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Pitching Preview for Week 1

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The last time Fantasy owners had to set rotations, James Shields was a Ray, Josh Johnson was a Marlin and R.A. Dickey was a Met (and had yet to win a Cy Young Award). Many of the pitchers you trusted a year ago will likely be fixtures on your active roster again this season, but not only have some pitchers changed teams, but others have changed roles, and others still have emerged from the minors.

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This preview of the upcoming starting pitching options is aimed at helping you to sort through this new landscape of alternatives in weekly leagues, particularly in standard mixed leagues. Each week, I will rank the top 70 starters, so if you have a dilemma over which of two or three pitchers to use in the coming weeks, you can refer to this list to see which is ranked highest.

I will also be reviewing several of the two-start pitchers in more detail. Not every two-start option will be analyzed in greater depth, as those typically ranked in the upper echelons of the top 70 are must-starts that you need to keep active week after week. Also, low-end pitchers who are largely unowned in mixed leagues -- and should remain that way for the time being -- will not be covered here. Ricky Nolasco and Jhoulys Chacin, for example, have been omitted from this week's analyses, even though both are scheduled to make a pair of starts.

Each pitcher covered will also get one of the following ratings: solid standard mixed league start, marginal standard mixed league start, deeper mixed league start or AL-only/NL-only start. Those who receive the "marginal standard mixed league start" tag could be worth using in the coming week, but owners should check their available alternatives before getting them active. As teams trot out the top of their rotations for the beginning of opening week, most of this week's two-start pitchers are strong Fantasy options, so there is a larger proportion of "solid standard mixed league starts" than there will normally be. The lower portion of the top 70 is dominated by one-start pitchers, as are the ranks of pitchers who just missed the cut, so this is probably not going to be the week to scour the waiver wire for two-start options.

My Top 70 Starting Pitchers for Week 1
Rank Player Start 1 Start 2
1 Clayton Kershaw SF (Cain) PIT (Burnett)
2 Justin Verlander @MIN (Worley) NYY (Sabathia)
3 David Price BAL (Hammel) CLE (Masterson)
4 Stephen Strasburg MIA (Nolasco) @CIN (Cueto)
5 Felix Hernandez @OAK (Anderson) @CHW (Axelrod)
6 Cole Hamels @ATL (Hudson) KC (Shields)
7 Adam Wainwright @ARI (Kennedy) @SF (Cain)
8 CC Sabathia BOS (Jon Lester) @DET (Verlander)
9 Chris Sale KC (Shields) SEA (Iwakuma)
10 Yu Darvish @HOU (Harrell) LAA (Weaver)
11 Johnny Cueto LAA (Weaver) WAS (Strasburg)
12 Matt Cain @LAD (Kershaw) STL (Wainwright)
13 R.A. Dickey CLE (Masterson) BOS (Lester)
14 Jered Weaver @CIN (Cueto) @TEX (Darvish)
15 Gio Gonzalez MIA (Eovaldi) N/A
16 Cliff Lee @ATL (Medlen) N/A
17 Madison Bumgarner @LAD (Ryu) N/A
18 James Shields @CHW (Sale) @PHI (Hamels)
19 Yovani Gallardo COL (Chacin) ARI (Kennedy)
20 Ian Kennedy STL (Wainwright) @MIL (Gallardo)
21 Brett Anderson SEA (Hernandez) @HOU (Bedard)
22 Jeff Samardzija @PIT (Burnett) @ATL (Hudson)
23 Jake Peavy KC (Santana) N/A
24 Max Scherzer NYY (Phelps) N/A
25 Mat Latos LAA (Wilson) N/A
26 Jonathon Niese SD (Volquez) MIA (Slowey)
27 Zack Greinke PIT (Sanchez) N/A
28 Josh Johnson BOS (Doubront) N/A
29 Kris Medlen PHI (Lee) N/A
30 Matt Moore BAL (Gonzalez) N/A
31 Brandon Morrow CLE (Jimenez) N/A
32 A.J. Burnett CHC (Samardzija) @LAD (Kershaw)
33 Jason Hammel @TB (Price) MIN (Worley)
34 Jordan Zimmermann MIA (LeBlanc) N/A
35 Roy Halladay @ATL (Maholm) N/A
36 C.J. Wilson @CIN (Latos) N/A
37 Hisashi Iwakuma @OAK (Parker) @CHW (Sale)
38 Tim Hudson PHI (Hamels) CHC (Samardzija)
39 Jon Lester @NYY (Sabathia) @TOR (Dickey)
40 Doug Fister NYY (Nova) N/A
41 Hiroki Kuroda BOS (Buchholz) N/A
42 Andy Pettitte BOS (Dempster) N/A
43 Anibal Sanchez @MIN (Pelfrey) N/A
44 Jarrod Parker SEA (Iwakuma) @HOU (Norris)
45 Matt Harrison @HOU (Norris) LAA (Hanson)
46 Alexi Ogando @HOU (Humber) N/A
47 A.J. Griffin SEA (Maurer) N/A
48 Jaime Garcia @ARI (Cahill) N/A
49 Clay Buchholz @NYY (Kuroda) N/A
50 Dan Haren @CIN (Bailey) N/A
51 Lance Lynn @ARI (McCarthy) N/A
52 Marco Estrada COL (De La Rosa) N/A
53 Dan Straily @HOU (Peacock) N/A
54 Matt Harvey SD (Richard) N/A
55 Vance Worley DET (Verlander) @BAL (Hammel)
56 Mike Minor CHC (Feldman) N/A
57 Homer Bailey WAS (Haren) N/A
58 Alex Cobb CLE (McAllister) N/A
59 Shelby Miller @SF (Vogelsong) N/A
60 Brandon McCarthy STL (Lynn) N/A
61 Wade Miley @MIL (Lohse) N/A
62 Josh Beckett SF (Lincecum) N/A
63 Derek Holland LAA (Vargas) N/A
64 Trevor Cahill STL (Garcia) N/A
65 Ryan Vogelsong STL (Miller) N/A
66 Tommy Milone SEA (Saunders) N/A
67 Tim Lincecum @LAD (Beckett) N/A
68 Jeremy Hellickson BAL (Chen) N/A
69 Paul Maholm PHI (Halladay) N/A
70 Ryan Dempster @NYY (Pettitte) N/A

