by Ray Kuhn
Not only are Major League teams debating this week about whether they are buyers or sellers, fantasy owners are doing the exactly same thing. This could be the week of reckoning and every start you have is valuable. As it is starting pitchers only pitch once every five days, so these outings must be maximized. With that being said, let’s take a look at some of those options this week.
Studs that never should be benched:
- RA Dickey – vs. Washington and @ Arizona
- Gio Gonzalez – @ New York Mets and @ Milwaukee
- Roy Halladay – vs. Milwaukee and @ Atlanta
- Felix Hernandez – vs. New York Yankees and vs. Kansas City
- Clayton Kershaw – @ St. Louis and @ San Francisco
- Mat Latos – @ Houston and @ Colorado
- CJ Wilson – vs. Kansas City and vs. Tampa Bay
- Jordan Zimmerman – @ New York Mets and @ Milwaukee
Five Pitchers that should be starting in every format:
James McDonald – vs. Chicago Cubs and @ Houston. McDonald has been one of the biggest pitching surprises this season for fantasy owners. In 18 starts there have only been two where he allowed more than 3 runs. As owners wait for McDonald to come down to earth, he recently had a rough outing against the Brewers giving up 5 runs on 8 hits in 4.2 innings. To some, they will view this start as the beginning of the end for McDonald. However, he is someone who has been incredibly efficient all season with a WHIP of 1.05 and ERA of 2.59 so his 9 wins did not come as a result of the Pirates offense. He is facing two offenses that are not exactly imposing this week, and as the Pirates continue to roll their ace should be starting in all formats.
Hiroki Kuroda – @ Seattle and vs. Boston. Aside from his last two starts against the Angels and Red Sox, Kuroda has been unaffected by the move to the AL East. His WHIP is a little on the high side at 1.26 and his ERA is 3.67 which is above average for where it was projected to be. In the ten starts prior to his recent implosion, Kuroda was dominating to the tune of a 2.90 ERA. Pitching in Seattle should be pretty close to a guaranteed win for Kuroda and the Yankees. In the last two outings, Kuroda limited the majority of his damage to one inning which at worst gives the Yankees offense time to still get him the win as he pitches deep into the game. The crafty right hander should pitch better this time out against the Red Sox and the chance for two wins is too good to pass up.
Ryan Vogelsong – vs. San Diego and vs. Los Angeles Dodgers. After a surprisingly good 2011, Vogelsong opened the season on rough footing but has recovered nicely since the first month. Although he is not a hard thrower (77 strikeouts in 110.2 innings), he has been able to dominate the opposition and keep hitters from reaching base (1.12 WHIP). That, coupled with starting two games this week in his friendly home park, makes him a must start for your team. Going into the All Star break Vogelsong was on a streak of 13 consecutive quality starts and with an ERA of 2.36, you cannot ask for anything more.
Josh Johnson – vs. Atlanta and vs. San Diego. As Johnson entered this season healthy, fantasy owners were optimistic for a return to form from the big righty. In this up and down season, that has not exactly been the case. Johnson was on a nice 5 start run where he was rewarding his owners for their patience but in his next two outings he took a step backwards by giving up 5 runs in each start. This week Johnson takes the hill twice in an effort to atone. Since he was most likely in your lineup for both of those starts, I would make sure you get him in your lineup for these two starts so he can reverse some of that damage. And at the very least, he does have 91 strikeouts so that is one category he is helping in, plus his start against the Padres should be winnable and at the very least kind to Johnson’s ratios.
Zack Greinke – @ Philadelphia and vs. Washington. Greinke had an interesting stretch of starts around the All-Star break, and it is debatable if he will be a Brewer to make both of these starts. But he is still an ace and should be starting. It was a little odd that he was scratched from what would have been the start prior to facing the Phillies, but that is part of the deal with Greinke. He is 9-3 on the season with 117 strikeouts over 116 innings so he is clearly a must start. Hopefully the rest will be exactly what Greinke needs to dominate over the second half and I expect him to be on his game Tuesday. I would set my lineup accordingly.
Five That Must be Debated Based on Your Situation:
Justin Masterson – vs. Baltimore and @ Minnesota. Masterson came out of the All-Star break with a solid 7 inning winning performance against the Blue Jays. If you look at his recent work, his statistics are tainted by a bad start against Tampa Bay to close his first half. He doesn’t do anything great but is certainly a serviceable pitcher in a week where he is taking the hill twice. With 98 strikeouts over 121.2 innings, Masterson pitches deep into games and will give you a little nudge with respect to strikeouts. His 6-8 record is more of a product of the team he plays for, but by pitching deep into games he will give himself a chance to factor into the decision. His ERA of 4.14 and WHIP of 1.32 can do a little damage to your ratios but I would not be overly concerned about an implosion, especially against these two teams. In most formats unless you have 9 better options, I would expect to see Masterson starting this week.
