May 1, 2015
Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner
For the second week in a row, the American League crop features a whole bunch of question marks and difficult decisions for –only managers. I rate a full 17 of the 21 AL two-start options as no better than an option to consider this week, though as I note below a handful of the top “consider” guys are there for schedule-related reasons.
The Mets are the only team who will play just five games and intends to keep their full rotation on schedule, so they’ll be without a two-start option next week. Arizona has not yet named a replacement for Archie Bradley in their rotation, but whoever it is will inherit a @COL, SDG schedule and subsequently won’t present much of a viable streaming option. The Cardinals have also not formally announced a fill-in for Adam Wainwright’s slot, though Mozeliak has indicated it’s likely to be either Tim Cooney, who pitched yesterday, or Tyler Lyons. Neither will make for a particularly intriguing two-start option, though draws against the Cubs and Pirates aren’t disqualifying from consideration in their own right.
As far as the nuts and bolts guidelines for what lies within, 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 or MLB talent. 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.
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 Boston and Colorado. Or conversely if the Cincinnati Reds’ fifth starter is slated to face the Braves at home followed by a stop-over in Philadelphia, 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 smaller than 16 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.
At the season’s outset the majority of these recommendations will come to pass as a combination of ADP/auction price and PECOTA projections for opponent strength. As the season rolls on and we get some more concrete data points for how both the pitchers themselves and their opponents are actually performing, the formula will gradually evolve into a performance-based projection.
As a general frame of reference, when I talk about “deep” leagues I’m talking very broadly about mixed leagues with at least 16 teams and –only leagues with at least 10. “Medium-depth” leagues refer to mixed 12- and 14-teams and –onlies with eight or nine. “Shallow leagues” will refer to mixed 10-teamers and –only leagues with less than eight teams.
As always the standard disclaimer applies to these match-up previews that all start schedules are subject to unfortunately frequent change on account of rainouts, injuries, managers arbitrarily shuffling their rotations, etc. And of course, if you have questions about any of the starters I don’t expand upon in the body of the article feel free to inquire in the comments.
With that, on to the Starting Pitcher Planner!
It’s not every day you can advocate starting two Padres pitchers on the road for two starts apiece, but here we are. A healthy Andrew Cashner is an odds-on favorite to land in this space any given week he’s two-start eligible, and while Ross has had a weird start to the season control-wise his poor results have largely been the byproduct of an odd inability to find the zone with first-pitch strikes. He’s been working in more two-seamers and generating even more groundballs as a result, while his swinging strike rate points to elite production if and when he starts harnessing his stuff as he has in the past. These are two relatively strong matchups for each guy.
Travis Wood’s bounce-back to start the season has been subtle but significant, and the results have been supported by a genuinely strong performance. He’s been attacking the zone thus far, logging a 67 percent rate of first-pitch strikes that’s a full 10 percentage points higher than last year’s effort. Getting ahead in the count with such frequency has helped drive a dramatic, across-the-board increase in whiff rate with his secondary arsenal. By DRA he’s been a top-50 starter thus far, and by cFIP he’s been one of the 15 best starters in the game through four turns. It’s unlikely that he keeps up quite that level of production, but he’s shown some interesting signs in the early going. The match-ups tilt slightly in his favor, and he’s worth riding for the time being.
I really don’t want to get too deep into the weeds on Harang right now. The long-term trends on his stuff aren’t great, and yet he’s managed to cobble together a bunch of stretches over the past couple years where he’s pitched very good baseball. He finally got knocked around a bit by the Cardinals last time out, but he’s got a nice schedule this week and it’s worth the run to try and maximize the surplus value you can generate from your $1 FAAB claim or end-game draft pick before he starts falling apart again.
