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April 8, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Weekly Planner #2

by Craig Brown

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We’re just in the second week of the season, but it feels like the fantasy year is in full swing. This week especially, given there is a plethora of two start pitchers for those looking to stock their roster.

The recommendations here are based on the assumption you have an open roster spot on your team in a head to head league and are looking to fill it with one of the pitchers included on this list. This week, players marked with an * are owned in less than 50 percent of ESPN or Yahoo leagues. Players marked with ^ are owned in less than 20 percent of ESPN or Yahoo leagues. Remember, these are just projected starters: everything is subject to change.

Let’s jump in to the American League first...

Start

Trevor Cahill - 4/12 @ CHW, 4/17 vs. DET

Dan Haren - 4/11 vs. CLE, 4/17 @ CHW

Jeremy Hellickson - 4/11 @ BOS, 4/16 vs. MIN

*Michael Pineda - 4/11 vs. TOR, 4/16 @ KC

David Price - 4/12 @ BOS, 4/17 vs. MIN

Justin Verlander - 4/11 vs. TEX, 4/16 @ OAK

Just picking at nits here, but Verlander has struggled with his command a bit in his first two starts. For his career, he owns a 3.0 BB/9 but has issued six free passes in 14 innings, a rate of 3.9 BB/9—obviously, the small sample size disclaimer applies. His 17 whiffs are tops among pitcher who have made a pair of starts in the young season.

Consider

Dallas Braden - 4/11 @ CHW, 4/16 vs. DET

*Mark Buehrle - 4/11, vs. OAK, 4/17 vs. LAA

A.J. Burnett - 4/12 vs. BAL, 4/17 vs. TEX

^Brian Duensing - 4/12 vs. KC, 4/17 @ TB

^Jeff Francis - 4/12 @ MIN, 4/17 vs. SEA

Alexi Ogando - 4/11 @ DET, 4/17 @ NYY

Turning to his change-up more frequently yielded good results for Burnett in his first two starts of the season. He’ll jump off the waiver wire and land on some rosters for certain, but please, look before you leap. The Royals took a flier on Francis and maybe you should, too. With a 1.3 BB/9, the command is still there, but his .268 BABIP says these extreme good times won’t continue for the entire season. Still, he has a pair of good opponents this week, so I’d bet on him for at least two more starts.

You’ll continue to get the ground balls from Duensing, but the strikeouts—he has 14 in 13 innings—will slow down. He’s a decent alternative for a start at home this week and on the road against a Rays offense that has struggled in the early going. Two things you know about Braden: One, his command will be excellent. Two, he’ll be around the plate so frequently that hitters are going to get good looks at his pitches. He went seven innings in his first start, surrendered just one walk and 10 hits. Like I said, the key to his starts will always be if he can prevent the big inning.

Waiver wire hunters are all over Ogando following his debut start against the Mariners this week. As Marc Normandin pointed out, his velocity was inconsistent, but that may be from his lack of stamina or the fact he developed a small blister during the outing. Consider me among the intrigued, but the blister gives me just a touch of concern. April has not been kind to Buehrle: he has a pair of rough outings where he’s been touched for 16 hits and 9 runs in 11 innings, and has also struck out just two batters. He’s one start away from dropping into the “sit” category.

Sit

^Jesse Litsch - 4/11 @ SEA, 4/17 @ BOS

^Daisuke Matsuzaka - 4/11 vs. TB, 4/17 vs. TOR

^Mitch Talbot - 4/11 @ LAA, 4/17 vs. BAL

^Chris Tillman - 4/12 @ NYY, @ CLE

Six innings of no-hit ball got Tillman noticed, but his second start was more the true starter, where he threw a ton of pitches and failed to get through the fifth inning against the Tigers.

Looks like more of the same from Matsuzaka: tons of pitches and more than his share of walks. He surrendered three walks in his first start and needed 96 pitches to get through five innings. Last year, he averaged 105 pitches per start and averaged just over six innings in those outings. The walks have always been an issue, but beware, as his contact rate has increased every season since he made his debut in 2007. Last year, hitters touched him for an above-average 82.6 percent contact rate. I think he may have driven Marc over the edge, too.

