Fantasy First Pitch for Week 11
Is Justin Verlander beyond benching, even in a scheduled two-start week? Our Al Melchior helps you make the most of your pitching options for the upcoming scoring period.
Usually when sifting through the borderline two-start options for the coming week, there are at least a handful of highly enticing pickups. Whether they're pitchers quietly building a hot streak or primed to capitalize on favorable matchups or venues, this column normally features a variety of hurlers capable of inspiring dreams of a winning week ahead.
Fantasy Week 11 (June 9-15) is not shaping up to be one of those weeks. Of the 12 pitchers bridging the must-start and must-avoid options, only Ryan Vogelsong has a profile or a schedule that truly engenders confidence. Even the other pitchers who populate the upper half of the borderline list have either an upcoming start or a recent track record that is close to terrifying. Marco Estrada with a home start? Oof. Jesse Chavez against the slugging Angels? Yikes. Francisco Liriano versus the strike zone? Tell me when it's safe to look.
|1. Masahiro Tanaka||at SEA, at OAK|
|2. Stephen Strasburg||at SF, at STL|
|3. David Price||vs. SEA, at HOU|
|4. Madison Bumgarner||vs. WAS, vs. COL|
|5. Hisashi Iwakuma||vs. NYY, vs. TEX|
|6. Corey Kluber||at KC, at BOS|
|7. Garrett Richards||vs. OAK, at ATL|
|8. Doug Fister||at SF, at STL|
|9. Mike Minor||at COL, vs. LAA|
|10. Ian Kennedy||at PHI, at NYM|
Yet each of these pitchers has something going for him, so if you're the type of owner who likes to load up on starts, there's upside to be had here. If you prefer to play it safe, you just might want to stick with your one-start pitchers rather than pull one of this week's borderline options off your bench or your league's waiver wire.
A few lucky owners may be able to pluck a quality one-start pitcher from their DL slots. Gio Gonzalez (shoulder) could return as soon as Wednesday, while Mat Latos (forearm) and Taijuan Walker (shoulder) have a chance to rejoin their team's rotations next weekend. The chances for Latos at this point look much better than those for Walker, and unless he slides into Tony Cingrani's slot in the rotation, his return could mean one start for Mike Leake this week instead of two.
Deeper league owners may have a reason to active Zach McAllister (back), as he may need just one more rehab start before returning for the Indians. Should McAllister make the June 15 start at the Red Sox, it could rob Corey Kluber of a second start in Week 11.
Monday update: With the Pirates' loss of Gerrit Cole (shoulder) to the 15-day disabled list, Charlie Morton inherits a two-start week and extends this week's list of borderline two-start options to 13 pitchers. Christian Bergman is set to make his major league debut for the Rockies on Monday, and if he fares well against the Braves, he should earn a second Week 11 start at the Giants. That makes Bergman someone to consider in NL-only leagues.
Assuming all goes well for Latos in a Monday rehab start, he should make a start for the Reds this weekend at the Brewers. That means that, in all likelihood, Cingrani's days in the Reds' rotation are numbered. Specifically, that number is "one," as Monday's tilt against the Dodgers could be Cingrani's last start for the Reds for awhile. McAllister also appears primed to make a weekend start for the Indians, so Kluber owners should not count on a two-start week.
Walker could still be in play for a weekend start for the Mariners, though given the uncertainty, it's probably best to sit him this week. Gonzalez will make another rehab start Thursday, so he won't make an appearance for the Nationals this week and should be stashed for this scoring period.
Two-Start Pitchers on the Bubble
11. Ryan Vogelsong, SF (vs. WAS, vs. COL)
Vogelsong continued his recent hot streak with a nine-strikeout quality start at the Reds on Wednesday, and it was encouraging to see him fare well at his first visit to a hitter's park in a month and a half. Over his last eight starts, Vogelsong has put up great Fantasy stats (4-1, 2.05 ERA, 1,06 WHIP, 8.4 K/9), even though he hasn't been throwing strikes or getting ground balls at a high rate. Without better control and stronger ground ball tendencies, it seems unlikely that Vogelsong can keep this streak going for too much longer, but he should be able to extend it for one more week. He has compiled a sub-3.00 ERA at AT&T Park, just like he did in 2011 and 2012, so with two home starts, Vogelsong is worth using.
