Fantasy First Pitch for Week 22
Which pitchers are going to get it done for you as the playoffs begin in many leagues? Our Al Melchior provides a path to success in his Week 22 edition of Fantasy First Pitch.
It's getting real in Fantasy leagues about this time of year, so you wouldn't want to do anything silly like start a pitcher who has been rejected by wide swaths of the Fantasy community, right?
Though there are many good two-start options in Fantasy Week 22 (Aug.25-31), many of them are already spoken for. Of the 35 pitchers projected for two starts heading into the weekend, 22 are currently owned in at least 60 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com. You could already have two or three on your roster, or maybe you're lacking in two-start options and the ones you covet are laying dormant on the roster of some owners whose season has already ended.
That's where Jarred Cosart, Roenis Elias or T.J. House could come in handy. All three are currently available in at least 60 percent of our leagues, and House has been sitting on the sidelines in all but 4 percent of our leagues. Each has performed well of late and should be more productive in their two-start weeks than slumping Jason Hammel, Dillon Gee or A.J. Burnett, who just might be burning up a spot on your roster.
If you don't want to dig quite that deep into the waiver wire for an extra start, you might be able to snag Matt Shoemaker or Jake Peavy. Both have done enough in recent weeks to deserve consideration.
If you need convincing as to why any of these more highly available options are worth your time during a critical stretch of the Fantasy season, I'll explain my reasons for why each is potentially worth picking up. And as is the norm in this space, I've included lists of pitchers to sit for or start over each candidate, because it's not roster-setting time without some juicy sit/start dilemmas to consider.
Monday update: No one on this week's must-start or bubble list lost their second start over the weekend, and there are no new entries to those lists, so in standard mixed leagues, you can likely go forward with your planned rotation.
Deep-league rotations might need some handiwork, however. With the temporary insertion of Drew Pomeranz into the Athletics' rotation, everyone from Wednesday forward gets pushed back a day. That cuts Jason Hammel's two-start week down to just one turn in the rotation. Travis Wood, Miles Mikolas and Nick Martinez have all gained two-start status over the weekend. Also, if Wade LeBlanc performs well against the Marlins on Monday, he may also get to start against the A's on Saturday.
|1. Madison Bumgarner||vs. COL, vs. MIL|
|2. Johnny Cueto||vs. CHC, at PIT|
|3. James Shields||vs. NYY, vs. CLE|
|4. Alex Wood||at NYM, vs. MIA|
|5. Alex Cobb||at BAL, vs. BOS|
|6. Jeff Samardzija||at HOU, at LAA|
|7. Dallas Keuchel||vs. OAK, vs. TEX|
|8. Jake Odorizzi||at BAL, vs. BOS|
|9. Lance Lynn||at PIT, vs. CHC|
|10. Danny Duffy||vs. MIN, vs. CLE|
|11. John Lackey||at PIT, vs. CHC|
|12. Kyle Lohse||at SD, at SF|
|13. Tanner Roark||at PHI, at SEA|
Two-Start Pitchers on the Bubble
14. Francisco Liriano, PIT (vs. STL, vs. CIN)
After a string of five consecutive quality starts with a combined total of nine walks, we might have thought that the Liriano Roller Coaster Express had given way to a smooth Sunday drive. Well, buckle up, because Liriano was crushed in his Tuesday start against the Braves, and poor control was at the core of his problems yet again. As inconsistent as Liriano's control is, he can almost always be counted on for strikeouts, and even in Tuesday's implosion, he managed to coax 14 swinging strikes in his 88 pitches. Frankly, if this were just about any other pitcher with a poor start in the midst of a solid month of sheer dominance, I would write it off and consider that pitcher a must-start. Because it's Liriano, who has a long history of inconsistency, I could see sitting him in the shallowest of leagues...but only in those.
15. Rick Porcello, DET (vs. NYY, at CHW)
Through his first dozen starts this season, Porcello was simply not himself. If Fantasy owners have been able to count on Porcello for anything over his career, it's been a high ground ball rate, but through early June, he had been a flyball pitcher. After allowing opponents to slug .441 against him during that early stretch, Porcello has clamped down on extra-base hits. Returning to his ground ball tendencies, Porcello has held opponents to a .230/.267/.316 slash line in his last 13 appearances (12 starts). That's allowed Porcello to post a 2.31 ERA since then. He still allows a lot of contact, so it's probably unreasonable to expect him to continue at this pace. Every once in a while, Porcello will allow hits in bundles -- he has allowed nine or more in three of his last eight starts -- so while he's a good option, he's not an entirely safe one.
