July 25, 2014
Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner
Welcome to the Weekly Pitching Planner! This is a hectic time of the season, as the trade deadline for both real and many fantasy baseball approaches. The NL will be on tap to showcase the greatest amount of two-start talent this week, as the schedule gods conspire to give NL-only owners 24 options to just 17 for the AL. As of press time the Mariners have not announced a starter for their Tuesday-Sunday slot, but my money would be on Hisashi Iwakuma taking the ball in Cleveland and Baltimore. If that’s the case, I like him as a start despite the less-than-ideal draws. Obviously with the deadline looming there are also likely to be some teams left in flux if and when deals are made, so this week will be an important one in which to keep up on the latest news before setting your lineup.
On to the nuts and bolts: Outside of the elites, two-start pitchers are often as much or more trouble than they’re worth. 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, high dollar auction bid, or significant haul of prospects. 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 18 pitching planner.
Welcome Tyson Ross to the auto-start list, albeit with a caveat! Ross has been the 18th-best pitcher in standard leagues this season, and as may be expected he’s been particularly dominant at home (1.89 ERA, 0.94 WHIP in 11 starts) With a home-and-home on tap this week, he’s an unquestioned start in all leagues and formats, and really he’s earned that distinction every time he toes the Petco rubber.
What’s better than one start against the Padres offense? How about two? Ervin Santana will be the beneficiary of what may be the wonkiest (in a good way) scheduling oddity of the year, as he’ll start the final game of a wrap-around four-game set with San Diego in Atlanta on Monday, followed by a rematch in Petco on Saturday. Yes, please, and thank you.
Jordan Zimmermann has done just enough at this point between injury concerns and a couple shaky recent starts to warrant a loss of auto-start status, but most if not all can be forgiven with a solid week against favorable match-ups this period. He currently checks in 49th among starting pitchers in standard leagues, though owners should not be fooled into discounting him given his 14th-best-in-baseball FIP of 2.90. The Marlins and Phillies offenses have both performed pretty terribly to open the second half, and despite the recent bumps in the road Zimmermann remains a strong play for the week.
Lance Lynn has been walking a few more guys than you’d like to see over his last handful of starts, but really that’s nitpicking a bit, as he’s produced stellar results despite the blip in control. With a visit to Petco on the docket he starts the week in excellent position, and he’s put up stellar career numbers against Milwaukee. Run him if you got him.
It may come as a surprise if you don’t own him, but Kyle Lohse has been a top 20 pitcher in standard leagues this year. He’s been that good, that consistently. The Tampa offense has been firing on all cylinders lately and St. Louis presents a challenging road environment, but Lohse has more than earned his stripes as a borderline auto-start this season. A play for strikeouts is the only condition in which I could see sitting him this week, but unless that’s your one Achilles heel in a Roto league, Lohse should be in your lineup.
On the other side of the Braves-Padres wrap-around coin is Ian Kennedy, who on the merits probably deserves a nod for the week. His 2.98 FIP is the 15th-best mark among starting pitchers, and he’s kicked his velocity up a couple gears now over the course of this season. But a small sample sized-caveated word to the wise: Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, and Freddie Freeman have hit a combined .476/.607/.905 against him over 30 plate appearances. It might not be enough to knock him out of your starting lineup, but it’s certainly a factor worth considering in your decision.
Aaron Harang has now started 20 games this season. Seventeen of those starts have produced a quality start, and all but two of those have yielded two runs or less. Despite the resurgence he remains a significant liability in WHIP, however, as his 1.38 mark checks in 82nd among qualified starters. The Dodgers haven’t seen this year’s incarnation of Harang yet, but hoo boy have some of their stars had some fun against Harang in the past. Adrian Gonzalez (three homers, 1.479 OPS in 21 plate appearances) and Hanley Ramirez (five long balls, 1.429 OPS in 30 trips to the dish) both present ugly roadblocks in the middle of LA’s order, while Matt Kemp (.931 OPS, 21 PA) and Andre Ethier (.794 OPS in 22) are no picnics neither. Owners will be rewarded with a Petco start if they choose to run him anyway, but the danger of that Dodger start should not be ignored.
