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May 21, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Weekly Planner #8

by Craig Brown

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The quality this week is in the American League where only five starters are owned by fewer than 50% of owners in ESPN or Yahoo leagues.  Slim pickings mean you really have to hunt for the gems.  There's at least one in this bunch, maybe two...  Quite a few of the starters in the NL this week are available in those leagues giving you plenty of options if you're looking to add a pitcher or two.

The starters come courtesy of Heater Magazine and, as always, are subject to change.  You can download the weekly pdf here.

Start
A.J. Burnett - @ MIN, vs CLE
*Brett Cecil - @ LAA, vs BAL
John Danks - @ CLE, @ TB
Douglas Fister - vs DET, @ LAA
Jon Lester - @ TB, vs KC
James Shields - vs BOS, vs CHA
Justin Verlander - @ SEA, vs OAK

Danks has yet to surrender more than three runs in a start.  This is a minor consolation, but he leads the AL in Tough Losses (losses where the starter threw a quality start) with three.  His start against the Rays doesn’t bother me so much as Tampa is hitting just .245 as a team against left-handed starters.  Over 82% of all plate appearances against Fister end up with the ball in play.  With a 1.6 GB/FB ratio, most of those end up on the ground and with Seattle’s infield defense, that adds up to a ton of outs and a league best 0.91 WHIP.

Cecil’s 4.98 ERA is elevated thanks to the stinker of a start against the Rangers last week where he allowed eight runs in two innings.  Throw out that one and he has a 3.06 ERASIERA almost splits the difference at 3.63.   He has a pair of favorable starts this week against Baltimore (3.4 R/G) and Los Angeles (4.1 R/G), teams that have two of the three lowest OBPs in the league. The difference between the two teams is the steals - the Angels have 28 steals in 43 attempts while the Orioles have 11 steals in 22 attempts.  The left-handed Cecil with only 1 SB attempted against him this year can neutralize the Angels running game.

Given the opposition, Burnett is my odds on favorite to pick up two wins this week.  Shields leads the AL with a 5.4 K/BB ratio and strikeouts with 66.  He's whiffing 9.7 hitters per nine.   It looks like Verlander put his rough start behind him. He owns a 1.26 ERA and 32 strikeouts over his last 35 innings covering five starts. Lester’s walk rate has dropped over his last several starts, which means he’s about to go on a tear.  His first start comes against Tampa who battered him for seven runs earlier this year, but his second comes against the Royals and Meche.

Consider
Scott Baker - vs NYA, vs TEX
Dallas Braden - @ BAL, @ DET
Clay Buchholz - @ TB, vs KC
Wade Davis - vs BOS, vs CHA
*Jeremy Guthrie - vs OAK, vs TOR
Jake Peavy - @ CLE, @ TB
*Joe Saunders - vs TOR, vs SEA

A 5.02 SIERA gives me reason to pause when it comes to Davis.  That, and his 1.4 K/BB ratio.  However, hitters just aren’t making solid contact against him - he has just a 15% line drive rate against - and it’s down to 10% in his four May starts.  Hitters own a slash line of .239/.330/.405 against him with a .260 BABIP.   A few weeks after writing Peavy off, he's punched out 30 hitters in 29 innings this month while walking only four. He has a pair of road starts this week.  Even when he was struggling, he pitched well against Cleveland.  It's the start in Tampa that concerns me.

Buchholz walk rate exploded to 4.2 BB/9 thanks to back to back outings against the Yankees and Tigers where he totaled 10 free passes in 11 innings.  Incidentally, those are two of the most patient teams in the league.  He seemed to find his rhythm in his last start against the Twins though - another team who piles up the walks.  He lands in this group because he draws a pair of difficult assignments this week - first against Tampa (5.4 R/G) and later in the week against the Royals who will send Zack Greinke to the mound. Braden lasted just six innings in his last start, but that was due to suffering from the flu.  He has surrendered just two walks in 30 innings this month.  However, he’s on the road for both starts this week where his career ERA is one run higher.  This year the split is even more pronounced as he owns a 2.14 ERA in five starts in Oakland and a 6.50 ERA in three road starts.

Baker owns a career 5.15 ERA against the Yankees and a 5.25 ERA against the Rangers.  He’s been scuffling lately, with a 5.65 ERA in his last six starts where opponents have been hitting .307/.342/.503 against him.  Exquisite control is keeping Guthrie in play.  He’s walking 1.5 batters per nine (third lowest rate in the AL) and has yet to walk more than two in a start and his opponents this week are both below league average in drawing walks.  Unfortunately, the Orioles are only 2-7 in his starts this year.  His offense is scoring only 3.6 runs per game for him. 

