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April 29, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Weekly Planner #5

by Craig Brown

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It’s a two start bonanza this week as a total of 41 pitchers will take to the mound a pair of times. There are bound to be some quality starters available in your league. Sometimes, the quantity makes the decision making process a little more difficult. Hopefully, this article will help you separate the strong from the weak.

As always, the starters listed here are tentative and subject to change. Those noted with a * are owned in less than 50 percent of ESPN or Yahoo leagues. Those with a ^ next to their name are owned in less than 20 percent of those leagues.

We begin, as usual, in the American League...

Start

Josh Beckett - 5/2 vs. LAA, 5/7 vs. MIN

Wade Davis - 5/3 vs. TOR, 5/8 @ BAL

Dan Haren - 5/3 @ BOS, 5/8 vs. CLE

Jon Lester - 5/3 vs. LAA, 5/8 vs. MIN

CC Sabathia - 5/3 @ DET, 5/8 @ TEX

Justin Verlander - 5/2 vs. NYY, 5/7 @ TOR

The Tuesday tilt between Lester and Haren qualifies as the match-up of the week.

Consider

^Bartolo Colon - 5/2 @ DET, 5/7 @ TEX

^Jeremy Guthrie - 5/2 @ CHW, 5/7 vs. TB

^Derek Holland - 5/2 @ OAK, 5/7 vs. NYY

*Brandon McCarthy - 5/2 vs. TEX, 5/7 @ KC

Alexi Ogando - 5/3 @ SEA, 5/8 vs. NYY

*Josh Tomlin - 5/3 @ OAK, 5/8 @ LAA

There is a lot to like about Holland, namely an improved walk rate (2.84 BB/9) and ground ball rate (48 percent). Still, it feels a little odd to place him here, given that in each of his last three starts he has surrendered five runs. It’s all about the peripherals, and there he is looking strong. Plus, (last start excluded) he is pitching deep into games. Owners are catching onto McCarthy, who has seen almost a 20 percent increase in ownership in ESPN leagues (and with good reason). His control (1.02 BB/9) has been stellar and his 48 percent ground ball rate is the best of his career. And even if his GB rate regresses, he is still pitching in a friendly home park.

Wins have been difficult to come by for Guthrie, but the fault lies on his teammates for that. His command has been impeccable at 1.1 BB/9. While he has been pitching well, don’t grow too fond of that 2.53 ERA as it’s built on the shaky foundation of an 85 percent strand rate. Owners have taken note of Tomlin’s lack of base runners and have acted accordingly. Hope they don’t get too attached as his .179 BABIP and 92 percent strand rate won’t allow for a sub-3 ERA for much longer.

Last time I made a joke about Colon’s girth. This time, let’s say we’re two starts in and he has been impressive. This week’s competition is a bit more powerful. Detroit averages 4.33 runs per game and the Rangers plate 5.25 R/G. Speaking of Texas, Ogando is still in the rotation, despite their need for relief arms. The fly balls are starting to catch up as he has allowed four home runs in his last two starts.

Sit

^Erik Bedard - 5/3 vs. TEX, 5/8 vs. CHW

^Brad Bergesen - 5/3 @ KC, 5/8 vs. TB

^Mark Buehrle - 5/2 vs. BAL, 5/8 @ SEA

^Tyler Chatwood - 5/2 @ BOS, 5/7 vs. CLE

^Jeff Francis - 5/3 vs. BAL, 5/8 vs. OAK

^Brad Penny - 5/3 vs. NYY, 5/8 @ TOR

^Jo-Jo Reyes - 5/3 @ TB, 5/8 vs. DET

^Tyson Ross - 5/3 vs. CLE, 5/8 @ KC

Long time readers know the surest way to land in this category is to post a SO/BB ratio less than one. Chatwood’s 0.67 SO/BB ratio along with his 1.5 HR/9 makes him a stone cold lock for this category. Buehrle has pitched a little bit better than his 5.12 ERA would indicate, but his lack of strikeouts and the fact he has been leaving the ball up in the zone with alarming regularity so far this season make him a risky play. There are better options.

He doesn’t strikeout anyone and Francis has been abused by opposing hitters his last two times out. Bergesen has been betrayed by a 59 percent strand rate. Unfortunately, even accounting for a positive regression, he is not worth the risk. Everyone is battering Reyes. In this week’s small sample size stat, left-handed batters are hitting .368/.520/.526 against him. Penny has been much better in his two starts at home than on the road. But the Yankees come calling this week.

Bedard is coming off his best start of the season where he racked up 12 ground balls and didn’t walk a batter over seven innings. I still need to see more before he can be considered for consistent fantasy work.

On to the NL...

