Fantasy Baseball: Week 5 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em Breakdown

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistApril 28, 2014

Fantasy Baseball: Week 5 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em Breakdown

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    Hisashi Iwakuma is expected to make his 2014 debut on Friday against the Houston Astros.
    Hisashi Iwakuma is expected to make his 2014 debut on Friday against the Houston Astros.Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    The April portion of the calendar transforms into May during Week 5 of the MLB season. Does this mean gloomy pitchers will blossom into delightful flowers?

    Pitchers who rained on their fantasy owners' ERA and WHIP still have plenty of time to turn around a tumultuous beginning to 2014. Unfortunately, there's just enough data to express legitimate concerns over some failing to get their act together.

    On a brighter note, other hurlers of contrasting varieties have jumped out to promising starts. From a rebounding veteran to a hot-shot prospect to a reliever-turned-starter, this week's "Start 'Em or Sit 'Em Breakdown" welcomes players from all backgrounds.

    And hey, an old friend also returns to the fold this week. Well, I don't know him personally, but Hisashi Iwakuma's anticipated debut is still a sweet sight for daring drafters who stashed him on the disabled list throughout April.

    Who gets inserted into the starting lineup this week? Who takes a seat on the bench? Let's take a look at a few intriguing cases to close out April and usher in May. 


    Note: All advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Deep Streaming Options

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    Collin McHugh has emerged from nowhere to give the Houston Astros two sensational starts.
    Collin McHugh has emerged from nowhere to give the Houston Astros two sensational starts.Bob Levey/Getty Images

    These guys don't receive much recognition in standard mixed leagues, but they're worth a look this week for owners who stream starting pitchers. 


    Wade Miley, Arizona Diamondbacks: Monday (4/28) vs. Colorado Rockies, Sunday (5/4) at San Diego Padres

    This is less about Miley and more about how horrible the Padres look right now. They’ve scored 2.7 runs per game with a .278 team on-base percentage. I’m more interested in streaming him for that start in leagues with daily changes rather than testing his luck in weekly formats.


    Tyler Lyons, St. Louis Cardinals: Friday (5/2) at Chicago Cubs

    Stepping into St. Louis’ rotation in place of the injured Joe Kelly, Lyons allowed two runs through six innings against the New York Mets, tallying seven strikeouts with four walks. The control must improve, but the Cubs are less patient than the Mets while striking out just as much.


    Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros: Saturday (5/3) vs. Seattle Mariners

    Last week I wrote fondly of Dallas Keuchel, who has a 3.29 FIP, 30 strikeouts and eight walks through 30.1 innings. If there’s a time to audition the 26-year-old, it’s this weekend against the slumping Mariners.


    Collin McHugh, Houston Astros: Sunday (5/4) vs. Seattle Mariners

    Before this season, Collin McHugh held an 8.87 career ERA. Now he’s allowed just one run in back-to-back stellar outings. One of those starts came at Seattle’s expense; he recorded 12 strikeouts through 6.2 scoreless innings on April 22.

Tyson Ross, San Diego Padres

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    Tyson Ross has had on-and-off success through his first five starts.
    Tyson Ross has had on-and-off success through his first five starts.Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Scheduled Starts: Monday (4/28) at San Francisco Giants, Sunday (5/4) vs. Arizona Diamondbacks


    Tyson Ross' early performance is exactly what drives fantasy owners crazy about starting pitchers. Twice he has delighted supporters who anticipated such a breakout effort, but the other three outings have not been pretty.

    The 27-year-old walked seven batters through his first two starts, which had some gamers wondering if he deserved a roster spot. He halted those thoughts in his ensuing two games, allowing one run through 15 innings with 16 strikeouts and two walks.

    Just when it felt safe to trust him as more than a matchup play, the Milwaukee Brewers beat him up for nine hits and five runs.

    For now, Ross is best relegated to starts at home. His two superlative efforts both occurred with Petco Park's spacious confines. For managers forced to submit a lineup for the week, this creates a sticky situation.

    Is it worth testing him at San Francisco to reap the rewards of his home foray against the Diamondbacks? Luckily for Ross, AT&T Park is no hitter's haven, and the Giants are a neutral offense. You're not targeting them, but you're not avoiding them either.

    Despite his inconsistency, Ross still sports a 3.16 ERA, 52.2 ground-ball percentage and 8.04 K/9 ratio. Give him a chance to prove he can deliver without a San Diego backdrop. 


    Verdict: Start 

John Lackey, Boston Red Sox

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    John Lackey has been a much better pitcher since his disastrous 2012 season.
    John Lackey has been a much better pitcher since his disastrous 2012 season.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Scheduled Starts: Tuesday (4/29) at Tampa Bay Rays; Sunday (5/4) vs. Oakland Athletics


    Hey, did you know John Lackey is really good now?

    No, seriously. I know his 4.22 ERA and 1.31 WHIP aren’t exactly making you giddy, but look deeper into his numbers. The veteran, who reinvented himself last year after a disastrous 2011 season, has 34 strikeouts and seven walks through 32 innings.

    If he keeps those strikeout and walk numbers so pearly, he’ll succeed. He just needs the .337 BABIP to drop while avoiding the long ball. (The moral of that story: Bench Lackey at Yankee Stadium, where the righty relinquished four homers on April 12.)

    With Josh Donaldson picking up right where he left off during his breakout campaign, Oakland is one of the game’s hottest offenses to start the season. Tampa Bay’s run production will eventually catch up to its .334 on-base percentage.

    These are two tough matchups for Lackey, but that’s all he has seen this season. His five starts have all come against the New York Yankees (twice), Baltimore Orioles (twice) and Toronto Blue Jays.

