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May 9, 2014

Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner

Week Seven

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 no. 2 starter with a tough week of matchups in Cincinnati and Colorado. 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.

A slight decline this week in the number of two-start options into the high-thirties from last week’s high of 44, but a similarly murky picture. Tough schedules limit a couple otherwise strong “start” candidates like Andrew Cashner and Rick Porcello, while solid match-ups put otherwise non-start types like Ryan Vogelsong and Tyler Lyons into the mix, at least as deeper league streaming options. I’m going to tone down the notes section a bit going forward, highlighting some of the more interesting match-ups I see in greater depth. So if you have any questions about a pitcher or match-up I don’t address, fire away in the comments section and I’ll elaborate there.

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

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Cliff Lee

LAA, CIN

Adam Wainwright

CHC, ATL

Jordan Zimmermann

@ARI, NYM

START

Dan Haren

MIA, @ARI

Tim Lincecum

ATL, MIA

Marco Estrada

PIT, @CHC

Notes:

Let’s roll the dice with Tim Lincecum for old time’s sake, eh? At least in NL-only leagues? He’s actually had his walks under control so far this year and has pitched significantly better than his ERA would indicate. He’s been done in by a silly .375 BABIP and out-of-whack homerun rate, and he gets two home starts against offenses in the bottom third of the majors on the road. C’mon, who’s with me?

On the other side of the FIP/ERA coin is Marco Estrada, who’s thus far managed to outpace his FIP by over a run. He’s been getting killed by the homerun ball, allowing nine of them so far in just over 43 innings. While the long ball’s always been a bugaboo of his, his current 1.87-per-nine pace is outrageous even for him. He’s continuing to evolve into a fastball-change-up pitcher, and the curtailed use of his curve ball does appear to be having a negative impact on his whiff rate. I’m still not sold on him long term, as on top of the strikeout rate issue he’s lost a mile an hour off his stuff in the early going for the second straight season, and he carries a high injury risk as a starting pitcher who’s never made it to 140 innings in any season. But the matchups are right this week and worth a go, particularly in NL-only leagues.

CONSIDER

Aaron Harang

@SFG, @STL

Tom Koehler

@LAD, @SFG

Travis Wood

@STL, MIL

Andrew Cashner

@COL, @CIN

Mike Leake

SDG, @PHI

Zack Wheeler

@NYY, @WAS

Jake Arrieta

@STL, MIL

Josh Collmenter

WAS, LAD

Charlie Morton

@MIL, @NYY

Tyler Lyons

CHC, ATL

Ryan Vogelsong

ATL, MIA

Notes:

Tom Koehler’s been awesome so far, and his topline numbers suggest a guy who should be knocking on the door of must-start status. But boy has it been a smoke-and-mirrors effort to date. His FIP sits at 4.01, more than double his glossy 1.99 ERA, and he’s given up a not-a-typo .195 average on balls in play. That mark is a hundred points better than Miami’s team BABIP allowed, and the Marlins rate a middle-of-the-pack squad by most defensive efficiency metrics. When you factor in his decidedly pedestrian 29:17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 45 innings…well, it’s a better bet than not that his magic carpet ride is not going to continue forever. The match-ups are a mixed bag, and it’s up to you how hard you want to ride the hot hand.

I love me some Andrew Cashner. I do NOT love me these match-ups. Ugly scene, and a judgment call for you to make.

Wheeler continues to struggle with his efficiency and working his way deep into games. His walk rate sits over four-per-nine after a five-walk performance last time out, and the two road starts make for a difficult “start” advise outside of very deep mixed and moderate-to-deep NL-only leagues.

For his part, Arrieta pitched very well against St. Louis in his first start of the season, but I’m not quite as sold on him given track record. He’s still a wait-and-see as far as I’m concerned, and I’d just as soon leave him alone for a mixed bag two-start week like this until we get more data on him in the rotation.

I feel like I’ve written about Charlie Morton every week in this column. He’s exhibited an uncanny knack for having his starts rained out and/or bumped for any other number of reasons, and once again he finds himself penciled in ever-so-lightly for two starts this week. Unfortunately, he winds up with a dreadful schedule draw in this incarnation. He looked great in his last start, but he makes for a tough play this week given the road opposition.

Lyons pitched very well against the Braves in his return to the rotation last time out, but I’m always weary of a second meeting in short order between pitcher and opposing offense, even one that has been scuffling to the degree that Atlanta has. Still, in NL-only leagues Lyons is worth a streaming look for the choice home-home setup.

I’m much less interested in starting Vogelsong than his rotation-mate Lincecum this week. The two home starts are clutch for those considering him, though. Given his absurd fly ball tendencies so far this year and a homerun rate more or less in line with last year’s effort he’s going to need every inch of that spacious AT&T outfield to help him out. Based on the match-ups he’s in consideration for NL-only leagues, but I’d look to avoid if possible.

