I often use this space to teach you how to fish. No, not actually fish … I haven’t caught anything since I accidentally hooked an eel in the eighth grade. Besides, even if I was a savvy fisherman, that would be a tough skill to transfer over the internet. But today, I’m going to change things up a bit. We are nearing the end of the Fantasy Baseball season and you need to make up some ground sooner rather than later. Our pitching/hitting planners are great for just this and I encourage you to reference those as we come down the stretch of the 2014 season, but there is only so much space for analysis when breaking down the week as a whole. If you’re looking to make up ground in the pitching categories, these are statistically favorable streaming options (available in the majority, but not all, of leagues) that are worth considering if you have a roster spot to burn. Allow me to throw a few fish in your barrel with roughly a month to go.
Wednesday (August 20th): Jake Peavy @ Chicago Cubs (42 percent owned in Yahoo!, 39 percent ESPN)
Ignore the fact that he has won just once in the last 3.5 months, that has no bearing on whether or not he can help your team tonight. In fact, this matchup with the Cubbies has me thinking he can win back-to-back starts for the first time in nearly one calendar year. Chicago ranks dead last in the league in batting average against right handed pitchers (that’s right … below the Padres!) and lack the type of patient approach that would indicate any sort of change taking place in the near future. They rank third in total number of punch outs against righties this season and, among the 10 most K-prone teams, top the list in strikeouts averaged per walk earned. Walks have occasionally been a problem for the Giants starter, but he would need to completely lose command for the Cubs to work a stroll down the first base line. Even if he finds a way to put runners on base, the odds are heavily stacked against Chicago making him pay for it. Despite rough ratios this season, Peavy is holding opponents to a .233 batting average with runners in scoring position, a trend that should only continue against an offense that boasts a .223 batting average in such situations. If Anthony Rizzo doesn’t homer (oddly enough, his batting slash is much better against LHP this season), the Cubs struggle to generate run scoring opportunities, setting the stage for strong outing from Peavy.
Projection: 6.2 innings, 5 hits, 2 earned, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts, and a victory
Thursday (8/21): Brandon McCarthy vs Houston Astros (41, 50)
How this man is not universally owned I don’t understand. He was pitching well past his numbers in Arizona and is finally being rewarded with strong ratios in New York, yet Fantasy owners are clearly skeptical and that needs to change. All the veteran righty has done is rattle off eight quality starts in his last nine outings, in large part because righties own a batting average and OBP that is significantly lower than lefties (43 and 47 points respectively) against him this season. That is a valuable skill set to have against these Astros, as the two hitters you fear from a run production stand point (Jose Altuve and Chris Carter) are not only both right-handed, but both are considerably less valuable when facing a RHP. Altuve’s batting average dips 114 points and his slugging 160 while Carter is hitting just .228 and averages over 4.5 strikeouts per walk against right-handers. Houston ranks as the fourth most powerful team in all of baseball this season, but with McCarthy allowing less than one fly ball per inning this month, I’m not sure the ‘Stros can power up with consistency against this smoking hot righty.
Projection: 6 innings, 6 hits, 1 earned, 0 walk, 7 strikeouts, and a victory
Friday (8/22): Marcus Stroman vs Tampa Bay Rays (45, 31)
He’s had his bumps in the road, his last start against the White Sox being one of them (0.2 innings pitched and five earned runs), but this kid is about as nasty as it gets when he has a favorable matchup. He has the ability to mix things up with his five pitch repertoire and can finish a batter with a deceptive 94 mile per hour heater that is giving big leaguers trouble this season. He has been phenomenal at home this season (5-1 with a 2.70 as compared to a 2-3 mark on the road with a 6.33 ERA) and is only getting better with experience. In his last five Toronto starts, which have come against respected offensive organizations in the Yankees, White Sox, Rangers, Red Sox, and Tigers, the 23-year-old has given up 14 hits and five runs in 37.2 dominant innings of work. His success has derived from his ability to retire lefties (.222 batting average against); it appears that his release point is a bit more difficult to pick up from that side of the dish. I would expect the success to continue into this start as the Rays top three hitters (in terms of season batting average) are all going to bat left-handed in this game. If they are struggling to reach base, which I fully expect, the odds of them scratching across runs are slim as they rank among the five least powerful teams against right-handed pitching this season. There will be rough patches along the way, but Stroman is talented enough to not only for streaming in this matchup, but to earn a spot on your roster for the remainder of the 2014 season.
