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Starting pitchers for the second half

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Over the first couple of months of the season, much of our analysis of year-to-date stats focused on identifying flukes and how to treat them, but for the most part, starting pitchers have now gotten to the point of the season where it's hard to view what they've accomplished as fluky.

Starters can do a whole lot of pitching over 15 weeks, and samples of innings have grown to the extent that we can put a high degree of trust in many of their current stat lines. Even mid-rotation types have thrown 110 innings or more by now, but even with that much data to work with, there are a handful of pitchers who still appear poised for a change in fortune over the season's remaining 11 weeks.

The next lineup deadline in standard CBSSports.com weekly leagues doesn't come until Friday, so if you have found yourself short on time to ferret out the best buy-low and sell-high pitching targets, this column will give you a place to start. With a four-day break just ahead, the call of the waiver wire will be a little fainter, so you can reinvest that time in working the trade market (or maybe just devoting more attention to the rest of your life).

I have featured five starters who have a strong chance to increase their value after the All-Star break, along with another five who may have nowhere to go but down, and each represents a great buy-low or sell-high opportunity, respectively.

Each of these pitchers could see their value change dramatically after the break, and once games resume, your window to take advantage of the opportunities could close quickly. Friday will get here sooner than you think, so let's get on with a look at 10 pitchers who could help to alter the course of your Fantasy season.

Note: Season-to-date stats are current for games played through Friday, July 11.

Pitchers due for increased value

Jeff Samardzija, Athletics: When the A's acquired Samardzija last weekend, it appeared to be nothing but a positive for the ex-Cub. Not only was he migrating to a much better home park for pitchers, but he was moving from one of the worst offensive teams in the majors to one of the best. So far, Samardzija hasn't received much of a bump in run support, as the A's have scored six times in his two starts, keeping him just behind Eric Stults for the majors' lowest level of run support. That is bound to change over time, but what hasn't changed is Samardzija's improved control and ground ball tendencies. While there is no reason to think that Samardzija will slow down his ERA, WHIP or strikeout pace, he is all but certain to dramatically improve his 3-8 record. That should elevate him into the top 25 starting pitchers rest of season.

Ian Kennedy, Padres: With a 9.7 K/9 ratio and vastly improved control, Kennedy also has the profile of a top 25 starting pitcher, yet he falls outside the top 40 in Fantasy points. Some of that can be chalked up to the bad luck that befalls pitching for the Padres, as Kennedy has received the third-lowest level of run support (2.95 runs per nine innings) for a qualifying starter. He has also been hurt by a 25 percent line drive rate that could just as easily be the result of luck as of a shortcoming. If Kennedy reduces that line drive rate -- and the .333 BABIP it helped to produce -- he could have an ERA closer to the 3.09 xFIP he has posted to date. Should the Padres trade him, he should also be able to improve upon his 7-9 record. Kennedy is better than his 3.71 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, so even if he remains a Padre, he should prove to be a good buy-low target.

Jake Odorizzi, Rays: If Kennedy has been unlucky, then Odorizzi has been a walking calamity. He, too, has been a victim of poor run support, receiving 3.39 runs per nine innings, and worse yet, opponents have somehow managed to hit .376 on ground balls against him. Even a horrible infield defense wouldn't yield a batting average 100 points lower than that, and the Rays' infield defense just isn't that bad. Meanwhile, the offense has perked up recently, so Odorizzi should be able to build on his meager four wins. Though Odorizzi has the fifth-highest K/9 ratio (10.4) among qualifying starters, his Fantasy value is nowhere close to being on a par with the likes of strikeout artists like Stephen Strasburg and Yu Darvish, because he allows too many walks and flyballs. Owners may have to suffer through the walks, but a favorable second-half schedule should limit the threat of home runs. The Rays' first 17 games after the break will take place in pitchers' parks, and aside from a 10-game August road trip, they will play most of the rest of their games at home, where Odorizzi has a career 3.38 ERA. He could have a dramatically better second half.

