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June 1, 2012

Weekly Planner

Week 10

by Paul Sporer

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Kevin Millwood just keeps dominating.  He started off this week with a third straight strong outing against the Texas Rangers.  I’m not sure how he is doing it, but he is definitely on an incredible run.  And yet, I am still leery.  It was nice to see a gem from Matt Moore, and his curveball spurred the 10 strikeout performance.

I would feel fortunate to get out of Colorado with four earned runs on 10 hits if Wandy Rodriguez were on my team.  It could’ve been much worse, and there are maybe five or six pitchers in the National League I would trust in Coors Field (Kershaw, Hamels, Lee, Greinke, Gallardo and a healthy Halladay) at this point.  Bronson Arroyo has come back to Earth with a 5.01 ERA in his last four outings including four earned runs in three of them.  He is almost back to a full on sit for me. 

Options run much deeper in the NL this week; tread cautiously in the AL. 

(All categories are ranked in order of confidence)

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Auto-Starts: James Shields, Ricky Romero, and Jon Lester

I am keeping faith in Romero and Lester. The former deals with an elevated walk rate and the latter deals with a diminished strikeout rate, but both have lengthy enough track records to afford them more than 70-ish innings before removing them from their perch near the top of the American League pool.  I believe more in Romero right now, but I am willing to stand by both for at least a bit longer. 

Start
Derek Holland (@ OAK; @ SF)
Andy Pettitte (vs. TB; vs. NYM)
Jason Vargas (@ LAA; vs. LAD)
Drew Smyly (vs. CLE; @ CIN)
Jake Arrieta (@ BOS; vs. PHI)

Holland was brutalized in his last outing to the tune of eight earned in just 1 2/3 innings. You’d have thought that he was facing the Rockies at Coors Field, but it was the Mariners (albeit in Texas).  The Astros knocked him around a few outings ago too. He has been hit-or-miss this year, yielding 5, 5, 7, and 8 earned runs in four outings and 0, 0, 1, 2, 2, 2, and 3 in his other seven.  Head-to-head leaguers are loving it during the booms, and it is easier to absorb the busts in a one-week situation if your other pitchers pick up the slack; roto leaguers are none too happy, though.  I like him to rebound in two great matchups this week. 

Smyly has come back to the pack in his last four outings, allowing 15 runs in 21 innings, but his strikeout rate is still 7.0 K/9 to go with a strong 3.2 K/BB.  Home runs have been a huge issue as he’s allowed two in three of the outings.  He is a fly ball pitcher, so that is likely to be an issue all year, but if he can limit the damage to solo shots more often than not, then he remains a viable option. 

Consider
Bruce Chen (vs. MIN; @ PIT)
Philip Humber (vs. TOR; vs. HOU)
Jarrod Parker (vs. TEX; @ ARI)

Chen has been another boom-or-bust kind of guy, giving up six earned runs in three of his 11 outings and then no more than three in any of his other eight.  He has really cut his walk rate while adding a few strikeouts (resulting in a career-best 2.9 K/BB) at age 35.  His 1165-inning track record says it isn’t going to last, but I am more apt to buy into a control improvement than a strikeout improvement this late in his career. 

Sit
Scott Feldman (@ OAK; @ SF)
Ervin Santana (vs. SEA; @ COL)
Ubaldo Jimenez (@ DET; @ STL)
Cole DeVries (@ KC; vs. CHC)
Oakland Fill-in for Tyson Ross (vs. TEX; @ ARI)

If you’re in such a hole where you have to start Feldman, at least you have two favorable matchups in two favorable venues.  I only covered the NL names I would trust in Coors Field, but in case you’re wondering, Santana doesn’t make the cut in the AL.  That would be Verlander, Price, Sabathia, Hernandez, Shields, Haren, and a healthy Weaver.  Maybe C.J. Wilson too given his surging groundball rate, but just the top three Angels.  Sorry, Big Erv! (h/t Mike Siano)

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Auto-Starts: Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee, Yovani Gallardo, and Anibal Sanchez

It doesn’t get much better than this quartet.  Sanchez might be a surprising name as he is a bit underrated among big name starters, but he deserves the praise.  He is striking out a batter per inning for the second straight season while also improving his walk rate and pushing his strikeout-to-walk rate up near 4.0 in 67 innings of work. 

