Fantasy First Pitch for Week 24

Were you one of the owners who grabbed a presumptive two-start Hector Santiago, Wade Miley or Roberto Hernandez off waivers to use in Fantasy Week 23, only to have their real-life teams switch up their rotations and push their second starts to Fantasy Week 24 (Sept. 8-14)? There's a lesson to be learned from this for the coming week.

This time of year, managers are a little more motivated to give their starters -- particularly their younger ones -- some extra rest. They may also be a little more cautious with pitchers who are dealing with minor injuries, pushing their starts back or skipping their turns entirely. We have also seen a few managers turn to a six-man rotation in order to preserve everyone's innings. For example, it was Randall Delgado's re-entry into the Diamondbacks' rotation as a sixth starter that cost Miley his second start in Week 23.

So the takeaway is that with Fantasy titles on the line, it pays to be cautious about adding two-start pitchers. There is the normal risk of adding a fringy pitcher who might give you two bad starts as opposed to the one good start from a pitcher you might have benched. Then there is the additional risk that a two-start option can have his week's workload reduced to a single start. There's nothing wrong with that, just as long as you started that pitcher for the quality, instead of the quantity, of his innings. My colleague, Scott White, put it well on one of our recent podcasts when he advised using a two-start pitcher this time of the season only if you can live with him as a one-start pitcher.

There are currently 40 pitchers projected for two starts in Week 24, but 16 of them are on the "pitchers to avoid" list. Jason Vargas, Trevor Bauer and Tom Koehler top that list, and in another week, I might have viewed them as borderline options. This time around, I wouldn't want to risk having them on my active roster in the event that they make one start or hit their floors rather than their ceilings. Even some pitchers on the "bubble" list, like Mike Leake, Yovani Gallardo and Jonathon Niese, are really only advisable if getting extra starts in your rotation is your only hope of advancing.

Monday update: Just a handful of pitchers saw their one-start/two-start status change over the weekend. The biggest impact for Fantasy owners came when the Mets decided to give Rafael Montero a spot start on Wednesday in order to give the team's other starters extra rest. That bumped Jacob deGrom's second scheduled start for Week 24 back to Week 25. He is still a solid one-start option, so despite losing a start against the Nationals, deGrom is at least worth considering in nearly all formats.

In deeper leagues, the addition of Hector Noesi to this week's list of two-start pitchers could be an important development. He doesn't quite make the list of borderline options for owners in standard mixed leagues, as he hasn't shown consistency over an extended period. Still, he has been surprisingly effective in recent weeks. Noesi has registered six quality starts over his last nine tries, and he has pitched at least seven innings on six different occasions during that stretch. Since the beginning of August, Noesi is 3-1 with a 3.35 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. The shuffling of the White Sox's rotation that landed two starts for Noesi also robbed John Danks of his two-start week.

The only other pitchers to have their status changed are Colby Lewis, who gains a second start, and Brad Peacock, who lost a start. Lewis is mainly an option for AL-only owners, while Peacock, with just one start, should be avoided in all but the deepest of leagues.

Must start two-start options
1. Clayton Kershaw vs. SD, at SF
2. Felix Hernandez vs. HOU, vs. OAK
3. Max Scherzer vs. KC, vs. CLE
4. Jordan Zimmermann vs. ATL, at NYM
5. Jon Lester at CHW, at SEA
6. Doug Fister vs. ATL, at NYM
7. Mike Minor at WAS, at TEX
8. Michael Wacha at CIN, vs. COL
9. Sonny Gray at CHW, at SEA
10. Chris Archer at NYY, at TOR

Two-Start Pitchers on the Bubble

11. Jered Weaver, LAA (at CLE, vs. HOU)

For much of this season, I've been harping on Weaver's unimpressive road splits, and with a 4.63 road ERA, he's a fringy option whenever he leaves Anaheim. One might think a home start against the Astros could even things out for Weaver, but that's not necessarily a good assumption. Weaver's control, which had already shown signs of decline earlier this season, has worsened over his last eight starts. In 48 innings, Weaver has walked 21 batters, and the one of the things the Astros do well is take walks. The other thing they've been doing well is hitting for power, and Weaver has been getting grounders at a meager 35 percent rate. He fared well enough against the Astros on Wednesday, and at Minute Maid Park, no less, but there is still enough risk here to make Weaver worth sitting in shallower leagues.

Start Weaver over the following one-start pitchers: Dallas Keuchel, Adam Wainwright, Jacob deGrom

12. Danny Salazar, CLE (vs. LAA, at DET)

Weeks don't get much tougher than the one Salazar has in store, as he will face two of the most potent offenses in the majors. Based on what he has accomplished since rejoining the Indians' rotation just after the All-Star break, Salazar should be up to the task of facing the Angels and Tigers. He has allowed more than two runs just twice in eight starts, and just like he was a year ago, Salazar has been superb at throwing strikes (67 percent rate) and getting whiffs (11 percent rate). That's the stuff of a must-start pitcher, provided he avoids hard contact, and that's still a potential concern for Salazar. He's as much of a flyball pitcher as he has ever been, so his post-break 2.30 ERA could be due for a little adjustment.

