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May 30, 2014

Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner

Week 10

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.

A much thinner crop of less than 40 two-start options this week after last period’s bonanza, though some strong options from outside the “auto-start” ranks populate the NL slate in particular. Let’s take a closer look at the Week Ten options.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Clayton Kershaw

CHW, @COL

START

Homer Bailey

SFG, PHI

Henderson Alvarez

TAM, @CHC

Matt Garza

MIN, @PIT

Charlie Morton

@SDG, MIL

Tim Lincecum

@CIN, NYM

Eric Stults

PIT, WAS

Notes:

Bailey holds the dubious distinction of an early-season demotion from the list of auto-start designates, as owners who drafted him as the 21st starting pitcher off the board have been rewarded with performance that currently ranks 149th. He looked better in his last turn against a tough Dodgers offense though, and he draws a decent slate of on-paper match-ups this week, with home-home starts against the Giants and Phillies. Both rate as middle-of-the-pack offenses on the road, though it should be noted that the Phillies tattooed Bailey in their last meeting. This is a cautious start recommendation, and if he flops again as the calendar flips to June this week it’ll probably be time to revisit his value moving forward.

The enthusiasm for this Alvarez recommendation is tempered significantly by an early exit from his last start with elbow stiffness, but assuming it was in fact precautionary and he does in fact make his next start I still like him as an option for the week. He won’t get you a lot of whiffs, but his sinker is nasty and he’s had a nice run of success this year pairing it with an emerging change-up. His owners should hope he’s okay, as he’s a solid play across most all leagues this week.

I went out on a limb in recommending Lincecum for a two-start week in Week Eight and it worked out very nicely for those of us with the cojones to run him out there: a win, 17 strikeouts, a 2.63 ERA, and a 1.24 WHIP over 13 2/3 innings. Not bad at all. This week the scheduling gods are doubling down, and so am I. The Reds offense will still be Votto-less next week and has struggled mightily to gain any semblance of consistency. And while the Mets have swung the bats better of late they are still a less-than-imposing squad, particularly at home. This is a start recommendation more limited than the last, but he again makes for a decent gamble in deeper leagues and NL-only formats this week.

Stults may just be the poster child for Petco pitching. In 27 career starts toeing the rubber in San Diego Stults has gone 12-6 with a 3.43 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Everywhere else? 17-25 with a 4.50 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. If you’re in an NL-only or even a deep mixed league your eyes should light up like Fourth of July sky any time you see him lined up for two home starts. With a couple mediocre offenses coming to town he makes for an obnoxiously sneaky streaming option this week.

CONSIDER

Yovani Gallardo

MIN, @PIT

Shelby Miller

KCR, @TOR

Zack Wheeler

@CHC, @SFG

Jorge de la Rosa

ARI, LAD

Jake Arrieta

NYM, MIA

Jaime Garcia

KCR, @TOR

Bartolo Colon

@PHI, @SFG

Randy Wolf

TAM, @CHC

Notes:

I frankly don’t love any of the options in the NL’s “consider” bucket, but Gallardo’s the best bet of the bunch. Yovani (barely) survived the Orioles in his last start, and he’s tiptoeing along with an ERA that continues to defy his FIP by over a run on the back of a deflated BABIP and some luck stranding runners. The match-ups are pretty middle-of-the-road here. Minnesota’s offense has actually been sneaky dangerous this year, checking in 12th in team TAv and boasting the second best walk rate in the majors. The Pirates for their part boast an equal team TAv and have posted significantly better numbers at home. I’m not convinced Gallardo won’t blow up your spot this week, but you’re welcome to roll the dice if you need to.

The Shelby finally hit the fan in his last start. After dancing his way in and out of trouble in seemingly every inning he’s pitched all year Miller finally got tattooed by the Yankees to the tune of seven earned over five innings. His command is all over the place, he’s not getting batters to chase anything out of the zone, and swings and misses are an increasingly endangered species when he’s on the bump. The KC meeting isn’t a bad one, but I cringe at the thought of Toronto working him over on the AstroTurf. Unless you’re in one hell of a deep league it’s probably not worth the headache.

