June 6, 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.
A whole bunch of two-start options this week, as about two-thirds of the league will play a full seven game slate. It’s also a notably murky week for sure-fire options, however, particularly in the American League where Rick Porcello was all I could muster as a “start” recommendation. As of this writing the Rockies have not announced who will take over the rotation spot of the injured Jordan Lyles. I had a moderately aggressive “consider” recommendation lined up for him, so I was bummed to hear the news about his hand. The Marlins and the Cardinals are the only teams playing five-game schedules next week, so neither will boast a two-start option.
And with that, on to our Week Eleven pitching planner.
Cole hasn’t really been all that spectacular this season. He’s gotten nigh on exactly the results his FIP suggests he should have gotten, and it currently adds up to the 44th-most valuable fantasy effort by a starting pitcher. Not exactly the return on investment owners were looking for when they took him as the 18th starter off the board this spring. Walks have been an issue for him, but even despite his non-elite numbers, he hasn’t really thrown up any clunkers yet to make you question starting him, either. The Cubs and Miami work out to a fairly neutral slate, and you might as well keep running him, even if you’re only getting no. 3-4 starter production out of him.
I’m drawing a line in the sand and making my last stand with A.J. Burnett this week. His walks are back up and he’s allowed just an unseemly amount of line drives this season. He owns the second-worst line drive rate of any starting pitcher, in fact. But he gets the Padres and Cubs at home this week, and we’re going to do this together, you and me. Go get ‘em, A.J.!
Beckett just continues to roll along, defying his FIP by 1.75 runs on the strength of a resurgent curveball that’s been among the best in baseball and startling propensities to keep inducing weak contact and stranding runners. The Arizona start offers some pause for concern, but at this point until he falters he’s someone you roll with.
Mike Leake has very quietly been a top 40 starting pitcher so far, and he has yet to give up more than four runs in any start. He’d be a straight “start” recommendation at this point were it not for one of his match-ups coming against the Dodgers, a team that has been a top five offense both against right-handed pitching and on the road. I’d still lean strongly in favor of starting him, but that turn offers legitimate danger, so depending on your league depth it’s not an automatic decision.
Marco Estrada has given up at least one homerun in every start this year except one, his third start of the year. That’s at least one long ball in 11 of 12 starts, and he’s given up a total of 17 for the season (that works out to about two and a quarter per nine inning). If you own Estrada you pretty much own him for schedule weeks like this, so it says something about how tenuous a fantasy starter he is right now that he’s not an automatic “start” for the week. I’d lean that way just because you sort of have to what with the match-ups and all, but I wouldn’t feel entirely comfortable about setting my lineup.
Haren’s hit a bit of a snag of late, pitching to a 4.88 ERA and 1.38 WHIP over his past four starts. The main culprit for all of this is the home-run ball, as he’s given up seven up them during the stretch (good for a 2.63 HR/9 ratio if you’re scoring at home). The Reds offense has been poor for most of the season, but one thing they’ll do is hit homeruns, and they play in a ballpark conducive to doing that. Add in a surging Diamondbacks offense and it’s a shaky schedule for Haren this week. His WHIP and Win potential are enough that deep leaguers should lean towards running him, but it’s a pretty true toss-up.
Poor Mike Minor’s been excellent this year and remains one of my favorite pitchers in the National League, yet here he toils, buried in the bottom half of the “consider” section, on account of quite possibly the worst possible schedule a two-start pitcher could draw. Maybe an @COL/@TOR tandem is more deadly? Not by much if it is, though. Awfully tough decision for his owners this week.
Among Cincinnati options Cingrani actually gets the better end of the matchups for this week, for as good as the Dodgers are against righties they’ve struggled that mightily against lefties. Still, Cingrani’s body of work this season has been less than inspiring. His 5.03 FIP and 1.47 WHIP are not very good, and his struggles seem as much tied to his lack of secondary offerings as anything else, which doesn’t bode well. His fastball has become less effective as hitters have seen more of his deceptive delivery, and he’s had to start ramping up usage of his slider and change-up, both of which have rated as below-average offerings. His strikeouts are down significantly, while his walks are up enough that it’s become a big issue. I don’t feel comfortable leaning on him for two starts in most standard mixed and shallow NL-only leagues, though owners in deeper leagues may consider it.
Am I crazy for sort of getting excited about the possibility of streaming Dice-K in my deep NL-only league next week? Perhaps. But those savory, tender match-ups are just so inviting at first glance. Word of caution though: for all the fun it was to pick on the Brewers offense for the better part of the first couple months, they’ve actually been hitting quite well over the past two weeks, and they’ve been relatively strong road warriors all year. Second word of caution: it’s Dice-K, and he’s not very good. The Cubs kicked him around in his last start, and it’s entirely possible this grand experiment will end with another poor effort against the Brewers. But if it doesn’t… and he pitches okay in that start…a nd then he gets the Padres… hmmmm.
Yes, I trust Liriano less than a potential Dice-K stream right now. That’s how little faith I have in him. I wouldn’t touch him, but he’s on your team, you paid for him, and maybe you play in a razz league or something where he’s been valuable enough to consider starting. I’ll leave the door open for you.
Don’t look now, but outside of an unpleasant first start of the season and a nasty clunker a couple turns ago (in Petco, of all places) Edwin Jackson’s actually been pitching pretty alright baseball this season. He’s rocking a 3.23 FIP and has struck out almost a batter an inning thus far. One thing about his season, however: the overwhelming majority of his value has been produced in the cozy confines of Wrigley. In a comparable number of innings his home ERA is 3.22, and his road number is 6.12. Sample size caveats and everything else notwithstanding, I’m not willing to commit to him for both halves of a road-road two-start week right now. But keep him on your “monitor” pile for future reference.
