May 15, 2015
Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner
Week Seven’s a week of slim pickin’s for the two-start vultures among us. A full six teams will play only five games during the scoring period, and at least as of press time none of them seem inclined to skip any members of their respective rotations. The 39 two-start options on tap represent the fewest of any week thus far, and the two belonging to Colorado are shrouded in mystery. They haven’t named a starter for one of the slots as yet, and Jordan Lyles, the man scheduled to occupy the other, took a comebacker off his pitching hand two nights ago. Neither an if-healthy Lyles nor the mystery man project as usable options given the Rockies’ homestand, which means of the 39 guys, nearly a third—12 in total—are radioactive. Only five guys in the AL and six in the NL make for true no-doubters, meaning a whole bunch of uncertainty and one-start streaming across the land.
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!
Cole Hamels might be one of the least enthusiastic auto-start names I’ve written down in my time writing this column. Just a brutal slate of match-ups for an otherwise unquestionable option. I put more faith in him than most in Colorado given his preferred secondary weapon of a change instead of something with a hump, but it’s still a gross draw. And then the Nats have been tearing the cover off the ball lately, led by a particular budding superstar who’s unconscious at the plate right now. I’d still run him I think, but I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision in any of my leagues.
Don’t flinch on James Shields, boys and girls. No notable fantasy starter has more of a gap between his DRA and cFIP levels, and it’s almost entirely tied up in the absurd number of long balls Shields has given up thus far. He’s allowed 11 of them in 42 1/3 innings, to be precise. Outside of those shenanigans from the batted ball gods, Shields is putting together one of the finest stretches of his career. His knuckle-curve has become another legitimate weapon in his secondary arsenal, and he’s throwing it at a career-high rate. His whiff rates are up substantially across all of his complementary offerings, and he’s in a place where he should be run out there every opportunity you get.
John Lackey’s one of the rarest of breeds that I target with a vengeance on draft day every year: a boring, consistent, pretty good veteran starting pitcher. His DRA is 37th among starters, his cFIP 72nd, and the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle in terms of his fantasy value. He’s averaged six and a third innings a start over more than 360 career turns in MLB rotations now, and dollars to donuts he’ll give you a slightly-better-than-league-average ERA over the long course of a season. After a hot stretch as one of the more lethal offenses in the league the Royals have settled down considerably as more of a mid-tier unit of late, while the Mets have been among the worst lineups in baseball. Lackey’s typically a guy who pitches significantly better at home than he does on the road, so there’s some reason for quick pause with the road-road slate. But the matchups are solid enough to where I’ll ride the innings (and the W and K potential that goes with them) without too much fear of ratio disaster.
Carlos Frias has been averaging 97 mph on his four-seamer and generating a roughly 30 percent whiff rate with his cutter. Those are both big-time numbers, and while he’s lucked into a bit of runner-stranding karma over his first few turns in the rotation he’s pitching pretty solid ball thus far. He’ll land himself a nice set of match-ups this week, though the Giants may present a trickier step outside of their canyon of a home park. In deep mixed and NL-only leagues he’s a solid option though, as he’s yet to really show any signs of imminent danger.
Jason Hammel’s rocky introduction to National League living after the trade deadline last year depressed his draft day value nicely, as he went off the board just 80th in NFBC drafts. But he’s pitched quite well out of the gate, with an elite walk rate driving a top-40 cFIP. After dramatically ramping up his use of the pitch last year he’s now throwing his slider more than any other pitch, and while the pitch itself has played down in effectiveness it may very well be the reason his four-seamer has played up considerably. He’s generating more called strikes this year (thanks Miguel Montero!), and that’s helped offset a decline in his overall whiff rate to keep his strikeouts on par. The trip to San Diego for a date with the recently struggling Padre offense is a good’n to circle on your calendar, but a back-end meeting with the surging Diamonbacks offense in their launching pad of a home park could make for some treacherous sledding.
Rubby de la Rosa is this close to a straight-up start recommendation, as he’s very quietly projecting as a top-20 starter all of a sudden by cFIP. He’s whiffing nearly a batter an inning so far, with a significant uptick in the quality of his slider lying front and center as a means of explanation. He’s pounding the zone like he did two years ago during his only other rosterable stretch, and once ahead he’s unleashing a tighter slide piece with better vertical break to polish guys off at an unprecedented rate. The match-ups aren’t great, with two above-average offenses lined up. He’s struggled a bit against better opposition thus far, but if he emerges unscathed from this slate he’ll quickly rise up the ranks. Incidentally, he makes for a solid trade target at present given the sizeable gap between his topline ERA and cFIP projection.
Man, what a weird start to the season for Mike Fiers. He’s whiffing batters at an Aroldisian pace, helping drive some series cFIP love (85, 21st among starters). He’s also giving up a ton of really hard contact, leading at least in part to an outsized BABIP-against and an abysmal strand rate. Something’s gotta give here, as those one of those profiles is not like the other. The matchups aren’t great here; Detroit’s a tough place to work through a good lineup, and Atlanta is the second-stingiest team in baseball when it comes to whiffing. I could go either way here depending on my squad’s specific set of statistical needs.
I’m going to turn over the heavy lifting of analyzing Mike Foltynewicz’s early-season effort to our own David Lee, whose detailed write-up in the Augusta Chronicle is a must-read for Folty’s owners. The long and the short of it is that while he’s making some interesting strides in refining his long-troubled command he still faces longish odds of developing the kind of necessary consistency to become a rotation asset for the Braves. He’s still a significant WHIP liability on top of being subject to the general start-to-start risks of rookie implosion, but with two poor offenses on tap he’s an interesting guy to take a look at this week in NL-only leagues or as a deep mixed league streaming option.