16.Jose Quintana, CHW (vs. CLE, vs. DET)
Quintana offers a great example of why ERA doesn't always tell us much, especially over a small sample of innings. He hasn't posted a quality start in the month of August, and over his three most recent outings, Quintana sports a bloated 4.91 ERA. Lately, he has been doing the very same things he has done all season long: pitching with good control, getting whiffs at a rate close to the major league average and allowing soft contact. Quintana's 1.25 WHIP over those starts isn't out of the ordinary for him, but because he hasn't been stranding runners at his usual rate, his ERA has suffered. He is the same unspectacular but trustworthy two-start option he has been all along, despite what his recent stat line might suggest.
17. Brandon McCarthy, NYY (at DET, at TOR)
Followers of advanced stats probably remember just a couple of months ago how xFIP was telling us that McCarthy was actually a good pitcher, even though his 5.00-plus ERA suggested otherwise. Other evidence tells us that McCarthy might not have deserved a better fate. Though he was getting grounders, the flyballs he was allowing were travelling great distances (291 feet on average) through his first 16 starts, according to the GameDay PitchFX data available on FanGraphs.com. His average flyball distance since then is only seven feet shorter, yet he has compiled a 1.95 ERA over those starts. McCarthy has taken his control game up a notch, having issued only nine walks over 64 2/3 innings, but I can't help thinking he could still be a little too vulnerable to hard contact. McCarthy is certainly better than he appeared to be earlier this season, and he's worth a gamble in standard mixed leagues. Given his recent run, though, he may now be getting overrated. It's too soon to call McCarthy a must-start.
18. Michael Pineda, NYY (at KC, at TOR)
The only complaint that owners can have about Pineda in his two starts since coming off the DL is that he is not throwing many pitches. Not that he needs to, as Pineda has been highly efficient in both starts, and he would have qualified for wins if he had received more help from the Yankees' bullpen. It's also encouraging that Pineda performed this well against the Orioles and Astros, two teams that have been producing runs since the All-Star break. If Pineda keeps this up, he just might be a must-start option before the season ends, but you can't read too much into 11 innings of work. He has a history of being flyball-prone, and that's more than a little worrisome for his start against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
19. Matt Shoemaker, LAA (vs. MIA, vs. OAK)
Ever since Shoemaker reached Double-A Arkansas in 2011, he's proven to be a very good control pitcher. Though his strikeout rates didn't reflect it, he's had swing-and-miss stuff, too. Both skills have been in evidence in his first real exposure to major league hitting, as Shoemaker has issued 19 walks in 103 2/3 innings and induced whiffs on 12 percent of his pitches. Despite moderate flyball rates, home runs bedeviled Shoemaker in the minors, and moving out of the Pacific Coast League and into Angel Stadium has only helped him so much. Actually, Shoemaker's 0.9 HR/9 at home is respectable, and it's been instrumental in keeping his home ERA at a svelte 2.72. Not every road start will go as well as Thursday's scoreless performance in Boston did, but with two home starts this week, it's hard to sit Shoemaker.
20. Jarred Cosart, MIA (at LAA, at ATL)
Cosart has been enjoying the spacious confines of Marlins Park, but now for the first time as a Marlin, he will take the mound as a visiting pitcher. An Adrian Beltre double is the only extra-base hit Cosart has allowed in his three games with Miami, but it's not as if he allowed much power when he was with the Astros. Hitters recorded an .099 Isolated Power against Cosart prior to his trade to the Marlins, as he turned his average opponent into the equivalent of Kurt Suzuki. As long as Cosart is pitching with control, he's generally been effective, if not dominant. After a wild July, Cosart has settled down. Neither the Angels nor Braves are loaded with hitters who are especially disciplined, and neither squad ranks in the top half of major league teams in batting average against ground ball pitchers (according to Baseball-Reference.com). Cosart won't be your best choice if you really need strikeouts, but you could do a lot worse if you want to lower your ERA and pick up wins.
