We have now officially reached the halfway point of the season, and the weeks ahead will have much to say about how fondly you will look back on your 2014 Fantasy campaign. If you want to get off on the right foot in the second half, and in Fantasy Week 14 (June 30-July 6) specifically, you may have to look somewhere besides the selection of two-start pitchers to give you an edge. There are currently 36 starting pitchers scheduled to take the mound twice in the coming week, and out of that relatively modest number, there are several whom you probably shouldn't trust even in deeper leagues.
However, there are 11 solid must-start options and a dozen intriguing borderline candidates for owners in standard mixed leagues. One of those borderline options -- Jeff Locke -- is not yet technically a two-start pitcher, but sometime this weekend, the Pirates are expected to morph from a six-man rotation to a five-man unit. It's pretty safe to assume that Locke will get to follow up Tuesday's start against the Diamondbacks with a start on regular rest on Sunday versus the Phillies, so he has been included in this column.
|1. David Price||at NYY, at DET|
|2. Jordan Zimmermann||vs. COL, vs. CHC|
|3. Mat Latos||at SD, vs. MIL|
|4. Garrett Richards||at CHW, vs. HOU|
|5. Anibal Sanchez||vs. OAK, vs. TB|
|6. Corey Kluber||at LAD, vs. KC|
|7. Alex Wood||vs. NYM, vs. ARI|
|8. Scott Kazmir||at DET, vs. TOR|
|9. Jake Arrieta||at BOS, at WAS|
|10. Jered Weaver||at CHW, vs. HOU|
|11. Chris Archer||at NYY, at DET|
Taijuan Walker is not officially scheduled for any starts in Week 14, but the Mariners have openings on Monday at the Astros and on Sunday at the White Sox, and it's almost inconceivable that anybody other than Walker would fill those vacancies. Since Walker has not yet been recalled from Triple-A Tacoma, he is not included among the initial list of two-start pitchers, but he is a very likely addition in Monday's update. For now, plan on claiming or activating Walker, as he has similar appeal to several of the pitchers in the upper half of this week's "bubble" list.
For now Jake Peavy will be a two-start pitcher, but depending on what the Red Sox decide to do with Rubby De La Rosa, that status may not survive the weekend. In any event, Peavy is recommended only for owners in deeper leagues. The same is true for Marco Gonzales, who should get at least one start for the Cardinals this week, but could be replaced by the time their weekend series with the Marlins arrives.
Monday update: There were no unanticipated changes to rotations over the weekend. As expected, Walker was recalled, so he is now scheduled to be a two-start pitcher. Gonzales has remained with the Cardinals and is scheduled to start Tuesday at the Giants. Barring a demotion, he will get a second start against the Marlins. Both he and Walker have been added to the two-start pitchers list, though only Walker has been included among the viable starters for standard mixed leagues, clocking in at No. 17.
The Pirates and Red Sox respectively optioned Brandon Cumpton and De La Rosa, so Locke and Peavy have solidified their status as members of this week's two-start list. With Walker and Gonzales added as two-start pitchers and Locke having secured his second start, there are now a total of 39 two-start options for this week.
Kevin Gausman had been included as a one-start pitcher who could be started over some of the two-start pitchers on the "bubble" list, but now that Orioles manager Buck Showalter has yet to commit to him as a current member of the rotation, he has been removed from the lists of one-start alternatives.
Two-Start Pitchers on the Bubble
12. Josh Beckett, LAD (vs. CLE, at COL)
As recently as a few weeks ago, I had reservations about using Beckett, even though his ERA sat in the mid-2.00s, as he wasn't throwing strikes with consistency, was a home run risk and had a good, but not great, swinging strike rate. In five June starts, Beckett has been dominant, as opponents have swung and missed on 12 percent of his pitches. Beckett's control has also improved, as he has not issued more than two walks in any of his last six starts. He still leans towards being a flyball pitcher, but you can live with that given how little contact he is allowing. If not for a start at Colorado, Beckett would be a must-start option this week. Even so, he's very likely to pay off in standard mixed leagues.
13. Collin McHugh, HOU (vs. SEA, at LAA)
McHugh has shown the same weaknesses that Beckett demonstrated earlier this year, though to an even greater degree. His flyball tendencies are more distinct, and he has walked at least three batters in five of his 12 starts. Then again, McHugh has been even more reliable as a whiff inducer, getting nine or more swinging strikes in all but two starts and at least 11 in all but four starts. If he were facing the slugging Angels at Minute Maid Park, McHugh would probably rank at least a couple of spots lower on this list, but at Angel Stadium, owners can expect fewer extra-base hits and more flyball outs. Though these aren't dream matchups, McHugh looks like a safe option this week.
