The Planner arrives today with a heavy heart upon hearing the news of the impending Tommy John surgery for Stephen Strasburg.  Fortunately, the success of guys like Francisco Liriano prove this won’t necessarily impede his path to greatness.  It just delays the timetable.  

On to happier thoughts:  For those of you in head to head leagues with a four week playoff, this is the final week for you to make a charge (or hold your position) so it’s imperative you choose your starters wisely.  There is plenty of quality that should be available in your leagues… Including three young pitchers in the National League who have piqued my interest as we roll into the final leg of the season. 

As always, this list is provided by the gang at Heater Magazine and is subject to change.  For the purposes of our exercise the week runs Monday through Sunday.  Players marked with an asterisk are available in more than 50% of ESPN or Yahoo leagues.  As an additional aid, you can download a pdf of the starters.  Good luck!

Mark Buehrle – @ CLE, @ BOS
Trevor Cahill – @ NYA, vs LAA
*Brett Cecil – @ TB, @ NYA
*Brian Duensing – vs DET, vs TEX
Dan Haren – @ SEA, @ OAK
Felix Hernandez – vs LAA, vs CLE
C.J. Wilson – @ KC, @ MIN

Yep, that .217 BABIP for Cahill is unsustainable.  His 1.84 ERA in 78 home innings is shiny, too.  What this means for you today – start him.  Tomorrow, don’t overvalue him in your prep for next season.  Pitchers like Buehrle are fine if only because over the course of 32 starts you know almost exactly what you’re going to receive.  SIERA isn’t wild about him, pegging him at 4.97, but he does own a 2.87 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over his previous 14 starts dating back to mid June.  

Duensing has a 2.66 ERA as a starter with a 1.5 BB/9 and 0.7 HR/9.  Both starts come at home this week where he’s pitched very well this year.  On the other hand, it's a pair of difficult starts on the road for Cecil this week, but he’s more than held his own against AL East competition this season.  In nine starts covering 66 innings against his division rivals he owns a 2.05 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.

Josh Beckett – @ BAL, vs CHA
*Wade Davis – vs TOR, @ BAL
*Armando Galarraga – @ MIN, @ KC
Phil Hughes – vs OAK, vs TOR
*Brian Matusz – vs BOS, vs TB
*Vin Mazzaro – @ NYA, vs LAA

Hitters own a line of .367/.449/.611 against Beckett with runners in scoring position.  Luck hasn’t been on his side as that works out to an unsustainable .403 BABIP with runners in scoring position.  Plus, his 60% strand rate is well off his career mark of 71%.  That partially explains the chasm between his 6.50 ERA and 3.80 SIERA.  Despite being on the wrong side of luck, he still isn’t a “start” because he’s not pitching deep into games and his 1.7 HR/9 since his return from the DL is alarming.

Galarraga has posted a fine run of starts, with a 3.60 ERA and 1.28 ERA over his last 50 innings.  Unfortunately, he has only one Win in his last 10 appearances.  Davis did fine in his return from the DL after missing time with a shoulder strain and merits consideration.   Mazzaro has a .220 BABIP in 45 home innings compared to a .323 BABIP in 62 road innings.  Split the difference, especially this week as he makes one start in Oakland and another at New York.

He’s dropped his SIERA to 4.40 and now Matusz has parlayed a strong August into a spot in the “consider” category.  If this column is still running in 2012, I’d wager he’ll be a mainstay in the “start” category.  Hughes makes two starts at home where he’s surrendered 16 long balls in 83 innings (compared to three HR in 62 innings on the road) and squares off against the homer-happy Blue Jays.

*Kyle Davies – vs TEX, vs DET
*Brian Moseley – vs OAK, vs TOR
*David Pauley – vs LAA, vs CLE
*Mitch Talbot – vs CHA, @ SEA

Earlier this week, I tweeted a list that included Davies among pitchers who threw at least 500 innings and posted an ERA greater than 5.40 in their first six major league seasons.  In other words, a list of very bad pitchers.  (By the way, if you can stomach a few Royals tweets, feel free to follow me on Twitter… I drop some fantasy nuggets from time to time.)

Moseley hasn’t shown anything since moving into the Yankee rotation that would justify a pickup.  He owns a 1.3 SO/BB ratio and has surrendered seven HR in 35 IP as a starter and gets a swinging strike just 5% of the time when locates in the zone.  

