Fantasy Baseball: Week 21 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em Breakdown
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Can you taste the fantasy baseball postseason? For those lucky enough to still belong in the playoff hunt, only three weeks remain in most formats before the regular season ends.
Don't think I've forgotten about the devoted rotisserie managers. Time is ticking on your season too, and every strikeout and run allowed can shift point totals and fantasy championships.
A new week introduces us to a new fixture of lineup quandaries to settle. A couple former phenoms return to form, a former 21-game winner tries to redeem himself once more after making me look stupid last week and two soft-tossing veterans try to fill the void left by Bartolo Colon's placement on the disabled list.
With some afternoon baseball scheduled for 2:10 p.m. ET, the lineups will lock early in weekly leagues, so let's get down to business.
Note: All statistics, unless otherwise noted, are courtesy of FanGraphs.com.
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Scheduled Starts: Monday vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, Sunday vs. Chicago Cubs
This is why you own Andrew Cashner.
The flamethrower has not responded to the starting rotation as one would have predicted. Expected to pile up the strikeouts, Cashner is posting a mild 6.21 K/9 ratio through 130.1 innings.
Throw that in with a 3.87 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and an offense that won't score runs for him, and you get a borderline fantasy starter only worth using in the steamiest matchups. Two starts in Petco Park against two bottom-10 offenses certainly fits the bill.
Cashner sports a 2.51 ERA and 1.08 WHIP at his friendly home park. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs rank 23rd and 25th, respectively, in runs scored. This is the week to use Cashner.
Once the week passes by, feel free to drop him in standard mixed leagues. The strikeouts must rise for him to warrant anything more than streamer appeal.
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Scheduled Start: Tuesday at Baltimore Orioles
Pitchers re-spawning from the disabled list are often met in this space with a warning label. But since Alex Cobb already passed his first test, should the budding star get the green light?
One of the top breakouts early in the season, Cobb posted a 3.01 ERA and 8.18 K/9 ratio before a frightening line drive nailed his head. The 25-year-old suffered a concussion that derailed his stunning campaign.
He dipped his feet back in the water on Thursday, allowing five baserunners and a run through five solid innings. This usually means it's time to get Cobb back in the lineup, but the circumstances call for patience.
Handling the Seattle Mariners is one thing, but Cobb now gets the Orioles, who have hit the most home runs in baseball.
It takes a true stud to trust without hesitancy against such a monster offense. While Cobb was on his way to cementing that status before the concussion, we need more than 14 starts before accepting Cobb as an ace.
No league's waiver wire should still list Cobb's name, and he should provide those who stuck by his side with a strong September. Feeding him to Chris Davis and Co. is just too risky.
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Scheduled Start: Wednesday at New York Mets
Brandon Beachy safely belongs back in the trust zone.
He got his clunker out of his way during his season debut, surrendering seven runs to the Colorado Rockies. Since then, he has allowed five runs through three starts, striking out 14 batters to three walks.
Fantasy owners quickly replace old stalwarts with guys who presently perform at a high volume. So it's easy to forget Beachy's 2.00 ERA in 81 innings last year or his 10.74 K/9 ratio from the previous season.
He'll spend the season's final six weeks reminding everyone of his rising star power before undergoing elbow surgery. Even though the Atlanta Braves have the National League East in the bag, they'll want Beachy to work off the rust before the playoffs, and an amazing schedule awaits the righty.
The 26-year-old will travel to Queens this week to face the New York Mets, who collectively hit .227/.302/.359 at Citi Field with 3.6 runs per game. He's a great play this week, and the menu only gets better.
After dealing with a tough Cleveland Indians offense next week, he'll get the Miami Marlins during the weekend. Once he gets Cleveland out of the way, every team remaining on the schedule ranks among MLB's 10 worst lineups in terms of runs scored.
Beachy should not remain available in nearly half of Yahoo! leagues. Grab him now for your title run.
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Scheduled Start: Wednesday vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
I tried, Ian.
The Arizona Diamondbacks tossed Ian Kennedy to the curb due to his 5.23 ERA, but I wasn't ready to give up. Moving to the San Diego Padres presented him with the perfect environment to rebound. Regular appointments at Petco Park will do him wonders.
So when Kennedy was aligned to face the Mets in his cushy new home, I recommended readers take him out for a test drive.
He proceeded to allow three home runs. At Petco. Against the Mets. Without David Wright.
