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Though this column is geared towards Fantasy owners in leagues with weekly lineup changes, I'm guessing that some of you may have gotten swept up in the daily Fantasy craze. One of the most fun aspects of playing the daily game is finding the most meaningful splits that can lead you to finding the perfect matchups. While that is a key aspect of playing daily Fantasy, the fun of playing the splits isn't limited to those who start with a new team every day.
When it comes to streaming pitchers in and out of a weekly lineup, splits can be just as useful. That will certainly be the case in Fantasy Week 8 (May 25-31), where splits can help us to make distinctions between pitchers who appear to have similar value at the surface level. For example, Jered Weaver and Carlos Martinez are both owned in close to 90 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com and are currently started in roughly two-thirds of the leagues in which they are owned. Both have been disappointing overall, inconsistent in general, but much better of late. In other words, both pose a dilemma when making your weekly sit/start decisions.
If you had both of them rostered and had room to start just one, the splits would help you out this week. Weaver has been much better at home than on the road, both this season as well as over his career -- not terribly surprising for a flyball pitcher who calls Angel Stadium home. Lucky for him that he gets to face the Padres and Tigers at home this week. If the Tigers sound like a tough matchup in any venue, keep in mind that they rely heavily on their right-handed bats, and Weaver has held righties to a .236/.270/.355 slash line this year. Weaver doesn't look so borderline anymore, does he?
Martinez, like Weaver, has not been able to hold lefties to slugging percentage below .500, but the schedule is far less kind to him this week. His first start of the week, against the Diamondbacks, shouldn't be too bad, but then Martinez will have to face the Dodgers' lethal lefty-loaded lineup. If you were planning to capitalize on Martinez's recent rebound, you should probably go with another plan.
J.A. Happ, Joe Kelly, Roenis Elias and David Phelps would seem to have far less appeal than either Weaver or Martinez, but each is worth starting this week, at least if we allow their splits to tell the story. And if you think a one-start Alex Wood could spell big trouble for his owners when goes up against the potent Dodgers, the splits have a surprise for you there as well.
Recommended starters for standard mixed leagues
J.A. Happ, Mariners (at TB, vs. CLE): After getting clocked in a rain-shortened start in Baltimore on Thursday, Happ might not look like an attractive two-start option, but Week 8 could be a different story. The southpaw is a genuinely improved pitcher this season, but he still leans towards having flyball tendencies. That has hurt him the most in his starts at Houston and Baltimore -- the two venues that yield the highest rate of home runs. This week, Happ heads to Tropicana Field to face the Rays and then returns home to Safeco Field to oppose the Indians. He has performed well in pitcher-friendly venues so far, so he's a perfectly reasonable two-start option in standard mixed leagues.
Jesse Chavez, Athletics (vs. DET, vs. NYY): Since joining the rotation, Chavez has been merely average as a strikeout and control pitcher, but that can be just good enough in a two-start week. The one area in which Chavez has been below-average is in inducing ground balls, which he has done at a 42 percent rate. Fortunately for him, the schedule has helped him out, as he made starts exclusively at pitcher's parks. With two home starts this week, the trend will continue. The matchup against the Tigers is his toughest to date, but owners can trust his career 3.54 ERA and 0.5 HR/9 at O.co Coliseum.
Joe Kelly, Red Sox (at MIN, at TEX): Despite increase velocity and a heightened strikeout rate, Kelly has appeared to take a step backwards with a 5.13 ERA. With an 8.2 K/9 ratio, Kelly isn't missing enough bats to compensate for subpar control (3.6 BB/9, 62 percent strikes thrown), and a 63 percent strand rate hasn't helped. Kelly hasn't had chronic problems with stranding, so his ERA should shrink without any interference from outside factors. However, he will get some help in the form of matchups against the Twins and Rangers, who rank 27th and 26th, respectively, weighted on-base average (wOBA) versus righties. Oddly enough, Kelly has had reverse splits both this season and last, so he should be able to handle Texas lefties Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo and Mitch Moreland.
Roenis Elias, Mariners (at TB, vs. CLE): Lefty/righty splits should work in the left-handed Elias' favor as well this week. The Rays have been actually been one of the majors' better power-hitting teams against southpaws, but in terms of overall production, a high K-rate has rendered them merely average. If Elias can escape his first start intact, he should have a productive week. He will finish it against the Indians, who hit for precious little power against lefties. Matchups aside, Elias has been surprisingly effective over his five starts, due in part to vastly improved control.
