September 11, 2015
Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner
I don’t think I can remember a more unbalanced week between the leagues than what we’re looking at in Week 24. We have just 14 measly options to pick through in the senior circuit this week. Arizona and Colorado are both set to rock six-man rotations, and while the Mets are tenuously scheduled to run ace Jacob deGrom twice, I haven’t heard Scot Boras weigh in yet, so that may still change before you set your lineup. The AL, meanwhile, boasts a stout 23, with just the second two-start option for the Angels currently off the board.
Before we dive in I’ll reiterate my note from last week that changes to the probable schedule happen much more regularly this month as teams look to save innings, manipulate matchups, and give longer looks to young guys. So we’ll start to see guys jump on and drop off this list after it goes to print much more regularly, and I’m happy to address any and all changes as they come up in the comments 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!
As of press time Jacob deGrom is listed as a two-start option for the week, though as anyone who has read anything on the internet over the past couple of weeks is no doubt aware, the state of the Mets rotation down the stretch is a daily soap opera complete with twists, turns, accusations, and jilted lovers taking center stage at any given moment. It may very well be that Bartolo Colon just ends up pitching all of the innings. For now, deGrom owners can cross their fingers and toes and hope for a fantastical reality to unfold.
Neither of the Washington boys have been worth their respective prices of admission this year, but we’re not here to talk about the past. Strasburg has managed to log the 24th-best cFIP in the game in spite of everything, while Zimmermann has the look of an essentially league-average starter. That’s good enough this week, as both men will see a couple of bottom-tier offenses.
Julio Teheran was a tough nut to crack all year, but he’s pitched better of late with seven quality starts in his last eight turns. Sure, the one non-quality effort was a real stink bomb, and our advanced metrics haven’t been a fan all year (his 109 cFIP is good for just 108th among starters with 75 innings). But he changed his horizontal release point dramatically in August by migrating to the first-base side of the rubber, and that coincides directly with the start of his recent run of solidity. He’s also managed to find two full ticks of velocity on his fastball this month. That’s a couple of significant intervening variables for his recent performance, and it’s probably enough to indicate a little somethin’ somethin’ is going on here. The schedule is a mixed bag, as he’ll have to navigate the 1927 Blue Jays to earn his return date with Philadelphia’s terrible offense. I’d tread somewhat carefully if you’re a frontrunner on account of the former matchup, but I like Teheran’s recent performance as an indication of a pitcher on the rise, one who might just be able to help you take down your league if you have the gall to start him in a week like this.
I had Aaron Nola at the top of the consider pile for an anticipated two starts this week, and he slots right back into the same region with an even-better scheduled draw in the next period instead. Nola’s curveball is a legitimate weapon, and the Nationals have struggled mightily as a team against curveballs lately. The Braves, for their part, have struggled mightily against everything. In medium-depth mixed leagues and most all NL-onlies, Nola makes for a nice play this week.
Carlos Martinez has been flirting with auto-start status for much of the year, but just hasn’t quite gotten over the hump, and now he’ll face a stiff challenge this week from two hot offenses. He’s managed to find another click on his fastball this month, pushing his whiff rate with the pitch into double digits, which is absurd. He’s gone at least five innings in 21 straight starts, making him one of the safer options around for innings accumulation. He’s also gone only five innings in four of his last seven starts and hasn’t given up less than three earned runs in a game since the beginning of August. Add it all up, and there’s potential to accumulate strikeouts and possibly Wins, but it’s a likely tradeoff for ERA and WHIP, the latter of which sits at just shy of 1.50 over his last seven.
James Shields has had one of those seasons where the eye test hasn’t ever quite matched the metrics, and that tension has come to a head lately. He’s pitched solidly in a couple of starts against patsies, but in his other four starts in the past month, he’s allowed 17 earned runs in 23 innings with 18 walks. His velocity has slid down a full two ticks from where he was sitting in May, while his obscene home-run rate has held steady all year. Coors Field is Coors Field, and Shields has certainly not been immune, allowing a .954 career OPS there. He’s been even worse in three starts at Chase Field, and the combination is just not what you want to see this week if you’ve got Shields on your roster.
I was anti-Nicolino in last week’s Planner when he was lined up for a two-start week this week, and I’m equally against the idea of running him next week. After getting lit up by the Brewers in his last start he now boasts the worst cFIP of any of the 287 pitchers with at least 48 1/3 innings on the year.