12. Francisco Liriano, PIT (vs. CHC, at MIA)
Liriano's struggles with control hit a new low on Wednesday, as he failed to throw even half of his 109 pitches against the Padres for strikes. He left that contest after five innings, having walked six batters, but he struck out seven and only allowed two earned runs on one hit. That line is a microcosm -- albeit an extreme one -- of Liriano's season. His control won't always be quite that bad, but then again, he has typically allowed more hits and earned runs. Facing the Cubs this week should take some of the angst out of starting Liriano, as owners should get plenty of strikeouts along with a better-than-usual ERA and WHIP.
13. Marco Estrada, MIL (at NYM, vs. CIN)
It's been an ugly four-game stretch for Estrada, as he has allowed eight home runs over 23 2/3 innings on his way to a 6.08 ERA. The long ball has long been a nemesis of Estrada's, and this season, he has allowed at least one home run in all but one of his 12 starts and multiple homers in five starts. Even in the worst-case scenario, Estrada can lower your team's WHIP, and with the Mets on the schedule, maybe Estrada can take a break from tossing gopher balls. Owning Estrada has been discouraging lately, but just remember as recently as mid-May, he was still an extreme flyball pitcher yet managed to own a 3.28 ERA.
14. Jesse Chavez, OAK (at LAA, vs. NYY)
Chavez has cooled off considerably since his surprisingly strong April, as only once in his last six starts has he advanced beyond six innings. His control remains solid, but he has ceased to be an above-average strikeout pitcher, averaging 7.0 Ks per nine innings since the beginning of May. The relative lack of strikeouts is less important in a two-start week, but as he showed in recent starts against the Blue Jays and Tigers, good power hitting teams can knock him around. The Angels pose a similar challenge to Chavez this week, though he showed on Wednesday that he can handle the Yankees, Jacoby Ellsbury's three-run homer aside.
15. R.A. Dickey, TOR (vs. MIN, at BAL)
After rattling off a seven-game skein of quality starts, Dickey has run into trouble yet again. Owners could give Dickey a pass for yielding a dozen flyballs to the Tigers, but to do the same against the slap- hitting Royals raises some suspicions. Dickey's ground ball-to-flyball ratios have been inconsistent all season long, but he's been steady in his ability to get swings-and-misses on his knuckler. Though you can never be sure what Dickey will produce in a given start, he has been good enough at preventing hits in most starts to be worth a try.
16. Tyler Skaggs, LAA (vs. OAK, at ATL)
Like Dickey, Skaggs has let owners down in his two most recent starts, as somehow he managed to walk eight batters over 11 innings, even though he'd thrown 64 percent of his pitches for strikes. He also allowed 12 hits, but only two were for extra bases. While Skaggs has yet to put together a string of several good starts in a row, he has been consistent as an inducer of ground balls, and since late April, his control has been reliable. If not for a matchup against the power-hitting A's, who have already roughed Skaggs up twice this year, he would rank at least a few spots higher in this week's rankings. Even so, his start against the Braves alone could make for a productive week.
17. Charlie Morton, PIT (vs. CHC, at MIA)
Morton's control has been shaky in three straight starts, over which he has walked 11 batters in 16 innings. Not only has that inflated Morton's WHIP, but it's contributed to a lack of efficiency that led to early exits in each contest. In a two-start week, owners can put up with a lot from Morton, as long as he continues to induce grounders, and in that regard, he hasn't slowed down one bit. That's how, despite all of the free passes, Morton posted a 2.81 ERA over those three starts and held opponents to a .298 slugging percentage. Unless you can't afford to lose ground in your league's WHIP standings, Morton is a reasonably safe play this week.
18. Justin Verlander, DET (at CHW, vs. MIN)
|24. Rick Porcello||at CHW, vs. MIN|
|25. Dan Haren||at CIN, vs. ARI|
|26. Jarred Cosart||at ARI, vs. TB|
|27. Josh Collmenter||vs. HOU, at LAD|
|28. Gavin Floyd||at COL, vs. LAA|
|29. A.J. Burnett||vs. SD, vs. CHC|
|30. Ricky Nolasco||at TOR, at DET|
|31. Jake Peavy||at BAL, vs. CLE|
|32. Brad Peacock||at ARI, vs. TB|
|33. John Danks||vs. DET, vs. KC|
|34. Edwin Jackson||at PIT, at PHI|
|35. Chris Tillman||vs. BOS, vs. TOR|
|36. Brandon Workman||at BAL, vs. CLE|
|37. Juan Nicasio||vs. ATL, at SF|
|38. Vidal Nuno||at KC, at OAK|
|39. Bud Norris||vs. BOS, vs. TOR|
|40. Nick Martinez||vs. CLE, at SEA|
|41. Daisuke Matsuzaka||vs. MIL, vs. SD|
|42. J.A. Happ||vs. MIN, at BAL|
|43. Hector Noesi||vs. DET, vs. KC|
|44. T.J. House||at TEX, at BOS|
|45. Christian Bergman||vs. ATL, at SF|
|46. Erasmo Ramirez||at TB, vs. TEX|
Through the first six weeks of the season, Verlander sported a 2.67 ERA, yet still frustrated owners with subpar strikeout and walk rates that contributed to a 1.31 WHIP. That early portion of the 2014 campaign is now what Verlander owners call "the good ole days." In five starts since then, Verlander has turned in only one quality start and a 6.75 ERA, as his command has deteriorated further. Part of his problem may be a slider that he is throwing with less horizontal movement and that is resulting in fewer strikes, according to PitchFX data on BrooksBaseball.net. Verlander has been working on his mechanics and claims that he is seeing improvement, but we have yet to see it in his results. Until Verlander's work starts to pay off, owners should strongly consider sitting him.