By the numbers Carlos Martinez has been one of the top 40 starters thus far with a 3.38 DRA, and his 89 cFIP suggests optimism for him to continue down the same path. His velocity is down so far, but down in the good kind of “he can reasonably control where it’s going” way. He’s added some separation between his change and heater with the downshift, and he’s added a lot of horizontal movement to the change at the lower velocity band. He’s generating an excellent swinging strike rate with the pitch, and he’s throwing it significantly more. It’s all positive evolution, as he’s now working effectively off a true three-to-four pitch arsenal (depending on how you want to count his four- and two-seam fastball variants). It’s not a gimme schedule, but he’s shown enough to where some confidence in his ability to manage these starts is warranted.
Alex Wood *should* be on the start list this week, as he draws one of the worst offenses in baseball along with a maybe-or-maybe-not-emerging Nationals unit that he’s handled pretty well in his career. But something’s up with him thus far in the young year. He’s held the topline numbers together, but his 4.51 DRA is just 84th among starters. He’s throwing from a significantly lower, wider arm angle so far, and the new look isn’t fooling anybody. His swinging strike rate has been chopped in half, while batters are chasing out of the zone about seven percentage points less often. Those are a bunch of important arrows pointing in the wrong direction, and I’d advocate proceeding with caution for the time being.
Matt Garza’s been getting slightly unlucky thus far. A line-drive rate north of 28 percent isn’t likely to continue, especially given that the stuff hasn’t really taken a discernable tumble from where it sat for most of last season. The larger issue with Garza is that he just isn’t really that great a fantasy pitcher anymore. The slider had been his one remaining pitch with above-average swing-and-miss potential, and now that that’s gone he doesn’t appear to have much in the way of a put-away offering. That’s unfortunate, because the Brewers’ defensive efficiency has been on the poor side of mediocre so far and his home ballpark isn’t the type that does pitchers any favors. The matchups rate poorly this week, and he’s probably best served riding them out on your bench.
Josh Collmenter has had an interesting start to the season, as he hasn’t struck anybody out, hasn’t walked anybody, has gotten quite unlucky by his own BABIP and contact rate standards, and yet has produced a topline ERA more or less in line with his career mark. Under the surface there’s not much to like here other than the lower walk rate, however. He’s rocking a 4.06 DRA checks in just 75th among qualified starters, and his excellent luck with his homerun rate to date (just one allowed thus far) figures to be tested greatly with a trip to Coors and a visit to his own homerun-generating ballpark by the team that currently paces the majors. Live to fight another week.
It’s entirely possible Ryan Vogelsong gets booted from the rotation between now and his scheduled start Monday, but if he doesn’t he should still probably get the ol’ heave-ho from your fantasy staff. He’s been the worst starter in baseball thus far (6.90 DRA), and it’s okay to not have him on your team anymore.
Welcome to the auto-start club, Dallas Keuchel. He doesn’t get the strikeouts typically associated with cream-of-the-crop fantasy starters, he’s done pretty much everything else for long enough at this point that he’s earned the distinction. After another gem in his last start he now leads all starters in DRA (2.53), and while cFIP doesn’t predict the dominance to continue at its current clip it’s worth noting he outperformed his projection last year too. If I’ve got him I’m locking him into my starting lineup until he gives me a couple starts-worth of reason not to.
The Shark was scheduled for two turns last week, but the Baltimore situation forced him to one start in front of an empty house instead. He… did not handle it well. His velocity’s been down a tick in the early going and he’s lacked the kind of consistency we’re used to. Still, he probably deserves a mulligan for the last turn on account of the extraordinary circumstances, and I don’t think it’s quite time to push any panic buttons just yet. A couple more mediocre starts, however, and it may be time to reevaluate whether he should be trusted in any and all circumstances going forward.
Jesse Hahn’s gotten off to a nice start following last year’s semi-breakout, as his 3.44 DRA currently sits 44th among starters. There are some interesting things going on under the hood though, specifically relating to his overall whiff rate (which has plummeted dramatically) and his change-up (which has seen a dramatic spike in usage and bat-missing ability). Basically, Hahn’s entire arsenal—including a curveball that rated among the best in baseball last year at generating swings-and-misses—has taken a step back thus far except his changeup, which has taken a very decisive step forward. He’s throwing it harder and generating a bunch more movement with it. In the grand scheme that’s a much more significant positive than a small sample of additional contact in April, and I’m buying the early gains at least for the time being. He’ll get two solid match-ups in very solid pitching parks, and he’s worth a roll in pretty much all formats.
