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Are we there yet?
Not quite, but finally, Fantasy Week 1 (April 5-11) is just about here. It's time to get out of drafting mode and into lineup setting mode, and for us here at CBSSports.com, the time has come to start dispensing weekly roster advice.
In this space, I'll offer my thoughts each week about some of the trickier sit/start decisions for starting pitchers. That task is probably going to be easier in Week 1 than in any subsequent scoring period. Until some wacky manager decides to go with the unconventional approach of using the team's worst starting pitcher on opening day, it's a pretty straightforward exercise to pick your starters for the first week.
Wait, is that Bartolo Colon scheduled to toe the slab for the Mets on Monday against the Nationals? Well, even so, most owners won't face too many tough decisions this week. In all likelihood your two best starters will get a couple of turns in the rotation, though your two-start pitchers are likely of the must-start variety anyway. Because the first day or two of the season will be an ace-fest across the majors, there will be a lot of top-shelf two start pitchers but very few on waivers, even in shallower leagues.
So with very few exceptions, you're using all of your two-start pitchers. It also makes sense to stick with the one-start pitchers you drafted to be on your active roster, since your league is unlikely to have few, if any, two-start waiver options with which to replace them. The bounty of ace-versus-ace matchups might look risky to owners who don't want to risk getting saddled with a loss (or at least a non-win), but just remember that your opponents are probably in the exact same position, starting great pitchers who have to match up against other great pitchers. This week, as in any other week, the rule is simple: if you've got quality arms, start them. That even includes the likes of a one-start Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey (pitch limit and all), Jordan Zimmermann, Jacob deGrom or Zack Greinke.
There are a couple of situations involving one-start pitchers who are legitimately risky. Chris Sale (foot) is set to make a rehab start Monday, and if all goes well, he could make his season debut on April 12. Owners will likely have to set their lineups before knowing for certain whether Sale will make a start in Week 1. Given his current trajectory, it looks as if he will make that start against the Twins, so barring any unforeseen developments, I'll be starting him this week. Also, Justin Verlander (triceps) is on track to come off the 15-day disabled to also make a start on April 12 at the Indians. I have enough concerns about how well he might perform that I'd just as soon keep him benched for Week 1.
Recommended starters for standard mixed leagues
Drew Hutchison, Blue Jays (at NYY, at BAL): Last season, Hutchison made good on his potential to provide a strikeout per inning (well, he actually fell short by one K, but let's just give it to him). He has made it difficult for opponents to pull the ball against him, though that hasn't translated to a low ERA. Being a flyball pitcher in a home run park probably has something to do with that, and this week, Hutchison goes to two other hitter-friendly venues -- Yankee Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards. However, Hutchison's struggles with extra-base hits came mostly against left-handed hitters, and while the Yankees' lineup is replete with lefties, only Brian McCann and switch-hitting Mark Teixeira stand out as real power threats. Hutchison could shut down the righty-heavy Orioles like he did last season (2.54 ERA in six starts), so he could be a big producer this week.
Kyle Lohse, Brewers (vs. COL, vs. PIT): A little bit of the shine came off Lohse last season, as he was something less than an elite control pitcher with a 2.0 BB/9 ratio and a 3.54 ERA. He needs to have superb control to keep pace with his pitching brethren who are less amenable to contact, so barring improvement, he won't be a must-start in two-start weeks. In this particular scoring period, it's hard not to like the fact that he will face the Rockies at home. A second home start against the Pirates is less attractive, but he should fare well enough in that contest to make the production from his season debut hold up.
Jake Peavy, Giants (at ARI, at SD): The portion of last season that Peavy spent with the Red Sox was so miserable that owners have overlooked him in this spring's drafts. With the Giants, Peavy rediscovered his control, throwing 67 percent of his pitches for strikes and walking 17 batters in 78 2/3 innings. Still, Peavy's flyball tendencies could get him into trouble in some of his road starts, and his season debut at Arizona is a bit risky. Even though the Padres have greatly improved their lineup, Peavy's start at San Diego should go well enough to make him worth starting this week.
Jesse Hahn, Athletics (vs. TEX, vs. SEA): I included Hahn among my list of potential busts for 2015, but his inclusion here isn't an about-face. Because of his favorable home park and decent ground ball tendencies, Hahn will at the very least have his uses in some of the two-start weeks that he spends entirely in Oakland. I particularly like his matchup against the Rangers, and while the Mariners should be a tougher matchup (especially since he is scheduled to oppose Felix Hernandez), I like his chances to come away with a win in his first start.
