June 12, 2015
Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner
Well, it finally happened. Every single team’s two most annoying starters all have a two-start week at the exact same time. For the first time since I’ve been writing this column, there are a full 60 out of 60 potential two-start options this week, which I can now confirm is just a staggering volume to sift through. But within all of those options, there are so very, very few rock-solid ones, and that’s what makes this week particularly tough. I’ve only got 13 start recommendations on the board, so there’s a whole lot of uncertainty to muddle through. I’d love to have been able to provide more case-by-case analysis, but this column was already pushing 2,600 words by the time I was halfway through, so if you’ve got a specific guy you want to talk about from the 4,672 “consider” options, please follow up in the comments. We’re still waiting on the Reds to announce their second two-start guy, but the other 59 options are all included below.
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!
Carlos Martinez isn’t quite an auto-start candidate just yet, but after he gets done carving up these two offenses, he just might be.
It’s worth taking a quick moment to reflect on just how good Francisco Liriano has been and how his performance has been 100 percent supported thus far. He’s posted the 12th-best DRA- of any starter, and his cFIP checks in 11th. He’ll draw an awful White Sox offense this week followed by a Washington outfit that is just mediocre against southpaws. Rotation-mate Charlie Morton, meanwhile, is an old favorite of mine and has looked extremely impressive since his activation from the DL. He’s been throwing his sinker three out of every four pitches thus far and generating an absurd 73% groundball rate through 19 innings. At some point he’ll need to work something else into his mix to generate the occasional whiff, and he showed some signs of doing just that in his last turn. Regardless, his elite groundball talents shouldn’t be overlooked, especially with the shift-happy Pirates defense behind him. The Nationals and White Sox are both among the top-five worm-burning teams in baseball, so the matchups are picture perfect for Morton in this period.
I wrote with tingly excitement last week about Bettis finally breaking the streak of “sit” recommendations for Rockies’ starters, and with his two-start week bumped back into Week 11, the outlook is even rosier this time around. He survived the Cardinals at Coors earlier this week, and his performance thus far has been fully supported by the peripherals. He’ll head to a meeting with the most strikeout-prone offense in baseball, and then his one home start for the week will conveniently feature the offense with the worst TAv in the National League. Bettis makes for a nice play anywhere you’ve got him, and in shallower leagues where he’s still on the wire, I’d prioritize him for a two-start pick-up.
The Cubs will unfortunately finish their game after press time for this, but a strong bounce-back effort by Wada last night would be enough to vault him into “start” territory for me. As is, he’s quite close thanks to good deception and some nice improvement with his curveball in his handful of starts back from the disabled list. He’s run up a strikeout an inning thus far, and most of the damage against him has come via the longball. That’s good news insofar as neither of his opponents this week are particularly adept at depositing baseballs over fences. The Twins in particular have struggled mightily of late, enough to swing the balance of this week’s schedule decisively in Wada’s favor. He’s still building up his stamina so the Win potential may be limited here, and these are not opponents who strike out a ton. Still, I like Wada for modest ratio and whiff potential this week, particularly in deeper leagues.
The San Diego boys both run into a mixed bag of matchups this week, and both have their own ongoing issues. It’s unclear what exactly is going on with Tyson Ross right now; he’s boosted his whiff and groundball rates like a good boy, but he’s getting absolutely killed by San Diego’s porous infield defense and his command has wobbled to unacceptable levels. And maybe it’s the weight of perpetually toeing the rubber with no run support in the early season, but Cashner hasn’t looked like himself over his past few outings. He still ostensibly projects as the slightly better pitcher, but the present command issues make it a tossup. They’re both quality options on paper, and I’d lean towards running both this week, but it’s not a slam dunk.
Julio Teheran just can’t seem to string together a few encouraging starts in a row right now. He’s throwing from a shorter release, and the hard stuff has come in flatter as a result. There’s some good news with his slider, though: he’s working with it more and generating stronger swing-and-miss numbers as he does. It won’t matter unless he can put himself into counts to unleash it more consistently, however, and his fastball command continues to lag. The Red Sox offense continues to be uneven, though Fenway’s never an easy place to pitch, while the Mets present a tasty reward on the back end. In shallower leagues I’d lean towards making a conservative play here, but in deeper mixed and –only formats, he’s probably worth the gamble.
