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June 20, 2014

Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner

Week 13

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 shorter week for two-start options this week, as three teams (Oakland, Cleveland, and Arizona) have five-game schedules while the Nats and Cubs are playing the first scheduled twin-bill double-header at Wrigley Field since 1983 followed by a Sunday off. Each loses a two-start turn as a result. The drought is particularly notable in the AL, where only 16 two-start options will be available.

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

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Clayton Kershaw

@KCR, STL

Zack Greinke

@KCR, STL

Tim Hudson

SDG, CIN

START

Jeff Samardzija

CIN, WAS

Matt Cain

SDG, CIN

Andrew Cashner

@SFG, ARI

Alfredo Simon

@CHC, @SFG

Homer Bailey

@CHC, @SFG

Matt Garza

WAS, COL

Notes:

After allowing 14 earned over 15 innings in his previous three starts, the Shark took some baby steps toward righting the ship with a quality start and eight strikeouts his last time out. He’s been lights out at home all year, though, with a 2.76 FIP and .543 OPS allowed. The Reds offense has finally started producing well of late, but they tend to struggle on the road. And the Nats continue to be among the weaker outfits in the National League, though they’ve been more middle-of-the-road of late. The matchups, in other words, are essentially neutral. A top-15 FIP guy like Samardzija should get the nod in most every league this week.

The two Reds hurlers both draw amenable two-start schedules this week, and these recommendations basically come down to: I believe in an impending Bailey resurgence, and Simon just hasn’t given us any reason to bench a favorable two-start week. At some point he’s likely to kill his owners in a situation like this, but given the surplus value that’s been gained for the most minimal of waiver wire investments it’s a price well worth paying to see how long the magic-carpet ride lasts.

As far as Bailey is concerned, there’s been enough of a combination of bad luck and corrected early season mistakes in his profile that I like him going forward to return closer to his draft position in value going forward. The strikeouts that disappeared from his game for his five starts from mid-April to mid-May (6.09-per-nine) have returned over his last five (8.58-per-nine), and his early-season struggles with the long ball have also long since normalized (0.77-per-nine since the calendar flipped to May). A clunker in Philadelphia in mid-May continues to hold down the bottom-line numbers supporting a resurgence, but it’s been happening quietly for a while. The window to acquire him on the cheap is closing, and a strong two-start week this week may be your last chance.

Despite some poor defense behind him, Garza has continued to pitch much better baseball of late, at least as far as his fantasy-relevant stat line is concerned. He’s given his owners solid length in the form of 33 2/3 innings over his past five turns, and in those frames he’s put together a 1.87 ERA and serviceable enough WHIP (1.21) and strikeout (23) numbers. He’s been dramatically better at home thus far, both in terms of actual and expected production, and the match-ups this week work out nicely in his favor this week with two home starts against mediocre road teams. He makes for a decent NL-only and deep league play, and is a moderate “buy” candidate for owners looking for a cheap, relatively undervalued pitcher to add to the back end of their rotation.

CONSIDER

Aaron Harang

@HOU, @PHI

Bartolo Colon

OAK, @PIT

Yovani Gallardo

WAS, COL

Jorge de la Rosa

STL, @MIL

Jeff Locke

@TAM, NYM

Nathan Eovaldi

@PHI, OAK

Andrew Heaney

@PHI, OAK

Edinson Volquez

@TAM, NYM

Jhoulys Chacin

STL, @MIL

Lance Lynn

@COL, @LAD

Notes:

I’ve found Harang to be one of the more difficult pitchers to project week to week this year, as his season of late has been an exercise in waiting for the other shoe to drop. He hasn’t really demonstrated much of a home-road split despite a skewed ERA, but he’s really struggled with his walks of late, particularly on the road. That’s left him clinging to good BABIP fortune for his topline results, and that’s generally a fairly risky playbook. Still, neither Houston nor in particular Philadelphia presents an overwhelming challenge on paper, and he probably deserves the nod in most leagues.

