Opening Day is here! The National Pastime has returned. Yes, I said National Pastime, and I realize I am not writing a Fantasy Football piece.
While Game 140 may come with tired eyes, nothing will ever diminish the glory of Opening Day in Major League Baseball and the day that every player and Fantasy Baseball nut alike looks forward to, as the games finally matter.
We wipe the slate clean — the nine spring home runs are forgotten (sorry Kris Bryant owners) — and all that matters is if that momentum will carry over into April. And, perhaps more importantly, the 10.22 ERA is reset — here’s looking at you King Felix — and we finally see if there’s any reason for concern.
As for myself, and us “So-Called Fantasy Experts,” judgement day is upon us. I guess the safe route to travel for the Week 1 Pitcher Planner would be to tell you five obvious pitchers to start, and name you five Trevor Cahill’s to sit. At which point, you finish the article and say, “Gee, thanks for the advice, my dog could have given me that advice.”
Instead, for this article and every article to come on Sunday afternoons as you prepare to set your lineup for the upcoming week, I do not want to look at the obvious. Telling you to play your aces will not help you decide between the last three pitchers on your roster, only one of which you can start.
Week 1 Pitcher Planner: The Thought Process
Given that the pitcher does not need to match pitch speed with bat speed, generally a pitcher will exit Spring Training with a slight edge on the hitter.
Last year, 17 out of 28 teams scored 3 or fewer runs on Major League Baseball Opening Day, counting the Sunday night game. In addition, 5 out of the 14 games had a total of 3 or fewer runs scored. That following Tuesday, runs were once again at a minimum with 5 out of the 8 games accumulating seven or fewer runs scored.
The Friday after MLB Opening Day, 12 out of 14 games had 8 or more runs scored. I realize this coincides generally with “aces” pitching on Opening Day, and the No. 4 or 5 starter going that Friday, but it’s still certainly worth noting.
By the way, for those in Las Vegas, I focus on the 7-8 runs scored in a game as that will generally be the run totals that over/unders fall in during the course of a season. And, at the moment, no game has an Over/Under above 8 runs on Opening Day, and only 2 games have an over/under below 7.
I’m loading up on pitchers, if possible, that will get me a start in the first three days of the week, and give you an early lead for those in H2H leagues. Enough stalling already, on with the list.
Fantasy Baseball Week 1 Pitcher Planner: 5 to Start
1. Chris Tillman, Baltimore
Tillman followed up his solid finish to the 2014 season with a great Spring Training. He should have no problem continuing his success against the Tampa Bay Rays’ questionable lineup on Monday.
Last season, he posted a 2-0 record with a 1.71 ERA against the Rays. Although, he draws a tough matchup over the weekend against the Toronto Blue Jays, it will at least come at home, where he posted a 2.54 ERA last season.
2. Mat Latos, Miami
I’ve been on the Mat Latos bandwagon ever since his move to Miami. While I realize the concerns about him lasting a full season, for the sake of this article, all I need him to do is last two starts. I am happily targeting any pitcher against the Atlanta Braves this season, and him making the start at home in Miami’s spacious park, is just an added bonus.
I think Latos puts the rough spring behind him and makes a great debut for the new home crowd. Plus, if the Marlins decide to go with a 4-man rotation the first week, he will get the Rays at home on Sunday — Win-Win.
3. Anibal Sanchez, Detroit
I feel like Sanchez is the forgotten man in Detroit, and it’s surprising. I think I would be more shocked if Sanchez didn’t step up as the second-best pitcher in the Tigers’ rotation by season’s end (behind David Price), than if he did.
It is not too long ago, one year to be exact, that Sanchez was arguably the best starter for Detroit in 2013, when he posted 14 wins, 202 strikeouts and a 2.57 ERA. Year-end results aside, he has posted a 2.28 ERA in 83 April innings the last three years, and I like him to get off to a similarly hot start at home against the Twins on Wednesday.
4. Trevor Bauer, Cleveland
There’s only one number about Bauer’s spring training that matters: 1. That is the number of walks he allowed in just under 28 innings pitched. A major improvement on his walk/9 rate in 2014 of 3.53. In addition, he notched 26 strikeouts.
The story on Bauer all along has been his control, and aside from the control issues last year, he quietly put together a pretty solid 2014 campaign with a 4.18 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 26 starts. No, it’s not what we are looking for from the “potential” ace, but let’s not forget he is still only 24 years old.
I like Bauer to take a huge leap forward in 2015, and it starts against the Houston Astros Wednesday afternoon. Bauer had a 3.09 ERA during day games in 2014. Oh, and by the way, his start comes against Asher Wojciechowski. … Who? Exactly!
