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Welcome to the weekly Fantasy Baseball planner. This article will be released every Saturday morning throughout the baseball season in an effort to best prepare you for the week ahead. These are the best bets for the pitching rotations according to the available information. The number placed next to each start is his rank among probable starting pitchers for that day. If you have a ranking question after publication that result from an unexpected pitching change, feel free to contact me and I’ll give you my thoughts sooner rather than later. Now, let’s see what we’ve got for Week 1 of the Fantasy Baseball season.[table “1345” not found /]
Two-Start Pitcher Rankings
- Clayton Kershaw (vs SD, @ AZ)
The Padres aren’t the offensive pushover that they have been and the Diamondbacks are going to surprise people with their raw power … but this is Clayton Kershaw we are talking about here. He has spun at least eight innings in eight of his last nine regular season starts, innings that came loaded with punch outs (at least eight in eight straight). He gave up multiple runs in back-to-back starts just once over the final three-plus months of last season, so the floor here is one phenomenal start with the betting favorite being two.
- Felix Hernandez (vs LAA, @ OAK)
I love the narrative of the King against Trout, but in reality the Angels should be calling Hernandez “daddy.” Over the last two seasons, the M’s ace has made 10 starts against the Halos, recording a 1.80 ERA while striking out 11.1 batters per nine innings. And that is going to be by far the most difficult start of the week, as the Athletics figure to be a heavily targeted team when it comes to streaming. Coco Crisp is out, meaning Ben Zobrist, Billy Butler, and Ike Davis have the keys to the car. Yea, about that. If there is a no-hitter to be had this week, it could well be in that game, and even if that’s not the case, expecting two of the Top 7 pitching stat lines from the opening week is far from out of the question.
- Max Scherzer (vs NYM, @ PHI)
Welcome to Washington! Weeks with multiple divisional foes are exactly the reason you drafted Scherzer as a Top 5 pitcher and there isn’t much I worry about in terms of the opponents this week. I don’t, however, think he challenges Kershaw for the weekly top spot, as he has taken the first month of the season to round into form over the past three years (4.18 ERA and a .264 BAA). While I don’t expect that to be the case against two offenses that ranked among the Bottom 7 in team batting average last season, it is one more negative stat than I could find about Kershaw.
- Zack Greinke (vs SD, @ AZ)
Adam Wainwright and Kershaw are the only two pitchers in the big leagues with a lower ERA and more victories over the last two seasons than Greinke, and I expect him to start the 2015 season with a similar level of success. Since joining the Dodgers, no pitcher has come out firing the way ZG has, as he is the proud owner of a 1.93 ERA to go along with a 6-0 record and an 8.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his eight starts. The 19 homers he gave up last season may raise concerns at first glance given the power of both opponents, but when you consider that he closed the 2014 season by allowing just one bomb in his final 45 innings, I’m not too concerned that he gets touched up in the opening week.
- David Price (vs MIN, @ CLE)
Price had some bumps in the road that you just don’t see from the absolute elite, but there is no denying that his “good” is about as good as it gets. His aggressive nature can be his strongest asset (271 strikeouts), but it can also be his greatest weakness, as he surrendered 25 homers last season. I’m not worried about the power of the two teams on the schedule this week, but the fact that both ranked inside the Top 5 in hits against southpaws a season ago is a concern. Will they be able to string hits together? I doubt it, but their ability to hit lefties makes Price a shade more risky than the aforementioned options.
- Madison Bumgarner (@ AZ, @ SD)
- Corey Kluber (@ HOU, vs DET)
- Adam Wainwright (@ CHC, @ CIN)
- Johnny Cueto ((vs PIT, vs STL)
- Julio Teheran (@ MIA, vs NYM)
- Mahairo Tanaka (vs TOR, vs BOS)
- James Shields (@ LAD, vs SF)
- Jon Lester (vs STL, @ COL)
- Sonny Gray (vs TEX, vs SEA)
- Tyson Ross (@ LAD, vs SF)
- Jeff Samardzija (@ KC, vs MIN)
- Chris Archer (vs BAL, @ MIA)
- Francisco Liriano (@ CIN, @ MIL)
- Yordano Ventura (vs CWS, @ LAA)
- Phil Hughes (@ DET, @ CWS)
- Dallas Keuchel (vs CLE, @ TEX)
- Jered Weaver (@ SEA, vs KC)
- Jake Peavy (@ AZ, @ SD)
- Clay Buchholz (@ PHI, @ NYY)
- C.J. Wilson (@ SEA, vs KC)
- Yovani Gallardo (@ OAK, vs HOU)
- Kyle Lohse (vs COL, vs PIT)
- Bartolo Colon (@ WSH, @ ATL)
- Jesse Hahn (vs TEX, vs SEA)
- Colby Lewis (@ OAK, vs HOU)
- Drew Hutchison (@ NYY, @ BAL)
- Henderson Alvarez (vs ATL, vs TB)
- Chris Tillman (@ TB, vs TOR)
- Kyle Kendrick (@ MIL, vs CHC)
- Jordan Lyles (@ MIL, vs CHC)
- Nathan Karns (vs BAL, @ MIA)
- Josh Collmenter (vs SF, vs LAD)
Monday – Henderson Alvarez vs ATL
Rarely does a pitcher coming off of a season with a 2.65 ERA qualify as a spot starter, but given that he is being selected as the 76th SP, he’s not exactly being trusted. Let me be clear: I’m all on board with his ADP and think the masses have it right. He’s a contact pitcher who was awfully lucky in 2014 (3.58 FIP), and while that is a dangerous way to live for an entire year, it’s not a bad approach against a Braves lineup that doesn’t project to do a whole lot (26th in team ISO last season, and that was with Justin Upton) with the contact that they do make (28th lowest team contact percentage). Toss in Alvarez’s pitching style meshing well with the massive ballpark in Miami (his ERA dropped by 55.8 percent and his batting average against was 87 points lower at home last year) and the fluky Fantasy value should live to see at least the first start of 2015.
