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Week 25 Pitching Forecaster

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There are just two weeks to go in the season and the pitching landscape looks a little strange.

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When it comes to starting pitching there's not much Fantasy owners can rely on, but getting at least one good start from Felix Hernandez in a given week is one thing that's almost automatic. King Felix is conspicuously absent from this week's top 70, as there is still no word as to when and if he will make his next start this season. He may be back in Fantasy Week 25 (Sept. 16-22), but oblique injuries don't always go away quickly, so owners may need to find a temporary occupant for Hernandez's throne.

To my eyes, the landscape looks very different than it did earlier this season, as the careers of many pitchers have taken unexpected turns. Matt Garza, R.A. Dickey and Lance Lynn are all stuck in the lower portion of this week's rankings, even though each is scheduled for two starts. There's still enough that's right about these pitchers that they are viable in standard mixed leagues, but their recent performance has raised enough doubt that they could easily be bypassed, even with many owners playing for a title this week.

A few months back, Corey Kluber and Sonny Gray would have looked awkward as inclusions among the top 40 (especially since Gray was in the minors). They're both there this week, as they've proven that they can deliver on their considerable upside.

There are plenty of familiar names in this week's rankings as well, but regardless of how we felt about these pitchers back in April, May or June, these are the 70 who I think will offer the best shot at helping you to a championship (or whatever your goal may be this week).

Note: Stats are current through games played on Thursday, Sept. 12.

Monday update: According to the Seattle Times, Felix Hernandez will throw a bullpen session on Monday, and in the best-case scenario, he could rejoin the Mariners' rotation as soon as Wednesday. Because Hernandez is far from a sure thing to start this week, I have excluded him from the top 70, but if there is word of his return to the rotation before Monday's lineup deadline, owners in all formats should plan on activating him.

If you have Johnny Cueto sitting on your bench, there's a good chance you should get him active as well. Cueto will be activated in order to start Monday against the Astros. Because he will be on a pitch count, per the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cueto is probably not the best choice for owners in shallow leagues.

Paul Maholm (elbow) and Felix Doubront are both expected to retake their spots in their teams' respective rotations, though neither is an advisable start in standard or shallow mixed leagues this week. However, their returns will impact other pitchers. Specifically, Doubront will probably take what would have been Ryan Dempster's second start of the week versus the Blue Jays, and having Maholm back could allow the Braves to push back Julio Teheran's next start in order to conserve his innings. There have been no reports of the Braves planning to do this, but owners concerned about the possibility should at least investigate other alternatives.

Miguel Gonzalez (groin) and Bud Norris (elbow) are both questionable to make starts this week for the Orioles, so their owners should be aggressive in looking for replacements.

There were no major additions to the ranks of two-start pitchers over the weekend (I'm not ready to put Erik Bedard and Sam Dyson in the "major" category), but there were some notable subtractions. Mike Leake, Tanner Roark and Jorge De La Rosa (thumb) now shape up as one-start options for the coming week, and as such, all are merely options for owners in deeper mixed leagues and NL-only formats.

