Fantasy Baseball: Week 20 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em Breakdown

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistAugust 11, 2013

Fantasy Baseball: Week 20 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em Breakdown

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    Hang in there, the fantasy baseball season isn't over yet.

    With NFL preseason games kicking off, fantasy football is threatening to steal the show. Don't be one of those fools who abandon their baseball duties to flock to football draft preparation. 

    Your baseball squad still has lineups to set for actual games that count. And for all the hard-hitting fun football offers, your baseball title won't be determined by a fickle kicker. (But thanks again, Blair Walsh, for carrying my sorry team to an unlikely second-place finish last year.)

    There are no breaks in fantasy baseball. You don't get six days to decipher the best matchups since each passing page off the calendar begets a new slate of MLB action. It's an often grueling pest, but it's what makes fantasy baseball the true test of warriors, or people who enjoy baseball and numbers with frequent time to spend online.

    So before waxing too much poetic about this beautiful game of ours, it's time to comb through this week's list of probable pitchers to investigate some tough roster decisions managers have to make for their pitching staff.

    A couple of old pals come back to town, some youngsters test their true merit and a couple of fallen aces attempt to climb back into fantasy relevance. Sounds like my idea of fun.

    Note: All statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs.

     

Danny Salazar

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    Scheduled Starts: Monday at Minnesota Twins, Sunday at Oakland Athletics

    I'm sold. I want Danny Salazar anywhere I can get him.

    Picking him up is not an easy feat in leagues with active, attention owners. But since he's only owned in 26 percent of Yahoo! leagues, some readers still have a chance to pounce before it's too late.

    He's only made two major league starts, but boy were they impressive. Despite hurling six masterful innings against the Toronto Blue Jays last month, Salazar was sent right back to the minors after allowing three baserunners and one run during six outings.

    Given another chance due to Corey Kluber's injury, Salazar allowed four runs against a tough Detroit Tigers lineup but more impressively notched 10 strikeouts. Miguel Cabrera burned him by going deep, but not before the rookie struck him out the reigning AL MVP three times.

    You have to be pretty good to strike out Cabrera three times.

    Salazar has already recorded 17 strikeouts to just two walks, and that's nothing new for him. On his way to the majors, he struck out 129 batters though 94 minor league innings, issuing only 24 free passes.

    The fact that he travels to two spacious stadiums make the decision all the easier to add Salazar and insert him into the lineup. Those lucky enough to snatch him in time might have a special pitcher on their hands.

    Verdict: Start

Marco Estrada

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    Scheduled Starts: Tuesday at Texas Rangers, Sunday vs. Cincinnati Reds

    It's always nice to see an old friend again.

    Marco Estrada, otherwise known as my preseason crush, returned from a two-month absence last Wednesday to allow one baserunner through five scoreless innings.

    Before landing on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, Estrada posted a 5.32 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. Nevertheless, the 30-year-old has displayed the imposing strikeout and walk numbers that made him such an interesting sleeper in March.

    Despite the ugly ERA, which dropped to 4.96 after his last outing, Estrada has collected 68 strikeouts and 18 walks through 74.1 innings. 

    It's good to see Estrada back, and he's worth grabbing in most leagues in the hopes of catching lightning in a bottle down the stretch. For this week, however, it's best to stay away from him as he faces two tough draws.

    While the Rangers are not what they used to be offensively, you still don't want to test their offense hitting in the ballpark at Arlington, which yields too many home runs to trust Estrada and his career 44.1 fly-ball percentage. 

    Even though he avoids the compact Great American Ball Park, it's a bit soon off his injury to test him against Shin-Soo Choo, Jay Bruce and Joey Votto.

    Verdict: Sit

Jarred Cosart

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    Scheduled Start: Wednesday at Oakland Athletics

    Am I becoming the old geezer disgruntled over today's youth?

    Usually one to fall for the enticing prospect, I've expressed skepticism over Jacob Turner, Martin Perez and other rookie pitchers this season. But Jarred Cosart has a 1.36 ERA through five starts, so he's safe from that scorn, right?

    Sorry, Jarred. I'm still not interested.

    With a 1.27 WHIP, .248 BABIP, 85.7 percent strand rate and 3.74 FIP, it's taken all sorts of good fortune for Cosart to obtain that radiant ERA. While he has generated a lofty 58.4 percent ground-ball rate, that's not enough to sustain this performance.

    Cosart's most startling numbers are his 14 strikeouts and 17 walks in 33 innings. He struck out 93 batters during 93 Triple-A innings, but Cosart has failed to carry over that success when juxtaposed against more polished hitters.

    Despite throwing in the mid-90s, he has only wielded a 4.2 swinging strike percentage, which shows that his heat alone won't cut it in the majors.

