August 7, 2015
Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner
It’s a quiet week this coming week in two-start land, as thanks to a handful of five-game schedules and six games across the rest of the board, there are only 33 options for this scoring period, which very well might be our lowest total yet for a week this season. The AL is particularly dicey, with just three auto-start guys and zero straight “start” candidates. The NL offers better options and a more well-rounded menu, but the pickin’s remain fairly slim even there. Four teams, Atlanta, Miami, Boston, an Houston will only play five times and are not currently anticipating a break from their standard five-man rotations, while the Twins remain the only team as of press time who haven’t announced a plan 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!
Taylor Jungmann continues to quietly plug along with his breakout rookie season. What he’s doing isn’ flashy, but he’s doing it very effectively. His four-seamer moves like a two, and in tandem with an excellent curveball that’s generating a well-above-average whiff rate, it gives him a nice arsenal to keep the ball on the ground in his gnarly home park. He’s one out shy of a seven-game quality-start streak, and while cFIP projects regression to more league-average production going forward, I’m perfectly willing to hedge on the good times continuing to roll against a Cubs lineup that is still struggling mightily and a Philadelphia lineup that, while hot lately, just isn’t very good.
So far so good in the Brett Anderson Breakdown Watch of 2015. He’s been nothing if not extremely consistent this season, giving up more than three runs in a start just twice out of his 20 turns in the rotation to date (and not once more than four). The Nats as a team put a ton of balls on the ground and make for a nice draw in Chavez Ravine, and while the Reds are a unit better suited to attack Anderson’s strengths, they field more of a middle-of-the-road lineup. The start-to-start consistency is key when selecting a two-start guy from the middle pack of pitchers, and Anderson’s earned that level of trust at this stage. It’s unclear how much more his owners are going to be able to get out of him this season, so they’re best served trying to extract every last drop out of him while they can get it.
Rubby De La Rosa continues to rock some of the biggest, baddest splits you’re ever likely to see out of a major-league starting pitcher. After showing some brief promise in May, his change and slider just haven’t developed any kind of consistency against opposite-handed hitters, and they’ve just brutalized his sinker all year long. The good news for de la Rosa owners, however, is that he’ll run into a pretty-close-to-perfect storm of lineups incapable of taking advantage of that fundamental weakness this week. The Braves and, in particular, the Phillies are terrible at hitting right-handed pitching, and with Freeman back on the DL yet again Atlanta may very well belong down with Philly hanging around the basement door. You’re probably not going to get a better opportunity to run Rubby for two if you have him, so you might as well do it.
Step One: activate Stephen Strasburg from the DL. Step Two: ???? Step Three: ????
Gio Gonzalez is a pretty frustrating hurler to own these days. He’s become increasingly inefficient with his pitches and now averages just about 5 2/3 innings a start this season to go along with one of the worst WHIPs of any fantasy-relevant starting pitcher. The strikeouts are still nice, though he’ll be barking up the wrong tree with an approach looking to induce ‘em against the Giants. If you’ve got the room to handle his likely WHIP hit, he’s a decent enough play for innings, whiffs, and possible wins. But if WHIP is a touchy subject for you these days, it’s probably his fault and you should back away from your computer before you start him yet again.
Outside of a three-inning clunker against the Dodgers a few turns back, Jonathon Niese has really been quite good for quite a while now. Going back to the beginning of June his run includes a 2.78 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, though he’s managed just three Wins and 49 strikeouts in the 71 1/3 innings of that eleven game stretch. Still, not bad for a guy left for dead after his tire fire of a start to the season. The matchups grade out relatively neutral this week, and Niese makes for a nice play to consider in NL-only leagues or medium-depth mixed formats where you need innings and ratio support.
A short note on Ian Kennedy: He’s one of the select few pitchers who’ve shown a consistent ability to pitch well on the road at Coors Field. In eight career starts, he’s posted a 3.24 ERA and 1.24 WHIP with 41 strikeouts and only 43 hits allowed. It’s still tough to pull the trigger on a two-start guy with a visit to Denver on the docket, but I’d consider that schedule less of an inherent disqualifier for Kennedy than I would for most guys.
Befitting his reality as a major-league pitcher, J.A. Happ has had himself a fairly uneven season. Pittsburgh clearly saw something in him, however, as they acquired him at the deadline and turned him over to Ray Searage. For that reason alone he’s worth hanging onto through his next couple turns even in re-draft leagues, but I’d just as soon do my observing of Happ in his new surroundings while he’s on my bench in most mixed formats. The Cardinals and Mets are both poor-enough offenses against left-handed starters that owners who just scooped him up in NL-only leagues may want to take him out for a test drive if they need to hit on a couple gambles to get back into the thick of things in pitching categories, and he’s a decent little matchup play in that type of situation.
I’m not particularly interested in endorsing Jon Gray for a two-start week, but if you are the guy in your NL-only league who rosters him, it’s probably an idea that’s on your radar. Scouts have been harsh about Gray’s stuff now relative to his stuff on draft day, but he still managed to strike out a batter an inning over his minor-league career and make it to The Show in just north of two years after signing, so it can’t all be bad. He’ll draw a decent schedule in Queens and against one of the weaker-hitting teams in the NL for a dreaded home start. Wait-and-see mode is still the safer play, but if you’re desperate for some innings and need to gamble, there are certainly worse plays to make this week.
