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June 24, 2016

Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner

Week 13

by Greg Wellemeyer

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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.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Jake Arrieta

@CIN, @NYM

Jon Lester

@CIN, @NYM

Noah Syndergaard

@WAS, CHC

Thor and the Mets appear to have dodged an elbow situation that caused me to stop at the liquor store and the milkshake store on the way home from work Wednesday, but you should keep your eye on this one in case they re-shuffle.

START

Adam Conley

@DET, @ATL

Tanner Roark

NYM, CIN

Joe Ross

NYM, CIN

Jeff Samardzija

OAK, @ARI

Adam Wainwright

@KC, MIL

We saw the good version of the sophomore southpaw on Wednesday, as Conley hurled eight impressive innings against the Braves, allowing just five baserunners. He only struck out a quartet, a mild disappointment given the overall quality of the performance and Conley’s 8.2 K/9 on the season. As a Conley owner and proselytizer, I’ll gladly make that tradeoff for more start-to-start consistency with his control and resulting WHIP.

I don’t think either one of the Nationals is as good as they’ve shown so far in 2016 (each has a 102 cFIP), but it’s hard not to be optimistic about a two-start week against the Mets and Reds. Both offenses are in the bottom five by OPS over the past two weeks. In Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, the Reds have a couple guys that make me nervous about Ross’s extreme platoon split, but not nervous enough to sit him down.

With the exception of a complete game gem against the Rays last week, it’s been a tough go for Shark over the past five turns. Even including that outing, his ERA over in his last 26 2/3 innings is 6.41 and his WHIP is 1.43. Samardzija has deserved what he’s gotten during that stretch, as his hard stuff has been eminently hittable. Even if it comes with some risk in the desert late in the week, a home matchup against the A’s is too tasty to pass up.

I don’t want to draw any broad conclusions about the tepid response I got when I disposed of Wainwright recently, because it’s just one data point and in came in a dynasty context. Still, the experience made me wonder if people are still overly spooked by his first month and change. Innings-wise, the midpoint of Wainwright’s season to date is a pretty clear demarcation between the terrible and solid versions. Wainwright was sitting on a 6.80 ERA through his first 45 innings (eight starts), and pitched to a 2.72 mark over his next 46.1 (seven starts) to bring his season number to 4.73. Nobody in your league knows better than Waino’s current owner how good he’s been of late, but the 2016 numbers are still ugly enough on the whole that there’s a window to buy if his owner believes in the first half more than the second.

CONSIDER

John Gant

CLE, MIA

Jon Gray

TOR, @LAD

Junior Guerra

LAD, @STL

Matt Harvey

@WAS, CHC

Francisco Liriano

LAD, @OAK

Scott Kazmir

@PIT, COL

Robbie Ray

PHI, SF

Julio Urias

@MIL, COL

Michael Wacha

@KC, MIL

Gant has been better than the surface stats indicate, in part because his overall line is skewed by some unsuccessful relief appearances in the season’s first week. He’s made three starts since joining the rotation on June 12, posting a 3.24 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP, and 8.1 K/9. If you have other options, I’d err on the conservative side given the strength of next week’s opponents and Gant’s short track record.

Gray has experienced the kinds of ups and downs you’d expect out of a starter in his extended stint in the majors, mixing in three double-digit strikeout games with occasional blow-ups and bouts of wildness. If you own him, you accept the start-to-start volatility because of the strikeout upside. This week is no different. The same is basically true for Ray, except that his game-by-game strikeout numbers don’t have the same peaks and valleys as Gray’s.

The 31-year-old Guerra continues to be one of the most unlikely pitching finds of the season. His 3.67 ERA is completely substantiated by a 3.50 DRA and 94 cFIP, and while his stuff doesn’t wow you, all three of his primary offerings rate favorably.

Harvey pitched his way back into his fantasy owner’s good graces after that infamous three-game stretch in mid-May. Recall that it was the Nationals that beat him up in the last two of those three, and exercise the appropriate amount of caution as he gets ready to face them for the first time since. Oh, and the Cubs.

PECOTA projects Kazmir for a 3.64 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and almost a strikeout per inning for the rest of the season. I suspect whoever owns him in your league isn’t quite that optimistic. There are reasons to be, including a bottom-25 contact rate and greater success with his breaking pitches than he’s ever had, though the rest of his arsenal has backed up.

Liriano is a mess right now, having surrendered four or more earned runs in four of his past five starts. I can understanding wanting to play it safe until he strings together a couple good ones, but it’s not going to get a whole lot easier than next week’s combination of opponents and parks.

It hasn’t taken long for Urias to show just how special he is. His 29.7 percent strikeout rate is a top-ten mark among starters who have thrown at least as many innings. If you’re not looking to sell to an owner who is willing to pay for the story instead of the bottom line impact going forward, you’re doing it wrong.

All it took was two shellings to convert Wacha from a guy who is significantly outpitching his peripherals to a guy who is significantly underperforming relative to them. He’s only given up five earned runs over the past 21 1/3 innings, getting his season back on track after a brutal May. As the low man on Wahca, I’ll wait to see more stabilization before giving my full endorsement.