The top four guys are really close, borderline candidates to start. All likely belong in that range on merit, but each one faces a difficult schedule challenge and will need to be evaluated accordingly in your specific league context.
Jake Odorizzi, for example, has been very good thus far. By DRA he’s been the second-best pitcher in baseball so far (2.59). Drew Smyly’s also been very good so far in his two starts since returning from injury. Problem is, Boston’s offense has also been very good thus far, and Fenway Park is not where you want your pitchers to toe the rubber this year. I’d lean towards rolling the dice and trusting both guys – Odorizzi slightly more than Smyly – because they’ve earned it, and the second starts against Texas at home are strong rewards for those with the fortitude to test Fenway.
Meanwhile, there’s the Danny Salazar we were waiting for. The most encouraging part of his solid start has been his perfectly modest five walks in his first 19 innings. I still worry a bit about his four-seam-heavy, two-pitch arsenal in the long run. But when you throw 97 with that kind of movement on a splitter you can get away with things other starting pitchers can’t, and his 66 cFIP is tied for third among all starters. The Royals’ offense has slowed down a bit over the last week, but they’re still among the best in baseball out of the gate and they got to him for a few runs in his last start, otherwise this would be a clear-cut start recommendation.
The good news for managers who drafted Phil Hughes is that his elite control has indeed carried over in the early going, as he’s issued just two walks so far in five starts. The bad news is that a year after dodging homers like they were Californian raindrops he’s been lit up for six long balls already. DRA lays a good chunk of the blame for his early-season struggles squarely at his own feet. Given the lack of peripheral regression and the outsized HR rate I’d probably advise towards running him this week with two match-ups that grade out to about neutral.
Garrett Richards is still working his way back from a severe injury, and it’s important to remember that when evaluating him for a week like this. His velocity has still been down a couple ticks in his first outings of the season, and judging by whiff rate (and the lack of trust he’s shown in his secondaries to date) his pitches probably aren’t quite finishing as well as they were last year just yet. Healthy Garrett Richards v. 2014 probably gets the nod this week even despite a visit from the hottest offense in baseball this week. In his current condition I’d probably lean against investing too heavily, at least until we see a couple starts where the stuff rebounds more completely.
And for his part Matt Shoemaker is in a similar situation, albeit not injury related (at least as far as we currently know). His stuff’s down a couple ticks and he’s been battling for consistency in the early going. His last start against Oakland brought some signs of encouragement, but I’m not quite sure it was enough to warrant buying into him in a tough two-start week.
Clay Buchholz has been really true to his Jekyll and Hyde form thus far, mixing and matching dominance and terribleness between starts to great effect. This week shapes up on paper to encourage very much more of the same. He’s historically owned Tampa like few others, including a 10-whiff effort two turns ago. But that @TOR start hangs in the air like cheap cologne, and probably disqualifies him from real consideration outside the deepest of mixed and AL-only formats where innings accumulation has outsized value.
Trevor May’s a semi-interesting name, as his performance with a new emphasis on his two-seamer through three starts has been encouraging. He got drilled on his pitching arm last week, and this week’s start will have aired last night after my deadline. But if he pitched well again against Chicago it’s probably enough to wiggle his way into a deserved look in AL-onlies for his two starts next week.
After a couple rough starts in a row now Shane Greene’s numbers have leveled off as those of a back-end SP5 or SP6 starter (10 team AL-only, 12-14 team mixed), and that’s probably about right. His 104 cFIP points to a slightly-below-average starter with above-average Win potential given the team context. That’s not a guy I’m running for two starts unless the match-ups are decidedly favorable, and that’s just not the case for Greene this week.
“Should I start either of the Texas Rang-“ “Absolutely not. No.”