21. Wei-Yin Chen, BAL (vs. TB, vs. MIN)
Chen has been useful at times as a two-start pitcher, but he's been much better at pitcher's parks like Tropicana Field and Target Field than at home. In the past, I would have avoided Chen with two home starts unless he was facing lineups with extremely little power. Chen has become a little more intriguing lately, as over his last seven starts, he has a 12 percent swinging strike rate, which has fueled a 7.9 K/9 ratio and 2.98 ERA. Batters are suddenly having a tougher time making contact with Chen's slider, and on the chance that he can continue the trend, the lefty is worth a pickup.
22. Chris Tillman, BAL (vs. TB, vs. MIN)
It's not easy to trim a run and a half off your ERA in just over two months, but Tillman has done that and then some. Over his last 14 starts, he has seen his ERA plunge from 5.20 to 3.55, and that's done wonders for Tillman's popularity in Fantasy. With an ownership rate approaching 90 percent, many owners now have the option of just plunking Tillman into their rotation for a two-start week, but the move should not be automatic. Tillman has probably been fortunate to have allowed only seven home runs during his 93 2/3-inning hot streak, and aside from a couple of recent starts against the White Sox (13 swinging strikes) and Cardinals (14 swinging strikes), hitters haven't struggled much to make contact. A .233 BABIP has gone a long way towards propping up Tillman's value, and sooner or later, he's bound to regress.
23. Jake Peavy, SF (vs. COL, vs. MIL)
Cosart isn't the only pitcher on this list who has seemingly benefitted from a change of scenery. While Peavy's season had started to turn the corner before his July trade from the Red Sox to the Giants, he has moved even closer to a return to form since the deal. Over five starts with his new club, Peavy has walked just eight batters in 32 2/3 innings and induced whiffs on 11 percent of his pitches. Moving to AT&T Park also figured to be a plus for Peavy, and he has registered quality starts in his two starts there. With two more home starts this week, Peavy is a reasonable choice to round out your standard mixed league rotation.
24. T.J. House, CLE (at CHW, at KC)
If you're in a format that rewards quality starts, you probably shouldn't bother giving House a home in your rotation, as he rarely pitches deep into games. The sinkerballer has been helping owners with ERA in recent weeks, posting a 3.07 mark over his last eight starts and having allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of those games. House's strikeout and walk rates are nothing special, but a 63 percent ground ball rate makes him worth considering, and not just in deeper leagues. In fact, there's room for House to improve upon what he's accomplished so far this season, as he has allowed a .290 batting average on grounders, while the Indians' staff as a whole has held opponents to a .251 average on ground balls. He is not as risky of an option as his 1.49 WHIP might lead you to believe.
25. Roenis Elias, SEA (vs. TEX, vs. WAS)
Earlier this season, Elias was taking steady turns in the Mariners' rotation and throwing 100-plus pitches with some regularity, but lately he's been more limited. Due to a concern over his innings, Elias was recently optioned to Triple-A Tacoma, and possibly for the same reason, he has been lifted early from his big league starts. Even though Elias has been very effective over the past month, compiling a 2.10 ERA with 30 strikeouts over his last 25 2/3 innings, he is risky because of his usage patterns. He may not go very deep into Monday's start against the Rangers, and with the Mariners having Thursday off, Elias could theoretically be skipped for Sunday's start against the Nationals. Because of his strikeout potential, Elias is worth a flier, but after factoring in innings concerns and some wildness, you could just as easily pass him over.
|26. A.J. Burnett||vs. WAS, at NYM|
|27. Scott Feldman||vs. OAK, vs. TEX|
|28. Dillon Gee||vs. ATL, vs. PHI|
|29. Jorge De La Rosa||at SF, at ARI|
|30. Clay Buchholz||at TOR, at TB|
|31. Eric Stults||vs. MIL, vs. LAD|
|32. Travis Wood||at CIN, at STL|
|33. Tyler Matzek||at SF, at ARI|
|34. Ricky Nolasco||at KC, at BAL|
|35. Miles Mikolas||at SEA, at HOU|
|36. Nick Martinez||at SEA, at HOU|
|37. J.A. Happ||vs. BOS, vs. NYY|
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