Fantasy Baseball: Week 26 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em Breakdown

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2013

Fantasy Baseball: Week 26 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em Breakdown

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    Rick Porcello could help guide fantasy baseball managers to a championship.
    Rick Porcello could help guide fantasy baseball managers to a championship.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    My friends, this is the end.

    Many of life's sweetest joys are reaching their bitter conclusions. Summer is behind us, Breaking Bad is one week from closing shop and Mariano Rivera' incredible career will conclude this weekend.

    Worst of all, just one week of the fantasy baseball season remains.

    If you're still intently seeking out fantasy baseball advice, congratulations. Your team must be playing for a championship, or at least a notable consolation prize.

    Last week, Yovani Gallardo gained some redemption, CC Sabathia finally delivered a solid start, and Andrew Cashner sent his 2014 draft stock through the roof.

    Like Vince Gilligan painting a serene canvas of masterful television, let's end the fantasy season right. Identifying friendly and fickle starting pitching matchups could make the difference between riding off into the sunset with a trophy or crawling into the fetal position in shame.

    Either way, it's been a wild ride.

    Note: All statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs. How did any of us ever function without FanGraphs?

SP Marco Estrada, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Marco Estrada is closing the season in style.
    Marco Estrada is closing the season in style.Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Scheduled Starts: Monday at Atlanta Braves; Sunday at New York Mets

    To close things out, we'll return to a preseason favorite.

    Marco Estrada finished 2012 with a 3.35 FIP, 9.30 K/9 ratio and 1.89 BB/9 rate. He was an underperformer with sterling peripherals who was destined to stand up for the sabermetric community and represent all that was good and holy.

    He enters the final week with a 4.26 ERA, but I'm still not leaving his side.

    He also sports a shiny 1.15 WHIP and his 4.00 K/BB ratio, while a dip from 2012's pristine mark, is pretty darn good. More importantly, he looks refreshed after missing two months with a strained left hamstring.

    Since returning from the disabled list on Aug. 7, Estrada has posted a 2.62 ERA through seven starts, striking out 42 batters through 44.2 innings pitched.

    Count on Estrada to continue that trend against the Braves—who wrapped up the National League East—and the Mets, who rank 22nd in runs scored.

    Verdict: Start

SP Yordano Ventura, Kansas City Royals

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    Yordano Ventura throws harder than anyone we've seen in a long time.
    Yordano Ventura throws harder than anyone we've seen in a long time.Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Scheduled Starts: Monday at Seattle Mariners; Saturday at Chicago White Sox

    Yordano Ventura threw how fast?

    During his major league debut on Sept. 17, Ventura hit 101.9 on the radar gun. That's not only the fastest pitch anybody has fired this season, but the hardest toss in a long time. ESPN Stats & Info has the details:

    .@Royals Yordano Ventura hit 101.9 mph in his MLB debut tonight, the fastest pitch thrown by any starter in last 5 seasons.

    — ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 18, 2013

    It wasn't just a one-time thing; the rookie hit 100 five other times and threw at an average velocity of 98. 

    Baseball fans should certainly watch the 22-year-old work, but fantasy gamers should not try to ride his scorching heater to a championship.

    Speed isn't everything. Despite his amazing velocity, Ventura picked up just three strikeouts against the Cleveland Indians. He also still needs to harness that electric stuff after walking 53 batters though 132.2 minor league frames. 

    Those matchups are mighty tempting, but asking a rookie to pitch his second career start on the road with the team's season hanging in the balance is a tall order. You might miss something special if you shy away, but it's not worth the risk of him walking the entire lineup.

    But make no mistake, he's earned our attention for next year.

    Verdict: Sit

SP Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Meet the ace of the Pittsburgh Pirates' future.
    Meet the ace of the Pittsburgh Pirates' future.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Scheduled Start: Tuesday at Chicago Cubs

    Remember the name for 2014, and hopefully the next decade.

    In an odd turn of events, the Pittsburgh Pirates have given fans a reason to smile despite shaky play from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Once the nation's spotlight shifted to football, Gerrit Cole has quietly dominated.

    Through four September starts, Cole is 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. The only thing blocking his path to immediate fantasy ace status was his average strikeout rate, but the rookie has fanned 33 batters during his last 26 innings.

    When a young pitcher with a 96 mile per hour fastball and front-line stuff starts generating more whiffs, buy it as a legitimate sign of maturing rather than a small sample size. 

    Cole now sports a 2.98 FIP through 111.1 innings, but half of the general public grew tired of baseball by the time he arrived in June. Their loss. 

    To close the regular season, Cole gets a Chicago Cubs squad counting the days until it can go home. The Pittsburgh Pirates, on the other hand, are in reasonable striking distance of grasping their first NL Central title since 1992, when Cole was two years old.

    In closing, start, start, a million times start Gerrit Cole, whose value will skyrocket by next April.

    Verdict: Start

SP Daisuke Matsuzaka, New York Mets

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    Daisuke Matsuzaka has tossed together three-straight solid outings.
    Daisuke Matsuzaka has tossed together three-straight solid outings.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Scheduled Start: Wednesday at Cincinnati Reds

    Don't look now, but Daisuke Matsuzaka is getting into a groove in a test run with the New York Mets. Seriously, don't look now. You're not letting Matsuzaka ruin your season this late in the game.

