May 6, 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.
Conley has already faced both of these squads this season, shutting out the Brewers over 7 2/3 innings in his last turn and faring less well against the Nationals two weeks ago, though he did whiff eight in that contest. Conley’s four starts have been a mixed bag and there’s some risk in the quick repeat engagements, especially since the Nationals have hit southpaws hard. I’ll gamble and take the strikeout upside.
Speaking of hitting southpaws hard, the Rockies own the best OPS in the league against them. They also strike out at a top-five rate. Despite that, I’m not about to hesitate on Matz because of one bad matchup. Ever since the Mets somehow resisted the urge to demote him after one bad inning, Matz has allowed two earned runs in 26 frames. More than half of those innings have come against the Braves, so don’t go overboard in elevating him from preseason expectations just yet.
The Braves have a .517 OPS against left-handed pitchers. That’s 52 points lower than the second worst (Phillies) and 90 points below the third worst (Red Sox). So yeah, Morgan is here mostly because of the context. He’s interesting in his own right though, now sitting north of 92 miles per hour with his heater. He struggled to break 90 last season. Adopting what seems to be an organizational philosophy, he’s also thrown his curveball at a much higher rate than ever before. With Charlie Morton done for the year, there’s a good chance for Morgan to stick if these changes—and the early success that has come with them—is real.
With a 2.15 ERA and 1.12 WHIP through his first six starts and 37 2/3 innings, Chatwood is one of the biggest pitching surprises of the year. Still, it’ll take some stones to give him the ball against two top-10 offenses in Coors. You have to look past the surface stats with Kazmir. A cFIP of 85 implies some significant improvement is coming as soon as his home run rate corrects. His strikeout and walk rates are the best they’ve been since the first year of the career rejuvenation (2013). The opponents are tough, so the rebound may have to wait. Straily is another 2016 surprise, having landed on his feet in the Queen City after being traded from Houston to San Diego and almost immediately waived. Spring training reports of a significant velocity spike appear to be off base, as his fastball is sitting where it always has. In a normal week I’d likely recommend you sit him because he’s surviving on batted ball luck and an untenable strand rate. However, PECOTA and other projection systems still remember his 2012 days as the minor-league strikeout king and like him for about a strikeout an inning going forward. Also, the alternatives are garbage.
Garbage that’s on fire.
It hurts me to say this, but King Felix is on thin ice. If he can’t make good on these two matchups, it might be time to move him off this line.
Gausman has looked terrific in his first two starts of 2016, pumping his fastball in there at 97 miles per hour and leaning more heavily on his curveball/slider. Hitters are chasing out of the zone, and even though he’s been more hittable over the plate, an uptick in grounders has kept his ratios down. He got a late start to the season because of a shoulder injury, so we’re talking about an insignificant sample, but I like Gausman’s chances of taking the step forward we’ve all been expecting. In other words, now that he’s drawn us all back in, Gausman is about to implode.
Rodon continues to be a pitcher whose on-field success doesn’t quite line up with his talent yet. He’s been more successful finding the zone overall, just not on the first pitch. Rodon starts at-bats with strike one only 46.5 percent of the time, nearly six percentage points less often than the next closest qualifier. Rodon’s sequencing becomes predictable when he’s behind, so he’ll need to address that issue before he shows any start-to-start consistency. In the meantime, the upside is too great to sit him unless the matchups are poor.
The Giants and Rangers are a tough draw for a player who derives a good chunk of his value from strikeouts, but Sanchez’s ratios have been helpful too. The fastball and curve have never been in question and it’s been encouraging to see him throw the changeup more confidently, getting more separation off his plus fastball and adding some tumble. There is very little reason to question this breakout.
I don’t really understand Santiago. A surface look would seem to reveal that he’s doing almost exactly what he did last season, save for more success throwing strikes. cFIP and DRA- (111 and 109, respectively) didn’t buy his success in 2015, but they legitimize his April performance (102 and 98). He’s getting more movement in both planes on nearly his entire repertoire and has limited his offerings instead of junkballing around heavy fastball usage. I’m spitballing here where I could’ve just gone with the shruggy guy. Just plug him in there.
Smyly has been utterly dominant, posting elite-level bat-missing metrics. Smyly’s commitment to the changeup gives him a fourth above-average pitch and has gone a long way towards neutralizing what was a nasty platoon split. You don’t really need much analysis to convince you to start Smyly, though. Against two lineups that don’t hit southpaws well, you should expect more excellent results and perhaps a promotion to auto-start status.
Young has pitched long enough to qualify for the win in only half of his six starts and has completed six innings only once, which limits his overall value. A ten strikeout game against the Orioles was one of the unlikeliest pitching lines of the season and is distorting his overall line, but he’s useable against two horrid offenses.
Oakland is not intimidating and Houston is prone to strike out. Still, you need to hope the good Buchholz shows up if you give him the ball. Good luck. Medlen has gotten torched twice in five starts, including an ugly outing this week against the Nationals but this slate is too tasty to pass up. Sabathia is coming off seven shutout innings on the road against a solid Baltimore offense and was half decent over six innings in Texas before that. I’m not optimistic he’ll be useful much longer, but the Royals and White Sox are sneaky bad against lefties. I could not have told you the first thing about Wilson before right now. I like him as a no-cost gamble for next week only in deep and mono leagues, trusting cFIP’s optimism (90) and hoping for five decent innings each turn. Just don’t expect any strikeouts.
I’m intrigued by Devenski, but I’m not starting him until I see a little more and/or he faces a softer schedule. A league-high line drive rate suggests Fiers has been more bad than unlucky when it comes to batted balls. His run prevention will look better after his HR/FB regresses, which will likely be sometime after his week. Don’t be seduced by the current and former prospect statuses of Fulmer, Meyer, and Owens. They have much to prove before they can be trusted. If you must, Owens is the best option of the three this week because of the schedule. Sanchez has managed to up his strikeout rate despite continuing to lose velocity. I’ll pass on his Beltway trip.