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Down the stretch (to the All-Star break) they come! It’s fittingly another tale of two leagues for the first half’s final scoring period, as the NL is flush with options while the AL sees a huge logjam of mediocre starters piled up in the “consider” bin. Forty options in all are spread across the table for you this week, with three squads (ARI, BOS, and TEX) playing just five games and running no two-start options, while the Mets continue to work off a six-man rotation.

It’s important to note that this week’s schedule is one of the most fluid of the season and very much subject to change, as teams will invariably shift things around to give guys additional rest heading into the break. Keep your eyes and ears open before setting your lineup for the week!

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

Johnny Cueto

@WAS, @MIA

Francisco Liriano

SDG, STL

James Shields

@PIT, @TEX

START

Jon Lester

STL, CHW

A.J. Burnett

SDG, STL

Brett Anderson

PHI, MIL

Chris Heston

NYM, PHI

Notes:

Jon Lester has very definitely forfeited his previous auto-start status at this point, as he’s been one of the biggest disappointments not named Stephen Strasburg among the top-20 drafted starters. After going off draft boards 13th this spring, he’s returned the 82nd most SP value thus far. Yeesh. The good news is that he’ll find himself lined up for a pretty ideal-on-paper two-start week heading into the break, as he’ll start the scoring period with a Cardinals offense that’s among the bottom-third in the league at hitting lefties. His first half will culminate with a visit by the White Sox, whose .242 TAv remains the worst in baseball. They’re even worse against lefties, to boot. So while Lester hasn’t done much to earn your trust this year, he needs to get the benefit of the doubt for a week like this.

By value generated in a standard league, A.J. Burnett probably deserves to be lumped in as an auto-start. And by surplus value generated relative to draft position, he definitely deserves it. But by our underlying metrics, he’s just shy of that coveted status, and the matchup with St. Louis is enough to give pause. St. Louis hitters have ample experience with Burnett, and the regulars in their lineup have raked against him to the tune of a .290/.371/.477 line in over 200 collective plate appearances. That said, he threw six shutout innings against them in their one prior meeting this season, and if I’ve got A.J. Burnett in my rotation I’m riding him until he gives me reason not to.

As someone who originally drafted Brett Anderson in my home league like 22 years ago, I’ve been waiting for a long, long time to see what a healthy season might look like, and he hasn’t disappointed. He’s generating more groundballs than any other starter in baseball on the back of a sinker that’s producing a staggering four grounders out of every five balls put in play. He’s been generating increasingly weak contact as the season has gone on, and missing just enough bats to provide marginal value with strikeouts as well. He’ll draw the tastiest of schedules this week, with the two worst offenses in the NL by TAv rolling into his home park, and he makes for a nice play across all formats.

CONSIDER

John Lackey

@PIT, @CHC

Jaime Garcia

@PIT, @CHC

Carlos Frias

PHI, MIL

Chad Bettis

LAA, ATL

Dan Haren

@BOS, CIN

Kyle Lohse

ATL, @LAD

Doug Fister

CIN, @BAL

Anthony DeSclafani

@WAS, @MIA

Notes:

Both of these Cardinals starters have been excellent and valuable in their own ways, John Lackey in his consistency and innings—he’s allowed more than three earned just once in his last dozen starts while averaging six and a half innings a start—and Garcia with his general dominance. They both run into a challenging road-and-road schedule this week, and it’ll be particularly tough on Garcia as the Cubs are a lefty-mashing crew these days. I lean toward trusting the pitchers in each case, but there’s enough uncertainty here to warrant caution, and in certain contexts sitting either may be the right move.

Carlos Frias just really hasn’t been a very good pitcher, nor does he project to be one going forward. He’s currently rocking a matching 123 cFIP and DRA-, and he gets absolutely pounded when a lineup turns over a second time. He makes for a strong matchup play this week, but even there I wouldn’t get too crazy in shallower mixed leagues.

