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.
Normally, when Sunday rolls around, and Dallas Keuchel is cued up for a start, that’s a welcome sign for his fantasy owners. That has been particularly true for owners embroiled in a tight Head-to-Head contest. Keuchel is on the Sunday slate this week, set to face the Rangers in Arlington.
This time around, his contributions might not be as eagerly anticipated. Over three starts made since returning from the DL for a neck issue, Keuchel has allowed 14 runs over 12 innings. He has pitched with slightly less velocity and, while his ground-ball rate has declined from earlier in the season, Keuchel has still induced grounders at a 56 percent rate since getting activated.
However, the biggest problem Keuchel has encountered has been not getting batters to chase pitches out of the zone. That has been one of his keys to success, both earlier this season and in his 2015 Cy Young campaign. Prior to his DL stint, Keuchel got swings on pitches that missed the zone (O-Swing) at a 32 percent rate. His first two post-DL starts produced O-Swing rates of 25 and 26 percent. That rate increased to 30 percent for Tuesday’s outing against the White Sox, but he worked in the zone at a 42 percent rate — his highest rate of the season. With better pitches to hit, the White Sox took advantage, scoring eight runs on 10 hits, forcing Keuchel to exit after four innings.
While Keuchel’s Sunday opponent, the Rangers, have been one of the least productive teams in the majors against left-handed pitchers, ranking 25th in wOBA, the matchup is not all that relevant. On Aug. 2, Keuchel struggled against a Rays team that has been similarly punchless against lefties.
So Keuchel cannot be trusted by any fantasy owner who can’t afford to take chances heading into the final day of the scoring period. Fellow lefty Jason Vargas should be avoided as well. Not only has Vargas been in a rut, registering one quality start in his last six tries, but Guaranteed Rate Field is not the safest place for a flyball pitcher to get back on track.
So where to turn for a win, as well as some ERA, WHIP and strikeout help? German Marquez offers the best chance to get that entire package off waivers. He has reeled off six straight quality starts, posting a 2.95 ERA in the process, so he certainly has the hot hand. While fantasy owners are increasingly taking notice, he is still available in roughly one-quarter of CBS leagues and one-half of ESPN and Yahoo leagues.
Marquez has improved as a strikeout pitcher, having amassed 41 Ks over 39 2/3 innings during his quality-start streak. As I mentioned in a recent waiver wire column, he has been getting more swings-and-misses due to increased usage of his curveball. Marquez has been generating more swings in general, which should not only result in a low walk total but also enable him to work efficiently, getting him deep into his start. That’s an approach that should work well against the Marlins at their home park. They rank 24th in the majors in home wOBA. Not surprisingly, Marquez has been better away from Coors Field, having allowed a .365 slugging percentage in road games.
Also, the Marlins are countering with Vance Worley. who has a 4.82 ERA. If Marquez maintains his recent form, he stands a good chance to earn his 10th win.
The Angels-Mariners game provides a pair of potential streaming options in Parker Bridwell and Ariel Miranda. Both are extreme flyball pitchers who get the benefit of pitching in spacious Safeco Field. The Mariners and Angels also rank 24th and 25th, respectively, in wOBA accrued on flyballs.
On the surface, Bridwell looks like an especially good choice, given his 3.00 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. Yet there may not be a venue or a lineup that is safe for him. His 35 percent hard contact rate and 40 percent rate of hits with an exit velocity in excess of 95 mph speaks to how hard he has been hit. That latter mark is the fifth-highest of any pitcher that has allowed at least 200 batted balls. Bridwell has already been victimized by the Mariners, who collected 11 hits (including two home runs) and scored five runs against him on June 30. If not for a seemingly unsustainable 87 percent strand rate, Bridwell could easily have an ERA north of 4.00.
Miranda has a serious home-run problem, as evidenced by his 2.0 HR/9 ratio. It would seem that venue would not matter for him either, but Miranda has 3.34 ERA at home. The Mariners’ lefty has not always been effective at Safeco Field, but his worst starts there have typically been against the toughest opponents. The Tigers, Mets, Astros and Royals have each homered twice against Miranda at home this season, and of those teams, only the Royals rank outside the top 12 in home-run-to-flyball ratio against lefties.
Miranda has lacked the consistency shown by Marquez recently, but a home start against the Angels has considerable upside potential. The Angels don’t strike out much, but for ERA, WHIP and a win, Miranda offers a reasonable Plan B for owners who are looking for some last-minute help on waivers.
Statistical credits: FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Savant.