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July 18, 2014

Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner

Week 17

by Wilson Karaman

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Welcome to the Weekly Pitching Planner! The first full week of the second half is always a tough one for two-start pitching, as the abbreviated prior week coming off the All Star Break tends to manipulate the schedule in such a way as to leave bottom tier rotation options lined up for two-start status. Lo and behold, that’s exactly where we find ourselves this week. There’s a grand total of two auto-start options in the entirety of Major League Baseball, and only a handful of straight “start” recommendations on top of that. The good news is that the following week, Week Eighteen, we should be on track to boast a strong number of top shelf two-start options, and that’s always fun. Only two teams, the Rays and Cardinals, will play five-game schedules this week, so in terms of sheer volume of options there are plenty. But when the quality is this poor, sometimes the quantity just doesn’t matter all that much.

I’ll also note that as of press time a handful of teams (Cleveland, Atlanta, the Cubs, Miami, and Milwaukee) have yet to announce their full rotation plans beyond the weekend, so as those probable starters begin to post please feel free to request feedback on the match-ups in the comments section below.

On to the nuts and bolts: 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.

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

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AUTO-START

None.

START

Cliff Lee

SFG, ARI

Hyun-jin Ryu

@PIT, @SFG

Mat Latos

@MIL, WAS

Jacob deGrom

@SEA, @MIL

Notes:

Cliff Lee got knocked around in his rehab starts, pitchers returning from elbow injuries are dangerous starts, yada yada yada. Start him. You’ve missed him desperately in your lineup, because he’s a top 10 pitcher and he’s been on the DL for two months. Rejoice in his return. If it doesn’t work, out we can reevaluate next time. If it does, he immediately vaults back into auto-start territory.

Hyun-jin Ryu entered the break with a strong bounceback performance against the Padres after getting taken to the woodshed by Detroit in his previous turn. He currently checks in as the 38th-most valuable pitcher in standard formats, meaning he’s by and large been exactly what we might have expected heading into the season, and he draws two teams this week who tend to struggle against left-handed pitching. The Giants in particular make for a tasty draw, as they’ve been among the worst offenses in baseball for a while now, though it should be noted that they did knock Ryu around once back in April. Still, he’s a worthwhile start as one of the more consistent mid-rotation guys around.

Truth be told, I don’t entirely trust Mat Latos this week as he comes back from his second DL stint of the season, but a lot of what I said about Lee above applies here. He’s an impact starter you paid an impact starter’s price to acquire, and given the value shortfall he’s produced to date, you almost have to run him at this point unless and until he demonstrates you shouldn’t.

Despite some glaring topline home/road splits, Jacob deGrom has actually posted peripherals suggesting no split at all, as he enters the second half with a road FIP (3.25) almost identical to his work at home (3.24). Point being, owners shouldn’t be scared off here, because the fact is deGrom has been a pretty excellent pitcher since his debut, and there’s nothing under the hood to suggest that the performance has been unsustainable. After migrating away from his four-seamer in June deGrom has restored his initial pitch mix in July, working much more heavily off his 95-mph fastball, and the move has led to a rising tide of whiff percentages across the board on all his offerings save the change-up, which he has gradually been moving away from as he’s gone along. Batters just aren’t squaring up his stuff, and I have enough faith in his deep arsenal to wager the results continue on for a while longer.

CONSIDER

Jordan Zimmermann

@COL, @CIN

Matt Cain

@PHI, LAD

Ryan Vogelsong

@PHI, LAD

Roberto Hernandez

SFG, ARI

Notes:

Coming off a dreaded bout of bicep “cramping” and now heading into Coors and Great American, Jordan Zimmermann makes for about as risky a play this week as Jordan Zimmermann can muster. He’s one of my favorite pitchers in the National League, but the schedule and context makes it extremely difficult to advocate starting him this week. I probably would in all but the shallowest of leagues, but I wouldn’t feel good about it.

Matt Cain has done everything in his power to make his fantasy owners forget years of reliably outperforming his peripherals by patching together a true dud of a first half. He managed to show some signs of life over his final three turns before the Break, however, and that coincides with finding a couple ticks of velocity while making a concerted effort to swap his four- for a two-seamer as his primary fastball. He’s also flip-flopped his curveball and slider, now utilizing the former as his primary breaking ball. Cain is, in other words, a pitcher in transition. This could very well make for an advantageous development against an opponent like the Dodgers, familiar as they are with the “old” Matt Cain’s repertoire and tendencies. But I can understand being hesitant to trust Cain with two starts at this juncture, and those with less risk-aversion may just want to let Cain sit this one out until he builds a lengthier track record of success with his newfound arsenal.

