Fantasy First Pitch for Week 15
The options are plentiful for Week 15, but which two-start pitchers are actually worth your waiver wire time? Our Al Melchior sifts through the possibilities in his Fantasy First Pitch.
At the end of Fantasy Week 15 (July 7-13), all 30 major league teams will get to enjoy a nice four-day break, but until then, every team will be hard at work. Only two teams get a day off on Monday, and six get to rest on Thursday, so that makes for a crowded schedule. It also makes for a hefty list of two-start pitchers, which currently boasts 51 entries. (Note: The list actually increased to 52 over the weekend.)
With the All-Star break looming in just a week, teams are taking advantage of the hiatus to make sure their injured pitchers will be ready to return for the second half. If you were hoping that maybe Cliff Lee (elbow), Francisco Liriano (oblique) or Dillon Gee (lat) might give you a start this week, you'll have to look to the ample options on waivers instead for an injection of fresh blood into your rotation. While, of course, you won't find the likes of Lee available there, Jake Odorizzi, Ryan Vogelsong, Charlie Morton and Chris Young are all available in at least 35 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com, and all should be able to help owners outside of the shallowest leagues this week.
|1. Stephen Strasburg||vs. BAL, at PHI|
|2. Masahiro Tanaka||at CLE, at BAL|
|3. Adam Wainwright||vs. PIT, at MIL|
|4. Madison Bumgarner||at OAK, vs. ARI|
|5. Julio Teheran||at NYM, at CHC|
|6. Johnny Cueto||vs. CHC, vs. PIT|
|7. Cole Hamels||at MIL, vs. WAS|
|8. Hisashi Iwakuma||vs. MIN, vs. OAK|
|9. Hyun-Jin Ryu||at DET, vs. SD|
|10. Justin Verlander||vs. LAD, at KC|
|11. Sonny Gray||vs. SF, at SEA|
|12. Jered Weaver||vs. TOR, at TEX|
If you're the risk-taking type or simply feel the need to make a bold move to make up some ground before the break, each of the top four pitchers on the must-sit list offers some upside to go along with considerable risk. All are also widely available in standard mixed leagues. Tyler Skaggs has been inconsistent and Jarred Cosart has been contact-prone, but both can shut teams down via the ground ball. Vance Worley has been freakishly efficient, but even a two-start week might not produce many Ks. The indicators have been mixed for Clay Buchholz in two starts since coming off the disabled list, but his track record suggests he can be much better.
However, with the mix of pitchers available on the "must-start" and "bubble" lists, you probably won't need to resort to some of the riskier two-start options. As is the norm in this space, I've ranked them all based on their expected productivity for the coming week.
Monday's update: With the Cubs shipping two-fifths of their rotation to the Athletics and the Diamondbacks and Yankees swapping a pair of pitchers, you may have braced for major changes to the two-start pitchers list this weekend, but by and large, the list has remained intact. Both Sonny Gray and Jesse Chavez retained their status as two-start pitchers for the A's, as did Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood for the Cubs. In migrating from New York to Arizona, the movers apparently lost one of Vidal Nuno's starts, and callup Shane Greene inherits Nuno's spot in the Yankees' rotation and his two starts.
Elsewhere, a shuffling of the Orioles' rotation has led to Wei-Yin Chen getting one start instead of two, though it appears that Bud Norris (groin) will come off the disabled list to make two starts before the All-Star break. The Marlins' demotion of Andrew Heaney and subsequent transition to a four-man rotation will make Brad Hand a two-start pitcher this week.
Finally, it turns out that Gee will get activated this week after all and is scheduled to start Wednesday against the Braves. The Rays will also take Jeremy Hellickson (elbow) off the DL and give him his first start of the season on Tuesday versus the Royals.
Two-Start Pitchers on the Bubble
13. Mike Minor, ATL (at NYM, at CHC)
A shoulder injury delayed the start of Minor's season for a month, but once he came off the disabled list in early May, he appeared to be in typical form. More recently, things have gotten ugly for Minor, as he has registered only one quality start in his last five attempts, allowed at least one home run in each of those games and compiled a 7.52 ERA over that stretch. All has not been been lost, though, as Minor has continued to pitch with control and deception, but when hitters have connected, they have done so with authority. According to PitchFX data on BrooksBaseball.net, much of the damage has come on Minor's cutter, which he has been throwing a little harder of late. Maybe the relative lack of a velocity differential between his cutter and fastball is responsible for Minor's struggles, and if so, that's a fixable problem. The lack of a clear explanation for Minor's slump makes him something less than a must-start this week, but he's not far off. A pair of good matchups helps his cause, too.
14. Tyson Ross, SD (at COL, at LAD)
Ross has put his occasional struggles with control behind him for now, having issued only two walks over his last three starts while throwing 68 percent of his pitches for strikes. Owners can't get too comfortable with Ross' control, as he has already made four starts this season in which he has walked at least four batters. If you're tired of being worried about Ross' inconsistencies with strike-throwing, here's something new to think about: his first start of the coming week will be at Colorado. That's a risky proposition for just about any pitcher, but Ross may be more immune to the Coors Effect than most hurlers. He has a career 3.68 ERA at Coors Field, but that comes in only 7 1/3 innings. However, he has also posted a 1.29 ERA at Great American Ball Park (14 innings) and a 3.60 ERA at Chase Field (20 innings). These are small samples for just three hitter's parks, but that limited history plus a 61 percent ground ball rate and a 13 percent swinging strike rate should embolden most mixed league owners to give Ross a try this week.
