May 23, 2014
Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner
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 upcoming period is flush with almost 50 two-start options, easily the most since the first week of the season. The only squad without a fully scheduled week as of this writing is the Yankees, whose two-start slot for the week should fall to the rotation turn currently occupied by Chase Whitley. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him garner both starts on the heels of solid efforts in both of his first two starts, and I’d consider him as a streaming option given a couple decent match-ups. Beyond that, given the volume this week I’ve tried to focus on particularly interesting starters in the notes sections below, so feel free to request additional thoughts about guys not featured in either the comments section below or by dropping me a line.
And now, on to your Week Nine pitching planner.
Tim Hudson rates as the sixth-most-valuable starting pitcher in standard leagues thus far. That’s not a typo; he’s been that good. Ride it while you can.
Ryu returned from injury with little in the way of rust, striking out nine Mets and posting a Quality Start in Flushing. His velocity was the best he’s flashed all year, up two and a half miles an hour over his final start before hitting the DL. The Pirates have been an average-at-best offense against left-handed pitching this season, while the Votto-less Red Machine is anything but Big. Fire away.
McCarthy’s been one of the poorer performers relative to his peripherals so far this season, with a 5.01 ERA butting heads with his 3.70 FIP. He’s a pitcher who is very definitely hurt by his environment, as he’s been extremely hittable relative to earlier in his career since arriving in Arizona. Also not heling matters, his 21 percent HR:FB rate this season is more than double his career number. Some caution is warranted against automatically assuming greener pastures ahead when examining his 8.4 K/9 and career-best 5.2 K:BB. But he draws two of the worst offenses in baseball this week, ranking 30th and 24th respectively in team TAv. I prefer McCarthy to rotation-mate Wade Miley—who also enjoys this schedule—and he makes for a strong streaming option in NL-only leagues and deep mixed affairs.
After an early season burst of strikeouts, Lohse’s whiff rate has normalized a bit over his past few starts and he’s pitching more like his traditional self. He’s a very solid mid-rotation starter in most leagues, and his draw of one mediocre offense and one pretty terrible one is good enough to warrant the nod in most leagues.
After a pretty spectacular first three starts of the season Santana’s cooled a bit recently. Still, he’s been a top-35 starter to date and he’s a borderline auto-start for deeper 16-plus mixed leagues where he’s a fringe number two starter. But Miami’s surprising run continues, and they’re the second-best offense in the majors right now by both TAv and VORP. They’ve also been especially potent at home. Boston’s offense can’t fall out of a boat and hit water right now, and playing in an NL park where one of Mike Napoli or David Ortiz is a big break for Santana, as both have absolutely owned him over decent samples sizes in their careers. All in all the two-start week should be a good early-season test for managers to gauge Santana’s value. Whether you do it with him in your lineup or on your bench is up to you.
Knock on wood, Hamels appears to have survived 133 high-leverage-pitches in his last meeting with the Mets, at least for the time being. He’d be back in a customary “start” recommendation were it not for the Rockies showing up on his doorstep for one of his starts. The Rockies kill most pitchers, but they save their best for lefties. If you can stomach the inherent risk, send him out there.
Ross has ridden a 22 percent strikeout rate and elite 59 percent ground-ball rate to excellent results out of the gate this season, but he runs into a couple tough draws this week. Arizona’s offense has finally been putting up some numbers over the past couple weeks, and U.S. Cellular is never a fun place to pitch, even with the possibility of Jose Abreu remaining disabled through this series. I’d start him in most circumstances at this point, but the match-ups are enough to give me pause in shallower leagues.
