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August 15, 2014

Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner

Week 21

by Wilson Karaman

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Welcome to the Weekly Pitching Planner! It’s a thin week for two-start options, particularly in the American League, where the A’s, Rangers, and Blue Jays only play five games apiece and offer no two-time starters. Additionally, the Orioles are set to activate Ubaldo Jimenez from the disabled list this weekend and currently list a six-man rotation for next week. Keep an eye on the situation, particularly if you’re a Bud Norris owner, as he’s slated for the Monday start and would presumably be in line for their Sunday start as well if they thin the heard to a standard five-man crew. Beyond the limited slate it is additionally just a tough week for mid-tier starter match-ups. Meanwhile the National League also features three teams (Rockies, Marlins, and Brewers) who will only suit up five times as well. Basically, if you’ve got yourself one of the handful of reliable options this week, consider yourself lucky.

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 21 pitching planner.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Stephen Strasburg

ARI, SFG

Notes:

At this point the only thing keeping Stephen Strasburg in the auto-start bucket is his absurd strikeout totals. He checks in at a relatively pedestrian 36th among starting pitchers right now and has shown a really frustrating penchant for giving up seven runs in a given start. If you own him and you’re in contention, you need to start him and have him come through for you, but another clunker will make it an awfully difficult proposition to keep trusting him unequivocally.

START

Hyun-Jin Ryu

SDG, NYM

Jordan Zimmermann

ARI, SFG

Homer Bailey

@STL, ATL

Chase Anderson

@WAS, SDG

Vance Worley

ATL, @MIL

Notes:

Hyun-jin Ryu remains just shy of my auto-start threshold. He checks in as the 25th-most valuable fantasy starter thus far, but there are still conceivably some match-ups that I wouldn’t feel comfortable running him for. Neither of his starts this week qualifies, however, and his owners should be watching the MRI results on his sore glute closely in hopes of him making them both.

I’ll admit I’ve been highly suspicious of the performance Chase Anderson has turned in to date this season, and I remain skeptical about his long-term prospects. His change-up is the real deal, but his fastball is decidedly mediocre and I don’t trust the profile in that ballpark at all. Still, there’s no denying that he’s pitched very well lately. Entering this past week he was in the midst of a high impressive five start stretch in which he put together a 1.75 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and 30 strikeouts over 31 innings against a reasonable assortment of semi-potent offenses. The match-ups this week tilt in Anderson’s favor, and there’s no reason not to ride the hot hand in NL-only and deeper mixed leagues, and he’s frankly showing enough right now where he probably deserves the call in all formats. I’ll get in while the getting remains good.

Vance Worley has pitched some very good ball since joining the Pittsburgh rotation, allowing more than three earned runs only once in nine turns through the rotation. He’s been able to generate an extra bump of movement on his change-up with a higher release point, and the adjustment has helped both that pitch and his four-seam fastball play up. His fastball actually rates as the best in baseball in per-100 value per PITCHf/x for all pitchers with at least 60 innings on the year. When you can work off a fastball that effective you can do a lot of good things in this game, my friend. The Brewers have been a middle-of-the-pack offense in the second half, while Atlanta has continued to perform as one of the poorer units around. I like Worley pretty much across the board this week, and he’s a must-start in NL-only and deeper leagues at the least.

CONSIDER

Mike Leake

@STL, ATL

Ian Kennedy

@LAD, @ARI

Ryan Vogelsong

CHC, @WAS

Ervin Santana

@PIT, @CIN

Tsuyoshi Wada

@NYM, BAL

Bartolo Colon

CHC, @LAD

Aaron Harang

@PIT, @CIN

Vidal Nuno

@WAS, SDG

Notes:

I still remain more hesitant when it comes to Ian Kennedy than I perhaps should, as he does rate 45th overall among starting pitchers on the strength of gaudy strikeout numbers this season. He’s handled the Dodgers well in three starts this year, while the Diamondbacks managed to knock him around a bit in their one meeting back in May. Kennedy should be able to handle these match-ups reasonably well, and his topline numbers have looked okay of late. And yet there are some warning signs drifting into the picture. After walking just 30 men over his first 19 starts (2.3 BB/9) he’s dished out 20 free passes over his past five turns (6.0 BB/9). The downturn coincides with about 1.5 mph peeling off his fastball and a dropping arm angle—a combination of signs that Kennedy may still be feeling the effects of an oblique issue that caused him to miss a turn in late July. I tend to err cautiously in situations like this, especially come the stretch run and playoff time in head-to-head leagues.

After an up-and-down season Ryan Vogelsong has pitched some solid ball over his last three starts, putting together 22 innings of a 1.64 ERA and 0.72 WHIP since the calendar flipped to August. He’s migrated toward less four-seam and more two-seam/cutter usage, and the combination appears to be doing the trick, at least for the time being. He draws a moderately difficult set of matchups, however, so his owners shouldn’t get too comfortable with his newfound success. He’s a pretty true toss-up depending on how much you’re willing to buy in to his recent results.