Saunders is one of those guys I struggle to write about… There isn’t one thing he does especially well and there isn’t one thing he does especially poorly.  He’s been on a bit of a roll lately, posting a 0.81 ERA over his last 22.1 IP (covering his last three starts) but he has nine walks during that time frame. He’s been keeping the ball in the park lately, so most of those free passes haven’t come back to burn him.  Both his starts come at home this week and until his shutout back on May 14th, he had been struggling at the Big A.

Sit
*Justin Masterson - vs CHA @ NYA
*Gil Meche - vs TEX, @ BOS

Meche, who missed time with arm and shoulder issues last year has thrown 350 pitches in his last three starts - an average of 117 pitches per outing.  His control still isn’t there - he’s walking 6.5 hitters per nine and the opposition is battering him to the tune of a .302 BA.  To top it off, only 10% of his strikes are the swing and miss variety.  And he’s starting against two of the highest scoring offenses in the AL.  Did I convince you?

Masterson is getting almost four outs on the ground for every one out he obtains through the air.  That’s a fantastic ratio, but he’s still allowing far too many baserunners, walking five batters per nine and his 1.81 WHIP is second worst in the AL.  The damage the Yankees could potentially do to his stats far outweighs the success he could have against the White Sox.

Recommendations
Cecil is going to have a big week.  Among players widely available in the AL, he and Guthrie are your best bets.

On to the NL...


Start
Jaime Garcia - @ SD, @ CHN
Jon Garland - vs STL, vs WAS
*Aaron Harang - vs PIT, vs HOU
*Ian Kennedy - @ COL, @ SF
Mike Leake - vs PIT, vs HOU

Just so you know, I’m fully onboard the Garcia bandwagon. As far as I know, I’m driving the thing.  So could the Cardinals get the guy some runs?  In four of his eight starts, St. Louis has scored one run or less.  The control (3.7 BB/9) is solid, but it’s the ground ball rate (60% of all batted balls have been on the ground) that catches the eye.  His 86% strand rate is a little on the unsustainable side, but with the ground balls, it shouldn’t tumble too far.  

Marc Normandin buys into Garland’s fantastic start because he’s keeping the ball down in the strike zone and getting ground balls 50% of the time.  With a solid Padre defense behind him, I can get onboard with that logic.  Especially this week, when he has two starts at home where he has a 1.08 ERA.  Although I would like to know why his home strikeout rate is 2.9 K/9 while his road rate is 7.4 K/9. Both rates are wildly divergent from his career 4.7 K/9. Is it because he’s pitching more to contact at home, knowing he’s throwing in a pitchers park?  

Harang has pitched much better than his 6.02 ERA indicates.  His control (1.6 BB/9) has been outstanding but he’s been hurt by a .361 BABIP and an 11.6% HR/FB rate.  Both his BABIP and home run rate should eventually drop.  He has a pair of starts at home this week though, and we know how the ball travels in Cincinnati.  Having said that, I really like his match-ups. (Pittsburgh and Houston)  He’s worth the starts this week.  His teammate Leake just keeps rolling along.  Hat tip to Dusty Baker, who takes a ton of grief for how he handles his young pitchers, for limiting his pitch count.  He’s topped 100 pitches in just three starts with a high of 106.  Usually, I stay away from young pitchers, but I find myself bending my rules here.  Especially this week as he’s making starts against the Pirates and Astros.

I don’t know why more owners aren’t on Kennedy, who has thrown one bad start out of nine this season.  His 0.67 GB/FB ratio means he’ll yield his share of home runs - he has a 1.4 HR/9 and a 10.1% HR/FB rate - but a walk rate of 2.5 BB/9 helps minimize the damage.  Of the nine long balls he’s surrendered this year, six have been solo shots.  He has a couple of good match-ups this week against Chacin in Colorado and Wellemeyer and the Giants at home.

Consider
*R.A. Dickey - vs PHI, vs MIL
Livan Hernandez - @ SF, @ SD
*Kenshin Kawakami - @ FLA, vs PIT
*Jamie Moyer - @ NYN, @ FLA
*Anibal Sanchez - vs ATL, vs PHI

I know some people who have a knuckleball fetish.  It’s OK to admit it.  That fetish is a reason you could justify picking up Dickey this week.  Actually, I look at the match-ups (vs Moyer and vs Wolf) and think he could pick up a pair of wins this week.  It’s just the unpredictable nature of the knuckleball makes him so… unpredictable.

