Fantasy Baseball: Week 8 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em Breakdown

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistMay 19, 2014

Fantasy Baseball: Week 8 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em Breakdown

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    Matt Cain's starting status gets put to the test with a tough matchup this week,
    Matt Cain's starting status gets put to the test with a tough matchup this week,Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Matchups mean everything when managing a fantasy baseball squad.

    An owner who blindly fills out a lineup will not get far during the draining baseball season. The successful managers won't assume that past results will carry over through the season. Baseball is a game of ups and downs, where the same guy laboring to get an out in May can become unhittable in June.

    Also, not every start is created equal. Should gamers punish a pitcher for a bad day against a top offense even though his next start comes against a light lineup? How about the opposite scenario?

    This week's installment of Start 'Em or Sit 'Em focuses heavily on several extreme matchups. How much should owners value a start at San Diego? Should they run for the hills after seeing "at Colorado" on the docket?

    I'll also mourn the demotion of Danny Salazar, but only to explore his replacement, another intriguing young hurler that can mitigate some of the sadness from losing the preseason fantasy darling to the minor leagues.

    Note: All advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Deep-League Streaming Options

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    Jacob deGrom made his MLB debut last week to replace the injured Dillon Gee.
    Jacob deGrom made his MLB debut last week to replace the injured Dillon Gee.Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Jacob deGrom, New York Mets: Wednesday (5/21) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

    Receiving an early introduction to the Subway Series, deGrom mounted a strong MLB debut with one run allowed through seven innings against the Yankees. He doesn't possess the pedigree of a Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard, but he could prove valuable as a decent back-end starter.

    Roenis Elias, Seattle Mariners: Thursday (5/22) vs. Houston Astros

    Elias isn't much to write home about, but he has a solid 3.71 ERA and 7.76 K/9. The Astros are dependent on the long ball, but they'll have a tougher time sending anything over Safeco Field's fences.

    Robbie Erlin, San Diego Padres: Friday (5/23) vs. Chicago Cubs

    Underneath that 4.53 ERA lies a 3.29 FIP, and most of that damage was inflicted on the road, where Erlin owns a blemished 6.26 ERA. Erlin is a strong deep-league candidate at home against a feeble Cubs offense.

    Jaime Garcia, St. Louis Cardinals: Saturday (5/24) at Cincinnati Reds

    In his fist start of the season, Garcia allowed four runs to the offensively challenged Atlanta Braves. Fantasy managers need to see more before eyeing him in standard mixed leagues, but the oft-injured hurler is typically effective when healthy, as he owns a 3.45 career ERA. 

Ian Kennedy, San Diego Padres

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    Ian Kennedy is back to operating as a top-notch starter.
    Ian Kennedy is back to operating as a top-notch starter.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Scheduled Starts: Tuesday (5/20) vs. Minnesota Twins; Sunday (5/25) vs. Chicago Cubs

    Ian Kennedy has rediscovered his mojo with the San Diego Padres.

    After two subpar seasons followed his sensational 2011 breakout campaign, the righty has returned to fantasy relevance in his new shelter. Through nine starts in 2014, he's sporting a 3.60 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 60 strikeouts against just 12 walks.

    Those noteworthy strikeout-to-walk numbers give him a 2.55 FIP, the 10th-highest mark among all qualified starting pitchers. Sometimes a change of scenery gives a man a fresh outlook on life, especially when that man is a fly-ball pitcher moving to a notorious pitcher's park.

    At least that's the logical explanation for the 29-year-old's rebound, but the numbers interfere with that thought. While he holds a 2.18 FIP at home this season, his 4.20 home ERA is much higher due to a .370 BABIP. He's cleaning up on the road, though, with a 2.88 ERA.

    Chalk those unexpected splits up to a small sample size, as he has faced the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies at home. The Cubs and Twins are among the league's worst in terms of strikeouts, and both rank in the bottom half in terms of slugging percentage.

    Kennedy has worked his way back as a must-own pitcher, and he's a must-start this week with two favorable matchups.

    Verdict: Start

Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians

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    A reformed Trevor Bauer gets another chance in the Cleveland Indians' rotation.
    A reformed Trevor Bauer gets another chance in the Cleveland Indians' rotation.Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Scheduled Starts: Tuesday (5/20) vs. Detroit Tigers; Sunday (5/25) at Baltimore Orioles

    I don't want to talk about the whole Danny Salazar thing. A top breakout candidate, he instead was demoted to Triple-A after posting a 5.53 ERA through eight starts. Given his 10.4 K/9 rate, I'd still store him on the bench if you have a roster slot to play with, but Salazar is one of the season's biggest disappointments so far.

    His misfortune, however, opens the door for Trevor Bauer to salvage his career. A top prospect back in the day, the 23-year-old (wait, he's only 23?) has looked much sharper this season, recording a 2.15 ERA in Triple-A.

    After struggling to throw strikes throughout his professional career, Bauer is finally starting to harness his offerings. He has issued 14 walks through 46 innings, a welcome sight considering he previously allowed 31 free passes through 39.1 career major league frames.

    He deserves another look, so go see if he's napping on the waiver wire, even if it means grabbing him over Salazar. Use the week, however, to scout him before trusting him in the starting lineup.

