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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

Madison Bumgarner

@PIT, PHI

Johnny Cueto

@PIT, PHI

Jose Fernandez

ATL, CHC

Clayton Kershaw

WAS, @PIT

Aaron Nola

@MIN, @SF

Stephen Strasburg

@LAD, @MIL

Noah Syndergaard

KC, @ATL

START

Jason Hammel

STL, @MIA

John Lackey

STL, @MIA

I’m tired of citing Hammel’s BABIP and strand rate, and you’re probably tired of hearing them. It’s overly simple analysis, if it even counts as analysis at all these days. But Hammel still sports a top-five strand rate (84.7 percent) and is just outside the top 10 in BABIP (.250), the combination of which has him sitting on a 2.26 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. His sinker is generating a plethora of groundballs despite losing some of its sink. I know the defense behind him is great, but I’d need more than that and an uptick in groundball rate to buy into Hammel’s sudden ability to beat luck to this extent. He’ll be perfectly serviceable even after the regression comes.

Lackey has had success against his former club, facing them twice this season and fanning 20 over 14 innings, while giving up only 10 baserunners and three runs. That’s far better than most right-handers have fared against the Cardinals, who own the second highest OPS in baseball against them (.817). As with Hammel, the Cubs’ defense has likely deflated his BABIP (.255). Unlike Hammel, Lackey is doing something noticeably better than he ever has: preventing contact. Lackey’s 72.3 percent contact rate is not just a new career best. It’s more than five percentage points better than his previous low mark (77.9 percent, 2013). Lackey’s whiff-per-swing rate is up across his entire five-pitch repertoire, substantially so in every case except his four-seamer. If this holds, the corresponding career-best strikeout rate (27.1 percent) make him a four-category stud who is bordering on auto-start status. Strange times.

CONSIDER

Archie Bradley

@PHI, @COL

Patrick Corbin

@TOR, @COL

Anthony DeSclafani

@TEX, SD

Jaime Garcia

@CHC, @SEA

Jeremy Hellickson

ARI, @SF

Juan Nicasio

SF, LAD

There’s a pretty good chance one or both of Bradley and Corbin are going to make me look bad for even considering them next week. Neither one can keep the ball in the yard, which makes plugging either one into your lineup a dicey proposition no matter the opponent and park. Given next week’s context, I wouldn’t blame you even you played it conservatively. I’ll gamble in deeper leagues; on Bradley because of his strikeout upside and on Corbin because of my own stubbornness.

It hasn’t exactly been a smooth re-entry for DeSclafani, who has allowed 14 hits and six walks in his first two starts of 2016. Miraculously, only two runs have crossed the plate. You wouldn’t really expect velocity to be affected by an oblique injury, but given the time off, it’s worth noting that his giddyup is all the way back to 2015 levels and then some. An early pitch mix that resembles the one he employed last September—vacating his changeup in favor of breakers—provides optimism that he can rediscover the strikeout mojo he working last fall. A tilt in Arlington is far from ideal, especially the way they’re thumping the ball lately, making DeSclafani nothing more than a deep and mono option next week.

Garcia has been scuffling a bit of late, turning in just two quality starts in his last six turns. He’s been victimized by the long ball during that stretch, something he’s mostly avoided throughout his professional career. I’ll play it conservatively against two squads that can slug.

This is more like the Hellickson we know and don’t love. Since the calendar turned to June, the strikeouts have dried up, he’s giving away free passes, and he had a particularly bad outing where he got blown up by the Nationals for seven runs over a half-dozen innings. The results on his curveball are the only thing that hasn’t deteriorated as the season has marched towards summer. He’ll need to double down on the early-season usage spike to stay relevant outside of deep leagues.

Nicasio made through all of one inning the last time out, facing nine batters (i.e., they did not bat around), and surrendering six runs. Suffice it to say I’m not thrilled about advocating him on the heels of that outing. That said, Nicasio does have home matchups on tap against two of the worst offenses in the league over the last month by OPS. The Giants aren’t prone to strike out, potentially nullifying the one category for which you can typically count on Nicasio. Both clubs like to take a walk, potentially exacerbating his greatest liability. Wait, why is he here, again?

