April 29, 2016
Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner
Welcome to 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 there 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.
I’d start a syntactical-deductive punctuation mark, the lower tract of the digestive system, anyone from Germany’s fourth most populous city, the Royals’ backup middle infielder, or a bottle of Drakkar Noir against the Braves and Padres.
The early results for Corbin haven’t been pretty. His command was uncharacteristically shaky against the Cardinals on Wednesday and they shelled him for seven earned runs on seven hits and five walks. By OPS, the Marlins are a top-10 offense against left-handers, which gives me pause. They also whiff at a top ten clip and the second turn is against the Braves. That gives me un-pause.
I sure wish I owned a Gio share or two. His walk rate is currently two percentage points below his career low and he’s managing to strike batters out at basically the same rate he always does, despite dropping a couple ticks on his heater. His schedule so far has been extremely soft (Atlanta, Minnesota, Philly twice), so the results are bound to worsen. I like Gonzalez as a mid-rotation rock even post-regression, including this week against two teams who aren’t as scary versus southpaws as you might think.
Hendricks gets his two-start week pushed to this week thanks to Wednesday’s rainout. As I said last week, I continue to think he’s underrated and I’m still recommending him as an easy Start even though the matchups—particularly against the Pirates—are tough.
Nola’s 4.50 ERA belies just how terrific he’s been. He’s struck out at least one batter per inning in each of his four starts, something I didn’t think possible entering the season. Nola is accomplishing it with increased reliance a curveball that behaves more like a slider. It has the most horizontal movement of any deuce in the majors and has demonstrated elite swing-and-miss rates early on. Facing the Cardinals isn’t an optimal situation but Nola’s been too good to think about sitting in good conscience.
If you’re not already, you’ll eventually tire of me saying I’m not a fan of Shark. He gets my endorsement his week anyhow, thanks in large part to a tilt against the light-hitting Reds. I don’t like the matchup against a Rockies squad that his hit righties hard and doesn’t whiff often, but the home park helps ease my concern.
Wacha is sitting on a 2.82 ERA through his first four turns and might seem like a no-brainer. Nevertheless, I’m nervous. cFIP, a statistic I’ll begin to lean more heavily on as the season goes on because of its relative success as a predictor, has Wacha straddling the line between below-average and bad. His strikeout rate is way down and opponents are teeing off on him, to the tune of a .287 batting average against. That success is mostly thanks to a spike in line-drive rate. If you don’t like what you see either, the perfect time to sell might just be between next week’s outings.
Chatwood has two good starts and two bad ones. The good ones were road games against the Cubs and Diamondbacks. Go figure. I like him as a sneaky double up next week in two pitcher-friendly parks. Same goes for Gray if you’re really feeling adventurous. He’s gotten pounded in two short outings, but there’s upside against a Padres offense that strikes out more than a quarter of the time against righties. Finnegan’s five starts have been a mixed bag. He struck out nine in his season debut, got bombed opposite Arreita’s no-hitter, and has struggled with his control the whole way. As with Gray, I’m not excited about facing the Giants but there is significant whiff potential in the second opponent. I’m as surprised as you are that Hellickson is here. The addition of a cutter gives him a legitimate five-pitch mix and like the rest of the Phillies rotation, he’s throwing a bunch of yakkers. Also like the rest of the Phillies rotation, the strikeouts are piling up. It doesn’t get much easier than Nelson’s slate. If you were lucky enough to have Roark’s 15-strikeout outing in your lineup last Saturday, don’t throw away the profit by running him out there next week. He’s still a matchup play and these aren’t the right ones. The best thing I can say for Shields is that he’s a good bet to go six innings. The strikeouts have dried up and the decent surface stats are poised to reflect the ugly advanced metrics after he faces two lineups that are hard on right-handers. Adam Wainwright is the worst pitcher in the league according to cFIP. I’m stubbornly holding out hope for a mild rebound against the Phillies.
It’s not clear that Nicolino has overtaken Jared Cosart in the Marlins rotation, but after pitching 7.1 scoreless innings on Wednesday, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get the ball next week. Given the impossibly low strikeout numbers, I’m not biting.
Estrada has been at least as impressive as he was in an unexpectedly solid 2015. He’s leaning even more heavily on a cutter that’s making up for lost velocity by cutting more. Estrada has only thrown 57 of them, so caution is still warranted, but the whiff rate is up and batters aren’t squaring it. For a pitcher that’s always struggled with home run prevention, improving upon an offering that opponents slugged .609 against last year is potentially a big deal.
I’m not fretting much about Iwakuma’s performance to date but I am keeping an eye on him. HR/FB rate is something he’s always battled and he’s traded grounders for fly balls in April. The A’s are a good team to get right against and the Astros are scary for a pitcher who gives up hard contact. They whiff enough to balance out that concern.
The same cost/benefit on facing the Astros applies to Karns, who has gopher ball problems of his own. He is better equipped to take advantage of the Astros propensity to swing and miss, assuming he can throw strikes. Karns is striking out one of every four batters, thanks primarily to an improved curveball that he employs more often than anyone except Drew Pomeranz.
Where I see others jumping in on Moore with both feet, I’m still only a toe or two deep. He’s currently walking fewer than two batters per nine innings, which is encouraging on its face. He’ll need to throw more first pitch strikes to keep that up and avoid the bouts of inconsistency that have contributed to his non-ascension to fantasy acedom.
Ricky Nolasco fun fact: he’s thrown eight seasons of 140+ innings and only twice finished with an ERA below 4.48. He has earned some temporary confidence, though, by pounding the zone at a rate he hasn’t accomplished since the tail end of his Marlins career and striking out batters at a rate near the league average. A cFIP of 86 suggests that he’ll continue to be useful if he can keep doing what he’s doing, which probably includes a newfound willingness to vary the location of his slider against lefties as he throws it more often.
Quintana might be an auto-start by the time his next two-start week rolls around. He’s a steady as they come and has bumped his strikeout rate in 2016.
I have zero confidence that opposing hitters will struggle to make contact against Tillman to the extent they have so far (73.8 percent contact rate). Against two bottom-third offenses, I don’t have much choice but to recommend him as a Start.
With Volquez continuing to improve his walk rate, you might assume he’s throwing more strikes. In fact, he’s just getting better at convincing hitters to swing. When you possess the kind of pure stuff Volquez does, that’s a good thing. His current 46.5 percent swing rate would be a career high and the additional swings are leading to both more strikeouts and weaker contact.
McHugh’s .420 BABIP and 62.8 percent strand rate will begin to correct soon. Remind yourself of that when you look at his current stat line and see a 6.65 ERA and 1.89 WHIP. Tomlin has been serviceable through three starts. Given the difficulty of these matchups, I’d rather take a wait-and-see approach unless you really need the innings. Verlander is striking batters out at a higher rate than any point since 2012, but the overall results have been submarined by the long ball. That’ll happen when you start giving up a bunch more fly balls and hard contact at the same time. The Indians can thump it, knocking Verlander down a notch next week. I’m not a believer in Wright even though the matchups are soft.
I still like Severino long-term and think he’s a sensible buy low. You could wait until after he faces two tough offenses and try to buy even lower. There’s just no way I’d start Griffin on the road against these two clubs, despite the fact that his return from a prolonged Tommy John recovery has been impressive. There’s just no way I’d start Martin Perez.