Fantasy

Fantasy Baseball: Week 1 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em Breakdown

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2014

Fantasy Baseball: Week 1 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em Breakdown

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    Should fantasy baseball owners insert Michael Pineda in the starting lineup after his two-year absence?
    Should fantasy baseball owners insert Michael Pineda in the starting lineup after his two-year absence?Leon Halip/Getty Images

    The MLB season is underway, which means fantasy baseball managers must shift gears from draft preparation to lineup management.

    You assembled a team fitting your specific desires, but now you must put those assets into action. Is that pretty sleeper worth a spot in the starting lineup? Can you trust that late-round gamble now that the games count?

    To celebrate the new season, let's take a trusted tradition out of the box and put the "Start 'Em or Sit 'Em Breakdown" back into commission. 

    For those new to the party, welcome. Take a seat, enjoy a cold beverage and then stop resting because there's serious work to be done. Here at the "Start 'Em/Sit 'Em," I'm not going to tell you to activate Chris Sale for his two starts against the Minnesota Twins and Kansas Royals. As Britta Perry would retort, duh doy

    Owner's don't need assistance with those routine decisions. It's the dicey calls in between that will find managers entrenched in the line of statistical analysis. Rising youngsters, streaky journeyman, slumping stars, meddling plays with awesome matchups and good pitchers with awful matchups.

    Those are the guys who will fill this space throughout the 2014 season. The opening week is tricky, since everybody is starting with zeroes across the board. It's a magical, confusing time where the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins stand on even footing.

    Luckily, there are last year's stats and park factors to guide owners through April. That should help fantasy gamers make well-informed roster manuevers to start the season smoothly.

     

    Note: All advanced statistics all courtesy of FanGraphs. Probable pitchers obtained from MLB.com.

     

Injury List

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    It's OK to draft Cole Hamels despite his shoulder injury. Just make sure you move him to the disabled list.
    It's OK to draft Cole Hamels despite his shoulder injury. Just make sure you move him to the disabled list.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    These players are starting the season on the disabled list, so get them situated on the disabled list or bench. Get comfortable; this is a long list, with injury information courtesy of CBS Sports

     

    Michael Bourn, OF, Cleveland Indians (hamstring)

    Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles (knee)

    Cameron Maybin, OF, San Diego Padres (shoulder)

    Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (ankle/shoulder, could return Friday, April 4)

    Jurickson Profar, 2B/SS, Texas Rangers (shoulder)

    Marco Scutaro, 2B, San Francisco Giants (back)

     

    Jhoulys Chacin, SP, Colorado Rockies (shoulder)

    Aroldis Chapman, RP, Cincinnati Reds (head)

    Jesse Crain, RP, Houston Astros (biceps/calf)

    Yu Darvish, SP, Texas Rangers (neck)

    Doug Fister, SP, Washington Nationals (lat)

    A.J. Griffin, SP, Oakland Athletics (elbow)

    Cole Hamels, SP, Philadelphia Phillies (shoulder)

    Hisashi Iwakuma, SP, Seattle Mariners (finger)

    Casey Janssen, RP, Toronto Blue Jays (back)

    Josh Johnson, SP, San Diego Padres (forearm)

    Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (back)

    Mat Latos, SP, Cincinnati Reds (knee)

    Mike Minor, SP Atlanta Braves (shoulder)

    Taijuan Walker, SP, Seattle Mariners (shoulder)

     

Chris Tillman, Baltimore Orioles

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    Will Chris Tillman's second-half improvements carry over into the 2014 season?
    Will Chris Tillman's second-half improvements carry over into the 2014 season?Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Scheduled Starts: Monday (3/31) vs. Boston Red Sox, Saturday (4/5) at Detroit Tigers

     

    Many fantasy pundits sung Chris Tillman's praises this spring, which led me to shrug my shoulders and mumble, "If you say so." But you already took their advice and drafted him, creating an immediate Week 1 dilemma, as he has two rough opponents on the docket.

    Before getting to that, let's discuss my fears with Tillman. Too much of his value relied on wins last year, and "Wins fluctuate" is an important talking point from Fantasy Baseball 101's opening lecture. Sure, maybe he wins 16 games again behind a loaded Baltimore Orioles offense. Maybe not. It's impossible to predict.