On to the NL…

Roy Halladay – @ LAN, vs MIL
Jair Jurrjens – vs NYN, @ FLA
Hiroki Kuroda – vs PHI, vs SF
*Jonathon Niese – @ ATL, @ CHN

Jurrjens has a 3.68 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 71 innings since his return from the DL.  He faces a difficult head to head start this week against Josh Johnson.

Consider – The Young Gun Division
*Mike Minor – vs NYN, @ FLA
*Alex Sanabia – vs WAS, vs ATL
*Travis Wood – vs MIL, @ STL

You’re probably seeing this category, rubbing your eyes and asking, “What gives?”  Yeah, I normally err on the side of caution when it comes to young pitchers (especially 22 year olds with 18 innings of major league experience under their belts), but when a kid like Minor punches out 22 hitters and walks only four with a swing and a miss strike as 23% of all strikes, it gets noticed.  He abused the Cubs this week and could do the same to the free swinging Marlins.  The only concern here is workload.  He was due to make two starts this week, but the Braves pushed him back following his 110 pitch outing against Chicago.  They could do it again to keep him fresh down the stretch.  

Sanabia’s walk and strikeout numbers (1.9 BB/9 and 6.3 SO/9) aren’t as gaudy as Minor’s, but they’re still pretty darn good for a 21 year old with just a handful of games above Double-A under his belt.  He’s seen his workload increase each year as a pro and is already at his career high in total innings at 136, so it’s possible he’ll have a turn skipped.  Meanwhile, Wood will probably crack his career high in innings pitched in his first start this week.  With a 7.2 SO/9 and 2.5 BB/9, he's been just as impressive and with 10 starts, he has the most major league experience. The Reds are in a race to the post season and they need his arm, so they'll be unlikely to shuffle the rotation, making him an almost certain lock to make both starts this week.  

If I had to rank the three, it would look something like: Minor, Wood, Sanabia.

*Jorge De La Rosa – @ SF, @ SD
Jonathan Sanchez – vs COL, @ LAN
Jake Westbrook – @ HOU, vs CIN

De la Rosa has pitched well over his last seven starts with a 3.43 ERA, but he’s still struggling with his control, walking 3.9 batters per nine over this stretch.  Overall, his 59% ground ball rate has kept him out of trouble, as has his 19% double play rate.  Control aside, I always like starters that have the San Francisco/San Diego roadshow.  His 4.06 ERA doesn’t accurately reflect how well Westbrook has pitched since landing in St. Louis.  Unfortunately, in most of our leagues, ERA counts for something.  

Sanchez has solid numbers across the board, but I can’t get past his 4.5 BB/9 – the highest rate in the NL.  The Dodgers and Rockies are two of the more patient teams in the league.  

*J.A. Happ – vs STL, @ ARI
*Kyle Kendrick – @ LAN, vs MIL
*Paul Maholm – @ CHN, vs WAS
*Jason Marquis – @ FLA, @ PIT
*Pat Misch – @ ATL, @ CHN
*Esmil Rogers – @ SF, @ SD
*Joe Saunders – vs SD, vs HOU
*Randy Wolf – @ CIN, @ PHI
*Carlos Zambrano – vs PIT, vs NYN

Misch has been around the block a few times, mostly as a reliever.  He’s done fine in three starts, but he simply doesn’t miss enough bats – he owns a 91% contact rate – to be effective over the long term.

Happ has walked 19 batters in 32 innings since joining the Astros, and despite opponents hitting just .207/.318/.306 against him, has a 4.26 ERA.  His .253 BABIP from this stretch is going to rise.  His ERA will follow.  Maholm has added a full run to his ERA since the start of June and with an overall ERA of 4.82, he is now within striking distance of his 4.80 SIERA.  It seems like we’ve been saying this all season: Kendrick is a disaster start from losing his spot in the rotation. Since joining the Rockies rotation, Rogers has a 6.86 ERA and a .449 BABIP.  Holy unsustainable trends, Batman.  Even when the BABIP drops, he’s not worth the pickup.    

Zambrano has a 2.25 ERA in 24 innings since rejoining the Cubs rotation, but has 16 walks against 15 strikeouts over this stretch.  As far as I’m concerned, the guy is toxic.

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Would you start Scherzer or Liriano in their matchup this week?
That's a heck of a choice. Maybe I'd lean toward Scherzer as the Tigers have done better against LHP this year. Still, that's one of those match-ups where you hope to get a win on a 1-0 decision.