Ricky Nolasco deserves more recognition in fantasy leagues.
Welcome to the final week of August.
For some, the month's departure signifies the end of shorts season and the return of school and football. For others, it means nothing since time is just an abstract concept that only derives whatever value one places into it.
But us, we have a fantasy baseball season to finish off.
Last week, my Bruce Chen doomsday premonition came to fruition, but Ian Kennedy continued his successful quest to drive me crazy. Instead of visiting Miami and fellow weak offenses this September, Brandon Beachy met Dr. James Andrews for what turned out not to be a friendly lunch.
Most of these pitchers are tip-toeing on the edge of fantasy relevance, commonly relegated to spot-starter status in standard leagues. Bigger names will pop up toward the end, but a couple of them don't deserve your trust right now.
Playing the right matchups can help fight your team to the top, and sniffing out the potential dangers can save you from an untimely nosedive. Here are seven intriguing pitchers worth addressing this week.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise noted, are courtesy of FanGraphs.com.
Mike Leake could see his ERA skyrocket this week.
Scheduled Starts: Monday at St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday at Colorado Rockies
I have not been kind to Mike Leake in the past, discrediting his success to a fortuitous BABIP and low strand rate. Here he is in late August brandishing a 3.12 ERA, but I'm still skeptical.
His 5.45 K/9 ratio and 4.05 FIP still is not the stuff of a useful fantasy hurler, yet he is owned in more Yahoo! leagues than John Lackey and Alex Wood.
This week places Leake in grave danger of facing his pending regression, so now's the time to abandon ship.
On Monday, he squares off with his division foes in St. Louis. The Cardinals boast the National League's premier run-scoring offense by a considerable margin, and their renegade of gap-locating doubles machines is not an ideal fit for a guy who pitches to contact.
Then he travels to Coors Field to test the brisk Colorado air. You can't plan a tougher week for an NL pitcher.
If you own Leake, it's time to distance him from your starting lineup. When he gets the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates later in September, go back to using him cautiously if you can't find a more effective alternative on the waiver wire.
Give Jose Quintana the appreciation he deserves.
Scheduled Start: Tuesday vs. Houston Astros
Owned in less than three-quarters of Yahoo! leagues, Jose Quintana receives only a follicle of the respect afforded to Leake. Yet the 24-year-old is the superior pitcher.
Maybe his seven wins keep him lost in the deep end of the streamer pool, but Quintana is a very solid pitcher with a 3.67 ERA, 3.72 FIP and 1.22 WHIP.
Unlike Leake, Quintana can strike guys out, recording a 7.45 K/9 ratio while walking 2.58 batters per nine innings. Spoiler alert: Quintana should find himself on many sleeper lists next spring, but there's no reason to ignore him until 2014.
The young lefty should wake up some fantasy owners this week when the Houston Astros come to the Windy City. Only the Miami Marlins reach base less as a team, and no squad whiffs more. Opposing pitchers have collected 1,220 strikeouts against Houston, with the second-place Atlanta Braves trailing by more than 100 strikeouts.
If Mark Buehrle can tally seven strikeouts, let's watch Quintana gun for double digits on the K-tracker.
Nolasco is worth owning and starting in all leagues.
Scheduled Start: Wednesday vs. Chicago Cubs
Five years removed from his breakthrough campaign, Ricky Nolasco's ERA is finally matching the peripherals.
Nolasco became a fantasy darling after posting a 3.52 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 2008, but those numbers failed to resurface. He recorded a 3.35 FIP the following season, but his ugly 5.06 ERA did not match that sterling measure of his independent pitching. That trend dragged on, as he rattled off three seasons with a sub-four FIP while never registering an ERA below 4.48.
This year, transitioning to the Los Angeles Dodgers has finally allowed the veteran to orchestrate a 3.42 ERA befitting his 3.55 FIP. It's about time gun-shy managers put the past behind them and ride Nolasco's hot hand.
In nine starts as a Dodger, the 30-year-old boasts a 2.53 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. The strikeouts that evaded him last season have returned, as he has salvaged his K/9 rate back to a workable 7.06.
Look for Nolasco to extend his success against the Cubs, who rank 28th in on-base percentage despite riding a Donnie Murphy power barrage all the way into the top 10 in homers.
While he has not impressed so far, Erasmo Ramirez is still a talented young pitcher.
