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Welcome to the Weekly Pitching Planner!

It appears as though the Orioles are planning to slot in a sixth starter next week for Tuesday’s matchup with Toronto, which will render them two-start-less. Also lacking two-startitude will be the Red Sox, who it seems are bound for a six-man (at least) rotation for the duration of the season. The Marlins haven’t announced their starters for next week as of this writing, presumably hinting at a possible shuffle in advance of what may be their last-gasp series with the Nationals next weekend. Stay tuned for that one. The Rangers also haven’t announced their plans, though given the combination of pretty poor options in that rotation and a fairly tough away schedule at Oakland and Anaheim, I wouldn’t pay a ton of attention to how that one shakes out. Finally, the Twins’ rotation is in flux after presumable two-start pitcher Kyle Gibson got bumped by Wednesday’s rain. They haven’t announced a Monday starter, though if it remains Gibson (on short rest), he’d be a “sit” against Detroit and Cleveland.

On to the nuts and bolts: Outside of the elites, two-start pitchers are often as much or more trouble than they’re worth. Rare is the week in which the stars align to offer your starters not just one but two consecutive tasty matchups. As a result you’ll notice that sometimes the better starters will find themselves in the “consider” category, because they might have one good matchup but a second tough one. And similarly, less-talented hurlers might just meander their way into “start” territory on account of a plum schedule. The pitchers will be split by league, and then by categories:

Auto-Starts – These are your surefire fantasy aces. You paid a handsome sum for these guys, either with an early draft pick, high dollar auction bid, or significant haul of prospects. These are the top 20 or so starters in baseball, so you’re starting them anywhere, anytime. Guys can emerge onto or fall off of this list as the season evolves. There won’t be many—if any—notes associated with these groupings each week, unless a player has just moved up or is in imminent danger of moving down.

Starts – These are the guys I’m recommending you put into your lineup this week. Some will be obvious, but not quite auto-start excellent, while others will be waiver-wire fodder who find themselves with a pair of favorable outings that you can take advantage of in your league. There will be accompanying notes supporting the decisions.

Considers – As mentioned earlier, these guys will be on the fence and your league settings and position in the standings will really be the decider here. A pitcher in this category can be your number two starter with a tough week of matchups in Cincinnati and Colorado. Or conversely if the Minnesota Twins fifth starter is slated to face the Astros at home followed by an interleague trip to San Diego, he will appear on this list because the matchups are great even though he might not be. Your particular league settings will have a lot to say here; if you are in a 10-team mixed league you probably don’t need to take the risk, but a 10-team AL-only leaguer might see it as a nice opportunity to log some quality innings from a freely available resource.

Sits – These are the guys I’m staying away from this week. They will range in talent from solid to poor. With mixed leagues larger than 10 teams my default position for all two-start pitchers who rank outside of the top 60 or so is to sit them unless the matchups dictate otherwise. Additionally, mid-rotation starters who face a couple tough draws will find themselves in this category more often than not.

As always the standard disclaimer applies to these match-up previews that all start schedules are subject to change on account of rainouts, injuries, managers arbitrarily shuffling their rotations, etc.

And with that, on to our Week 25 pitching planner.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Jacob deGrom

MIA, @ATL

Stephen Strasburg

@ATL, @MIA

Notes:

I’m all the way bought in on Jacob deGrom now. There’s nothing wonky in his profile that suggests his 1.77 ERA over his last eleven starts is entirely out of whack with how he’s pitching. He’s struck out a batter an inning while walking under 2.0 per nine during the stretch and allowing just two home runs and 65 total hits over a span of 86 1/3 innings. That’s total, unmitigated domination.

START

Andrew Cashner

PHI, SFG

Ryan Vogelsong

@ARI, @SDG

Tanner Roark

@ATL, @MIA

Notes:

Both Andrew Cashner and rotation-mate Ian Kennedy (found on the other side of the “start”/”consider” divide line up for two starts in Petco this week, and that’s awesome. I‘m still somewhat confused how Cashner, a guy who sits 95 with a two-seamer, can only muster a 17.7 percent whiff rate. But the reality is his heaters don’t move a ton and he doesn’t have any secondary offerings that rate as plus. But he also doesn’t give up much in the way of hard contact, and that’s a good skill for a pitcher to possess. He’s been quality in seven of his last eight starts, and given the home-and-home and opposition that balances out to just a tick above-average in difficulty he makes for a nice play this week in all formats, particularly for owners looking to pile up strong ERA and WHIP numbers. And for what it’s worth, Ian Kennedy’s general start-to-start inconsistency leaves him a slightly less safe play, even though he remains a generally good bet in most formats.

