June 13, 2014
Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner
Welcome to the Weekly Pitching Planner! Every Friday this season, I’ll be taking you through all of the two-start options for the coming week to help you decide who to start and who to sit. Outside of the elites, two-start pitchers are often as much or more trouble than they’re worth, as rare is the week in which the stars align to offer your starters not just one but two consecutive tasty matchups. As a result, you’ll notice that sometimes the better starters will find themselves in the “Consider” category, because they might have one good matchup, but a second tough one. And similarly, less-talented hurlers might just meander their way into “Start” territory on account of a plum schedule. 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 or high dollar auction bid. 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. There will be accompanying notes supporting the decisions.
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 Cincinnati and Colorado. Or conversely if the Minnesota Twins fifth starter is slated to face the Astros at home followed by an interleague trip to San Diego, 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 larger than 10 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.
As always the standard disclaimer applies to these match-up previews that all start schedules are subject to change on account of rainouts, injuries, managers arbitrarily shuffling their rotations, etc.
The Rockies have not as of this moment announced who will be filling Eddie Butler’s shoes, and it’s his rotation slot that will be scheduled for two starts next week. The match-ups are @LAD and home against MIL, and regardless of who goes they’re unlikely to be a strong gamble, particularly with 40-something other two-start options. And while Trevor Bauer should theoretically be slated for two starts next week, the Indians currently have their rotation scheduled so that Tuesday’s starter Josh Tomlin will take his two starts, while Bauer will be bumped – possibly for a few days, possibly back to AAA - at week’s end to accommodate Zach McAllister’s return from the DL.
And with that, on to our Week Twelve pitching planner.
The Cardinals haven’t ruled Wainwright out for his Monday start as of press time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually do push him back or skip him altogether.
Hamels has proven himself healthy and durable once again, and is a borderline auto-start at this point. I decided to err on the side of caution, but it’s a semantic distinction in this case. Outside of an @COL start appearing on his ledger for the week, he wasn’t going to get anything shy of a start recommendation at this point.
The Nationals have actually been pounding the ball pretty well over the past couple weeks, as they lead the majors in ISO and have scored the second-most runs since the calendar flipped to June. The Phillies are not nearly as scary, however, and both Teheran and Santana have pitched well enough to where they deserve the nod even with one more hostile draw on the schedule.
The same can be said for Jason Hammel, who has thus far posted the 14th-best season by a starting pitcher in standard leagues, and his 2.81 ERA is generally quite well-supported by a 3.02 FIP. He has been migrating steadily away from his two-seamer in favor of a dramatic uptick in four-seam fastballs, and he’s complimented this by essentially junking his curveball entirely in favor of an emergent slider that he’s deployed almost 40 percent of the time over his past couple starts. Whether physically sustainable for his elbow or not remains to be seen, but he’s been lights-out effective for long enough of the season that he’s earned an awful lot of slack from his owners.
Ryu’s had two starts against the Rockies thus far, one solid if unspectacular Quality Start at Coors, and a pretty poor one at home. All told Rockies hitters have posted a .354/.392/.604 line against him in 52 plate appearances, so some caution is certainly warranted here. Still, even despite a less than stellar last outing in Cincinnati Ryu’s been solid overall since returning from the DL, pitching to a 3.70 ERA with a 27:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 31 1/3 innings. And the reward for your Rockie risk is a trip to Petco on the back end. I’d run him in all but the absolute shallowest of leagues.
McCarthy pitched poorly in his last start against the red-hot Astros, and he continues to be dragged down by both the homerun ball and a relative inability to get left-handed hitters out. Lefties have hit a cumulative .318/.353/.491 against McCarthy this year, which is a stark departure from his very even career splits. The good news this week is that the Brewers field one of the most righty-dominant lineups in baseball, and outside of Pagan and Sandoval the Giants lean fairly heavily in that direction as well.
I’m not quite sure what to do with Cumpton yet. His line has been and will remain destroyed by one of the single worst starts of the season, when he gave up eleven runs to the Dodgers in less than four innings at the end of May. He’s been more or less serviceable in his other five starts though, and might just make for a reasonable NL-only streamer down the line. While I’m not fully ready to commit yet the match-ups aren’t bad, and he’s at least worth a look as a potentially very cheap (or even free) option to chase Wins in FAAB leagues.
I continue to appreciate mightily the effort of Kyle Lohse this year. He’s been a top-20 stating pitching in standard leagues pretty much from the jump this year, and has continued a trend going on four years now of pitching significantly above his baseline FIP numbers. He’s been steadily migrating away from being a fastball-dominant pitcher during the post-2010 era, and this year he’s taken it to a whole new level. Just under 44% of his pitches have been fastballs this year, as he’s geared his attack much more towards his slider and, to a lesser extent, his curveball. The evolving approach has added an extra strikeout every nine innings and a couple percentage points to his groundball rate. He finds himself low on the list this week on account of his trips to Colorado and Arizona, but make no mistake, Lohse has quietly evolved into one of the stronger, steadier arms in the National League.
It’s a shame the Marlins rotation lines up the way that it does, because a home-home tilt against the collectively punch-less Cubs and Mets is an awfully sweet draw. But neither Turner nor Wolf instill much confidence. While Turner’s been theoretically better than his 6.38 ERA (4.39 FIP, 52 percent ground-ball rate), 65 hits in 48 innings are a lot any way you slice it, especially for a pitcher striking out just 13 percent of the batters he faces. And while his homerun rate is high on the surface, it’s also in line with his career number. He’s a tough guy to gamble on for any one start, let alone two in a row, and after his latest clunker I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s removed from the rotation before this period is up. For his part, at least Randy Wolf has a been-there-done-that check in his box, but even still he’s not high on the list of starters to turn to.