Gio Gonzalez is something like the Nats’ version of Teheran, and he’s struggling mightily to fight off his command issues long enough to work deep into games right now. His changeup continues to elude him, as it’s not moving or missing bats at anywhere near the level we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, and that’s the biggest driver of his swinging strike regression. Still, the underlying numbers suggest greener pastures ahead, and the match-ups tilt a bit in his favor this week. He’s a decent play in NL-only and deeper mixed leagues, though he’s probably not quite there yet in shallow formats.
Remove the 10-run San Diego debacle from Carlos Frias’ tab and he’s pitched to a 2.20 ERA through 45 innings thus far, and that ain’t bad. Still, there are a whole bunch of questions about just how effective he can be now that the league’s had a chance to get a few looks at him in the rotation. Hitters are getting awfully comfortable after they’ve seen him once in a start, posting an aggregate .868 OPS against Frias the second time through the order. The Giants and Rangers have both been hitting lately, and the latter has been one of the better offenses in baseball for most of the season now. It’s a tough spot to trust a guy like Frias outside the deepest of NL-onlies.
Jeremy Hellickson had thrown the ball better of late, stringing together four consecutive quality starts before the Dodgers went to work on him in his last turn. The recent run hasn’t moved the needle much on his underlying projections, however, and his cFIP remains an uninspiring 112. And while Robbie Ray has looked good thus far and boasts an intriguing mix of moving stuff I’m not quite ready to bite the bullet for a two-start week against quality competition yet. This week is not one in which you want to tempt the fates; the Angels have been one of the hottest offenses in baseball lately, and the Padres are an above-average offense when freed from the shackles of Petco. If either man comes through with a respectable showing in a bad two-start schedule we may have something to talk about going forward, but outside of the deepest NL-onlies where innings are paramount I wouldn’t recommend running either this week.
Sigh… Michael Lorenzen. He’s coming off three consecutive quality starts since his return to the rotation and has yet to give up more than three runs in any of his six starts and counting… despite a 23-to-22 K:BB ratio in 38 innings and the 139th-ranked cFIP out of the 140 pitchers who’ve thrown as many innings as he has. I realize he’s getting results, and I guess he’ll force an uncomfortable discussion if he continues to do so, but I’m not there yet. All signs point to a hard rain falling soon.
That run of Marlin and Brewer starters is some kind of homage to mediocre NL starters, isn’t it? The Milwaukee guys both have the track record to suggest they’re more than capable of bouncing back towards respectability going forward, but I’m not even trying to wager that the catharsis will begin at Coors Field.
Outside of his last turn and a two-start stretch in early May, and in spite of less-than-ideal control, Trevor Bauer’s been pretty awesome this year. The Cubs and Rays are both hitting pretty well of late, but they’re also two of the most whiff-happy teams in the majors. The Cubs will take a walk, and represent the scarier of the two match-ups on Bauer’s plate this week. But he’s been a top-30 option as a starter thus far and any time you happen upon a situation where the starter’s strength plays to his opponents’ weakness it’s generally a solid investment. That’s the case here with Bauer, and he should be run pretty well across the board this week.
My recommendation of Trevor May this week is a bone thrown to our advanced metrics, as by both DRA- and cFIP Trevor May is a borderline top-ten pitcher in baseball. There’s never been much question about the caliber of May’s stuff, but his command and control of it has always lagged well behind. Enter the Minnesota Twins’ player development system, and lo, May currently sits with a walk rate south of two-per-nine over his first eleven starts of the season. He’s also making in-season strides with his four-seam command, and he’s working a two-seam successfully into the mix to help boost his groundball rate up closer to average territory. Basically there appears to be a lot of development unfolding right before our very eyes, and while the matchups are challenging I’ll side with the numbers here. Also I wasn’t sure when I’d get another chance to recommend two Trevors in the same week, so there’s a historical element at play here.
Anibal Sanchez is another guy I wrote up last week for last week in anticipation of a two-start week that’s since been bumped into Week 11. All he’s done since I wrote that is dominate the Cubs for seven innings, and the outlook is more or less the same for next week. It’s not an ideal set of matchups, as the Yankees and Reds have both been reasonably hot lately, but Sanchez’s peripherals warrant strong consideration regardless.
