June 27, 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.
Much more action in the American League this week, though an oversized amount of it should best be avoided. The Brewers are the only team playing a five game schedule and lacking a two-start pitcher, which is just as well since Marco Estrada would be that man.
And with that, on to our Week Fourteen pitching planner.
Plenty of internet ink has been spilled on Arrieta’s recent exploits, and it’s been quite warranted. The kid has really been quite good for the balance of the season, but his recent run of dominance has really pushed things to a new level. The strikeout-groundball combination is drool-worthy, and he’s made great strides in generating value with his breaking stuff, particularly the slider. That pitch would rate as a top-three slider among all starters if he had enough innings to qualify, and it’s the primary reason he’s been able to add over two percentage points to his swinging-strike rate this season. This has every bit the look of a legitimate breakout, and given the pedestrian opposition of this two-start slate his hot hand should be ridden in pretty well all leagues.
Given Mat Latos’ cost on draft day he’s a borderline auto-start now that he’s finally back in action, but seeing as how these will be his fourth and fifth starts of the season some caution is arguably warranted on paper. Fortunately the matchups include a trip to Petco here, and that’s enough to offset his more ominous follow-up with the road warrior Brewers at week’s end.
Fresh off another no-hitter of baseball’s worst offense Lincecum lines up for a two-start week, one of which being a return engagement with those Padres. The Cardinals offense continues to be puzzlingly mediocre, and Lincecum has shown a notable home split this season despite his general inconsistencies. The Cards are the toughest team in baseball to strike out, but they’re also quite difficult to walk. The value of the latter advantage to Lincecum is higher, and if he can scrape out a quality start in that game, he gets the franchise that has cumulatively posted a .573 OPS against him over 28 starts. He’s worth a shot in most leagues to see if you can’t bank a nice little run from him.
I really only have Wood in this pile on account of this week’s schedule marking just the second and third starts of his return to the rotation. He pitched seven dominant innings last week and looks poised to pick up where he left off with a solid home-and-home schedule. Caution is always warranted in situations like this, but at the same time Wood looks more than capable of delivering a boost to pitching staffs across the land. Unless you’re an overly conservative type or you’re flush with pitching and don’t need to take the gamble I like him as a play this week.
Jesse Hahn has certainly had himself a debut thus far. Despite a grand total of just 160 minor league innings to his credit he’s made Major League hitters look rather ordinary in his last three starts. His four-seamer and curveball have both rated as decidedly plus pitches in the short sample of his big league career, while his two-seamer has helped him induce a strong 52 percent ground-ball rate through four starts. Two Petco starts in one week is always a situation to embrace where possible, and for owners in need of a shot in the arm to their pitching lines Hahn makes for a very intriguing grab for the week (and maybe longer) in most leagues.
Boy, has Zack Wheeler been frustrating to try to figure out. After twirling a brilliant 1-0 shutout of the Marlins two starts ago he was picked apart by Oakland in his last turn to the tune of six earned in two innings. Granted both of those starts occurred against top-tier offenses, but it fits the larger pattern of start-to-start inconsistency that’s made Wheeler a really tough guy to trust. Still, even after the Oakland debacle his FIP is sitting at a shiny 3.27 and he’s whiffing more than a batter per inning. And this week he draws two of the poorer offenses in baseball. I lean toward starting him on account of the strikeouts and potential he’s flashed to beat up on vulnerable offenses. But I’m not going to pretend this is a ringing endorsement.
I’d like to take a moment to point out in A.J. Burnett’s last two-start week, when I recommended starting him to the consternation of some, he responded with a solid 2.94 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and one win over 15 1/3 innings. Now that we’ve all had a chance to soak that in, this week’s schedule is a little more daunting. Burnett has pitched discernibly worse on the road this year, and both of these squads tend to do the bulk of their offensive damage at home. I’d probably look for an opportunity to let A.J. sit this one out, though he’s worth a thought or two in some league structures.