Trevor Bauer struck out 26 and walked one this spring. He gets Houston in Week 1. These are good things.
— scott pianowski (@scott_pianowski) April 5, 2015
5. Bartolo Colon, N.Y. Mets
A two-start pitcher against the injury riddled Washington Nationals lineup and then an Atlanta Braves “lineup” with all kinds of offensive question marks, I think Colon makes a great cheap play in all formats, particularly H2H and daily leagues.
He does not get a lot of strikeouts, and he draws tough match ups with Max Scherzer and, likely, Julio Teheran, but I expect the New York Mets to get off to a hot start to show that their hopes of a respectable season were not lost after Zack Wheeler’s injury.
Fantasy Baseball Week 1 Pitcher Planner: 5 to Sit
1. Yordano Ventura, Kansas City
Ventura could have a magnificent season, but I’m passing on him for Opening Day. The nerves of starting Opening Day as a 23-year-old is generally distraction enough. Add on to that, his first start since winning Game 6 of the World Series, the ring ceremony for winning the American League Championship and the newly signed 5-year contract, I think it will be too much to overcome.
Plus, that is not even mentioning the fact that he draws the start against the up-and-coming Chicago White Sox and newly acquired Jeff Samardzjia. Then he gets to go to Los Angeles and attack the Angels’ lineup. I like two-start pitchers, but no thanks on Ventura in Week 1.
2. Derek Holland, Texas
I realize Holland may not be on many people’s radars to start this week anyhow, but if you thought you might take a flyer this week, I advise caution. Coming back from a shoulder injury, Holland will start the Texas Rangers’ home opener, despite only having 8.1 Major League innings of work in spring to get ready.
In addition, he gave up four earned runs in his final spring start and he draws the rival, swing for the fences mentality, Houston Astros in Arlington for his lone start in week 1. In addition, he draws Colin McHugh, the likely “ace” of the Astros so a cheap win is probably out of the question too.
3. Michael Wacha / John Lackey, St. Louis
This one all depends on who draws the afternoon start at Wrigley Field on Wednesday. My expectation, given that Wacha is returning from an injury-riddled season, the Cardinals will elect to go with the veteran Lackey as their No. 3, pushing Wacha back to Friday for a start against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark, also not ideal.
When healthy, Wacha has been sensational, but he has had his struggles away from Busch Stadium.
As for Lackey, he too struggled on the road last season to the tune of a 4.73 ERA in 16 road starts, and an afternoon game at Wrigley in April on a getaway day against Jason Hammel, after the series has seen the matchup of Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright, then Lance Lynn and Jason Arrieta, it just gives me the feeling of a 9-6 type of ballgame for two starters that pitch to contact.
4. Masahiro Tanaka, N.Y. Yankees
Here’s just what you want to hear two days before Opening Day: “Masahiro Tanaka announced Saturday that he’s changing his pitching style this year and that not much should be expected in the way of velocity.”
Obviously Tanaka comes with a ton of baggage considering pretty much everyone is saying it is not a matter of IF he will have to eventually undergo Tommy John Surgery, but when. So, on top of that, two days prior to Opening Day we hear that he also does not anticipate much in terms of velocity?
— WFAN Sports Radio (@WFAN660) April 2, 2015
Obviously, he has made the necessary adjustments and pitched fine in spring. And, if he is even a shell of himself from 2014, he’s well worth starting in 2015. Unfortunately, as opposed to being a “shell” of himself this season, I think he will just get “shelled” by the Toronto Blue Jays lineup on Monday afternoon. I love the Blue Jays lineup in 2015 with the addition of Josh Donaldson, and I think the trio of Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion get off to a great start on Monday.
5. Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs
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Staying in the same series, if you can afford to bench your ace, I think you may be best left waiting on Jon Lester until Week 2. Obviously, in H2H leagues, you aren’t going to miss a two-start week out of your stud, but in a league where you either have some depth or can afford to skip his Opening Night start, I think that may be for the best.
Lester has been limited to less than nine innings pitched this spring (for the Major League club) due to a “tired arm.” While Lester may be experienced with the cold weather from pitching in Boston, temperatures are expected to drop to the low 40s for the game tonight with wind gusts up to 15 mph. Lester may have a fine career with the Cubs, but I don’t think it gets off to a great start against the division rival St. Louis Cardinals and ace Adam Wainwright.
Good luck this week! We hope our Week 1 Pitching Planner helped you make some decisions to help you to an early lead!
Chris Tillman Photo Credit: Keith Allison
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