    Pitching in the American League East will prevent Lackey from making a substantial dent, but he's an underrated option worth using in most spots.


    Verdict: Start

Ricky Nolasco, Minnesota Twins

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    Ricky Nolasco has lost his strikeout stuff this April.
    Ricky Nolasco has lost his strikeout stuff this April.Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Scheduled Start: Wednesday (4/30) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers


    Ricky Nolasco is a similar pitcher to Lackey. At least he was. He’s inconsistent, but usually has solid strikeout and walk numbers to support his merit as an undervalued starter. Drafters could have done a lot worse than rounding out their rotation with the veteran.

    On second thought, maybe not. He’s holding a ghastly 6.67 ERA and 1.75 WHIP, and it’s not his typical “He’s just getting unlucky” slump. Well, some of it is, most notably the .355 BABIP despite his 50.5 ground-ball percentage. That will normalize a bit to save him from being a human disaster on the mound.

    But this isn’t the Nolasco we’ve all grown to know and like. He has accumulated a measly 13 strikeouts through 29.2 innings. With his swinging strikeout percentage down to 5.7 and a contact rate up to 86.5 percent, Nolasco can’t blame the baseball gods for his troubles.

    Offensively, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been among the middle pack. Besides Adrian Gonzalez and Dee Gordon, nobody is hitting exceptionally well. But we all know what Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp can do when they’re on.

    Playing in Minnesota also gives the Dodgers s chance to get Andre Ethier into the lineup with the rest of their crowded outfield. Even a struggling Ethier is better than a pitcher.

    In a standard mixed league, Nolasco isn’t worth owning at this point. This could be his last chance for many frustrated owners, and there’s no evidence pointing to him passing.


    Verdict: Sit

Robbie Ross, Texas Rangers

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    Robbie Ross hasn't surrendered a walk in his last three starts.
    Robbie Ross hasn't surrendered a walk in his last three starts.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Scheduled Start: Wednesday (4/30) vs. Oakland Athletics


    I must have changed my stance on Robbie Ross five times before reaching a conclusion.  

    My first thought was along the lines of "Robbie Ross? A converted reliever who hadn't started since 2011 in Double-A? No thanks." Then there's a 3.97 FIP towering over his 2.45 ERA, signaling some turbulence along the way.

    Nobody can reasonably expect him to sustain a 2.45 ERA in the rotation after earning a 3.03 ERA in the bullpen last season. Of course that number will expand, but that doesn't mean he's a useless fantasy option.

    If he maintains his sterling 58.8 ground-ball percentage, his rousing start will amount to more than a future footnote. Ground balls are the most effective route to easy outs, and it helps him avoid too much trouble in Arlington Park.

    He also hasn't walked a batter in his last 19 innings, working out the kinks after issuing six free passes to the Boston Red Sox on April 9. There's hope for the 24-year-old lefty yet.

    The whole lefty thing also helps him against Oakland, who is hitting .226/.305/.365 against southpaws this season. Oddly enough, the A's are grinding against left-handed pitching despite Brandon Moss, their big lefty slugger typically baffled by lefties, touting a .930 OPS against them in a miniature 11-at-bat sample size.

    While Ross hasn't fully earned my trust yet, he gets the green light by a slim margin. So don't get too mad if he wets the bed.


    Verdict: Start

Zack Wheeler, New York Mets

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    Despite his encouraging start, Zack Wheeler is a dangerous play at Coors Field.
    Despite his encouraging start, Zack Wheeler is a dangerous play at Coors Field.Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Scheduled Start: Thursday (5/1) at Colorado Rockies


    Zack Wheeler has delivered the goods through five starts, giving the Mets and fantasy owners hope that he’s the future ace they signed up for.

    In 29.1 innings, the 23-year-old has posted a 2.98 FIP and 31 strikeouts. While the walks haven’t vanished, he has yielded a manageable 11 free passes, which translates to 3.38 BB/9. The power pitcher can get by with that measure.

    He’s no Matt Harvey 2.0, but Wheeler looks like a viable fantasy contributor for 2014. He has not, however, elevated into a must-start regardless of the matchup.

    What could cause managers to run for the hills? That’s easy: an outing at Coors Field.

    That’s where Wheeler is scheduled to work on Thursday. The Rockies lead the National League in runs scored (140), regardless of the locale. They're lethal at their precious home park, batting .346/.398/.586 with 89 runs scored through a dozen games.

    Don’t get scared away from the young hurler when he struggles with his tough assignment. Just stay away for a week.


    Verdict: Sit

Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners

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    Iwakuma was a Cy Young contender last season.
    Iwakuma was a Cy Young contender last season.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Scheduled Start: Friday (5/2) at Houston Astros


    Usually I’d say to wait a start for a returning pitcher, just to make sure everything is in order and he gets a practice run, for your sake at least. Given the matchup, however, I’m inclined to toss that philosophy out the window.

    Hisashi Iwakuma gets the Houston Astros, who possess the American League’s worst offense near the end of April. Although some other teams have caught up to Houston’s massive strikeout rate, the Astros still whiff in bunches, having collecting 229 strikeouts, which amounts to 8.8 per game.

    Also, Iwakuma isn’t just any old pitcher. One of 2013’s best fantasy values, he recorded a 2.66 ERA and 1.01 WHIP during his first full season in Seattle’s rotation. His 7.58 K/9 ratio won’t blow anyone anyway, but it becomes much more impressive when seeing his 1.72 BB/9 rate.

    His ERA and WHIP will inflate to less superhuman levels with the rising of his .252 BABIP, but a healthy Iwakuma is a top-25 fantasy starter worthy of taking the mound as your No. 2 or 3 hurler. If he can match 80 percent of last year’s success, those are conservative measures.


    Verdict: Start


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