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Welcome to the starting pitcher planner, where every Friday I’ll be taking a look at the pitchers slated for two turns in the upcoming week. The hope is that the planner can help guide lineup and FAAB decisions that need to be made over the weekend. Of course, my information isn’t perfect and I don’t have a crystal ball. Rain, injuries, and teams reshuffling between when I write and Monday’s first pitch will definitely happen. If new information comes to light after we publish, I’ll try to tackle it in the comments. Feel free to beat me to it if you have any info, and I’ll be glad to offer my opinion there if you want it.

Let’s get some ground rules out the way before getting started. The pitchers will be split by league and then by category. Here are some general thoughts about the categories:

Auto-Starts: You paid a big price 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 pitch their way on to or fall off of this list as the season evolves. There won’t be many notes associated with this group, unless a player has just moved up or is in imminent danger of moving down.

Starts: These are the pitchers I’m recommending you give the ball to this week. Some will be obvious, though not quite auto-start excellent. Others will be lesser talents who find themselves with a pair of favorable outings that you can take advantage of.

Considers: These guys will be on the fence and your league settings and position in the standings will play a big role in your decision. A pitcher in this category can be an SP2 or SP3 with a tough week of matchups. Conversely, he could be a team’s number five who happens to be lined up against a couple basement dwellers. Your particular league context carries the day 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.



Johnny Cueto


Clayton Kershaw


Stephen Strasburg



Wei-Yin Chen


Gio Gonzalez


John Lackey


Francisco Liriano


Jimmy Nelson


Drew Pomeranz


Julio Teheran


Vince Velasquez


Michael Wacha


I covered Chen last week, and he was subsequently knocked off his two-start week by a Marlins rotation shuffle. In a quality start against the Phillies Tuesday, Chen held his May velocity rebound. He’s an easy start call most weeks, especially so when he gets the Braves.

Gio will face two top ten offenses next, and isn’t as much of a slam dunk as you might think if you’re just looking at his 1.86 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. His 80.3 percent strand rate and .257 BABIP are in the top-20 highest and lowest, respectively, among qualifiers. A couple ticks have gone missing from his heater, and I’m skeptical Gonzalez can continue to generate easy outs on infield flies at roughly double his career rate.

Lackey has been sensational in his first year with the Cubs, pairing a career-high strikeout rate with his typical ability to limit free passes. A matchup with the Cardinals is enough to pause, but Lackey dominated his old club a month ago, striking out 11 over seven innings. You never could have convinced me that Lackey would be a plug-and-play veteran into his late-30s, yet here we are.

We’re back to the enigmatic version of Liriano, where he mixes in double-digit strikeout games with those where he walks a batter every inning, and sometimes does both at the same time. His poor ratios are mostly attributable to seeing more balls fly out of the park than usual. Natural HR/FB regression and a batted ball mix that’s still grounder-heavy provide reason for optimism, but Liriano has been in the zone far more often than in recent years, and hitters are squaring him up there. Which of those competing trends wins out will dictate whether the ratio liability overwhelms the strikeout boost going forward.

Nelson is outpitching the advanced metrics in a pretty significant way, sporting a 3.07 ERA against a 4.33 DRA. Nevertheless, it’s hard to feel too pessimistic about him next week, since the Braves and Reds are two of the four worst offenses in the league against righties. The Reds beat Nelson up recently, but they generally don’t hit and are ill equipped to capitalize on his occasional wildness.

It’s worth remembering that Pomeranz was the fifth-overall pick in the 2010 draft. Given his recent history of bouncing between the rotation and the ‘pen, and the mediocre starting results he had as in both the upper levels and the major leagues, it’s easy to forget about his pedigree. What Pomeranz has shown for most of his journey, regardless of role or location, is the ability to elicit strikeouts. He’s currently doing that at the seventh highest rate in the league. Like many of the pitchers in this group this week, good old-fashioned luck is producing some extra shine on his ratios. You won’t mind when they back up, as long as he continues whiffing people at this pace.

Teheran has been a bright spot for the Braves, returning to something close to his 2013-14 form. There are warning signs, though, including the same strand rate and batted ball concerns I mentioned with Gonzalez. Teheran has exhibited the ability to achieve a low BABIP and high strand rate over sustained periods, so maybe he’s extraordinarily lucky, or maybe it’s a skill. I’m not sure. What has me concerned now is that batters are having no problem making contact, and that contact has been loud. Teheran’s current 80.4 percent contact rate is 2.5 percentage points higher than his career average, and the amount of hard contact made against him is a top-10 mark among qualifiers. I’m willing to keep rolling with him for the time being, but I won’t be shocked if his season starts to unravel.

If I’m willing to start him here, I suppose I should just elevate Velasquez to auto-start status. I want to see a little more though, starting with seeing him pitch deeper into games. Aside from the complete game masterpiece, Velasquez hasn’t gone more than six innings.

If you read previous entries of this column, you may remember that Wacha is a pitcher that makes me nervous. He wildly outperformed the advanced stats last year, and the difference between his ERA and DRA has only widened in 2016. I just don’t believe he has the pure stuff to continue this. Wacha has experienced significant deterioration in his swinging strike rate (and has experienced year-over-year decline every year of his career), while hitters’ contact is improving in both quality and quantity. I’ll keep Wacha here in deference to what I believe are generally positive feelings about him in the industry, but if I owned him, I’d be looking to move shares if I had a buyer who believes in the sustainability of his current performance.