Chad Bettis is kind of the exact opposite of Frias. He’d be so much more interesting on any other team in Major League Baseball, and this week is case-in-point. Both of his opponents are below-average offenses on the road, and neither is particularly adept at handling righties. And yet the thought of Mike Trout in Coors for an entire series is terrifying. Bettis’ DRA- currently sits ninth-best in baseball among pitchers to log at least 50 innings, which is a testament to just how good he’s been. He’s actually handled his home starts quite well so far, but it’s just… mmph, that ballpark is just… mmph.

For those owners who rode out Doug Fister’s DL stint with the hope that he’d come back rested and recovered, the Nats’ right-hander has shown in his three starts since returning that he cares not for your hopes and dreams. His fastball has averaged south of 86 since coming back, and his secondaries are lacking the kind of worm-burning tilt that he requires to be successful. The Orioles and Reds are two of the teams least inclined to hit the ball on the ground, making this a difficult set of matchups for a sinkerballer with diminished velocity and nothing in the tank that can miss major-league bats.

SIT

Matt Wisler

@MIL, @COL

Manny Banuelos

@MIL, @COL

Chad ​Billingsley

@LAD, @SFG

Aaron Harang

@LAD, @SFG

Notes:

For those of you in daily leagues, the two Braves rookie starters of the week will both find themselves with nice matchups against Milwaukee to lead the week. Unfortunately for weekly leaguers, Atlanta travels to Denver in the second half of the week, and starting pitchers at Coors—especially rookie pitchers without put-away stuff—well, that’s just not the kind of thing we’re interested in doing ‘round these parts.

No, that’s not a typo. Chad Billingsley still holds down a Major League rotation spot. And yes, he pitches for the Phillies. So does Aaron Harang. He’s allowed at least four earned runs in six straight starts. The Phillies are… not good.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Corey Kluber

HOU, OAK

Carlos Carrasco

HOU, OAK

Dallas Keuchel

@CLE, @TAM

Jake Odorizzi

@KCR, HOU

STARTS

Taijuan Walker

DET, LAA

Mark Buehrle

@CHW, @KCR

Notes:

Taijuan Walker is just straight-up awesome at pitching right now. As good as anyone in the game not named Chris Sale, in fact. He’s reeled off seven consecutive quality starts, striking out 51 batters and walking just three during the 50 1/3-inning stretch of dominance. The schedule isn’t the greatest, but it’s certainly not the worst either. And that doesn’t really matter right now anyway. Walker’s rapidly becoming the surefire ace he was billed as, and you should start him accordingly.

Let’s do this. Let’s give Mark Buehrle his due, and let’s start him this week across the board. Sure, he rarely gets any love by advanced metric or draft target standards, but if there isn’t a place in your starting rotation for a guy that’s thrown 14 consecutive consistently above-average, 200-inning seasons, well, I don’t much care for your team. It’s been almost two full months since the last time he failed to make it through six innings in a start, and he’s working on a streak of six consecutive quality starts. The White Sox are terrible, even worse against lefties, and Buehrle’s held Royals hitters to a collective .610 OPS against in almost 200 cumulative plate appearances.

CONSIDER

Phil Hughes

BAL, DET

Chris Young

TAM, TOR

Edinson Volquez

TAM, TOR

Jesse Hahn

@NYY, @CLE

Ivan Nova

OAK, @BOS

Trevor May

BAL, DET

Vincent Velasquez

@CLE, @TAM

Miguel Gonzalez

@MIN, WAS

Matt Moore

@KCR, HOU

Alfredo Simon

@SEA, @MIN

Notes:

I’ll be honest, I’m really not all that excited about the idea of starting Ivan Nova in a two-start week this soon off the shelf. The A’s and Red Sox have both been swinging decent bats lately, and while Nova has surprisingly limited experience against the latter’s current lineup, he’s fared very poorly in his career at Fenway. He’s looked decent in his first couple of starts, with his velocity back in full and some new depth to his curveball. I’d recommend a wait-and-see approach here.