    Then there's a 4.42 FIP, low BABIP (.269) and high strand rate (80.5 percent) that will send his ERA north of 4.00 if his second-half improvements do not stick. It's his 3.33 K/BB ratio after the All-Star break that suggests he could turn a corner in 2014.

    The Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers both bring different offenses to the table, as Boston lost Jacoby Ellsbury in free agency while Detroit traded Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler. Maybe they're not baseball's two best offenses like last year, but they won't lag far behind.

    Two tough matchups, neither of which are in superb pitching venues, for a starter on whom I'm not completely sold this season. Sorry for starting the year on a cynical note, but I'll pass.

     

    Verdict: Sit 

Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs

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    Jeff Samardzija should not go ignored in fantasy leagues.
    Jeff Samardzija should not go ignored in fantasy leagues.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Scheduled Starts: Monday (3/31) at Pittsburgh Pirates, Saturday 4/5) vs. Philadelphia Phillies

     

    Nope, I'm not giving up on Jeff Samardzija yet. You can't make me.

    Over two seasons in the Chicago Cubs' rotation, the former football wide receiver has notched a 4.10 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. Since the Cubs are a poor squad, his 17-26 record is probably worth noting as well.

    He has also, however, struck out 394 batters through 388.1 innings while harnessing decent control for a power arm. If he can receive some more fortune in the home run department, he still possesses the skills to finish as a top-20 starter.

    The Pittsburgh Pirates enjoyed a jubilant 2013 campaign, but it occurred on the strength of pitching. The lineup finished slightly below average, ranking 17th in on-base percentage and 20th in runs scored. After failing to locate a new first baseman, the offense may be in worse shape than before.

    A few years ago, the Philadelphia Phillies would scare owners away, but their roster has aged horribly, making them a weak opponent away from Citizens Bank Park. On the road, the Phillies recorded a .247/.298/.362 slash line and ranked 29th with 3.3 runs scored per game.

    Samardzija was in the midst of fulfilling his breakout prophecy before hitting a wall last July. He started the season by tossing eight scoreless innings againstwouldn't you knowthe Pirates. Give him another chance.

     

    Verdict: Start

Ian Kennedy, San Diego Padres

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    Ian Kennedy could start his quest for redemption with a strong first week.
    Ian Kennedy could start his quest for redemption with a strong first week.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Scheduled Starts: Tuesday (4/1) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, Sunday (4/6) at Miami Marlins

     

    This one is for owners in weekly lineup formats looking for a two-start pitcher to stream.

    Ian Kennedy could be floating along some waiver wires, and it wouldn't be a major oversight considering his 4.91 ERA and 1.40 WHIP from the 2013 season. While he improved (4.24 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) after his move to the San Diego Padres, the trade hardly made him mixed-league relevant.

    I'm not giving a glowing endorsement for Kennedy to morph into the guy who registered a 2.88 ERA in 2011. He might, however, become useful again, especially during the opening week.

    At the least, Kennedy is worth a look when pitching at home. Last year, he recorded a 3.06 ERA and 53 strikeouts through 47 innings at Petco Park. Along with his ERA, his home run/fly-ball ratio has ballooned in each of the past three seasons, so the spacious terrain should at least limit the bleeding.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers are not the best opponent, even though Kemp won't yet be eligible to return from the disabled list. If this was Kennedy's only start of the week, he wouldn't garner too much attention.

    It's that second start against the Miami Marlins that makes him a go. The Marlins rank last in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs and home runs last season, and they made no significant offseason improvements. Sorry, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Rafael Furcal aren't making them a powerhouse.

    Marlins Park doesn't have the pitcher-friendly notoriety of Petco, but ESPN's Tristan Cockcroft suggested that it's a better forum for hurlers.

    With two years of data in the bank, and the Marlins largely sporting comparable talent to their 2013 model, it's clear that this is one of, if not the, most pitching-friendly venues in the game. Consider it the new Petco, for those seeking to stream opposing starters, and temper your expectations for your visiting hitters.

    "At Miami Marlins" are still three words to seek out when looking for pitchers to start. If Kennedy cannot capitalize this week, it's time to reconsider his future worth.