My Top 70 Starting Pitchers for Week 25
Rank Player Start 1 Start 2
1 Anibal Sanchez SEA (Maurer) CHW (Sale)
2 Cliff Lee MIA (Dyson) MYM (Gee)
3 Zack Greinke @ARI (Corbin) @SD (Cashner)
4 Clayton Kershaw @ARI (McCarthy) N/A
5 Max Scherzer CHW (Santiago) N/A
6 Yu Darvish @TB (Moore) N/A
7 James Shields CLE (Kazmir) TEX (Tepesch)
8 Madison Bumgarner @NYM (Niese) N/A
9 Stephen Strasburg MIA (Alvarez) N/A
10 Cole Hamels NYM (Matsuzaka) N/A
11 David Price BAL (Gonzalez) N/A
12 Adam Wainwright @COL (Chatwood) N/A
13 Mat Latos @PIT (Liriano) N/A
14 Chris Sale @DET (Sanchez) N/A
15 Justin Verlander SEA (Iwakuma) N/A
16 Matt Cain @NYM (Harang) N/A
17 Francisco Liriano CIN (Latos) N/A
18 Mike Minor @WAS (Haren) N/A
19 Jered Weaver SEA (Ramirez) N/A
20 Gio Gonzalez MIA (Turner) N/A
21 A.J. Burnett SD (Cashner) CIN (Bailey)
22 Jordan Zimmermann MIA (Koehler) N/A
23 Patrick Corbin LAD (Greinke) @COL (Nicasio)
24 Hyun-Jin Ryu @ARI (Cahill) @SD (Smith)
25 Homer Bailey @PIT (Burnett) N/A
26 Clay Buchholz TOR (Buehrle) N/A
27 C.J. Wilson @OAK (Gray) SEA (Maurer)
28 Kris Medlen @CHC (Wood) N/A
29 Doug Fister SEA (Paxton) N/A
30 Corey Kluber @KC (Duffy) HOU (Bedard)
31 Sonny Gray LAA (Wilson) MIN (Hernandez)
32 Hiroki Kuroda @TOR (Redmond) N/A
33 Derek Holland @TB (Archer) N/A
34 Gerrit Cole SD (Kennedy) N/A
35 Ervin Santana TEX (Perez) N/A
36 Ivan Nova SF (Vogelsong) N/A
37 Matt Moore TEX (Darvish) N/A
38 Hisashi Iwakuma @DET (Verlander) N/A
39 Dillon Gee @PHI (Lee) N/A
40 Jake Peavy BAL (Chen) N/A
41 John Lackey BAL (Tillman) N/A
42 Julio Teheran @CHC (Jackson) N/A
43 Alex Cobb TEX (Garza) BAL (Norris)
44 Bartolo Colon MIN (Correia) N/A
45 Jarrod Parker MIN (Albers) N/A
46 Alex Wood @WAS (Ohlendorf) N/A
47 Marco Estrada CHC (Samardzija) N/A
48 Dan Haren ATL (Minor) MIA (Dyson)
49 Zack Wheeler SF (Petit) N/A
50 Andrew Cashner @PIT (Burnett) LAD (Greinke)
51 Jon Lester TOR (Rogers) N/A
52 Jonathon Niese SF (Bumgarner) N/A
53 Martin Perez @KC (Santana) N/A
54 Tyson Ross @PIT (Morton) N/A
55 R.A. Dickey NYY (Pettitte) @BOS (Doubront)
56 Michael Wacha @COL (Oswalt) N/A
57 Shelby Miller @MIL (Hellweg) N/A
58 A.J. Griffin LAA (Richards) MIN (Hendriks)
59 Lance Lynn @COL (McHugh) @MIL (Gallardo)
60 Matt Garza @TB (Cobb) @KC (Guthrie)
61 Scott Feldman @BOS (Dempster) @TB (Hellickson)
62 Andy Pettitte @TOR (Dickey) SF (Petit)
63 Johnny Cueto @HOU (Bedard) N/A
64 Chris Archer TEX (Holland) N/A
65 Wade Miley LAD (Nolasco) N/A
66 Danny Salazar @KC (Chen) N/A
67 Dan Straily LAA (Vargas) N/A
68 Ubaldo Jimenez HOU (Keuchel) N/A
69 Wily Peralta CHC (Jackson) STL (Kelly)
70 Ricky Nolasco @ARI (Miley) N/A

Honorable mention: Jose Quintana vs. MIN (Pelfrey); Bronson Arroyo @PIT (Locke); Jason Vargas @OAK (Straily); Brad Peacock vs. CIN (Reynolds); Felix Doubront vs. TOR (Dickey).