I was really hoping Colon would deliver a clunker in his last turn against the Cardinals to give me an excuse to not recommend him, but the cocktail of gorilla stem cells, meringue, and super glue doctors injected into his elbow back in 2010 appears to have turned him into a legitimate superhero. Over his last six starts he’s posted five wins and yielded just eight runs over 43 ½ innings, good for a 1.66 ERA to go along with a 0.92 WHIP. I don’t like either of these matchups, but apparently that doesn’t matter when Bartolo Colon is involved, and he should probably be started in all leagues until further notice.

Jeff Locke’s schedule this week is the stuff of legends, and he continues to be a fun guy to want to stream. After bombing out his second half last year and finding himself injured and relegated to AAA at the start of this season Locke made his return to the Bucs’ rotation to fill a vast and gaping injury hole, and he’s generated some intrigue with the early returns. He’s suddenly throwing dramatically more two-seamers and change-ups, and the combination has played well together. I like him as a streaming option this week given the match-ups, and he’s a guy to monitor for a potentially larger role at the back end of your rotation going forward if he continues to show a penchant for keeping his walks in check.

The shine has certainly come off Nathan Eovaldi after a strong run to open the season. He struggled again in his last turn against the lowly Cubs, and stands before you today the owner of an ERA pushing four. The peripherals suggest he’s deserved a better fate than he’s received, however, with a miniscule walk rate driving his wholly respectable 3.26 FIP. Still, he draws a Phillies squad that’s gotten to him a bit in a couple starts this year, followed by a tough draw against Oakland. He’s a true toss-up for me depending on how much pitching depth you have and what your other options are. I’d probably lean towards benching him in favor of a strong one-start play, but failing that option he’s a defensible play.

Volquez got absolutely lit up in his last start, yielding eight earned to the not-that-good Cincinnati offense and failing to make it out of the third. Prior to that he’d pitched pretty well over his previous five starts, but even accounting for that run his poor ERA on the season has been fully supported by a FIP to match, and he’s just not a very good pitcher. Still, the matchups this week are mighty intriguing, enough so that Volquez has to be considered as a legitimate NL-only and deep league streaming option. It depends on your needs and risk aversion, but you could do worse.

Lynn and rotation-mate Shelby Miller (discussed below) have the misfortune of drawing a really nasty schedule of games. It’s too bad in Lynn’s case because he continues to quietly go about being one of the more underrated number four starters in standard 12-team leagues. He can be hittable at times, and his control will wobble, so he’s never going to be a plus WHIP pitcher. But the strikeouts, ERA, and Win potential are consistent. I’d lean strongly in favor of sitting this week out, but don’t mistake that recommendation for a knock on Lynn’s overall value to your pitching staff.

SIT

Roberto Hernandez

MIA, ATL

David Buchanan

MIA, ATL

Shelby Miller

@COL, @LAD

Notes:

Both Philly starters have some desirable traits if you squint hard enough. Hernandez has posted at least a decent strikeout-groundball combination, with the former accomplishment the more impressive. And he pitched well against Atlanta in a start earlier in the season. And Buchanan has flashed an elite walk rate over his first near-thirty innings. The Braves don’t pose the strongest of challenges, and despite an elite offense, the Marlins haven’t been firing on all cylinders of late. But both hurlers have struggled enough that I’d be looking elsewhere, even in NL-only leagues.

And just as Shelby Miller is showing signs of life he draws one of the worst possible schedules he could draw this week. Colorado is a pretty brutal place for most pitchers, but especially ones with curveball-centric secondary arsenals. The Rockies are more vulnerable now on account of injuries than they otherwise would be, but it’s still a Coors start. And the Dodgers have finally shown some signs of consistent life of late. I want so badly to start him, but given what we’ve seen this season he’s a guy to be conservative with. And at least if he pitches well this week and you lose a couple solid starts-worth of stats at least it’s for a good cause.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Chris Sale

@BAL, @TOR

Felix Hernandez

BOS, CLE

Yu Darvish

DET, MIN

Mark Buehrle

NYY, CHW

Notes:

Buehrle’s earned unequivocal trust at this point, so I’m not necessarily saying you should try and outsmart yourself here. But I’d also like to remind everybody as a public service that for whatever reason Mark Buehrle is usually pretty terrible at pitching against the New York Yankees. Despite a quality start in his last turn against the Pinstripes, in 17 career starts spanning almost 100 innings and a decade and a half he is now 1-11 with an ERA over 6.00, a WHIP over 1.50, and just a hair under 12 hits allowed per nine innings.