15. Charlie Morton, PIT (at STL, at CIN)
Just on the basis of his well-established ground ball tendencies, Morton probably would have made this list anyway, but with a recent spike in his K-rate, he has inched closer to being a must-start option. Over his last eight starts, Morton has struck out 52 hitters over 49 innings, as he has been getting more whiffs on his curveball (per BrooksBaseball.net) and more called strikes in general. Maybe it's coincidence, but over that same period, according to TexasLeaguers.com, Morton has increased the spin on his curveball by 161 rpm as compared to his first nine starts of the season. Again, even if this is a short-lived phenomenon, Morton is worth starting this week, but the promise of a few extra strikeouts should give you more confidence in sliding him into a rotation spot.
16. Wily Peralta, MIL (vs. PHI, vs. STL)
Though Peralta, like Morton and Ross, owes a certain amount of his success to a high ground ball rate, he has the misfortune of pitching home games at a venue that sometimes trumps his ability to keep the ball down. In 51 1/3 innings at Miller Park, Peralta has allowed eight home runs and has needed an 80 percent strand rate (per FanGraphs.com) to compensate for it. We can't count on Peralta to continue to strand four of every five baserunners going forward, but at least for this week, he should benefit greatly from his matchups. The Cardinals are challenging the Royals for the majors' lowest Isolated Power, while the Phillies rank in the bottom third of all teams in that stat. That's a nice break from the Blue Jays and Rockies, who pelted Peralta with four dingers that drove in nine runs over his last three starts.
17. Ian Kennedy, SD (at COL, at LAD)
|25. Tyler Skaggs||vs. TOR, at TEX|
|26. Jarred Cosart||at TEX, vs. BOS|
|27. Vance Worley||at STL, at CIN|
|28. Clay Buchholz||vs. CHW, at HOU|
|29. Trevor Bauer||vs. NYY, vs. CHW|
|30. Jason Vargas||at TB, vs. DET|
|31. Marco Estrada||vs. PHI, vs. STL|
|32. Justin Masterson||vs. NYY, vs. CHW|
|33. Mike Leake||vs. CHC, vs. PIT|
|34. Carlos Martinez||vs. PIT, at MIL|
|35. Tom Koehler||at ARI, at NYM|
|36. Chase Anderson||vs. MIA, at SF|
|37. Travis Wood||at CIN, vs. ATL|
|38. Jacob deGrom||vs. ATL, vs. MIA|
|39. Bud Norris||at WAS, vs. NYY|
|40. Miles Mikolas||vs. HOU, vs. LAA|
|41. Kyle Kendrick||at MIL, vs. WAS|
|42. John Danks||at BOS, at CLE|
|43. J.A. Happ||at LAA, at TB|
|44. Chris Tillman||at WAS, vs. NYY|
|45. Tyler Matzek||vs. SD, vs. MIN|
|46. Edwin Jackson||at CIN, vs. ATL|
|47. Daisuke Matsuzaka||vs. ATL, vs. MIA|
|48. Shane Greene||at CLE, at BAL|
|49. Kevin Correia||at sEA, at COL|
|50. Nick Martinez||vs. HOU, vs. LAA|
|51. Brad Hand||at ARI, at NYM|
|52. Scott Carroll||at BOS, at CLE|
Though Kennedy doesn't have Ross' control issues, his visit to Coors Field is a greater source of concern, as he has induced grounders on only 43 percent of hit balls. Though it will take some nerve to do it, most standard mixed league owners would benefit from starting Kennedy this week. With a 9.5 K/9 ratio and 11 percent swinging strike rate, Kennedy is hard to hit, and he won't hurt himself with walks. Better yet, you can use the big, bad Rockies as part of a strategy to buy Kennedy at a bargain price. If not for the fluky .284 batting average on ground balls he has allowed, Kennedy's 3.87 ERA and 1.23 WHIP would be considerably lower. Find an owner who is not only put off by Kennedy's upcoming matchup but his pedestrian overall Fantasy stat line, and you could pull off a profitable deal.
18. Jake Odorizzi, TB (vs. KC, vs. TOR)
Just as Odorizzi had completed an encouraging month of June, he opens July by coughing up eight hits and three runs in just 5 2/3 innings against the Yankees. If we take a step back from that underwheling performance, we can see that Odorizzi's trends have generally been a positive going back to late May. He's been throwing more strikes, which has helped to limit him to 12 walks over 45 innings and register only one start with more than two free passes. Odorizzi has continued to get strikeouts, tallying a total of 49 over that period. He is still a liability on the road, and a 42 percent flyball rate has much to do with that. Extra-base hits should be less of an issue with two home starts, and even when he returns to the road, there's a good reason to expect further improvement. It's practically impossible to imagine that opponents will continue to hit anywhere close to .384 on grounders against Odorizzi from here on out.