If that stadium cannot alleviate his fly-ball woes, the damaged pitcher might be broken beyond repair. Even more concerning than the long balls are the four walks he issued, the second time he handed out as many free tickets to first with San Diego.
That ups his walk rate to 3.67 per nine innings, much uglier than his 2.23 BB/9 from his breakout 2011 season. In crunch time, there's too much at stake to wait around for Kennedy's resurgence. Even if he picks up the pace, he's still just a matchup play with the potential for slightly more.
Scheduled Start: Thursday at Miami Marlins
This is a tough one.
Clayton Kershaw has some upside, but it's uncertain whether we can fully trust the young lefty going forward. Meanwhile, he'll face his toughest challenge to date in Placido Polanco, Jeff Mathis, Adeiny Hechavarria and the mighty Miami Marlins...
... Just kidding. Don't leave or destroy your computer.
Seriously, it would almost be disappointing if Kershaw didn't throw a perfect game against the Marlins. But if the best pitcher in the world falters against the worst offense in the world, we should all probably stop trying.
Verdict: Start, thank your lucky stars you have Clayton Kershaw on your team.
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Scheduled Start: Friday at Miami Marlins
Although nowhere near as easy as starting Kershaw, playing Jhoulys Chacin at Miami is another no-brainer.
Wins Above Replacement (WAR) often poses enough philosophical differences to threaten an actual war, but it's worth glancing over to examine how our perception of players' value varies from the cold, hard numbers.
Usually it just confirms that defense matters and Mike Trout is awesome, but some assessments create confusion. The biggest head-scratcher of them all belongs to Chacin's 3.9 WAR, which ranks ahead of Hiroki Kuroda, Patrick Corbin and Cliff Lee.
FanGraphs prominently praises pitchers with high strikeout and low walk rates, and hurlers with an impressive FIP are not punished harshly for an inflated ERA. But Chacin has only fanned 95 batters in 155.1 innings, and his 3.24 ERA nearly matches his 3.17 FIP.
What am I missing?
Chacin, a member of the Colorado Rockies, does not pitch on an even playing field with Coors Field as his home. While he deserves a pat on the back for managing a 4.00 ERA at Colorado, he shines in better conditions, registering a 2.14 ERA on the road.
While the lack of strikeouts limit his fantasy appeal, he's Cashner in reverse; he's a great pitcher to start when's he not at home.
Facing the Marlins, who are last in virtually every significant offensive category, only sweetens the pot.
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Scheduled Start: Saturday vs. Milwaukee Brewers
How does a 36-year-old with an 87 mph fastball continue to generate such striking results?
Bronson Arroyo somehow has earned a 3.35 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. That's from the veteran with a 5.49 K/9 ratio, but he has lately garnered more third strikes.
Since the All-Star break, he has compounded 26 strikeouts to three walks in 32 innings pitched. He racked up seven strikeouts each in back-to-back outings against the Padres and Cubs. While that short string of strikeout success came against two unimposing lineups, another weak offense heads his way.
The Milwaukee Brewers rank 21st in runs scored and 24th in on-base percentage, and they're now in worse shape. Ryan Braun is no longer batting in the heart of the order, and an injured Carlos Gomez might not return in time to face Arroyo.
He suffers far too many five-run clunkers to trust on a regular basis, but all the cards are in line for Arroyo to give fantasy managers one more solid start.
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Scheduled Start: Saturday at Washington Nationals
I never thought I would write this in a fantasy baseball article, but let's talk about Bruce Chen.
It's hard to ignore a guy with a 2.20 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, and that's after predictably falling to the Detroit Tigers on Sunday. Another 36-year-old who rarely touches 90 on the radar gun, Chen rattled off six starts, each spanning at least six innings, with four total earned runs allowed.
If Arroyo gets the thumbs up, what about Chen?
Chen, who holds a 4.47 career ERA, does not possess Arroyo's track record. He has not engineered an ERA below 3.75 since 2000, the same year that showcased stars Darin Erstad, Richard Hidalgo and Kevin Brown.
It should come as no surprise that Chen has needed a .243 BABIP and 85.5 percent strand rate to overcome a much more reasonable 3.75 FIP. This bizarre hot streak won't last long.
Washington hits .244/.305/.388 as a team, so it's possible that Chen eludes the regression police for another week. The numbers, however, are too tilted to roll the dice.
A massive market correction is waiting to arrive, and I don't want to reside in the area when the damage ensues.