Colon and Wolf make up a solid Old Man Division at the end of the line. Colon came up #big in his last start, whiffing nine over seven and a third scoreless innings against the Bucs. He’s been a strong play in three starts at Citi Field so far, but he’s waddled his way to a just awful 6.51 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in six starts on the road. Neither the Phillies nor the Giants have posted particularly inspiring offensive numbers in their home parks, so something’s got to give this week. It may just be the standard two or three buttons on Colon’s jersey each start, or it may be your hopes for a decent pitching line on the week.

And for his part Randy Wolf just keeps on starting games for Major League baseball teams. Kudos to him for making it back to the bigs, but he hasn’t been even a league-average starter since 2009. He gets an honorary spot at the bottom of the “consider” section on account of the match-ups and his years and years of quality streaming service, but I wouldn’t realistically run him unless you’re playing a serious hunch in a deep NL-only.

SIT

Chase Anderson

@COL, ATL

David Buchanan

@WAS, @CIN

Notes:

Anderson’s 3-0 now, but beyond the Win karma I’m not sure how much there is to see here. Staked to an eight run first inning and 10-0 lead after two against the worst offense in baseball in his last start he struggled to make it through five innings for his third win, and that effort came on the heels of getting knocked around pretty good by the Dodgers in his previous start. He’s now given up 15 hits with five strikeouts in his last 10 and a third, and he’ll take his 40 percent fly-ball rate to Coors Field this week. No thanks.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Chris Sale

@LAD, @LAA

Anibal Sanchez

TOR, BOS

James Shields

@STL, NYY

Felix Hernandez

@NYY, @TAM

STARTS

C.J. Wilson

@HOU, CHW

Scott Kazmir

@NYY, @BAL

Alex Cobb

@MIA, SEA

David Phelps

SEA, @KCR

Notes:

C.J. Wilson is a borderline auto-start at this stage of the game. He’s been the 12th-most-valuable pitcher in standard leagues to date, and the results follow a concerted effort to overhaul his repertoire this season. After paring back on his two-seamer usage last year he’s back up to throwing the pitch a quarter of the time again this year, and he’s dialed his slider way back in favor of significant bumps to both his curveball and change-up deployment. The change-up in particular is playing much better than it ever has, and the net result has been an almost 10 percent jump in his ground-ball rate over last year and strikeout and walk rates more or less in line with his 2011 career year. He’s outperforming his FIP by a decent amount thus far, but he’s done so consistently (if by a smaller margin) throughout his career and I don’t think the performance we’ve seen to date is outside the range of possibility going forward. He has a tasty meeting with the Astros on his docket this along with a shot at the White Sox on home turf. Run him.

Also on the borderline of the auto-start club is Scott Kazmir, whose resurrection may just have reached its zenith. He has been the ninth most valuable fantasy starter of the first two months of the season, a performance punctuated by his first complete game since 2006 against Detroit his last time out. I think we can safely add him to the ranks if he makes it through a pair of tough road starts on the east coast this week. Neither park has been particularly kind to Kazmir’s former incarnation, but given how well he’s pitched lately I’m not sure that much matters.

Yes, Alex Cobb got lit up by Toronto in his last start, but that’s not really so much a failure on his part as it is a fact of life these days. He’d been brilliant in his three previous tilts, allowing no runs at all over 20 2/3 innings with 17 strikeouts and just three walks. He remains one of the more impressive emerging arms in the American League, and while the Marlin offense continues to be stout Seattle’s continues to be quite poor. The balance is even enough that Cobb makes for a fine play this week.

Phelps makes for a solid streaming option in AL-only leagues this week, with a pair of starts against scuffling offenses. His walks have crept up a bit and he’s inducing less swings and misses, but the overall package is basically in line with prior performance. The sample sizes are still small, with just five starts under his belt out of 14 total appearances on the year, but he’s managed to trade strikeouts for overall quality of performance quite well in the roll. He’s a mediocre option if you’re concerned about your WHIP, otherwise the Win, ERA, and moderate strikeout potential is a strong package for the week.