    Over his last three starts, the once promising Japanese import has registered a 1.93 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. Chalk that up to a misleading sample size, as he surrendered 15 runs over his previous three outings.

    Seven innings of one-run, two-hit ball against the Miami Marlins helped his cause on Sept. 14, but that's the Marlins. We should all know by now that they possess the worst lineup in baseball. Kudos to those of you with the guts to trust Dice-K against the lowly Marlins, but don't touch him at Cincinnati.

    Matsuzaka has not found control late in his career; the 33-year-old has walked 14 batters in 31 innings. That's a massive problem against Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo, whose walk rates respectively rank first and second in MLB.

    If he locates the strike zone, the Reds could send those balls over the fence. The Great American Ball Park has yielded MLB's second-highest homer rate, according to ESPN's MLB Park Factors.

    This game has trouble written all over it. Don't fall for Matsuzaka's past accolades and recent taste of success.

    Verdict: Sit

SP Robbie Erlin, San Diego Padres

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    Rookie Robbie Erlin is soaring to the finish line.
    Rookie Robbie Erlin is soaring to the finish line.Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    Scheduled Start: Thursday vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

    We have another San Diego Padres pitcher to talk about.

    Any San Diego pitcher is worth monitoring due to the immense advantage that stems from pitching at Petco Park. When it's a solid rookie arm hiding a hot hand, even better.

    Robbie Erlin, who climbed his way up to the majors with 9.5 strikeouts and 1.8 walks per nine innings in the minors, is getting the hang of big league pitching. A nine-run shellacking against the Washington Nationals on July 7 removed him from fantasy radars, but it's time to give him another shot.

    Since that horrid outing, Erlin has allowed four earned runs through his last four starts. With 33 punchouts in 47.2 innings, the strikeouts have not proportionally transferred over to the majors, but he fanned a career-high seven Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday.

    His one blow-up outing happened on the road, so his home stats stand tall with a 2.08 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and .316 opposing slugging percentage. Can the young lefty utilize the home field to his advantage one last time to sign off the 2013 season?

    As of Sunday, the Arizona Diamondbacks hold a .259/.320/.380 slash line against left-handed pitchers. There's an inherent risk in rolling with a rookie, but this has the elements of a promising performance.

    Verdict: Start

SP Rick Porcello, Detroit Tigers

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    Porcello will become a great fantasy option if he continues to hike up his strikeout rate.
    Porcello will become a great fantasy option if he continues to hike up his strikeout rate.Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Scheduled Start: Friday at Miami Marlins

    Did you think I wouldn't take one last jab at the Marlins?

    Like an NFL quarterback targeting a scared rookie defensive back, fantasy managers should not feel guilty about constantly picking on Miami. If the matchup is there, it's your job to exploit it.

    Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez also get a crack at baseball's weakest sluggers, but they're both must-starts regardless of the matchup. Rick Porcello, however, has infuriated owners all season long.

    He had some terrible games to kick off the season. Like nine runs before before he could finish the first inning terrible.

    Then he began striking out guys in May and recorded a 2.08 ERA during July, so the 24-year-old looked primed to finally excel as a post-hype sleeper. He has shown flashes of excellence mixed in with stints of futility, but nobody can bank on a pitcher with a 4.38 ERA on a regular basis.

    But for now, he has notched 24 strikeouts and three walks through his last 21.2 innings of work. Despite his high ERA, his 3.57 FIP and 55.2 ground-ball percentage depict a high-quality arm brewing under the surface.

    Against a team that needs a monster week to finish with a team on-base percentage over .300, Porcello should get the job done while building his case for sleeper consideration next season.

    Verdict: Start

SP Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees

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    Should fantasy players start Andy Pettitte for his final game?
    Should fantasy players start Andy Pettitte for his final game?Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Scheduled Start: Friday at Houston Astros

    To end it all, let's highlight a pitcher slated to sing his swan song.

    As Mariano Rivera was showered with praise, lavish tributes and gifts from rivals across the league, Andy Pettitte quietly got his affairs in order and waited until the last minute to reveal that he will also call it quits once the season ends.

    There's too much at stake to start Pettitte simply out of respect for his 18-year-career. Nice gestures don't win championships. Fortunately, he happens to be worth a look anyway, so we can avoid a cold, cruel bashing of a great pitcher.

    Pettitte will bid baseball ado in his hometown of Houston, where he made a brief pit stop during 2004 and 2005. The local fans should send Pettitte off gracefully, and although the Astros won't knowingly be in on the act, their free-swinging hitters will follow suit.

    The Astros strike out more than any other tram in baseball, and the soft-tossing veteran can use some help in that department for his fantasy game. Pettitte also has worked better away from the claustrophobic Yankee Stadium, posting a 3.40 ERA on the road.

    For a 41-year-old, Pettitte still has some gas left in the tank. He has rattled off seven straight quality starts, earning a 2.01 ERA over that stretch. 

    It is looking increasingly unlikely that Pettitte will get a chance to place an exclamation point on his career with another postseason run, but fantasy managers can make him proud by including the departing veteran in their quest for a fake title.

    Verdict: Start