keyboard_arrow_uptop

It is a big, deep week of two-start options this period, with 23 National League options and 20 in the American. The former features a much more straightforward distribution, including a whole bunch of out-of-the-gate disqualifications, while the AL is as muddled as you’ll see in a given week. We’re still awaiting Oakland naming a starter for their would-be two-start slot (HOU, @TEX), while the Astros will continue rolling with a six-man rotation in order to keep its arms fresh. That’s a real bummer for managers who will be in the thick of head-to-head playoff matchups, as Mike Fiers would have lined up nicely in that slot @OAK and @LAA.

Speaking of keeping arms fresh, it’s increasingly more important than usual to understand that the schedule of probable starters is subject to change. We’re into September now, meaning bigger rosters and weary starting pitchers. Teams will start shuffling their rotations at the drop of a hat to give guys extra time or to get a look at another young arm, so we’ll start to see guys jump on and drop off this list post-publication that much ore frequently. I’m happy to address any and all evolution in the comments below as requested.

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

@LAA, @ARI

Francisco Liriano

@CIN, MIL

Michael Wacha

CHC, @CIN

Max Scherzer

NYM, @MIA

START

Mike Leake

@ARI, SDG

Ian Kennedy

COL, @SFG

Raisel Iglesias

PIT, STL

Taylor Jungmann

@MIA, @PIT

Notes:

I’ve been riding shotgun on the Mike Leake bandwagon for a while now, and San Francisco was a pretty perfect landing spot for him after the deadline. He’s been quality in eight of his past nine starts and has pitched above his peripherals consistently all year thanks to some added hop on his fastball and better deployment of that weapon. He’s dominated Diamondback hitters in his career, chief among them Paul Goldschmidt (two-for-16, no extra base hits), and the Padre offense should scare nobody right now.

Ian Kennedy has had something of an odd year. He’s maintained his whiff-per-inning pace while cutting his walk rate this year and benefitting significantly from some BABIP luck while pitching in one of the great pitchers’ parks. Yet, despite all this, his home run rate has spiked to an absurd career high and his FIP currently sits over a run and a half higher than last year’s despite similar topline production. He’s been quietly pretty dominant in the second half, however, posting a 2.35 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over nine starts since the All-Star break. He’ll get the Rockies in the opposite of Coors, followed by a struggling Giants lineup in another cavernous environment. Giddyup.

Rather than go through the motions here I’m going to be lazy and just point you in the direction of George Bissell’s excellent look at Raisel Iglesias from last week and note that I share his bullishness. Iglesias’ pure stuff is very good, and he’s made real and tangible strides in demonstrating and ability to harness it over the course of the season. He’s now working on a string of seven consecutive quality starts, including three straight double-digit strikeout games, and should be started in all formats right now.

I was one for two in my last “start” recommendation for Taylor Jungmann, and we’ll go back to the well this week for a couple solid matchups, probably with similar results if I had to put money on it. Not much has changed in terms of the strengths I highlighted in that last write-up of Jungmann, and the price is right this week with matchups against two offenses that have performed as bottom-third units over the past couple weeks, and he’s handled Pittsburgh twice already.

CONSIDER

Aaron Nola

ATL, CHC

Jason Hammel

@STL, @PHI

Dan Haren

@STL, @PHI

Colin Rea

COL, @SFG

Anthony DeSclafani

PIT, STL

Rubby de la Rosa

SFG, LAD

Jon Niese

@WAS, @ATL

Notes:

Aaron Nola has pitched pretty well since getting the call in June, offering Philly fans rare gleaming moments of joy in an otherwise drab year. His stuff hasn’t played quite as well over the past month as it did initially after his debut, but he’ll have himself a moderately advantageous calendar this week. Both of his opponents have seen him already, though not since his second and third big league starts. Each had some success in the prior meeting, but again, that was forever and a half ago in the whirlwind life of a big league rookie. The Cubs are the better offense at present, and the combination lands somewhere around a middle-of-the-pack schedule. I like Nola as a plucky deep league and NL-only play, though he should sit in shallower leagues.

Length has been a real issue for the Cubs’ rotation of late, and the two chief culprits have been this week’s two-starters, Jason Hammel and Dan Haren. Hammel has completed six innings just once in the last two months, a stretch spanning ten starts, while Haren has made it through six just once in his six starts since coming over from Miami. Each have their merits despite the efficiency issues: Hammel’s DRA points to a nicely above-average starter to date, with his cFIP sliding him inside the top 30 among all starters with at least 70 innings this year. And Haren has managed to threaten the top 50 starters in standard league value (he currently checks in 51st) on the strength of an excellent-as-usual WHIP and solid contributions across the rest of the fantasy-relevant board. Both are on the board in NL-only and deeper mixed formats this week on account of their respective potentials for value in targeted categories and the split decision schedule. I’ll side with the cumulative metrics and narrowly prefer Hammel here, but either is an option to consider.

