Photo credit: By Arturo Pardavila III on Flickr [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
As we get closer and closer to the season’s end, we have to be ever more cautious with our selections of two-start pitchers. I’ll be taking a closer look at five borderline cases, but before digging into those, there are a couple of one-start pitchers who deserve our attention first.
For the first three months of this season, Danny Salazar made our lives easy. He was a must-start option despite some occasionally irritating control issues. In July, Salazar tested our patience, as he suddenly became more hittable, even though he continued to deliver more than a strikeout per inning. The August bounceback that owners were hoping for never materialized, as he has split the month between a disabled list stint for right elbow inflammation and brief, ineffective outings on the mound.
Salazar’s velocity hasn’t suffered of late, but he has been getting far fewer swings and misses on both his four-seam and two-seam fastballs. According to the PitchFX data on TexasLeaguers.com, Salazar was averaging more than 2400 rpm of spin on both pitches through the end of June. Since then, the rate on his four-seamer has clocked in at 2253 rpm and his two-seamer rate has been just 2109 rpm. The change is far too dramatic to ignore, and it’s better to not take a chance on Salazar this week when he faces the Marlins at home.
For those who have been stashing Alex Cobb this season, your patience could pay off soon. His Saturday rehab start is expected to be his last, and next weekend, he will likely make his first start for the Rays since undergoing Tommy John surgery. It’s entirely possible that Cobb could be good right off the bat when he faces the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field. After all, Homer Bailey’s first post-TJ start less than a month ago was a success. However, given the strength of the opponent and the uncertainty surrounding the first start after a lengthy layoff, it’s best to sit Cobb this week.
He could be available on waivers, though, so before setting your Week 22 rotation, see if you can pick Cobb up for your stashing pleasure.
Now, on to the two-start dilemmas, listed in order of startability.
Matt Shoemaker, Angels (vs. CIN, at SEA)
It’s safe to say that Shoemaker’s strikeout binge is over. In course of his last six starts, he has deemphasized his slider and splitter, and as those pitches have faded as parts of his arsenal, so has his whiff rate. Over those half dozen outings. Shoemaker has struck out 19 batters in 39 innings.
That’s not to say the righty from Downriver Detroit has gone completely downhill as a Fantasy contributor. Shoemaker has lasted at least six innings in each of his last eight starts, and he registered a quality start in all but one of them. He may not blow the doors off the Reds and Mariners lineups, but between those two performances, Shoemaker should be an asset to Fantasy rotations this week.
Tom Koehler, Marlins (at NYM, at CLE)
Koehler has a string of quality starts of his own, notching one in each of his last seven outings. He deserves credit for marked improvement in his control, but he has also received assists from a low BABIP (.224) and the schedule makers. Of the opponents Koehler has faced during this run, only the Cubs rank outside the bottom nine teams in wOBA since the All-Star break. Koehler draws the Mets this week, but the Indians will be a much tougher test. That matchup alone makes Koehler an inferior option to Shoemaker this week.
Joe Musgrove, Astros (vs. OAK, at TEX)
After dominating the opposition in his first three major league appearances, Musgrave has endured consecutive shellackings against the Orioles and Pirates. He went to his four-seamer less in those starts, and when he did use it, opponents blistered him for a .500 batting average (per Brooks Baseball). He hasn’t had quite as much horizontal movement on it, but otherwise, there are no telltale signs of a serious problem. He should fare better against a largely-punchless A’s lineup, and that start alone should make Musgrave safe to use in Week 22.
Sean Manaea, Athletics (at HOU, vs. BOS)
Manaea has cooled off after a month of July that looked like the precursor to a breakout. In August, Manaea has posted a 4.40 ERA while getting a modest 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings. He has continued to pitch with great control, but just maybe he is getting too much of the plate. According to FanGraphs, opponents are swinging at his pitches in the zone more frequently, but he’s not making up for it with a substantially lower contact rate. Perhaps in another week, Manaea would deserve the benefit of our doubt, but this time around, he faces two opponents who have been tough on lefties. Consider Manaea more of a last resort than a must-start.
CC Sabathia, Yankees (at KC, at BAL)
Could Sabathia’s up-and-down season be on the upswing again? Though he is coming off a strong performance at the Mariners, he has had enough poor starts over the past two months to warrant avoiding, if possible. However, Sabathia has rebounded from a brief stretch where he exhibited sketchy control. He also gets the benefit of two road starts, and this season, Sabathia has a 3.45 ERA and 0.9 HR/9 away from Yankee Stadium. He will also close out the week against the Orioles, who rank 27th in wOBA against lefties. If you’re in the mood to gamble on Sabathia in a two-start week, and if you’re far enough off the lead in your league to make a gamble worthwhile, this would be the time to do it.