Trevor Bauer, Indians: Bauer's best work came earlier this season, but as his ERA climbed above 4.00 in June, he kept his strikeout rate above one per inning. That has changed over his last four starts, as Bauer has been much more prone to contact, getting just 18 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings and whiffs on only 6 percent of his pitches. If Bauer continues that trend, he will have a hard time getting his ERA back under 4.00, but less than a month ago, he had an 11 percent whiff rate on the season. Granted, that encompassed all of seven starts, but it showed what Bauer is capable of. We should also not lose perspective on the fact that Bauer has made huge strides in reducing his walk rate, and we shouldn't rule out further progress on that front as well. There haven't been many promising signs of late, but the potential for Bauer to combine a high K-rate along with decent control is still there, and he could realize it in the weeks to come.

Danny Salazar, Indians: Even during a difficult seven-start stint with the Indians at the beginning of the season, Salazar's ability to miss bats never betrayed him. He simply had problems throwing strikes, which was odd for him, because control had typically been a strength. A six-walk performance on Thursday aside, Salazar has rediscovered his control in his starts at Triple-A Columbus, and he has improved to the point where Indians manager Terry Francona told the The News-Herald he could pitch one of the doubleheader games at the Tigers on July 19. That could open the door for Salazar to return to the Indians' rotation on a permanent basis, particularly if T.J. House or Zach McAllister fail to seize the fifth starter's spot or if Justin Masterson is slow to return from a knee injury. The biggest lingering concern with Salazar is his high flyball rate, but with improved control, he should fall behind in the count less often, make better pitches and keep the ball in the park at a reasonable rate. If Salazar stays on his current course and gets promoted, he could be a reliable mixed league option down the stretch.

Pitchers due for decreased value

Anibal Sanchez, Tigers: To judge by Sanchez's 6-3 record, 3.04 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, he appears to be having another strong season, yet he is neither a top 50 starting pitcher in standard points leagues or a top 50 pitcher in standard Rotisserie formats. Sanchez has been light on strikeouts, recording 70 of them over 94 2/3 inning, after falling just short of 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings a year ago. He has been inconsistent in getting swinging strikes, and it was hardly surprising that Sanchez recorded just three strikeouts and six whiffs over seven innings on Thursday night against a Royals lineup that is the one the majors' best at making contact. It's part of a recent pattern in which Sanchez has struggled to keep the ball out of play against good contact-hitting teams, and the schedule won't help him much coming out the break, with series against the Indians, Diamondbacks, Yankees and Blue Jays in the initial weeks. Sanchez has gotten away with these types of performances because he has allowed a .172 batting average on grounders and just three home runs over his 16 starts. Neither rate is even close to sustainable, so now is as good of a time as any to sell Sanchez high, before his ERA and WHIP start to show some wear and tear.

Doug Fister, Nationals: We have come to expect Fister to be a reliable option in standard mixed leagues, but that hasn't always been the case. Since coming to the Tigers from the Mariners just before the 2011 trade deadline, Fister went from being a contact pitcher to a close-to-average strikeout pitcher. Given that Fister already had outstanding control, this was enough to give him much greater Fantasy relevance. In his first season with the Nationals, Fister has looked much more like he did in his Mariners days, getting whiffs on 5.5 percent of his pitches and 5.2 strikeouts per nine innings. His control is as good as ever, but without a better K-rate, he's not much better than Rick Porcello or Kyle Gibson and has fallen behind Henderson Alvarez among the ranks of contact pitchers. Only an 80 percent strand rate is keeping Fister from an ERA in the upper 3.00s, and he's not likely to maintain that. If Fister can inch up his strikeout rate, maybe he can sustain his current value, but with three strikeouts or fewer in five of his last six starts, that's looking unlikely.

