<
>
Insider

Seeking long-term sleeper, bust pitchers

I went into the 2012 season thinking Tampa Bay Rays right-hander James Shields was about as safe as could be for fantasy owners and left-hander Matt Moore was a breakout star capable of taking home top rookie pitcher honors. Instead, these guys enter the second half of the season as major disappointments each on the outside of the top 50 for starting pitchers on the Player Rater. Their cumulative WHIP is 1.43. Those thinking it's a good time to buy low won't take solace in the fact the team's pending schedule for the next month might only make things more difficult.

Trusted ESPN colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft went to painstaking measures to map out each team's pitching rotation for the next four weeks (changes per team could be forthcoming, so keep checking), and the results are substantial: Some pitchers you might not be thinking about and might not even be owned in your league seem blessed with favorable schedules and should not be ignored. Others that you might be counting on heavily are quite the opposite. Perhaps you're a Shields or Moore owner and haven't really thought about it at all. Perhaps you really should.

The rating system measures the strength of the matchups, but also notes pitcher skill, ballpark and recent results as factors, which play a role in why Shields and Moore, for example, didn't fare so well. A simple look at the Rays' schedule might mislead some; after what could be a grueling home series with the offensively-charged Boston Red Sox, the Rays pitchers figure to fatten up on the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners. Well, the Tribe enter the second half 11th in runs scored. Later, the Rays face the improving Los Angeles Angels and formidable Toronto Blue Jays. The three tough matchups are enough to sway the overall results and make certain Rays more dangerous than others. Lefty David Price, for example, is scheduled to avoid the Angels and Blue Jays.

Ultimately, the chart can be interpreted a number of ways. Is a Moore owner simply going to drop this potential ace or deal him for Ty Wigginton simply due to a difficult schedule? Of course not. The goal here is to disseminate information potentially helpful in getting an extra edge on your opponents. There are caveats, of course, in that teams alter rotations seemingly at will and without provocation, and this assumes five-man rotations (except the Colorado Rockies) and no Rockies shenanigans with lower pitch counts. Plus, the MLB trade deadline falls in the midst of this stretch, and who knows whether Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels remain on schedule if traded, and who else would be affected.

For an example about how a manager's decision can affect results, right up until this article and Cockcroft's charts were published, San Francisco Giants right-hander Ryan Vogelsong was one of my featured pitchers to own/acquire. Then the Giants decided struggling lefty Barry Zito would be rescheduled to make the Aug. 2 home start against the New York Mets. Well, that's certainly good news for Zito for ballpark and opponent factors. Vogelsong was pushed to the next day on the road at Coors Field, which also strips him of one start for the four-week period. Eh, sometimes life isn't fair.

Anyway, here are some pitchers whose values have been augmented by planned schedules and others that have not. It hardly means Rockies lefty Drew Pomeranz, who fared extraordinarily well in this exercise but would be nowhere near one of my 10-team rosters, is better than Stephen Strasburg, but it is compelling if you're in a deeper league and the cost to add Pomeranz for a spot start or two is minor. We're leaving out some of the more obvious pitchers owned in all leagues, such as Chris Sale or Matt Cain. Enjoy!

Pitchers to like

Josh Johnson, Miami Marlins: Time is running out to acquire a potential ace -- and he certainly can be every bit of that -- at less than market value. Johnson's numbers are relatively meager, a 5-5 record with 4.06 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. Of course, he was pummeled in April, and in his last outing before the break, he permitted five runs at Milwaukee. His June ERA, however, was 1.87, and the ghastly batting average against from April (.350) was among the best in June (.205). Johnson is scheduled to face the Nationals twice, the Padres, Mets, Cubs and Braves. That's pretty sweet and enough for me to see if Johnson can be acquired for less than market value.

Tim Hudson, Atlanta Braves: Like Johnson, Hudson is owned in all leagues, but he's having a better overall season. Hudson has always been one of my favorites, a ground ball machine who's consistent not only from year to year but from start to start. Things should get even better the next four weeks, as he's scheduled to attack the Mets and Marlins twice each, the Giants and Astros, and probably the Phillies, who even in its recent offensive heyday wasn't a great deterrent for the reliable Hudson.