Two-Start Options to Consider

Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers (@ARI, @SD): Since July 10, hitters have batted .286 against Ryu, but he has compensated for a high rate of hits on balls in play (.346) by allowing walks and extra bases to an exclusive few. While Ryu has been fairly consistent in maintaining good control and avoiding flyballs, he could easily see improvement in his BABIP rate, which will help both his ERA and WHIP. The biggest concern for Ryu is his performance in Wednesday's return from back issues, as he got the Diamondbacks to swing and miss only three times. With 17 grounders and three double play balls, Ryu was still able to turn in a quality start, and in any event, he has rebounded from low whiff rates before
This week's rank: 24
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Corey Kluber, Indians (@KC, HOU): The Indians put a strict pitch count on Kluber in his first start off the DL, but he took what he was given and made it work. In just 64 pitches, Kluber got through five innings against the Mets with five strikeouts, two runs allowed and a win. His pitch count got stretched to 87 in his most recent start on Thursday at the White Sox, but he still lasted only five innings. Even if Kluber doesn't regain his efficiency in his next starts, with two of them, he gets a fair shot to at least help with strikeouts as well as rate stats. Especially with the Astros on his schedule, you can think of this as the equivalent of a really good one-start week for Kluber
This week's rank: 30
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Sonny Gray, Athletics (LAA, MIN): If there is something to be skeptical of in Gray's performance to date, it's his ability to maintain a K/9 rate in excess of 9.0. He continued to add to his strikeout total with seven punchouts against the Twins, and he'll get the strikeout-prone squad from Minnesota again in Week 25. Having tallied seven or more strikeouts against the Mariners and Astros (twice), Gray's K-rate could be an artifact of matchups, but it's not as if he doesn't have strong ground ball tendencies to rest on as well. He's a perfectly safe two-start option.
This week's rank: 31
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Alex Cobb, Rays (TEX, BAL): Sharp control has been Cobb's calling card for much of his professional career, but since his August return to the Rays' rotation, he has been bedeviled by walks at times. Cobb has paid the price with a 1.36 WHIP over those six starts, and his 3.22 ERA is deceptively low. It's unlikely he will be able to keep stranding 81 percent of his baserunners (per FanGraphs.com) like he has from August forward, so until Cobb can start throwing strikes more consistently, he's closer to being a borderline option than he used to be.
This week's rank: 43
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Dan Haren, Nationals (ATL, MIA): Haren had reverted to the form of his All-Star years upon his return from a midseason DL stint, but a recent three-game slump led to a landslide of drops and benchings in CBSSports.com leagues. He rebounded Wednesday with six innings of scoreless, one-hit ball at the Mets, but it's also worth noting that Haren hasn't had a start against a top offense since before his trip to the DL. The Braves will be his toughest opponent in awhile (though he did face them in a relief appearance last month), so even if Haren's recent mini-slump didn't scare you, it's not crazy to view him as something of a risky start this week.
This week's rank: 48
My take: Marginal standard mixed league start.

Andrew Cashner, Padres (@PIT, LAD): A 10-day layoff between starts was no problem for Cashner, as he handily dispensed with the Phillies on Tuesday. Better yet, he continued to do the one thing he's had trouble doing for most of this season: get swinging strikes and strikeouts at an above-average clip. Over his last five starts, Cashner has averaged whiffs on 12 percent of his pitches and struck out 7.8 batters per nine innings. Only because there is some chance that Cashner will have his second start pushed back or be shut down altogether, he does not rank as "solid standard mixed league start" this week.
This week's rank: 51
My take: Marginal standard mixed league start.

R.A. Dickey, Blue Jays (NYY, @BOS): Dickey has turned his season around since late June, but it's not as if he has been so dominant that we can overlook matchups. Though he has posted a 3.59 ERA over his last 15 starts, he continues to be flyball-prone. That could be a problem in facing the two teams who have scored the most runs over the last 30 days and have two of the three highest Isolated Power marks during that period.
This week's rank: 55
My take: Marginal standard mixed league start.

A.J. Griffin, Athletics (LAA, MIN): Griffin has coughed up a majors-leading 34 home runs this season, and while he's been better at avoiding the long ball at home, he's still not been all that stingy. His 1.3 HR/9 at O.co Coliseum is still pretty scary, and while you might think he's getting a break with these matchups, he's really not. Sure, the Angels are one of the least flyball-prone lineups in the American League, but since the All-Star break, the Twins rank fourth in the AL in Isolated Power. Griffin is worth starting if you're trying to catch up in WHIP, but otherwise you may need to opt for another pitcher.
This week's rank: 58
My take: Marginal standard mixed league start.