19. Phil Hughes, MIN (at SEA, at COL)
Hughes has allowed five or more runs in three consecutive starts, and to their credit, owners on CBSSports.com are standing by him. Despite the mini-slump, Hughes' ownership and activation rates are holding steady, and once lineup-setting time comes, hopefully, the latter rate will get a bump. All that separates the recent version of Hughes and the resurgent version we've seen most of this season is the .410 BABIP he has put up in his last three outings. Well, that and a moderate ground ball rate, which is simply weird and has the smell of a small sample fluke, just like the BABIP rate. Hughes fails to be a must-start this week, not because he's in a rut, but because he's taking his 40 percent flyball rate to Coors Field for his second start. He emerged unscathed from starts at Yankee Stadium and Rogers Centre last month, so Hughes just might be able to handle the Rockies, but you can't be too careful in this situation.
20. Ryan Vogelsong, SF (at OAK, vs. ARI)
In his four seasons as a Giant, Vogelsong has been a much better pitcher at AT&T Park than on the road, as the split in his ERA (3.13 at home vs. 4.41 away) attests. Some of that can be directly traced to AT&T Park's pitcher-friendly dimensions, which have been especially helpful to Vogelsong this season. He has a 3.06 home ERA -- more than two runs lower than his road mark -- with no home runs allowed. That clearly bodes well for Vogelsong's start against the Diamondbacks, but even though his visit to Oakland takes him to another favorable environment, there are two reasons to have some hesitation about starting him this week. First, the A's are no ordinary opponent, as they lead the majors in runs scored, and Vogelsong's road struggles aren't solely tied to park factors, as he has posted better K-to-BB ratios at home as well as lower HR/9 ratios.
21. Doug Fister, WAS (vs. BAL, at PHI)
On the surface, it appears that Fister is on his way to possibly his best season yet, clocking in with a 7-2 record, 2.93 ERA and 1.05 WHIP after 11 starts. He has certainly taken his already-pristine control to new heights, with an 0.8 BB/9 ratio and a 67 percent strikes-thrown rate. That can't be a bad thing, but Hughes, for example, has had similarly spotless control with more strikeouts and a lower home run rate (imagine that!), yet he has a much higher ERA and WHIP. Fister has been fortunate to have allowed 28 hits on 55 line drives in play (.509 BABIP), which is eight hits fewer than what the typical major league pitcher has allowed over the last couple of seasons. Those additional hits would not do too much damage to Fister's WHIP, raising it to 1.16. However, he's also benefitted from a 79 percent strand rate, so with some additional baserunners and a more typical strand rate, Fister's ERA would likely be in the mid-to-uppper 3.00s. That would be tolerable if not for the fact that he has struck out more than three batters only once in his last five starts. Because of great control, Fister still has some appeal, but he's far from an automatic two-start option.
22. Chris Young, SEA (vs. MIN, vs. OAK)
MLB's schedule maker must really like Young. He has made 17 appearances this season, and only three times has he pitched in a park that is good or neutral for home run hitters. For the majors' most prolific flyball pitcher, that sort of thing matters a lot. Of course, Young helped himself by signing with the Mariners, and this week, he gets to make two more starts at Safeco Field, where he has compiled a 2.19 ERA and a not-so-terrifying 1.1 HR/9 ratio. The latter number is far from impressive, but Young has neutralized the impact of homers and a mediocre walk rate with popups galore -- 47 of them in 98 1/3 innings to be exact. The A's look to be the tougher of Young's two matchups, but he has already limited them to two runs on seven hits over 14 innings this season. Regardless of what the home/road splits suggest, Young is never an entirely safe option, but his risk is at an acceptable level this week.
23. Jesse Chavez, OAK (vs. SF, at SEA)
Chavez hasn't been able to replicate his early-season success, as he has settled into being merely an average strikeout pitcher with some flyball tendencies. Up until recently, Chavez had remained reliable, as he continued to be a very good control pitcher, but that asset has abandoned him over his last three starts. In 17 innings, Chavez has walked 11 batters, and his two most recent starts were outright bad. Given how consistent Chavez's control had been prior to these starts, it's premature to rule out the possibility of a rebound. Better yet, with a start at home against the Giants followed by a start at Safeco Field, he could extend his streak of five straight starts without a home run allowed.
24. James Shields, KC (at TB, vs. DET)
Justin Verlander and Tim Lincecum have rescued themselves from "must-sit" status with their recent rebounds, and maybe Shields can do the same. There have yet to be any signs of Shields putting an end to his nine-game slide that has produced a 5.43 ERA, opponents' .557 slugging percentage and 36 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings. On Tuesday, Shields did get the Twins to swing and miss 11 times, which is hard to do against the major league team with the second-lowest swing rate, but he still allowed five runs (four earned) in five innings. If Shields is going to choose Week 15 to bust out, he is going to have to do it against the Tigers and Rays, who have been among the hottest offenses over the last two weeks. It only makes sense to start Shields as a last resort.
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