Dontrelle Willis, Cincinnati Reds (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 3%, CBS 20%)
The fantasy baseball world has been rocked with two great redemption stories this season: one by Ryan Vogelsong and another by the D-Train himself. After a blazing-hot start to his career in 2003, which included winning the NL Rookie of the Year award and a World Series ring, his last three seasons have been a trainwreck. From 2008-10, the lefty has logged only 123.1 innings with a K/9 below 6.0 and a BB/9 approaching 8.7. No, that’s not a typo: 8.7.
Despite this, the Reds threw him a bone to see what they had left, and they have been pleasantly surprised to see him post a 3.41 ERA in his last six starts. That walk rate? 2.9. The strikeout rate is a nice 6.6 as well, both quality numbers that contribute to a 3.66 FIP and confidence for fantasy players nationwide. Like many lefties, he performs best against same-handed hitters, so start him against lefty-heavy lineups. Looking at the schedule, it is looking pretty good as he lines up to face the San Diego Padres, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Washington Nationals in his next three starts. Going by average runs per game, those three teams rank 14th, 13th, and 11th, respectively, in the National League.
Blake Beavan, Seattle Mariners (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1%, CBS 14%)
What can a spacious outfield and a great defense do for a high-contact pitcher? Just take a look at rookie Blake Beavan. According to StatCorner, Safeco Field has home run park factors of 95 and 82 for left- and right-handed hitters, respectively. Going by defensive efficiency, the Mariners have the fourth-most efficient defense in all of baseball. Those two factors have contributed to Beavan's 2.83 ERA despite a paltry 3.7 K/9. Beavan has been very stingy with the walks as well, averaging only 1.3 per nine innings.
Beavan starts today against the Boston Red Sox. If you play in a league with daily transactions and lineups, today may be a good time to skip over Beavan, just to be safe. As his 3.72 FIP indicates, Beavan will not continue to enjoy success at his current rate, but using him for a spot start at home against weaker offenses should be a good play, even in mixed leagues.
Chris Narveson, Milwaukee Brewers (Yahoo! 15%, ESPN 7%, CBS 37%)
Injuries are never funny, but I have to admit to giving a slight chuckle upon reading that Narveson landed on the 15-day disabled list after cutting his thumb repairing his glove. Not quite as funny as Clint Barmes breaking his collarbone after a fall from carrying deer meat or Jeff Kent breaking his wrist washing his truck, but it is definitely not your run-of-the-mill injury. The good news is that Narveson should only miss the minimum amount of time, but it is time you cannot afford to waste this late in the season. Unless you have a DL spot open, drop Narveson and go on the prowl.
Joe Saunders, Arizona Diamondbacks (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 23%, CBS 36%)
Saunders's stay on the Value Picks list is short-lived with his ownership rates shooting up as people begin to realize just how good he has been pitching of late. Since June 15, the lefty has a 2.51 ERA in 68 innings of work. The strikeout rate is not impressive in the least, but he has good enough control that the higher rate of contact is not an issue. Saunders is a better fit in deep mixed and NL-only leagues where you can leverage him according to his strengths. If he is still available, pick him up for starts against lower-tier offenses, which are conveniently found in the NL West.
Brett Cecil, Toronto Blue Jays (Yahoo! 18%, ESPN 15%, CBS 39%)
Cecil's good run of pitching continued on Tuesday against the lowly Oakland Athletics offense. He allowed three runs over seven innings while striking out five and walking two. He has a 2.17 ERA over his last four starts. The schedule bodes well for Cecil as he lines up to face the Los Angeles Angels, the Athletics again, the Kansas City Royals, and the Baltimore Orioles in his next four turns. Going by average runs per game, those teams rank 13th, 14th, 6th, and 9th out of 14 AL teams, respectively.
As he plays in the potent AL East, you will want to sit him if he goes up against the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, or Toronto Blue Jays. Until then, his next four starts make him an attractive option for deeper mixed leagues. Although he has merely average strikeout and walk rates, he is a fly ball pitcher, which is just one more factor to keep in mind as you selectively apply your pitchers late in the season.
James McDonald, Pittsburgh Pirates (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 4%, CBS 35%)
McDonald hit the skids recently but had a better showing in his last start against the sputtering San Francisco Giants. It was, by old-fashioned measures, a quality start: three runs allowed in six innings. However, he struck out four and walked three—not exactly numbers that are impressing fantasy owners who picked him up after his scoreless innings streak in late July. Control has been and still portends to be a problem for the young right-hander, but he has the unique ability to rack up strikeouts in bunches—the big reason why he is still relevant in fantasy leagues.