Tuesday – Jason Hammel vs STL
He was the next starting pitcher taken, on average, after Alvarez, making him another reasonable free agent that performed well last season. Hammel has lacked consistency over the last two seasons due to his 12.4 HR/FB%, a weakness that the Cardinals are unlikely to take advantage of. The addition of Jason Heyward is nice, but it isn’t single handedly going to make St. Louis a powerful team (no team hit for a lower average and hit fewer homers against righties). The Cubs’ second starter’s ERA was nearly two full runs lower at Wrigley than on the road and he peaked early in the season. Again, I’m not endorsing Hammel as a player to target long-term, but I like him in this spot.
Wednesday – Shelby Miller @ MIA
How easy is it to forget that Miller held opponents to a lower batting average last season than Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and Madison Bumgarner? That’s not bad company, and when you consider that his .236 BAA actually increased his career average, you may understand why I am on board with a nice breakout campaign from the 24-year-old. The Marlins offense is far from a pushover, but if you can navigate the top third, I think there is Fantasy gold to be had. Dee Gordon, Christian Yelich, and Giancarlo Stanton all hit for a lower average against righties than lefties last season, which could mean that baserunners will be at a premium for the home team in this one. That’s big, because if he can limit the damage (I’ll say if he doesn’t allow a home run to one of those three, he nets strong value in this start) at the top of this order, the average at best bottom two-thirds is going to struggle to produce runs (Miller held opponents to a .215 batting average with runners on base in 2014). There is some thump in the middle of this order, but with only Marcell Ozuna preferring to face RHP, my money is on Miller (career 2.63 April ERA) finishing with a quality outing, the first of many in 2015.
Thursday – Justin Masterson @ PHI
Let’s start with some surprising facts to get you acclimated with Mr. Masterson. He is the same height as Michael Jordan. He weighs just as much as LeBron James. He was born in Jamaica. His ERA in his first start of a season over his eight year career is 1.22, his WHIP 0.92, and opponents are averaging a shade over five hits per nine innings against him in those starts. Wait … what? The same pitcher who finished 2014 with a 7.04 ERA in his 30.2 innings with the Cardinals has been among the most dominant starters to open a season in the big leagues over the past decade? Yep. While I’ll admit that that is an odd stat, do you really like the Phillies to reverse that trend. No offense in the league last season had a lower team slugging percentage and averaged more walks per strikeout, and they will likely be even worse in 2015! If you’re chasing a win and/or strikeouts (he’s averaging nearly one per inning over the last two seasons), Masterson is a sleeper play … if nothing else for this one start.
Friday – Dan Haren vs TB
It’s easy to forget that only Cliff Lee had a lower ERA and a higher strikeout-to-walk ratio than Haren in April last season, so let’s not put him into the “aging starters that used to be good but are now useless” category quite yet. Haren was burned by the long ball last season (27 home runs allowed), but only three of those came in parks that are considered more pitcher-friendly than Marlins Park and I’m not exactly trembling in fear when I look at the projected Rays batting order. Evan Longoria could bounce back, but the fact that his slugging percentage has dipped in back-to-back seasons gives me confidence that Haren can limit his impact and, let’s be honest, if it’s not Longoria, who are you worried about? The 34-year-old is averaging just over a walk per start over the last four years, which means that the Rays are going to need to string hits together to have success. While in general I believe that can be done against Haren’s less than overwhelming repertoire, I’m not betting on this Rays team to have much success.