     

    Verdict: Start

Ivan Nova, New York Yankees

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    Ivan Nova should open the season strong against the Houston Astros.
    Ivan Nova should open the season strong against the Houston Astros.Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Scheduled Start: Thursday (4/3) at Houston Astros

     

    To be fair, the Houston Astros' offense should not perform as horribly this season. They acquired an actual MLB position player in Dexter Fowler, have some intriguing prospects waiting and could enjoy some growth from their young infielders. Yet they're still far from a complete product.

    One thing resourceful managers might resemble from last season: The Astros are a gold mine for strikeouts. As a team, they led the league with a 25.5 strikeout percentage. That amounts to 1,535 strikeouts during the season, or 9.5 per game.

    They strike out a lot, and nobody should expect Chris Carter, Jonathan Villar and Jason Castro to eliminate the quirk during their sophomore campaigns. Until they can prove otherwise, the Astros should still be targeted as a matchup play.

    This is Ivan Nova's section, so let's give him some face time. The under-appreciated Yankees hurler quietly earned a 3.10 ERA while posting a solid 7.49 strikeouts and 2.84 walks per nine innings last season. 

    Maybe he would have received more attention if he won more games, but New York's offense experienced a power outage due to an aging corps unfolding at the seams. The Bronx Bombers are still old, but they shouldn't break down this soon.

    Minute Maid Park is a dangerous place for home runs, but Nova's 53.5 ground-ball percentage should limit those deep fly balls. He's a right-handed pitcher who earned a 2.44 ERA at Yankee Stadium last year, so he can handle an unfavorable stadium. Start him with confidence at Houston.

     

    Verdict: Start

Rick Porcello, Detroit Tigers

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    Rick Porcello has a tough opponent waiting for him to begin the season.
    Rick Porcello has a tough opponent waiting for him to begin the season.J. Meric/Getty Images

    Scheduled Start: Friday (4/4) vs. Baltimore Orioles

     

    This is the 125th time I've mentioned Rick Porcello, one of my top sleeper and breakout candidates for 2014. Yet I'm scared to insert him in my lineup during the first week.

    April rained hard on his parade last year. He surrendered 19 earned runs during the month, including a nine-run disaster against the Los Angeles Angels before he could record three outs. Safe to say no head-to-head gamers with Porcello won ERA or WHIP that week.

    With 15 spring strikeouts to just two walks, his 7.85 ERA should not incite massive panic. At the very least, it's a reminder that he's prone to bad outings that torpedo his stats.

    I could forgive those potential hindrances if he was not facing the Orioles, who added Nelson Cruz to an offense that already led the league in homes runs last season. The deep ball is typically the young righty's worst enemy, and he's facing a potent lineup that can exploit it.

    While I'm not flip-flopping on my Porcello endorsement, I'd think twice about activating him for this challenging quest.

     

    Verdict: Sit 

Michael Pineda, New York Yankees

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    Pineda gets a tough test in Toronto to start the season.
    Pineda gets a tough test in Toronto to start the season.Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Scheduled Start: Saturday (4/5) at Toronto Blue Jays

     

    Sometimes success amounts to the luck of the draw. While Nova gets a juicy matchup against the Astros, Michael Pineda makes his major league return against the Toronto Blue Jays.

    The 25-year-old has not pitched in the big leagues since 2011, when he notched 173 strikeouts through 171 frames during a successful rookie campaign. Two years later, the Yankees finally get to see their young pitcher in action.

    An astounding spring, during which he garnered a 1.20 ERA, 16 strikeouts and one walk through 15 innings, has made him a popular pick to round out a fantasy roster. If healthy, he'll provide a tremendous return on the minimal investment required to gamble on a bounce-back season.

    But let's give him a start to dip his feet in the pool rather than diving headfirst into the deep end.

    Last year, Toronto ranked ninth in runs scored, eighth in slugging percentage and fourth in home runs. Only four teams scored more at home, and that's with their star sluggers spending some time on the disabled list.

    With Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista in the batting order, the Blue Jays are as dangerous as it gets in a stadium tailor-made for their pull power. Even an established starter should be considered a risky play at the Rogers Centre.

    Owners are going to like what they see from a hurler once labeled a future ace, but wait a week before tossing Pineda into the starting mix.

     

    Verdict: Sit

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