Roberto Hernandez is not somebody I’d want to find myself relying on for much of anything regardless of league depth. The walk total is unruly, and after bursting onto the major league scene back in the day as an elite groundball pitcher he’s no longer inducing worm-burners at a strong enough rate to overcome his control issues. The match-ups put him on the map as a streaming option for NL-only leagues this week, however, as the Giants and Diamondbacks both entered the break as bottom tier offensive units over the past several weeks.

SIT

Vidal Nuno

DET, @PHI

Franklin Morales

WAS, PIT

Edinson Volquez

LAD, @COL

Eric Stults

@CHC, @ATL

Notes:

Outside of a beatdown administered by the Reds five starts ago Edinson Volquez has very quietly been very good since the middle of May. Over his last 10 starts – including the Cincinnati debacle – he’s gone seven and two and logged a 2.79 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 45 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings. It’s not the stuff of legend, but those are perfectly serviceable numbers for a mid-rotation starter in any medium-depth league in town. But oh those match-ups. Those dastardly match-ups. Enjoy what you’ve gotten out of Volquez recently and save him for a second-half debut in Week 18.

Credit where it’s due, Franklin Morales has pitched a couple solid games since returning to the Rockies’ rotation. That said he gets two of the hotter offenses into the break this week, and he’s gets them both in Coors. In one of the grander statistical oddities of the season to date Morales has actually posted an ERA almost two full runs better at home than on the road this season, but his home splits aren’t exactly encouraging in their own right and he can’t get righties out. He does not make for a good option this week in any league format.

Despite the sit recommendation here (which is tied very directly to a road-road schedule) I want to note for the record that Eric Stults is back, baby! One of my favorite NL-only streamers for his home starts, Stults has endured what we may charitably describe as a tough season in 2014. Homeruns have been a big problem, his strikeout rate has declined to even lower levels than usual, and his FIP sits at an ugly 5.22. But over his last five starts he’s put together a decent little run with a 3.07 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 23 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings, even surviving a trip to Colorado in his final turn of the first half. Keep him in mind for future home engagements.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Chris Sale

KCR, @MIN

Scott Kazmir

HOU, @TEX

STARTS

Matt Shoemaker

BAL, DET

Notes:

Recommending Matt Shoemaker for a start this week may involve something of a leap of faith, to the degree that the Detroit Tigers have been on fire offensively over the past couple weeks and represent a dangerous gauntlet of bats to work through three times in a start. But outside of an abject shellacking at the hands of Kansas City at the end of June Shoemaker’s been quite good and quite consistent since his debut. One peculiarity of his recent work involves his curveball, however, which he’s been throwing slower and generating more whiffs on as the months have gone along, yet he’s shying away from it of late in favor of a four-seam/splitter combo that is generating less swings and misses. It’ll be interesting to see if he makes an adjustment over the coming weeks, but regardless his numbers at home have been exemplary (a 3.03 FIP and a strikeout an inning), and I like him in first-time meetings with both opponents.

CONSIDER

Taijuan Walker

NYM, BAL

Rick Porcello

@ARI, @LAA

John Lackey

@TOR, @TAM

Collin McHugh

@OAK, MIA

Roenis Elias

NYM, BAL

Bud Norris

@LAA, @SEA

Chase Whitley

TEX, TOR

Shane Greene

TEX, TOR

Drew Hutchison

BOS, @NYY

J.A. Happ

BOS, @NYY

Scott Carroll

KCR, @MIN

Notes:

Taijuan Walker earns his first career two-start week this week, and he’ll have the good fortune of toeing the home rubber for both and welcoming the Mets as one of his opponents. His control wobbled dramatically in his second big league start against the White Sox, providing a helpful reminder about the perils of rookie pitchers, however talented they may be. It is that uncertainty which casts just enough doubt into my mind to relegate Walker to consideration rather than a straight start recommendation. I tend to play it more conservative with my rookie pitchers, and I wouldn’t fault you if you did as well.

Collin McHugh managed to keep on rolling at a reasonably strong clip for the entirety of the first half, and there really isn’t a ton in the way of warning flags in his peripherals or stuff. Still, he’ll be coming off a minimum DL stint for a finger injury, and the match-ups are tough to get a handle on this week. On the one hand, Oakland and Miami have both been scuffling a bit at the dish of late. On the other, the A’s draw in particular just can’t be viewed as a pleasant one despite those recent struggles, as Oakland is outstanding at home, they kill righties, and even with the recent struggles they still have a top-five TAv in all of baseball. Team context plays a significant role in what you should do with McHugh this week; if I didn’t need to gamble a bit to play catch-up with my pitching I probably wouldn’t. If you do though McHugh’s a perfectly reasonable start given the strikeout potential along with a track record of steady ERA and WHIP production so far this season.