Anthony DeSclafani has been just about the prototypical mid-rotation NL-only guy this year. He’s shown general consistency in pitching pretty much right on his peripherals, but there’s also the requisite propensity to get blown up for six runs every few starts. He’s a marginally league-average starter by cFIP, and he’ll fittingly face a middle-of-the-road schedule this week. He’s not someone I’d go a-streamin’ in mixed leagues, but he’s a fine enough play in deep leagues and –only formats where the innings value trumps ratio concerns.

Rubby de la Rosa has had himself quite the interesting season, both in general and specifically for fantasy purposes. On one hand, he’s produced the 64th most value of any starter, making him relevant in pretty much all formats and leagues. On the other his maddening volatility makes him a really difficult guy to run in a given week. He continues to get absolutely destroyed by left-handed hitters. His latest effort to combat that trend has been to throw more and more sliders to lefties, which has resulted in fewer and fewer offerings at the pitch and a skyrocketing ISO against it. The Dodgers and Giants are both average-to-slightly-better offenses as far as their left-handed performance against right-handed pitching, so while it’s not a worst-case slate of match-ups for De La Rosa, it’s certainly not a helpful schedule. I’d lean against running him in most formats, unless you’re desperate for win speculation in a deep league.

SIT

Zach Davies

@MIA, @PIT

Justin Nicolino

MIL, WAS

Edwin Jackson

@PHI, NYM

Matt Wisler

@PHI, NYM

Jon Gray

@SDG, @SEA

Chris Rusin

@SDG, @SEA

Aaron Harang

ATL, CHC

Jeff Locke

@CIN, MIL

Notes:

Zach Davies is a semi-interesting guy to keep tabs on in NL-only leagues, but he doesn’t possess an arsenal of stuff or the kind of starter’s build that you want to see in a newly minted and fantasy-relevant big league pitcher. The matchups this week are solid enough, but for a rookie making his second and third starts in the Show, all matchups are unfathomably difficult. Keep an eye on him, but I’d look elsewhere for actual production this week.

Justin Nicolino has had a nice little run over his past four starts, posting quality outings in each with a sub-two ERA and 1.17 WHIP to go along with a couple of wins. Our metrics don’t buy the performance as at all sustainable, however. Out of the 303 pitchers to log at least Nicolino’s 44 Major League innings on the year so far his cFIP checks in 301st (not a typo). It makes sense, as his strikeout rate is the worst in the league, and his BABIP currently sits 25 points below league-average despite a batted ball profile that would suggest 25 above may be light. Both opponents this week have been solid offensively over the past few weeks. Basically, if you’ve had some recent streaming luck with him, bully for you. Bank it and move on.

With Mike Foltynewicz hitting the shelf it appears the Braves are poised to run recently-signed Edwin Jackson in their rotation in his stead, presumably as part of a subtle tanking effort to secure a higher draft slot next year. And as a similar play in your fantasy league Jackson makes for an excellent option. If your goal remains winning, however, Jackson is best avoided. His rotation-mate Matt Wisler at least offers the upside of youth, but his big league performance to date has been much too volatile to warrant trusting for a two-start week even in the deepest of –only leagues at this stage of the game.

If ever there were a week to start a Rockies pitcher it’s this one, with road matchups in two solidly pitcher-friendly parks. Unfortunately neither Gray nor Rusin really offers much in the way of an opportunity to take advantage of that strength of schedule. Gray has induced a marginally above-average swinging strike rate, but he’s been giving up just a ton of hard contact in what has been an extremely rude welcome to the big leagues. There’s no need to try and be a hero by gambling on prospect pedigree when the early returns have been this ugly. And while Rusin’s 103 cFIP points to something close to a league-average starter he’s actually been discernably worse on the road, effectively turning every hitter he’s faced into David Peralta. If you’re going to throw a Hail Mary with either off the match-ups I’d do it with Rusin, but really neither of these guys should be in consideration right now in spite of the friendly schedule.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Cole Hamels

@SEA, OAK

STARTS

Yordano Ventura

MIN, @BAL

Carlos Rodon

CLE, MIN

Notes:

Yordano Ventura is on quite the little run over his past five starts, allowing just four earned runs across 32 innings while striking out 43. It hasn’t all been rainbows and puppy dogs, however, as there are four- and six-walk games mixed in there. But he’s made a significant adjustment to his curveball, throwing the pitch faster and tighter now, and it has resulted in a hearty heaping of early-count strikes and grounders. His strikeout rate has exploded despite no significant uptick in his whiff rate, which is a testament to better execution of his pitches. His command is still a wobbly bedfellow, and owners on the WHIP bubble should beware, but he’s certainly pitching with a hot hand right now and the matchups this week grade out in his favor.