First came the Tommy John surgery, then he went under the knife to repair his hip. For those reasons it was good to see Litsch deliver a strong first outing of 2011 (it was only his 12th start since 2009). He was never a fireballer to begin (his average fastball velocity prior to his injuries was around 89 to 90 mph) so it was good to see him throwing at his old speed. That doesn't mean it's time to trust him yet, though.

Shifting to the National League...

Start

Chad Billingsley - 4/11 @ SF, 4/16 vs. STL

Chris Carpenter - 4/12 @ ARI, 4/17 @ LAD

Tommy Hanson - 4/12 vs. FLA, 4/17 vs. NYM

Shaun Marcum - 4/12 @ PIT, 4/17 @ WAS

Marcum was unsteady in his first start after experiencing shoulder stiffness coming out of spring training, but he appeared stronger in going six innings and picked up a win against the Braves on Thursday. Start with confidence.

Consider

Madison Bumgarner - 4/11 vs. LAD, 4/17 @ ARI

Ryan Dempster - 4/11 @ HOU, 4/ 17 @ COL

Brett Myers - 4/12 vs. CHC, 4/17 vs. SD

^Tim Stauffer - 4/11 vs. CIN, 4/16 @ HOU

Edinson Volquez - 4/11 @ SD, 4/17 vs. PIT

It hasn’t been a fun start to the season for Dempster, but his command is still there (2.6 BB/9) and so are the strikeouts (8.6 SO/9)—those pesky hits are just finding space between the fielders. He has a .350 BABIP. Take a deep breath and repeat after me… “Regress to the mean.”

He struggled with his command in his first start, and didn’t have the best spring, but I have confidence Bumgarner will bounce back. Still, I remain leery of young starters with less than 300 innings of major league experience. October success means he’s overvalued (for now). A strong spring and an injury to Mat Latos bumped Stauffer into his Opening Day role, but he struggled in his second start of the season. He started last year in long relief, but entered the rotation in September and closed out the season with a 2.10 ERA in six starts. As great as his month was, it was powered by a .230 BABIP.

Myers had an interesting first start in that he failed to strikeout a batter in seven innings of work. He threw 85 pitches, but got only one swinging strike. If it’s not the home runs that kill you, it will be the walks. In his first start, Volquez served up three bombs. In his second, he kept the ball in the yard, but couldn’t find the strike zone and surrendered five walks. The resulting carnage isn’t pretty to look at, but the Reds offense supported him enough to give him a win (yes, I’m trying to look at the bright side). He draws a pair of favorable starts this week. If he doesn’t do well here, I’ll give up all hope.

Sit

^Joe Blanton - 4/12 @ WAS, 4/17 vs. FLA

^Nelson Figueroa - 4/11 vs. CHC, 4/16 vs. SD

^Jason Hammel - 4/11 @ NYM, 4/16 vs. CHC

^Livan Hernandez - 4/12 vs. PHI, 4/17 vs. MIL

^Jon Niese - 4/12 vs. COL, 4/17 @ ATL

^Mike Pelfrey - 4/11 vs. COL, 4/16 @ ATL

^Esmil Rogers - 4/12 @ NYM, 4/17 vs. CHC

^Chris Volstad - 4/12 @ ATL, 4/17 @ PHI

The Reds are going to put up some numbers this year, so under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t get too worked up over Figueroa’s 2011 debut and how it was a complete debacle. Then take into account he won the fifth starter competition in spring training and figures to move back to the bullpen in due course. A solid ground ball rate (48 percent last year) will keep Niese in games this year. Unfortunately, he’ll need to find some consistency to move up the ladder.

Hammel picked up a win—and ugly win, but a win nonetheless—in his first start of the season, coughing up a pair of long balls at home against the Dodgers. I'm just not a Blanton fan, and he doesn’t help his cause by squaring off against 25 batters in a start and retiring only 13 of them.

The only reason to ever have a starter with the skill set like Pelfry and his career 5.1 SO/9 would be if his command is so good, he could possibly help you in WHIP. Yeah…that’s not happening. Big Pelf is off to a horrific start, walking five batters and striking out three in two starts where he’s thrown a total of 6.1 innings. The low inning total is explained by his 12 hits and 12 runs allowed already.

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

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