With less than two weeks left in the regular season, it is now or never to make one final push. This week, 18 teams (Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles Angels, Milwaukee, Minnesota, New York Mets, Oakland, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, and Texas) have six games and 12 (Arizona, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland, Colorado, Houston, Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami, New York Yankees, Philadelphia, San Diego, Toronto, and Washington) play every day. On a weekly basis, starting pitchers are ranked on a scale from 1-10 according to a combination of the following factors:
- Strength of the opposing lineup
- Left or right-handedness of the opposing lineup
- Ballpark’s favorability towards pitchers
- Talent of the pitcher
- Strikeout potential
After taking all of those elements into consideration, they are ranked from one (Extremely risky) to 10 (Must-Start). For example, the same pitcher will have a better matchup rating in a game at Oakland than they will at Yankee Stadium. Also, while Tim Hudson and pitcher X may have the same talent level, pitcher X will most likely be rated higher because of his strikeout potential. You get the picture. So without further ado, here are the pitching probables spanning the next seven days:
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Two-Start Pitcher Rankings for Week 15:
1. Stephen Strasburg
2. Jeff Samardzija
3. Max Scherzer
4. Corey Kluber
5. James Shields
6. Dan Haren
7. Hisashi Iwakuma
8. Matt Shoemaker
9. Jacob deGrom
10. Tanner Roark
11. Ian Kennedy
12. Ervin Santana
13. Roenis Elias
14. Drew Hutchison
15. Alfredo Simon
16. Jake Odorizzi
17. Michael Pineda
18. Jerome Williams
19. Vance Worley
20. Ryan Vogelsong
21. Wade Miley
22. Travis Wood
23. Roberto Hernandez
24. A.J. Burnett
25. Brad Peacock
26. Mark Buehrle
27. Nick Tepesch
28. Tommy Milone
29. Tyler Matzek
30. Chris Capuano
31. Christian Bergman
Analysis for the rankings:
Stephen Strasburg (@ ATL, @ MIA): I love me some Strasburg long term, but I see no reason why his path to greatness can’t start this week. The Nationals ace ranks behind only Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, and Max Scherzer in strikeout percentage this season, a positive statistic when you consider that the two opponents on his schedule this week rank second and third in the league in terms of most strikeouts. Buckle up. That fact alone minimizes the downside for Strasburg, as even if he gets lit up (as he has this season against the Braves) the strikeouts are going to be there (31 in 21.1 innings vs Atlanta this year). I chase the strikeouts and hope for ratios, and given his .237 BAA since the all star break (a 24 point improvement over his first half), I am confident that the 26-year-old righty can rank as the top overall pitcher in what might be money time in your Fantasy league. He’s been hurt by a career worst HR/FB rate, but with the Braves struggling to score runs in September and Giancarlo Stanton sidelined, what scares you about these matchups? Fantasy championships are going to be won on the right shoulder of Washington’s stud.
Matt Shoemaker (vs. SEA, vs TEX): Who says you can’t replace a surprise ace with another surprise ace? Shoemaker owns a sub-2.00 ERA since the All Star Break, holding opponents to a .203 batting average. .203! There is one pitcher in baseball with a lower ERA and opponent BA in the second half, that Kershaw fella. Not bad company to keep and the majority of his success this season has come at his pitcher-friendly home park (his ERA is 2.25 runs lower and he is working on 21 straight scoreless innings). The Mariners offense is better than it has been, but it’s still not very good (26th in OBP) and the Rangers are a mess just waiting for the season to end. He’s helped you all season long and is here to carry you to the finish line.
Jacob deGrom (vs MIA, @ ATL): Would you believe me if I told you deGrom is actually older than Strasburg? Crazy, right? Well, the Mets “ace” has been nothing short outstanding this season (.229 BAA and a 2.62 ERA) and gets the same set of sorry hitting lineups that Strasburg does this week, resulting in both high K and great ratio upside. Don’t believe me? In five starts against these two divisional opponents this season, “The Flow” (trying out a nickname here … he’s been good enough … he needs a viable nickname) has given up just four earned runs (1.13 ERA) while striking out more than four batters per walk issued. Toss in the fact that both of these offenses peaked early in the season and are struggling now, and you’ve got yourself a difference maker that needs to be owned in 100 percent of leagues (owned in roughly 65 percent of ESPN/Yahoo leagues).