CONSIDER

Michael Pineda

BAL, TOR

Masahiro Tanaka

BAL, TOR

Matt Shoemaker

LAD, HOU

Taijuan Walker

TEX, COL

Yovani Gallardo

@SEA, OAK

Marco Estrada

@BOS, @NYY

Tommy Malone

@KCR, @CHW

Drew Smyly

@DET, BOS

Trevor Bauer

@CHW, DET

Rick Porcello

TOR, @TAM

R.A. Dickey

@BOS, @NYY

Cody Anderson

@CHW, DET

Roenis Elias

TEX, COL

Chris Tillman

@NYY, KCR

Notes:

I’ll admit I kind of have no idea what to do with either Yankee starter this week. By our advanced metrics Michael Pineda is one of the best pitchers in baseball this year. His cFIP is eleventh best of all starters, even despite his recent hiccups. Those hiccups were fairly alarming given how they coincided with a lost notch of velocity and subsequent DL stint for a sore forearm. He looked better in his last turn against the Red Sox, but he’s a pretty significant question mark right now. And Masahiro Tanaka has been good, if significantly shy of dominant lately. Still, he checks in 32nd in both DRA and cFIP and his arm hasn’t exploded this year, so I’d call that a pretty nice win for his fantasy owners. Toronto on the docket in a good hitter’s park is just not something you want to see right now, nor is Chris Davis. I’d probably lean towards rolling the dice on either of these guys regardless of format, but there’s a plenty strong case to be made for sitting Pineda in particular, and Tanaka owners in tenuous pitching situations should absolutely give pause.

Matt Shoemaker has certainly looked rejuvenated since his return from an August DL stint, adding a couple ticks of velocity and showing a new plan of attack that has borne fruit in consecutive starts. He’s thrown his sinker more in those two starts than any other outings this season, and perhaps not coincidentally they’ve been two of the more efficient starts he’s produced this season. The Dodgers and Astros have both struggled mightily to produce offensively over the last couple weeks, with the former checking in dead last in offensive efficiency. Add in Shoemaker’s love of home cooking (his career ERA at home is two and a half runs lower than it is on the road) and you’ve got yourself a nice play for the week.

If there’s a more annoying pitcher to figure out on a week-to-week basis than Trevor Bauer I don’t know who it is, and coming off a less-than-two-inning effort this week is a perfectly representative two-start scenario to try and navigate through. Detroit hitters have absolutely pummeled Bauer to the tune of a .950 combined OPS across 120 plate appearances, while he has managed to stifle White Sox hitters to a .632 mark in a similar sample of opportunities. He’s tried to lean more heavily on his sinker of late, but it has resulted in dramatically more line drives on the other end of his pitches. He’s not a guy that should really be trusted in any format, and he’s probably not one who should be run outside of the deepest leagues even in a neutral week like this.

Something’s going on with the post-DL version of Rick Porcello we’ve seen in two starts since his return. He’s working much more off his two-seamer like he did in the olden days, but when he’s gone to the four-seamer he’s missed bats at a jaw-dropping rate. He also appears to have fiddled around with his curveball grip, as his deuce is tumbling in about three miles an hour slower. Driven as it has been by the four-seam whiff rate I wouldn’t expect the strikeouts to continue piling up at their current rate, but it’s certainly worth noting that Porcello’s success in his past two starts has been the product of tangible changes in sequencing and execution. It’s a tough week schedule-wise, but in AL-only formats I can see taking the gamble if you need to catch a break or two to see if he really has turned a corner.

Chris Tillman just hasn’t been able to get it together for any stretch of time this year. After grinding his way through July and August, gradually shaving a run off his ERA in the process, he imploded against Tampa Bay in his last turn. cFIP has been consistently unimpressed with his effort, and there don’t appear to be many silver linings hiding under the ugly topline production this year. The Old Man Yankee offense has slowed dramatically in the dog days, while the Royals have had their own issues finding consistent offensive execution lately. Still, outside of the deepest of mixed and –only leagues where you’re chasing bulk stats I can’t imagine starting Tillman for two this week.

SIT

Randy Wolf

TAM, @CLE

Matt Boyd

TAM, @CLE

Notes:

There’s just no need to consider Randy Wolf for a stream under any circumstance these days, and while I still dig Matt Boyd as a real-life young starter the stuff plays down in the fantasy realm to begin with and he has not pitched well enough to garner consideration as yet.