David Phelps, Marlins (at PIT, at NYM): Phelps' most recent start against the Diamondbacks was hard to watch -- at least for his owners -- but it doesn't take away from what he has accomplished this season. The lapses in control and attention paid to baserunners (he and catcher Jhonatan Solano allowed four steals) have been uncommon for Phelps, but he continued to be stingy in allowing extra-base hits. He's no ground ball artist, but with help from cavernous Marlins Park and an otherwise friendly schedule, Phelps has thrived all of his other starts. Home outings against the weak-hitting Pirates and Mets should continue the trend.
Alex Wood, ATL (at LAD): Wood was scratched from his Friday start against the Brewers due to a stomach virus, but there is no reason to expect him to sit out Week 8. If Wood stays on his normal turn in the Braves' rotation, he would pitch the series finale against the Dodgers. That might not sound like a good matchup, especially for a pitcher who hasn't been quite himself so far this season. However, Wood has improved greatly since the opening month, as he has been getting more whiffs and grounders while throwing 66 percent of his pitches for strikes in three May starts. The Dodgers, while potent overall, have not hit lefties well, posting a .696 OPS against them. Better yet, if Wood rejoins the rotation a day or two early, he would get starts at the Dodgers and Giants, both of whom rank among the bottom third of teams in weighted on-base average (wOBA) against left-handed pitchers.
Deeper league options
Andrew Cashner, Padres (at LAA): There is much to like about Cashner's season to date. He is finally becoming the strikeout pitcher that Fantasy owners envisioned he would be a couple of seasons ago, notching 54 Ks in 56 innings. Ever since a rough season debut against the Dodgers, Cashner has posted a 2.29 ERA with seven quality starts in eight tries. With an upcoming outing against the Angels, one of the lowest-scoring teams in the majors, he would seem to be a must-start option, even with just a single start. This season, Cashner has had an unusually hard time preventing extra- base hits, and he will oppose a pitcher -- Garrett Richards -- who has been even better than usual at limiting extra bases. I normally don't pay too much attention to a pitcher's won-lost record, but with a woeful defense behind him, it's not entirely fluky that that Cashner is 1-7, as he has already allowed 12 unearned runs. Between opposing Richards and relying on a shaky defense, you can likely find a one- or two-start pitcher who is better positioned to help with wins this week.
Tsuyoshi Wada, Cubs (vs. WAS, vs. KC): Wada wowed Fantasy owners in Wednesday's season debut against the Padres, ringing up nine strikeouts, despite having his workload limited to 69 pitches and 4 2/3 innings. Given Wada's mediocre 7.4 K/9 from his rookie season, it seems unlikely that he would continue to produce strikeouts at a high rate, but it's not something we can rule out. Last season, Wada recorded 120 strikeouts in 113 2/3 innings at Triple-A Iowa while getting whiffs on 12.5 percent of his pitches (per StatCorner). With the Royals on Wada's Week 8 schedule, this is probably not the time to expect Wada to sustain a lofty strikeout pace. He may also need a while to ramp up his pitch count, so while Wada could be reasonably effective, he's not the most trustworthy of two-start options...yet.
Chase Anderson, Diamondbacks (at STL, at MIL): Anderson is having himself quite a month, having reeled off four strong starts in May that have collectively produced a 1.03 ERA and an 0.80 WHIP. He has done so in spite of the fact that he has been allowing contact more than he typically does. According to FanGraphs, hitters have made contact on 86 percent of their swings, putting him just behind the likes of Jeremy Guthrie, Bartolo Colon and Kyle Kendrick in the contact rate rankings. That has limited Anderson to just 14 strikeouts over 26 1/3 innings, but a .182 BABIP has enabled him to keep the bases clear. If he was backed by a stellar defense or had extreme flyball tendencies, you might have reason to believe that the imminent regression won't be too harsh, but neither is the case. In a week with fewer viable two-start alternatives, it might pay to take a gamble on Anderson, but you don't need to risk the low strikeout total or mediocre ratios that he might produce.
Tim Lincecum, Giants (at MIL, vs. ATL): When Lincecum opened the season with a 3.27 ERA in April, it appeared that just maybe, he was on his way to a bounceback season. Though his control was questionable, with a 58 percent ground ball rate (per FanGraphs), it seemed that Lincecum had finally found a way to succeed despite reduced velocity. Lincecum's ERA is now down to 2.08 and his WHIP is a respectable 1.22, so it would be easy to assume that he is safe at last to use as a two-start pitchers. Yet in May, Lincecum has been getting grounders at a 44 percent rate, but his regression has been masked by an 89 strand rate and a .203 BABIP rate compiled over the month. Once again, Lincecum is enjoying short-term success that doesn't look built to last. He should be avoided outside of deeper leagues.