Wood has posted even worse splits than Jackson, pitching quite strong baseball at home and stringing together some dreadful efforts on the road this year (2.43/8.04 ERA split, 0.93/1.85 WHIP). No need to tempt those numbers with so many other options this week.
If you own Arroyo in anything outside of a deep NL-only, you own him as a streaming option for one-off starts. He had a strong four-start run against poor offenses in late April and early May, but the lack of K’s and general volatility of his performance start to start at this stage in his career makes him a risky commitment for multiple starts in weekly lineup leagues. He’s probably worth a run against Houston in daily leagues, but I wouldn’t touch him in LA over the weekend, and in a weekly lineup he’s a sit on account of that half of the equation.
I am pleased to officially welcome Corey Kluber, owner of a top-five FIP in all of baseball, to the auto-start list. Only words of caution here are that the Red Sox got to him a bit last time out and will see him for the second time in less than two weeks, and his FIP is also about a half a run higher on the road than at home. Still, he’s earned full confidence across all leagues at this point.
I’m also pleased to welcome Iwakuma back. He’s proved himself healthy through seven starts now, and he looks like a pretty reasonable facsimile of the guy who was the sixth most valuable pitcher in fantasy baseball last year.
Porcello has managed to combine solid-if-unspectacular performance out of the gate with top-shelf win karma to sneak into the top 40 among starting pitchers so far this season. He hasn’t quite taken the next step forward those who invested in him as a sleeper were hoping for, but outside of a recent thrashing by the Rangers he’s been a dependable mid-rotation starter in all but the shallowest of mixed leagues. U.S. Cellular is a tough place to pitch, but he owned the White Sox over four starts last year and their offense has been scuffling of late. And after a brief hot stretch the Twins offense has settled back into comfortable mediocrity as well. I like Porcello for most leagues this week.
So… many… shaky… options…
If you take his third-of-an-inning, seven run debacle against Oakland in his second start of the season out of the picture, Jarred Cosart has taken the ball eleven times this year and given up three runs or less in every one of those eleven starts. Obviously we can’t entirely delete that one start, but it’s responsible for almost a full run of his 4.16 ERA on the season. He doesn’t strike out a ton of guys and he walks too many for comfort. But the groundballs are real and spectacular, as his two-seamer’s been the third-best in baseball per PITCHf/x. Arizona’s offense has been very good of late, and they’ve been good at home more or less all year. But Tampa Bay’s has been neither of those things, and Cosart should be considered strongly in most league formats.
After hitting an ugly snag two starts ago in Oakland where he failed to make it out of the first inning, Garrett Richards rebounded with eight sweet shutout innings in his last turn against a better-of-late Astros lineup. He’ll try the A’s again on home turf this week, though it’s worth noting that they roughed him up in their only other look at him this year as well. Two starts, 10 earned in 7 2/3. It’s enough to make one pause, even with the Upton Brothers Travelling Strikeout Circus looming on deck.
Verlander’s velocity has continued to slide, and with the lost velocity has come lost effectiveness. But just as troubling, his once-lethal curveball is currently playing as a well below-average offering. Hitters just aren’t chasing his pitches out of the zone: they’re swinging at over five percent less pitches out of the zone this year versus last. That’s led to his disappearing strikeout numbers, and it’s also led to more frequent contact on pitches inside the zone. Theoretically he’s a no-brainer of a two-start option this week, but we’ve officially crossed the line to where his performance this year is a significant problem for his owners. The return on investment has not been good, and there are flashing red lights all over his profile to suggest it’s not about to suddenly get better. Run him if you need him, but if you need him chances are you’re in a bit of trouble.
After somehow managing to lose out on a rotation spot to Lucas Harrell in the spring and then subsequently struggling upon reinsertion to the rotation several weeks later, Brad Peacock has started to show signs of life. He’s a guy who has throughout his career struggled to adapt initially to challenges before succeeding once comfortable in his environment, and we may just be on the crest of another such wave. Walks continue to be an issue for him, and he’s hittable enough to where control struggles leave him particularly vulnerable as a WHIP drain. But he’s steadily escalated his four-seamer/curveball tandem deployment of late, and his velocity’s been creeping north as the weather has warmed. Over his last three starts he’s put up a 24:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 18 2/3 innings to go along with a 3.37 ERA. He’ll give up his share of dingers, which makes Arizona a dangerous trip, but Tampa’s a nice reward on the back end for the bold owner who runs him.
I wrote up Bud Norris as a “consider” in last week’s planner only to see his two-start status migrate to this week. In the interim he got lit up but good by the Rangers and now inspires even less confidence than he did last week. Boston’s offense just hasn’t been very good this season, while Toronto’s has been the opposite of that. I’d again direct you towards sitting here, but in certain AL-only formats he’s an option. If I were trapped in a league that required I start an Oriole pitcher I’d lean narrowly in favor of his stable-mate Miguel Gonzalez, whose FIP and strikeout numbers offer more hope.
Feel free to inquire within about any of the other 4,762 mediocre two-start options in the AL, and I’ll be happy to discuss in the comments below.
House is not as of this writing penciled in to the second start of this week, though it’ll be his turn. He acquitted himself decently in seven starts at AAA Columbus to start the season, but doesn’t offer much in the way of fantasy baseball appeal beyond a match-up option for AL-only leagues. He’s on the road in two difficult environments this week and should be passed on for safety’s sake, though I’d monitor in the event he appears to catch some lightning in a bottle.
Ricky Nolasco is up to his old tricks again, posting a FIP more than a run below his ERA. It’s not like this is some out-of-the-blue run of bad luck, though. He’s done this at every point in his career, and at the end of the day the jack of diamonds is the jack of diamonds. If you needed an excuse to sit him you have one in the form of two ugly road match-ups this week.