Start Salazar over the following one-start pitchers: Jacob deGrom, Scott Kazmir, Francisco Liriano

13. Marcus Stroman, TOR (vs. CHC, vs. TB)

It's now safe to say we can't count on Stroman for strikeouts anymore -- at least not for the rest of this season. After giving owners 8.3 Ks per nine innings over his first 11 starts, he has produced just a 6.3 K/9 ratio over his last six starts. He is no longer getting swinging strikes, and that had something to do with Stroman's disappoiting August, during which he put together a 6.39 ERA. Stroman did end the month with a strong outing against the Red Sox and followed that up with Wednesday's quality start at the Rays. Even during his slump, Stroman was getting grounders and he could have had good results if not for BABIP rates of .467 or higher over each of his three worst starts during the stretch. Stroman may not offer strikeouts, but he should avoid extra-base hits and walks, and you know what Meat Loaf said about getting two out of three. That's not bad at all, actually, when you're facing the Cubs and Rays, both of whom are well below the major league average for BABIP.

Start Stroman over the following one-start pitchers: Scott Kazmir, Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole

14. Yusmeiro Petit, SF (vs. ARI, vs. LAD)

During his Giants tenure, Petit has been very good at AT&T Park, so it was not too surprising that he mastered the Rockies at home in his first start since May. It was equally unsurprising that Petit got clobbered in his subsequent start, also against the Rockies, but at Coors Field. We've got the start/sit thing figured out for Petit when he faces Colorado, but what about the other 28 teams? Don't let Petit's soft-tossing ways fool you; he gets swings-and-misses on more than one-fourth of his curveballs, which top out in the lower 80s, per BrooksBaseball.net. He's also a strike-throwing fiend, so the only thing owners need to fear when Petit starts is whether he will fall victim to hard-hit flyballs and line drives. The aforementioned home splits are a good sign that Petit can be trusted against nearly any opponent -- and certainly ones that don't present power-laden lineups -- at AT&T Park, as well as at other pitching-friendly venues. With two starts by the Bay, including one against the hapless Diamondbacks, this qualifies as one of those favorable weeks for him in Fantasy.

Start Petit over the following one-start pitchers: Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Rick Porcello

15. Edinson Volquez, PIT (at PHI, vs. CHC)

Volquez was already having a nice, mild comeback season, but he has shifted into a higher gear since the begining of August. With a 1.81 ERA over his seven most recent starts, Volquez has allowed fewer runs and hits than one would expect given his skill stats, but those peripherals still look pretty good. During that period, he has a 56 percent ground ball rate (per Baseball-Reference.com game logs), has thrown 9 percent of his pitches for swinging strikes and thrown 63 percent of his pitches for strikes. That last stat might not look imposing, but after years of walking a batter every other inning or more, that looks like spotless control for Volquez. He could keep his recent string of effective starts going against a mediocre Phillies offense and a Cubs team whose suddenly-powerful lineup could be neutrailzed by Volquez's sinker.

Start Volquez over the following one-start pitchers: Gerrit Cole, Rick Porcello, Ervin Santana

16. Miguel Gonzalez, BAL (at BOS, vs. NYY)

Two-start pitchers to avoid
23. Jason Vargas at DET, vs. BOS
24. Trevor Bauer vs. MIN, at DET
25. Tom Koehler at MIL, at PHI
26. Justin Verlander vs. KC, vs. CLE
27. Hector Noesi vs. OAK, vs. MIN
28. Shelby Miller at CIN, vs. COL
29. David Buchanan vs. PIT, vs. MIA
30. Jeff Locke at PHI, vs. CHC
31. Colby Lewis vs. LAA, vs. ATL
32. Trevor May at CLE, at CHW
33. Joe Kelly vs. BAL, at KC
34. Jeremy Guthrie at DET, vs. BOS
35. Kyle Kendrick vs. PIT, vs. MIA
36. Jordan Lyles at NYM, at STL
37. Dylan Axelrod vs. STL, at MIL
38. Brad Penny at MIL, at PHI

Quitely and sneakily, Gonzalez has been on a two-month quality start binge. Of his last nine starts, only his Aug. 2 outing against the Mariners failed to cross the quality start threshold, and each of his other starts cleared it with room to spare. Wednesday's shutout against the Reds put an accent on his extended hot streak, and it bore the marks of his other recent performances: great control and flyouts galore. Even though Gonzalez has allowed nine home runs over this 63-inning span, he's getting the better end of the Faustian deal struck by flyball pitchers, as he's limited hitters to a .214 BABIP with help from a 14 percent popup rate. As long as Gonzalez continues to be homer-prone, he will fall short of must-start status, but the Red Sox and Yankees are not especially fearsome power-hitting teams.