Wade Miley has not been very good of late, and both the Pirates and Braves hit well against left-handed pitching. In the case of the latter it’s about all they do well offensively. Miley does have an intriguing split at play, in that he’s pitched quite a bit better on the road, and his strikeout surge has continued for the length of the season despite mediocre bottom line results. But the combination of schedule and recent performance leaves him as nothing more than a streamer target for deep mixed and NL-only leagues in which you’re in need of a strikeout boost.
Dan Haren’s last turn was an ugly one, and truth be told, even his better starts have topped out in the merely “decent” range for quite a while now. His biggest bugaboo continues to be the long ball, as he’s now issuing 1.5 HR/9. He’s given up at least one in each of his last nine starts now, making his pilgrimage to Coors Field this week that much uglier of a proposition. Even his date with Cleveland is a tricky one, as they mash right-handed pitching pretty well. At this point Haren’s more of a back-end match-ups play in mixed leagues. He’s worth consideration in some circumstances for the Cleveland start in daily roster leagues, but the Colorado start is enough to torpedo his value in weekly roster leagues across the board.
Flande snuck his way through five slider-happy innings with respectable results in his Major League debut last time out, and actually draws a couple half-decent starts this week. The Dodgers have struggled mightily against left-handed pitching, though they’ve shown a handful of flashes lately of coming around. And the Nats offense has been one of the worst couple in baseball over the past few weeks. I might consider him as a longer shot stream in deep NL-only leagues, but his minor league numbers point to a hittable pitcher lacking high end stuff. I’d just as soon see how he handles his first couple starts before making a call on him. The same goes for Friedrich as well, as he was horrible in admittedly-hostile Colorado Springs for 13 starts before getting the call.
*Assuming he remains untraded
Despite a more human run of late Corey Kluber is still sitting comfortably among the top 10 starters in FIP and knocking on the door of the top five in strikeouts. His value in standard leagues has been unduly compromised by poor luck on balls in play and some fringe-average Win karma. But make no mistake, he has been and continues to be an elite pitcher in 2014, and even despite the difficult schedule this week he should be trusted in all leagues.
And for his part, despite a clunker last time out and a tough two-start slate this week Scott Kazmir has been the seventh most valuable starter in fantasy baseball this year and should be started without a second guess until further notice.
The Garrett Richards train just keeps on rollin’ along. He’s now given up just four earned runs over his past five starts (34 1/3 innings), and he’s ridden a couple extra miles an hour of velocity and a lethal two-seamer/slider combination to top 20 standing among starting pitchers thus far. If you want to nitpick his control has wobbled a bit of late, as he’s handed out 11 walks in his last three starts. He also finally gave up a homer in his last start, marking just the third time that’s happened in over a hundred innings now. He’s not a guy that gives up a lot of dingers, but even last year’s strong homerun rate as a starter was three and a half times higher than his rate thus far in 2014. Point being, there may be some wiggle room to expect a modest regression here. But on the whole his peripherals tend to support the breakout, and he’s a borderline auto-start at this stage of the game.
Danny Duffy has pitched some really good ball over his past five turns, as he’s cobbled together two wins, a 1.70 ERA, a 0.88 WHIP, and 29 strikeouts over 31 2/3 innings. He continues to post an impressively restrained home-run rate despite a significantly fly-ball-heavy profile. Fortunately for him neither of his opponents this week is particularly adept at hitting the long ball, and given recent refinements in his fastball command Duffy’s a guy that owners should run in without reservation in all but the shallowest of leagues.
Despite his ups and downs Weaver remains a top-35 pitcher at last count, and I’ve learned better than to try and rationally understand him as a pitcher. He’s owned the White Sox in his career, including a special kind of ownership at US Cellular (five starts, 1.91 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 29-to-4 K:BB ratio in 33 innings). But of course he has, because extreme fly ball pitchers always thrive there, right? Don’t think, just throw him—at least for the time being. He’s on thin ice given recent performance issues, and a clunker or two this week could force reevaluation.