Let us not forget that, amidst his recent struggles, he is still much improved since the start of May. Excluding his nightmarish April, McDonald has a 3.42 ERA with an 8.0 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9—numbers that typically get drafted in the middle rounds before the season. Rarely can you find DIPS rates like those lying around in the free agent pool. Due to his mediocre control, however, he is a liability when it comes to WHIP, and he will have a blow-up start every now and then, so he is a risk you must calculate before taking.
Brandon McCarthy, Oakland Athletics (Yahoo! 21%, ESPN 14%, CBS 45%)
What more can be said about McCarthy? He has been on the Value Picks list for quite some time, but his latest start may push his ownership rates up enough such that he waves goodbye to us next week. The right-hander absolutely dominated the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday, holding them scoreless through eight innings while striking out five and walking exactly zero.
If he is still available in your league, find room for him on your roster, assuming you are not playing in a six-team mixed league. His strikeout rate is about average with a 6.1 K/9, but he has pristine control with a 1.3 BB/9. There is a use in almost any format for the guy, unless the rest of your rotation is made up of low-whiff, low-walk arms.
Felipe Paulino, Kansas City Royals (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 7%)
After many DIPS-friendly starts ending in mediocre fashion, in his last start on Wednesday against the Rays, Paulino pitched comparatively poorly. In five innings, he walked four and struck out only one but allowed just one run. It was a bit of a head-scratcher start, for sure.
Overall, though, I will continue to sing his praises as his ownership rates do not speak to his quality of pitching. Since the Royals inserted Paulino into their starting rotation, the right-hander has posted a 3.78 ERA with an 8.7 K/9 and a 2.5 BB/9. By comparison, James Shields—who is by all accounts having a fantastic season—has an 8.5 K/9 and a 2.5 BB/9. Obviously, there are a myriad of other factors that help differentiate the two (such as quality of defense), but Shields is owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues while Paulino is owned in just one percent.
Doug Fister, Detroit Tigers (Yahoo! 19%, ESPN 9%, CBS 69%)
Fister's last start was a bit of an anomaly; he allowed two runs in two innings, but then rain came, and he was removed after a lengthy delay. In his nine innings with the Tigers, Fister has yet to strike out a batter, which is something to keep a watchful eye on as he no longer benefits from an extremely pitcher-friendly home ballpark (and one that boosts strikeouts roughly 10 percent over his new home). With such a contact-oriented approach, he becomes very reliant on a Tiger defense that does not grade out well according to defensive efficiency: .705, fourth-worst in the AL.
While Fister's value may decline due to moving away from Safeco and allowing a few more hits due to a shoddier defense, he will win many more games with a potent Tiger offense. With the Mariners prior to the trade, Fister had gone ten consecutive starts without earning a victory despite posting a 3.42 ERA in that span of time. For fantasy purposes, consider him a poor man's Brandon McCarthy with a slightly higher probability of earning wins.
Jason Vargas, Seattle Mariners (Yahoo! 11%, ESPN 6%, CBS 40%)
Vargas has been streaky throughout the 2011 season. He finished April with a 5.45 ERA, but in his next 12 starts, he was a roto savior, posting a 2.70 ERA with three complete game shut-outs plus an additional nine-inning, extra-inning shut-out effort as well. In the four starts that followed, he pitched to an 8.84 ERA as the BABIP gods conspired against him. He has looked much better in comparison of late, holding the high-octane Texas Rangers offense to three runs over seven innings in his most recent start on Wednesday. On a hot streak, he is applicable in mixed leagues; on a cold streak, he is not playable even in deep AL-only leagues. On average, he is just right for AL-only owners.
Mike Leake, Cincinnati Reds (Yahoo! 21%, ESPN 13%, CBS 58%)
Quietly, Leake has tossed quality starts in each of his last five starts. In his last 32 innings, he has a three-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio along with a 2.53 ERA. He has averaged nearly seven strikeouts per nine innings and has gone at least six innings in each of those five starts. Those numbers would play well even in mixed leagues, but the more conservative approach is to limit him to NL-only leagues, as it is quite possible that his success in his last 32 innings can be attributed mostly to randomness and to the quality of the opposing offenses (Pirates, Mets, Giants, Cubs, and Rockies).
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Hochevar's last few starts have been good, for sure, but he is still an AL-only pick at this point. I don't have the database skills for going back and looking at his pitch selection, but he does seem to have allowed more fly balls in his three recent starts, so perhaps he has made a pitch selection change or some other slight alteration in location.
In AL-only leagues, a lot of these guys are interchangeable, so I think it is worth taking a shot with Hochevar and hoping his recent success isn't just a fluke.