Tommy Milone, Oakland Athletics: This rookie lefty has extreme home/road splits in 2012, which isn't surprising considering he possesses average stuff, and Oakland's O.co Coliseum is favorable for pitchers. Milone, owned in roughly half of ESPN's standard formats, is scheduled to start at Minnesota (nice!) and Toronto (not so nice), but notably gets home matchups with the Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays, and gets to avoid the Rangers and Angels all together. At home, Milone boasts a 1.03 ERA and 0.79 WHIP. On the road, he doesn't. Yeah, I'd use Milone for the next month and consider youngster teammate Jarrod Parker as well. His toughest matchups are also at home. For right-hander Bartolo Colon, on the other hand, the schedule is considerably more treacherous.

Clayton Richard, San Diego Padres: Location, location, location. From realtors to fantasy advisors, information plays a role in happiness! Richard is available in more than 80 percent of ESPN standard leagues, and his numbers won't win your league, but he's a capable last starter. In June, Richard delivered a 2.21 ERA, and he's won four of his past six outings. If you're concerned about Padres starters away from Petco Park, Richard's splits should assuage fears; at home his ERA is 3.61, on the road it's 4.14. Richard gets to pitch at Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami. He avoids the Rockies, Reds and the suddenly streaking Pirates offense. And at home, he'll get the Astros and Mets. Talk about being fortunate!

Travis Wood, Chicago Cubs: Like Richard, Wood is readily available, and the pending schedule couldn't work out much better. Wood has won four consecutive starts for a truly awful team and earned the praise, posting a 3.05 ERA over 10 season starts. He is slated to face the Cardinals twice, once at home, but also has road outings in Los Angeles and San Diego, and while teammate Ryan Dempster faces the Pirates (MLB-leading 146 runs in June) twice, as does Paul Maholm, Wood avoids each series.

Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants: Well, at least the schedule is relatively friendly, other than a trip to Coors Field. Four of his six outings should be at home, where he's palatable (3.99 ERA, one home run in eight starts). Look, I'm not dropping the guy yet. He is on pace for 196 strikeouts, boasts a world of talent and his career splits show second-half improvement.

Others to watch: Chris Young, New York Mets; Michael Fiers, Milwaukee Brewers; A.J. Griffin, Oakland Athletics; Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins; Ross Detwiler, Washington Nationals; Lucas Harrell, Houston Astros.

Pitchers to avoid

Roy Oswalt, Texas Rangers: Perhaps it's too early to evaluate the right-hander, who has permitted 40 hits in 23 messy innings. No, expecting perfection immediately is imprudent, but it's unlikely improvement is pending with two matchups against the Boston Red Sox, along with one start each against the Royals and White Sox. Teammate Derek Holland similarly faces a difficult schedule (Red Sox, Angels, Tigers), and while I'd avoid trading for him, I wouldn't bench him. I can't use Oswalt until he gets past this stretch, if he does.

Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs: The fact this right-hander seems to have figured things out his past two outings is only partially relevant; his June ERA was an unsightly 10.41. Unlike teammate Wood, he has disturbing home/road splits, and also unlike Wood, he has to face the Pirates and Reds. I'm not so much concerned about an innings limit, but the going-nowhere Cubs might just leave the guy in there even when he struggles.

Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers: Everyone's preseason AL Central fave might end up pulling the division out, but the next month hardly looks kind to such a run. Scherzer is scheduled to face the Orioles and Angels, then later pitches at Boston and Texas. Yikes. You're not sitting Justin Verlander, but for those relying on Scherzer, Doug Fister and, for those in AL-only or deep formats, Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly, be concerned. Scherzer is on pace for 228 strikeouts and perhaps he gets all the way there, but runs will be allowed for the next month.

Gavin Floyd, Chicago White Sox: In three of his past four outings, he's allowed nary a run, which was impressive enough to get him owned in nearly half of ESPN's leagues. His next three outings are scheduled to be road tilts in Boston, Detroit and Texas. Um, you don't want Floyd or fellow White Sox right-hander Philip Humber, also scheduled for the same unlucky fate.

Lance Lynn, St. Louis Cardinals: He's somewhat tough to evaluate, because the All-Star is having a terrific season, but he was also shredded for 17 runs in 15 1/3 innings to finish June. Like teammate Kyle Lohse, Lynn has a road tilt in Coors Field scheduled in a few weeks, and sometimes one worrisome outing is enough. The other road matchups are in Milwaukee, Chicago and Philadelphia, only one a clear cakewalk. Own Lynn, but you have to be a bit concerned about a future rough patch.

Others to avoid: Derek Lowe, Cleveland Indians; Bud Norris, Houston Astros; Erik Bedard, Pittsburgh Pirates; Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano, Los Angeles Dodgers.