The last week of the Fantasy season always produces some gut-wrenching rotation decisions, and it's not just because the stakes are at their highest. We are more than a week from the regular season's conclustion, and already, teams are clinching playoff berths and their managers are jockeying their pitchers for position in the postseason rotation. The maneuvers are likely to continue right through Fantasy Week 26 (Sept. 22-28) ruining the best-laid plans of Fantasy owners.
Unfortunately for their owners, Fantasy aces like Felix Hernandez, David Price, Madison Bumgarner, Adam Wainwright and Francisco Liriano all play for contending teams, and all could have their second starts wiped out next weekend in the hopes of lining them up for Division Series opener, if not a Wild Card game. It's a nuisance, but these are must-start pitchers in any event. Getting them for one-start just puts a greater onus on owners to find another two-start pitcher to slot into your rotation.
Supplies of said quality two-start pitchers are limited, as most of the pitchers currently scheduled twice for Week 26 are widely owned. Derek Holland, Danny Duffy, Jake Peavy and Josh Collmenter headline the thin ranks of two-start pitchers who may be on waivers. If someone has beat you to getting any of these four, you are better off settling for a resurgent Jonathon Niese or underappreciated Yusmeiro Petit with one start, than pushing your luck with a two-start Aaron Harang or C.J. Wilson.
You may want to make yourself very familiar with the available options -- whether one-start or two-start -- as some of the borderline options discussed below may have their two-start status threatened. One situation to watch closely over the weekend is the Rays' rotation. Even though they're not playoff contenders, the Rays have their own reason for possibly juggling their starters. Specifically, they may want to get another look at Alex Colome, who fared well in a Monday spot start against the Yankees. That would push the Rays' rotation to six members and push Jake Odorizzi out of a second start.
So on we go with the analysis of your current borderline two-start options for the final time this season. All pitch usage, velocity and movement data come from BrooksBaseball.net, and flyball distance data are from BaseballHeatMaps.com.
Monday update: We already lost one of the recommended two-start pitchers over the weekend, as the Rays moved Alex Cobb ahead of Odorizzi in their rotation, wiping out Odorizzi's second start. Also, three of the two-start pitchers from the must-avoid list lost a start: Bud Norris, Jorge De La Rosa and Anthony Swarzak.
Fortunately, there are now nine additional pitchers who are currently projected for two starts this week. I have ranked Clay Buchholz and Robbie Erlin among the borderline options, and both are widely available in standard mixed leagues. In fact, Erlin is owned in only 7 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com, but believe it or not, he is a fairly appealing borderline option. (I will dig into the reasons why further below.) Cobb and Kyle Hendricks are clearly the best additions to the ranks of two-start pitchers, but Cobb is nearly universally owned, while Hendricks is only available in just over one-third of our leagues.
The new two-start options for owners in deeper leagues are Dan Haren, Nick Tropeano, Eric Stults, Kyle Gibson and Ricky Nolasco. Tropeano's performance has been encouraging through his first two major league starts, and he's worth pursuing in deeper mixed leagues. However, his two-start status only holds up if the Astros revert back to a five-man rotation and don't replace Dallas Keuchel, who has been shut down after 200 innings of work.
|1. Cole Hamels||at MIA, vs. ATL|
|2. Johnny Cueto||vs. MIL, vs. PIT|
|3. Carlos Carrasco||vs. KC, vs. TB|
|4. Alex Cobb||at BOS, at CLE|
|5. Alex Wood||vs. PIT, at PHI|
|6. Felix Hernandez||at TOR, vs. LAA|
|7. Madison Bumgarner||at LAD, vs. SD|
|8. David Price||vs. CHW, vs. MIN|
|9. Adam Wainwright||at CHC, at ARI|
|10. Francisco Liriano||at ATL, at CIN|
|11. Mike Fiers||at CIN, vs. CHC|
|12. Derek Holland||vs. HOU, vs. OAK|
|13. Jeff Samardzija||vs. LAA, at TEX|
|14. Tanner Roark||vs. NYM, vs. MIA|
|15. Sonny Gray||vs. LAA, at TEX|
|16. Kyle Hendricks||vs. STL, at MIL|
Two-Start Pitchers on the Bubble
17. Gerrit Cole, PIT (at ATL, at CIN)
Cole falls just shy of must-start status this week, but it's hard to fault his performance of late. He hasn't dominated in any of his last three starts, but in general, he's been pitching with control and getting swings and misses. In fact, Cole has had double-digit swings-and-misses in all five of his starts since returning from the lat injury that sidelined him for a month and a half. My main concern is that Cole could lose his second start if Pirates manager Clint Hurdle wants to use him for the NL Wild Card game on Wednesday. Liriano is at least as much of a threat to get held out for that purpose, so bascially, my hesitance to start Cole this week is a reflection of a very cautious approach.
