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First Pitch

Joe Ribando

Value Picks – August 20, 2008


Good morning! The regular fantasy season is almost finished and by now you are either in the playoffs, on the bubble, or thinking about 2009. Most head-to-head leagues are just 10 short days away from the playoffs and I can almost sense the anxiety from some of our readers.


For those teams on the bubble, Value Picks is a great way to tweak your team to propel you just enough to squeak into the playoffs. This week, I will take a look specifically at pitching and try to give you some rational and statistical thoughts on solid “pitch or ditch” candidates heading into the final fantasy week of the year. Here’s how I constructed my list: I will choose the top-3 American League and top-3 National League pitchers who are 2-start candidates for the week of August 25th. Sound easy? It was not a simple task, but if you can choose the right guy from this list for your team’s particular needs, it could mean all the difference.


Now that I have officially set myself up for extreme success or utter failure, let’s dig into the list.


NATIONAL LEAGUE


Jair Jurrjens (SP – Altanta Braves. 8/26 vs Florida, 8/31 at Washington)


His ownership percentage has been volatile this year, rising and falling faster than Bobby Cox’s temper. But with CBSSports having him at under 90%, he becomes a decent pick-up candidate in some leagues for next week. First, his 2nd match-up is against the Nationals who rank last in the NL in team batting average at .243 and dead-last in the majors in runs scored with 466 through 126 games (for an average of 3.7 runs per game).  Jurrjens has also put together a string of 5 straight quality starts and has posted solid ERA's under 4.00 all season.  His match-up against Florida in his first game next week is the big question mark, as Florida makes a run at the NL East.  But the Marlins have been slipping lately, hitting just .188 as a team over the last 7 days. 
 

Wandy Rodriguez (SP – Houston Astros, 8/26 vs Cincy, 8/31 vs St. Louis)


My irrational and sometimes obsessive infatuation with Wandy Rodriguez is well documented. Simply scroll through the player notes list to see for yourself.  But sometimes the perfect storm rolls through Houston and Wandy gets two favorable starts at home when you most need him. As we have written about all year, Wandy is a completely different pitcher at home. When pitching at Minute Maid Park, Wandy has a 3.81 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, K/9 of 8.7 and a K/BB of 2.9.  On the road, Rodriguez has a 4.53 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 7.3 K/9 and a K/BB of 2.4.  So, the split is pretty favorable (and by a large margin) to home starts.  His first start against Cincy is favorable (especially now that they don't have Adam Dunn), leaving only his 2nd matchup against the Cardinals as the tricky one.  Either one, considering his ownership is about 50%, he might be the best option out there for a free agent pick-up.


Jeff Francis – (SP – Colorado Rockies, 8/25 at San Fran, 8/31 at San Diego)


Jeff Francis was a recommendation a couple of months ago (June 25th to be exact) in this space. Since then, he has had three starts due to an injury and they haven't been pretty, going 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, and a K/I of 0.40.  Not exactly the best numbers, but he’s working his way back from a shoulder injury.  Now, he’ll get to face two of the worst offenses in two of the best pitcher ballparks in the big leagues. Digging into those numbers, you get the Padres who rank 28th out of 30 in runs scored and the Giants who rank 29th (only the Nationals have less runs than those two teams).  And, as I mentioned before, both ballparks favor the pitcher with factors of 0.762 for Petco Park and 1.077 for AT&T Park (full list is found here ).


AMERICAN LEAGUE


Zach Miner (SP – Detroit Tigers, 8/26 vs. Cleveland, 8/31 vs. KC?)

It remains to be seen if Zach Miner is truly a 2-start candidate.  If he is, he'll rank close to the bottom of my list of the six pitchers I name today.  There have been rumors of a Dontrelle Willis return, which would likely push Miner’s start to Monday 9/1, giving D-Train the Sunday start.  Keep checking Lyle’s 14-day rotation schedule on the main site to see how the forecast is looking. Assuming he does get his two starts, hurling against two of the worst offenses in the AL isn’t a bad start.

The Indians rank 13 out of 14 in the American League in runs scored and the Royals are #10. 

Scott Baker (SP – Minnesota Twins, 8/26 at Seattle, 8/31 at Oakland)


Aside from playing for a contending team and posting decent numbers over the past month (4-for-9 in quality starts with a 4.29 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 7.8 K/9), Baker was dealt a decent 2-start schedule against Seattle and Oakland.  We all know the struggles Oakland has gone through offensively this year, ranking last in the American League in team batting average (.242), runs scored (493), OBP (.315), and SLG (.365).  The Mariners are not much better, ranking in the bottom-5 of those categories as well.  Baker's ownership is around 75%, but it has dropped with a couple of recent poor outings.  If he's out there, I'd grab him for next week.  This is one of the better AL match-ups out there. 
 

Zack Greinke (SP – Kansas City Royals, 8/26 vs Texas, 8/31 at Detroit)


If you look at the expected AL starts for next week, there are few 2-start pitchers who may be ubiquitously available in mixed leagues (let alone AL-only). So, I might be going out on a limb on this one, but Zack Greinke’s recent performance warranted a discussion at the minimum.  He is 2-for-3 in quality starts in August, pitching gems against the White Sox and the Yankees.  His opponents for next week are extremely robust offensively, with the Rangers leading the league in runs scored and the Tigers ranked 5th.  But Greinke has proved he cut shut down good teams and seems to be in groove, posting quality starts in 3 of his last 4 outings.  His ownership is not as consistent as I would've thought either, hovering in the 80% tier, so he might be out there for you.  If you're chasing wins (which is never recommended), his value falls on this list simply for the lack of run support the Royals may offer, ranking 26th in the league in runs scored. 
 
-- Joe

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