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Week Four is a glorious week for two-start pitching, as 13 of the top 21 drafted arms will take the bump twice. Beyond just the top end, every single team is currently scheduled to send at least one of its starters out for multiple turns, so there’s likely to be a deep bench of options available for your consideration on the waiver wire as well. Overall, the NL will feature a more balanced menu, with 16 of its 20 two-starters on the docket at least warranting some consideration. Things are a bit dicier in the junior circuit. On the one hand, there are more options (24). On the other, there are way more question marks and landmines. A particularly lengthy list of “considers” will force a whole bunch of not fun decisions for –only leaguers.

As far as the nuts and bolts guidelines for what lies within, 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 or MLB talent. 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.

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 Boston and Colorado. Or conversely if the Cincinnati Reds’ fifth starter is slated to face the Braves at home followed by a stop-over in Philadelphia, 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 smaller than 16 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.

At the season’s outset the majority of these recommendations will come to pass as a combination of ADP/auction price and PECOTA projections for opponent strength. As the season rolls on and we get some more concrete data points for how both the pitchers themselves and their opponents are actually performing, the formula will gradually evolve into a performance-based projection.

As a general frame of reference, when I talk about “deep” leagues I’m talking very broadly about mixed leagues with at least 16 teams and –only leagues with at least 10. “Medium-depth” leagues refer to mixed 12- and 14-teams and –onlies with eight or nine. “Shallow leagues” will refer to mixed 10-teamers and –only leagues with less than eight teams.

As always the standard disclaimer applies to these match-up previews that all start schedules are subject to unfortunately frequent change on account of rainouts, injuries, managers arbitrarily shuffling their rotations, etc. And of course, if you have questions about any of the starters I don’t expand upon in the body of the article feel free to inquire in the comments.

With that, on to the Starting Pitcher Planner!

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Clayton Kershaw

SFG, ARI

Johnny Cueto

MIL, @ATL

Zack Greinke

SFG, ARI

James Shields

HOU, COL

Cole Hamels

@STL, @MIA

Madison Bumgarner

@LAD, LAA

Max Scherzer

@ATL, @NYM

START

Homer Bailey

MIL, @ATL

Michael Wacha

PHI, PIT

Doug Fister

@ATL, @NYM

Julio Teheran

WAS, CIN

Jimmy Nelson

@CIN, @CHC

Notes:

What to do with Homer Bailey… well, on the one hand, if you own him it’s precisely for a week like this, with the weakest-in-baseball-on-paper Braves and actually-weakest-in-baseball Brewers on his slate. His velocity’s down though, particularly with his splitter, and that’s leading to more quality swings and less misses by his opposition so far. Unfortunately, his Thursday start will go off after the deadline for this piece, so if he gets lit up again by the woebegone Brewers, it’s probably fair to reevaluate. But if you can’t start him in a week like this, he doesn’t really have a place on your roster.

Sure, Julio Teheran gave up four homers in a game to the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre, but who hasn’t done that at some point in his career? You paid for him as a top 20 starter, and that blip aside, he hasn’t shown anything else to warrant reconsidering him for a relatively neutral two-start week.

Jimmy Nelson’s had an interesting start to his season. His fastball velocity is down, which is usually not a good thing. But he’s also throwing a harder, tighter slider thus far that has yielded a whiff rate explosion. He’s also unveiled a brand new curveball that has charted well so far, and the combination has propelled his emergent performance through three starts. Opponents appear overmatched by his new sequencing abilities, as they’ve swung dramatically less often at strikes and missed dramatically more often when they have committed. All of this is to say he’s made some interesting, tangible changes that have produced good results, and his slate of two starts plays to a fairly neutral strength of schedule. Run him if you got him.

CONSIDER

John Lackey

PHI, PIT

Vance Worley

@CHC, @STL

Chase Anderson

COL, @LAD

Jason Hammel

PIT, MIL

Notes:

The latest of Ray Searage’s projects, Vance Worley has posted back-to-back Wins against division opponents on the strength of a new pitch mix headlined by a slider he’s deployed over a third of the time. He’s gotten lucky with some infield pop-ups, but nothing else is really out of whack in his batted ball profile thus far. I haven’t seen enough to convince me he’s worth streaming across any formats he’s available. But as a potential source of mid-tier innings for NL-only and deeper mixed leagues he probably warrants a look.

Chase Anderson has pitched quite well through his first three turns in the rotation, but he runs into a tough set of draws for his next two. He’s been throwing from a notably higher arm slot in the young season, which on the one hand has flattened out his curve a bit and cut the pitch’s swing-and-miss effectiveness. On the other, he’s getting more called strikes thus far, indicating that the mechanical tweak may be adding some helpful deception. The ingredients have conspired to keep his whiff rate in line so far, while his control has ticked up a bit. There is zero reason to draw conclusions off the data sample yet, however, and while the Rockies aren’t quite THE ROCKIES on the road, they’re still a solid offensive club. Pair ‘em with the 1927 Dodgers, and it’s enough to give me great pause in considering Anderson.