The Reds will actually find themselves with a decent schedule in two pitchers’ ballparks, but unfortunately won’t run a relevant pitcher to take advantage of it for fantasy purposes. Out of the 146 starting pitchers who have thrown at least 60 innings on the season Michael Lorenzen ranks 143rd in cFIP and 135th in DRA. He very well may still grow into a league-average arm, but he’s nowhere near that modest ceiling at this stage of his career. Outside of possibly the deepest of deep dynasty leagues he shouldn’t really be owned anywhere. And while David Holmberg generates some movement he sported a matching career 4.99-per-nine strikeout and walk rate heading into his start on Wednesday. And for all their offensive inconsistency of late, the Dodgers are one of the best lineups in baseball against left-handed pitching. No dice on either.
Hector Santiago continues to produce solid numbers that are outstripping his fundamentals by a consistent margin. It’s been a tried-and-true step forward, however: He’s getting ahead of hitters at a much better clip this year and he’s commanding his secondaries better. That combination has helped him induce more swings at balls out of the zone, boost his whiff rate, and induce weaker fly-ball contact. The White Sox have been swinging much better of late, but they’ve still been vulnerable to southpaws, and Royals hitters collectively haven’t done much of anything against Santiago in his career. It’s a solid mix of factors in Santiago’s column, and he should be started in the vast majority of –onlies and mid-depth mixed leagues.
Miguel Gonzalez has had a disappointing season, unable as he’s been to build the kind of start-to-start consistency to work his way into steady rotation. He hasn’t been terrible, but both DRA- and cFIP paint the picture of a pretty clearly below-average starting pitcher. Those who’ve clung to hope for a rebound, or perhaps more likely those who can spot his plus movement on the waiver wire, have an opportunity this week. The Mariners’ offense has cooled off a bit after a torrid stretch in the first half of July, while the Athletics have been one of the worst lineups around for a while now. Gonzalez has been too volatile to expect a full exploitation of the schedule, but as an AL-only play, he’s a solid enough stream to generate some innings and possibly drum up some W’s.
Yovani Gallardo has one of the largest splits of any starter between his DRA- (67, 22nd best) and his cFIP (107, 88th), indicating a significant smoke-and-mirrors element to his stellar topline numbers this season. Those numbers took a hit with three consecutive July starts in which he gave up five earned runs, though he broke that dubious stream with a less-gross-but-still-not great outing against Houston in his last turn. His strikeout rate has continued a long, steady slog into oblivion, while he’s been handing out more free passes and giving up more consistently squared contact. He’s worked from ahead more often this year, but that hasn’t translated to inducing a higher chase rate, and his peripherals just don’t support his earlier season performance in a way that suggests sustainability. Tampa’s offense has been heating up of late and the Twins can hit a little at home. I’m skeptical of this dude.
Erasmo Ramirez had a nice little run as a sneaky value play in AL-only leagues, but he’s been on-and-off enough over his last few starts that he’s a tough nut to crack for a week like this. Schedule-wise it’s a classic tale of extremes: a trip to Texas in August on one end, a visit from the Freddie Freeman-less Braves on the other. I’d probably lean towards a sit in mixed leagues and a start in AL-onlies, but a lot of that will depend on your specific league context.
By cFIP, Yordano Ventura still looks like a roughly league-average starter for the rest of the season, but that’s probably cold comfort to his fantasy owners, as his performance continues to be all over the map. It’s tough to treat him as anything but a matchup play right now, and this week is a tough one to handicap. Detroit looks less potent than they did a week ago, but it’s still an above-average lineup. And while the Angels have struggled to produce of late that’s another lineup with a lot of landmines in it—particularly for a pitcher with a habit of getting wild in the zone like Ventura. I’d lean against a run where you can afford to stash him for the week.
Matt Boyd made the Tigers look very smart in his first start since coming over in the Price trade, hurling seven dominant innings against the same Royals he’ll see again next week. Still, our reports paint the picture of a back-of-the-rotation starter who lacks a discernable swing-and-miss pitch. It’s not an ideal profile to face the Astros, who boast a lineup with the ability to eat a left-handed starter alive when they can avoid their bugaboo strikeouts. I also tend to a bearish approach with starters who lack premium stuff seeing the same team for a second look in less than two weeks. In AL-only formats Boyd should be on the margins of your radar, but I’d lean against running him this week unless it’s a “break glass in case of emergency” type of situation.
It’s not a great schedule for Jered Weaver’s return to the rotation, assuming early indications that he’ll slot in Tuesday instead of Sunday end up proving accurate. The visit to U.S. Cellular is scary for anyone with his profile, especially because the White Sox offense has finally begun the long slog of positive regression that has been so long past due. And I know Weaver has been pitching pretty well with disappearing velocity for the better part of this decade now, but 83 mph is just not something I can abide for a start recommendation against two lineups full of major-league hitters.
Luis Severino acquitted himself quite well in his MLB debut again Boston this week, showcasing a nasty three-pitch mix that should absolutely raise up your eyebrows. I’m not quite willing to trust him with a two-start week that includes an @TOR on the schedule, however.
Kendall Graveman finds himself in a similar spot this week, with an @TOR matchup spoiling what may otherwise have been an interesting week. Graveman has shown the ingredients of a perfectly serviceable back-end guy for AL-only leagues this year and a streamer worth paying attention to in mixers. But he’s not a guy I’d go out of my way to leverage for a two-start week against competition this good.
That Drew Hutchison is 10-2 should tell you all you need to know about how arcane the standard 5x5 scoring system is in 2015. As a starting pitcher he ranks 130th out of 146 in DRA, and he’s given up another 10 unearned runs on top of the 71 earned that feed his 5.42 ERA that’s sixth worst among qualified starters. It’s certainly worth noting that cFIP sees some trees through that hideous forest, as his 99 mark suggests a marginally above-average starter going forward. But until that theoretical starts to translate into some actual on-field success, there’s no reason to be starting Hutchison in a two-start week that includes one of the nastier offenses in baseball loading up in a hitter’s paradise.