Much is uncertain about starting pitching for Fantasy Week 6 (May 5-11), but one source of uncertainty heading into Week 5 has been resolved: Clayton Kershaw will be back. Having spent most of the season to date on the disabled list with a back injury, the Dodgers' ace will make his return on Tuesday at the Nationals.
Owners can also be certain that there will be plenty of two-start options beyond Kershaw from which to choose, and some of those who are either on benches or waivers in a large proportion of leagues -- like Homer Bailey, Jonathon Niese and Robbie Ross -- are perfectly good alternatives for Week 6. At present, there are 40 pitchers scheduled to make two starts, and prospect Robbie Ray could join the fun depending on how the Tigers choose to replace Anibal Sanchez (finger). Ray, in fact, is already scheduled to start in Sanchez's place against the Astros on Tuesday, and if all goes well, he could get a second start on Sunday versus the Twins.
There are several other pitching items of note for Fantasy owners to track between now and Monday's lineup deadline. Chris Sale (elbow), Wandy Rodriguez (knee) and Scott Feldman (biceps) all have a chance to return in Week 6, though the status for each is currently unclear. Doug Fister (lat) is expected to make his season debut Friday at the Athletics. If the Nationals go with a spot starter on Tuesday, that will likely push everyone back and spoil a potential two-start week for Jordan Zimmerman.
Chris Tillman and Jesse Chavez both line up for two-start weeks for now, but days off could allow the Orioles and Athletics to tinker with their rotations and push both pitchers back. Finally, Matt Garza could also lose a two-start week, but not because of a reordering of pitchers in the Brewers' rotation. Garza sustained a thumb injury in his last start, but as of Friday, he appears to be ready to take the mound for his next outing against the Diamondbacks on Monday.
Given all that is yet to be settled over the weekend, we could have a different-looking pitching landscape by the time Monday arrives, but for now, here's how the ranks of two-start pitchers shape up.
Monday update: Owners hoping to have their Sale dilemma resolved over the weekend will have to wait a little longer. He is set to throw a bullpen session Monday, and there may not be a timeline for his return by the time that lineups lock. It's probably best to sit Sale in standard and shallow mixed leagues this week. Though Ervin Santana is having his next start skipped due to a thumb injury, he is safer to start, as he is expected back by this weekend.
Unless Santana has to be skipped again, that will knock Aaron Harang from two-start to one-start status. Due to the expected return of Fister, Zimmermann will indeed make only one start this week. The anticipated return of Feldman could endanger the two-start week for Brett Oberholtzer.
Charlie Morton is currently slated for one start, but if Rodriguez is not ready to return from his rehab stint by Sunday, look for Morton to make a second start against the Cardinals. With the possibility of tacking that on to his existing scheduled start against the Giants, Morton is a reasonable last-resort pickup in standard mixed leagues. Drew Hutchison is a new addition to the two-start pitchers list, and only the potential insertion of Marcus Stroman into the rotation is likely to spoil that. Yusmeiro Petit has a chance at making two starts as well, but with Matt Cain (finger) eligibile to return fronm the DL this Friday, owners should count on only one start.
Tillman, Garza and Tomlin had their two-start status solidified over the weekend. Chavez's was not, but given Tommy Milone's continued struggles, it is highly plausible that the A's will not start him this week, keeping Chavez's two-start week intact.
Two-Start Pitchers on the Bubble
9. Homer Bailey, CIN (at BOS, vs. COL)
Bailey's season-to-date stats are still tarnished by his first three starts, when he allowed 13 runs on 24 hits over 14 1/3 innings. In the three starts since, Bailey owns a 3.60 ERA, and both that and his 1.35 WHIP would be lower if not for a .361 BABIP that has the look of bad luck. In short, Bailey is back to looking like the reliable pitcher he became last season, getting ground balls and whiffs fairly consistently. Though Bailey's matchups could give you pause, there's little reason to distrust him this week.