Roenis Elias (@ LAA, @ HOU): Where were you on July 9? Hard to remember, right? That was a long time ago, but it was the last time Elias gave up more than two earned runs in a professional outing. Seattle has been giving him extended rest at times, even sending him to the minors at one point, but they figure to let him loose in these final few weeks as they look to wrap up a playoff berth, great news for those looking for an elite level add to put them over the top (owned in 10 percent of ESPN/Yahoo leagues). Since the beginning of August, the rookie has a respectable K-rate (7.7 per nine innings) to go along with a solid GB/FB rate (1.14). His early season struggles came as a result of the long ball (he gave up 12 in a 13 start stretch from May 1 – July 4), but the fireworks stopped there (just two homers allowed since) and that is a big reason why I think he can have success against two home run dependent teams this week. He comes with risk, but I’d add him for this week, as he is the class of free agent starters at this point in the season.
Top 10 Spot Starters of the Week
1. Jake Peavy @ Diamondbacks (Tuesday): Over the last month, Peavy has a lower ERA than the great Kershaw. He has quietly been pitching as well as anybody in the big leagues, giving up just two earned runs over his last four outings. He is working on a streak of back-to-back walk-less outings, the first time he has done so (minimum five innings pitched in each start) since May of 2011 and has not given up a homer since August 20th. All of those streaks are in play against a Diamondbacks team that ranks 28th in OBP and walks drawn against RHP.
2. Jacob deGrom vs Marlins (Monday) and @ Braves (Sunday): “The Flow” (is it catching on yet?) is pitching well and the matchups suggest that it should continue as the season winds down. The rookie owns a 1.63 ERA against non NL Central teams: news flash, neither the Marlins nor the Braves play in the NL Central. DeGrom has struck out at least a handful of batters while recording at least as many ground balls as fly balls in three of his last four outings, a style of pitching that should get favorable results against these limited offenses that swing for the fences.
3. Hector Santiago vs Rangers (Friday): Since the beginning of August, Kershaw has five starts where he has given up one or fewer runs … and so does Santiago. He’s a fly ball pitcher, and while that is not the ideal way to build a Fantasy roster, it has worked in his favor when pitching in Los Angeles (2.93 ERA and .211 BAA). I love his ability to buckle down with runners in scoring position (.214 BAA with just seven extra base hits allowed), as it gives him the ability to work out of the occasional jam. The Rangers are better than you think against left-handed pitching (Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, and Alex Rios have produced consistently against southpaws), but if you need a hot player who is widely available, you’re not going to be any better than the Halos 26-year-old.
4. Kyle Hendricks vs Reds (Wednesday): With all the young Chicago hitters getting the majority of the attention, this 24-year-old has found a way to produce viable Fantasy numbers and remain under the radar. Subtract his first career start and Hendricks has a 2.03 ERA this year, much better than I’m sure you would have guessed. He doesn’t get beat by the gopher ball (one HR allowed since the beginning of August), a trend worth noting as the Reds struggle to manufacture runs (rank in the bottom five in total runs, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage). The odds of earning a victory are always against you when picking up a Cubs pitcher, but I’d expect him to return solid ratios for a player you can scoop off of free agency.
5. Wade Miley vs Giants (Monday): The advanced metrics continue to love Miley, so I’ll roll the dice on him continuing a streak of decent outings. These Giants got to him in his last start, but he had rattled off five consecutive quality starts prior to that with a nice strikeout percentage and a favorable GB/FB rate. If you’re looking for an odd trend that puts Miley in a good spot, you know, I’m just the guy to help you out. The Giants rely heavily on their 1-2-3 hitters (most often it being the Killer P’s of Pagan, Pence, and Posey), but Miley has mowed down 1-2-3 hitters this season (.227 batting average). He has struggled with the middle third of the lineup (.362 batting average), but I’ll take my chances with Michael Morse, Pablo Sandoval, and Gregor Blanco. Starting Miley isn’t for the faint of heart, but with a reasonable Monday start, his strikeouts are worth the risk, as you’ll have time to recover should he struggle.
