Proceed with caution: most of the pitchers who will be available in your leagues (meaning those with less than 20 percent ownership in ESPN or Yahoo leagues, as noted with a ^) for a two-start week aren’t going to be worth your time. There are a couple of starters with potential to help your team, but because of the limited numbers, you better pounce quickly or you’ll be on the outside looking in.
Remember, the starters listed are tentative and subject to change. Players noted with an asterisk are available in less that 50 percent of ESPN or Yahoo leagues.
Dan Haren – 4/18 @ TEX, 4/23 vs. BOS
Jon Lester – 4/18 @ BAL, 4/23 vs. CLE
David Price – 4/18 vs. CHW, 4/23 @ TOR
Ricky Romero – 4/18 @ BOS, 4/24 vs. TAM
Haren is the early leader for top Game Score of the year, finishing with a 91 on the back of his complete game, one-hit, eight strikeout performance against the Indians on Tuesday.
Always with an excellent ground ball rate, Romero is off to an excellent start, posting a 1.66 ERA and issuing just four walks (one intentional) in 21 innings while keeping the ball on the ground 55 percent of the time. As an added benefit to the myriad ground balls, he is limiting opponents to a 71 percent contact rate, seven percentage points below his career average.
Edwin Jackson – 4/18 @ TAM, 4/23 @ DET
*Alexi Ogando – 4/18 vs. LAA, 4/24 vs. KC
Ervin Santana – 4/19 @ TEX, 4/24 vs. BOS
Max Scherzer – 4/18 @ SEA, 4/24 vs. CHW
^Jason Vargas – 4/18 vs. DET, 4/23 vs. OAK
Scherzer has been extremely hittable in the early going. His contact rate is above 80 percent and his swing and miss rate is under nine percent. Plus, those balls that are going in play are going in the air. He has a career fly ball rate of just under 40 percent, but in the young season he’s north of 50 percent FB rate. As of this writing, the 23 hits he has allowed are tops in the AL, and four of those have left the yard. He is fortunate a total of six runs have scored on his homers allowed—it could be much worse. A bad bullpen has cost Santana two wins in the early going. He is looking sharp, too, as he has allowed just five walks in 21 2/3 innings of work. Ogando was a subject of a profile this week.
Is it surprising that Jackson has already had a start where he tossed 120 pitches? And was it a coincidence that he needed 100 pitches in his next start and failed to get through five innings? Still, he is a good bet for his starts this week. Known for his control with a 2.4 BB/9 since joining the Mariners, Vargas has walked just two batters this year in 16 2/3 innings. He has been inconsistent: his awful start against Cleveland, where he allowed seven runs in 3 1/3 innings is sandwiched between a pair of one run outings where he went 6 2/3 innings. He could be worth a look this week.
^Jake Arietta – 4/19 vs. MIN, 4/24 vs. NYY
^Fausto Carmona – 4/18 @ KC, 4/23 @ MIN
^Carlos Carrasco – 4/19 @ KC, 4/24 @ MIN
^Bruce Chen – 4/19 vs. CLE, 4/23 @ TEX
^Kyle Davies – 4/18 vs. CLE, 4/24 @ TEX
^Francisco Liriano – 4/18 @ BAL, 4/24 vs. CLE
^Daisuke Matsuzaka – 4/18 vs. TOR, 4/23 @ LAA
*Carl Pavano – 4/19 @ BAL, 4/24 vs. CLE
^Chris Tillman – 4/18 vs. MIN, 4/23 vs. NYY
Tillman is off to a rocky start and his contact rate has soared to 89 percent. He has always struggled with control, and his career 1.56 WHIP is a cautionary tale. As great as Liriano was last summer… Yikes. Walks are up and strikeouts are down, but other rate stats (contact, percentage of plate appearances with the ball in play) are static. Owners have to be scared at this point as he has failed to record an out beyond the fifth inning in any of his three starts. If you have better options, you may want to give him (and your pitching stats) a breather this week. His teammate Pavano has lost a couple mph off his fastball and his contact rate has experienced a corresponding uptick. Something frightening to consider: he is carrying a .179 BABIP.
Odds are 50-50 Matsuzaka makes his second start this week (and to think I pulled my daughter out of school to see his North American debut). PECOTA projects a 4.83 ERA for Davies this season. Through three starts, his ERA is 9.00. Split the difference: he has no business being in your fantasy rotation.
He had an inconsistent spring and a strong Ranger lineup battered Arietta around his last time out, so it will be interesting to see how he recovers.
On to the Senior Circuit…
Roy Halladay – 4/18 vs. MIL, 4/23 @ SD
Tim Lincecum – 4/18 @ COL, 4/23 vs. ATL
Shaun Marcum – 4/18 @ PHI, 4/24 vs. HOU
After missing part of the spring with shoulder tightness, Marcum has looked just fine in his first three starts. His command has improved in each start.
^Sam LeCure – 4/18 vs. PIT, 4/23 @ STL
Ted Lilly 4/18 vs. ATL, 4/23 @ CHC
Jimenez remains on track to return from the DL where he was shelved with a cut on the cuticle on his right thumb, pitching two innings in extended spring training this week. Any setback this time of year is magnified, and his first outing was shaky. Hopefully, the cut was behind his drop in velocity.
I know, it’s difficult to tell, but Lilly has lost a little bit off his fastball in his three starts this year. The control is still there—he is walking just 1.8 per nine, but opponents are hitting .317/.362/.476 against him. His current BA and SLG against are higher than any rate he has posted for a full season. He may be a placeholder until Johnny Cueto returns at the end of the month, but LeCure has been a lethal combination of strikeouts (10.5 SO/9) and ground balls (50 percent of all balls in play have been on the ground). He is worth a short-term look this week.
*Kevin Correia – 4/18 @ CIN, 4/23 vs. WAS
^Armando Galarraga – 4/19 @ CIN, 4/24 @ NYM
^John Lannan – 4/19 @ STL, 4/23 @ PIT
^Jonathon Niese – 4/19 vs. HOU, 4/24 vs. ARI
^James Russell – 4/18 vs. SD, 4/24 vs. LAD
^Tim Stauffer – 4/18 @ CHC, 4/23 vs. PHI
^Jake Westbrook – 4/19 vs. WAS, 4/23 vs. CIN
Perhaps this is a testament to his command, but a whopping 84 percent of all plate appearances against Correia have ended with the ball in play. He has been betrayed by his defense on a couple of occasions, but his .235 BABIP has no where to go but up. The Padres pushed Stauffer’s start back a day in hopes the extra rest would recharge his batteries. Instead, they remained drained as he used 99 pitches and struggled through 4 1/3 innings. If he is tired at this point of the season, I would be worried about him making both starts this week.
The infamous author of the near-perfect game, Galarraga has been anything but so far in 2011, surrendering a league-high five home runs in 12 innings of work. Ask yourself if you really want to start him in Cincinnati this week. I mentioned Niese and his ground ball rate in the last Planner. It’s still solid, but he is having difficulty against the heavy-hitting teams in the NL. With the Diamondbacks looming this week, beware. Westbrook is throwing strikes only 60 percent of the time and has fallen behind 2-0 to almost a quarter of all batters. His ERA looks good, but Lannan has been extremely hittable again this season. There is just nothing there to pique my interest.
Russell may be the least attractive starting pitcher in the year-plus I’ve been writing The Planner. On a pitch count in his debut start, he needed all 55 pitches to get five outs. Consider both his starts this week tentative.