14. Zack Wheeler, NYM (at ATL, vs. TEX)
Wheeler's battles with consistency are far from over, as he followed up his first-ever complete game (and a shutout, no less) with a two-inning, six-run mess against the A's. Even though Wheeler has turned in clunkers in three of his last four starts, there are several positives to take away from his recent outings. Going back roughly a month, Wheeler has struck out 45 batters while walking just 11 in 39 1/3 innings, and he's held opponents to a .310 slugging percentage. He has been much more proficient at avoiding contact and inducing ground balls, and once he starts stranding runners at a normal rate, the results will show in his ERA. Though Wheeler's 4.45 ERA doesn't give him the appearance of a viable two-start pitcher, he is very much so, and it helps that he gets a couple of favorable matchups.
15. Wade Miley, ARI (at PIT, at ATL)
Miley is yet another pitcher with a Fantasy-unfriendly ERA (4.78), and the long ball is largely to blame. Though the lefty has already allowed 17 home runs, only five of those have occurred on the road. Not only does Miley get a pair of road starts in Week 14, but he gets them at decent pitcher's venues against teams that don't hit for a lot of power. Miley's 3.63 road ERA is low enough to make him viable in two-start weeks, and he can help with strikeouts, too. This season, Miley has been throwing his slider -- his best whiff pitch -- harder and more often, and he has also been getting more whiffs on his sinker, according to BrooksBaseball.net. Miley's increased strikeout rate, up to 8.2 K/9 from last year's 6.5 K/9, along with his venues and matchups make him worth using in standard mixed leagues.
16. Henderson Alvarez, MIA (vs. PHI, at STL)
While the first four pitchers on this list are all ones that can help greatly with strikeouts in a two-start week, Alvarez is the first of several pitchers highlighted here who are worthy pickups despite a low K-rate. His recent stretch of seven starts, over which he has allowed a total of four earned runs, illustrates well why Alvarez is one of the most valuable contact pitchers in Fantasy. Alvarez's combination of elite-level control and strong ground ball tendencies make him to tough to score upon, even if he isn't especially tough to hit. Not surprisingly, he has been stellar at Marlins Park, where he boasts a 1.44 ERA this season. A start there against the Phillies along with a visit to pitcher-friendly Busch Stadium should make for a very good week.
17. Taijuan Walker, SEA (at HOU, at CHW)
Those who drafted Walker are finally being rewarded for their patience, as he will make his season debut this week after missing three months, first with a shoulder injury and then a minor league stint. After all of the missed time, we should probably give Walker a pass on some of the inconsistencies he endured while at Triple-A Tacoma. Still, mild control issues and a notably high flyball rate were part of the problem, and those have been red flags for Walker at times in the past. Especially with visits to Minute Maid Park and U.S. Cellular Field, Walker could yield a few long drives, but there's no reason to sit a pitcher with his promise outside of shallower leagues.
18. Jesse Hahn, SD (vs. CIN, vs. SF)
In less than a month, Hahn has gone from being a Padres' spot starter to becoming a highly-sought Fantasy hurler. Hahn's credentials as a ground ball pitcher are legitimate: according to StatCorner.com, he posted a ground ball rate in excess of 60 percent at each level of the minors he visited. So far, Hahn has also done a great job of avoiding contact, getting 27 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings, but he could have a hard time coming close to that rate going forward. He wasn't getting many swings-and-misses when he was at Double-A San Antonio, and he's relying heavily on a 22 percent called strike rate that will be difficult to maintain. Factor in the lack of run support that Hahn is likely to get, and he's far from being a safe option. At minimum, Hahn should keep the ball in the park, and on the chance that he is developing into a strikeout pitcher right before our eyes, he's not a bad use of a rotation spot this week.
19. Jarred Cosart, HOU (vs. SEA, vs. LAA)
|25. Rick Porcello||vs. OAK, vs. TB|
|26. A.J. Burnett||at MIA, at PIT|
|27. David Phelps||vs. TB, at MIN|
|28. Marco Gonzales||at SF, vs. MIA|
|29. Brad Mills||at DET, vs. TOR|
|30. Dan Haren||vs. CLE, at COL|
|31. Ricky Nolasco||vs. KC, vs. NYY|
|32. Ubaldo Jimenez||vs. TEX, at BOS|
|33. Jake Peavy||vs. CHC, vs. BAL|
|34. Yohan Pino||vs. KC, vs. NYY|
|35. Nick Martinez||at BAL, at NYM|
|36. Hector Noesi||vs. LAA, vs. SEA|
|37. Joe Saunders||at BAL, at NYM|
|38. Yohan Flande||at WAS, vs. LAD|
|39. Christian Friedrich||at WAS, vs. LAD|
Fantasy owners have little reason to be confused about Cosart's chances to become a strikeout pitcher, as the bulk of his track record suggests it's highly unlikely. Like Alvarez, he is in the midst of a productive stretch, even though he has allowed contact at a high rate. Up until recent weeks, Cosart seemed to be firmly on the Jake Westbrook path, reliably getting ground balls but not having good enough control to matter in Fantasy. If Cosart can build on his last five starts, in which he has issued seven total walks and thrown 64 percent of his pitches for strikes, he will be far more than a curiosity. The Angels could be a tough test for Cosart, but he actually began his current five-game string of quality starts against them, so it wouldn't be an upset for him to keep the streak going.
