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It’s our penultimate Planner of the year, and unfortunately, it’s a doozy. Out of a relatively light 37 total two-start options, a full 16 are completely unstartable, with another half-dozen or so teetering ever-so-marginally in the “consider” pile. AL-only managers get the lion’s share of value this week with four of the best arms in the league set to take the ball twice, while things in the senior circuit get ugly fast.

Before we dive in I’ll reiterate my note from the last couple of weeks that changes to the probables happen much more regularly this month, as teams look to save innings, manipulate matchups, and give longer looks to young guys. So we’ll start to see guys jump on and drop off this list after it goes to print much more regularly, and I’m happy to address any and all changes as they come up in the comments below.

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

Jacob deGrom

ATL, @CIN

START

Bartolo Colon

ATL, @CIN

John Lackey

CIN, MIL

Notes:

This is quite possibly the last two-start week of Bartolo Colon’s illustrious fantasy baseball career. Go get ‘em, kid! On the real, though? Big man’s been pitching excellent ball over the past few weeks, and while I wouldn’t expect ace returns here, the schedule’s nice and he offers a reasonably lower-risk opportunity to pick up innings and a win or two.

John Lackey’s fantasy value this year has far eclipsed the produced real-life value that DRA and cFIP would have you believe. As of press time, he’s been the 23rd-most-valuable starting pitcher in standard formats, largely on the strength of his bulk innings and solid ratios. He’s worked at least six innings in 17 consecutive starts dating back to the beginning of June, making him an especially valuable play in a week like this, where he toes the rubber twice against middle-of-the-road competition.

CONSIDER

Jaime Garcia

CIN, MIL

Gio Gonzalez

BAL, PHI

Chris Heston

@SDG, @OAK

Shelby Miller

@NYM, @MIA

Brett Anderson

ARI, @COL

Jimmy Nelson

@CHC, @STL

Jhoulys Chacin

@LAD, @SDG

Robbie Ray

@LAD, @SDG

Jason Hammel

MIL, PIT

Notes:

Jaime Garcia’s 73 DRA- ranks him 15th among starters with at least 110 innings on the year, but cFIP paints more of a league-average picture of his projected future performance. To that end he’s undergone some market correction of late, allowing 10 runs over his last couple of starts, including six to the same Brew Crew he’ll see again this week. He’s been leaning more heavily on his slider of late, and the pitch has responded by flattening out and finding more of the white of the plate. He’s generating whiffs with that pitch, but it’s also getting hit along with the rest of his arsenal. The matchups are solid enough that the general adage of starting Garcia whenever you can bleed some innings out of him probably holds in most leagues, but there’s enough here to at least pause and consider your actions.

I wrote about Chris Heston’s skillset at greater length a few weeks ago, and his struggles harnessing well-above-average movement have snowballed a bit in the time since. He’s walked 13 in his last five starts, failing to make it through six in any of them. His schedule is solid this week, however, and he’ll make for a decent gamble in NL-only leagues and some deeper mixed formats where you can spare a little collateral damage to your WHIP in order to chase counting stats.

I noted a buyer beware in rating Shelby Miller a middle-of-the-pack consider a couple weeks ago, and he promptly responded with one strong start against the same Marlins squad he’ll draw this week, and one shellacking at the hands of the Nationals. He got shellacked again by Toronto in his last turn. The Mets offense hasn’t quite been as good as the Nationals or Blue Jays lately. It’s been better. The Metropolitans have also touched up Miller a bit in a couple of looks this year. Overall, the outlook is about on par with his last two-start draw, maybe slightly worse. He’s on the board in deeper mixed and NL-only leagues depending on your needs, but I’d be more conservative in medium-depth and shallower formats.