10. Nate Eovaldi, MIA (vs. NYM, at SD)
|1. Max Scherzer||vs. HOU, vs. MIN|
|2. Clayton Kershaw||at WAS, vs. SF|
|3. Zack Greinke||at WAS, vs. SF|
|4. Cole Hamels||vs. TOR, at NYM|
|5. Scott Kazmir||vs. SEA, vs. WAS|
|6. Yordano Ventura||at SD, at SEA|
|7. Chris Archer||vs. BAL, vs. CLE|
|8. Jered Weaver||vs. NYY, at TOR|
Towards the end of last season, Eovaldi started making modest strides, finishing with a 2.53 ERA and 34 strikeouts over 42 2/3 innings in his last seven starts. No longer is Eovaldi's progress happening in small increments. He has busted out this year with a 1.02 WHIP, 35 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings and five quality starts to go along with a 2.58 ERA in six starts. Eovaldi has always thrown hard, but now he is doing it with far more deception and control. Detractors can point to a schedule that has included the Braves, Phillies, Padres and Mariners, all of whom have struggled to score, so if you're looking for reassurance, Eovaldi has nice matchups yet again with the Mets and Padres (again).
11. Jesse Chavez, OAK (vs. SEA, vs. WAS)
Chavez began to remake himself two season ago when he started throwing a cutter, and it's been effective for getting whiffs and grounders. In terms of runs above average per 100 pitches thrown, Chavez's cutter ranks 10th-best in the majors this season, according to the pitch value data on FanGraphs.com. The credentials that Chavez has established so far this season (1.89 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 50 percent ground ball rate) have the look of those for a must-start pitcher, but his lack of experience as a starter keeps him from that realm for now. It was reassuring, though, to see Chavez bounce back from a sub-quality start at the Astros to have his best start of the season at the Rangers on Wednesday.
12. Tim Hudson, SF (at PIT, at LAD)
Hudson has been an efficient innings-eater for some time now, but let this sink in for a moment: he has not pitched fewer than seven innings in any of his six starts this season and has not issued a walk in five of those. He's still not a strikeout pitcher, but Hudson is throwing strikes at a rate (69.4 percent) that no qualifying starter, save for Cliff Lee, surpassed a season ago. With all of the grounders that Hudson gets and all of the innings he pitches, owners shouldn't mind if he allows his fair share of contact, especially in a two-start week.
13. Jeff Samardzija, CHC (vs. CHW, at ATL)
Having stranded 86 percent of his baserunners to date, Samardzija hasn't been all that his 1.98 ERA makes him out to be, but he is also likely better than the 3.83 ERA pitcher that xFIP would have us believe he is. In two of his six starts, Samardzija allowed a lot of contact (three swinging strikes against the Pirates, four swinging strikes against the Cardinals), but otherwise, he's been harder to hit. He has also been pitching with better control than he did last season, and perhaps best of all, he has limited opposing hitters to a puny .099 Isolated Power. Samardzija should do his part to provide strikeouts with a low ERA and WHIP; all we have to worry about is whether the Cubs will be start to provide him with some run support.
14. Jonathon Niese, NYM (at MIA, vs. PHI)
Going back to last season, Niese has notched quality starts in eight of his last nine outings, and he has accomplished that by being stingy with walks and extra-base hits. Niese doesn't overpower opponents, but unless he's facing lineups that are especially selective, he should do a good enough job of keeping runners off the basepaths and runs from scoring. The Phillies have not been potent offensively, and while the Marlins have been, they also strike out a lot. Particularly with these matchups, Niese should not be much less productive than Hudson, as his success is based on a similar formula. Though he may allow more walks and flyballs, he actually presents a little more strikeout potential.
15. Chris Tillman, BAL (at TB, vs. HOU)
Tillman has developed into a decent source of strikeouts, and as a flyball pitcher with fair control, he has the potential to make an impact in WHIP. A 42 percent flyball rate has its downside, too, and we've seen it over Tillman's last three starts, as opponents have slugged .559. That has meant an exit before the end of the sixth inning in each appearance, leaving Tillman with a 7.63 ERA and 2.02 WHIP over that span. A start at Tropicana Field should help to take the bite out of Tillman's flyball tendencies, and the Astros remain a plumb matchup for all pitchers. Tillman is never an entirely safe play, but he would be a reasonable addition to your rotation for the coming week.
16. Drew Hutchison, TOR (at PHI, vs. LAA)
Hutchison's increased velocity has led him to put up a higher strikeout rate, much like the ones he posted in the lower minors. He has also shown good control over his last three starts, issuing only two walks over 18 1/3 innings. As control has not been his strong suit in the past, it's difficult to trust that Hutchison will sustain this trend. He could be a bit of a home run risk as well, given a mediocre 41 percent ground ball rate and a home start against the slugging Angels, who lead the American League in home runs and Isolated Power. Hutchison is still a worthwhile two-start option, but one with some meltdown potential in his latter start.