Start Gonzalez over the following one-start pitchers: Rick Porcello, Ervin Santana, Michael Pineda

17. Chris Tillman, BAL (at BOS, vs. NYY)

Tillman has been a boon to Fantasy owners for three solid months now, going 7-3 with a 2.46 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over his last 18 starts. It's only been in the last month, though, that Tillman has registered supporting stats that suggest his performance has been legit. Though Tillman remains an average strikeout pitcher at best, in August he walked just seven batters in 40 2/3 innings. That led to an efficiency that enabled Tillman to last 6 2/3 innings in all but one start. If Tillman can sustain these improvements, he will have a similar type of appeal as James Shields. Whereas Shields has been a control-pitching workhorse for eight years and running, Tillman is still in the probationary period of his membership in the group. He's the same age (26) Sheilds was when he broke out, but until we see him sustain this blueprint for success over a longer period, Tillman should still be considered as a borderline option.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Tillman: Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Rick Porcello

18. Hector Santiago, LAA (at TEX, vs. HOU)

Those who are looking to avoid Santiago because of erratic control will have to find a new reason to ignore him, as he hasn't walked more than three batters in a start since April 20. Granted, that's not as impressive as it sounds, since he has spent some of that time in the bullpen, but the time span still emcompasses 15 starts. Skeptics would be right to point out that Santiago doesn't pitch deep into games, but that's less relevant in a two-start week. If there's a reason to be alarmed, it's that Santiago has taken his flyball pitching to heights that would make Chris Young blush. He has induced a total of 12 ground balls out of 59 hit balls over his last four starts combined. Another concern: Santiago faltered down the stretch a year ago, and though we have yet to see signs of it, fatigue could set in for the lefty swingman.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Santiago: Gerrit Cole, Rick Porcello, Ervin Santana

19. Hiroki Kuroda, NYY (vs. TB, at BAL)

Ever since Kuroda slumped through the first two months of the season, he has typically been benched or on waivers in the majority of CBSSports.com leagues, but he's really no worse of a pitcher than he has been the last couple of seasons. His 4.00-plus early-season ERA was partially the product of a low strand rate and a high HR/9 ratio, but both stats have normalized in recent months. Since June 3, Kuroda has posted a 3.30 ERA and 1.06 WHIP, though he's been helped by a .256 BABIP over that period. Even with some regression, Kuroda should continue to help with ERA and WHIP, and he's even thrived against the tough Orioles this season (2.79 ERA, 0.83 WHIP in three starts). Kuroda continues to be the definition of steady-but-unspectacular, and in a two-start week, that's really all you need.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Kuroda: Rick Porcello, Ervin Santana, Michael Pineda

20. Mike Leake, CIN (vs. STL, at MIL)

Leake has been on a roll since late July, and while it's not his first extended string of successful starts this season, it's now his longest. The seven-start skein has produced six quality starts, a 2.14 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. As good and steady as Leake has been on this latest run, his propensity to pitch to contact leaves too much of his fate in the hands of his opponents and his own team's defense. That's an especially scary proposition against the Brewers, who swing at a higher rate of pitches than any other team and hit for power. Especially given that they represent Leake's toughest challenge since his streak began, the Brewers look like a strong candidate to put an end to Leake's run-preventing ways.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Leake: Michael Pineda, Brandon McCarthy, Zack Wheeler

21. Yovani Gallardo, MIL (vs. MIA, vs. CIN)

Uh oh. Just as Gallardo had appeared to convert himself into a control pitcher, the old Gallardo -- he of the 60 percent strikes-thrown rate -- has reemerged. Over six starts since the beginning of August, Gallardo has failed to crack that 60 percent threshold, and a 1.51 WHIP has resulted. Surprisingly, it's not walks that have driven Gallardo's WHIP up, as he has managed a reasonable 3.3 BB/9 ratio, but it's been all the balls he has allowed to be put in play that have hurt him. As long as Gallardo continues to induce contact, he has a chance to be productive, since most of those hit balls have wound up being grounders. The aggressive Reds could play right into Gallardo's hands, as could the Marlins, whose hitters collectively lead the majors in ground ball rate. Still, Gallardo's apporoach is a risky one, and best left to those trying to make up a deficit in the standings.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Gallardo: Matt Shoemaker, Yordano Ventura, Tanner Roark

22. Jonathon Niese, NYM (vs. COL, vs. WAS)

Niese's velocity and whiff rate have been down this season, and while he's never relied on strikeouts for success, he's been a little too hittable at times this year. He has appeared to be especially vulnerable since returning from a brief DL stint for shoulder inflammation in July. A smattering of bad outings has pushed Niese's second-half ERA to 4.97, but just prior to Tuesday's clobbering at the hands of the Marlins (which still resulted in a win), Niese appeared to be turning the corner with a string four consecutive quality starts. Though Niese's lack of consistency is concerning, to be sure, he has been reliable as a strike-thrower with decent ground ball tendencies. He could be worth using in the hopes that he regains his first-half form.

Start the following one-start pitchers over Niese: Tanner Roark, Jake Odorizzi, Ian Kennedy

Data Analyst

Al Melchior has been playing Fantasy Baseball since 1994, getting his start in the Southern Maryland Anthropomorphic Baseball League (SMABL). He has been writing about Fantasy Baseball since 2000, getting... Full Bio

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