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Submit chat questions for Jeffrey Paternostro (Fri Jan 15 at 12:00 pm EST)

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.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

AUTO-START

Madison Bumgarner

BOS, LAD

Jacob deGrom

@PIT, @MIL

Jon Lester

@PHI, @ATL

Steven Matz

@PIT, @MIL

START

Adam Conley

@MIN, @ARI

Joe Ross

@CHW, PHI

Conley’s roller-coaster season rambles on, as he followed up a pair of duds with a gem on Wednesday. He took a no-hitter into the sixth and finished with nine strikeouts and five baserunners spread over a half-dozen frames. Conley’s changeup has been one of the best in the game, featuring more horizontal movement than anyone save Chris Sale. Batters are clearly having a hard time squaring it, as his foul ball and ground ball percentages are among the highest in the league and line drive rate among the lowest. I’ll keep recommending Conley as long as those trends persist, acknowledging that the start-to-start variance can be frustrating.

It’s kind of incredible how dominant Ross has been against right-handers so far in his young career. Righties have managed just a .178/.218/.284 triple-slash against him over 137 1/3 innings. The flip side of that, is that lefties have teed him up to the tune of a .279/.362/.424 line. While Ross is a strict two-pitch-guy against righties, he employs a changeup against southpaws that has shown year-over-year improvement. Batters are offering less at it, whiffing nearly twice as often when they do swing, and crucially, not hitting the snot out of the ball when they do make contact. We’re talking about samples of less than 100 pitches, so I’m not ready to draw any definitive conclusions, but it’s encouraging that Ross has lowered the slugging percentage against his offspeed pitch from .857 last season .438 in 2016. Neither the White Sox nor the Phillies are well equipped to take advantage of Ross’ platoon split.

CONSIDER

Mike Bolsinger

COL, @SF

Eddie Butler

@LAD, SD

Tyler Chatwood

@LAD, SD

Zach Davies

OAK, NYM

Mike Leake

@CIN, @PIT

Jon Niese

NYM, STL

Robbie Ray

TB, MIA

Bolsinger hasn’t been great since his promotion, but he did hold the Cubs in check in his last outing, punching out six over five innings while yielding a pair of runs. Next weeks’ venues make him a decent deep-league even though the competition is stiff. It’s also worth noting that he could lose this spot if Hyun-Jin Ryu returns to the big club and the Dodgers keep Julio Urias up.

Chatwood hasn’t been nearly as good as his 2.99 ERA represents (5.19 DRA, 110 cFIP) and Butler has been a tick better than his 4.13 would have you believe (4.06 DRA, 102 cFIP). Starting marginal Colorado pitchers is a scary proposition, but this is as good a time as any to do it. The Dodgers’ offense has been unexpectedly limp, and he’ll be hard-pressed to get a better Coors matchup than the Padres.

Davies is coming off eight innings of shutout ball, in which he gave up only three hits and no walks against the excellent Cardinals offense. He’s not likely to strike out nine ever again, but I like his odds of posting acceptable ratios next week against these two clubs, despite the fact that both turns come at Miller Park.

Leake was atrocious in his first six starts as a Cardinal, posting a 6.03 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in those 34 1/3 innings. He’s been far better on the surface in his last five outings, recording a 1.59 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. A word of caution is warranted here though, since those numbers come with a .225 BABIP and 98.5 percent strand rate. Move him while you can.

The same caution should be extended to Niese, whose string of five quality starts (okay, the last one fell short by an inning) can also be discounted due to extreme batted ball and strand rate luck. The Cardinals aren’t nearly as formidable against southpaws as they are against righties, and the Mets aren’t formidable, period.

Ray’s fantasy value lies in his his strikeout ability. Tampa strikes out at the second highest rate in the league against right-handers. Two contests in Arizona against teams that rate favorably by OPS is a risky time to make the gamble, but it’s understandable if strikeouts are your primary concern.

SIT

Christian Friedrich

ATL, @COL

John Lamb

STL, OAK

Adam Morgan

CHC, @WAS

Juan Nicasio

NYM, STL

Williams Perez

@SD, CHC

AMERICAN LEAGUE

The Red Sox have Monday and Thursday off next week, so they could go with a four-man rotation after Joe Kelly was demoted. If they do that route, Rick Porcello is in line for two starts. The A’s are also looking like a four-man rotation until Sonny Gray comes off the disabled list, which could be next week. If not, Sean Manaea gets the ball twice.

AUTO-START

Carlos Carrasco

@SEA, @LAA

Cole Hamels

HOU, @SEA

Masahiro Tanaka

LAA, DET

START

J.A. Happ

@DET, BAL

Dallas Keuchel

@TEX, @TB

Aaron Sanchez

@DET, BAL

Ten of Happ’s 11 outings have met the definition of quality start. Throwing out the worst start can be a dumb game to play, but let’s do it anyhow: If we discard Happ’s two-inning clunker in which he gave up an eight-spot, he would have a 2.10 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP over nearly 70 innings. His strikeout numbers are down, yes, and it’s easy to spot the regression coming as some other metrics normalize, but I think Happ remains underappreciated for what he’s accomplished since being traded to the Pirates last summer.