Lance Lynn, Cardinals (@COL, @MIL): Because Lynn has slumped in the second half two seasons in a row, it's tempting to write off the early-season successes he has had. A year ago, it was a surging line drive rate that laid waste to his ERA and WHIP. This year, increases in walks and home runs are to blame. Maybe Lynn will continue to be too wild, but he should be able to curtail the homers, since he's actually getting grounders at a higher rate. All the while, Lynn has been getting close to a strikeout per inning, so he's still worth starting. A visit to Coors Field does render Lynn as a low-end optionn for standard mixed leagues this week.
This week's rank: 59
My take: Marginal standard mixed league start.

Matt Garza, Rangers (@TB, @KC): Since joining the Rangers, Garza has a healthy 3.7 K/BB ratio, so since he's missing bats and avoiding walks, he can still help with WHIP. It's home runs that have wreaked havoc on his ERA, which now stands at 4.66 with Texas. Maybe a pair of homer-squelching venues will help Garza this week, though a recent trip to Angel Stadium didn't work out so well. You can probably find a better option in standard mixed leagues.
This week's rank: 60
My take: Marginal standard mixed league start.

Scott Feldman, Orioles (@BOS, @TB): Remember when Feldman quietly put a solid three months together for the Cubs earlier this season? He's doing it again, this time in Charm City, as Feldman has compiled a 3.62 ERA and 1.12 ERA for the Orioles. For those (i.e., me) who feared that Feldman's move to Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the American League would hurt his Fantasy value, take note of the decrease in the Isolated Power allowed to opponents (from .133 to .115) since changing uniforms. As for this week's matchups, the Rays have scored the fewest runs in the AL in the second half, while the Red Sox have scored the most. Feldman's track record against good lineups has been mixed this season, but he's handled the A's and Yankees in recent weeks, so Feldman has a decent shot to come away with a productive week.
This week's rank: 61
My take: Marginal standard mixed league start.

Andy Pettitte, Yankees (@TOR, SF): Pettitte is finishing an otherwise undistinguished season on a high note, as he has reeled off six consecutive quality starts. While quality starts don't always make for an impressive stat line, Pettitte owns a 2.13 ERA and 1.21 WHIP during his streak, and four of his starts have come against the Red Sox and Orioles. Rather than just enjoying Pettitte's strong stretch run, you could choose to fret over the his lack of consistency skillwise, as he's been getting strikeouts and grounders only sporadically. If you're looking for a two-start free agent, you might as well view it as a glass-is-half-full kind of week, since Pettitte will face the Blue Jays and Giants, who have been lacking power in recent weeks.
This week's rank: 62
My take: Marginal standard mixed league start.

Wily Peralta, Brewers (CHC, STL): Since a 10-game midseason stretch that saw Peralta post a 2.10 ERA, his season has hit a snag. Over his five most recent starts, he has compiiled a 5.46 ERA. Granted, much of the damage came in a rout at the hands of the Reds, but none of those five outings were particularly encouraging. Peralta's control has become erratic, and worse yet, he's had a hard time getting grounders. If nothing else, owners should be able to expect Peralta to keep the ball down and in the park. Especially since he's only had one truly bad start recently, it's an overreaction to completely give up on Peralta, but he should be more of a last resort in standard mixed leagues at this point.
This week's rank: 69
My take: Marginal standard mixed league start.

Rick Porcello, Tigers (SEA, CHW): Porcello has alternated between hot and cold streaks this season. His last time out, he ended his latest slump, tossing a complete game against the White Sox in which he allowed one run. Easy matchup? A new hot streak? It's hard to tell, but it may not matter, as he gets the Pale Hose again, plus a struggling Mariners lineup. Porcello is too erratic to trust in standard mixed leagues, but these matchups make him worth starting in anything deeper.
This week's rank: N/A
My take: Deeper mixed league start.