STARTS

C.J. Wilson

MIN, @KCR

John Lackey

@SEA, @NYY

Wei-Yin Chen

CHW, TAM

Notes:

C.J. Wilson continues to roll right along as a top-25 starter, though he’s scuffled a bit of late. The Twins’ bats have cooled a bit over the past several days after a run of very strong play, while the Royals have been on a historic-for-the-Royals run. I’m betting they’ll have calmed down enough to where this will be a defensible recommendation by the time Wilson sees them at the end of the week.

Chen’s anticipated two-start week last week got bounced on account of Miguel Gonzalez’s return to the rotation, and he’ll get a moderate scheduling boost with the move. He’s been consistently bobbing along the top-50 seas for most of the season, and he’ll now draw two starts at home where he’s pitched markedly better ball. Add in that he’ll face two bottom-tier offenses against left-handed pitching, and it adds up to an enticing play.

CONSIDER

Alex Cobb

PIT, @BAL

Drew Smyly

@TEX, @HOU

Jose Quintana

@BAL, @TOR

Chris Archer

PIT, @BAL

Kyle Gibson

@LAA, @TEX

Drew Hutchison

NYY, CHW

Chase Whitley

@TOR, BOS

Notes:

Cobb is a borderline “start,” with his relative inconsistency since returning from the DL and a moderately difficult slate of match-ups the only reasons for hesitation. His last two turns have both been strong, including a nice seven inning, zero earned run start against the Orioles his last time out. I still like him as one of the better pitchers in the American League when he’s healthy.

On the one hand I feel like Drew Smyly owners should be trying to squeeze every inch of value they can out of him before his innings taper or straight-up stop in the season’s second half. Coming off 76 all-relief innings last year it’s unclear just how much Detroit will be interested in pushing him. But despite three straight quality starts and a largely impressive body of work so far this season this slate of match-ups feels a bit sketchy, and I’m hesitant to recommend running him despite the two start value. Both Texas teams have hit left-handed pitching well this year, with the Rangers owning the best OBP in baseball against southpaws. For his part, Smyly has pitched above his peripherals consistently this season and hasn’t shown any troubling road splits at all. His strikeout potential is fairly neutral on the week, and he’s not a great WHIP guy. I’d feel more comfortable with someone else if I had the option, but in AL-only and deeper leagues he’s probably a guy you’re going to end up starting this week.

Don’t look now, but Kyle Gibson’s thrown 22 consecutive shutout innings over his past three starts. After the best start of his career last time out against Boston he’s now put up a 16:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio with just nine hits allowed over those three. I’d probably just as soon keep him in the “monitor” pile for now given the difficult road match-ups, but given the press clippings he’s likely to receive over the next few days you’ll probably be wise to submit a FAAB or waiver claim sooner rather than later if you’re in need of a streaming play.

After five more solid if unspectacular innings against the Blue Jays last time out, Chase Whitley has now posted seven frustratingly competent starts in the Aaron Small/Shawn Chacon mold, and it’s just driving us Yankee haters nuts. His ERA is fully FIP-supported, though his miniscule homerun rate has been lucky even for a pitcher who demonstrated a consistent ability to keep the ball in the yard throughout his minor league career. He’ll see Toronto for a second straight start in his next turn, this time on Canadian soil, and then he’ll follow up that tough draw with a spotlight start against the Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball. Despite recent offensive struggles by both clubs that makes for a rather daunting slate, and Whitley is accordingly a risky play.

SIT

Jeremy Guthrie

LAD, LAA

Scott Feldman

ATL, DET

Notes:

Guthrie’s really been quite good over the past month, culminating with a nine-strikeout gem over six and two-thirds in his last start against Detroit. Still, he gets two of the best road offenses in baseball knocking on his door this week, and with a FIP that was running neck and neck with his strikeouts-per-nine until a whiff explosion in his last start I don’t trust him to not get shelled in at least one of these starts. Despite the Royals’ winning ways there’s no need to be a hero here if you own him, even in AL-only leagues.

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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