    In his last outing against the Boston Red Sox, Cosart allowed two runs despite dolling out five free passes. He similarly put his hands under the fire on July 28, walking five but surrendering a mere one run. Don't expect that output to persist with the same input.

    Verdict: Sit

Dan Haren

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    Scheduled Start: Thursday vs. San Francisco Giants

    "Let Haren prove his worth before rewarding him with a second chance."

    That's what I wrote two weeks ago after Dan Haren churned out solid performances in three of his past four appearances. He accepted the challenge, and now it's time to jump back on board.

    In a start against the Milwaukee Brewers, the one in which I advised my dear readers to sit him, Haren delivered seven shutout innings. He followed that up with another scorching start, holding the Philadelphia Phillies to two runs through another seven frames.

    Since returning from his well-timed trip to the disabled list, Haren has posted a 2.43 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in six starts. Haren has amassed six or seven strikeouts every time, in total tallying 39 strikeouts through the past 37 innings.

    Best of all, he's only given up two home runs during that stretch, which is saying something considering the 19 homers he teed up through his previous 15 starts. Luckily for him, the Giants are the perfect team to help continue avoiding the dreaded long ball.

    San Francisco ranks 29th with 69 total home runs, and Nationals Park tends to suppress deep flies. Appearing to have turned the corner, Haren should no longer sit on the waiver wire.

    Verdict: Start

Ian Kennedy

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    Scheduled Start: Friday vs. New York Mets

    Two games into the Ian Kennedy as a Padre experiment, it's still uncertain what to make of his new value in San Diego.

    Kennedy, who struggled with a 5.23 ERA before the Arizona Diamondbacks gave up on him, got to test out Petco Park in his team debut against the New York Yankees. While he struck out six batters, allowed two runs and seized a victory, four hits and four walks are not exactly what you want to see in the box score.

    His second start came on the road against the Reds. Kennedy's trade to San Diego only enhances his appeal when he pitches in San Diego, so no need to play him here. 

    Except he threw eight superb innings of three-hit, two-run ball. A .087 BABIP for the day helped him through, but we'll take it considering his tumultuous results this season.

    Will Kennedy continue to be a matchup tease, or should owners employ him now that he faces the David Wright-less New York Mets at Petco?

    With the Diamondbacks, Kennedy bested the Mets at Citi Field, conquering New York with eight strikeouts and two runs through seven. Kennedy's 4.36 xFIP is a tad more excusable than his 4.97 ERA, so let's give him a chance to see how he fares in his new home against another borderline New York offense.

    Verdict: Start

     

     

Felix Doubront

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    Scheduled Start: Friday vs. New York Yankees

    An average fantasy starter facing the New York Yankees always equaled a surefire benching. Not anymore.

    The Yankees hit .235/.294/.363 away from Yankee Stadium and have scored less total runs than the Mets. Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano would significantly change this discussion...were we still living in 2006. 

    Felix Doubront's 1.41 WHIP makes him a risky play and a threat to implode, but strikeouts don't grow on trees. A guy who's fanned 115 batters in 128 innings should warrant your attention.

    The 3.66 ERA and 3.44 FIP also paint the portrait of a highly effective pitcher worth using in the right matchups. Having squared off twice (one at home, one away) against the Bronx Bombers this season, Doubront allowed one earned run each time. 

    Although he failed to last five outings against the Kansas City Royals on Saturday, Doubront is a solid streamer option in standard leagues.

    Verdict: Start

Jonathon Niese

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    Scheduled Start: Saturday at San Diego Padres

    Another friend is back. Hooray!

    Fresh off producing a career year where the surface numbers finally matched his admirable peripherals, Jonathon Niese faltered miserably. Fourteen starts and a 1.61 WHIP later and he landed on the disabled list with a partially torn left rotator cuff. 

    Back on the grind, Niese engineered a solid outing on Sunday. While the four runs in six innings won't cause a stampeding flock of owners to claim him off the waiver wire, his five strikeouts to one walk offer reason for optimism.

    Neither control nor power hampered Niese in the past, but his 5.73 K/9 ratio and 3.86 BB/9 rate veered far away from his career 7.32 K/9 and 2.89 BB/9 marks. Those numbers normalizing could signal Niese's return to functioning as a usable fantasy option.

    My original plan was to recommend waiting another week for Niese to blow off the cobwebs. Then again, he's playing the Padres. At Petco Park. The Padres hit .237/.305/.364 at home and feature few menacing power bats with Kyle Blanks and Carlos Quentin sidelined.

    Niese's upside is not high enough to grab him in a shallow, 10-team mixed league, but his usual sturdiness makes him a nice choice in meatier formats.

    Verdict: Start in NL only, deeper mixed leagues  

     

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