Projection: 7.1 innings, 5 hits, 2 earned, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts, and a victory
Saturday (8/23): Collin McHugh @ Cleveland Indians (39, 40)
Unless you own him, you have no idea how good McHugh has been this season. Go ahead … guess his ratios and K/9, I’ll wait.
How close were you? His season ERA is 3.00, his WHIP 1.10, and his K/9 is currently sitting at 9.79. He made just two starts in July, likely why he was off your radar, but the pitcher with a career 4.74 ERA has been nothing short of real and spectacular in August, as he has given up exactly one run in four consecutive outings, recording a sub 1.00 WHIP in three of those four contests. The Indians boast a powerful offense that I normally wouldn’t stream against, but with McHugh not giving up a road home run since June 8, and Cleveland scoring fewer than four runs in eight of their last 12, Saturday is the exception. The Astros ace owns a microscopic 1.82 ERA away from home and his xFIP does not indicate that significant regression is on the horizon. He’s challenging hitters more (his first pitch strike percentage is trending upwards to almost 60 percent) and has been remarkably efficient at exploiting overly aggressive bats (opponents are making contact with less than 60 percent of pitches swung at outside of the strike zone), a combination that plays nicely against an offense that is built around the very aggressive style of Michael Brantley.
Projection: 7 innings, 5 hits, 2 earned, 2 walks, and 6 strikeouts
Sunday (8/24): Miguel Gonzalez vs Chicago Cubs (3, 1)
I’m doubling down on right-handed pitchers against the Cubs this week and I feel good about it. I mentioned their inability to consistently handle righties above and those struggles are also evident in their lack of power. Despite Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo enjoying breakout campaigns, the Cubs rank in the bottom third of MLB in slugging percentage against RHP, a godsend for those targeting Gonzalez. The O’s righty has a 3.80 ERA this season, but that number has ballooned due to him surrendering a gopher ball for every 17 outs he records. It’s a risk, but in the same way that “good pitching beats good hitting,” I’ll say that a pitcher who struggles in a certain area can beat a team that struggles in the same area. Gonzalez owns a 2.61 ERA in his last three starts in which he did not surrender a long ball, and with the Cubs trying to gain their young players some experience, I think we see an overaggressive bunch that the veteran can take advantage of. I don’t believe in his talent (the fact that his career xFIP is nearly a run higher than his ERA and his fly ball tendencies in a hitter-friendly park justify my worries) nearly as much as I do for a Stroman or McHugh, but that doesn’t mean he can’t help your team on Sunday, and that is all you can ask for at this point in the season.
Monday (8/25): Jimmy Nelson @ San Diego Padres (14, 3)
Young prospects are good to take fliers on … but so is whoever is pitching opposite the Padres. While San Diego has looked better of late, they still lack any semblance of consistency and should struggle against a pitcher like Nelson who isn’t versatile with his pitches, but is capable enough to get the job done. The youngster throws his fastball or slider an astounding 98.3 percent of the time, a trend that would typically scare me. The Padres, however, are the worst fastball hitting team in the big leagues and rank below average against the slider, thus making Nelson’s limited repertoire a thing of beauty. San Diego relies on the occasional extra base hit to drive in runs and/or set up a rally, but they figure to struggle to hit for much power against a pitcher who is inducing nearly twice as many ground balls as fly balls and rarely gets beat with the line drive. Nelson’s future is bright and I think we’ll see him notch a sixth straight quality start in this one.
Projection: 6.1 innings,7 hits, 1 earned, 0 walks, 6 strikeouts, and a victory
Tuesday (8/26): Matt Shoemaker vs Miami Marlins (28, 19)
I wasn’t sandbagging this whole time, but if the projected rotations hold true, Shoemaker might be my favorite streaming value play of the upcoming week. The Marlins have more strikeouts against righties than any other team in baseball and experience a dip across the board in slash when facing RHP. Miami’s lineup is predicated on the run producing ability of three individuals (Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Casey McGahee), all of whom bat from the right side and therefore figure to struggle against Shoemaker (righties are slashing .225/.267/.382 while lefties are slashing .296/.325/.487). The spacious home ballpark has allowed Shoemaker’s fly ball approach work in a big way (6-3 with a 2.72 ERA and 1.17 WHIP at home this season) and should continue against a Marlins offense that ranks below average in all hitting metrics despite having one of the best in the game stabilize the middle of their lineup.
Projection: 6 innings, 4 hits, 0 earned, 0 walks, 5 strikeouts, and a victory