SIT

Chad Bettis

@NYY, ARI

Jorge De La Rosa

@MIA, ARI

Jeff Locke

SF, LAD

Justin Nicolino

COL, CHC

Bud Norris

@MIA, NYM

Luis Perdomo

@BAL, @CIN

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Chris Sale

@BOS, TOR

START

Doug Fister

LAA, @KC

Sonny Gray

MIL, @LAA

Josh Tomlin

TB, @DET

Justin Verlander

SEA, CLE

Steven Wright

CHW, @TEX

If Fister had been able to get one more out on May 24th, he’d be working on a string of 11 consecutive quality starts. That’s surprising to me. I’d guess it’s surprising to you too, unless you’re already a Fister owner. Of course, there’s plenty of room to be bad in a quality start, a stat that only requires you to pitch to a 4.50 ERA and exhibit mild endurance. Fister’s 1.18 WHIP during that stretch tells a much truer story of his underlying performance than his 2.60 ERA, and his 4.78 FIP tells a truer story still. Fister has only punched out 42 against 24 walks in those 69.1 innings, has given up nine bombs, and has been extraordinarily lucky on with respect to run prevention and balls in play. The deterioration in his walk rate is especially problematic, since it once provided the ratio stability and mid-rotation floor that Fister’s fantasy value depended on. This thing is going to come unraveled soon, though I don’t think it’s going to be this week against two light-hitting clubs.

Gray’s first two starts after a couple weeks on the disabled list were a welcome sight for owners who stuck by him. He gave up three earned runs over 12.2 innings, striking out nine. In his third, Gray was roughed up against a hot Rangers club. Perhaps most importantly, Gray hasn’t walked more than a single batter in his three June starts, after walking 4.5 batters per nine innings before hitting the DL. Gray’s never been a control artist, but an 11 percent walk rate just doesn’t work. His current cFIP of 107 is a big departure from last year’s 79, but it indicates that a much better pitcher lurks beneath the ugly 5.54 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. Good on you if you took the opportunity to buy low.

It’s fortuitous that Tomlin comes up next on the list, as he’s also sitting on a 107 cFIP. So, our advanced metrics think Tomlin, he of the 3.27 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and current top-ten fantasy ranking among junior circuit starters, is fundamentally similar to Gray, who ranks a notch above Jered Weaver on ESPN’s Player Rater. I suppose that means we see regression coming. Tomlin’s strikeout rate has faded by six percentage points since last year and he’s gonna get whiplash something fierce if he doesn’t stop giving up so many gopher balls. There’s only so much damage they can do, though, when there aren’t runners on. Second only to Kershaw in walk rate, Tomlin is keeping the bases clean. Give me Gray over Tomlin the rest of the way, but I think Tomlin will be plenty useful.

There’s not much that needs to be said about Verlander. His strikeout rate is the highest it’s been since 2009. You’re starting him.

Hi, I’m Greg, the last holdout on Steven Wright, a guy who’s given up three or more runs only thrice in 13 starts and keeps the company of bona fide aces on the contact rate leaderboard.

CONSIDER

Kevin Gausman

@TEX, TB

Nate Karns

@DET, STL

James Paxton

@DET, STL

Drew Smyly

@CLE, @BAL

The strikeouts haven’t been there for Gausman, but he’s been passable in most starts against teams that aren’t the Red Sox. Neither the Rangers nor the Rays are the Red Sox.

If you enjoy a maximum of six innings of high-strikeout, where-the-hell-is-the-ball-going baseball, I encourage you to start either or both of these Mariners. (Yes, I’m aware that Paxton has been in the zone more than he has in years past.)

Smyly’s season went off the rails there for about a month before he righted it by striking out 12 Mariners over 6.2 innings on Wednesday. He gave up four hits and no walks in the no-decision. The strikeouts are fun, I get it, but this is the kind of profile I tend to stay away from because there is too much ratio variance without excellent command of elite stuff. Smyly’s 50.7 percent flyball rate is the highest in baseball and it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the 15 home runs he’s allowed are tied for fourth most (Weaver, Scherzer, Kennedy). Look for next week’s opponents to help him make a run at Weaver.

SIT

Jhoulys Chacin

@HOU, OAK

Tyler Duffey

PHI, @NYY

Miguel Gonzalez

@BOS, TOR

Derek Holland

BAL, BOS

Mike Pelfrey

SEA, CLE

Eduardo Rodriguez

CHW, @TEX

Hector Santiago

@HOU, OAK

Tyler Wilson

SD, TB