Two-Start Options to Consider

Jon Lester, Red Sox (@NYY, @TOR): Lester has had a great spring, but last season, he was a liability in most mixed leagues. With just one of these matchups, I could see sitting Lester in Week 1 if I had strong alternatives, as we need to see if he is really back from his subpar year. Still, he wasn't quite as bad as his 4.82 ERA made it appear, and we can feel secure that Lester is still good enough to use in a two-start week in just about any scenario.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Jeff Samardzija, Cubs (@PIT, @ATL): After an effective first season in the Cubs' rotation, there shouldn't be much controversy about using Samardzija in a two-start week -- or in a one-start week, for that matter. Owners should rightfully have concerns about run support, as the Cubs' offense hasn't improved over the 2012 version that scored 3.2 runs per nine innings for Samardzija. That's really the only worry to have about him, but he can still offer enough with Ks, ERA and WHIP to keep in your lineup on a weekly basis.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Jonathon Niese, Mets (SD, MIA): With a 3.40 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, Niese looked like a breakout pitcher last season, but the skills have been there for the last three years. Ever since becoming a staple of the Mets' rotation in 2010, Niese has recorded good strikeout and ground ball rates, and he has lowered his walk rate each of the last two seasons. The 2012 version of Niese was legitimate, and he is worth using in any two-start week.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

A.J. Burnett, Pirates (CHC, @LAD): Burnett enjoyed a renaissance in his first year in Pittsburgh, as he threw strikes at the highest rate of his career and let his home park help him to avoid the long ball. Given the departure from Burnett's recent norms, owners should have some healthy skepticism about his chances for a repeat, but at least in Week 1, he should have a soft landing. Burnett's opening day start is at home against the Cubs, though his second start at the Dodgers could be dicey, it won't be enough to spoil his week.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Tim Hudson, Braves (PHI, CHC): Though Hudson's velocity and already-modest strikeout rate dropped last season, his ability to avoid hard contact was still very much in evidence. As a one-start pitcher, Hudson will often be a borderline option in standard mixed leagues, but with two starts, he is an easy choice to start over one of your back-of-the-rotation types.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Matt Harrison, Rangers (@HOU, LAA): With a shrinking walk rate and a pitch-to-contact approach, Harrison has been an efficient pitcher since becoming a full-time starter in 2011. If he had Hudson's ground ball tendencies and a pitcher-friendlier home park, Harrison would be an automatic choice in a two-start week. However, Harrison may not measure up to your other options in some two-start weeks, but that's not the case in Week 1. His start at Houston alone should give him enough value to earn an active roster spot.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Jarrod Parker, Athletics (SEA, @HOU): It would look like a dream week for Parker, who gets the lowly Astros along with a start against the Mariners at home, where he posted a 2.61 ERA last season. Parker relied on an 80 percent strand rate (according to FanGraphs.com) to keep his home ERA low, though, so he's not always going to be a slam dunk when he pitches at O.co Coliseum. However, most of your alternatives for filling out a back-end rotation spot this week are of the one-start variety, so you might as well roll with Parker this time.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Brett Anderson, Athletics (SEA, @HOU): With superb walk and ground ball rates, Anderson is a must-start in two-start weeks, just as long as he is healthy. He seems to have put the strained right trapezius muscle that limited him earlier in spring training behind him.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners (@OAK, @CHW): As a dual-eligible SP/RP pitcher, Iwakuma can't sit on the bench in Head-to-Head leagues, but is he worth starting in Roto? He did thrive in the rotation last season with a 2.65 ERA over 16 starts, but a high strand rate helped to shrink that mark. Then again, he's still a worthy start even if his ERA goes into the mid-3.00s, and for this week, he should survive U.S. Cellular Field given his ground ball tendencies.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Jason Hammel, Orioles (@TB, MIN): The Orioles may be a team without a true ace, but if Hammel can approach what he did last season, owners will be starting him most weeks. Hammel was generally consistent in his ability to get swings-and-misses and grounders before getting shelved by knee surgery. While it would have been more reassuring if Hammel could have put together a full season of strong stats, the possibility of a highly productive two-start week makes him sometime to get active for Week 1.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Edinson Volquez, Padres (NYM, @COL): Getting out of Cincinnati helped Volquez to lower his ERA...as long as he was pitching at PETCO Park. Away from San Diego, Volquez's high home run and walk rates left him with a 5.60 ERA. It remains to be seen how the fences coming in at PETCO will impact Volquez, but with a start at Coors Field, it's easy to avoid him in this two-start week.
My take: NL-only start.