Scott Kazmir, Indians (@KC, HOU): Starts like the one Kazmir had on Wednesday against the Royals typify why this has been a frustrating season to own him. His command was good and batters often had a tough time connecting with his offerings, but the Royals made hard contact often enough to knock Kazmir out in the fifth inning. While his matchups -- including a rematch with the Royals -- are favorable enough this week, Kazmir's 27 percent line drive rate indicates that he's leaving too many meaty pitches for hitters to feast on.
This week's rank: N/A
My take: Deeper mixed league start.

Jeremy Hellickson, Rays (TEX, BAL): According to xFIP, this should have been the best of Hellickson's three full seasons with the Rays, but xFIP didn't count on him posting a 23 percent line drive rate or 65 percent strand rate. Maybe we Fantasy owners shouldn't take those stats seriously either, but Hellickson's skill indicators leave us without something to hang our proverbial hats on. Without Colon-like control, Chatwood-like ground ball tendencies or Hellickson circa 2011-like popup rates, he's too hard to trust, especially with tough matchups like the ones he has this week.
This week's rank: N/A
My take: Deeper mixed league start.

Joe Kelly, Cardinals (@COL, @MIL): A ratio of 42 strikeout to 29 walks is usually a sign of a disastrous run, but Kelly has parlayed it into an 8-1 record and 2.34 ERA since he entered the Cardinals' rotation just over two months ago. To his credit, Kelly has helped himself out by inducing frequent grounders and double play balls, but that comes nowhere close to fully explaining how he has stranded nearly 9 out of every 10 runners over that timeframe. A strand rate of even 80 percent would be almost impossible to sustain, so Kelly is practically certain to experience a major regression. Coors Field sounds like an appropriate venue for that to happen.
This week's rank: N/A
My take: Deeper mixed league start.

Yusmeiro Petit, Giants (@NYM, @NYY): To say the least, Petit has proven to be better than a desperation fill-in for the Giants, but his most recent start is pretty indicative of what owners can expect going forward. In his near-perfect game against the Diamondbacks, Petit induced 13 grounders, which is uncharacteristic for him, but subsequently versus the Rockies, he mustered only five ground balls out of 16 total hit balls. Now Petit has to face the Yankees and Mets, who have the second- and third-highest flyball BABIPs in the majors, and the Yankees could also make him pay by taking the ball out of the park.
This week's rank: N/A
My take: NL-only start.

Trevor Cahill, Diamondbacks (LAD, @COL): Maybe it's the ballpark's swimming pool or the antics of Baxter the Bobcat, but for whatever reason, Cahill seems to like pitching at Chase Field well enough. His stats are decent at home, but on the road, Cahill has been a menace to his Fantasy owners. Away from Phoenix, Cahill has compiled a 1.3 BB/K ratio, along with a 4.44 ERA and 1.49 WHIP. If Cahill were great at home, maybe we could have some confidence in him containing the Dodgers, but a 3.93 ERA and 1.33 WHIP are not that inspiring. The trip to Colorado, of course, could be downright scary.
This week's rank: N/A
My take: NL-only start.

Jeff Locke, Pirates (SD, CIN): During the first half, many analysts -- myself included -- harped on Locke for his mediocre command, even though he had a sparkling ERA, WHIP and won-lost record. Since then, Locke has just been plain bad, putting up a 5.26 ERA and 1.79 WHIP that appears to be almost entirely the product of command gone totally haywire. He's actually done a better job of getting whiffs and grounders, but it hasn't mattered, as Locke has walked 32 batters over his last 51 1/3 innings. He's not safe to start in virtually any mixed league.
This week's rank: N/A
My take: NL-only start.

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Player News
Reds sign Brennan Boesch to minor league deal
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:09 pm ET) The Reds have signed outfielder Brennan Boesch to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Boesch, 29, is a career .256/.309/.412 hitter over five seasons for the Tigers, Yankees and Angels.

He was in the minors for most of last season, hitting .332 with 25 homers for the Angels Triple-A affiliate. 


Royals acquire infielder Ryan Jackson from Dodgers
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:16 pm ET) The Royals have acquired infielder Ryan Jackson from the Dodgers for cash considerations. Jackson was out for most of last season with a wrist injury. 

