Plenty of quality among two start pitchers for next week, but most of it is already claimed in the American League.  If you’re hunting for gems, you’ll need to turn your focus to the Senior Circuit where there are a few who are owned in 50% or fewer of ESPN or Yahoo mixed leagues (as indicated by an asterisk.)

As usual, the list is provided by Heater Magazine and is subject to change.  We’ll try to keep things updated in the comments as the weekend rolls along.  You can download a color-coded pdf of all starters listed in this article, which could be helpful when you’re plotting strategy ahead of week number 17 in the fantasy season.  

Clay Buchholz – @ LAA, vs DET
John Danks – vs SEA, vs OAK
Gavin Floyd – vs SEA, vs OAK
Zack Greinke – vs MIN, vs BAL
Felix Hernandez – @ CHA, @ MIN
Cliff Lee – vs OAK, @ LAA
Colby Lewis – vs OAK, @ LAA
Francisco Liriano – @ KC, vs SEA
Brandon Morrow – vs BAL, vs CLE
CC Sabathia – @ CLE, @ TB
Max Scherzer – @ TB, @ BOS
James Shields – vs DET, vs NYA
Justin Verlander – @ TB, @ BOS

As the season has progressed, Buchholz’s strikeout rate has dropped while his ground ball rate has increased.  It’s not enough to move him out of the “start” category for next week, but it’s something to think about as the major league innings pile up in the next two months.  

Scherzer owns a 2.54 ERA since returning from his brief minor league exile at the end of May.  His strikeout rate of 10.5 K/9 over that time is second only to Liriano who is punching out 10.7 K/9.  Speaking of the Twins starter, he also possesses the best SIERA of this bunch at 2.89.  Meanwhile, Morrow has the largest difference of 1.22 between his real ERA and SIERA and still leads the AL with a strikeout rate of 10.0 K/9.

*Dallas Braden – @ TEX, @ CHA
Matt Garza – vs DET, vs NYY
Joel Pineiro – vs BOS, vs TEX
Javier Vazquez – @ CLE, @ TB

Garza is downgraded due to a rough last couple of months where he’s put up an unsightly 6.60 ERA while allowing nine home runs (including four in his last start against Baltimore) in his last 44 innings.  Opponents are hitting .299 against him and he has a 1.51 WHIP in this stretch.  Pineiro suffers a similar fate this week because of a pair of difficult head to head match-ups.  Still love the 55% ground ball rate and the 2.2 BB/9, though.  If he wasn’t facing the top pitchers on two teams with the AL’s top offenses, he’d probably be in the “start” category.

Braden returned this week after missing a month with a sore elbow and racked up 94 pitches in under five innings.  He’s been the definition of mediocre since his perfect game back in May, but sometimes mediocre can provide some results.  Both his starts come on the road this week where he career ERA of 4.95 in 34 starts is almost a full run higher than his home ERA of 4.04.  Vazquez has more than overcome his rough first five starts of the season.  Over his last 77 innings, he has a 3.16 ERA while limiting opponents to a .201 BA.  That’s all good, but his continued decreased velocity (he’s averaging 89 mph with his fastball after regularly hitting 91 mph last year) and his 34% ground ball rate keep me unconvinced.   His .258 BABIP is begging for a correction as well.

*Brad Bergesen – @ TOR, @ KC
*Bruce Chen – vs MIN, vs BAL
*Justin Masterson – vs NYA, @ TOR
*Ryan Rowland-Smith – @ CHA, @ MIN

Masterson has improved his control (a 2.8 BB/9 over his last eight starts) yet still struggles with the “big” hit as his ERA over that time is a gaudy 5.02.  For every good start, he throws three stinkers.  His 3.66 SIERA and 63% ground ball rate look promising, but the Indians rank second to last in the AL in Defensive Efficiency. If you really want a starter who “pitches to contact” look no further than Bergesen.  Now that Nick Blackburn and his 93% contact rate has been banished to the bullpen, no starter in the AL can top Bergesen’s 89%.  Somehow, he struck out seven hitters in his last start which pushed his strikeout to walk ratio to 1.2 SO/BB.