SIT

John Lamb

CHC, @WAS

Adam Morgan

@ARI, KC

Dan Straily

CHC, @WAS

Albert Suarez

OAK, @ARI

Matt Wisler

CLE, MIA

The Sit section usually looks a whole lot messier than this. With the exception of Morgan, I could see a case for any of the other four in the right context.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

It’s not clear what the Orioles are going to do with the rotation spot that Ubaldo Jimenez filled this week with a spot start away from his new home in the ‘pen. I’m not interested in whoever gets that slot and the potential double-up that comes with it next week. I’m also not sure what the Royals plans are. Yordano Ventura is suspended through June 27. Kris Medlen has made a pair of rehab appearances and could theoretically be ready to take the ball next Tuesday. Lastly, the Rangers rotation is a mess with Darvish, Holland, and Lewis all on the disabled list. Did you know Kyle Lohse is in their system? Me neither.

AUTO-START

Cole Hamels

@NYY, @MIN

Corey Kluber

@ATL, @TOR

Jose Quintana

MIN, @HOU

START

Trevor Bauer

@ATL, @TOR

Matt Shoemaker

HOU, @BOS

George Bissell asked me a couple weeks ago who I preferred rest-of-season between Bauer, Jerad Eickhoff, and Danny Duffy. I said Bauer with no confidence whatsoever, because, of the three, I had the most trust in his ability to strike hitters out. Relative to his draft position and the expectations that came with it, Bauer’s major league career has been a disappointment. One thing that’s been consistent have been the whiffs. His career strikeout rate is a touch below one per inning, and he’s right there again in 2016. As I also said during that conversation, Bauer will play the whole season at age 25, which seems impossible given how long he’s been in our consciousness. There’s still plenty of time for his continued development. I’ll wait for more evidence that his control has sharpened before passing more definitive judgment, but there’s no question he’s been masterful lately and is an obvious Start call while he’s rolling.

Speaking of more evidence, we now have eight starts of the version of Shoemaker that throws a splitter 40 percent of the time. Over those 56.2 innings (more than seven innings per start), he has a 2.38 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 67 strikeouts (10.6 K/9) against six walks (0.9 BB/9). Sitting starters in Fenway is generally a good rule, but it’s not an absolute.

CONSIDER

Chris Archer

BOS, DET

Danny Duffy

STL, @PHI

Kendall Graveman

@SF, PIT

Collin McHugh

@LAA, CHW

Daniel Mengden

@SF, PIT

CC Sabathia

TEX, @SD

Blake Snell

BOS, DET

I wish I had something better to say about Archer. He remains one of my favorite pitchers to watch and listen to, but it’s tough to recommend him in fantasy right now unless you need the strikeouts. A cFIP of 93 suggests he’s a nice target if you can buy at a discount.

If you limit Duffy’s line to just his starting appearances, he actually looks quite a bit like Archer: huge strikeout totals, poor HR/FB luck, control that comes and goes, inability to pitch deep into games. The biggest difference is that, where Archer’s run prevention numbers match his underwhelming advanced metrics, Duffy has been able to cheat his. His FIP is nearly a run higher than his ERA as a starter.

Graveman has been acceptable in deep leagues over the past month, but it’s his rotation-mate in Oakland that I’m slightly more interested in. Three starts mean very little in the grand scheme of things, and Mengden’s performance is somewhat unexpected given his minor league resume and prospect pedigree. Still, the strikeouts have been impressive even if his nine punch-out game this week came against baseball’s most strikeout-prone club. Let’s see what he can do against the Giants, who are on the other end of spectrum.

Sabtahia’s first poor outing since late April came this week against the Rockies. While contact rates are essentially unchanged from his recent history, the quality of that contact is dramatically different. He’s leaning on a newfound cutter to get in on the hands of righties, generating more infield flies than anyone in baseball save Vince Velasquez.

The strikeouts will eventually come for Snell, who struck out a full third of all the batters he faced in more than 100 Triple-A innings. Accepting the ratio risk that comes with these opponents is a tough trade-off while we’re waiting.

SIT

Marco Estrada

@COL, CLE

Kyle Gibson

@CHW, TEX

J.A. Happ

@COL, CLE

Hisashi Iwakuma

PIT, BAL

Ivan Nova

TEX, @SD

Mike Pelfrey

MIA, @TB

Eduardo Rodriguez

@TB, LAA

I’d normally have Estrada and Happ solidly in the Consider section despite my general distrust of both, but a road game at Coors and a home tilt against the Indians is about as tough as it gets for the homer-prone. I didn’t think we’d get to this point with Iwakuma in 2016. Alas, it’s time to pick your spots, and these aren’t the opponents I want to test. Both games are at Safeco, where he’s actually shown the opposite split you’d expect in each of the past two seasons.

Greg Wellemeyer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Greg's other articles. You can contact Greg by clicking here

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The Perils Of MLB's So... (06/23)
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