Saturday – Yovani Gallardo vs HOU
This is your typical “I have nothing to lose but could gain a category or two at the end of the week” start in head-to-head leagues. The floor/ceiling of Gallardo is about as wide spread as any starter in baseball, making him a good player to target in such a situation. The hitting equivalent is this Astros team, an offense that relies on streaky sluggers. Houston ranked second in the league in strikeouts last season, a trend I expect to continue this year, and Gallardo is no stranger to the occasional big K game, as he recorded at least one start of at least seven shutout innings and eight punch outs in three of the final four months last season. This risk here is great, but so is the potential reward; so if your matchup dictates taking a chance, here is your lottery ticket. May the odds be ever in your favor.
Sunday – Bartolo Colon @ ATL
Remember what I was saying about Henderson Alvarez being a reasonable play against these Braves on Monday? The whole “a contact pitcher isn’t a bad thing if the opponent can’t produce when they do occasionally make contact” argument? Same team, different pitcher. The ageless Colon isn’t going to light up any radar guns, but sometimes you have to spot start against an opponent, and the Braves aren’t a bad roster to target. Did you know that Colon either gave up six-plus earned runs or had a quality start in 14 of his first 15 starts last season? I like that trend to continue and I think there will be more weeks that this Braves offense fails to score six runs off of starters than single games in which they do so. Added bonus … this is a road game, which means the Mets bat in the top of innings, which gives you a slightly higher probability of seeing Colon come to bat an extra time.
Pitchers aren’t the only ones who rely on matchups. Although the each individual performance is less predictive for a hitter, you put yourself in a better statistical spot if you look to exploit handedness splits and maximize the number of plate appearances. Here’s the overview for each team for the coming week, along with my personalized QS Counter (a weekly updated statistic that tracks the number of quality starts against a certain offense, a nice stat to use if looking to uncover sleeper starting pitchers).[table “1346” not found /]
Legal PEDs: Performance Enhancing Duels
Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez
The Dodgers are penciled in to face six right-handed pitchers this week, giving the middle of their order the potential to explode. Puig owns a career batting average of .352 in April and May, proving to be the exception to the general thought that “pitching starts ahead of hitting.” Gonzalez is also a pure hitter that comes out of the gates swinging a hot stick, owner of a .315 April batting average over the last three seasons. But I don’t just like them to get hits this week, I like them to produce some strong Fantasy stat lines. Puig saw his batting average jump 49 points and his slugging .157 points last season against righties as compared to lefties, seemingly learning from his mentor in Gonzalez. The slugging first baseman hit lefties better than righties in 2012, but has been trending in the other direction of late, resulting in a significant slash difference last season (.201/.261/.327 against lefties and .303/.362/.539 against righties). I’m no Dodger fan, but this week lines up nicely for them to make a statement as to who the King of the NL West is.
The power is real and as long as he is healthy, expect Belt to be on this list with regularity. In this dead ball era, few hitters have the potential to help you in batting average and power, something I strongly believe this soon to be 27-year-old can do in a big way. In limited action last season his numbers were underwhelming, but his slugging percentage was 240 points higher than his batting average against righties. I’ll take my chances and chase that power with seven games against right-handers this week, only two of which are above average. Don’t sleep on the Giants’ first baseman when he is healthy (he hit as many home runs last April as Nelson Cruz, Mark Trumbo, and Ryan Braun), especially when he has a full week of righties to terrorize.
This is your friendly Fantasy analyst reminding you that the Rockies play all six of their games this week in hitter-friendly ballparks. I’m not breaking new ground here, but this does add value to every starter and makes players like D.J. LeMahieu viable if you’re trying to piece together the middle of your infield. In addition to playing in plus hitting environments all week long, the Rockies starters get the rare upgrade of hitting in a lineup that features a healthy Troy Tulowitzki and a healthy Carlos Gonzalez. I may have just jinxed both of them, but heading into the week, this Colorado attack is a potent one with a favorable schedule.
Let’s be honest: baseball games, as much as we love them, aren’t a perfect date. That is, unless you attend a high scoring game. Chicks dig the long ball and these are the Top 5 offenses that figure to score the most runs over the next seven days.
Milwaukee Brewers (vs COL, vs PIT)
Colorado Rockies (@ MIL, vs CHC)
Washington Nationals (vs NYM, @ PHI)
Boston Red Sox (@ PHI, @ NYY)
Los Angeles Dodgers (vs SD, @ AZ)
Sleeper: Chicago “Kris Bryant-less” Cubs (vs STL, @ COL)
No matter the style of Fantasy Baseball that you play, I am here to help. Drop me a line if you’ve got a specific question and I’ll do my best to offer my insight. It’s about time to take your Fantasy Baseball game to another level and I’m here to help you make it happen!