19. Josh Beckett, LAD (at CIN, vs. ARI)
By all outward appearances, Beckett is having a comeback season. He has allowed two earned runs or fewer in eight of his 11 starts, so not only is Beckett helping owners with a 2.57 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, but he's offering consistency. His performance is among the most deceiving in the majors this season, though, as Beckett isn't really doing anything much differently than he had in recent seasons. He's getting strikeouts at an above- average rate, but that's nothing new, and meanwhile, he is still allowing a few too many home runs (1.4 HR/9) and walks (3.1 BB/9). The difference-maker for Beckett is the .133 batting average that he is allowing on grounders, which is 98 points lower than his career mark. The best infield defenses can't help a pitcher that much, and the Dodgers don't have one of the better ones. Beckett is due for serious regression, and a start against the Reds at Great American Ball Park (where they have posted a .167 Isolated Power) sounds like a likely place for that to begin.
20. Bronson Arroyo, ARI (vs. HOU, at LAD)
For years, Arroyo has been all about efficiency and durability, and despite contending with a bulging disc during spring training, that hasn't changed this season. Arroyo has been in prime form since late April, making eight straight starts of six innings or more and averaging seven innings per start. Though, as usual, Arroyo hasn't filled those innings with strikeouts, those frames have hardly been empty. He has given owners a 2.89 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP during this stretch, as Arroyo has pitched with his trademark control as well as a newfound knack for getting grounders. Though he has had a few hiccups in his recent outings, Arroyo is still a worthwhile use of your last rotation spot in standard mixed leagues.
21. Mike Leake, CIN (vs. LAD, at MIL)
In many ways, Leake is like Arroyo's harder-throwing twin. Efficiency and pinpoint control are the keys to Leake's success, and like Arroyo, he has managed to hike up his ground ball rate this season. Leake has even turned in subpar starts in his last two outings, just like his former teammate has. Given their similar appeal, it was hard to determine whom to rank higher this week, so I used matchups and venues as a tiebreaker. Both pitchers face the Dodgers this week, but Leake has to do it at Great American Ball Park, and he gets the Brewers instead of the Astros for his other start.
22. Jason Vargas, KC (vs. NYY, at CHW)
Though Vargas' control isn't as sharp as Arroyo's or Leake's, he continues this string of effective finesse pitchers in this week's rankings. As a flyball pitcher, Vargas is a little more dangerous than his counterparts, as opponents can rack up substantial damage when they find the gaps or leave the park. Much in the way that Bartolo Colon has been, it's usually feast or famine for Vargas, who has 10 quality starts in 13 tries, but he has allowed a combined 19 earned runs on 29 hits over 16 innings in his three other starts. Because they play in a homer-friendly park, the White Sox could pose a difficult test for Vargas, but fortunately for him, they're one of the lineups most prone to hitting ground balls.
23. Travis Wood, CHC (at PIT, at PHI)
Wood just might be having a breakout season, but his 5.04 ERA and 1.41 WHIP are helping to keep it a secret. According to BrooksBaseball.net's PitchFX data, the lefty has been getting much more vertical movement on his pitches, and he's been getting fewer swings on his sinker in particular. That could be contributing to Wood's 20 percent called strike rate and 7.9 K/9 rate, which are major upgrades from his previous norms. He is likely to improve on the .279 batting average he has allowed on grounders as well as on a 65 percent strand rate. Wood has had enough flyball-fueled poor starts to warrant caution, but with improving peripherals and two good matchups, he's worth considering this week.
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