There isn’t really a ton in Hiroki Kuroda’s profile that screams of outlying performance at first glance, as his rates and even his velocity are generally in line with his career performance (though the latter has slid another tick this year). But he’s having a hard time generating quality movement with his breaking pitches, and this quiet deficiency has led to a diminished whiff rate driven. He’s not generating nearly as many swings out of the zone with his breaking balls, and this has in turn led to him having to work more in the zone, where batters have made more contact. I don’t think his days as a serviceable fantasy starter are behind him, same time I don’t think his strikeouts are likely to return—or even maintain going forward. For our purposes this week, he draws a couple of tasty matchups and demands strong consideration.
I like both of these Houston starters in the right situation, but they both draw a tough schedule for the week, particularly that latter start in Orange County. The results of each speak for themselves at this point: McHugh a FIP that’s hovered around three for most of recent history and double digit strikeouts per nine, and Cosart is that third-of-an-inning debacle in Oakland away from a 3.08 ERA and 1.24 WHIP on the season. Either is a defensible start, but it will really depend on your team and league context as to whether it’s a good idea.
Ricky Nolasco hasn’t been terrible of late, he’s just been inconsistent and mediocre. He still has the worst ERA and WHIP among all qualified starters, so the very fact that he’s in the “consider” bin—albeit at the very bottom—is a coup. But hear me out: neither opponent coming in to Minneapolis has shown as a quality road offense this season. After stealing the headlines amid a long winning streak the Royals are scuffling again of late, and the Yankees are kicking around the top of the bottom tier away from the short porch. Nolasco, meanwhile, features some of the most dramatic home-road splits in baseball (3.57 ERA/4.23 FIP at home, 7.11/5.14 on the road. 1.14 WHIP at home, 1.91 on the road). In AL-only and the deepest of deep leagues he’s not the craziest guy in the world to take a flier on.
Despite a schedule that isn’t the worst on paper, Ubaldo Jimenez is not a worthwhile gamble for two straight starts at this point. His walks have gotten absolutely out of control (#pun) of late, as he’s issued a staggering 30 free passes over his last 36 innings. His WHIP is now tied for the worst among all qualified starters in the Majors, which is all the more staggering when you consider that he’s given up less than a hit per inning and his .245 BAA is just about 50th percentile among league starters. For good measure, the Red Sox have absolutely owned him in six career starts: he’s pitched to a 9.31 ERA and 1.89 WHIP against Boston over 29 frames. Until he shows some signs of command refinement—which, given he’s now 30 years old may just be a lost cause—I wouldn’t trust him as anything other than a one-start-at-a-time streaming option.
Noesi actually sports a respectable enough walk rate around eight percent, and his strikeout rate will certainly play. But his control early in counts has been suspect and he lacks a true put-away pitch, resulting in long at-bats and prematurely extended pitch counts. He struggles to wok deep into games, which handicaps his Win potential. And as a fairly extreme fly ball pitcher currently calling U.S. Cellular his home he’s been highly vulnerable to the long ball this season. The Angels are certainly capable of taking advantage of those tendencies, and the Mariners have been hitting much better of late. I’d stay away this week.
Jake Peavy’s strikeout rate is at an all-time low and his walk rate is the highest it’s been since his first full season in the Majors over a decade ago. His advanced metrics suggest the two and a half run split favoring his home ERA is a mirage, and while the Cubs are the Cubs, the Orioles have been the best barnstormers in baseball this year. Peavy’s general inconsistency makes him a really difficult guy to trust for multiple outings in one scoring period. I’d pass, even in AL-only leagues.
Saunders really doesn’t have much use on a team like Texas right now. He’s posted a WHIP over two across seven starts now, giving up 53 hits in just 34 2/3 innings. That’s an average of less than five innings a start, incidentally. Maybe his start against the Mets cracks the top-15 streaming options for the weekend, but he’s shouldn’t be committed two starts.
You’ve had your fun, you and Drew Hutchison. But he hasn’t been the most consistent pitcher start-to-start and he’s been knocked around a bit over his last few. He draws the two best teams (by record) in baseball next week. Save him for the following week, when he’d be on turn to face the Rays in his final start of the first half.