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July 3, 2014

Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner

Week 15

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.

With the All-Star break looming a staggering 52 two-start pitchers are on tap for the week, with every team playing six games at a minimum and featuring at least one multi-start option. I’ve tried to keep the length of this week’s planner from getting too unruly, so as a proportion of total options there is less per-pitcher commentary this week than usual. As always if you have any questions about pitchers I didn’t expand upon (particularly from the voluminous ranks of the “consider” piles) feel free to fire away in the comments section and I’ll provide some #analysis there.

And with that, on to our Week 15 pitching planner.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Julio Teheran

@NYM, @CHC

Johnny Cueto

CHC, PIT

Madison Bumgarner

@OAK, ARI

Adam Wainwright

PIT, @MIL

Stephen Strasburg

BAL, @PHI

START

Cole Hamels

@MIL, WAS

Doug Fister

BAL, @PHI

Hyun-jin Ryu

@DET, SDG

Charlie Morton

@STL, @CIN

Notes:

Cole Hamels has basically reclaimed his auto-start mantle at this point after throwing 44 innings over six starts in June with a 1.23 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP, and more than a strikeout an inning. I see no reason to consider sticking him on the bench for a two-start week like this, and with the injury concerns sliding farther and farther into his rear-view he should earn the distinction officially by his next two-start turn.

I’ll admit to a palpable sense of worry about Hyun-jin Ryu’s start at Detroit, as the Tigers have been very good both at home and against left-handed pitching on the season. But they also don’t have a single hitter who’s faced Ryu before, and the crafty lefty has an established habit of effectively working his way through lineups on first viewing. The reward for your faith in his ability to do so here is a date with the hapless Padres, who he’s held to a single run through 13 innings thus far in 2014. That gives his owners a nice cushion to protect against any mild unpleasantness that may arise in Detroit, and it makes Ryu a worthwhile gamble in all but the very shallowest of mixed leagues.

Morton will allegedly start twice next week, but we’ve all heard that song and dance before and it usually ends with at least one of those starts getting rained out, so take his placement here with a grain of salt. That said he’s been sneaky outstanding over the past few weeks save for a six-run clunker against the Cubs. He appears to have made a concerted effort to address a mechanical issue that had him releasing the ball from a lower armslot, and the result has been even greater movement of late on his heralded sinker and notably more depth to his curveball. It’s too small a sample to claim absolutely causality, but it’s interesting to note that the mechanical changes coincide with a dramatic increase in his whiff rate, particularly the amount of swings and misses he’s generated with his curveball. I like him as a consistent mid-rotation option for the rest of the season, and I’m willing to trust him twice on the road this week against divisional opponents in most leagues.

CONSIDER

Mike Leake

CIN, PIT

Wily Peralta

PHI, STL

Carlos Martinez

PIT, @MIL

Tom Koehler

@ARI, @NYM

Nathan Eovaldi

@ARI, @NYM

Chase Anderson

MIA, @SFG

Mike Minor

@NYM, @CHC

Vance Worley

@STL, @CIN

Ian Kennedy

@COL, @LAD

Tyson Ross

@COL, @LAD

Ryan Vogelsong

@OAK, ARI

Jacob deGrom

ATL, MIA

Travis Wood

@CIN, ATL

Tyler Matzek

SDG, MIN

Notes:

Over basically the equivalent of a full season’s worth of combined career starts against Pittsburgh and Chicago (31 starts, 203 1/3 innings) Mike Leake has posted a 3.23 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 13 wins, and 131 strikeouts (5.8-per-nine). In other words, he’s pretty much been the medium-depth-league-average fantasy starter you’d expect him to be. The consistency plays here, and unless you need to chase some strikeouts he makes for a boring but solid start in most leagues.

Both Marlin hurlers on the list should really deserve full-on “start” recommendations given their schedule. The Mets offense, while no doubt improved of late, shouldn’t scare you in a vacuum, let alone at Citi Field where they’ve been among the worst home teams in baseball. And after some brief signs of life a while back the Diamondbacks have reverted to being a pretty terrible squad in their own right. Neither Tom Koehler nor Nathan Eovaldi has shown the kind of trustworthiness you’d like to see out of a non-elite two-start option, however. Eovaldi has been particularly frustrating of late, as he got off to a strong start to the season only to settle back down into rut of mediocrity over the past several turns. Heading into his start against the Phillies tonight his last eight starts break down like so:

  • First four: 28 IP, 2 W, 19 K, 1.93 ERA, 0.96 WHIP
  • Next four: 23 IP, 1 W, 10 K, 6.26 ERA, 1.65 WHIP

The lack of strikeouts is particularly concerning for a guy who throws in the mid-90s, but he doesn’t generate the kind of movement with that fastball nor the consistency with his slider that he needs to generate swings-and-missed. His whiff rate currently rates 65th among qualified starters, and I don’t see anything to suggest that figure is low-balling his true talent right now. I narrowly prefer Kohler between the two this week, though given the match-ups either is probably worth the gamble.