Be thankful for all the awesome production you’ve gotten out of Aaron Harang so far and look forward to running him back out there again in another week’s time. I realize he’s pitched well, and he’s done it in a statistically supported way. But Colorado is Colorado, and he’s been rocked repeatedly and consistently there in his career. And you know who else consistently rocks Aaron Harang? Hitters likely to be penciled into the Nationals’ starting lineup. No need to be a hero here, it’s still early in the season.
It was a relief to many and a surprise to hopefully not nearly as many that Corey Kluber finally Klubered with a historic performance against a strong Cardinal lineup in his last turn. His 80 cFIP entering that start checked in tenth among all starters, and his 3.70 DRA (35th) certainly didn’t paint the picture of a man who’d earned all of his struggles to date either. He’s fine. He’s elite. And if you resisted the buy-low inquiries that likely flooded your inbox over the past couple weeks, bully for you.
Jose Quintana’s early season numbers are still licking their wounds from a nine run shellacking the Tigers pasted on him in his third start of the year, but otherwise he’s continued to be a model of very good consistency in the early going. His 90 cFIP checks in 32nd among starters, and the general vicinity of the top 40 seems just about right for his value. He’ll take on a couple offenses that despite recent runs of success grade out to a net-positive schedule for the southpaw. He’s a legitimate SP3 in leagues of 14-plus teams, a strong SP4 in shallower ones, and without a disqualifying matchup on tap I’ll take the two starts.
Anibal Sanchez is part two of our two-part series of start recommendations for guys whose ratios look much worse than they should on account of one explosively terrible April start. The White Sox lit up Sanchez in his third start of the year, but everything in his peripherals is more or less in line with where you’d want to see them. His cFIP checks in 29th overall, which seems about right. And this week’s a fine week to be a manager with his services in your employ, as he’ll welcome the teams with the second- and third-highest strikeout rates in the majors.
Just when you thought it was safe to assume Trevor Bauer’d turned the corner for good he went and gave up 11 runs over nine and a third innings in consecutive starts. Then he went out and dominated the Cardinals for seven innings with ten whiffs. What to do with this guy? This week’s match-ups represent a dangerous road for a man of Bauer’s particular skillset. The White Sox are the hardest team in baseball to strike out, while the Reds take bases on balls with the best of ‘em. You can pretty much write down two walks for Joey Votto in pen on your future scorecard now, and the question will be how Bauer responds when he (and others) put him in the stretch. He remains, as he has for the better part of the last two seasons, an utter and complete wild card. If you need whiffs and can take a likely WHIP hit, he’s your man this week. If your ratios are in a sensitive place, toss him on your bench and live to fight another week.
C.J. Wilson has performed like a completely different pitcher in the early going, showing abnormally good control (his 2.06-per-nine walk rate is not a typo, I triple-checked) while finding success in a “pitch to contact” mold. He’s dramatically increased his two-seam usage by 10 percentage points, and the evolution is helping both of his bendy pitches induce more swinging strikes. There are some warning lights here, notably a homerun rate about two and a half times lower than his career mark, and with an ugly roadtrip through Toronto and Boston it’s a number that may very well be due some correction.
On the exact opposite end of the spectrum from C.J. Wilson sits Kyle Lobstein. His abysmal whiff rate makes him an unfortunate recipient of the same charmed schedule as rotation-mate Anibal Sanchez, but that schedule is what makes Lobstein a streaming option in deeper leagues. His 3.60 DRA paints a rosier picture of him than his peripherals suggest he’s likely to show moving forward, but if ever there were a week to take a shot with him for two starts in your AL-only league it’s probably this one.
Wade Miley is the lowest of the consider options that I’d legitimately consider outside of extreme circumstances, and it’s almost entirely due to the relatively plum schedule he’ll run into this week. He was ugly if effective in his last start, but overall hitters are waiting him out this year, staying in the zone, and pulling the ball with authority. He’s a streaming option in AL-onlies, but I wouldn’t try to hard to talk yourself into him in mixed formats.
Well, the bad news is Taijuan Walker’s DRA sits as the second-worst mark among any of the 131 starters with 25 innings under his belt this season. The good news is his cFIP projects a significantly more middle-of-the-road future in the aggregate. That’s not particularly cool comfort for managers currently rostering the young flamethrower, however, as his wild start to start variance makes him one of the most frustrating fantasy assets around. R.J. Anderson went through the limitations of Walker’s arsenal in delightful detail yesterday, and coupled with fringy command of his two good pitches he’s just not yet a pitcher who’s earned the benefit of the doubt in even the deepest of fantasy leagues. He runs into an ugly set of match-ups this week and should be avoided pretty much across the board until he starts to show some signs of greater consistency.
Hector Santiago has produced excellent return thus far, likely on the mere waiver claim you had to submit to obtain his services, but there isn’t a ton to like in the peripherals. He’s always struggled with his control, and he’s walking as many hitters as ever right now, while a .237 BABIP is propping up his WHIP. DRA paints the picture of a pitcher who’s been lucky so far, and cFIP paints one whose luck will run out sooner than later. Trips to Toronto and Boston might just do the trick. It’s worth noting that his cutter has induced a crazy amount of swing-and-miss thus far, with 18 whiffs on just 94 pitches. Something to keep an eye on going forward if nothing else.