Justin Masterson, Indians (@TOR, @TB): The walk and strand rate issues that had dogged Masterson for most of his career reemerged last season after he appeared to have taken a step forward in 2011. He's not a threat to be taken out of the park, but a high ground ball rate will only take Masterson so far. If he can revert to his '11 level of production, then owners can consider using Masterson in standard mixed leagues. For now, he can be ignored in those formats, even in two-start weeks.
Rating: Deeper mixed league start.

Vance Worley, Twins (DET, @BAL): What happened to Worley from July on last season, when his ERA mushroomed from 2.92 to 4.20 over the course of 11 starts? It could have been the bone spur in his elbow or batters finally figuring him out. Or just maybe it was a fluke. Worley compiled an outrageously-high .404 BABIP during that stretch. A reduced ground ball rate suggests that Worley may have lost some effectiveness, but with his elbow surgery well behind him, Worley should be a viable two-start option once again.
Rating: Marginal standard mixed league start.

Bud Norris, Astros (TEX, OAK): Norris is homer-prone and susceptible to wildness, but despite velocity that has been on the wane, he has been a reliable source of strikeouts. Worth owning in standard 15-team mixed leagues, Norris isn't someone you'd start every week, but with a pair of outings, he is worth a try.
Rating: Deeper mixed league start.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Santana fine after throwing bullpen session; winter-league status is TBD
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:55 am ET) Free agent starting pitcher Johan Santana threw a bullpen session Sunday and is said to be feeling fine, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. It is now up to his Venezuelan winter league team to decide if he will pitch for them in the finals.

Santana has been dealing with some shoulder discomfort, which has put his status for the remainder of the winter-league season in doubt. Santana is hoping to latch on with another major-league team after suffering a torn Achilles in June.

The Yankees, Padres and Blue Jays are among the teams showing interest in signing the former two-time AL Cy Young award winner.


Mariners planning on batting Smith, Ruggiano in second spot in lineup
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:31 am ET) Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said he is tentatively planning to bat the right-field tandem of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano second in the lineup, per The New Tribune.

The Mariners ranked last in the majors last season in on-base percentage (.260) from their No. 2 hitters. No other team was lower than .279.

Smith had a .367 OBP last season for San Diego, while Ruggiano had a .337 OBP in 81 games for the Cubs.


Rays' Jake McGee plays catch for first time since elbow surgery
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:25 am ET) The Rays announced Monday reliever Jake McGee played catch for the first time since undergoing elbow surgery in December. McGee is still expected to miss the start of the season.

Cardinals' Carpenter hoping to build off postseason power surge
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:17 am ET) Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter hit just eight home runs with a .375 slugging percentage during the 2014 regular season, but had a much better power swing in the postseason, belting four home runs and slugging .722 in nine games.

“I took a more of an aggressive approach in the postseason,” Carpenter said, per STLBaseballWeekly.com. “Part of that was from the experience that I had gathered the year before. After a long season, going into the playoffs I felt like I wasn’t as prepared as I felt like I could’ve been. It kind of snowballed and my approach and the way I took the regular season at-bat in the postseason it wasn’t playing out well.”

Carpenter said his postseason success could have a positive impact on his power numbers in 2015.