Jackson hit .278 with 34 RBI at Triple-A Memphis, playing 122 games at shortstop and third base in 2013.


Report: Talks break down between Yanks, Phils about Rollins deal
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2:18 pm ET) The Yankees and Phillies reportedly discussed a deal for 35-year-old shortstop Jimmy Rollins before talks broke down, according to ESPN reporter Jayson Stark.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Rollins is "one of the best shortstops in baseball still" but wouldn't confirm Yankees interest in the veteran. Amaro also said Rollins is "somebody we want on our club and would be very hard to replace."

Rollins is due $11 million this season and his contract is up at the end of 2015. Rollins hit .243 with 55 RBI and stole 28 bases in 2014. 


Padres' Blaine Boyer clears waivers, heads for free agency
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2:08 pm ET) Padres right-handed pitcher Blaine Boyer cleared waivers Wednesday and will enter free agency, according to U-T San Diego. Boyer was designated for assignment last week.

Boyer appeared in 32 games last season for the Padres and posted a 3.57 ERA. 


Rays designate Sean Rodriguez for assignment
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2:04 pm ET) The Rays have designated 29-year-old Sean Rodriguez for assignment. 

Rodriguez hit .211 with 12 home runs last season. 


Jose Molina, Cole Figueroa clear waivers, released by Rays
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:55 pm ET) Catcher Jose Molina and infielder Cole Figueroa cleared waivers and were released by the Rays Wednesday. 

Both Molina and Figueroa were designated for assignment Thursday. Molina, 39, hit .178 over 225 at-bats last year, while Figueroa hit .233 in 43 at-bats. 


Rays sign right-hander Ernesto Frieri to major-league contract
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:33 pm ET) The Rays have announced signing of right-hand pitcher Ernesto Frieri to a one-year contract. Frieri will make a base salary of $800,000, going up to $3.15 million with incentives, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Frieri, who had a career-high 37 saves in 2013, had 11 last season with a 7.34 ERA.


Yankees' Sabathia confident he can return to being 200-inning pitcher
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:23 pm ET) Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia continues to deliver positive updates coming off July knee surgery.

"The knee, I have no complaints," Sabathia told YES Network. "I’m able to do all of my workouts. … I’m changing a few things. Not as much pounding and running. I’m in the pool a lot, on different machines to get cardio, (on the) bike. Just adding a few different things to get some cardio in."

Despite coming off surgery and being limited to eight starts (46 innings) in 2014, Sabathia feels he can get back to being a 30-start, 200-inning pitcher in 2015.

"Yeah, for sure," he said. "I feel like I can. If you asked me that a couple of months ago, I would have said, ‘I don’t know,’ but the way I’m feeling now and being able to work out, definitely."


Report: Indians expressing interest in Kendrys Morales
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:05 pm ET) The Indians have expressed inerest in DH/first baseman Kendrys Morales

Morales, who split time between the Twins and Mariners last season, hit .218 with 42 RBI.


Brewers' Ryan Braun 'cautiously optimistic' coming off thumb surgery
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:54 am ET) Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is optimistic coming off October thumb surgery. Braun underwent a cryotherapy procedure in Los Angeles on Oct. 2, in which a needle was inserted at the base of his right thumb to essentially freeze a nerve.

"It definitely worked," Braun said Wednesday, per MLB.com. "It makes a huge difference."

Braun swung a bat 10 days after the procedure and was happy the pain in his thumb was gone.

"Right now, I don’t feel any [discomfort], and I haven’t been able to say that for two years," he said. "I think I’ve told you guys, it [bothered him] shaking hands, writing -- you know, just everyday activities. Now I don’t feel it at all, so I’m excited."

While Braun is definitely optimistic, he is also a bit cautious because he isn't in the grind of playing baseball every day. He has received full clearance, however, for all offseason activities.

"I’m encouraged by how it feels, but at the same time, I think I have to be cautiously optimistic [until] I get into spring training and see how it responds," Braun said. "But it hasn’t felt this good in a really long time."


 
 
 
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