Trevor May had a really, really bad start a couple turns ago. You remember, that one where he recorded one precious out and gave up like a million runs. But that one hiccup notwithstanding he has remained among the top 20 starters in cFIP for almost two months now, and has made legitimate (and significant) progress in honing his command of a solid and deep arsenal this year. His standing as a metrics darling will run into a stiff test this week, as both Baltimore and Detroit have the offensive firepower to rearrange his algorithm right quick. In AL-only and deep mixed leagues I wouldn’t bat an eye at playing the numbers, but in other league contexts he’s probably best left for another week.

Vincent Velasquez is your basic high-risk, high-reward play for a two-start week like this. On the one hand, the matchups tilt nicely in his favor. Cleveland has been a middle-of-the-road offensive unit in general, while Tampa has been below-average to date. Both squads have been struggling to score runs of late, and Tampa makes for a plum target for a pitcher with Velasquez’s strikeout stuff. The rookie’s been hit or miss in his five starts so far, and trusting him for two in a row will inherently require a leap of faith.

Miguel Gonzalez has had one of those annoying fantasy seasons where he’s been a top-50 pitcher in the aggregate, with above-board contributions in four categories. So in roto formats, if you’ve run him all year, you’ve actually gotten a perfectly solid mid-rotation effort from him. And yet as head-to-head leaguers can certainly attest he’s been a picture of start-to-start volatility and inconsistency. He’s got more starts in which he’s allowed four or more runs (six) than he does quality starts (five) in his 14 turns to date. He lives and dies in the air, which is good insofar as he generates a ton of pop-ups and it’s a helpful profile in suppressing his batting average against. On the flipside, the home run ball was, is, and probably at this point always will be his bugaboo. He’s given up 15 in his 82 1/3 innings this year. He sees a half-and-half schedule this week, with a Nationals offense that’s seventh-best at hitting dingers against righties and a Twins teams that’s not very good at that (or a lot of other things on offense).

I’m generally leery of starting players so freshly off an extended DL stint, and Moore’s inaugural start didn’t do much to allay those concerns. If you’re starting him this week you’re doing so betting on the matchups. Both opponents are middle-of-the-pack outfits against lefties, and the Astros’ whiff-happy ways make for an attractive draw. The Royals balance that out, however, and you’re left with a pretty neutral slate. Moore was limited by poor command before the surgery, and he’s that much more of a risky investment on the immediate back end of his recovery timeline as a result. I lean against running Moore, certainly until we get more of an extended look at what we’re dealing with.

Alfredo Simon should be a borderline start this week, as he’ll draw two bottom-third offenses who struggle in particular against righties. But boy has he been bad over his last three turns. Eighteen runs on 29 hits over 14 and two-thirds innings. Ouch. Nothing looks particularly wonky in his mechanical data points or velocity, but the results have been bad enough that he probably warrants some time on your bench to think about what he’s done to your ratios before you trust him again.

SIT

Carlos Rodon

TOR, @CHC

Carlos Quintana

TOR, @CHC

Andrew Heaney

@COL, @SEA

Kyle Ryan

@SEA, @MIN

Matt Boyd

@CHW, @KCR

Notes:

It’s an uglier week than usual to be a White Sox hurler, even if you’re one of the more highly-touted young arms in the league. Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon are both set up to face two of the three best offenses in baseball against left-handed pitching, and it should be noted that the Cubs’ numbers include several Bryant-less weeks in their sample. There’s some strikeout potential here but the risk factor is elevated significantly enough to warrant sitting both of these guys unless you’re in desperate need of innings and some luck.

Andrew Heaney runs into a similarly frustrating schedule situation this week. I like him, I really do. And there’s a dirty little secret about the Colorado Rockies: They’re pretty terrible against left-handed pitching. If ever you were one to gamble on a non-elite pitcher in Coors it should be one of Heaney’s ilk, and the back-end meeting with the Mariners is pretty sweet payoff for anyone who takes the plunge. I wouldn’t, though.