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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
Report: Scott Downs only interested in Major League offers
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(8:58 pm ET) Pitcher Scott Downs was released by the Indians on Monday, but the left hander is only interested in offers that include a spot on a team's Major League roster, according to a report by Major League Trade Rumors.

Downs had a 2.84 ERA in seven games this spring.  


Athletics' Billy Burns credits larger bat for spring hot streak
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(8:54 pm ET) Athletics outfielder Billy Burns is hitting .381 this spring and leads the Majors with 24 hits. 

Burns credits a change to a larger bat for the increased production. Minor league hitting coordinator Greg Sparks suggested the move, to a bat that was one ounce heavier and half an inch longer. He believed it would help improve the switch-hitting Burns' left-handed swing. 

"I was using a skinnier, more balanced model and now it’s a bigger barrel, heavier," Burns said, per the San Francisco Chronicle. "I choke up so I can handle it but have more oomph behind it. more force. Then we worked on the mental approach of attacking the baseball from the left side. Instead of being more passive and trying to go the other way, attack the ball."

Burns is hitting .432 from the left side of the plate this spring. 


Report: Astros add Joe Thatcher to MLB roster
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(8:48 pm ET) The Astros are adding LHP Joe Thatcher to the Opening Day roster, according to a report by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, citing a source.

Thatcher signed a minor league deal with the team on February 13 and was invited to Major League camp as a non-roster player. 

Thatcher had a 1.35 ERA in seven games with five strikeouts in six and two thirds innings. 


Rangers P Lisalverto Bonilla shelled in 11-7 loss to Royals
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:43 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Lisalverto Bonilla had a rough outing in which he gave up five hits and seven earned runs in just one-third inning in an 11-7 loss to the Royals. 

Bonilla retired only one batter in eight tries. He walked one batter, struck out another and surrendered a home run. 

"The inning kind of got away from Bonilla," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said, via the Associated Press. "He fell behind and his pitch count got up. It was inconsistency. The home run looked like it might have been middle-middle. It's not an outing you'd want to see."


Red Sox closer Koji Uehara likely to begin year on disabled list
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(8:20 pm ET) Red Sox closer Koji Uehara is likely to begin the season on the disabled list, reports ESPN. After throwing 30 pitches in a bullpen session on Monday, Uehara is still having issues with his left hamstring. He hasn't taken the mound since March 14th.

Manager John Farrell said, “I don’t think there’s anything to suggest that come next Monday, he’s in our bullpen.”

“I think I’m going to start on the DL just because I haven’t had the games in,” Uehara said through interpreter C.J. Matsumoto. “If that is the case, if I start on the DL, it will certainly be a disappointment.”

Uehara knows that this is a process, and he is unsure of when he'll return to the mound.

“I don’t know when I’ll be back,” he said. “It’s a day-to-day process. I have to do what I have to do to get ready.”

Farrell was asked about how the bullpen will shape up heading into the beginning of the season.

“I don’t have seven names to give you right now,” he said. “We’ve still got some things to determine. How we’re going to determine the rotation, whether we go with an additional left-hander or right-hander, what the ramifications of Koji coming out of the mix for the short run. Does that likely move Edward [Mujica] back into the closing role?

“I do know this: We’re at a point in camp when guys are throwing the ball as expected, and that includes Robbie Ross. That’s Matt Barnes. Brandon Workman’s last time out was encouraging, so as we get to the final week of camp here, the guys we felt would be in contention for spots are moving in the right direction.”

Uehara, 40, has pitched in three games this spring, posting an ERA of 6.00, six hits given up with three strikeouts.


Cardinals' Dean Anna to work at three infield positions in minors
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(8:19 pm ET) Cardinals infielder Dean Anna , sent to the minor leagues on Sunday, will work at second base, third base and shortstop at Triple-A Memphis, manager Mike Matheny said, per MLB.com.

Anna hit .200 in 20 spring at bats with the Cards. 


Tigers pitcher Joba Chamberlain not worried about spring struggles
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:16 pm ET) Tigers pitcher Joba Chamberlain hasn't exactly lit it up in spring training. In eight appearances, Chamberlain has posted an 8.22 ERA with just two strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings pitched. He and his manager Brad Ausmus aren't worried, reports MLB.com.

"I've said all along that spring training, with veteran players especially, I don't put a lot of stock in it," Ausmus said. "I would go more on Joba's performance last year as an indicator than on what happens in Spring Training. I think Joba's also a guy that pitches on the adrenaline of the situation. And there's not a lot of adrenaline in spring training games, even moreso if you've been in the big leagues for a few years."

Chamberlain is throwing a bit harder this spring than previous years.

"This isn't my first rodeo. I've been in this position," Chamberlain said. "You've got to know what you have to work on. It's a neverending battle. I don't know if I've ever seen anybody with a zero-zero ERA, so there's always something to work on."


Cardinals' Tommy Pham's quad still not right after minor league test
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(8:14 pm ET) Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham had three plate appearances in a minor league game on Monday. It was his first game since March 12, when strained his left quadricep. 

Pham didn't play the field, and after batting, he reported that the quad was "still tight" and "not right", per MLB.com.


Rockies P LaTroy Hawkins rocked for 5 hits in one-third inning
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:13 pm ET) Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins had a rough outing in Monday's 11-2 loss to the Athletics. 

Hawkins gave up five hits in only one-third inning, which included a three-run home run from Athletics third baseman Brett Lawrie. 

“Hawk just left some balls high and up over the plate,” Rockies manager Walt Weiss said, via The Denver Post.


Tigers pitcher Joe Nathan pitches fine after hangnail issue
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:09 pm ET) Tigers pitcher Joe Nathan felt just fine in his one scoreless inning of work Monday after dealing with a hang nail on his thumb a few days ago, reports MLB.com.

"He threw some good two-seam fastballs," manager Brad Ausmus said. "Really, the single was a swinging bunt. He did a good job."

Nathan has now tossed eight scoreless innings in 11 appearances this spring.


 
 
 
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