I feel like Ryan Vogelsong is the only San Francisco pitcher who ever has two starts, but maybe I just feel that way because I hate writing about him. Fortunately, little in the way of analysis is necessary this week, as he draws just about a perfect slate of matchups. Over the last couple weeks these two opponents have been the two worst offenses in baseball, and one of the match-ups is in Petco to boot. It’s a great time to be alive if you lucked into owning Vogelsong in a head-to-head playoff situation.

CONSIDER

Ian Kennedy

PHI, SFG

Tyler Matzek

LAD, ARI

Ervin Santana

WAS, NYM

John Lackey

MIL, CIN

Alfredo Simon

@CHC, @STL

Wade Miley

SFG, @COL

Vance Worley

BOS, MIL

A.J. Burnett

@SDG, @OAK

Wily Peralta

@STL, @PIT

Dan Haren

@COL, @CHC

Notes:

Tyler Matzek has been a nice surprise of late, posting five consecutive quality starts (three Wins) with a 1.75 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 29 strikeouts over 36 innings during the stretch. He’s tamped way down on his fastball usage, to the point where he’s actually throwing more sliders than any other pitch in September. His current 42 percent usage is probably not viable for a prolonged period of time, at least if his elbow ligaments are to be believed. But for the time being his dramatic improvement is tied almost exclusively to that evolution. He’s recording a swing-and-miss on a quarter of his offerings with the pitch, and his overall whiff rate in September is up to 22 percent through two starts (it sat at about 14.5% through July before leaping up to 18.6 percent in August as he started to throw more and more sliders). Basically his improved performance has been supported by a specific change in his plan of attack, and the short-term gains he’s realized appear legitimate (if unsustainable). The Dodgers aren’t the greatest match-up, particularly away from Chavez Ravine. But they’re not the worst either, and Arizona is pretty close to the former. I like Matzek as an option in most leagues this week.

Ervin Santana has had a generally useful fantasy campaign this season. His release point has been significantly more vertical this season—a good 2-3 inches north across the board over past seasons—and the added plane has helped his stuff induce more whiffs to boost his strikeout rate. That’s been offset in real terms by the amount of loud contact he’s allowed when batters have gotten a piece, and that’s led to fringy mixed league ERA and WHIP numbers. He’s been cuffed around in his last two starts, and the shoddy results have interestingly corresponded to a big shift towards fastball-heavy game plans and a big drop in deployment of his plus slider in favor of his slightly below-average change-up. Whether that’s small sample noise and the product of specific game plans that haven’t worked remains to be seen, but it’s worth noting nonetheless. He gets a perfect balance of tough (Nats) and favorable (Mets) draws at home this week. I probably lean narrowly in favor of starting him, but there’s legitimate reason for skepticism and care here, and if I had vulnerabilities in ERA and WHIP in particular, I’d think twice.

Regression can be something to behold, and despite a nice effort against a hot Cardinals team in his last start Alfredo Simon has certainly come crashing back to Earth recently. Since the calendar flipped to August he’s made eight starts, recording just two wins on the back of a 5.36 ERA and 1.52 WHIP. He’s become increasingly reliant on his splitter, as the balance of his off-speed pitches have recorded a steady collective decline in their effectiveness. Hitters are also teeing off on both his sinker and cutter right now, leaving him with nowhere else to turn for consistent production. It’s an ugly predicament, especially with a seemingly rejuvenated Cardinal offense on tap for the second time in less than two weeks. Still, he’s owned the Cubs in four starts this year (three wins, 1.94 ERA, cumulative .194/.257.301 line against), and that’s enough to give owners reason to believe if they squint hard enough. I’d lean towards staying away, but in deep leagues where volume is the name of the game it may just be worth betting on that Cubs line and holding your breath for the Birds.

Vance Worley’s in the midst of a tough stretch in which he has produced only one quality start in his last six, with an unpleasant 4.81 ERA and 1.60 WHIP causing the whole mess. His fastball seems the primary culprit, as he’s lost some command of it and it has, in turn, been tattooed to the tune of a .500 slugging percentage in August and September. He has responded by throwing it less and less over his last four turns, and running away from your fastball is not generally a successful formula. Neither matchup is particularly intimidating, but Worley’s a tough guy to trust outside of very deep leagues this week.