Velocity alert: Danny Salazar has been down about two mph this month, with an arm slot migration to a release point with about five inches less horizontal extension. We’re in crunch time here, the matchups are decent enough, and if you’re playing for a title right now, you’re pretty pot-committed with this guy as one of your horses who’ll win it or lose it for you. But just be advised in setting your lineup that there may be something going on here.
It’s really remarkable to think about where Scott Kazmir is today versus where it looked like his career was heading a few years ago. He currently sits 23rd in DRA and 40th overall in cFIP among starters. There’s no question that his production has taken a step back in the second half: His whiffs are down, he’s giving up more fly balls and more dingers, and he’s getting hit harder in general. But even with the warts he’s still been a pretty good pitcher since donning an Astros uniform, and he’ll draw two opponents who have struggled to produce offensively of late. It’s a solid combination, and he should be run.
Garrett Richards has the odd distinction of producing a season in which his first-pitch-strike rate and swinging-strike rate have both jumped, yet his strikeout numbers have tanked considerably. He’s become significantly more oriented on his four-seamer, and the strategic evolution has clearly cost him whiffs, much to the chagrin of fantasy managers near and far. He’ll draw a solid schedule this week, though, with a Seattle offense he’s toyed with at will and a poor Twins offense on the docket, and provided he can manage to hide his lunch from Miguel Sano, he makes for a nice play in most leagues.
Derek Holland has been great since finally returning from the shelf, pounding the zone early in counts to set up what has been a devastating slider. The pitch has generated a whiff rate north of 30 percent, while three out of every four that have been put in play have danced along the grass. He’ll face a couple of lineups that can swing it a little bit against lefties, and in addition to being collectively hot of late, Seattle’s lineup boasts several guys who have crushed Holland in previous encounters. It’s a tough slate to be sure.
I want to like Kevin Gausman more than I do, I swear. His cFIP checks in a very solid 42nd among starters with at least 75 innings this year, and his raw stuff is just flat-out nasty. Still, I have a hard time fully buying into a guy who throws his fastball so much as a legitimate, big-time starting pitcher. Three of every four pitches he’s thrown in September have been heaters, and both the Red Sox and the Rays have pummeled Gausman’s fastball in their limited looks to date. I don’t trust these matchups to produce quality cumulative stats, and I’d only consider him in deep, dark mixed leagues and AL-onlies if I needed to get lucky.
Just when it looked like Drew Hutchison had finally started to put together a nice little run, he went and gave up five bombs en route to getting torched for 12 runs over his last two starts. His 100 cFIP paints the picture of a perfectly serviceable league-average starter, but he just keeps giving up hits at an alarming rate. The Red Sox have absolutely abused him to the tune of a collective .959 OPS to drive a 7.16 ERA in seven career starts, making the price of admission for his tasty trip to Atlanta too high to pay in most leagues.
Kris Medlen makes for a tough read in a week like this, with just four turns in the rotation under his belt since returning from a second Tommy John surgery. His velocity is as high as it has ever been, but he appears to have lost some feel for his change-up, as the pitch is coming in firmer and inducing far less whiffs in his current incarnation. The arsenal limitation notwithstanding, Detroit has struggled to hit its way out of a paper bag lately, and Cleveland has been no great shakes of late either. Medlen makes for a decent-enough option in deep mixed and AL-only leagues where you need a stream.
Like a modern day Ernest Hemingway character seeking to create order in a random and chaotic universe, Medlen’s rotation-mate Edinson Volquez has pursued a life of imperfect consistency lately. In his last six turns he’s given up five runs, thrown a quality start, given up five more runs, thrown a quality start, given up six runs, and thrown a quality start. That kind of start-to-start variance is maddening for managers, particularly heading into a two-start week. As noted the matchups are solid enough, so if you can handle an ERA for the week north of 4.00 in favor of some counting stat accumulation, go for it.
Before an out-of-nowhere seven-inning gem against the Yankees in his last turn, Ubaldo Jimenez had made it through six innings just twice in his previous 10 starts. He’s given back all of the first-half gains he made with his control, and his post-break ERA of 6.88 is the worst in baseball. Both Boston and Tampa have performed as top-10 offenses over the past few weeks, and even despite the solid effort in his last start, Jimenez makes little sense as a gamble even in AL-only formats right now
In the non-knuckleball division of starting pitchers to log at least 50 innings this year, Kyle Lobstein’s velocity checks in seventh-worst and his strikeout rate second-worst. A set of starts that average out to relatively neutral isn’t enough to entice me to recommend considering him as a stream, even in the deepest of leagues.