Brett Anderson’s an awfully tough call for the week, with a trip to Coors Field on the agenda. He’s pitched well against the Rockies in three turns, including one in Colorado’s house earlier this season. And he’s looked similarly solid against non-Goldschmidtian Diamondbacks. Outside of a tough turn against the Nationals last month he also hasn’t given up more than three earned runs in a game since early June. That Nats game is in fact the only start of his season where he’s allowed more than four. So the consistency is there, the in-a-vacuum performance against his opponents is there, and the extreme ground-ball rate to ostensibly mitigate some danger is there. But Coors Field… mmph.

Both Arizona hurlers will find themselves with marginally advantageous two-start weeks in this period, and while neither guy is likely to give you a ton of combined innings, I prefer Chacin among them. The Dodgers have been particularly potent against left-handed pitching for one thing, and Ray’s obscene walk ate (20 in his last six starts covering 29 innings) makes him a more extreme WHIP risk. The Dodgers have been one of the most patient teams in the league lately, making them an especially tough draw for Ray. Either’s an option in NL-only and deeper mixed leagues, but don’t get crazy aggressive with either.

Like Shelby Miller above, Jason Hammel has been a curious case of peripherals and eye test this year. He has taken up residence in the top 30 in cFIP for most of the year, currently checking in 29th. Yet anyone who has him in a league I suspect has a much different view of his body of work, particularly of late. Hammel has managed to make it through six innings just twice in his 11 post-break starts, and he’s been particularly dodgy of late: In his last six starts, he’s allowed 20 runs in 29 innings with a WHIP north of 1.6. I’d just as soon not bother with him next week, as he’s just not likely to give you all that much added value over a halfway-decent one-start guy, and the matchups make him less attractive.

SIT

J.A. Happ

@COL, @CHC

Michael Lorenzen

@STL, NYM

John Lamb

@STL, NYM

Jon Gray

PIT, LAD

Alex Wood

ARI, @COL

Wily Peralta

@CHC, @STL

Aaron Harang

@MIA, @WAS

Notes:

Just a bummer of a draw for J.A. Happ, who has been pitching outstanding baseball since joining the Bucs. I just can’t see starting him this week, much to the chagrin of every NL-only manager who grabbed him post-trade. Coors is Coors, and the Cubs are just a filthy offense against left-handed pitchers in general and fastballs thrown by left-handed pitchers in particular. No bueno.

I feel bad picking on Michael Lorenzen again, so let’s talk about his rotation-mate John Lamb instead. I was semi-bullish on his potential to be a back-end asset down the stretch after his call-up, and he’s probably been closer to that than the topline numbers suggest. His 3.77 FIP sits more than a run-and-a-half south of his ERA, a discrepancy that is chiefly the byproduct of an astronomical .396 BABIP. He’s earned some of that number by giving up a bunch of line drives, but he hasn’t particularly deserved the fate he’s had so far. The whiff rate has been excellent, the Reds defense is pretty good, and the combination should be better going forward. That said, while the Cardinals have really struggled to produce offensively of late, the Mets have not, and one out of two solid matchups isn’t quite enough for me to pull the trigger on Lamb, even in an NL-only.

Jon Gray had himself a nice night in his last turn against the Dodgers, but once again Walt Weiss came with a quick hook, refusing to allow him to work his way out of a fifth-inning jam. At some point, I’m sure the gloves will ease off a bit and Gray may have the chance to prove himself fantasy-relevant, but we’re clearly not there yet. The whiffs have been there, but the command has not, leading to lots of hits and an elevated walk rate in his young MLB career. This week underscores his tough lot in life as a Colorado starter, as he’s an unequivocal “sit” with two home starts against solid offenses.

Wily Peralta’s two-start week got bumped to this week, and nothing about road starts in Chicago and St. Louis does much of anything to make me more bullish on him as an option. Neither cFIP nor DRA is a fan of his work, and while he’s held his own against St. Louis in his career, the Cubs have absolutely crushed him. Anthony Rizzo has a slow pitch softball-esque 1.649 OPS against Peralta in 30 plate appearances. Starlin Castro checks in at 1.242 over 28. Thanks but no thanks, Wily.

Maybe you squeeze a couple won’t-kill-you five-inning stints out of Aaron Harang this week and vulture a win, but is it really worth the stench of desperation?

