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August 8, 2014

Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner

Week 20

by Wilson Karaman

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Welcome to the Weekly Pitching Planner! A moderate haul of 39 two-start candidates this week, as the White Sox, Indians, Angels, and Giants will be playing only five games this week, so there are no two-start options coming out of those teams.

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 20 pitching planner.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Julio Teheran

LAD, OAK

Adam Wainwright

@MIA, SDG

START

Doug Fister

@NYM, PIT

Hyun-Jin Ryu

@ATL, MIL

Jake Arrieta

MIL, @NYM

Jacob deGrom

WAS, CHC

Jordan Lyles

@SDG, CIN

Jesse Hahn

COL, @STL

Notes:

Doug Fister is just a cut below auto-start status at this point, which is remarkable given he’s rocking a strikeout rate comfortably under six per nine. He’s been that good despite the missing whiffs though, currently rating as a top-25 starting pitcher despite missing almost six weeks at the beginning of the season. He’s posted a favorable BABIP, but he’s also given up very little in the way of hard contact, so it hasn’t been all the result of lady luck. His two-seam/change-up combo has been absolutely lethal, and he’s posted the third lowest walk rate in the majors (minimum 100 innings). Basically he’s become more Kyle Lohse than Kyle Lohse at this point, and I mean that in a great way. The Pirates are no gimme, but they’re without Cutch and the Mets are not good. Fister should be rolling in all leagues big and small.

Jordan Lyles lines up as one of the tastier mixed league streaming options of recent vintage this week, with a trip to Petco followed by a home start against the scuffling Reds. One disclaimer: don’t look now, but the Padres have been one of the hottest offenses in baseball lately. They’ve scored the second most runs in the majors over the past two weeks on the strength of a .361 team OBP. They’re still the Padres, however – a team that even with this recent surge is still hitting an aggregate .224/.285/.346 on the season. And just as importantly for Jordan Lyles’ sake, they’re a team that hits more groundballs than any other team. The Reds, incidentally, his a ton of groundballs too, and check in sixth overall. That’s something usually Lyles needs, though it is interesting to note that he’s increasingly evolving into a sinker/slider/change-up pitcher at the expense of his four-seamer and curveball, and this has in turn helped raise his whiff rate notably over the past couple months. In sum, two groundball heavy teams against a groundball pitcher with a rising whiff rate makes for a nice play.

Jesse Hahn has certainly taken fantasy leagues by storm this season, but we’re entering that grey area for a young pitcher where the fun can stop at just about any minute. Hahn currently sits about 30 innings past his 2013 total, and his velocity has been trending gradually down, to where in his last turn he was sitting about two miles an hour down from where he was five starts ago, and he’s seen some erosion in both his whiff percentage and his control. This week may just be one of the last chances for owners to get with Hahn while the getting’s good. Colorado outside of Colorado is not a scary draw, and the Cardinal offense continues to struggle much as they have for the bulk of the season. Run him if you’ve got him.

CONSIDER

Mat Latos

BOS, @COL

Wily Peralta

@CHC, @LAD

Jon Niese

@PHI, CHC

Tom Koehler

STL, ARI

David Buchanan

NYM, @SFG

Yovani Gallardo

@CHC, @LAD

Jarred Cosart

STL, ARI

Josh Collmenter

@CLE, @MIA

Kyle Hendricks

MIL, @NYM

Dan Haren

@ATL, MIL

Notes:

Mat Latos has posted decent-if-unspectacular results of late, but while the Rockies continue to be banged up and less imposing than they otherwise would be, the @COL matchup makes for an inherently high hurdle to climb for recommending any two-start pitcher. The shell of the Red Sox offense has been among the worst in baseball over the past few weeks, and that makes this a very close call. But Latos’ stuff has been markedly diminished since returning from surgery to remove bone chips in his pitching elbow. He’s working with two to three miles an hour less fastball right now, and he’s generating almost three percent fewer whiffs. He’s made it work so far, and with further refinement of a diminished arsenal it’s obviously entirely possible he continues to be a highly successful pitcher going forward. But with greater uncertainty comes greater risk, and owners shouldn’t be approaching their decision-making about Latos with assumptions based on the name value. He’s a different pitcher now than he was before the injury.

