Sundays are huge for fantasy baseball matchups, and sometimes the difference between a win and a loss comes down to one last starting pitcher. With that in mind, here are some names to target and some to avoid.
In last week’s Sunday Streamers, I encouraged readers to ignore Kyle Freeland’s good track record at Coors Field and avoid his start at home against the White Sox, who had been slaying lefties all season. I think what I meant to write was, if you’re counting on a no-hitter from Freeland, don’t bother, because he only has the stamina to shut down the White Sox for 8.1 innings.
So yes, I misjudged and underestimated the Rockies’ southpaw, so to make up for it, I am opening my mind in regard to this Sunday’s Rockies starter and asking you to come along for the ride.
Just as I dismissed Freeland’s chances to help fantasy owners last weekend, it would be easy for me to overlook Jeff Hoffman as a fantasy option this Sunday. After being utterly dominant through his first four starts of the season, Hoffman has tailed off considerably over his last five outings. He has a 5.83 ERA over that stretch with 16 strikeouts and 13 walks in 29.1 innings. During this span of starts, Hoffman has been far more hittable, getting swings and misses on only five percent of his pitches. A week ago, in facing the same White Sox team that Freeland shut down, Hoffman gave up four runs in seven innings and induced one swinging strike in 94 pitches.
This Sunday, Hoffman will try to get his second half on the right foot at Citi Field with a start against the Mets. In taking a closer look at this matchup, I think Hoffman has a good chance of helping fantasy owners with a win, a quality start, ERA and WHIP — pretty much with everything other than strikeouts. Though they had no problem breaking out against Hoffman’s teammate, Jon Gray, in Friday’s series opener, the Mets have generally not been productive at their home park. Among all major league teams, they rank 27th in home wOBA. One reason they may have been able to break the pattern against Gray is that he has struggled against left-handed hitters this season, allowing them to compile an .937 OPS. Yoenis Cespedes, T.J. Rivera and Travis d’Arnaud were the only righties in the Mets’ lineup.
Hoffman’s struggles have been primarily against righties, but lefties have managed just a .200/.243/.320 slash line against him. Away from Coors Field, not one of the 53 left-handed batters he has faced has recorded an extra-base hit this season. Hoffman may very well continue to allow frequent contact, but both the Mets’ track record at home and Hoffman’s history against lefties suggest that he won’t sustain much damage in this start.
If strikeouts are what you need, I’m going back to the well to recommend Trevor Cahill. He was a recommended start last Sunday against the Phillies for strikeouts, as well as ERA and a win. Cahill did not deliver in the latter two categories — he uncharacteristically gave up three home runs. (Cahill had allowed a total of three homers over his previous eight starts.) He should be good for ERA this time around. He is facing the Giants, who have the lowest wOBA against righties. Counting on the Padres to provide enough run support against Jeff Samardzija to guarantee a win is probably asking too much, though. Even in his rough start against the Phillies, Cahill struck out eight batters in five innings, and he has a 29.7 percent K-rate on the season.
If Hoffman is unavailable, or if you just can’t get behind his recent stats, give Anibal Sanchez a try. He has been decidedly better since returning from a one-month stay at Triple-A Toledo, posting a 3.09 ERA with 22 strikeouts and four walks over 23.1 innings in four starts. He has likely overperformed, helped by an ultra-low .246 BABIP, but getting popouts at an 11 percent rate has helped him to limit hits on balls in play. Similarly, limiting fly balls to an average distance of 306 feet has helped him to hold opponents to one home run over this four-start stretch. Sanchez has also benefited from not pitching in hitters’ parks for any of those starts.
It’s a happy coincidence, then, that Sanchez gets to start at home on Sunday against the Blue Jays. Comerica Park grades out as neutral, and the Jays own the majors’ fifth-highest popout rate. They also rank 18th in wOBA on fly balls in general and 21st in wOBA versus right-handed pitchers. Sanchez may not be able to maintain his recent level of success over the long haul, but this particular matchup bodes well for him to produce a low ERA and WHIP. Since the Blue Jays are countering with the struggling Marco Estrada (9.46 ERA over his last seven starts), owners can also look to Sanchez for a win.
Personally, I would favor Hoffman over Sanchez, given the combination of his mastery of left-handed hitters and the Mets’ offensive struggles at Citi Field. Another check to place in Hoffman’s column is his chances of outperforming the Mets’ starter on Sunday, Steven Matz. On the surface, it may appear that Matz, not Hoffman, has the better chance of a win, since the Rockies have the majors’ sixth-lowest wOBA on the road and the lowest road Iso of any team. However, Citi Field has been one of the better NL parks for right-handed home run power going back to 2015. That is welcome news for the Rockies’ right-handed power trio of Nolan Arenado, Mark Reynolds and Trevor Story (or alternatively, Pat Valaika).
Matz could fuel the flames — he has allowed seven home runs in 27 innings pitched to right-handed hitters this season. Not only should owners be aware that Matz may help Hoffman to a win, but the Mets’ lefty himself needs to be avoided.
Statistical credits: FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, Baseball Savant.