17. Jose Quintana, CHW (at CHC, vs. ARI)
|21. Robbie Erlin||vs. KC, vs. MIA|
|22. Matt Garza||vs. ARI, vs. NYY|
|23. Henderson Alvarez||vs. NYM, at SD|
|24. Chris Young||at OAK, vs. KC|
|25. Kyle Gibson||at CLE, at DET|
|26. Juan Nicasio||vs. TEX, at CIN|
|27. Roenis Elias||at OAK, vs. KC|
|28. Zach McAllister||vs. MIN, at TB|
|29. Jeremy Guthrie||at SD, at SEA|
|30. Jarred Cosart||at DET, at BAL|
|31. Josh Tomlin||vs. MIN. at TB|
|32. Kyle Kendrick||vs. TOR, at NYM|
|33. David Phelps||at LAA, at MIL|
|34. Jordan Lyles||vs. TEX, at CIN|
|35. Eric Stults||vs. KC, vs. MIA|
|36. Brett Oberholtzer||at DET, at BAL|
|37. J.A. Happ||at PHI, vs. LAA|
|38. Edwin Jackson||vs. CHW, at ATL|
|39. Samuel Deduno||at CLE, at DET|
|40. Mike Bolsinger||at MIL, at CHW|
After making some gains as a strikeout pitcher in the second half of 2013, Quintana was slow out of the gate this April. Though Quintana was far from awful in his first five starts, his swinging strike rate was a meager six percent and he recorded 22 strikeouts in 30 innings. There's nothing wrong with that rate, as long as a superb walk and/or ground ball rate compensates for it. Quintana hasn't walked many batters -- just 2.3 per nine innings -- and better yet, he got the Tigers to whiff at 16 pitches and strike out 10 times in his most recent start. If he builds on that, Quintana will be worth starting most weeks. His matchups against the Cubs and Diamondbacks alone could make Quintana worth starting this week.
18. Martin Perez, TEX (at COL, vs. BOS)
Perez did a little thing called regression after turning in three straight scoreless starts, despite recording only 13 strikeouts over 26 innings. On Tuesday, the A's ripped Perez for eight runs in 4 2/3 innings. It was a highly uncharacteristic start for the lefty, as he allowed nine line drives, five of which resulted in extra-base hits. There could be more trouble ahead, as Perez's average fastball velocity is down from where it was in early April, according to BrooksBaseball.net, and worse yet, he has to make his next start at Colorado. Perez has looked like a no-brainer as a two-start pitcher for most of this young season, and his penchant for grounders still makes him viable, but he's no longer a sure thing.
19. Robbie Ross, TEX (at COL, vs. BOS)
Remember the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry's car gets a bad smell that he can't get rid of? That's what has happened to Ross' WHIP, which now is a putrid 1.44 after the A's pounded him for 11 hits in 3 1/3 innings on Wednesday. A month's worth of good starts might not be enough to remove the stench, but that doesn't mean that he can't help you with WHIP, not to mention ERA, wins and strikeouts, going forward. Even in that disastrous outing, Ross did a good job of getting grounders and throwing strikes, but he was done in by giving up hits on more than half of the balls in play (as well as by poor defense). The only thing preventing Ross from earning a spot in the upper half of this week's "bubble" list is his start at Coors Field, but he may miss enough bats (10 percent whiff rate) and get enough grounders (60 percent ground ball rate) to survive that. He's risky but still worth using, and he's highly available.
20. Shelby Miller, STL (vs. SEA, vs. TB)
Miller had been so effective through late August last season that most owners just became accustomed to leaving him in their rotation week after week. Aside from his first start of this season, Miller has posted a 2.17 ERA, so on the surface, there appears to be little reason to break the habit. A ratio of 26 strikeouts to 21 walks over his 34 1/3 innings in 2014 is a sign that something could be very wrong here. Miller has struggled to throw strikes in each start, and he has not been missing bats consistently enough. Even with a .242 BABIP, Miller's WHIP is an inflated 1.46, and an unsustainable 88 percent strand is what has kept his ERA from ballooning. You could take a flier on starting Miller and hope that he finds his command, but just be prepared for a bumpy ride.