Aaron Harang continues to chug along with his nice rebound season, but for all the real-world surplus value he’s produced for Atlanta on his one-year, $1 million deal, he checks in as just the 74th-ranked starting pitcher in fantasy thanks in large part to his terrible WHIP. While the Reds offense has been terrible—the worst in baseball at getting on base in the second half, in fact—the Pirates are not a good matchup at all for Harang. If you’re in good shape in WHIP and can spare the excessive risk therein, then Harang makes for a starter worth considering, but otherwise I’d stay away.

SIT

Edwin Jackson

SFG, BAL

Jerome Williams

SEA, STL

Justin Masterson

CIN, @PHI

Notes:

Jerome Williams actually acquitted himself decently in his inaugural start for his third team of the season, and the matchups for this week aren’t all that terrible either. And yet… this is a guy with a 6.43 ERA and 1.62 WHIP on the year primarily out of various bullpens. If you’re lucky, maybe he goes a combined 11 innings over these two starts, and given that batters have hit line drives on over a quarter of balls in play against him this year, the likelihood that he survives those 11 innings with respectable ratios is just not high enough to consider rostering him even in NL-only leagues.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Max Scherzer

@TAM, @MIN

Hisashi Iwakuma

@PHI, @BOS

STARTS

Notes:

(crickets)

CONSIDER

Jose Quintana

BAL, @NYY

Chris Archer

DET, @TOR

Brett Oberholtzer

@NYY, @CLE

Jered Weaver

@BOS, @OAK

Trevor Bauer

@MIN, HOU

Jason Vargas

@MIN, @TEX

Kyle Gibson

CLE, DET

Chris Capuano

HOU, CHW

Notes:

Similar to David Buchanan last week, Brett Oberholtzer is another guy who has been very quietly an awfully solid back-end streaming option for some time now. Over his last nine starts, he's allowed more than three earned runs just once, conceding five in a tough road matchup against the Angels. The other eight, however, have all been quality starts in which he's gone four and one with a combined 2.53 ERA and 1.13 WHIP despite a pretty terrible whiff rate of 4.5 per nine. He’s succeeded despite a slightly below-average BABIP and fly-ball profile in a hitters’ park by inducing a rather startling amount of weak contact with what appears by the numbers to be a rather pedestrian four-seam fastball. It’s a curious recipe and a questionable one for long-term success, but whatever he’s doing, he’s doing it well right now. He’s got a pretty down-the-middle set of road starts this week, and he’s actually pitched significantly better away from Houston. He makes for an intriguing streaming option in AL-only and deep mixed leagues.

That Trevor Bauer isn’t a clear “start” recommendation despite this absolute cookie of a schedule should tell you all you need to know about my confidence in him. Yes he looked solid in his last turn against his former squad, but there are just too many warning signs to recommend trusting him for back-to-back solid outings. His fastball usage is all the way down to 44 percent in August, and while he’s pared things down to a five-pitch mix, only his curve is producing a better-than-league-average whiff rate. His 54.0 percent first-pitch strike clip is the worst of any of the 126 pitchers in baseball with at least 90 innings pitched, and baseball is an awfully dangerous game for any hurler when he’s routinely down in the count like that. The control and surprising hit-ability of Bauer’s stuff make him a huge WHIP liability for a two-start week. If you can stomach that, maybe you consider him for a run in AL-only leagues, but I’m looking to avoid wherever I can.

SIT

C.J. Wilson

@BOS, @OAK

Brandon Workman

LAA, SEA

Allen Webster

LAA, SEA

Yohan Pino

KCR, DET

Notes:

C.J. Wilson has looked progressively better in each of his three starts now since returning from the DL, but he still carries a great deal of risk into a two-start week. He hasn’t seen this incarnation of the A’s yet this year, but he’s handled their lineup quite well in his career, holding all active A’s to a combined .211/.300/.322 line over 204 plate appearances. The Red Sox actually make for the tougher draw between the two on account of Pedroia and Cespedes, who have both absolutely owned Wilson in their careers. The whole package of performance-based risk and a pair of at least intermediate match-ups is enough for me to stick him on my bench in search of a larger post-injury sample.

I know the Angels offense hasn’t performed as mightily of late as the backs of its baseball cards might suggest it should, and Seattle’s offense hasn’t been particularly good either. On paper both Boston starts should be in for a nice little week of advantageous match-ups. But I don’t trust either right now, particularly Webster. There continues to be a gigantic gap between Webster’s raw stuff and his ability to channel that stuff into consistently executed pitches. When his fastball command abandons him things get ugly very quickly, and it’s just way too much of a gamble to hope he keeps the heater in line for two straight starts right now. Workman is still as of this writing listed as Boston’s Monday-Saturday starter, though it’s entirely possible Anthony Ranaudo gets those nods instead. For now, I like Brandon Workman better than Webster as a pitcher overall, but he’s had his own issues with command at times this season and his shuttling between rotation and bullpen further diminishes the likelihood he sticks around deep enough into games to factor into decisions. I can see more of a case for giving him a run in AL-only leagues this week, but I won’t be the one running him.

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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