20. Hiroki Kuroda, NYY (vs. TB, at MIN)
Kuroda has never been a pitcher you start for help with Ks, but when he recently rattled off five straight starts with three or fewer strikeouts, he was appearing to lose his Fantasy viability. He has rebounded in his last two outings, collecting 10 strikeouts over 12 1/3 innings and inducing double-digit whiffs in both starts. Whether or not Kuroda will settle back in to being a close-to-average strikeout pitcher remains to be seen, but he can still be counted on to minimize his walks. That alone doesn't make Kuroda worth starting in standard mixed leagues, but a start against the Rays along with a visit to the Twins, whose offense has taken a step backwards the last couple of weeks, gives him a chance to make a contribution.
21. Danny Duffy, KC (at MIN, at CLE)
As a hard-throwing lefty, Duffy made Fantasy owners drool at the prospect of his strikeout potential, but he always struggled enough with control to be a source of frustration. Even in returning from Tommy John surgery last year, Duffy had the same M.O., but lately, we're seeing an entirely different version of him. In the month of June, Duffy is among the top 20 qualifying starters in percentage of pitches in the strike zone and in contact rate allowed (per FanGraphs.com). The increased contact has made him less of a strikeout pitcher, but the improved control has made him a better pitcher. While he has benefitted from favorable strand and BABIP rates during his recent stretch, Duffy has shown the potential to help with WHIP, as he has been stingy with walks and generous in allowing flyball outs. That formula should work well for him at Target Field against the Twins, while his mastery of lefties (.095 batting average, no extra base hits) could come in handy against the Indians.
22. Jeff Locke, PIT (vs. ARI, vs. PHI)
Since returning to the Pirates' rotation earlier this month, Locke hasn't just been better than he was during a miserable second half last season; he has been better than he was during the first half when he earned a berth on the National League All-Star team. Last year, when Locke succeeded, he did it in spite of poor control, but he has done nothing but throw strikes over his five starts in 2014. As effective as Locke has been, he could possibly be even better, as he has a 6.1 K/9 ratio despite an 11 percent whiff rate and a 21 percent called strike rate. Locke had been a good control pitcher for much of his minor league career, so it's not unthinkable that he could be breaking out. If he sustains this progress, Locke will likely rank higher in future weeks, but he will need to keep building on his consistency first.
23. Drew Hutchison, TOR (vs. MIL, at OAK)
Hutchison is yet another pitcher who has become more prone to allowing contact, but the change hasn't hurt him. Through his first eight starts, he was blowing hitters away with a 12 percent whiff rate and a 9.7 K/9 ratio, but that didn't keep them from getting nearly a hit per inning against him (44 hits in 45 1/3 innings). He was an apparent victim of bad luck on balls in play, allowing a .331 BABIP, which is especially high for a flyball pitcher. Rather than shying away from allowing balls in play, Hutchison has been throwing strikes on roughly two-thirds of his pitches since then (as opposed to his earlier rate of 63 percent), and while only 7 percent of his pitches have resulted in whiffs, he has been allowing hits at a slightly lower rate, thanks to a .257 BABIP. This trend is all of eight games old, so it may not stick, but throwing more strikes is usually a good thing. Maybe Hutchison will go all Yankees-version Phil Hughes on us, but a combination of good control and flyball outs could just as easily make him a productive pitcher in Week 14.
24. Tim Lincecum, SF (vs. STL, at SD)
Lincecum's inclusion in this list is owed solely to a rematch with the Padres, against whom he tossed a no-hitter on Wednesday. The Friars make many opposing pitchers look far more imposing than they do against other lineups, and Lincecum has enough going for him to make another strong performance seem plausible. Expectations for Lincecum should still be tempered, even though he now has a 3.00 ERA over his last four starts with just four walks. He threw only 62 percent of his pitches for strikes over that span, so it's not as if Lincecum has solved his control issues for once and for all. The Cardinals are a fairly selective bunch at the plate, so they could put a dent in an already tarnished K-to-BB ratio, but the Padres could still manage to help Lincecum have a decent week.