6. Jerome Williams @ Padres (Monday)
7. T.J. House @Twins (Saturday)
8. Mike Leake @ Cardinals (Saturday)
9. Jason Hammel vs Rangers (Thursday)
10. Scott Feldman vs Mariners (Friday)
Monday: Jacob deGrom vs Marlins – Have I mentioned that I like this kid this week? All the above numbers still hold, but I saved one nugget for this spot (I promise, this is the last mention of him): he has more wins, despite less starts and less run support this season than the poster boy for tough luck in Jeff Samardzija.
Tuesday: Jeff Samardzija vs Rangers – Speaking of the Athletics righty, it’s a revenge of the minimally supported this week! The Texas Rangers are not a good offensive team and now they have to face an ace-level pitcher in a massive ballpark? From an increasing GB/FB and K/BB rate to a declining HR/FB rate, every advanced metric backs Samardzija as a front of the line starter that should be able to sustain his success, and don’t rule out the immeasurable impact of pitching on a desperate contending team. This is the type of game he was brought into win and I think he does just that with a Top 10 performance of the week.
Wednesday: Cole Hamels @ Padres – Another player who tends to get little support behind his great pitching? It may be too little too late, but we are here to balance out the numbers and get some of the aces a few well-earned victories. Facing the Padres alone is enough to rate highly, but getting to pitch in Petco is a dream come true. Hamels hasn’t given up more than three earned runs since his last start of May and even that was a three-hit seven-inning outing against a then explosive Rockies lineup. There are a few nice options taking the hill on Wednesday (Gio Gonzalez against the Braves, Chris Sale against the Royals, and David Price in Minnesota), but with what I would assume is a slightly cheaper DFS price tag, Hamels is the best start of the bunch and could offer up one of his best outings of the season.
Thursday: Doug Fister @ Marlins – Four of his last seven outings have been of the shutout variety. He offers the occasional poor start, but the upside is worth the risk in a Giancarlo-less Marlins lineup that is going to struggle to produce runs for the remainder of the 2014 season.
Friday: Clayton Kershaw @ Cubs – Maybe you’ve heard of this guy. He’s kinda sorta good. One interesting betting line for this one to consider, because watching this game is going to be pretty much like watching any other Kershaw outing: higher Friday total – wins for Kershaw or runs scored by the Cubs?
Saturday: Jon Lester vs Phillies – No reason to get cute here, as Lester is a perfect 8-for-8 in quality starts since joining Oakland, striking out at least five in seven straight. They went out and acquired the lefty to win big games like this, and with the Phillies season long over, look for Lester to right the ship in Oakland with yet another quality outing and a strikeout per inning.
Sunday: John Lackey vs Reds – I could give you Corey Kluber here, but this could be the last day of your Fantasy Baseball championship and you might neeeeeed a win off the waiver wire in the worst way. The Red Birds brought in a veteran like Lackey to win big games in September and October, and this divisional showdown would qualify as just that. He’s among the leaders in all of baseball in number of swings and misses, an important skill to have against the aggressive Reds lineup (rank 22nd in walks drawn).
Predicted Saves Leaders this week:
Cody Allen, 3 saves – Ignore one rough outing against the power hitting Tigers and Allen has been among the best ninth inning men in all of baseball. He’s striking out 11.59 per nine innings and has been near untouchable against lefties (.133 BAA). With seven games on the schedule this week (four against the Astros and three versus the Twins) and Cleveland chasing that final wild card spot, look for the Indians to be willing to use Allen with regularity, a beautiful thing for his Fantasy owners that are looking for every clean inning they can get.
Kenley Jansen, 3 saves – The best closer in the game should benefit from the Dodgers wanting to maintain their slim lead in the division and he is throwing the ball as well as he has all season long. All outings count, but if you overlook a blown save against the Nats, Jansen owns a 0.63 ERA over the last 11 weeks, striking out better than 13 batters per nine innings over that stretch. The injury plagued Rockies and youthful Cubs figure to offer little resistance this week, as Jansen tops my closer ranks for the rest of the season.
Craig Kimbrel, 3 saves – With Atlanta struggling but still alive, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Kimbrel pitch in the eighth inning on occasion down the stretch. This is in the best interest of the Braves, but it could hurt Fantasy owners, as it would lead to fewer save opportunities. That being said, he is still among the most electric bullpen arms in the big leagues and should benefit from all six games coming against divisional opponents that he is very comfortable with. The Braves only play six games this week, but that shouldn’t stop him from shutting the door whenever the opportunity arises (his BAA is actually better this season than it was in his career-high 50 save season of 2013).