runs this season. And while Petco has similarly skewed much less dramatically towards pitchers of late, it remains one of the best venues in the sport for hurlers. If you own Guthrie it’s for a week like this.

Archer’s a borderline perhaps, but he gets the nod in my book. He’s by and large pitched very effectively so far and has a home-home set up against two middle-of-the-pack offenses for the week. That’s enough for me, certainly in AL-onlies and medium-depth mixed leagues.

CONSIDER

Zach McAllister

MIN, @TAM

Drew Hutchison

@PHI, LAA

Jered Weaver

NYY, @TOR

Jose Quintana

@CHC, ARI

Martin Perez

@COL, BOS

Mark Buehrle

@PHI, LAA

Notes:

McAllister’s coming off a rough start, and has now given up four earned runs without recording an out in the sixth inning of two consecutive starts (both losses). Still, the price is right for this week. The Twins have been a sneaky good offense out of the gate, but home cooking for that start plus a road tilt against a mid-tier offense presents an opportunity for McAllister owners to pile up league average innings in deeper leagues.

Hutchison’s been an outstanding find for those savvy enough to snag him at the end of deep league drafts or off the wire early, but he runs into a tough schedule this week. He’s benefitted from a deflated homerun rate so far, but Citizens Bank will be a nice test for the sustainability of those results. And the Angels are a terrifying offense. I could go either way with him this week depending on your league.

Every attempt I’ve ever made to write something insightful about Jered Weaver has burst into flames, so you’re on your own in navigating this tough set of match-ups.

Quintana was in line for two starts last week before rain bumped him back into two-start status for this week instead. Nothing’s really changed with the new match-up schedule, so here’s what I wrote last week: Quintana’s done pretty much what you expected him to do when you drafted him, posting usable back-end numbers thus far through five starts. He’s probably more of an AL-only play as a two-start option, but he may be worth a shot in mixed leagues depending on your league settings and team needs.

Perez is another victim of circumstance this week. If it feels like he’s seen an awful lot of quality opposition so far it’s because he has, and last time out the A’s knocked him around pretty good in their second consecutive look at him. He travels to Coors this week, which is never fun, and then faces Boston for the second time in a month—also never fun. I look forward to starting him with impunity, but this may not be the week to do that.

Similar to his soul sister Aaron Harang over in the NL, Mark Buehrle’s joyride to start the season came to an abrupt end in his last start, as the Red Sox tattooed him for seven runs on 12 hits. He faces the same less-than-ideal schedule as his rotation-mate Drew Hutchison, and I like him less as an option. In AL-only leagues, perhaps. In mixed leagues, probably not so much.

SIT

Robbie Ross

@COL, BOS

David Phelps

@LAA, @MIL

Jarred Cosart

@DET, @BAL

Brett Oberholtzer

@DET, @BAL

Kyle Gibson

@CLE, @DET

Mike Pelfrey

@CLE, @DET

Chris Young

@OAK, KCR

Roenis Elias

@OAK, KCR

Notes:

I’m a fan of Ross’ work this season, and over the course of the season to come he’ll appear in many more “consider” and even “start” recommendations than not. But this week’s schedule is brutal, and I can’t in good conscience advise a start. Chances are unless you’re in a very deep AL-only he’s been a pleasant surprise at the back of your rotation thus far, but running him out there with starts in Coors and against the defending champs (even in their currently diminished offensive form) is a wager I’m not willing to make.

Phelps has pitched solid ball out of the Yankee ‘pen so far, and will make his transition into the rotation next week with two road starts. The Brewers have actually struggled mightily on home soil thus far, but that Anaheim offense threatens a rude welcome. I’d perhaps consider him in deep AL-onlies or certain head-to-head formats, but really last resort style. I’d much rather avoid him, though.

The four two Houston hurlers have both struggled to the tune of ERA’s larger than five and a half, and they get a pair of difficult road matchups. No thanks.

Gibson’s actually managed three wins and a not-terrible ERA to date, but his cringe-inducing 15-to-14 K:BB in 29 innings is… not good. He looks down the barrel of two starts this week, and he will be doing so from my bench.

Rain knocked Pelfrey’s two starts back to this week, allowing his owners a few more days to huddle under their blankets and contemplate their lives.

Young and Elias are both awfully tough recommends for this week. The Mariners’ jam-packed week leads me to lean conservative with both of these guys, as bullpen management concerns could just turn a bad start into a disaster for one of these guys if a game gets out of hand early and he’s asked to fall on his sword for another couple innings. I might consider in deeper AL-only leagues, but Oakland’s offense is no joke and the scheduling situation is pretty hairy.

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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