CONSIDER

John Lackey

@CLE, @DET

Chris Archer

@MIA, SEA

Hiroki Kuroda

OAK, @KCR

Samuel Deduno

@MIL, HOU

Danny Duffy

@STL, NYY

Bud Norris

@TEX, OAK

Kyle Gibson

@MIL, HOU

Justin Masterson

BOS, @TEX

Jarred Cosart

LAA, @MIN

Notes:

Archer really got pummeled by Lady Luck in the season’s first month, but the worm finally appears to have started turning. He held the 1927 Blue Jays to two runs over six strong innings in Toronto last time out, and that’s on the heels of back-to-back efforts allowing no runs at all. He’s still struggling mightily to work deep into games however, as poor control and high pitch counts have limited him to a positively Bedardian five and two-thirds a start. And even during his current stretch of better results he’s had to overcome a walk rate over five and a half-per-nine in his last three starts. Miami’s a tough draw, and one that may be able to exploit Archer’s Achilles heel, while Seattle makes for a softer landing spot at home. I’d lean towards running him in deeper and AL-only leagues, but he’s still a tenuous proposition.

I’ll admit to an unhealthy amount of bias in the case of Deduno, as I find his fastball to be one of the most interesting pitches in baseball. Despite throwing the pitch with a standard four-seam grip more times than not he’ll get enough natural cut on the ball that a full 50% of his offerings on the year have been classified by PITCHf/x as cutters. What’s still more interesting, Deduno claims to not be able to control when his fastball will cut and when it will stay more true to a four-seam path. And yet he’s been able to get Major League hitter out at a reasonable rate and keep his walks down to an acceptable if undesirable total so far this year. The Astros and Brewers are not ideal match-ups, as neither club plays particularly well to Deduno’s groundball strength. And despite middle-tier performance by each squad on the season they’ve both been performing like a top ten offense over the past two weeks. Tread cautiously, but Deduno’s at least worth a longer look as a two-start streaming option in deep mixed and AL-only leagues this period.

Norris’ strikeouts have vanished into thin air this year despite a noteworthy spike in velocity. He’s throwing a few more two-seamers these days, and the Orioles have dialed down his slider usage, but the tweaks aren’t necessarily enough to help us reconcile why he’s mustering a swing and miss on just six and a half percent of his offerings. That’s down a full three percent from last year and about four percent from his 2009-2012 run with the Astros during which he struck out just south of a batter an inning. He’s lost and given up four runs in three of his last four starts, but the bottomline 4.03 ERA and 1.07 WHIP are serviceable enough. I’m not sure I trust him in the Texas heat or against one of the better offenses in the league, but he’s worth monitoring right now as a future streaming option if the strikeouts start to wander on back to the homestead.

Masterson’s on his last legs as a viable mixed league starter, and depending on how shallow your league is he may very well have graduated to “sit until…” status by now. After getting bombed in three straight outings he showed glimpses of a bounceback in his last start before rain cut the effort short after three innings. His progression this year has been odd, in that his fastball velocity—a great concern in his first couple starts—has been trending upwards pretty consistently over the last month and change, while his slider velocity has continued to plunge. Despite throwing it slower the slider has maintained a more or less career-average value for Masterson, while the heater continues to play as much more hittable than he needs it to be. He gets a Boston offense that’s showing at least marginal signs of turning the ship around, followed by a diminished Texas offense. The combination feels scarier than it is, but given Masterson’s unreliability I’m just not sure he’s worth the trouble until he strings together a couple quality outings.

SIT

Liam Hendriks

@DET, STL

Joe Saunders

BAL, CLE

Notes:

Hendriks has produced decent results in each of his first two turns in the Toronto rotation, and he was very good at Triple-A to start the season. I’m intrigued, but not enough yet to suggest you pick him up and run him. File away on your watch list for the time being and see how he looks in his next turn or two.

A healthy, in-his-prime Joe Saunders is a back-end starter in deep leagues and a fringe streaming option in anything shallower. Joe Saunders in his second and third starts back from a broken foot is really not worth consideration in your league regardless of depth. Even though both the Orioles and Indians have struggled against lefthanders this season I guarantee you there are better streaming options out there.

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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