It’s hard to believe, but John Lackey has yet to lock horns with the Blue Jays this season after managing to catch them only once all of last season. So there’s a surprising lack of familiarity here that you wouldn’t expect given the divisional rivalry, and he’s certainly catching the banged up Blue Jays at the right time. Throw in another meeting with a Tampa Bay team he’s dominated twice already this season, and this week doesn’t look quite as bad for Lackey as it may have appeared at first glance.

I don’t really trust either of the Yankee options this week, as Chase Whitley has come crashing back down to Earth in a hurry after an over-his-head debut, and Shane Greene’s profile is one of a hittable back-end starter. The match-ups are enough to intrigue in AL-only leagues at the least, however, as the banged up Blue Jay and generally mediocre Ranger lineups are not particularly fear-inducing at present. I’d err on the side of caution and avoid where possible.

I’d have given you pretty good odds on a wager that I wouldn’t be disqualifying a middling starter (or in the case of Toronto this week two middling starters) from consideration for a two-start week against the Red Sox and Yankees in July, but here we are. The teams rank 25th and 22nd respectively in runs scored and 26th and 29th in team TAv. Neither one of these pitchers floats my boat the present moment; for all the flashes he’s shown this season Hutchison has been extremely unreliable start to start of late, and Happ’s inconsistencies are nothing new. I’d avoid both, but in AL-only leagues either is a valid streaming option.

At first glance Scott Carroll seems like a non-starter of a proposition, but as a streaming option for AL-only leagues this is about as good a shot as he’s got to be rostered. He doesn’t strike anybody out, but he does induce a ton of ground balls. The Royals happen to hit a lot of ground balls, and while the Twins do not they’re also not a particularly scary offense to oppose. I’m not advocating for him, but he’s at least worth adding to your consider list if you’re looking to stream this week.

SIT

Justin Verlander

@ARI, @LAA

Hector Santiago

BAL, DET

Miguel Gonzalez

@LAA, @SEA

Jake Peavy

@TOR, @TAM

Jeremy Guthrie

@CHW, CLE

Bruce Chen

@CHW, CLE

Kris Johnson

CLE, CHW

Ricky Nolasco

CLE, CHW

Miles Mikolas

@NYY, OAK

Scott Baker

@NYY, OAK

T.J. House

@MIN, @KCR

Notes:

Just because the Tigers didn’t want to invent some fictitious malady or another to give Verlander a longer mid-season siesta to clear the old noggin doesn’t mean I can’t recommend fantasy owners do it. His velocity was down a full two miles an hour over his last handful of starts in July leading up to the break, and he runs into a red-hot Angel offense this week that I want nothing to do with. What do you say we cool our heels for another week, take in the sights, and see where we’re at this time next week?

Hector Santiago has had a weird, unlucky season to date. On the one hand, he’s struck out almost a batter an inning and managed to keep the ball in the yard at a perfectly respectable clip despite dramatic fly ball tendencies. On the other he’s walked just enough guys and given up just enough inopportune hits with runners on that he’s managed to allow what would be a bottom-15 strand rate if he had enough innings to qualify. Whether it’s poor luck or legitimate mechanical or mental issues when he’s in the stretch remains to be seen, but he’s firmly in the category of pitchers I’ll be monitoring closely to see if they can’t toss up a few quality outings in a row. Until that happens though I’m not willing to trust him just yet with a multiple start commitment.

Jake Peavy, to his credit, has pitched much better baseball over his last three starts, as he’s strung together a 2.84 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and a strikeout-per-inning over the stretch. The sample coincides with a move to all but scrap his two-seamer, which wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world if it is indeed a conscious decision as batters have tattooed the pitched to the tune of a .330 average and .589 slugging percentage this season. He’s not quite back to where I’d trust him for two straight in even an AL-only league, but the recent progress is enough that he certainly bears watching this week, especially given the trade rumors swirling overhead.

Jeremy Guthrie had a nice little run from the middle of May through June where he gave up four earned runs in a game just once over eight starts. That stretch came to a screeching halt after the calendar flipped to July, however, as he got lit up in each of his last two starts before the break. He’s already seen these two teams a combined five times this season, with a wholly uninspiring composite line of a 5.34 ERA and 1.71 WHIP over 28 2/3 innings as the result. In some deeper AL-only leagues, maybe he’s worth a glance, but I’d just as soon save his second half debut in my lineup for a later date.

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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