April 8, 2016
Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner
Welcome to a new season of the starting pitcher planner, where every Friday I’ll be taking a look at the pitchers slated for two turns in the upcoming week. The hope is that the planner can help guide lineup and FAAB decisions that need to be made over the weekend. Of course, my information isn’t perfect and I don’t have a crystal ball. Rain, injuries, and teams reshuffling between when I write and Monday’s first pitch will definitely happen. If new information comes to light after we publish, I’ll try to tackle it in the comments. Feel free to beat me to it if you have any info, and I’ll be glad to offer my opinion if you want it.
Let’s get some ground rules out the way before getting started. The pitchers will be split by league and then by category. Here are some general thoughts about the categories:
Auto-Starts: You paid a big price 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 pitch their way on to or fall off of this list as the season evolves. There won’t be many notes associated with this group, unless a player has just moved up or is in imminent danger of moving down.
Starts: These are the pitchers I’m recommending you give the ball to this week. Some will be obvious, though not quite auto-start excellent. Others will be lesser talents who find themselves with a pair of favorable outings that you can take advantage of.
Considers: These guys will be on the fence and your league settings and position in the standings will play a big role in your decision. A pitcher in this category can be an SP2 or SP3 with a tough week of matchups. Conversely, he could be a team’s number five who happens to be lined up against a couple basement dwellers. Your particular league context carries the day 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 this point of the season, the majority of these recommendations will be based on a combination of ADP/auction price and PECOTA projections for opponent strength. As the season progresses 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.
This Chen recommendation assumes he is okay after taking a comebacker off his elbow in a Marlins debut that didn’t go very well. The Mets don’t have the right-handed bats to capitalize on Chen’s platoon split in the same way the Tigers did, and the Braves… well... they don’t either.
Corbin only gave up one homer to Trevor Story this week, so he’s doing better than average. Unfortunately, he yielded two more long balls that helped obscure an otherwise solid outing, as Corbin struck out eight and didn’t walk anyone. The whole fantasy staff still likes him.
Gio was a solid value on draft day as the 55th starter off the board. Doesn’t matter who it is, really, though. A two-start week against the Braves and Phillies is an easy nod.
Following up an impressive spring, Maeda threw six scoreless in his major-league debut. The going gets a little tougher this week with matchups against quality intra-division opponents. I’m rolling with Maeda until the later of him hitting some bumps in the road or the Padres eclipsing his home-run total.
This year’s March darling, Nicasio, looked nasty in his first start. He allowed two baserunners over six innings of work, striking out seven. As George Bissell rightly pointed out a couple weeks ago, some skepticism is warranted until he starts throwing a third pitch. Despite that caveat, l’ll ride the wave.
I’ve been slow to warm Nola as a fantasy asset, questioning whether he has enough swing-and-miss stuff justify the requisite investment. He didn’t have any problem getting strike three against the Reds. Then again, neither did Jeremy Hellickson. I don’t believe Shields or Wacha will return their draft day prices, but they’re both clearly starts, especially when the matchups are this tasty.
I stayed away from Cashner this draft season because he confuses the hell out of me. If you have a better read or no alternatives, feel free to roll with him. There are many worse options than one start against the Phils and another back home in Petco.
Jungmann was impressive in his rookie season before the wheels came off late. A DRA- of 90 positioned Jungmann as a top-40 pitcher among those who threw 100 innings. A less favorable cFIP (104) suggests we shouldn’t quite expect a repeat, but I’m intrigued to see what he does for an encore. I’m not sufficiently intrigued to slot him in on the road against the Bucs and Cards.
Niese threw more four-seamers by usage percentage than any start since the middle of 2014 and traded some sinkers for cutters. Does it mean anything? I have no idea. But it wouldn’t shock me if Searage got Niese’s pitch mix shifted around and coaxed one more fantasy-relevant season out of him.
I’m on record regarding Samardzija. His velocity was down in spring and even further in his Giants debut, during which he was shelled. Given his likely price, you probably feel compelled to start Shark if you own him. Don’t be surprised if it goes poorly in these two tough draws.
Finnegan dominated against the Phillies on Wednesday, striking out nine over six innings. The Reds need to see what they have, which makes him a solid play for deep leaguers in need of innings and strikeout upside. That upside comes with severe WHIP risk, especially on the road against a pair of stout opponents.
The line between Start and Consider is blurrier in the American League than it was in the National League, and that begins with Buchholz. I suppose he belongs in this group while he’s upright, even if I don’t care for the matchups this week.
Gibson is another borderline case. His first start was ugly and shouldn’t have earned him any benefit of the doubt, but here we are. Our advanced stats liked Gibson in 2015 (98 cFIP, 91 DRA-) and he was one of my favorite cheap rotation fillers this preseason. This week’s opponents don’t give me much pause. Another poor early outing or two might.
You know what you’re getting from Iwakuma. He’s not good enough to be an auto-start but he’s not likely to sink any lower than this unless the matchups are extremely unfavorable.
I get the appeal of Moore and Rodon and there’s no question they both have the skills to return big profits. Those WHIPs, though. Last year they posted 1.54 and 1.44, respectively. That just doesn’t cut it in today’s environment. Moore reportedly looked great in camp and Rodon is primed to take a step forward in his sophomore season. Cross your fingers and run ‘em out there in friendly parks.
I’m really looking forward to seeing if Ventura can sustain his late-2015 dominance. He hasn’t pitched yet and there’s a chance he doesn’t get two starts next week. Ventura is scheduled to go today and it would be strange for him to pitch again on short rest on Tuesday while Kris Medlen sits around waiting.
McHugh’s velocity was down in an unimpressive opener. For a starter with borderline giddy-up in the first place, it’s something to watch. Pineda is hard to predict from start to start, so sitting him (or anyone, really) when he visits Canada is the prudent move. I’m simultaneously excited about Aaron Sanchez and content to wait for the matchups to get better before I take the plunge. Tropeano appears to be the beneficiary of Andrew Heaney’s forearm tightness. He couldn’t ask for better venue-opponent combinations as he tries (again) to establish himself in the Angels rotation. Ready for another season of not believing in Chris Young as he racks up an ERA in the mid-threes and wins a bunch of games? Me too.
Don’t start Orioles pitchers.