Jorge de la Rosa has quietly pitched some interestingly good ball since the start of the month. Over the course of his last four turns he’s put up three wins with a 2.13 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, peaking in his last start to the tune of seven and a third innings of one-run, 11-strikeout ball against a strong Washington lineup. The Cubs match-up is a highly intriguing streaming opportunity for those in daily transaction leagues, but the trip to Detroit on the back end of the week should probably be enough to scare off most two-start commitments given the longer recent track record of inconsistency.
Chase Anderson has had an interesting rookie campaign thus far, flashing mixed league streaming potential to go along with a rosterable NL-only skillset. One notable development in Anderson’s profile involves his arm slot gradually dropping as the season has progressed. He’s now working from a wider and shorter release point than he was in his debut start, and it’s been a progressive evolution. A lowered arm slot can be a sign of pitcher fatigue, and given Anderson’s already thrown more innings than he did all of last year it’s certainly something to keep an eye on moving forward. For his purposes this week both Pittsburgh and especially Cincinnati can get a bit strikeout-prone, and Anderson requires a healthy amount of swing-and-miss to be effective. But the Pirate offense has finally been clicking of late, and the Reds play in an awfully frightening home park for pitchers with a HR/FB rate as high as Anderson’s. I’d probably just as soon look elsewhere this week if I were a percentage-playing man, but NL-only and deep mixed owners who need to get lucky with some rolls of the pitching dice should feel free to give Anderson a shot based on his strikeout and ostensible Win potential.
Vance Worley hasn’t really pitched enough this season to draw definitive conclusions about his performance to date, other than that he’s turned in a nice little run of end-of-the-rotation performance. He’s much different than he was during his run of similar topline production in 2011, as he’s almost entirely a two-pitch pitcher who relies on a four-seam and cutter combo. That arsenal is not surprisingly inducing a ton of swings, and it’s also producing the worst swing-and-miss rate of any starter with at least his 40 innings pitched this season. It’s not a good foundation for sustained success, and I’m as skeptical now as I was in his heyday. In NL-only leagues I’d give him a look, as neither the Giants nor the Diamondbacks are deal-breaking offenses. But I probably wouldn’t do it if I had other options.
Nathan Eovaldi has had a really rough last couple of months, as he’s gone from a guy with a 2.58 ERA and very nearly a strikeout an inning at the end of April to a wildly inconsistent pitcher start-to-start who barely strikes anyone out today. He’s whiffed more than three hitters just once over his last eight starts, posting a paltry 4.2-per-nine rate during the stretch to go along with an ERA north of 6.00 and a WHIP of 1.50. The Nats will head into town on an offensive roll, and I don’t trust Eovaldi farther than I can throw him right now. Let him work out what’s ailing him on your bench.
Anibal Sanchez has had himself a curious season to date. He checks in as the 45th-most valuable starter of 2014, which is certainly decent, but it’s not nearly a full return on investment for his pre-season ADP of 14. A big problem has been a somewhat mysterious hemorrhage in his whiff rate, which has continued on through July despite pitch selection and outcome peripherals that suggest he should be in much better shape. The underlying problem seems to stem from allowing batters a significant jump in contact percentage on balls out of the strike zone. Rather than inducing whiffs those secondary pitches have caused weak contact. It’s made him much more fielding-dependent, and that’s been okay so far on account of a .270 BABIP—one that’s at least partially the product of weaker contact on balls out of the zone. But he’s also been getting a 22 percent whiff rate with his change-up in July to go along with a rate over 17 percent on his slider. Those numbers are more consistent with prior years. Unfortunately for him as he’s rediscovered his secondaries he’s lost his primary, and his fastball isn’t missing nearly enough bats now. The combination is leaving him still unable to produce a proper swing-and-miss sequence with consistency. Still, the White Sox out of U.S. Cellular and the Tulo-less Rockies out of Coors are manageable opposition, and Sanchez makes for a solid play on paper.