"Certainly, I’m always going to be a guy who’s patient at the plate, but that was a good learning experience for me -- being aggressive," he said. "I don’t remember the exact numbers but out of the four home runs I hit, I think three of them were on the first pitch. That’s something typically I don’t do a lot of, and it was a good learning experience.”


Tigers' Dombrowski expecting 'real big season' for Justin Verlander
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:48 am ET) Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander said last week this is the best he's felt physically approaching the start of spring training in at least three years.

Apparently, the optimism doesn't end with Verlander. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski indicated the Tigers are expecting big things from Verlander in 2015 after he posted a 4.54 ERA in 2014, failing to make the All-Star team for the first time in six seasons.

"Justin Verlander is as prime a pitcher as there is in the game of baseball," Dombrowski said, per the Detroit Free Press. "Last year, he was not the traditional Justin. But when you look at what he came back from with the surgery, I think he's going to go out and have a real big season for us."


Sleep apnea almost caused Red Sox's Mike Napoli to retire
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:47 am ET) Dealing with sleep apnea almost caused Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli to retire prematurely from baseball, reports the Boston Globe.

"I couldn't do it anymore, feeling the way I was feeling," Napoli said. "I was like, 'I need to have the surgery or I'm not going play anymore.' That's how bad it was."

During the offseason, Napoli underwent facial reconstruction surgery to correct the condition, which was preventing him from getting a proper night of rest.

"It was a brutal process," Napoli said. "It was probably one of the worse things I've ever done."

With the surgery a success and Napoli recovered from losing weight due to a six-week liquid diet, Napoli is now sleeping better than he ever has.

Before the surgery, Napoli turned to medication, mouthpieces and a CPAP mask, but said those problems are now behind him.

"I wake up now and I'm ready to start my day," he said. "It's great."


Angels' Jered Weaver bulks up in effort to pitch deeper into games
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:36 am ET) Angels starting pitcher Jered Weaver has bulked up to 224 pounds, which is six pounds heavier than he has ever been, in an effort to pitch deeper into games in 2015, per the Los Angeles Times. Weaver dropped to as low as 199 pounds during the 2014 season.

“Numbers-wise, it was all right,” Weaver said of his 2014 season (18-9, 3.59 ERA). “But from a personal standpoint, me being ultra-competitive, I want to get deeper in games.

“The bullpen helped me a lot last year. I just want to gain some strength. I went on a different weight-lifting program last year, and it’s been paying off. I’m going to stick with it.”

The average velocity of Weaver’s fastball dipped to a career-low 86.3 mph last season. However, he said the added weight gain is more for endurance than velocity on his fastball. He averaged just over six innings per start last season and has just one complete game over the last two seasons after throwing seven complete games in 2011-12.

“I don’t care about velocity -- I just want to be stronger for the whole nine innings,” Weaver said. “If velocity comes along, so be it. I think I’ve shown I can pitch from 83 to 93 mph.”


Mariners' Austin Jackson looking to bounce back in 2015
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:08 am ET) After being acquired by the Mariners at the trade deadline last season, outfielder Austin Jackson struggled to produce for the Mariners. In 54 games, Jackson hit .229 and Jackson said the trade affected his playing ability, reports The News Tribune.

"Not making excuses, but I think getting traded and trying to get used to the travel and the sleep - those things affect your play on the field," Jackson said.

By starting the season in Seattle, Jackson said he hopes to avoid the distractions from last season and he's looking to return to his old form.

"Hopefully, getting started here and staying here, those distractions won't be there," Jackson said.


White Sox OF Avisail Garcia dropped weight during offseason
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:02 am ET) White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia dropped roughly 15 pounds during the offseason, according to MLB.com.

"I've been eating healthy, working real hard at the gym, Garcia said. "I have to be ready for spring training. I can't go there and be fat." With the weight loss, Garcia is hoping to keep his power potential. "I don't want to lose speed, I don't want to lose power," Garcia said. "I want to be in the middle. I know I can do a little bit of everything, so that's why I've been working really hard on speed, power, hitting and defense, so I can help my team win."

Garcia hit .244/.305/.413 over 172 at-bats last year.


Athletics' Billy Butler would welcome return to Royals
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:35 am ET) Athletics designated hitter Billy Butler said he would love to return to the Royals later in his career, according to the Kansas City Star.

After spending the first eight seasons of his career in Kansas City, Butler signed a three-year deal with Oakland during the offseason. Though he left the Royals, Butler said there is no hard feelings. "It’s disappointing, but you understand that the game’s a business and I didn’t leave on bad terms," Butler said. "I’d be more than happy to come back. That’s home for me. I’ll always be forever tied to the Royals organization and the community there."

The 28-year-old hit .271/.323/.379 over 549 at-bats last year.


 
 
 
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