Beyond the uncertainty of his hamstring injury, if you have any idea what to do with Matt Cain right now, you’re better at this than I am. His statline took a beating in Coors a couple weeks back, but even beyond that there are some noteworthy early trends. He’s altering the balance of his secondary repertoire in favor of many more change-ups at the expense of significantly fewer sliders, and the evolution hasn’t taken particularly well so far. The latter has rated as a below-average pitch. He’s been bitten by the long ball so far, but the rate is in its third consecutive year of inflation and it’s unclear how much regression should be expected going forward. He looked solid before existing early in his second shot at the potent Colorado lineup last time out, and the match-ups are solid enough that if he’s healthy enough to go you should be able to start him this week. But the injury adds more uncertainty than I’m comfortable with given his work-in-progress start to the season.
DeGrom has shown just enough in his two starts to warrant consideration as a streaming option in NL-only and the deepest of deep mixed leagues. Hs four-seam-dominant repertoire has proven effective through his first couple turns against Major League lineups, and—this is admittedly entirely anecdotal—he looks the part of a pitcher that could make for a sneaky play until the book gets written on him.
Another week, and Alfredo Simon keeps skating along on borrowed time, at least if his peripherals are to be believed. He’s doing it largely on the strength of the usual suspects, as he boasts a depressed BABIP in tandem with an inflated strand rate to date. He’s made a notable effort to throw more two-seamers this season, and his cutter has developed seemingly overnight into a magical out pitch. So far he’s managed to stay ahead of the scouting reports, as he’s done a nice job moving away from his curveball in favor of increased cutter and splitter usage as we’ve moved into May. It’s going to take that kind of cat-and-mouse creativity for him to have a shot at sustaining his performance, and even then it’s unlikely the gravy train keeps rolling like this. He’s got an awfully tough road-road schedule this week, and I’d think long and hard about giving him a breather from your rotation if you have the means.
Kendrick continues to be one of my favorite consistent options for NL streaming—something akin to a player who’s molded himself into a strong pinch-hitting option and just hangs around on National Leagues benches for years and years as a result. He’s the Wes Helms of fantasy starters, if you will. That said, the Rockies coming to town is a scary proposition. And while he’s repeatedly handled the Mets well in his career, the Colorado visit is enough to disqualify him from the running this week.
I don’t really want anything to do with Volquez right now. After briefly flirting with fantasy relevance out of the gate he has given up 20 earned runs over his last 21 2/3 innings (four starts). He’s currently rocking a 5.22 FIP that is marginally above his paltry 5.07 K/9 rate. No thanks.
Gray has officially graduated into auto-start status, but hoo boy does he have himself a gauntlet to run this week. At least both starts are at home.
We’re at a point in the season when a guy like Buehrle’s pretty well earned the right to be started in all but the most extremely negative of match-ups. And he thankfully has zero of those this week. Run him until he runs no more.
I continue to be very impressed with Hutchison’s early season performance. He’s produced some of the best value relative to draft position of any fantasy hurler, and there’s nothing in the way of indicators under the hood that his performance has been either fluky or largely unsustainable. He’s posted top-30 swinging strike and chase numbers, his BABIP and strand rates are both totally reasonable, and he’s shown enough out of his third pitch (change-up) to allow his impressive fastball/slider combo to play up. He gets a couple home starts against offenses really struggling to post consistent numbers at the moment, and I’d ride him without much in the way of hesitation.
Tillman and Chen both draw a pair of tasty match-ups despite a road trip, as the O’s travel to Milwaukee and Houston. The Brewers have really struggled to score runs lately, checking in as a clear bottom-third offense right now (and knocking on the door of the bottom five). And the Astros remain decidedly mediocre, despite trending upward of late. Tillman’s slightly more desirable as the better pitcher, but he also got lit up in ugly fashion last time out, so I don’t necessarily blame owners for being a bit gun-shy. For his part, even in shallower leagues Chen’s a solid back-end guy who’s a decent play in weeks like this. I’d roll with both.