SIT

Eric Stults

WAS, CIN

Kyle Kendrick

@ARI, @SDG

Dillon Gee

@MIA, WAS

Dustin McGowan

@STL, @MIA

Notes:

I dabbled with the idea of tossing Dillon Gee into the “consider” pile, and he may very well belong there. He got lit up by a couple mediocre offenses to start the season before rebounding against the not-good Braves. There hasn’t been anything new or particularly interesting about his approach in any of his starts so far, which means he still is what he is: an unexciting back-end starter in medium-depth leagues. And there’s just really no reason to be leaning on that kind of pitcher for two starts at this point in the season.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Corey Kluber

KCR, TOR

Chris Sale

@BAL, @MIN

Jeff Samardzija

@BAL, @MIN

David Price

@MIN, @KCR

Sonny Gray

LAA, @TEX

STARTS

Collin McHugh

@SDG, SEA

Notes:

At this point, McHugh is really knocking on the door of auto-start status. Going back to the All-Star break last summer, he’s now posted a 2.18 ERA with a 0.98 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, and 1.2 BB/9 over his last 14 starts (91 innings). The results he’s been posting have all followed a specific mechanic adjustment to his release point, and he’s now shown an ability to sustain the improvement over the course of multiple seasons. While the schedule isn’t a best-case scenario, it’s certainly not the worst either, and with the roll he’s been on, managers far and wide should run him out there with a smile until further notice.

CONSIDER

Yordano Ventura

@CLE, DET

Anibal Sanchez

@MIN, @KCR

Ubaldo Jimenez

CHW, TAM

Joe Kelly

TOR, NYY

Yovani Gallardo

SEA, OAK

Taijuan Walker

@TEX, @HOU

Drew Hutchison

@BOS, @CLE

Nick Martinez

SEA, OAK

Notes:

That sound of silence you hear is everyone currently rostering Ubaldo Jimenez holding their collective breath and waiting for the other shoe to drop. So far so good results-wise, but the velocity is down to below-average levels and he’s become extremely two-seam dependent in the early going. Still, if it ain’t broke, don’t worry about fixin’ it, right? He’s three solid starts into a new year, including surviving an @TOR matchup last time out, and he draws a decent two-start schedule against a couple offenses struggling for consistency out of the gate. I wouldn’t waste the Tums in a shallow league, but he makes for a decent flier in deeper leaguers with no innings caps.

Joe Kelly was cruising along Wednesday toward another solid outing an very possibly “start” status, ‘til the wheels fell off for him in an ugly sixth inning against Tampa Bay. It’d be easy to chalk up to just a string of bad luck—four straight singles through the infield and a bases loaded walk, followed by shoddy relief work on his tab—but it was a good reminder about just what kind of peril Kelly’s been routinely able to create for himself start to start in his career. Still, there’s a lot of reason for intrigue here. His 96.5-mph fastball out of the gate is tops in the majors per PITCHf/x, and he’s been able to boost his swinging strike rate to a better-than-league-average 10% in the early going – the first time in his career he’s broken double digits. He’s a tough guy to commit to for multiple divisional starts, but if nothing else it’ll be a good test for him to see what early season gains prove sustainable. Who knows, he could end up having the “breakout season by a guy who throws 96 but never strikes anyone out” we all pegged Nathan Eovaldi for pre-season.

Taijuan Walker’s been a wild fire at eleven percent containment so far, and he makes for a really difficult quandary this week. After releasing the ball consistently from the highest release point of his career during his stretch of spring training dominance Walker’s been back down to a slightly lower arm slot than he had last season in the regular season. He’s gained some relative movement, but he’s also struggled (again) to harness it. He’s also gotten thoroughly tattooed to the tune of a .439 BABIP and 54.1 percent strand rate. There’s a bit of bad luck in those numbers, but he’s also been rocked for a 28.6 percent line-drive rate, so it’s not as if he’s just yielding seeing-eye singles left and right. Regardless, there’s enough general chaos in Walker’s start to the season that if you’re able, I’d just as soon leave him off the active roster this week despite a relatively favorable schedule.

There are precious few who can lay claim to playing in leagues deep enough that 640-some-odd players are drafted, and there are fewer still who can lay claim to selecting Nick Martinez at that point in the draft. Those who did have celebrated outsized rewards for their faith thus far, to the tune of sparkling topline ERA and WHIP numbers and two Wins for good measure. The outlook for continued dominance is a bit hazier, however, as none of his peripherals really support anything close to the performance he’s posted to date. Gamblin’ types with inside information on the kind of dirt Martinez has on the BABIP gods may choose to roll the dice for two starts against top 10 offenses, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for the rest of us.

SIT

Jered Weaver

@OAK, @SFG

T.J. House

KCR, TOR

Aaron Sanchez

@BOS, @CLE

Tommy Milone

DET, CHW

Roberto Hernandez

@SDG, SEA

Jeremy Guthrie

@CLE, DET

Mike Pelfrey

DET, CHW

Adam Warren

TAM, @BOS

Nate Karns

@NYY, @BAL

Notes:

I don’t want to get into the number of times I’ve howled at the moon about Jered Weaver’s velocity, but I mean it this time, I swear. Look at his velocity so far this season! He’s down over three and a half miles an hour off of what was already among the slowest “fastballs” in the game last season. Yes, it’s always interesting to watch a mold-breaker who succeeds in a unique way, but topping out at 84 just isn’t going to cut it consistently against major-league hitters. He held his own for six solid innings against Oakland in his last start, but it was a bit of a high-wire act and I don’t trust him to do it again. I’m admittedly bearish in general about trusting Weaver, so take this recommendation with something of a grain of salt if you’re blinded by the decent second start by the Bay.

I liked T.J. House heading into the season, but he’s been a ghastly sight thus far. The good news is that nothing has deteriorated in terms of his raw stuff, but the bad news is that in spite of that he’s barely generated any swing-and-miss and he’s fresh off a pounding by the worst offense in baseball across the first couple weeks of games. I’d hold onto him for the time being if you drafted him, but I wouldn’t commit to a two-start week until we see some signs of improvement.

I’m sure there’ll be a time and place for getting excited about an Aaron Sanchez two-start week at some point, possibly even in the near future. But that time is not now and that place is not in Fenway Park.