I’m not the biggest Tom Koehler fan in the world. He’s got a nice curveball, but he doesn’t miss a ton of bats and seems to get by with a tenuous recipe of a depressed BABIP and low HR/FB rate relative to his high proportion of fly balls induced. Still, at least some of it is a credit to his ability to sneak up on hitters and induce weak contact. And the home-and-home start schedule this week is a nice bonus; he’s posted a FIP almost a full run and a half less at home than on the road, and his topline ERA on the road is twice his effort in Miami. With two middle-of-the-road units coming into town Koehler’s a solid consider for deeper mixed and all NL-only leagues.

Speaking of boring names, David Buchanan has been quietly effective for a while now, and he’s done it really boring style. He hasn’t given up more than three earned runs in any of his last seven starts, compiling a fringe back-end profile (3.43 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, six strikeouts per nine). The Mets have the second-lowest OBP in the majors since the All Star break, and the Giants have struggled mightily to score runs over the past couple weeks. It all adds up to a situation where, for one shining week, David Buchanan makes for a sneaky NL-only and deep-mixed league play for those in need of some innings and Win potential.

SIT

Mike Minor

LAD, OAK

Odrisamer Despaigne

COL, @STL

Jeff Locke

DET, @WAS

Edinson Volquez

DET, @WAS

Notes:

I love me some Mike Minor, but even I’ve run out of patience at this point. He’s throwing from a higher release point this year than he was last year, and whether there’s causation or correlation, his non-curveball stuff is playing significantly down across the board. He’s not missing nearly as many bats this season, and while he’s been done in by a staggering .354 BABIP that with a few more innings under his belt would rate as the worst in the Majors among qualified starters it’s not entirely the product of poor luck. His 25.8 percent line-drive rate allowed would also rate as the worst among qualified starters. He draws a moderately nasty schedule despite the home-and-home, and he’s really not someone you want to be trusting for two starts until he shows some signs of righting the ship.

I also love, like with a capital L and a heart drawn around his name, Odrisamer Despaigne. I can’t help it. Cuban junkballers are one of my favorite pitching archetypes, and I’d been lost in a fog of despair since Livan Hernandez hung up his spikes. Enter Despaigne, who took the league by storm over his first five Major League starts. Sure he was pitching almost three runs over the head of his FIP, and sure a 17-to-11 K:BB ratio probably isn’t going to cut it over the long haul. But man was it fun to watch big league hitters flailing away at his 67-mph curve. Alas, the fun appears to be over, as he’s been rocked for 12 earned runs on 23 hits and nine walks over his past three starts (15 innings). I’m hoping he figures it out and gets back on track, but I’m not willing to trust him with two starts while he figures it out.

While neither Pirate hurler has performed offensively or anything of late, they’ve each been shaky in their own ways. Volquez has given up a ton of baserunners lately, most recently allowing a staggering 32 baserunners over his last three starts (15 2/3 innings). And Locke has gotten tattooed so far in the second half to the tune of a 6.58 FIP and a .308/.360/.553 triple-slash. Homeruns have been a huge issue, as he’s given up eight long balls over that 25 inning span. I’d just as soon avoid both for the time being, as trusting either for multiple starts against dangerous offenses is a bridge too far for me.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Sonny Gray

@KCR, @ATL

Jon Lester

@KCR, @ATL

Felix Hernandez

TOR, @DET

STARTS

Rick Porcello

@PIT, SEA

Collin McHugh

MIN, @BOS

Notes:

After a seven-run shellacking at the hands of Tampa Bay five starts back Rick Porcello has rebounded to post four consecutive strong quality starts with a 2.17 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and 7.5 strikeouts per nine. The Pirate lineup suddenly looks an awful lot lighter without the reigning NL MVP in the middle of it, and the Mariners’ offensive futility is not a new development. Porcello’s been a relatively consistent fringe top 25 pitcher this season, and given neutral match-ups like this week’s slate he deserves to be run in all formats.

Collin McHugh continues to pile up strikeouts for his owners with a potent combination of breaking pitches. Both his slider and curveball rate as top 15 offerings according to PITCHf/x data, and his whiff rate has held through the second half even as the league has had a chance to build a proper scouting dossier and adjust to McHugh. He draws an interesting set of match-ups for the week. The Red Sox offense has been dreadful over the past couple weeks, but the Twins—generally dreadful—have actually been hitting quite well. Moreover, they’re a disciplined team who tends not to chase breaking balls out of the zone. Still, while they may present a bit more of a challenge than one might expect at first glance, the balance of these match-ups is pretty soundly in McHugh’s favor, and he makes for a solid play this week.