Smyly got bumped back from an anticipated two-start week last week, and his value is largely unchanged. He’s struggled a bit with his control, lowlighted by a five-walk performance in his last start. That doesn’t bode so well for his meeting with the A’s (10.7 percent walk rate against left-handers, second-best in baseball) but doesn’t hurt nearly as much for his turn in Seattle (5.5 percent walk rate against lefties, lowest in baseball). For all its early-season success the A’s have struggled some against lefties in general, and Smyly’s fly-ball tendencies should play in both parks. I like him for the week in most league formats.
Phil Hughes, Phil Hughes… what to do with Phil Hughes? Any way you want to slice it, Hughes has pitched very strong baseball through nine starts in Minnesota most recently allowing just one run over his last three starts while striking out 18 and walking exactly zero. He’s walked all of six guys all year, good for a spectacular 2.7 percent walk rate. He’s given up his share of hits, as usual, but with the non-existent walk rate and a homerun rate less than half his career number the results have been about as good a stretch of pitching as Hughes has put together in his Major League career. His 2.08 home FIP makes for a nice play against a scuffling-of-late Rangers lineup, while his return to trip to the Bronx is just a straight-up wild card. If you think he rises up and sticks it to his old squad, he’s a start in any and all league formats. If you think he withers under the scrutiny and uncreative jeers of the Bleacher Creatures, he’s probably a sit.
The Astros offer a pair of two-start options with a decent schedule on the road in Kansas City and at home to host the Orioles. Both offenses have been mediocre recently and mediocre all season long, so the tandem is attractive for streaming. I’m not sold on trusting McHugh to take advantage, however, as he’s been much less impressive since the hot fire of his first two starts has cooled. I’d consider the match-up play in some AL-only formats, but I’d prefer to look elsewhere. On the flipside Jarred Cosart’s numbers continue to be haunted by the specter of one explosion against Oakland (1/3 IP, 7 ER, 4 BB, 2HR). Outside of that catastrophe his results have actually been respectable for a back-end option, with a 3.14 ERA and 1.25 WHIP over his other 48 2/3 innings. Still, his inflated ERA is outpacing his FIP, and he’s not a particularly confidence-inspiring option even with this strong schedule. Between him and McHugh I’d prefer to run Cosart, but I don’t find either to be particularly exciting.
Don’t look now, but over his last five starts Erik Bedard has posted a 0.96 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 22 strikeouts over 28 innings. The number of innings is key though, as he’s averaging just south of five and two-thirds a start and that’s not going to give you a ton of leeway for chasing wins. Toronto’s a pretty terrifying place to pitch right now, and even though the Sox are struggling Fenway’s never a picnic either. In deeper AL-only leagues he’s a streaming option at least worth considering, but I wouldn’t get too crazy over his recent numbers.
While Buchholz has not pitched nearly as poorly as his unsightly 6.32 ERA suggests, he has not been very good either. He’s been melting down once every four games or so, and when he loses it he loses it in often spectacular fashion. Still, he draws two strong match-ups this week. He’s always managed to handle the Rays with great success, for the most part even including his various periods of general instability. And the Braves are not a good offense, particularly against right-handers with good off-speed stuff. So if you’re a gambling man in an AL-only league maybe you’ve got the chops to roll with him.
In fairness to Correia his FIP sits two and a quarter points below his actual ERA. But that’s cold comfort to any fantasy owner who’s attempted to squeeze some value out of Correia thus far. He’s allowed the highest contact rate of any qualified pitcher in the game thus far, leading to some pretty absurd inconsistencies from start to start. With two unfavorable match-ups this week he’s not worth considering in any format.
Young’s been on the opposite end of the spectrum through his first seven starts for Seattle, dropping an ERA on the league that’s a full two points better than his FIP suggests it should be. He’s striking out less than four batters-per-nine right now, which is the worst rate among any qualified big league starter (though Paul Maholm would nip him for the distinction with a couple more whiff-less innings under his belt). I don’t like either of these match-ups for Young, and while he’s always been a guy though holds down BABIP’s his .199 mark on the season is simply not going to last. You got more than you deserved from him already; don’t push your luck.