Francisco Liriano- @ Chicago White Sox vs. Cleveland. Since May 30 Liriano has been exactly what his potential showed and what was expected of him the last few seasons. As long as he continues to pitch this way, he should not be benched. His 67 strikeouts over 57.1 innings could easily be the difference of a few points in the fantasy standings. A 2.83 ERA over that same span does not hurt either. I would still stay away from looking at his season statistics and just focus on these and the fact that Liriano is currently dominating hitters. Of course the possibility of an implosion must always be in the back of your mind more with Liriano more than with other pitchers, but that should not stop you from starting him right now.
Doug Fister – @ Cleveland and @ Toronto. Fister is a solid ground ball pitcher that can strike some batters out and pitches for a team with both a dominate offense but also a suspect defense. He will not pitch incredibly deep into games, but deep enough to be in line for a win. His walk totals are usually low but he will give up some hits and a few runs. Essentially Fister is an average pitcher who most likely is owned in your league. I probably would start him in all formats as he probably won’t hurt you much but there is the potential for 2 wins this week. You might want to take a chance and go with someone who has a higher ceiling, but Fister is more reliable.
Chris Young – vs. Washington and @ Arizona. Young is a solid and unspectacular starting pitcher, but sometimes pitchers like that could prove to be valuable when used correctly. This might be one of those weeks that Young should be started if you are lacking options and desperately searching for some wins. But with an ERA of 4.11 you might not find much ratio relief and could be taking on some risk. Young has pitched well against the Nationals this season and faces them in the comfort of Citi Field. He also has the propensity to give up home runs and does not strike many batters out. I would start Young on more of a last resort basis as he is always one pitch away from turning a solid outing into a stinker.
Erik Bedard – vs. Chicago Cubs and @ Houston. Bedard takes the mound twice this week for the first place Pirates against two offenses that are less than threatening. He has not made it easy this season for owners and recently had a 5 game run with an ERA of 7.99. This would scare me away from starting Bedard without a doubt, but he is a veteran pitcher that, despite his ERA of 4.55, has been able to pitch out of trouble this season. Granted his WHIP of 1.52 is frightening, but against these two teams you have to hope that he can limit the base runners. Starting Bedard is a little wiser than starting Young as he gives you a better chance at getting two wins with a little less risk.
Three for Thought:
Drew Pomeranz – @ Arizona and vs. Cincinnati. The big lefty seemed to be figuring it out with 3 quality starts over a 4 start stretch only allowing one combined run in those 3 starts. But then, over his last 2 starts, he regressed again (12 R over 8.0 IP) in what has been an up and down big league career so far. His problem has not been entirely walks but more just giving up hits in bunches and allowing those runners to score. Pomeranz has ugly ratios (4.99 ERA and 1.48 WHIP) and has not yet become a dominating strikeout pitcher. At this point Pomeranz is still a hit or miss pitcher and is not worth the risk unless you are desperate for options. But he is worth a bench spot for the rest of this season and next season if you are in a keeper league.
Lucas Harrell – vs. Cincinnati and vs. Pittsburgh. Harrell has been a pleasant surprise for the Astros managing to stay in the rotation for the entire season. Pitching for an Astros team that does not give him a lot of run support, he has a 7-7 record and more importantly for this week a 1.99 ERA at home where he pitches twice. Five starts ago his ERA was 5.07 but since then he has lowered it to 4.24 by sporting a 36 to 12 strikeout to walk ratio. Harrell has also lowered his WHIP to 1.33 but he does not overpower hitters as he has only 75 strikeouts over 114.2 innings. He does pitch deep into games and seems to have figured out how to limit the damage. If you are looking for a starting pitcher Harrell could be a nice option if he is still available in your league.
Felix Doubront – @ Texas and @ New York Yankees. With the Red Sox lineup restored to normal Doubront will be the recipient of more run support. In his last start Doubront registered his 10th win of the season as he has been a pleasant surprise for the Red Sox this season. The reason why he is in this category this week is due to his opponents. He has been hot in July so far but sports a career ERA of 9.95 against the Rangers and the Yankees are obviously always a tough opponent. With 99 strikeouts in 102 innings he can overpower hitters but his 4.24 ERA is not great and his WHIP of 1.36 is worrisome. If you have a better option this week, it might be wise to sit Doubront as there is a great amount of risk involved in starting him.
What are your thoughts on these options? Anybody else you have your eye on that could be a sneaky play this week?