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August 22, 2014

Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner

Week 22

by Wilson Karaman

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Welcome to the Weekly Pitching Planner!

A nice slate of options for the week, as only the Dodgers and Diamondbacks will be limited to five-game schedules. The American League is particularly stacked; while they lack an “auto-start” option from the top shelf of the league, there is a long and illustrious list of both “start” and strong “consider” options for fantasy managers to choose from. The Angels have still not announced a fill-in for Garrett Richards as of this writing. His gruesome injury is a huge blow for his real and fantasy teams alike. Whoever gets the nod will have a tough draw with the A’s on his card, and won’t be much more than an end-game “consider” at best.

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 22 pitching planner.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Johnny Cueto

CHC, @PIT

Madison Bumgarner

COL, MIL

START

Tanner Roark

@PHI, @SEA

Jimmy Nelson

@SDG, @SFG

Alex Wood

@NYM, MIA

Notes:

Before hitting a speed bump his last time out against Toronto, Jimmy Nelson had been on a nice little run of five consecutive quality starts. PITCHf/x data raises some questions about how sustainable Nelson’s basically two-pitch arsenal will be, as the sinker he deploys for an overwhelming amount of his deliveries doesn’t rate as a particularly effective pitch given its predominance, and his slider has become increasingly of one plane. Still, he’s performed well enough out of the gate that a two-start week with a slate of match-ups as choice as the ones he’ll draw this week makes for a nice opportunity. Given he’s only owned in about half of Sportsline leagues, there’s a decent chance he’s be available on your waiver wire, and he makes for the strongest streaming option of the week in that scenario.

Alex Wood has pitched some pretty terrific ball of late, with quality starts in five straight going back to July. His control has continued to wobble at times, leading to a greater WHIP risk than some other options for the week, but the topline numbers have been there, and he couldn’t ask for a much better draw. If it feels like it’s been a while since the Marlins were performing as a top-tier offense, that’s because it has been a while, and since the All-Star break they’ve been hovering consistently around the turn of the bottom third. The Mets, for their part, have been the worst offense in baseball by a whole host of metrics, including the all-important “runs scored” one. It’s a choice schedule for a hot pitcher, and Wood should be run across the board.

CONSIDER

John Lackey

@PIT, CHC

Dillon Gee

ATL, PHI

Jorge De La Rosa

@SFG, @ARI

Francisco Liriano

STL, CIN

Jarred Cosart

@LAA, @ATL

Eric Stults

MIL, LAD

Jake Peavy

COL, MIL

Notes:

After getting absolutely throttled by the old-friend Orioles in his second St. Louis start, John Lackey has bounced back with consecutive quality starts that include a 12-to-4 K:BB ratio over 13 innings. Still, some caution is warranted, as those performances came against two of the worst offenses in baseball, and it should be noted in bright red ink that his velocity has suffered a linear plummet over the past month. He sat at just 91.34 mph in his last start, down almost two mph from where he was sitting in late June and early July, and he’s lost a couple of inches off his arm angle. Both are signs of potential fatigue, and his first start of the period will come against one of the hotter offenses around in Pittsburgh. I’d keep a close eye on his starts this week whether I decide to run him or not.

De La Rosa has had one of the more counter-intuitive seasons, in that he has pitched half his games at Coors Field and managed to compile an ERA more than two runs lower there than on the road. It’s an inconvenient truth for his owners, as he’s coming off back-to-back strong starts and will be travelling to starts against two of the weakest second half lineups in the league. He’s worth considering as a streamer in deep mixed leagues and as a back-end start for NL-onlies, but expectations should probably be kept in check.

Good news, everybody! Eric Stults is BACK as a legitimate deep-mixed and NL-only streaming option! [pause for rousing applause] I’ve made no secret of my borderline irrational love for streaming Stults in context this year. He’s the proud owner of some of the best home/road splits in the game and he gets dismissed out of hand by 98 percent of league managers when they peruse the waiver wire. That’s been particularly true of late, but after a largely disastrous season he’s quietly put together four straight very strong outings now with three wins, a 1.46 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 15 strikeouts over his last 24 2/3 innings. And going back even farther to his last ten starts, he’s only conceded more than three earned runs once: a six-ER road start in Atlanta that nobody should’ve realistically been starting him for anyway. He’s got a home-and-home slate this week, which is usually cause for celebration. Expectations should be tempered slightly on account of the quality of offenses that’ll be rolling in to Petco, but he’s still absolutely an option worth some streaming consideration.