Beware Wily Peralta this week. He’s a tempting option at face value, because on balance he’s had a perfectly reasonable first full season in Milwaukee’s rotation. But when you take a step back, his borderline top-60 value has been heavily driven by win karma. His 3.75 ERA and 17.6 percent strikeout rate are both mediocre at best and his 1.35 WHIP is decidedly below-average. It’s a combination that deserves consideration in a neutral week of two-starts, but this is not one of those weeks. The Cardinals and Pirates have been two of the best offenses in baseball over the past few weeks. He’s handled both teams this year, particularly the Cardinals, and that’s really the only reason he sneaks onto the “consider” list. If you want to trust the history you’re welcome to, but I’d avoid the commitment wherever possible.

Dan Haren has pitched better of late, with a notable rise in his cutter rate and fall in his two-seam rate corresponding with the improved performance. But the improvement has come against one of the weakest runs of opposition you’re likely to find. And while neither of these two starts is objectively a battle against the 1927 Yankees the thought of Haren in Coors against even a diminished Rockies’ lineup is still enough to make me break out in a cold sweat. He’s a last resort consideration on the strength of his veteran savvy in moderate recent rebound, but I can’t imagine a scenario in which I’d feel at all excited about trotting him out there this week.

SIT

Travis Wood

CIN, LAD

Christian Bergman

LAD, ARI

Roberto Hernandez

@COL, @CHC

Jerome Williams

@SDG, @OAK

Notes:

It pains me to see Travis Wood in such a fix, as he’s enjoyed several productive stretches of streaming glory in his day. But not even a date with the hapless Reds is enough to salvage him as a “consider” at this point in time. His execution was every bit as horrible as his results in his last start, a seven run shellacking by the Pirates that saw him give up three long homers in less than two innings of work. There’s too much liability here for any kind of flyer.

Outside of a seven-run thrashing at Milwaukee’s hands in his third major-league start, Bergman’s actually pitched decent ball thus far. But he’s an extreme fly-ball pitcher with no strikeout pitch and two starts at Coors Field this week, and that’s just never a good combination to wager on.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Corey Kluber

@HOU, @MIN

Max Scherzer

@MIN, @KCR

STARTS

Hisashi Iwakuma

@LAA, @HOU

Jeff Samardzija

TEX, PHI

Matt Shoemaker

SEA, TEX

James Shields

CHW, DET

Michael Pineda

@TAM, TOR

Notes:

Hisashi Iwakuma has been shaky of late, enough to warrant knocking him back down from his perch among the auto-starts. Still, he as thoroughly dominated Angel hitters in his career (composite .194/.211/.273 line in 143 plate appearances) that the slightly added risk of a Houston lineup that’s had their moments against him shouldn’t be enough to dent owner confidence. I’d still run him for these match-ups.

James Shields got lost a bit in the shuffle of some early season struggles, but he’s been terrific for quite a while now. He’s on a run of nine quality starts over his last ten that includes a composite line since the beginning of July of a 2.35 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 77-to-17 K:BB ratio over 95 2/3 innings. Those are low ace numbers in your basic medium-depth mixed league. One note of caution, despite the outstanding performance last time out Detroit has knocked him a bit this season. But given that over the past two and a half months Shields has basically pitched the way he was expected to pitch when he was drafted as the 17th starting pitcher off the board last spring it’s just not enough of a concern to justify benching him. He is, after all, Big Game James. Run him wherever you have him.

If Michael Pineda could stay healthy…whew. He’s returned from his latest bout with the injury bug and quietly posted a 1.78 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, and borderline-absurd 19-to-1 K:BB ratio. His fastball’s humming along at 94 mph, and he looks every bit the ace that the Yankees hoped he would become. The Blue Jays’ bombs-away style in Yankee Stadium always poses a challenge, but Pineda’s homerun-depressing stuff helps even out the balance of that match-up. Toss in a highly favorable trip to Tampa, and Pineda’s owners should be in good shape for this week.

CONSIDER

Drew Hutchison

@BAL, @NYY

Roenis Elias

@LAA, @HOU

Jake Odorizzi

NYY, CHW

Brad Peacock

CLE, SEA

T.J. House

@HOU, @MIN

Mark Buehrle

@BAL, @NYY

Cory Rasmus

SEA, TEX

Chris Capuano

@TAM, TOR

Notes:

Pop quiz: when’s the last time Roenis Elias gave up more than two runs in a game? If you know the answer is July 9—that’s more than two full months ago—you probably own him. It’s not all sunshine and puppy dogs for Elias; he’s not a particularly efficient pitcher and the Mariners have been holding down his pitch counts to be careful with his innings in the second half. And he’s gotten away with some sloppy command in each of his last two starts. But he’s developed into a very reliable mid-rotation arm for AL-only and even some deep mixed leagues now, and he should probably be trusted in more of those formats than not this week.