Jose Quintana, White Sox: Quintana is in the midst of a five-game hot streak that has given his season-to-date numbers a lustre they didn't have just a month ago. In each start during this run, Quintana has lasted at least seven innings, notched at least six strikeouts and compiled a 1.51 ERA. He has not been a markedly different pitcher over this time, except for the fact that he has racked up a 22 percent called strike rate, which is five percentage points higher than the mark he posted prior to this stretch this year, as well as for all of last year. Quintana has benefitted from facing three teams during this run -- the Twins, Blue Jays and Red Sox -- who are among the majors' least likely teams to swing. Not only is Quintana's K-rate due for regression, but so is his homer rate. He has allowed only one home run over 43 2/3 innings at U.S. Cellular Field, which continues to be one of the American League's most notorious launching pads. Quintana's current 3.24 ERA and 8.1 K/9 ratio may make him look like an emerging stud, but this is probably as good as it will get for him.

Alfredo Simon, Reds: Especially for a converted reliever, Simon has been impressive as an innings eater, lasting at least seven innings in half of his 18 starts and pitching at least six frames in all but two of them. It's helped that Simon has been stingy with walks, issuing only 28 over 116 2/3 innings, but a .158 batting average allowed on ground balls has also helped him work through innings quickly. With that batting average due to rise, Simon is a strong candidate for WHIP regression. His 2.70 ERA is due for an even greater correction, as it has also been helped by a fluky-high 81 percent strand rate. Simon is currently 11th in Fantasy Points among starting pitchers and second among SPARPs, but going forward, he'll be far from an automatic start in leagues where you can use him as a reliever. Get what you can for him now on the trade market.

Jesse Chavez, Athletics: Once the A's added Samardzija and Jason Hammel to their rotation, it became clear that they now possessed the depth to put Chavez back in a relief role once his innings count got too high. That alone is a reason to consider trading Chavez, but even if innings weren't a concern, he would still profile as a regression candidate. He leads the majors with 5.83 runs of support per nine innings, and as prolific as Oakland's offense is, it probably won't be quite that robust in future starts. Also, Chavez's ground ball rate has fallen in each successive month, ever since he posted a 49 percent rate in April. Chavez has been fair away from O.co Coliseum so far, with a 3.86 ERA over 10 starts, but he could be an outright liability in hitter's parks if he doesn't curb his growing flyball rate.

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Player News
Angels pitcher Mike Morin tagged for three-run homer Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:14 am ET) Angels pitcher Mike Morin lasted just 1/3 of an inning Saturday in Los Angeles' 4-0 loss to the Astros. Morin served up a three-run home run to Robbie Grossman on a 1-0 pitch in the seventh, leading to the Angels' loss.

"We know the dimensions of the ballpark," Morin said. "I didn't execute the pitch -- bottom line."

Morin has posted a 4.91 ERA in 3 2/3 innings this season and may be fighting for a role with his struggles.

"I trust Sosh completely," said Morin. "It has nothing to do with that. I'll be ready day in and day out, whether it's the second inning or the 10th or the seventh. It's not weighing on my mind at all."


Rockies surprising 2B LeMahieu cranks first homer Saturday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:45 am ET) Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu had his nine-game hitting streak to start the season snapped Friday night. He apparently didn't take too kindly to it.

LeMahieu, a hot hitter on a hot-hitting team, provided most of the offense in a loss to the Dodgers with a two-run homer in the seventh inning off standout right-hander Zack Greinke. The RBI give him eight on the year and the performance improved his slash line to an impressive .463/.476/.585.


Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis thriving early this season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:43 am ET) Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis has ripped through the first two weeks of the season with a bang, hitting .333 in 45 at-bats. Manager John Gibbons loves the way the rookie is playing this season.

"He's got the complete game, he really does," Gibbons said. "He was such a good hitter in spring training I thought to myself: 'This kid will hit some home runs in his career.' But he's shown a lot more power than I expected."

Gibbons is handling things at the plate like an old veteran, according to Gibbons.

"One thing he's got that's advanced for a young guy is he's got a great approach at the plate, he doesn't chase out of the zone much. He's got the ability to foul off tough pitches to stay alive and a lot of guys can't do that. And he handles breaking balls, at least fouls them off, and that's a big part of it. He stays alive and if they make a mistake he doesn't miss it. He's been very productive."


Blue Jays manager just fine with Kevin Pillar's aggressive style of play
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:38 am ET) Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has no issue with how outfielder Kevin Pillar attacks the game head on, reports the Toronto Sun. He will deal with the slight issues that comes with his aggressiveness.