CONSIDER

Yordano Ventura

OAK, @MIN

Joe Kelly

@CIN, HOU

Justin Verlander

@PIT, SEA

Drew Hutchison

@SEA, @CHW

Bud Norris

NYY, @CLE

Jeremy Guthrie

OAK, @MIN

Colby Lewis

TAM, LAA

Brad Peacock

MIN, @BOS

Notes:

Similar to rotation-mate Rick Porcello, Justin Verlander has posted four straight quality starts of his own. He’s done so in slightly less impressive fashion, however, with a 3.14 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and just under six whiffs per nine. His velocity is still leaking away, all the way down to a 92.6-mph average on his four-seam fastball. That’s down almost three mph off his peak for the season, and he’s giving up more line drives and generating a mediocre swing-and-miss rate that ranks a pedestrian 51st among qualified starters. As also with Porcello I like these matchups to tilt slightly in Verlander’s favor but I won’t get too excited just yet about a full scale Verlander comeback.

Drew Hutchison’s another guy that’s in that grey area where it’s tough to know what to do with him if you’ve got him. He’s thrown over a hundred innings more this year than he did in 2013 when he was coming back from Tommy John surgery. It really looked like he might be hitting a wall for a four start stretch at the end of July, but then his last time out he showed some extra hop and finish on his pitches en route to a near-complete game domination of the Orioles. With the Blue Jays currently clinging to the second Wild Card spot by a game or less over three other teams the Jays don’t really have any choice but to keep running him as much as they can, but the picture is less clear for fantasy owners. The Seattle match-up’s nice this week, the trip to U.S. Cellular less nice. I’m hesitant to start him for mostly gut-based reasons, and he strikes me as the very definition of a toss-up depending on your league context, how much risk you’re willing to abide, and how much you need his innings.

Outside of that 11-run abomination he put together against the very same Angels he’s slated to face this week, Colby Lewis has actually provided pretty nice back-end value over the last six weeks. We can’t pretend that start didn’t happen, but if we remove it from the equation his last starts add up to a 2.52 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 7.5 K/9. This is a weird set of matchups, in that the Rays have been one of the best offenses in baseball over the second half by virtually all the illustrative metrics except for actual runs scored, while the Angels have really struggled despite still boasting one of the most terrifying lineups in the game. There’s enough discomfort in these matchups to make Lewis a difficult start recommendation this week, though that’s not necessarily a reflection of how he’s pitched lately. He’s a guy who should be squarely in your “monitor” queue if he’s a free agent in your league, and possibly a preemptive FAAB claim even if you’re not willing to run him quite yet this week.

Brad Peacock has been one of the biggest disappointments of the season for me, as I had aggressively pegged him as a back-end starter to target this spring. He’s a guy who has struggled initially at every stop before showing an ability to make adjustments and succeed, and it appeared as though that pattern might just be holding once again at the big league level down the stretch last season. Unfortunately the step forward hasn’t happened after all, and Peacock’s been on the shuttle back and forth between Triple-A and Houston in between getting rocked at the latter. Walks have been a huge problem for him this year, as he’s issued more than five free passes per nine. And when your stuff is fairly hittable to begin with, that’s just not a recipe for sustainable success. He walked four in his return to the rotation en route to getting shelled for eight runs by the Phillies last week, and it’s unclear how much rope he’ll even have from Houston to make these starts. If he does the match-ups are pretty spectacular, to the point where he’s at least considerable as a streamer in AL-only leagues despite his horrific performance of late.

SIT

Kevin Correia

@HOU, KCR

Chris Capuano

@BAL, @TAM

Jeremy Hellickson

@TEX, NYY

Nick Tepesch

TAM, LAA

Notes:

I’m not necessarily opposed to Jeremy Hellickson; I’ve been a fan of his profile in the past. And he pitched a whale of a game against the mighty A’s in his last start. But I need to see more of him before I’m going to trust him with two starts. Paste post text here

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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