Three weeks remain in the regular season, which means for some of you in head to head leagues, this is the second week of the first round of the playoffs. Unfortunately, if you’re in the need of starts it’s slim pickings this week as the AL plays an abbreviated schedule. The potential lies in the NL as there are more pitchers I have in the “consider” category this week than either of the other two and quite a few of them are available in most leagues. Of particular note is a quartet of young arms who are off to great starts and have promising futures. Maybe it's just me, but I'm really excited by some of the rookie starters we've seen over the last few weeks of the season.
The usual disclaimers: The list of two start pitchers is provided by Heater Magazine and is subject to change. That last bit goes double now we’re in September and as teams fall out of the race, they’ll undoubtedly juggle and rearrange their rotations down the stretch. The week starts on Monday, September 13 and the asterisk indicates that particular starter is available in fewer than 50% of ESPN or Yahoo leagues. You can download a pdf featuring all of the pitchers in a nifty color-coded chart.
McDonald is an intriguing proposition this week. Since joining the Pirate rotation, he’s struck out 40 batters in 41 innings and surrendered just one home run. The trouble has come from his proclivity to surrender line drives. He owns a 22% LD rate against which has led to a .340 BABIP. In the small sample size, he’s posted a 3.89 SIERA. It’s clear he can miss bats (16% of his strikes have been the swing and miss type) so the next step will be to reduce the liners. Nevertheless, he has an opportunity to post some huge strikeout numbers this week.
The Dickey Truth Watch: In the last Planner where he appeared, I dropped him into the “start” category. He had one start where he surrendered five runs in seven IP while punching out eight. Then he had a start where he allowed just one run, but struck out only two batters. Split decision? Enough to keep him here.
Bronson Arroyo – vs ARI, @ HOU
*Joe Blanton – @ FLA, vs WAS
*Barry Enright – @ CIN, @ PIT
Jon Garland – @ COL, @ STL
Daniel Hudson – @ CIN, @ PIT
*Derek Lowe – vs WAS, @ NYN
*Chris Narveson – @ HOU, @ SF
*Travis Wood – vs ARI, @ HOU
Young gun watch: Enright has some shiny fantasy numbers, but his 4.8 K/9, .257 BABIP and 87% strand rate should have you questioning how much longer the good times will last. Same goes for his teammate Hudson, who sports a .243 BABIP and 92% strand rate since jumping to the NL. Meanwhile, Wood keeps rolling along, but he too has undoubtedly been helped by a .261 BABIP. He’s at a career high in innings pitched and draws a pair of difficult head to head match-ups this week. They have all made positive first impressions though, and I like all three of these guys going forward
Steady as he goes, Blanton has posted a Game Score higher than 50 in five of his last seven starts. In that stretch, he owns a 3.38 ERA and a 3.78 SO/BB ratio. Narveson has been on quite the roll since the All Star Break with a 3.95 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 57 IP. Pitching with bone chips in his elbow, the ground ball inducing Lowe has a 0.9 HR/9, the highest rate of his career. However, he has a pair of interesting match-ups this week. First, against Washington, who has the highest ratio of ground outs to air outs (1.28 GO/AO) in the league. Second, against the Mets, who have the lowest ratio of ground outs to air outs in the NL, but are in the bottom third in HR/AB.
Home warrior Garland gets a pair of starts on the road this week. He has a 4.04 ERA and 1.2 HR/9 when living out of a suitcase as opposed to a 3.10 ERA and 0.8 HR/9 at Petco. Arroyo was buoyed by an insanely low BABIP in the middle third of the season. Overall, his overall .242 BABIP is the lowest of his career by roughly 25 points. That explains why his SIERA is a lofty 4.84. Plus, pitching in the NL Central will help just about anyone’s numbers. With only two teams in the division with a winning record (one being his own) he’s made the majority of his starts against sub-.500 teams where he’s posted a 3.27 ERA in 132 IP. He draws two of those losing teams this week.
*Zach Duke – @ NYN, vs ARI
*Jeff Francis – vs SD, @ LAN
*Cory Luebke – @ COL, @ STL
*Yuneski Maya – @ ATL, @ PHI
*Andrew Miller – vs PHI, vs CHN
*Carlos Silva – @ STL, @ FLA
*Randy Wells – @ STL, @ FLA
Barry Zito – vs LAN, vs MIL
As a junk-balling lefty myself this pains me, but Zito has seen his strikeout rate tumble and his walk rate jump since June and he hasn’t picked up a win since mid-July. We knew this was coming.
Maya, the 29 year old Cuban defector, signed with the Nationals in late July and posted a 3.38 ERA in five minor league starts with 18 strikeouts and 10 walks in 21 IP. He wasn't anything special in his first start. We need to see more before you can even think about locking him into a lineup for a pair of starts. Good to see Silva return to the rotation after undergoing surgery to correct an accelerated heart rate. Don’t forget though, he scuffled in his starts prior to going on the DL. His teammate Wells has really struggled with his command of late, walking 4.2 batters per nine over his last seven starts.
When Joey Votto smacked a liner off the leg of Aaron Cook, breaking it and ending his season, it opened a spot in the rotation for the return of Francis. Coming back from shoulder tendonitis, the early word is he will be on a pitch count of about 50 pitches. Luebke is interesting, but I’m not ready to hand him two starts in one weekn. Especially given both starts are on the road, against teams that don’t necessarily struggle against left-handed pitching and are fighting for their October lives.
On to the AL…
Price against Sabathia with the lead in the AL East potentially on the line. As they say on TV, “That’s what September baseball is all about.”
*Justin Masterson – vs LAA, @ KC
In a previous planner, I said Masterson had been “inconsistent” but it seems as though he’s settled into a comfort zone. Over his last 43 IP he has a 2.95 ERA but his 1.34 WHIP has been fueled by continuing command issues. Exhibit A is a start from last month against the Mariners where he threw six innings, allowed just one hit, but walked six… And didn’t give up a run. Still, he owns some extreme home/road splits with a 3.52 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in Cleveland against a 6.28 ERA and 1.84 WHIP everywhere else. With one start at home and another on the road against the low scoring Royals, this may be the week to give him a shot.
Bonser had a 5.59 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in 56 Triple-A innings and has been used exclusively in mop up duty since joining the A’s staff. Fister hasn’t pitched poorly of late, with a 3.38 ERA over his last six starts, but when you combine his 88% contact rate with two of the AL’s top offenses – like will happen this week – you should stay far, far away.
You would think Rzepczynski has been a bit unlucky as his 4.55 SIERA is almost two full runs below his ERA, but can we really say that about someone who walks 4.5 batters per nine? In his eight starts, he’s topped a Game Score of 50 only once. Hochevar was on the DL with a sprained elbow and the Royals thought he would only miss about three starts. Maybe they meant three months. He was OK in his first action upon his return, but really isn’t worth a look at this time.