18. Danny Duffy, KC (at CLE, at CHW)
Duffy is a risky play, just by virtue of the fact that he won't have pitched in more than two weeks due to rotator cuff inflammation. Even assuming Duffy is ready to make his start on Monday and does not show any rust, he is a bit of a gamble. The last time he faced the Indians at Progressive Field, he allowed ten hits, including two home runs, and U.S. Cellular Field is even more treacherous for a flyball pitcher like Duffy. Then again, he's been sufficiently adept at avoiding hard contact (average flyball distance of 272 feet, 14 percent popup rate) that he's not as vulnerable to park factors as a typical flyball pitcher. Though it's the not the best two-start week for Duffy, it's still one where you can feel fairly safe in using him.
19. Henderson Alvarez, MIA (vs. PHI, at WAS)
Alvarez had been a little shaky over a three-start stretch that culminated in him missing a start with an oblique injury, but he's recovered nicely his last two times out. He logged quality starts against the Phillies and Mets in succession, allowing a total of two extra base hits (both doubles) in those starts. His recent skid aside, Alvarez has been highly consistent, allowing three earned runs or fewer in all but six of his 28 starts. He's also one of the least likely pitchers to miss a start this week, with the Marlins all but out of the playoff hunt and Alvarez not facing any innings restrictions. And Alvarez tossed a no-hitter in his final start of 2013, so who knows?
20. James Paxton, SEA (at TOR, vs. LAA)
It seems highly inconceivable that Paxton won't make both of his starts, so you can eliminate that as a reason to sit him this week. Taijuan Walker is gone as a potential replacement, as he is now needed to fill in for injured Roenis Elias, and sitting Paxton for Erasmo Ramirez or Brandon Maurer in the thick of a playoff race isn't compelling. More to the point, there is no reason for the Mariners to preserve Paxton's innings, as he's only thrown 78 2/3 of them this season (including in the minors). The biggest concerns for the lefty are his opponents and his recent struggles with control. While the Blue Jays should pose a tough matchup, the Angels may not put forth their best lineup over their final games. Paxton's Wednesday start against those very same Angels was encouraging, as he struck out eight batters in 6 2/3 innings with just one walk. You likely have better options than Paxton for this final week, but if you don't, he's worth trusting with your season's fate on the line.
21. Jake Peavy, SF (at LAD, vs. SD)
Since Peavy joined the Giants in late July, he's produced his best string of performances in a long time, and it would be easy to chalk up his improvement on the change of scenary and venue. Peavy actually started getting better results during the last few weeks of his Red Sox tenure, and that's around the time he started to abandon his sinker in favor of throwing more curves and sliders. That likely has something to do with Peavy's improvement, as he wasn't throwing the sinker with much deception or control. It's been especially encouraging to see Peavy return to a typically low walk rate, and he's issued only five free passes over the last 41 innings. Peavy is also ringing up more Ks than he has in awhile, with three eight-strikeout games voer his last six outings. His consistency is a little harder to trust than, say, Alvarez's, but he's on a long enough roll to be worth starting.
22. Yordano Ventura, KC (at CLE, at CHW)
Ventura is not on an innings limit and doesn't figure to start the AL Wild Card game or Game 1 of a Division League Series, so there's no compelling reason for Royals manager Ned Yost to skip him for his second start. Especially if the Royals are still fighting for a postseason berth on the last day of the season, he would be their best option to start on that day. My reservations about using Ventura stem almost exclusively from concerns over his spotty control. It may sound counterintuitive to sit Ventura when it matters most, as he has rattled off 10 straight quality starts. I'm just not convinced he will carry that streak into Week 26, given that he has walked nearly a batter every other inning over his eight most recent starts. He hasn't allowed a single home run over that stretch, but it's just a matter of time before he's done in by too many walks and some untimely extra-base hits.
23. Clay Buchholz, BOS (vs. TB, vs. NYY)
In recent weeks, Buchholz seemed to finally get his roller-coaster season to stay on track with a string of seven consecutive starts of six innings or more that produced a 3.18 ERA. His brief and unsuccessful outing on Wednesday at the Pirates, in which he allowed five runs (four earned) over four innings, may have felt like a "here we go again" moment for Buchholz owners. However, since his late June return from a knee injury, there has been far more good than bad. I sorted through the mertis of Buchholz's recent performances in a recent Fantasy Baseball Today blog post, but the long and short of it is that Buchholz has shown consistently good command and control. Also, for the most part, he's been able to avoid extra-base hits. He's done it against some good competition, too. Buchholz appears up to the task of winning his owners a championship this week.