SIT

Jacob Turner

@LAD, @SFG

Bartolo Colon

@NYY, @WAS

Notes:

I still like Turner a decent amount for long term mid-rotation value, but he‘s still working his way back from a shoulder strain and the Dodgers lit him up just last week. I could see him pitching perfectly fine in both of these starts, but I’m just not willing to take the gamble until I see more out of him at this juncture.

Colon’s been a prime Jekyll-and-Hyde type thus far, as he’s thrown 34 innings of 2.64 ERA ball in five of his starts while getting wrecked for a combined 16 earned over 9 2/3 innings in his other two. I don’t trust him in Yankee Stadium farther than I can throw him, and Bartolo Colon is a large man who I believe I would have a difficult time throwing.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

James Shields

COL, BAL

Felix Hernandez

TAM, @MIN

David Price

@SEA, @LAA

STARTS

C.J. Wilson

@TOR, TAM

Hideki Kuroda

NYM, PIT

Notes:

Outside of an ugly first start Wilson’s been pretty excellent all season, with five quality starts in his last six. He’s ramped usage of his two-seamer back up to pre-2013 levels, and so far the change has produced a very encouraging groundball rate. I don’t love the Toronto match-up for him, but Tampa’s a good one, and he’s pitched well enough to warrant two-start investment in all but the nastiest of schedule circumstances.

Kuroda’s been a bit more inconsistent this season than owners have been accustomed to in years past, but draws a solid home-and-home this week against the putrid Mets offense and a still-struggling Pittsburgh squad that’s a borderline bottom-third offense. He makes for a nice play in AL-only and moderately large mixed leagues.

CONSIDER

Rick Porcello

@BAL, @BOS

Mark Buehrle

LAA, @TEX

Danny Salazar

@TOR, OAK

Ubaldo Jimenez

DET, @KCR

Jesse Chavez

CHW, @CLE

R.A. Dickey

CLE, @TEX

Colby Lewis

@HOU, TOR

Ricky Nolasco

BOS, SEA

Felix Doubront

@MIN, DET

Bud Norris

DET, @KCR

Vidal Nuno

NYM, PIT

John Danks

@OAK, @HOU

Notes:

I don’t know what to make of Mark Buehrle so far, other than that he’s been both very good and pretty lucky. Hitters are posting a .244 batting average against him, which is 24 points below Buehrle’s career mark. And they’re doing it despite hitting six percent more line drives than normal and not striking out at an outlying rate. Something’s got to give eventually, and it very well may be this week, with two very difficult match-ups on tap.

Despite looking a bit better of late, Salazar’s mechanics are still a mess, and it’s awfully tough to trust him with two difficult match-ups this week. Toronto’s been the third best offense in baseball at home, while Oakland’s scored the most runs on the road and boasts a top-five TAv in its own right. I’d sit if possible, but if you’re the gamblin’ type and you’re encouraged by what you’ve seen his last couple times out then by all means, run him.

Chavez has shown signs of slippage in two of his last three starts, as a couple mediocre-at-best offenses (HOU, SEA) got to him for four earned runs apiece. Still, his components are holding up and he’s not pitching that far above expectation given those components. Cleveland’s offense has been a bit better at home, while Chicago’s has been a bit worse on the road. I’m not entirely bought in on Chavez yet, but you can’t argue with the results and he’s a strong consider for the week in even moderately-sized mixed leagues.

It’s the tiniest of samples, but Nolasco has pitched two excellent games at Target Field this year, yielding just four runs in 17 combined innings. Boston and Seattle are both middle-of-the-pack road offenses thus far, and after a two start bump in the road Nolasco’s put up a 15:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his last two starts (15 innings). I can understand the impulse for caution, but I’m also intrigued by him as a streaming option for AL-only leagues.

Vidal Nuno has a decent slate of match-ups this week and makes for a viable streaming option in deeper AL-only leagues. He’s not going to pitch particularly deep into games or whiff a ton of guys, so I wouldn’t consider him much outside of that format.

Despite a moderately successful first few starts to the season and a very nice start last time out against the Cubs (kudos to Ben for that call), I don’t buy Danks this week. His velocity’s down and he’s made what living he’s made this season with off-speed stuff at the fringes of the strike zone. That’s a dangerous recipe to oppose an offense like Oakland’s, which has the third best discipline on balls out of the zone. Yes you get Houston on the back end of it, but it’s a substantial risk to lock him in for two starts.

SIT

Hector Santiago

@PHI, TAM

Cesar Ramos

@SEA, @LAA

Brett Oberholtzer

TEX, CHW

Notes:

Santiago’s in the midst of a stretch of three ugly starts, and despite only two of the six runs he allowed last time out counting as earned his ERA has ballooned a run and a half over that stretch. He’s not facing particularly daunting offenses, but I’m not touching him right now until he puts up a couple decent starts in a row.

Between Scott Feldman’s return from the DL and the team’s announcement that Collin McHugh will remain in the rotation the Astros have yet to formally announce their upcoming rotation plans. If everyone stays on normal rest, however, the Monday-Sunday scheduled turn would be Oberholtzer. Even if he were guaranteed those starts he’d be a clear sit for me, and the uncertainty dots the “I” and crosses the “T.”

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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