Scheduled Start: Thursday vs. Houston Astros
The Free Erasmo Ramirez Experience was supposed to end in the righty lighting up the mound for the Seattle Mariners, who thus realized what fools they were for delaying his path to playing time.
Instead, the 23-year-old owns a 5.44 ERA and 1.35 WHIP through 43 innings. The long wait for Ramirez to re-enter Seattle's rotation has not produced the anticipated results.
But let's look at the silver lining. He's generated quality 7.33 K/9 and 2.51 BB/9 rates during that stretch, and he's engineered quality starts in his past two outings.
For our consideration, the most important factor is his opponent. Remember that tidbit from two slides ago about the Astros' unhealthy strikeout tendencies? Let's employ this to our advantage again in hopes of carving a path to success for Ramirez.
He's only accounted for in six percent of Yahoo! leagues, and he certainly has not dazzled anybody this season. So a standard mixed-league owner can instead use this matchup as a litmus test for Ramirez, who posted a 2.86 ERA and 0.88 WHIP last September.
In deeper leagues, let's see what the young gun is made of.
Verdict: Start in AL-only, deep mixed leagues
Ryan Dempster is the type of guy who would think he's helping the league by vetoing a fair trade.
Scheduled Start: Friday vs. Chicago White Sox
Perhaps Dempster was not embarking on a misguided mission to civilize Major League Baseball by doling out his vigilante justice. Maybe he just wanted to get out of facing the Baltimore Orioles earlier in the week.
Or blatantly throwing at Alex Rodriguez could have been a cry for help from a veteran fading from relevance. Dempster has relinquished 20 earned runs through four August starts, and he is in danger of soon forfeiting his rotation spot to a returning Clay Buchholz.
If you're about to become an afterthought, you might as well go out in a blaze of glory. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, throwing a ball at someone doesn't award you points, so let's find someone who can actually pitch well.
I can't go a paragraph without citing a pitcher's strikeouts, but Dempster's 8.17 K/9 ratio isn't enough to keep me by his side. He's also walking nearly four batters per nine innings with a 4.70 FIP, so no thanks.
Yet he's rostered in 44 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Dump him for Quintana, Marco Estrada or Danny Salazar.
Now that Roy Halladay is back, is he worth starting?
Scheduled Start: Friday at Chicago Cubs
The last time we saw Roy Halladay before Sunday, the Marlins blasted the former Cy Young winner for nine runs (Yes, the Marlins scored nine runs. Not a typo.) before the former ace vanished to undergo surgery in his pitching elbow.
He only allowed two runs in six innings during his return, so everything is fine, right? Back on board the Halladay bandwagon?
On second thought, I'll just take the bus. Or walk. I don't trust that vehicle to remain intact.
Before his surgery, the 36-year-old was hammered to the tune of a 8.65 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. Despite his recent quality start against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Halladay amassed a mere two strikeouts.
He wasn't supposed to return so soon, but an 18-inning affair on Saturday forced Philadelphia's hands. The Phillies rushed him back after a Single-A rehab start, where he underwhelmed, allowing 10 baserunners through six innings.
He escaped on Sunday, but you shouldn't be rooting for your starters to snake by the competition. Reduced to a fastball that will rarely reaches 90, Halladay's name outshines his actual worth going forward. Let him show something left in the tank before thrusting him back into the lineup.
Matt Garza has not been treated to Texas hospitality.
Scheduled Start: Saturday vs. Minnesota Twins
If you weren't worried about Matt Garza getting traded to the Texas Rangers, you should have been.
Through his past five starts, Garza has surrendered at least four runs each time out. He faced the Astros twice in August.
Garza was never known for his consistency in the first place, but switching from the NL Central to the AL in Texas won't help any pitcher. He's working with a 4.44 ERA since switching uniforms, but his owners have no reason to panic.
Garza has compiled 44 strikeouts to 10 walks since the trade. His eight homers allowed in 48.2 innings as a Ranger has already replicated his eight long balls surrendered in 71 innings with the Cubs, and that has bloated his ERA.
This weekend's matchup against the Twins presents him with the perfect chance to close the month on a high note. Among the league's bottom tier in slugging percentage, Minnesota is not exactly loaded with power bats.
While the midseason trade stymied Garza's efforts to assemble an ace-caliber season, he possesses too much talent to ditch.