Scott Kazmir, Athletics (vs. TEX): I'm not as high on Kazmir as I was a year ago, now that he is coming off a season in which his strikeout and whiff rates declined markedly. The A's aren't likely to offer as much run support either, so there may be several weeks where I would sit Kazmir as a one-start pitcher. This isn't one of them, though, as he will match up against a Rangers lineup that has few reliable bats and several question marks. Better yet, the Rangers will counter with Ross Detwiler, who is one of the more marginal starters in the majors.
Anibal Sanchez, Tigers (vs. MIN): Sanchez hasn't always been a must-start option with one start, but he is pretty close to a lock anytime he pitches at Comerica Park. Over 211 1/3 innings at his current home park, Sanchez has held opponents to a .218/.271/.318 slash line. The Twins' lineup shouldn't be too bad, but it feels safe to expect Sanchez to come away with a win, given that he won't have to face off against their ace, Phil Hughes.
Strictly deep league options
Clay Buchholz, Red Sox (at PHI, at NYY): I hold out hope for Buchholz to stay healthy, establish some consistency and be worth starting in his two-start weeks. He did demonstrate much better control after returning from a knee injury late in the first half of last season, but after the All-Star break, his ERA was an unsightly 5.26. Buchholz did a poor job of stranding runners, and that could have been a fluke. Despite a pair of decent matchups, I'd like to see how Buchholz performs first before assuming he can be the 3.50 ERA pitcher his second-half FIP from last season suggests he could be.
Yovani Gallardo, Rangers (at OAK, vs. HOU): Gallardo's velocity rebounded slightly last season, but he continued his decline as a strikeout pitcher. He did improve somewhat as a control pitcher, though not to the point where that could be his calling card as a viable pitcher in standard mixed leagues. It could be tempting use Gallardo this week, given that the A's don't appear to have a potent lineup and the Astros could gift opposing pitchers with plenty of Ks. Though they have their appeal, these matchups aren't slam dunks, and Gallardo is going to have to show that he's worth using on the basis of his own merits.
Josh Collmenter, Diamondbacks (vs. SF, vs. LAD): In just about any other week, I would give Collmenter some consideration outside of deeper leagues with two starts, but this isn't just any week for him. The Diamondbacks' opening day starter has the misfortune of opposing Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw in his first two starts. Despite his pitch-to-contact ways, Collmenter is the sort of pitcher who can pay dividends with two starts because his stinginess with walks and hits on balls make him a candidate for a low WHIP, and the extra innings make him less of a liability for strikeouts. Just maybe Collmenter can eek out a win by forcing a pitcher's duel, but you're probably going to be better off using a one-start pitcher who is better poised to put up a "W."
Lance Lynn, Cardinals (at CHC): Before last season, Lynn had typically struggled away from Busch Stadium, but in 2014, he had his best season to date on the road. Lynn posted a 3.05 ERA in his away starts, but he needed an 80 percent strand rate to do it. He was about as homer-prone on the road as he had always been, having allowed nine home runs in 88 2/3 innings. Even without Kris Bryant, the Cubs have some power in the middle of their lineup, and with Jake Arrieta scheduled to start for the home team, a win could be hard for Lynn to come by.
Mike Fiers, Brewers (vs. PIT): I don't generally put much stock in spring training stats, but I can't help but be a little concerned about Fiers. He walked nine batters over 13 1/3 innings, and in two of his four starts, he threw strikes for fewer than 60 percent of his pitches. In a typical week, I might dismiss such a small sample of discouraging stats, but in a week where there are many good options, it makes more sense to take a wait-and-see approach.
Mat Latos, Marlins (vs. ATL): Latos' miserable spring (7.04 ERA, 9 K, 6 BB in 15 1/3 innings) is not reason enough to sit him in Week 1, but it didn't do anything to assuage concern over his underwhelming 2014 campaign. He was reasonably effective, but with lower velocity and a subpar strikeout rate (6.5 K/9), he was not the sort of pitcher whom you could easily trust with only one start. The Braves present a tempting matchup, but at least for now, Latos merits a cautious approach.