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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
White Sox's Gordon Beckham working at multiple infield positions
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:30 pm ET) Gordon Beckham's main goal this spring training is to win the White Sox's starting second baseman position. 

But for now, the White Sox are planning to use him at multiple positions in the infield during Cactus League play, according to MLB.com. This is somewhat new for Beckham, as he played second base during his first five-plus Major League seasons with the White Sox. 

Though Beckham is looking to earn the starting job at second base, he seems to be enjoying playing multiple spots so far. 

"I'm actually kind of enjoying running around," Beckham said. "I like popping around the infield. I know the coaches and the people making the decisions know I can play second base and know I can play it well. There has been an emphasis on them just telling me to get some work in other places."

Beckham actually played shortstop in college at the University of Georgia and played that position, as well as third base, after the White Sox traded him to the Angels. He was brought back to Chicago on a one-year deal. 

Beckham hit a single-season worse .226 for both the Angels and White Sox a season ago. 


Giants' Tim Lincecum to 'piggyback' starter this week
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:20 pm ET) Giants manager Bruce Bochy said pitcher Tim Lincecum will see a relief appearance early this week, according to MLB.com

Lincecum is generating rave reviews for his performance early on in spring training. However, he won't be getting a start this week. Bochy said Lincecum will "piggyback" either Madison Bumgarner (Tuesday), Jake Peavy (Wednesday), Ryan Vogelsong (Thursday) or Yusmeiro Petit (Friday) this week. 

This means Lincecum will come in and get a starter's workload in relief. 


Giants' Jake Peavy to start Wednesday for Giants
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:16 pm ET) Following Madison Bumgarner's exhibition start on Tuesday, the Giants will go with Jake Peavy to start Wednesday's Cactus League game against the Athletics, manager Bruce Bochy announced via MLB.com

Ryan Vogelsong will pitch Thursday against the Cubs and Yusmeiro Petit will go Friday against the Rangers. 


Phillies pitcher Paul Clemens fighting for spot in bullpen
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:16 pm ET) Phillies pitcher Paul Clemens has been told he has a great arm. But Clemens, who posted a 5.51 ERA in 48 appearances with the Astros over the last two years, knows it'll take more than that.

"Some pitching coaches tell me how incredible my arm is and that I could play for a long time, so I think I've been showing some guys what I bring to the table," Clemens said. "I had a couple really good conversations with front office and some guys around here, so it's definitely motivating."

He wants to be able to pick out his spots better during spring training, knowing he has to impress as a non-roster invitee.

"Sometimes I think I get too overzealous with my fastball and I just pound it and pound it and pound it. So picking my spots more, being smarter. You can't really challenge guys at this level. Once in a while you've got to pick your spots, but you can't challenge too many guys, even the guys you don't really know their names as much. You've still got to pitch."


Athletics to ease Coco Crisp into action this spring
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:08 pm ET) Athletics manager Bob Melvin wants to take things slow with veteran outfielder Coco Crisp this spring, reports MLB.com.

"I'll probably hold him out the first few because I'm going to cut down on his workload," Melvin said Sunday.

Crisp, who is dealing with a case of pinkeye, was held out of an intrasquad scrimmage, even though he was able to take part in batting practice.


Cardinals' Jhonny Peralta hoping to recreate 2014 season in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:05 pm ET) Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta wants to be able to do a lot of the things he succeeded doing in 2014. 

"I think what I did last year was pretty good for my first year in the National League," Peralta said. "I felt good about the home runs I hit. I know the average wasn't at .300, but I finished better than I started."

Peralta hit .263 with 21 home runs and 75 RBI in 560 plate appearances. His manager, Mike Matheny, wants to see a similar guy in 2015.

"He's been very consistent with getting himself ready and what he needs to do and who he needs to be. He came in here last year with a very workmanlike approach and went about it to build up for opening day," Matheny said.


Braves' Tanner Murphy drawing praise from bullpen coach
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:43 pm ET) Braves catcher Tanner Murphy is feeling the love this spring. The second-year player is being tabbed by bullpen coach Eddie Perez as the guy to watch in spring training.

"He's my number one guy so far," Perez said. "It's nice to have somebody like him because you don't know what's going to happen. When you look at this kid, you know something good is going to happen."

Murphy played just 82 games of rookie ball last year.

"He's got some talent and he's got some ability," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I saw him throw to the bases. (Catching instructor) Joe Breeden has seen him the most and Joe likes him a lot."


Jim Henderson throws off mound Sunday where season ended last year
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:02 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Jim Henderson completed his first session against live batters Sunday and felt a weight lift off his shoulders, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"That same mound I threw on just now was the same mound that I realized the season was over on last year, so I was thinking about that when I got out there," Henderson said.

"I was like, ‘Forget this mound.’ It was kind of one of those moments where it was like this is where it ended and this is where it's going to begin again."

Henderson threw against three batters in Sunday's practice.

"It went well," he said. "It was just more of getting the feel out there today. Seeing the hitters and getting on a game mound again, just trying to get the feel back. That’s what I was looking for out of it – that competitiveness – and that’s what I got out of it."


Cubs' Joe Maddon impressed by Kris Bryant
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5:59 pm ET) Cubs manager Joe Maddon said third baseman Kris Bryant has been one of the most impressive position players this spring, reports MLB.com

"He's solid, he's motivated," Maddon said. "He's got a really nice way about him. He's really good, he knows he's really good, but he carries that very well. I like that. False humility doesn't do anything. It's kind of a worthless quality. I think his humility is sincere, but he also knows that he's good."

Despite Maddon's endorsement of Bryant, Maddon would not commit to Bryant making the Opening Day roster.

"Somewhere," Maddon said. "There's all kinds of Opening Days."


Nationals' Nate McLouth nearly done with throwing program
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:56 pm ET) Nationals outfielder Nate McLouth is getting towards the end of his throwing program to rehab his injured shoulder, reports MLB.com. But, manager Matt Williams doesn't want to take any chances with the injury flaring back up for McLouth.

"Once he gets sore, then we got to shut him down for a few days," Williams said. "So we don't want to get there."

McLouth is recovering from shoulder surgery that took place in August to repair a torn labrum. He is getting close to adding more distance to long toss.

"It doesn't hurt, and nothing I've done has made it hurt at all," McLouth said. "So it's fine. Now it's just a matter of getting more distance."


 
 
 
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