"I love the fact that he's aggressive, he can pull off some catches that a lot of guys don't make," Gibbons said. "It depends on the situation, some balls you can't get to, them back off. But he's always had that mindset (to go get it) and that's what allows him to be so good and make those plays. A lot of guys don't. But he's smart enough too to know there's certain times he's got to back off too."

Pillar doesn't think he's overly aggressive.

"He believes he's going to make it, that's why he makes a lot of them," Gibbons added. "There's no hesitation with him at all. He's got a ton of confidence when he's playing that outfield, really in his whole game. When he's on the bases he's a confident kid too."


Adrian Gonzalez drives in three more for Dodgers on Saturday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:37 am ET) The 2015 RBI Machine, otherwise known as Adrian Gonzalez, was at it again Saturday night.

The Dodgers slugger not only boasts a ridiculous batting average of .523, which actually went down in the game but he added three RBI to his total, giving him 14 in 11 games. He brought home a run with a fielder's choice in the third and singled in two in the fifth. Gonzalez owns an eye-popping slugging percentage of 1.045.

He has struck out just three times in 44 at-bats on the year.


Dodgers closer Peralta overcomes pain in neck to be pain in neck to Rockies
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:30 am ET) For a guy considered questionable to pitch with a neck issue, Dodgers closer Joel Peralta was certainly impressive Saturday night.

Peralta was a pain in the neck to the Rockies. He closed them down with a shutout inning, yielding only a walk along the way to notch his third save.

The right-hander has yet to surrender a run in six outings as he holds down the role for the injured Kenley Jansen.


Rockies starter Lyles can't compete against Greinke in defeat
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:24 am ET) Opposing pitchers must be sharp when matched up against Dodgers stud Zack Greinke. Rockies right-hander Jordan Lyles was not sharp Saturday night. The result was his first loss of the season.

Lyles walked five in six innings. He also gave up five hits and four earned runs. He was hanging in there until a two-run single by Adrian Gonazalez in the fifth stretched the Los Angeles lead to 4-1.

His ERA jumped more than a point to 3.50, but he will have a chance to lower it Thursday against San Diego.


Mariners catcher Mike Zunino rips first home run of the year
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:17 am ET) Mariners catcher Mike Zunino went 1 for 3 at the plate in Seattle's 3-1 win over the Rangers Saturday. Zunino did his damage in the fifth when he smacked the first pitch he saw from Colby Lewis over the left center field wall for a solo home run, his first of the year.

Zunino, who also struck out twice, boosted his average to .139 in 36 at-bats this season.


Dodgers RHP Greinke good enough for second win Saturday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:16 am ET) Good was good enough Saturday night for Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke.

Greinke was dominant in his first two starts this season. He was merely good against the hot-hitting Rockies and that earned him his second win.

Only a two-run homer by DJ LeMahieu in the seventh inning really marred his performance. He finished having yielded three earned runs on five hits in 6 2/3 inning with one walk and three strikeouts. His ERA nearly doubled to a still-wonderful 1.83.

Greinke has now allowed just 12 hits and two walks in 19 2/3 innings. He will try to continue his fine start Thursday in San Francisco.


Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis knocked around for 10 hits in loss
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:14 am ET) Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis allowed three runs on 10 hits in Texas' 3-1 loss to the Mariners Saturday. 

Lewis worked efficiently through the first three innings before running into issues in the fourth. Lewis allowed a sacrifice fly to Seth Smith, allowing Robinson Cano to score. Then in the fifth, Lewis surrendered a leadoff home run to Mike Zunino.

"I thought he settled in nicely and pitched a heckuva game," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said to MLB.com. "He made pitches and he mixed pitches. I felt good with the way Colby was throwing."

Brad Miller then tripled in the sixth, driving in Kyle Seager, before getting pulled.

"There wasn't one inning that was easy," Lewis said. "I didn't get any quick innings. I was always working out of the stretch. I was just trying to keep it close like I always do."

Lewis, now 1-1, boasts a 3.79 ERA and will look to get back on track Saturday against the Angels.


 
 
 
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