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Danny Salazar

@MIN, @KCR

Dallas Keuchel

LAA, TEX

Chris Archer

@BOS, @TOR

David Price

NYY, TAM

Notes:

Danny Salazar’s two-start week migrated to this scoring period, and I’ll reiterate last week’s concerns about velocity and release point. Over his past handful of starts, he hasn’t been pitching like the same guy who currently sits 15th in cFIP, but he’s looked good enough to trust for a two-start week against a marginally advantageous schedule. As I noted last week, if you’re aangling for a title right now, he’s one of the guys who’s going to have to win it for you, so you might as well roll with him.

STARTS

None.

CONSIDER

Eduardo Rodriguez

TAM, BAL

Ervin Santana

CLE, @DET

Luis Severino

@TOR, CHW

Jered Weaver

@HOU, SEA

Martin Perez

@OAK, @HOU

Notes:

Rodriguez’s rookie volatility has unfortunately come in the form of a handful of epic disasters this season, but outside of outside of four starts in which he’s allowed 30 runs in 15 innings, he’s really been quite good. That includes his most recent five-game stretch, in which he’s put up a 1.71 ERA and 1.26 WHIP with 26 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings. The changeup has really played well over his last handful of starts, and as long as his feel for that pitch is there, he has a fighting chance in any given start. The threat of nuclear destruction every time he takes the ball is enough to keep him just shy of the “start” category this week, but the matchups are solid at home and he’s a nice option in most formats.

Ervin Santana has been on a sweet little run of late, working seven or more innings in each of his past four starts and allowing just five runs in 29 total frames. He’s struck out 32 during the stretch, and the recent transformation coincides with a move from the third- to the first-base side of the rubber. Lefties, long a bugaboo for Santana, have struggled with the new release point, particularly against his slider. That bodes well for his matchups this week, as the lefties in both lineups have struggled some against right-handed pitching this year. We’re dealing with a small data sample here, but the last four starts certainly indicate some interesting progress for a guy with an erratic track record like Santana. I’m cautiously optimistic it continues into this scoring period.

SIT

Mike Wright

@WAS, @BOS

Jeff Samardzija

@DET, @NYY

Erik Johnson

@DET, @NYY

Randy Wolf

CHW, MIN

Kyle Lobstein

CHW, MIN

Adam Warren

@TOR, CHW

Cody Martin

TEX, SFG

Matt Moore

@BOS, @TOR

Jeremy Guthrie SEA, CLE

Notes:

I like Mike Wright a good deal in theory, as does our own Al Skorupa, who wrote nice things about him in his chat this week. Guys who throw 95 with 14 mph of changeup separation are hard to not like. His transition to the majors has been a bumpy one, however, and it’s awfully tough to get excited about him as a stream in any format this week. None of his secondaries generate enough whiffs, or even enough weak contact at this point, and he’ll draw road starts against two of the best offenses in baseball over the past month. Add in that he hasn’t worked beyond five innings since May, and there isn’t really much to hang your hat on.

Even before his 10-run implosion last time out, Jeff Samardzija had been unstartable for several weeks. His 7.43 ERA in 12 second-half starts is the worst of any starter by almost a full run, and his 5.68 FIP is better than just two other guys. His whiff rate has bottomed out this month thanks to absurd contact rates against his secondaries. Name recognition is all well and good, but there is absolutely no reason Shark should be cracking anybody’s starting rotation right now.

Were it not for the schedule, I’d probably have tried to squeeze Adam Warren into the consider pile, but there’s just too much working against him this week. He’s newly minted back in the Yankees rotation after pitching in the bullpen for quite some time, so the issue of aggregate innings along with his scheduled starts at Toronto and against a White Sox team that is hitting again has him on the outside looking in at most all leagues. For future reference, however, he quietly boasts a solid and deep arsenal of pitches and has shown some pitchability in his innings this year. Another time, another place, Mr. Warren.