Unfortunately, his offense hates his guts.  They gave him the sixth-worst run support among qualified NL starters last year at 4.9 runs per game, and this year it is down to 4.5 runs per game, which checks in as the ninth-worst.  He won’t stop calling Giancarlo Stanton “Mike,” and he told Logan Morrison that his Twitter feed isn’t funny.

Start
Jeff Samardzija (@ SF; @ MIN)
Ryan Dempster (@ MIL; @ MIN)
Edwin Jackson (vs. NYM; @ BOS)
Chad Billingsley (@ PHI; @ SEA)
Tim Lincecum (@ SD; vs. TEX)
Homer Bailey (vs. PIT; vs. DET)
Kyle Lohse (@ NYM; vs. CLE)

Since giving up five earned runs in back-to-back starts in mid-April, Samardzija has run off seven straight starts, allowing three earned runs or fewer and striking out seven-plus in five of them, resulting in a 2.12 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 47 innings. 

Dempster, Samardzija’s teammate, fell victim to a homer-fest in Wrigley Field, allowing three to the San Diego Padres in his worst outing of the year.  Even with a stretch of allowing four or more runs in three starts, his season ERA is still 2.90 in 59 innings, which tells you how good he was running.  It’s just a bit of evening out in his numbers; I am not worried.

There have just been too many walks to keep Lincecum in the auto-start category, where he used to be mayor.  He has walked three or more in seven of his last eight, so while he has 48 strikeouts in those 47 innings, the 30 walks are alarming (5.7 BB/9).

Consider
Dillon Gee (@ WAS; @ NYY)
Randall Delgado (@ MIA; vs. TOR)
Ryan Vogelsong (vs. CHC; vs. TEX)
Joe Blanton (vs. LAD; @ BAL)

Gee’s composite numbers show promise with career-best strikeout, walk, and groundball rates, yielding a 3.25 xFIP despite his 4.69 ERA.  Home runs have hurt him, having allowed a pair in two different starts, both of which ended up as seven-earned-run outings.  Home runs can become a problem quickly in the Bronx, which is why I chose the more cautious “consider” tag with him, but know that he is barely behind Lohse, who just made it into the “start” column. 

Control has been Delgado’s issue this year.  He has three or more walks in eight of his 10 starts, and only once did he go walk-free.  Teams are punishing him for the free passes, and if he doesn’t remedy the matter in short order, he could lose his rotation spot; Kris Medlen was just sent down to the minors to stretch out for a starting role.  Delgado and Mike Minor are on notice.

Sit
Christian Friedrich (@ ARI; vs. LAA)
Joe Saunders (vs. COL; vs. OAK)
Lucas Harrell (vs. STL; @ CHW)
Charlie Morton (@ CIN; vs. KC)
Jeremy Hefner (vs. STL; @ NYY)
Eric Stults (@ OAK; @ SF)

Friedrich has a 10.64 ERA at home and a 2.50 ERA on the road.  If you are in a weekly transaction league where you have to take both starts to get the Arizona one, then pass.  If you can spot start, then feel free to roll him out there in Arizona.  The samples are short in both instances, and while he might not be a surefire road start, he is definitely a home sit.

There isn’t really any sort of case for any of the remaining NL “sits” unless you’re enamored with Stults’ 2.5 K/9 and 1.0 K/BB since joining San Diego.  He did have a 5.4 K/9 in his short time with the White Sox, but he still had the 1.0 K/BB too. 

COMPOSITE RANKINGS

Auto-Starts
Kershaw, Lee, Shields, Gallardo, Sanchez, Romero, and Lester

Starts
Samardzija, Dempster, Jackson, Holland, Billingsley, Lincecum, Pettitte, Vargas, Bailey, Smyly, Lohse, and Arrieta

Considers
Gee, Chen, Parker, Humber, Delgado, Vogelsong, and Blanton

Sits
Feldman, Santana, Jimenez, Friedrich, Saunders, Harrell, Morton, Hefner, DeVries, OAK Fill-In, Stults

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

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