24. Josh Collmenter, ARI (at MIN, vs. STL)
Collmenter is in the midst of an impressive five-game run during which he has allowed four earned runs over 35 2/3 innings. That has raised his profile over the last couple of weeks, but he has actually been steady for three solid months. Spanning 14 starts (plus a relief appearance), Collmenter has allowed more than three earned runs only three times while compiling a 3.18 ERA. He's employed his usual formula of avoiding walks and living and occasionally dying by the flyball. To be fair, Collmenter's schedule has been a friendly one. The Giants were among his toughest opponents of late, and he silenced them in back-to-back starts, but as a contact-hitting team that's not producing much power, they play right into Collmenter's strengths. The Twins have been hitting for power recently, but Collmenter gets to face them at pitcher-friendly Target Field, and the Cardinals are still a pretty favorable matchup. In leagues where Collmenter can be used in a relief spot, owners should look for a way to get him active, but in other formats, he is a lower-end option.
25. Robbie Erlin, SD (vs. COL, at SF)
Erlin's 4.53 ERA makes him look less than appealing, especially when you consider how little backing he might get from the Padres' lineup, but he's been a whole different pitcher at PETCO Park. The Padres' stadium isn't such a bad place for lefties to hit anymore, but Erlin has neutralized whatever advantage the park offers, holding lefties to a .129/.182/.129 slash line there. In addition to his home start against the Rockies, Erlin will likely get a second start at AT&T Park, another venue that should benefit him. Also, Erlin is slated to face the Giants on Sunday, when they may very well be in a position to rest many of their regulars in anticipation of the postseason. The only things that could interrupt this happy little scenario is if both Tyson Ross and Odrisamer Despaigne return to the rotation in Week 26, rather than get shut down, or if manager Bud Black uses two spot starters during the week. Those seem like highly unlikely choices, so owners can pick up and start Erlin, confident in knowing he has a good chance to make both starts.
26. Michael Pineda, NYY (vs. BAL, at BOS)
Because he has been so efficient, Pineda has been able to make the most of modest pitch counts, but the Yankees' cautious usage patterns make me a little nervous about him actually getting two starts. As of now, Pineda's second start would come on the final day of the season, and with likely nothing meaningful to play for and a six-man rotation, manager Joe Girardi could opt to skip him in favor of Brandon McCarthy on regular rest or one of the many swingmen in the bullpen. Though Pineda is efficient, he's not pitching deep into games -- at least not consistently -- and he's been disappointing as a source of strikeouts. So while a two-start Pineda would be a potential boon in wins, ERA and WHIP, the threat of him getting just a single start makes him less appealing than most of this week's two-start options.
27. Wei-Yin Chen, BAL (at NYY, at TOR)
Chen's probably been fortunate to have a 2.71 ERA for the second half, as he's been stranding 82 percent of his baserunners (according to FanGraphs), but his 1.12 WHIP could be legit. The lefty has refined his control, which was already good, as he has thrown 68 percent of his pitches for strikes since the break. His 16-4 record may also look a little fluky, but keep in mind that he has been well-supported by the Orioles' offense (5.0 runs per nine innings), and there's no reason why that can't continue into the final week of the regular season. Chen has made one start apiece at Yankee Stadium and Rogers Centre this year, and they were both among his worst outings, and those hitter-friendly parks don't suit him. Don't get too hung up on the venues, though, as Chen has had several strong performances at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and you wouldn't think his flyball-trending ways would play well there.
28. Bartolo Colon, NYM (at WAS, vs. HOU)
Colon still isn't walking anybody, but he's been making it rain hits for the past month and a half. He hasn't been doing much for owners' ERAs since June, but lately he's been a liability for WHIP, with a 1.35 mark over his last nine starts. Bad luck on balls in play could be a factor, as he has posted a .354 BABIP over that stretch, but that's something that becomes more of a risk when you pitch to contact as much as Colon does. It's absolutely conceivable that Colon turns in a good week to finish the season -- and there is no reason to think he won't make two starts -- but given his inconsistency, he is strictly an option for owners who have a big deficit to overcome and have no one better to provide an extra start.
|29. Dan Haren||vs. SF, vs. COL|
|30. C.J. Wilson||at OAK, at SEA|
|31. Nick Tropeano||at TEX, at NYM|
|32. Aaron Harang||vs. PIT, at PHI|
|33. R.A. Dickey||vs. SEA, vs. BAL|
|34. Eric Stults||vs. COL, at SF|
|35. Kyle Lobstein||vs. CHW, vs. MIN|
|36. Kyle Gibson||vs. ARI, at DET|
|37. J.A. Happ||vs. SEA, vs. BAL|
|38. Nick Martinez||vs. HOU, vs. OAK|
|39. Ricky Nolasco||vs. ARI, at DET|
|40. Chris Bassitt||at DET, vs. KC|