Start

Tommy Hanson - 5/3 vs. MIL, 5/8 @ PHI

Clayton Kershaw - 5/2 vs. CHC, 5/8 @ NYM

Kyle Lohse - 5/2 vs. FLA, 5/7 vs. MIL

Roy Oswalt - 5/3 vs. WAS, 5/8 vs. ATL

Anibal Sanchez - 5/3 @ STL, 5/8 vs. WAS

Hope you already moved on Lohse. His stock is up over 55 percent in the last seven days at ESPN. Hopefully Sanchez can move past his last outing (five IP, three runs vs. the Dodgers) and deliver something more pleasing to fantasy owners. Perhaps it was the hangover of throwing 123 pitches in his one-hitter the start prior.

Consider

*Madison Bumgarner - 5/2 @ WAS, 5/7 vs. COL

Yovani Gallardo - 5/3 @ ATL, 5/8 @ STL

Aaron Harang - 5/2 vs. PIT, 5/8 vs. ARI

Jair Jurrjens - 5/2 vs. MIL, 5/7 @ PHI

^Mike Leake - 5/2 vs. HOU, 5/8 @ CHC

Kyle McClellan - 5/3 vs. FLA, 5/8 vs. MIL

Since throwing 111 pitches in his second start of the season (a complete game shutout against the Braves) Gallardo has struggled. His velocity looks good, but he is not missing bats. For the season, he is getting a swing and a miss in 6.9 percent of his pitches, down from his career rate of 8.6 percent. The result is a rise in his contact rate to 84 percent. I’m not sold on Jurrjens. His strikeouts are down—5.7 K/9 versus a career 6.4 K/9 and he has lost about two mph off his average fastball. Plus, his 93 percent strand rate is way too high. I’ll forego the obvious Law and Order joke and instead note that through his first five starts of this season, Leake is matching almost exactly what he did in his rookie campaign.

Harang was in this space last week, but saw his start pushed back a day which makes him a two-start pitcher for this week. He is still going exactly six innings per start, but after not allowing a home run in his first 24 innings, he was bombed for three in his last outing. Bumgarner has been a disappointment, but he is pitching much better than his gaudy 6.17 ERA would indicate. His GB rate has remained unchanged from last season at 45 percent, but his strand rate has plummeted to 63 percent. He’ll be fine. I still like McClellan, but his 90 percent strand rate is still too high in the stratosphere to make me feel entirely comfortable.

Sit

^Marco Estrada - 5/2 @ ATL, 5/7 @ STL

^R.A. Dickey - 5/3 vs. SF, 5/8 vs. LAD

^Tom Gorzelanny - 5/2 vs. SF, 5/7 @ FLA

^J.A. Happ - 5/2 @ CIN, 5/8 @ PIT

^Livan Hernandez - 5/3 @ PHI, 5/8 @ FLA

^James McDonald - 5/2 @ SD, 5/8 vs. HOU

^Esmil Rogers - 5/3 @ ARI, 5/8 @ SF

^James Russell - 5/2 @ LAD, 5/8 vs. CIN

^Joe Saunders - 5/3 vs. COL, 5/8 @ SD

^Chris Volstad - 5/2 @ STL, 5/7 vs. WAS

At the start of the season, I had McDonald pegged as a deep sleeper and was actually perturbed when he was snapped up in my NL-only league. You know how they say the best moves are sometimes the ones you don’t make? Whew. Strikeouts are way down, walks are way up and the ball is flying out of the yard. Yes, he tossed six shutout innings against San Francisco this week, but he still allows the ball to be hit in the air far too often. In that start he walked four and whiffed three while allowing 11 fly balls against seven grounders--lucky.

Trending very strongly to the fly ball side with 54 percent of all balls in play going in the air, Gorzelanny has predictably been bitten by the home run bug. He has coughed up four in just 22 innings of work. If everything breaks according to schedule, Estrada is in line for a pair of starts. Since he has pinballed between the rotation and the bullpen, he is far from a sure thing.

The difference between the ’10 version of Dickey and this year’s model? Control. He is walking 4.1 batters per nine. Unless he cuts that out, don’t expect much movement in his 1.55 WHIP. Is it any wonder Saunders has looked his best (relatively speaking) against the Mets and Cubs. Could I interest you in a start against the Padres? Didn’t think so.

Inconsistency has dogged Hernandez in the young season. He has had three starts where he hasn’t walked a batter, and two starts where he has walked four or more. Same old story for Happ: far too many walks (4.5 BB/9) to be effective. Here is the question on Russell: Why? One of April’s great mysteries is how Rogers has three wins, despite a 6.33 ERA and 1.69 WHIP. Just because it’s a mystery doesn’t mean you need to try to solve it.

Finally, a mathematical equation to remember while surfing the waiver wire this week: Walks + Home Runs = Volstad.

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:  Erik Estrada

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