SIT

Edwin Jackson

@CIN, @STL

Tyler Matzek

@SFG, @ARI

A.J. Burnett

WAS, @NYM

Notes:

Edwin Jackson’s scheduled two-start week of Week 21 got bumped to this week instead, and he’s no more enticing now than he was then. Powered by the worst WHIP of any qualified starter, he currently checks in as the 272nd-rated starting pitcher in fantasy baseball, and he really shouldn’t have a place on any roster at this point.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

None.

STARTS

Alex Cobb

@BAL, BOS

Chris Tillman

TAM, MIN

James Shields

NYY, CLE

Rick Porcello

NYY, @CHW

Wei-Yin Chen

TAM, MIN

Notes:

Chris Tillman has perhaps a bit quietly evolved into a borderline AL-only ace right before our eyes over the past month and a half. In 10 starts (65 2/3 innings) since the calendar flipped to July, he’s posted a 2.60 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and a 52-to-14 K:BB ratio, and that includes an August performance that’s jumped up a further notch to rate sixth best among all fantasy starters. The Rays and Twins both present as middle-of-the-road offensive units since the break, and given Tillman’s recent run of success (particularly at home) that’s just not enough to make his owners question him for the week.

Since a 10-strikeout resurrection game against Tampa at the beginning of July James Shields has been on a roll, pitching more like the James Shields his owners were expecting to see this season. Over the nine starts since that breakout performance he’s gone four and two with a 2.04 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 51 strikeouts in 61 and two-thirds innings, and he’s been the 18th-most valuable starter in fantasy baseball during that stretch. He has a solid if unspectacular history with Cleveland, while the Yankee offense is not scary. Ride him while he’s hot, he still owes you a bunch of backdated production.

After taking the loss in a two-inning emergency stint during the Tigers’ 19-inning game a couple weeks ago, Rick Porcello proceeded to get knocked around by the lowly Mariners in his next start, raising some eyebrows along the way. Then he went out and three-hit Tampa Bay in his last start, and now things are again looking like all systems go. The Yankees offense has continued to struggle over the past few weeks, including against Porcello at the beginning of this month. That should help offset some of the risk Porcello owners will have to assume for his start against a dangerous White Sox squad. Porcello’s been a fringe top-30 starter for most of the year, so he’s earned his share of leeway for weeks like this. It’s not the strongest of start recommendations I’ve ever offered, but Porcello probably deserves the nod in your league.

While not as impressive of late as his rotation-mate Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen has continued to admirably fill out the middle of deep-mixed and AL-only rotations all season. He’s been hovering in the 50 to 60 range of starting pitcher value in standard leagues, and has been even better of late with a 2.79 ERA and five strikeouts to every walk in August. He draws the same slate as Tillman, and it’s a draw that looks comparatively better for him since the Twins have struggled mightily against left-handed pitching all year. I toyed with hedging him as a “consider,” and truth be told he’s probably right on that border, but I like him enough that he should really be starting across the board in all but the absolute shallowest of leagues where a cumulative season innings cap is a creeping concern.

CONSIDER

Brandon McCarthy

@DET, @TOR

Jake Odorizzi

@BAL, BOS

Danny Duffy

MIN, CLE

Matt Shoemaker

MIA, OAK

Jose Quintana

CLE, DET

Dallas Keuchel

OAK, TEX

T.J. House

@CHW, @KCR

Roenis Elias

TEX, WAS

Nick Martinez

@SEA, @HOU

J.A. Happ

BOS, NYY

Notes:

True Yankee Brandon McCarthy headlines a strong crop of borderline “start” guys at the top of the “consider” pile. He’s been nothing short of a revelation since the Diamondbacks determined he lacked the requisite #grit to succeed in Arizona. In the seven starts he’s made since arriving in the Bronx and rediscovering his cutter at the expense of his sinker McCarthy has halved his ERA to 2.30 on the strength of a 43-to-7 K:BB ratio in 43 innings. The only thing holding him back from that coveted “start” recommendation is the testy schedule he’ll draw this week. The Blue Jays and Tigers, for all of their collective injuries and struggles with recent consistency, remain two of the best offenses in baseball in their own parks. And McCarthy, like most hurlers, has posted a strong home cooking bias throughout his career. Given his run of recent success that schedule may not be enough to force his giddy owners to sit him, but there’s at least a conversation to be had about the possibility of so doing.

