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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
Brewers' Lucroy could get into spring game sooner than expected
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:32 pm ET) Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy is progressing fast enough in his recovery from a right hamstring strain that he could play in spring games sooner than expected. Lucroy wasn't expected to get into spring games until the last week or two of spring training, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"I think it’ll be a lot sooner than that," Lucroy said Friday. "I feel pretty good already but obviously we’re going to be cautiously optimistic about it and take our time. There’s no sense in rushing it because I’m sure I’ll get plenty of playing time so I’m not really too worried about it."

Manager Ron Roenicke confirmed Lucroy's new timetable.

"We talked to the minor-league side to see what they have going on, and they’ve got some simulated games or BP starting the 11th," Roenicke said. "Luc would like to see some live pitching before so we’ll try to pick some spots before to see if we can get him feeling pretty comfortable before he starts some games.

"The timing of it, the way I look at it on the schedule, we have a lot of games left once he starts playing. So I think we’ll be OK with it."


Orioles 2B Jonathan Schoop working on improving plate discipline
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:25 pm ET) Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop did not have a good strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2014, and he knows it. Orioles hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh has already declared he wants Schoop to show more patience at the plate in 2015, and Schoop seems to be on board with the strategy, per CSNBaltimore.com.

“I have to swing at strikes more, see more pitches. If you swing at strikes, you get better pitches,” said Schoop, who struck out 122 times and walked just 13 times last year. “I want to get better at everything. I want to get better than last year. If you want to get better, you have to work at everything.

“Walks are going to come. I’m not going in there to walk. I’m the type of hitter that’s aggressive. I want to swing the bat. The walks, I want them to go up, but I’m not going in there to walk. I’m going in there to swing. Hopefully be selective and swing at strikes. If they throw me four balls, I’ll take the base.”


Giants reassign Turley, Blackburn, Black to minor-league camp
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:18 pm ET) The Giants announced Friday they reassigned pitcher Nik Turley, pitcher Clayton Blackburn and pitcher Ray Black to minor-league camp. Blackburn is considered the Giants' fifth-best prospect by Baseball America.

Phillies ace Cole Hamels throws scoreless innings in spring debut
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:09 pm ET) Phillies starting pitcher Cole Hamels, who is seeking a trade, took the hill for the first time this spring Friday against the Yankees. Amid rainy conditions, the left-hander allowed one hit and no walks, while striking out two in two shutout innings.

"I guess that’s what you want to do, get in there, throw strikes and execute," Hamels said, per The Philadelphia Daily News. "I’ve been in a lot of springs and I know what I’m supposed to do with a certain pitch count and the first game and trying to build up. I’m not trying to go out there and blow by everybody. I’m just trying to hit my spots. I wasn't able to do it as much. But if you’re able to throw strikes, then I think that works. I had a general area that I needed to throw it in and I think I was able to do so."


Matt Harvey pitches like an ace in return to action for Mets
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:04 pm ET) Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey pitched in a game Friday against the Tigers for the first time in about 18 months, and the team couldn't have scripted a better outcome

Harvey, who made his first start since undergoing Tommy John surgery in Oct. 2013, threw two perfect innings during Friday's spring game and reached as high as 99 mph on the radar gun.

"I feel like I never left," Harvey said, per MLB.com. "I could tell the ball was coming out good. I think I let a few go, but for the most part I was really trying to stay loose and hit my spots, and I felt pretty confident with that."

Harvey began the game with a strikeout of Anthony Gose on a 98 mph fastball. He then broke the bats of Jose Iglesias and Rajai Davis on grounders. 

Harvey returned in the second inning with a flyout and two more strikeouts. He threw 25 pitches.


Rays' Cash expecting Desmond Jennings to play a lot in LF
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:56 pm ET) Rays manager Kevin Cash said outfielder Desmond Jennings will play a lot in left field this season, per MLB.com.

"That was part of the coversations we've had in the offseason, and we're very much on board with that," Cash said.

Jennings is a skilled center fielder, but Kevin Kiermaier is considered a strong defender with an above-average arm, which gives Cash options for his defensive alignment. Playing in left field could also be a way for the Rays to keep Jennings in the lineup and off of the trainer's table.

"Part of the thought we've had, we know there's more in there, [Jennings] knows there's more in there," Cash said. "He had some hiccups last year with health, staying on the field. So it's tough to really gauge a guy when you're battling some injury issues throughout the course of the year. But you look at certain parts of his seasons, and he's done some unbelievable things."


Tigers SS Jose Iglesias exits Friday's game due to shin contusion
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:43 pm ET) The Tigers front office and coaching staff probably held their breath for a bit when shortstop Jose Iglesias left Friday's spring game against the Mets with a right shin contusion, seeing how Iglesias missed all of the 2014 season with fractures in both of his shins.

However, it doesn't appear Iglesias suffered a major injury or setback, as the Tigers said his injury is not related to last year's injuries.

"I slid too late and hit it in the wrong spot, but I'll be fine," he said, per the Detroit Free Press.

Iglesias was 1 for 2 with one run, one RBI and one stolen base before leaving Friday's game -- his second appearance this spring.


Blue Jays OF Jose Bautista scratched Friday with hamstring injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:31 pm ET) Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista was scratched from Friday's spring game against the Orioles due to right hamstring tightness.

Bautista played in a 155 games in 2014 after playing less than 120 games the previous two seasons. Bautista has totaled 187 home runs and slugged .559 since the 2010 season. He has been an All-Star for five straight years.


Cardinals CF Jon Jay (wrist) hoping to be ready by opening day
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2:26 pm ET) Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay is confident he'll be able to participate on opening day, according to MLB.com

Jay is recovering from a wrist injury which has limited him during the beginning of spring training. Jay said he's progressing enough to be ready by the time the regular season is set to start. 

"The timeline is to be ready April 5," Jay said. "I'm trying to be smart about it. I feel good with where I am now and how much time is left in camp."

The Cardinals open with the Cubs on opening day. 

Jay had wrist surgery last October after dealing with pain during the 2014 season. Despite the injury, Jay was still able to hit .303 with 46 RBI in 140 games. 


Rays OF David DeJesus leaves game after getting hit on arm
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:25 pm ET) Rays outfielder David DeJesus left Friday's spring game against the Twins in the bottom of the fourth inning after getting hit by a pitch on the arm. However, the injury didn't appear to be serious as DeJesus was laughing and joking around in the dugout, per the Tampa Bay Times.

DeJesus went 1 for 1 before leaving Friday's game.


 
 
 
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