    He returns to face the Tigers, who rank third in team slugging percentage and 28th in strikeout percentage. And although the Orioles have not lived up to the hype offensively, they're full of dangerous bats when Chris Davis and Adam Jones wake up.

    Give the promoted Bauer a look, but do not give him a start just yet.

    Verdict: Sit

Phil Hughes, Minnesota Twins

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    Phil Hughes has found new life with the Minnesota Twins.
    Phil Hughes has found new life with the Minnesota Twins.Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Scheduled Start: Wednesday (5/21) at San Diego Padres

    Maybe Phil Hughes just needed to leave Yankee Stadium after all.

    An ERA killer with the New York Yankees, he is now touting a respectable 3.61 ERA in the Minnesota Twins rotation. Since wins are a weird stat, he has already matched his 2013 win total, notching four victories with his new squad.

    Notoriously destroyed by the long ball, he has surrendered just four home runs through 47.1 innings this year, giving him a 5.9 HR/FB percentage that's partly due to luck and partly due to playing in the roomy Target field.

    But throwing strikes translates anywhere, and he has issued a microscopic six walks all season; Zack Wheeler did that in one start on May 13. Such impeccable control has led Hughes to greater success in a friendlier environment, so it's time to upgrade him from the deep-league streamer section.

    A start on Wednesday in San Diego, where he will face baseball's worst offense in terms of batting average and on-base percentage Compiling a cheap strikeout or two against the opposing pitcher instead of fending off a designated hitter? Sign me up.

    Verdict: Start

Clay Buchholz, Boston Red sox

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    Clay Buchholz shouldn't be owned in more than half of Yahoo! leagues.
    Clay Buchholz shouldn't be owned in more than half of Yahoo! leagues.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Scheduled Start: Wednesday (5/21) vs. Toronto Blue Jays

    The same Clay Buchholz who posted a 1.74 ERA last year is now brandishing a 6.17 ERA this seasonkind of a huge difference.

    One would also expect to see wide-ranging differences when examining his peripheral numbers, so it's surprising that his BB/9 (2.99 in 2013; 2.98 in 2014) and line-drive rate (20.6% in 2013; 20.5% this year) remain virtually identical to last year.

    Of course, a few contrasts exist on his FanGraphs page. Perhaps the biggest discrepancy comes with his BABIP, which was a fortuitous .254 last season and a disastrous .385 this year. A lot of that stems from random variance, but his contact rate has ballooned to 84 percent while his swinging-strike percentage deflated to 7.5 percent.

    Essentially, he's not as bad as his 6.17 ERA suggests, but don't go expecting the guy from last season to return. He's nothing special, but he gets extra attention due to his geographical location; if he played for the Kansas City Royals, nobody would own him.

    The Blue Jays lead the American League in home runs, and Edwin Encarnacion has caught fire after a sluggish start. This is not the time to gamble on Buchholz bouncing back.

    Verdict: Sit

Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

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    Matt Cain must travel to Colorado for baseball's toughest matchup.
    Matt Cain must travel to Colorado for baseball's toughest matchup.Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    Scheduled Start: Wednesday (5/21) at Colorado Rockies

    This is the old case of track record versus matchup. The way the Colorado Rockies are playing, I wouldn't feel comfortable starting many pitchers at their stomping ground.

    The Rockies are hitting the snot out of the baseball, leading baseball in runs scored, batting average and OPS. Those numbers hulk up to Ruthian levels at Coors Field, where they average 7.2 runs scored per contest.

    Matt Cain has been around the block and given gamers years of reliable production. This season, however, he has been inflicted with a 4.33 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. Also, his 3.50 BB/9 is his most erratic measure since 2008.

    He already felt Coors' wrath this season, relinquishing seven runs through six innings there on April 23, after which the San Francisco Giants summoned him to the disabled list. Opposing the Rockies at home 11 days earlier, he yielded just one run through seven much better frames.

    Were Cain rolling, this decision would be tougher. While owners are wise to play the matchups, there are some aces you don't sit, no matter the opponent. Right now, though, Cain is not an ace, so don't feel guilty about sitting him for the brutal challenge that lies ahead this week.

    Verdict: Sit

Matt Garza, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Matt Garza will look happier once he sees the Atlanta Braves on his schedule.
    Matt Garza will look happier once he sees the Atlanta Braves on his schedule.Brian Kersey/Getty Images

    Scheduled Start: Thursday (5/22) at Atlanta Braves

    If a matchup can doom a faltering veteran, it can also save one. A slumping Matt Garza should get back on track against the mediocre Atlanta Braves this week.

    For a team with star hitters like Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton playing well, it's baffling that Atlanta still ranks last in the league in runs scored. Perhaps it's because nobody else on the offense currently resembles a major league hitter, with Jason Heyward's power outage hurting the offense the most.

    Garza isn't firing on all cylinders, either, with a 4.83 ERA. His velocity has shrunk while his walk rate (3.15) has expandedboth discouraging signs that point to the 30-year-old now serving as no more than a matchup play in standard mixed leagues.

    Well, here's where the matchup comes into play. Garza enjoyed another favorable foe in the Cubs last week, and although he could not escape with a victory, he allowed just five baserunners and three runs through seven innings while notching seven strikeouts.

    That represents his finest outing since his first start of the season, when he yielded two hits and a run with seven strikeouts through eight sparkling frames against...the Braves. Isn't it convenient how that all tied together at the end?

    Verdict: Start