Brad Peacock was supposed to go twice last week, but instead bumps to this period for his two-start week. He did keep up his recent performance in his last turn, however, and stretching back four starts now he’s put together a nice stretch of 1.66 ERA, 1.06 WHIP ball with a strikeout an inning. Basically it’s finally happening! A decent slate of match-ups this week makes Peacock an intriguing stream in AL-only and deep mixed leagues.

I’d be very careful if I were you and I owned Mark Buehrle. His dismal history against the Yankees is well-known at this point, but it’s also worth noting that the Orioles have knocked him around in three starts this year as well (.319/.364/.528 with three home runs). He’s really not somebody you want to be running for a two-start week like this, particularly if your season might be on the line.

Cory Rasmus makes for something of a conundrum as a streaming option, in that he’s pitched alright so far out of the bullpen, but given the on-the-fly transfer into the rotation it’s unlikely you can count on more than five innings a start and it’s a wide open question how his stuff will play against Major League lineups a second or third time through the order. I never like to trust crunch time starts to this kind of a profile, but as a wild card Hail Mary in AL-only leagues, he probably deserves to be on the radar given a favorable combination of starts.

SIT

John Danks

@KCR, @TAM

Notes:

John Danks has given up a .301/.378/.494 line over 88 innings on the road this year, en route to a 5.83 ERA and 1.66 WHIP away from U.S Cellular. Don’t do it.

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Rangerfan69
9/12
TJ House still on track for two starts with the rainout?
BuckarooBanzai
9/12
No, it looks like Cleveland has now bumped him to Wednesday, with an unnamed starter Monday. So just Kluber appears likely to line up for two next week.
timjrohr
9/12
Matzek or Peacock (or both?) in the semis of a 16-mixed 6x6 (K, QS)? I also have Kluber, Roark, and Shoemaker going twice next week
BuckarooBanzai
9/12
I trust Matzek more than Peacock at the moment, but given the additional counting stat emphasis of your stat line and the volume you can run out there I'd start both. Will give you a very strong leg up in W, K, and QS.
timjrohr
9/15
Looks like Peacock won't start twice after all, due to back stiffness. But McHugh will, who I also have. And I'm terribly afraid to start Matzek twice in Denver.
BuckarooBanzai
9/15
Yeah I'd go right ahead and start McHugh, and it's not particularly close for me. I just wrote a piece extolling McHugh's virtues over at Dynasty Guru, and the match-ups are just fine.

http://thedynastyguru.com/2014/09/12/breakout-or-fakeout-the-collin-mchugh-chronicles/
timjrohr
9/15
Thanks for that article link; very interesting.

Yeah, my team has survived thanks to dumpster diving for guys like Shoemaker, McHugh, Hughes, Roark, Ross, and Vargas. They've overcome Crush, Kipnis, Choo, and Bailey. I thought my team would batter opponents with offense and slide by with pitching, but the opposite has happened. I'm going to have a lot of keeper pitching next season!
timjrohr
9/15
Oh, and another crummy hitter for me: Wright. I lost both my third basemen last week!
drdhr5y
9/15
What about Eovaldi versus a one-start Fister or Greinke? I know I know. It's just that it will be hard to make up the gap in one start. Probably better than widening it in two though. Damn the chips didn't fall right here at the end. Odorizzi not a two starter by my math.
BuckarooBanzai
9/15
Yeah, I just can't see that as a viable option. The @NYM match-up isn't the worst one-shot stream option in the world, but it's more than offset by the WAS start if you're a weekly league. Fister and Greinke both have favorable match-ups, and the odds that you get more positive net production from one of them + two Eovaldi starts just aren't strong enough to warrant benching one of the top 25 starters in the game even as a reach play.
BPKevin
9/15
Vance Worley bumped to bullpen for Charlie Morton...urgh!
Nater1177
9/15
I think I know the answer given the write up on Wily, but with both Peralta and Hutchinson as the option for my last spot this week which way would you lean?
BuckarooBanzai
9/15
I'd roll with Hutch. I don't LOVE his match-ups, but I like them considerably more than Peralta's and he offers more in the way of K upside.