Peralta’s been a steady mid- to back-end option for most 12-team leagues and up, with only one real clunker (a six run effort against the Cubs) marring his last ten starts. But the scheduling gods are not smiling upon him this week, as he draws road starts against one of the bet offenses in baseball over the past couple weeks in Arizona followed by the runaway best home offense in baseball in Colorado. I give a slight nod of veteran respect to rotation-mate Kyle Lohse as at least a conceivably considerable option in this circumstance, but truth be told I’d rather avoid both for the week.
Keuchel has actually pitched significantly better on the road thus far, albeit with standard small sample caveats, so the road-road schedule is not necessarily a bad things. As with Hughes below him, there comes a time in the season where it’s time to acknowledge performance, and Keuchel has passed that point. His two-seamer has been the best in baseball by a comfortable margin this season per PITCHf/x, and it’s helped both his slider and change play up to be top-16 pitches in their own right. While the numbers suggest a bit of impending regression is likely, he’s a spade that’s been a spade this year. Washington’s offensive burst of late is noteworthy, but Tampa’s ineptitude balances it out and leaves a neutral draw for one of 2014’s best pitchers.
Knock on wood, but Yordano Ventura’s velocity and movement appears to be fine in the wake of his elbow scare. Interestingly though, his strikeouts have disappeared over his last four starts: He has just 10 in over 22 innings. Nothing to draw from it for the time being given the sample size, but something for his owners to keep an eye on moving forward. The match-ups are neutral enough that he’s a start.
Pomeranz has ridden a devastating four-seam-sinker-knuckle curve combination to unlikely glory since his insertion into the rotation. His 1.88 ERA over seven starts is exactly two runs better than his FIP, as an unseemly .232 BABIP has continued to propel him forward. The thing is, opponents are having a really tough time generating hard contact against Pomeranz’ stuff. He boasts a top-20 line-drive rate, and right-handed hitters in particular have had a devil of a time with him: he’s held opposite-handed batters to a .191/.279/.286 line, and he’s done it without a changeup. Regardless of how long this plays out, he’s a fun pitcher to watch right now and the league hasn’t shown an ability to adjust to his arsenal yet. The Rangers have been strong against left-handed pitching this year, though they’ve played as a decidedly middle-of-the-road offense of late, while Boston has struggled for consistency against southpaws and pretty much everyone else. It’s not an ideal slate of match-ups, but it’s neutral enough that I’d recommend him as a hot hand for most leagues.
Tommy Milone has similarly been very good of late, putting up quality starts in each of his last seven outings. And as usual he’s been dramatically better at home this year, with a 1.93 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in Oakland compared to a 5.40/1.44 split on the road. He makes for a nice option in AL-only and most medium depth leagues and beyond this week, and even shallower league managers may want to consider him as a streaming option given the two home starts.
Lester threw one of the great games to date of the 2014 season in his last meeting with Oakland, holding the best offense in the Majors to one hit while striking out 15 over eight brilliant shutout innings at the beginning of May. Whether he can do it again remains to be seen. He’s been a bit susceptible to the long ball of late, allowing multiple homeruns in ugly losses against both Detroit and Toronto. There’s no shame in that on the surface, as both lineups can do that to a pitcher. Still the tough draw with Oakland coupled with another start against an all-of-a-sudden tough little Twins lineup pushes Lester to the border of “start” territory. I probably lean that way, but in shallow leagues he may be a candidate to sit these ones out.
After struggling in an early May trial run in the bullpen, Marcus Stroman is off to a fine debut in the starting rotation. Through three turns he has pitched to a 2.50 ERA (1.66 FIP) with 17 strikeouts against just two walks in his first 18 frames. This is as good a time as any to point out that the Yankee offense just isn’t very scary right now. The Stadium is always a difficult environment to pitch in, but the Pinstripes are tied for 22nd in team TAv, and they’ve been one of the bottom-five offenses in baseball over the past couple weeks. Cincinnati’s lineup lengthens some now that Joey Votto is back from the DL, but it remains unimposing on the whole. Stroman’s a strong consider for AL-only and deeper leagues this week.
Josh Tomlin has quietly been one of the more effective back-end starters in the American League. His 35-to-5 K:BB tally over 40 innings has been set up by a first-pitch strike percentage that would be in the top five among all starters if he had enough innings to qualify, and he’s induced swings at pitches outside the zone at a pace on par with Corey Kluber’s top-15 number. Not bad for a right-hander who works in the high 80’s without a plus secondary offering. Obviously it’s unclear how his deceptive ways will play after the league gets a full round of viewings, and indeed history suggests it’ll be tough for a pitcher of his style to maintain his current pace. But he Angels haven’t seen him, and Detroit’s only had one turn of the lineup in a real appearance earlier in the year. These are hard matchups, but as a command pitcher with a high degree of deception in his windup Tomlin still makes for a considerable option in AL-only and deeper mixed leagues this week.
I guess eventually I’ll have to admit that Kevin Correia hasn’t pitched that badly this year. His FIP sits at an unpleasant, but by no means disastrous 4.13, and he managed to shut the Blue Jays out for six innings on Canadian soil in his last turn. Still, trusting his sub-5.0 K/9 and 22nd percentile ground-ball rate with two starts feels like an awfully tall order.