Since bursting onto the scene with a few consecutive Wins out of the gate Chase Anderson’s been able to maintain a decent little run of success on the back of a strong two-seam and change-up combination. The stuff isn’t electric by any means, and he’s given up an awful lot of line drives (and homeruns) thus far. But as a back-end and match-ups play he’s an interesting character. He gets two offenses that have really hit the schneid of late. He’s a solid streaming option for NL-only leagues and worthy of consideration up to medium-depth mixed leagues.

Boy, what an unfortunate turn of the schedule for both Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy. Both have performed as top 50 starting pitchers on the season, with bundles of strikeouts and decent WHIP numbers to support their efforts. But the Padres travel to two pretty terrible destinations this week and I frankly don’t want any part of either of these guys for two starts. It always stings when you have to toss a two-start week from one of your top four starters onto the bench, but in most cases that’s what owners should unfortunately resign themselves to doing this week with this pair.

Travis Wood is generally good for a strong “consider” nod as a streaming option in NL-only and deep mixed leagues on account of his relative consistency despite a notable lack of sexy. He should probably be among the final options you consider this week, however, as he matches up against two squads that for all their various offensive faults hit lefties at strong clips. Meanwhile Wood’s control has wobbled notably of late, and he’s been much more hittable of late despite burning worms at a career best rate. I’d just as soon turn elsewhere, but you could do worse if you’re desperate.

If Tyler Matzek’s schedule featured the same opponents on the road we’d probably be looking at a “start” recommendation and one of my favorite streaming options of the week. As is he gets two starts at Coors, which never makes for a fun commitment. Both Minnesota and San Diego have been mediocre to terrible against left-handed pitching this season, with the latter being so bad that it more or less cancels out the Coors risk in my opinion. Still, this is a green starter making two starts against Major League lineups in a hitters’ paradise. I would use extreme caution here, but I can see how someone, somewhere will talk themselves in to Matzek this week.

SIT

Edwin Jackson

@CIN, ATL

Marco Estrada

PHI, STL

Daisuke Matsuzaka

ATL, MIA

Kyle Kendrick

@MIL, WAS

Notes:

Jackson’s quality start against Boston in his last turn was his first since the middle of May, breaking up a run of seven straight poor outings in which he posted a 7.13 ERA while walking almost six-per-nine. The match-ups aren’t overly intimidating, but Jackson’s lack of any semblance of start-to-start consistency makes him a poor play for pretty much any home start right now.

Even with some (minimal) signs of life over his last two outings (read: they weren’t disasters) I’m not in the business of trusting Estrada just yet. Maybe we reevaluate again after another two or three quality outings in a row, but given the scale of some of his recent disasters and the effect they had on unwitting owners’ bottom lines I’d just as soon be a start or two late in recommending him again than early.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

James Shields

@TAM, DET

Garrett Richards

TOR, @TEX

Masahiro Tanaka

@CLE, @BAL

Sonny Gray

SFG, @SEA

Yu Darvish

HOU, LAA

Notes:

Welcome Garrett Richards to the auto-start club. I’ve resisted for about as long as I can, but the reality is his performance to date has been every bit sustainable according to his peripherals, and that performance to date has been the eighth most valuable among all fantasy starters. Run him without consideration until he gives you reason to consider otherwise.

STARTS

Hisashi Iwakuma

MIN, OAK

Jake Odorizzi

KCR, TOR

Notes:

Iwakuma rebounded from a couple rough starts in a row with seven shutout innings in his last start, and he’ll take his career 2.84 ERA and 1.02 WHIP at home to the Safeco bump twice next week. Oakland has given him sporadic problems, as is their want, but on the flipside he’s yet to allow a run in four starts and 26 2/3 career innings against the Twins. The balance tilts favorably in Iwakuma’s direction, and he’s a solid play for the week despite the heavy-hitting A’s making an appearance on the docket.

CONSIDER

Jesse Chavez

SFG, @SEA

Phil Hughes

@SEA, @COL

Chris Young

MIN, OAK

Justin Verlander

LAD, @KCR

Jason Vargas

@TAM, DET

Tyler Skaggs

TOR, @TEX

Brandon Workman

CHW, @HOU

Wei-Yin Chen

@WAS, NYY

John Danks

@BOS, @CLE

Chris Tillman

@WAS, NYY

Trevor Bauer

NYY, CHW

Notes:

After looking almost invincible at times over a near-two month stretch through the middle of June Phil Hughes enters his start tonight having conceded five earned runs in back-to-back outings, and with a trip to Colorado next week on the docket he’s suddenly not quite the sure bet he’d been treating his owners to for so long. I’d just as soon play it cautious given the massive amounts of surplus value he’s generated for you already this year, but in leagues where innings and wins are at a premium, he’s worth considering given the larger track record of the season to date.