Bartolo Colon


Brandon Finnegan


Tom Koehler


Adam Wainwright


Colon’s last two starts have come against the Nationals and Dodgers, and he’ll get them both again next week. Colon managed only 9 2/3 innings in those two contests, giving up eight earned runs in the process. Finnegan barely makes this group and I’d only use him in deep contexts with no other viable options. Koehler can’t find the plate, so employing him isn’t for the faint of heart, even when the slate is favorable. Wainwright threw 6 2/3 scoreless on Wednesday night, a breath of fresh air for owners who have had no choice but to stick by him. I’m cautiously optimistic that he can still help your ratios this summer, with an emphasis on the caution this week, considering the first opponent.


Shelby Miller


Chris Rusin


Rusin’s 4.50 ERA and 1.47 WHIP hide the fact that he’s been decent under the surface (102 DRA-, 101 cFIP). Still, these matchups and venues aren’t the time to get cute.



Cole Hamels


David Price


Chris Sale



Chris Archer


Nathan Eovaldi


Rich Hill


Ian Kennedy


Jake Odorizzi


Chris Tillman


Edinson Volquez


Taijuan Walker


Archer is a holdover from last week, as the Rays went with a proper five-man rotation, giving Matt Andriese another start and bumping Archer off a two-start week even though he would have been on regular rest. I had Archer as a Consider then, because the competition was a bit tougher. Even with the more favorable slate, he’s still straddling that line. For all the strikeouts, he hasn’t been able limit baserunners, and control issues that hearken back complaints leveled during his prospect days.

Eovaldi was yet another pitcher on last week’s report. The Yanks shuffled up when Luis Severino hit the disabled list. We saw the good version this week; Eovaldi allowed just one baserunner over six innings, striking out five. I’m bullish, and his inflated ERA provides a buying window.

Including last year’s four starts, our sample size on the new Rich Hill sits at 78 2/3 innings. My confidence is growing with every start, but I still have reservations given how hard it is to untangle the data. His zone rate is among the best in the league even as his first strike percentage is among the worst. Batters struggle mightily to make contact on balls in the zone, but rarely offer at balls outside the zone. He struggles to pitch past the sixth innings due to the high pitch counts that come from a high volume of walks and strikeouts. He is an obvious Start right now, though I wouldn’t be surprised at any result in the wide range of outcomes for his next 78 2/3 innings.

It’s tough to find anything substantially different about Kennedy, other than the fact that he gets to pitch in front of Kansas City’s defense. For a fly-ball pitcher who has skewed even more heavily in that direction in 2016, that’s a major boost.

Odorizzi has not been able to back up his breakout 2015. His strikeout rate has slipped and his run prevention numbers have suffered because of the kind of HR/FB variance that often makes fly ball pitchers look bad over 50-inning stretches. Odorizzi rated extraordinarily well last season by DRA- (79, ninth-best among pitchers with 100 innings) and cFIP (78, 13th-best), so I advise hanging in there to see if Odorizzi can rediscover some the swing-and-miss stuff and limit the hard contact. Miami can help with the former, the Yankees with the latter.

Tillman is one of the season’s biggest surprises to me. I never really bought his performance in 2013-14, even though he accumulated a 400-plus inning sample of a 3.50 ERA. The advanced stats just didn’t legitimize it, and I doubted whether Tillman had enough strikeout ability to stay relevant if the ratios corrected. 2015 was a disaster, as his strikeout rate shrunk, his walk rate grew, and his ERA ballooned to 4.99. Tillman’s walk rate has continued to increase, only now he’s complementing it with a 25.6 percent strikeout rate (9.2 K/9) that’s a career best by more than four percentage points. He found a little extra heat across the board, he’s throwing a very effective cutter roughly twice as often as he ever has, and both of his secondaries are better by whiff percentage and quality of contact against. Besides the divergence from his track record, there’s no real reason to doubt that this is a true breakout.

Volquez hasn’t been quite as good as he was last season, but he’s still plenty useful. He looks remarkably similar to the pitcher he’s been since his rejuvenation in Pittsburgh, striking out a moderate amount of batters and continuing to improve upon the substantial walk rate gains he made there.

Walker’s ascent hit a speed bump over the last couple weeks. He’s given up eight earned runs in his past three starts and 12 2/3 innings, which includes one turn where he left after two innings with a neck injury. Home runs have been an issue for Walker in each of the past two seasons, including during his time in Triple-A, and they’ve been a problem again during this stretch. If he can recapture the groundball rate gains he seemed to have made early in the season, some of the volatility should recede.


Mike Clevinger


Doug Fister


Ricky Nolasco


Josh Tomlin


Nick Tropeano


Clevinger showed his strikeout stuff in his debut on Wednesday, and looked good before getting into trouble the third time through the order. It’s a tough draw next week, but he’ll get the chance to stick with Cody Anderson sent back down. Houston sent Chris Devesnki back to the bullpen, which means Fister gets to hang around the rotation a little longer. Miraculously, he’s turned in six quality starts in a row, assuming you agree with the textbook definition of “quality.” There aren’t any strikeouts and I’m betting against continued success, though a matchup against the Angels is tasty. According to the computers, Nolasco continues to be better than you think. His strikeout and walk rates are the best they’ve been since 2010, and his strand rate has been extraordinarily unlucky. On the other hand, he’s only given up fewer than four runs in three of his eight starts. Tomlin has been adequate and is an acceptable option if you need someone to chew innings. Tropeano’s spot in the Angels rotation is secure and he’s showing progress, though his 3.30 ERA paints an unrealistic picture of his true talent.


R.A. Dickey


Mat Latos


Mike Pelfrey


It was fun while it lasted, Latos.

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I believe Tomlin is only a 1-start next week.
Doesn't Steven Wright have 2 starts?