With seven of Thursday’s twelve MLB games scheduled for afternoon starts, that leaves just five for the evening slate. In this space, I’ll give you a little something on all ten starting pitchers you’ll be considering. They are all here, ranked according to how I see their value, not on total projected fantasy points, with my rationale for why I like them, or don’t.
Top 5 Pitchers
#1) Jason Hammel – CHC vs. CIN – $7,900 – – He went six innings with six K’s and only one earned run in his first start of the year against Arizona. He has always been a player who can strike guys out, with a career K/9 rate over 8.0, and who can control the ball in the zone, walking fewer than two guys per nine innings. At this price, against a Cincy lineup 10th worst in the league (with only 102 total bases so far on the year) there isn’t enough of a threat for Hammel to get shelled. He’s not my overall #1 projected pitcher (see #2 for that), but I just can’t get away from him at this price.
#2) Ross Stripling – LAD vs. ARI – $6,000 – – This will be Stripling’s second start, and he is on a pitch count, so he isn’t the safest option. But let’s be honest – this price has nowhere to go but up, and fast, and that equals value. Coming off 7.1 innings of no-hit ball against one of the best offenses in baseball so far this season (SF Giants), the rookie is going to look to build on that stellar performance here against another tough matchup. If he looks like he did last week, the only question will be how deep in the game he can get on 100 pitches. The bullpen cost him a win against San Francisco, and he still came away with 20 DK FP, which hints at an upside that’s hard to ignore from the second cheapest pitcher on the board.
#3) Raisel Iglesias – CIN @ CHC – $8,700 – – So far, his career is 107 innings long, so yes, small sample size, but so far so good. He has 116 punch-outs in those innings, with a K/9 rate just over 9 for his 18 starts last season as well as his two so far this year – he has picked up right where he left off. Against a Cubs team that led the majors in strikeouts by more than 100, Iglesias could have a useful fantasy performance even while giving up a handful of runs. And if he manages to limit that kind of damage being done, then it could be the kind of performance that you have to have on your roster if you want to win.
#4) Ian Kennedy – KC @ HOU – $8,300 – – 6.2 innings of shutout ball with 7 K’s against the Twins is enough to at least be sure the hamstring pull he suffered in Spring Training doesn’t appear to be impacting him now. His ERA has been above 4.00 in three of his four last seasons, in part due to his tendency to give up the long ball. He is running into a Houston team that right now is a much stiffer challenge than the Twins, but if you’re scared off by the 13 home runs they have hit already on the young season (second in the league), keep in mind that they did most of that damage in their first two series on the road. That’s important because the Brewers and the Yankees (their opponents) had two of the best parks for hitting home runs all of last year, much better than Minute Maid Park in Houston. Instead, focus on their league-leading 93 strikeouts, and know that Kennedy has the potential to give up a home run and still turn in one of the most useful fantasy performances of the evening, especially at this price.
“He is 2-0 after giving up only three total earned runs in 13 innings…”
#5) Cole Hamels – TEX vs. BAL – $10,600 – – He is 2-0 after giving up only three total earned runs in 13 innings against the Angels and the Mariners. But this Orioles team is a different beast, slugging .522 as a group through seven games. Combine that with the 6 walks Hamels has surrendered through two games and there is enough potential for a trouble inning or two that will drop him down the list. But if he gets into a groove he can chew up innings in a hurry against anyone, and with the offense he has backing him up going against Tillman, that could still be a recipe for a successful night overall.
#6) Robbie Ray – ARI @ LAD – $8,600 – – The 24-year-old lefty has pitched very well in his 33 major league starts so far, striking out almost a batter an inning, and managing 11 quality starts last season. He has kept his team in contention when he was out there, and he’s been a useful fantasy performer. But the Dodgers are a team that saw their batting average and slugging rates both jump up by almost .020 points against lefties than righties, and with the way the offense has been playing so far this season, there is definitely some risk that Ray doesn’t make it through more than five or six innings in this one.
#7) Marcus Stroman – TOR vs. NYY – $9,000 – – This is really just about matchup. I am rooting for Stroman and think he is primed to have a very solid year after returning from his knee injury late last season. But we just saw him struggle against the Red Sox, giving up five runs in 5.1 innings, and now he is coming up against the Yankees. Everyone thinks of those offenses as patient, but that doesn’t mean they rely on a lot of walks, it just means they absolutely demand that opposing pitchers throw a ton of pitches (he threw 92 in this 5.1 innings against the Sox). For a pitcher like Stroman who relies so much on his control, watching pitches go by could force him to find too much of the plate every now and then, and a veteran lineup like New York’s is not going to let him get away with that.
#8) Nathan Eovaldi – NYY @ TOR – $7,300 – – Eovaldi throws hard, for sure, and could easily end up with 6-8 strikeout in this matchup, but the Blue Jays could also turn on 2-3 of those fastballs and get him out of the game in five innings. He gave up five earned runs on six hits in just five innings against Houston in his first appearance this season, and needed 92 pitches to do it. For this basement price, I do like him a lot better than at least two of the three guys listed as cheaper than he is, even against the Blue Jays lineup. In 2015, he faced Toronto once, and gave up one run in 6.2 innings, and in fact, if you go through his game log from last season and pick up the games against the league’s top offenses, you can see he acquitted himself well, giving up just 22 runs in 42 innings against Boston, Baltimore, Kansas City and Detroit.
“In 2015, Eovaldi faced Toronto once, and gave up one run in 6.2 innings”
#9) Chris Tillman – BAL @ TEX – $6,800 – – Baltimore is going to need to rely on their offense tonight. Tillman has had two starts, for a total of only seven innings, but that’s because his first start was cut short by weather. He has thrown well in those seven innings, giving up just four hits and a run, with 10 total K’s. The K rate is something of an anomaly so far based on his career K/9 ratio of 7.4 or so, which limits his upside. That lack of big potential combined with the possibility of the Texas offense putting up a big number, for me, ruins his shot at reaching value, even at this price.
#10) Doug Fister – HOU vs. KC – $5,700 – – He is cheap for a reason – he doesn’t strike anyone out, a conclusion I have reached based on the evidence of his entire body of work over several years (and not the few innings he threw this spring), and the best year in his career came in 2014 in the National League. He’s back in the AL now, facing much more high-powered offenses, who will pounce every time he leaves a pitch up in the zone. He almost seeks out contact, looking to ground hitters out early in the count, and when he fails the failure can be spectacular. And more importantly, even when he succeeds, it might help the Astros, but it typically isn’t going to help your fantasy squad much at all.