The White Sox have a fairly gross schedule this week, which is really annoying because I’d like nothing more than to give straight “start” recommendations on both these pitchers. Carlos Rodon’s walk rate is still more than a little terrifying, but he’s extremely fun to watch and neither of these squads is particularly adept at taking free passes. And for his part Jose Quintana has been just hot and cold enough (three blow-ups in 11 starts) that I’m skeptical of trusting him for a two-start week that includes one of the best offenses against left-handers. I’m feeling frisky enough that I’d probably take the plunge with either, but there’s certainly enough cause to pause on either before you do.
Chris Young has basically morphed into a two-pitch pitcher this year, rolling with what amounts to a 60-40 split on his fastball and slider, and it’s working (at least so far). His slider has taken a tighter shape and generated more whiffs than ever, and while his topline production has been on the absurd side thus far he’s legitimately pitched pretty good baseball in 2015. The matchups are interesting; Milwaukee’s offense continues to sputter, and while Boston’s has shown signs of life they’re still not exactly setting the world on fire. But the main event here is Young’s extreme fly ball tendencies (he sports the highest fly ball of any starter in baseball, after all) running into two offenses who’ve been getting under the ball as infrequently as anyone lately. Something’s gotta give here.
Taijuan Walker has thrown three consecutive quality starts with a 21-to-3 K:BB ratio and just four earned runs allowed over 22 innings. That is all.
Speaking of the Red Sox, both of their scheduled starters draw a decent week for AL-only purposes, as they’ll face a mediocre Atlanta offense before a trip to Kansas City and a date with a Royals offense that has really dropped into a funk of late. Both have below-average projection per cFIP, though it should be noted that Wade Miley’s topline numbers have really been skewed by a couple epic blow-ups and on balance he hasn’t pitched that poorly so far. He’s thrown four quality starts out of his last five, while Rick Porcello has been much more volatile of late. Neither probably gets over the hump into “start” territory in medium-depth mixed leagues, but deeper than that and either one is fair game.
Wei-Yin Chen is literally Mr. Average, as the only starting pitcher in baseball to boast an exactly 100 cFIP and DRA-. Last year’s tasty Win karma has disappeared, but otherwise pretty much everything’s in line with his efforts of a year ago. His overall swinging strike rate has crept north despite some negative movement across the board on his secondaries; gains based on four-seam swing-and-miss rate aren’t the most stable, particularly when the velocity of said four-seamer is down a tick. He’s benefitted from throwing to Caleb Joseph for much of the season, and it appears as though that battery may remain intact despite Matt Wieters’ recent activation. This is a real risk-reward week for Chen owners, as a sweet match-up with Philly will be offset by an ugly trip north of the border. Probable Blue Jay hitters have knocked him around a bit, and Toronto is always an awful place to pitch. He’s certainly startable if you need him to be, but it’s tough to recommend him outright given that blight on his week’s schedule.
Mark Buehrle’s been on a roll lately, and he’s as good a bet as anyone to give you innings and two shots at a Win. That said, Baltimore hitters absolutely crush him, and the risk is extreme for that matchup against the Orioles. Meanwhile Aaron Sahcnez has ripped off four straight quality starts and looks like a legitimate Major League pitcher. cFIP hates him, thanks in no small part to his standing as one of the easiest starters in baseball to run on. That risk is mitigated somewhat in this week’s slate of starts, however, as both the Birds and Mets are generally law-abiding citizens of the basepaths.
Vincent Velasquez acquitted himself well in his MLB debut, overcoming three walks to post five scoreless frames. Mike Gianella covered all the bases you need covered regarding Velasquez’s fantasy value moving forward, and he’s an interesting idea for this week. I tend inherently towards a conservative approach to rookies in their first handful of starts in the bigs, so he’s riding pine this week despite an interesting set of matchups that tip in his direction as favorable. If you’re in high risk/high reward territory of your AL-only league he’s a good flyer, but I’d resist the urge in other situations until we have a chance to get more of a read on him against big league hitters.
I’ve written previously about my Kyle Gibson skepticism, and while he’s shown the ability to get more whiffs lately he hasn’t really done much else since that piece went to print to change my mind. Both of the opposing offenses he’ll see have struggled a bit of late, but the Cardinals in St. Louis represent a nasty matchup, and neither of these teams is particularly groundball-happy. Even in deep AL-onlies I can’t justify recommending a consideration here.
Not to get too schadenfreudey, but it’s finally happening! Jered Weaver has gotten knocked around in two straight starts, his strikeout rate’s bottomed out under five-per-nine, and the end is nigh! Everybody, al ltogether, boo this man!