Outside of some six-walk ugliness in his penultimate start against Minnesota, Danny Duffy has made great strides in cutting his pesky walk rate lately, and the result has been a top-40 pitcher over the last month and a half. While he’s still struggled with deep counts and throwing too many pitches every inning he’s been improving. His first-pitch strike percentage, while still decidedly below-average, has improved by five percent over his career number heading into the season. Still, improved control does not always equate with improved command, and with his improved efforts to get the ball into the zone he’s seen a corresponding jump in the number of balls he’s grooved to the middle of the plate. He’s gotten away with that jump so far, and with a strong slate of home starts this week it’s entirely likely he’ll be able to continue the pattern. Despite some remaining reservations about his long-term prognosis I like him for the week, and he’s a strong consider.

Matt Shoemaker is another guy who’s pitched excellent ball of late, and with Garrett Richards’ injury the Angels are going to need him to continue to do so (and then some) down the stretch. Outside of a one-out relief stint in June he hasn’t seen Oakland yet, which may work to his advantage. He’s also been exponentially better at home this season, with an ERA in Orange County less than half of what he’s posted on the road (and supported by a FIP 1.5 runs lower). He’s a solid option this week, and his work down the stretch will be interesting insofar as the effect it’ll have on his value heading into 2015.

SIT

Clay Buchholz

@TOR, @TAM

Scott Feldman

OAK, TEX

Ricky Nolasco

@KCR, @BAL

Jason Hammel

@HOU, @LAA

Notes:

Yunno, it looked like Clay Buchholz was actually showing some signs of life heading into his last turn against Anaheim. Sure, his velocity had slipped across the board, but it had slipped more off his secondary pitches, and the increase separation helped boost his whiff and weak contact rates in hus previous two starts, particularly on a curveball that he’d begun featuring much more heavily. And then he couldn’t locate anything against Anaheim and got rocked for six runs, and there we were, right back to square one. The Rays are a nice back-end reward for those with the stones to run him this week, as he has owned the Tampa lineup pretty thoroughly throughout his career. But despite their weakened state the Blue Jays are a very tough draw, especially in Toronto. They’ve knocked Buchholz around to the tune of an .811 OPS over the last couple seasons, including a dreadfully under water 16-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Also, this is Clay Buchholz, and he’s been inconsistent and terrible for much of the year. You shouldn’t still have him on your roster, but if you do you really shouldn’t trust him for two.

Despite a blip of resurgence in his last start, Scott Feldman’s velocity has continued to wither away this year, and with it his whiff rates have plummeted to new lows. He’s not a pitcher who walks a ton of guys—his 7.1 percent walk rate is almost exactly middle of the pack among qualified starters—but he’s hittable enough that, when coupled with one of the worst strikeout rates in the majors he’s a WHIP drain even in a best-case scenario. He’s also the most unfortunate kind of pitcher, the one who has a habit of giving up gobs of runs all at once. The Jekyll and Hyde inconsistency is enough to warrant a two-start sit, and when you account for the lack of impact strikeout or Win potential to boot it becomes a bit of a no-brainer.

Coming off a skipped turn Jason Hammel will have a chance to get his feet back under him with a pair of solid match-ups this week, but he’s going to have to go on his soul-searching mission on the bench if he’s on my fantasy team. At the end of the season and with some fantasy playoffs already starting it’s awfully difficult to trust a guy who’s looked as bad as Hammel has recently, even though the schedule looks just too tasty to pass up. But now is the time to show some restraint. Worst-case scenario: He pitches awesomely on your bench, and you can start the rejuvenated version against Houston again the following week.

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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