Velocity was still down for Millwood in his first start since his return from the DL with a forearm strain.  Be wary.  Chen is mixing up his arm slot and that’s keeping hitters off balance.  As a starter, he’s holding the opposition to a .256 BA while posting a strikeout rate of 7.3 K/9.  He would be a “consider,” but he can barely last five innings per start.  Come on, Chen!

To the NL…

Matt Cain – vs FLA, vs LAN
Jaime Garcia – @ NYN, vs PIT
*Jon Garland – vs LAN, vs FLA
Cole Hamels – vs ARI, @ WAS
*Jason Hammel – @ PHI, vs CHN
Dan Haren – @ PHI, @ NYN
Tommy Hanson – @ WAS, @ CIN
Josh Johnson – @ SF, @ SD
*Jonathon Niese – vs STL, vs ARI
Ricky Nolasco – @ SF, @ SD
Stephen Strasburg – vs ATL, vs PHI

Yep, still on the Garcia bandwagon.  For now.  He missed all of 2009 after having Tommy John surgery and his ground ball rates have been decreasing each month since the start of the season.  Plus, his 81% strand rate can’t possibly stay this elevated.  The warning signs are there…  Time to think about a trade.  After a difficult start to the season, Hammel has been brilliant since the beginning of June, throwing 67 innings with a 2.70 ERA and 1.21 WHIP.  His 3.73 SIERA suggests there’s still room for improvement.

Cain is an extreme fly ball pitcher who can get away with it because of his home yard where it remains difficult to hit one over the fence.  He’s never had a HR/FB rate greater than 6.7% and is currently at 5.0% HR/FB.  He draws a pair of home starts where he has a 2.63 ERA in nine games this year.  Two more starts at home for Garland, where he has a 53% ground ball rate and is stranding 81% of all runners while limiting opponents to a .222 BANolasco has a 3.61 ERA in his last seven starts.

Keep the faith on Hanson, who has been a bit unlucky with a .348 BABIP.  Walks are down, strikeouts are up and he’s keeping the ball in the yard.

Bronson Arroyo – @ MIL, vs ATL
Chad Billingsley – @ SD, @ SF
Carlos Silva – @ HOU, @ COL
Barry Zito – vs FLA, vs LAN

Arroyo hasn’t whiffed more than four batters in an appearance since June 6 – a stretch covering eight starts.  Yet, he’s picked up five wins and posted a 3.69 ERA over that time.  He draws a pair of difficult offenses this week as the Brewers and Braves rank three and four, respectively, in the NL in runs scored per game.

Since returning from the DL, Billingsley has made five starts, four of which have been very good.  Still, where are the strikeouts?  He’s whiffed just three batters over his last 13 innings.  Another reason to be cautious – He’s coming off a shutout where he threw a career high 125 pitches.  Zito continues to confound, but his BABIP is slowly creeping back toward normal (for him.)  The ERA will creep right along.

Would it kill Silva to last longer than an inning and a third?  The way he's thrown of late, maybe he's doing us a favor.

*Joe Blanton – vs COL, @ WAS
*Jorge De La Rosa – vs PIT, vs CHN
*Zach Duke – @ COL, @ STL
*Randy Wolf – vs CIN, @ HOU

Control remains an issue for de la Rosa, even after returning from his finger injury that sidelined him for two months.  Plus, home runs are now a problem.  This week, he faces a pair of teams that hit left-handed starters much better than their right-handed counterparts.  Speaking of control, nobody in the NL has walked more hitters than Wolf.  

If Duke had the innings to qualify – he’s three innings short – his 1.65 WHIP would be the worst mark in the NL.  I realize Blanton’s 4.35 SIERA is much lower than his 6.03 ERA but I’m not convinced he can improve on his 1.48 WHIP and 5.9 SO/9.  He could shave a few tenths off that ERA, but that’s about it.

Thank you for reading

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Hi Craig - I'm chasing wins...who do you like better this week: Scherzer or Garza? Thanks.
Forget wins... Scherzer now!
Geez, thanks.