After some rough patches along the way Jake Odorizzi has settled into a decent little groove of late, putting together a nice five-start run heading into this week with a 2.05 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and a strikeout an inning over his last 30 2/3 frames. He’s been significantly ramping up usage of his four-seamer over the stretch, and the pitch has played up with a rising whiff rate in response. And standard sample size caveats notwithstanding he’s been a dramatically different pitcher at home thus far with a 2.64 FIP and 10.98 K/9 at the Trop. The draw isn’t the easiest, but he’s shown his mettle of late to a degree that he’s probably earned the nod in your league.

Tyler Skaggs has put together a fairly prototypical season of inconsistency for a young starting pitcher with his kind of upside, and the uneven play makes him a tricky starter to lean on in two-start weeks. He’s lost a tick off his early-season velocity spike, though he remains about two miles an hour above last year’s velocity in the aggregate. With the velocity has come added movement, particularly with his two-seamer, and that pitch continues to drive a dramatic increase in his groundball rate. The strikeouts still leave something to be desired, but he’s showcasing the kind of raw skillset that should have owners in dynasty leagues in particular paying close attention. Texas has already knocked him around once this season, however, and while he handled the Blue Jays in a previous encounter they’ve been a consistently dangerous team on the road this season. I don’t love the matchups and I don’t love the two-start commitment here, but if you’re leaning on him for back-of-the-rotation innings, he’s a defensible choice for the week.

Chris Tillman has had a strange year this season, and he’s a fairly difficult guy to recommend trusting for a two-start commitment. While his bread-and-butter four-seam fastball has continued to rate as a strong pitch, his curve and change have both regressed notably in effectiveness. The secondary stuff isn’t fooling anyone, as batters are swinging at markedly less offerings out of the zone. Actually hitters are swinging less period against Tillman, and when they do they’re making more contact. The combination has led to an elevated walk rate, a deflated strikeout rate, and a FIP over 4.50. The matchups grade out to be pretty neutral, so it’s a question of how much you trust Tillman. I’d look elsewhere—I prefer his rotation-mate Wei-Yin Chen with the same slate of starts—though he’s a warm body if you need innings/Win potential in deeper and AL-only leagues.

John Danks has been a pleasant surprise this season, at least to the degree that he’s rebounded enough from injury to provide solid value as a properly deployed streamer. With a quality start in three out of every four turns thus far he’s shown the kind of consistency to warrant week-to-week consideration. All of that said, he’s been a pretty different pitcher on the road thus far, with an ERA more than three runs higher away from home and a WHIP almost 0.5 points higher. It’s not a be-all-end-all trend—we’re talking about approximately 50 inning samples, here—but it’s certainly enough of a pattern at this point to warrant consideration. Both offenses he draws this week have performed pretty poorly against left-handed pitching, so there’s some cause for optimism. Whether you trust him this week comes down to how much risk you see in those home/road splits. But given the mediocre strikeout and WHIP numbers he returns even on good days he’s probably not worth the gamble in most league situations.

SIT

Clay Buchholz

CHW, @HOU

Scott Carroll

@BOS, @CLE

Justin Masterson

NYY, CHW

Kevin Correa

@SEA, @COL

Vidal Nuno

@CLE, @BAL

Miles Mikolas

HOU, LAA

J.A. Happ

@LAA, @TAM

Notes:

I considered sneaking Justin Masterson into the “consider” pile on account of his significant home/road splits (3.45 FIP/3.54 ERA at home, 4.39/6.65 on the road), but the reality is that his control has been so abysmal of late that it doesn’t really much matter. He now sits tied for the worst WHIP among qualifying starters in baseball, and over his past ten starts he’s averaging less than five innings a start, meaning his Win potential is severely compromised. He’ll strike some hitters out if his slider’s on, but given the extreme WHIP risk and moderate-to-severe ERA risk there isn’t a particularly compelling case to be made for committing to two starts this week.

The match-ups aren’t terrible, and he pitched a respectable game last time out against the Cubs. But I still don’t want anything to do with Clay Buchholz until he strings together at least another couple decent starts in a row at this point. Interestingly his velocity has been trending up in a quite linear progression over the past two months, to where he’s up about a mile and a half an hour over April. But with the humped up velocity he’s lost a big chunk of the movement on his pitches, the results have largely been a wash. A terrible, terrible wash for his fantasy owners.

Vidal Nuno hasn’t pitched terribly outside of a nasty clunker against the A’s that he shouldn’t have been started for anyway, and he is what he is as a back-end guy: He throws strikes, doesn’t get himself into trouble by walking a ton of guys, and he gives up a whole bunch of hits and—of particular concern—home runs. This latter point is the most troubling omen for his prospects on the week, as the Orioles are the second best team in the Majors at hitting homers, while Cleveland isn’t exactly terrible at it either. I can see reaching to consider him in a deep AL-only, but not enough to where I’d recommend it. He’s a streaming option start-to-start, not someone I’d feel comfortable locking in for two in a row on the road.

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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