That 5.46 SIERA keeps staring me in the face, daring me not to pick him, but I’m through trying to predict when the Hernandez crash is coming.  Especially this week when he has starts in San Francisco and San Diego.   What’s more shocking… Old Man Moyer’s 4.30 ERA or the fact that SIERA has him at 4.58?  His 1.7 HR/9 is second highest in the league which certainly isn’t good, but his 1.5 BB/9 is the best he’s ever been.  He’s worth considering this week because he has always pitched well in Florida - in nine career starts he has eight wins and a 1.66 ERA - and you know the Philadelphia bats will give him plenty of support.

With a .300 BABIP, Kawakami seems to have settled into his comfort zone. His 4.78 SIERA against his 4.98 ERA seems to agree.  He's lowered his contact rate, so he's earned an upgrade on the Planner. He’s a bit unlucky to be 0-6 though.  The Braves have been shutout in two of his starts (one was the Ubaldo Jiminez no-hitter) and have scored three runs or fewer six times when he’s taken the mound.  Another who has successfully dodged the long ball is Sanchez, who’s surrendered just one in 49 innings.  His HR/FB rate won’t stay at 1.5% all year and his 4.33 SIERA reflects the potential damage.  Also, his strikeout rate has tumbled.  After posting a 8.7 K/9 in 2008, he dropped to 7.4 K/9 last summer and currently sits at 6.6 K/9.  Despite the warning signs, he’s a "consider" this week because of his starts against Kawakami and Moyer.

Sit
*Brian Burres - @ CIN, @ ATL
*Jhoulys Chacin - vs ARI, vs LAN
*Tom Gorzelanny - vs LAN, vs STL
*Paul Maholm - @ CIN, @ ATL
*Ramon Ortiz - @ CHN, @ COL
*Felipe Paulino - @ MIL, @ Cin
*Todd Wellemeyer - vs WAS, vs ARI
*Randy Wolf - vs HOU, vs NYN

If you want to know how thin the pitching situation is in Los Angeles, look no further than Ortiz.  Out of the majors for two years, he makes the roster as a reliever then gets pushed into the starting rotation.  “There’s really nobody (to use) other than him,” said his manager Joe Torre.  I haven’t heard an endorsement like that since Ike torpedoed Nixon in 1960. There's less than a 50% chance he makes both starts this week.

Burres was expected to move back to the pen once Ross Ohlendorf returned from the DL.  Ohlendorf is back and instead it was Jeff Karstens who was squeezed out.  Burres won the job by throwing 12 scoreless innings in back to back starts.  Since then, he’s surrendered eight runs in 10 innings.  In a nutshell, he’s another soft-tossing lefty (5.3 K/9) who doesn’t have enough control (4.6 BB/9) to overcome his fly ball tendencies (0.58 GB/FB). As a fifth starter, he has a tenuous hold on the position, even in a Pirate rotation that owns a 6.00 ERA.

Gorzelanny’s status is uncertain after taking a line drive of the pitching hand in his last start against the Phillies.  With a 3.09 ERA, a 3.37 SIERA and a 65% ball in play rate, he would have been a “consider” if that hadn’t happened.  

Walks are way up for Paulino.  After walking 3.4 per nine last year, he’s up to 5.4 BB/9.  Those are a lot of free base runners which really hurts since the opposition is hitting just .234 against him and he’s allowed just one home run in 45 innings this year.  He’s at Milwaukee and Cincinnati this week, two of the NL’s best launching pads.  Once the home run rate goes up (and it will go up) I fear for his ERA.  Home runs are already a problem for Wolf, who owns a 1.5 HR/9.  So are walks, hits and just about everything else.

After I wrote glowingly about Chacin, he put up back to back stink bombs where he allowed nine runs and six walks in 10 innings.  He has a pair of starts against two of the best offenses in the NL this week.  Over 73% of all plate appearances against Mahaolm end with the ball in play, which isn’t a good thing given the Pirates rank second from the bottom in defensive efficiency.  There’s talk the Giants are looking to replace Wellemeyer in the rotation.   When 5% of all plate appearances end with the ball flying over the outfield wall, that happens.

Recommendations
After Kennedy has a big week, his ownership will undoubtedly shoot up past the 50% threshold, so grab him while you can.  Harang is worth a look as well.

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

Related Content:  Back,  The Who,  R.A. Dickey,  Unpredictable

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Premium Article Prospectus Hit List: T... (05/20)
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