I’m going a bit out on a limb with a straight “start” recommendation for Marcus Stroman, as Boston’s been among the hottest hitting teams in baseball over the past couple weeks and this match-ups will be their second consecutive look at him. But I can’t help it because Stroman’s five-pitch arsenal has been that much fun to watch, and outside of a clunker against the deadly Anaheim juggernaut a couple turns ago he’s been outstanding since assuming a rotation spot north of the border. He’s getting dangerous amounts of movement on his cutter and change, and now the slider’s been starting to show two-plane break of late as well. Package it up with a 95-mph fastball, and he’s one of the most exciting young arms to debut this season. I remain a bit skeptical of the return date with the Red Sox, but Stroman’s earned some rope and I’d run him across the board until he proves otherwise.
Jose Quintana is one of my favorite young pitchers in the AL. He’s put up one of the quietest top 40 seasons of anyone, but his work has been supported by the 10th-best FIP in all of baseball. He strikes out almost a batter an inning, maintains a strikeout-to-walk better than three, and gives up less than a hit an inning. There’s not much to not like about his profile, and he’s in the midst of a breakout campaign for the South Siders. Detroit kills lefties, but Quintana pitched quite well against them in back-to-back starts earlier in the season and I think the performance should earn him some trust at this stage of the season.
Trevor Bauer has really been quite good of late, and he’s starting to overcome my general resistance to trust guys with shaky command profiles. In July he’s got a 3.16 ERA, almost a strikeout an inning and, most importantly, a three-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. If you’re on shaky WHIP footing I’d drop him down into the “consider” bin, but otherwise he plays as a strong mid-rotation play with solid home match-ups this week.
After a prolonged rough patch James Shields has bounced back over his past four starts to pitch some his best baseball of the season, posting an ERA right at two, a WHIP right at one, and a 28-to-three strikeout-to-walk ratio over 26 2/3 innings. His second start of the week in Oakland is the only reason he finds himself here instead of the “start” pile, and given some recent offensive inconsistencies in Oakland I’m not entirely sure his placement here is warranted. Do your due diligence on the risk involved with that start, but I lean strongly in favor of starting Shields this week.
Jered Weaver has continued, yet again, to defy the FIP gods and all logical paradigms of time and space to put up a top 30 season in 2014, and I’ve long since given up trying to fight back. That acknowledged, he’s a guy whose extreme fly-ball tendencies have always played much, much better in spacious Angel Stadium than they have on the road, and this year’s been no different. His homerun rate is more than double on the road and you can tack an extra run and three quarters to his ERA whenever he’s out of Orange County. The Orioles will be seeing him for a second straight start and the Rays have a strong collective history of knocking him around a bit. In AL-only and deeper leagues where he’s your number two starter he probably gets the nod here on account of necessity, but there are a lot of warning flags waving above this week’s schedule for Weaver.
Jake Odorizzi is one of the tougher hurlers around to get a read on for future performance, as he’s both moderately hittable and possessing of mediocre-at-best control. Most glaringly, he’s currently striking out ten and a half hitters per nine despite swing and called strike rates that suggest nothing of the sort. It’s not entirely smoke and mirrors, but something akin to magic is happening here, and traditional signs of evaluation point to it being unsustainable. And if the whiffs regress there’s not a lot left here that’s interesting for fantasy purposes. He gets two very tough match-ups this week, albeit as the host for both. I don’t generally trust pitchers I can’t figure out, and I can’t figure out Odorizzi.
Brad Peacock has been among the most disappointing pitchers of the season for me, as I had high hopes for him as a late round flyer in deep leagues and I loved him for AL-only upside. He’s a pitcher with a deep arsenal who’s always struggled to adjust against new levels of competition before settling in and making adjustments. It seemed like things were heading in that direction down the stretch last year, but his late-season gains have not carried over. He’s struggled to find consistent velocity and command of the strike zone, and the walks in particular have been an absolute killer. If he’s even still in the rotation as of press time he’s bound to be just about out of rope, and that’s an unfortunate position to be in with a couple more than capable offenses on tap for next week.