This very well could be stubbornness and wishful thinking given the number of Keuchel shares I own this year, but I still believe a turnaround is coming. I’m not so delusional to expect a return to 2014-15 form, and I think Bret and Mike’s placement of Keuchel at the tail end of their revised top-100, right around the 25th best starting pitcher, is appropriate. If you disagree, next week is a good time to exercise caution. The Rangers and Rays don’t have much issue with southpaws and Arlington isn’t a pleasant place to pitch.

Is it just me or does it seem like Sanchez’s breakout season isn’t getting the kind of notice it deserves? This is a guy who ranked as our 25th best prospect in baseball as recently as last year and was 31st the year before that, and his surface stats are wholly substantiated by the underlying performance (92 cFIP). His 58.5 percent groundball rate is the third best among qualifiers, and limits some of the wariness you might have about his home park. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for Sanchez as a trade target because it’s unclear how he will hold up as his innings total climbs; he’ll likely set a new career high before July. In the meantime, I’m not at all hesitant about starting him, even in weeks like next one, where the context is not ideal.

CONSIDER

Chris Archer

@ARI, HOU

Trevor Bauer

@SEA, @LAA

Pat Dean

MIA, BOS

Danny Duffy

@BAL, @CHW

Mike Fiers

@TEX, @TB

Michael Fulmer

TOR, @NYY

Colby Lewis

HOU, @SEA

Michael Pineda

LAA, DET

Matt Shoemaker

@NYY, CLE

Archer is a middle class person’s Robbie Ray, which is to say you should play him for the strikeouts and consider anything else a bonus for the time being. I don’t like that it’s come to this either.

Bauer is exactly the guy you thought he was: ERA a few tenths north of 4.00, WHIP around 1.30, and a little less than a strikeout per inning. That’ll play in two favorable home parks.

Duffy made it through six innings on Wednesday, the longest he’s gone in four starts since de-converting. He struck out 14 batters against zero walks in his past three turns, covering 15 2/3 innings.

Fiers turned in his best effort of 2016 this week, striking out seven Diamondbacks over six innings. Shifting his pitch mix away from a mediocre four-seamer has helped him trend away from his former extreme fly ball tendency. Fiers has been stingy with the free pass again and he’s due for some regression (the good kind), which should polish up his overall line.

Fulmer has been utterly dominant in his last three outings, culminating in a no-hit bid that lasted into the seventh inning on Wednesday. He’s given up one run and 13 baserunners in his past 22 1/3 innings, while striking out 22. He’s an obvious start in deeper contexts, but I’m not quite ready to whitewash the rough first four starts. His true talent is somewhere in between.

I would have been more than a point off if you made me guess Colby Lewis’ ERA before I looked it up just now. It’s 3.09. Who knew?

Good for you if you have a read on Pineda. I don’t.

This Shoemaker thing is intriguing. Riding heavy splitter usage, he has 31 strikeouts and zero walks in his past three starts. 31 strikeouts and zero walks! Time will tell if he can stay effective while using his splitter almost half the time or if this is just a gimmick that worked for a short stint. You’ll need to bid aggressively if you want him, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw him straight into your lineup.

SIT

Pat Dean

MIA, BOS

Ubaldo Jimenez

KC, @TOR

Mat Latos

WAS, KC

Wade Miley

CLE, TEX

James Paxton

CLE, TEX

Hector Santiago

@NYY, CLE

Mike Wright

KC, @TOR

I’m interested to see what Dean does once the league gets some more tape on him. The stash of pixie dust that Santiago was using to escape his shaky peripherals is cashed.

Thank you for reading

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jmoney135
6/03
You have Pat Dean listed twice, but I'm assuming you want to stay away.
gregwellemeyer
6/06
Yeah, good catch. I originally had him in the Consider section and ultimately decided that I wanted to see more before I went there. cFIP likes what it's seen so far (93), but I'm not sure he has the stuff to keep this up since he relies so heavily on a sub-90 MPH collection of fastballs.
seansmallman
6/03
I understand the premise of the auto-start category and Carrasco certainly is that "anytime, anywhere" type of pitcher but those matchups next week are concerning. Would you start him over one start guys like Cole at home vs. STL or Quintana at home vs. KC?
gregwellemeyer
6/06
I prefer Carrasco's two starts to either one of those, yes, but surely you have worse options to sit than one of Carrasco/Cole/Quintana.
indians1954
6/04
Which pitcher do you think will have a better 2016: Shoemaker or Fulmer?
gregwellemeyer
6/06
Really tough question that depends entirely on whether Shoemaker can continue to be successful with this new pitch mix. I'll take Shoemaker, but don't feel strongly about it.
drdhr5y
6/04
Sean Manaea has @ Brewers and @ Reds according to my schedule. Matchups are away but in NL parks avoiding the DH. Seems like a good time to roll the dice to me.
gregwellemeyer
6/06
Sonny Gray is off the disabled list as of Sunday. The A's only play five times next week, so nobody will get two starts. I don't love the fly-ball prone Manaea at Miller Park.