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“65 Mustangs” Pick Your Spots – All Star Edition – For Openers – and Some 2nd halfers.

Good Morning. Welcome to All-Star week. The few weekend games after the All-Star break will surely be manned by most team’s better starters. Unless they are pitching in the All-Star Game, they will be well rested and there will be no need to get down into the 4th and 5th starters of any given rotation. That is good for us for two reasons. One — we get a week off. We don’t need to pick up any spot starters until next week. And, two — the week after that should be rife with two-start pitchers among the lesser-owned arms as their turns in the rotation will come Monday and Tuesday after the core of the rotation has pitched the weekend. I should have a good list for you next week. This week I want to do two things. I want to talk about the newest pitching phenomenon in baseball since the “closer committee”, also known as the “opener”. How is the use of openers affecting fantasy teams? Then, I’ll talk about some pitchers I think will be relevant in the second half, for streaming/spotting and maybe even to roster in deeper leagues.

Last week, my MON through SAT picks went 6-4 again as quality starts/wins go, keeping my streak of 60% or better results since week one intact.

Before I list some pitchers to watch for in the second half, how about those “openers”? Real baseball is throwing another curveball at fantasy baseball by using openers. It started as a highly criticized experiment last season by the Tampa Bay Rays and now is used by most MLB teams to get through what used to be called a “bullpen game”. The Rays, for all the credit they get for pioneering this phenomenon had a damn good reason to do it. They only had two or three reliable starters they could hand the ball to any given week. That left two or sometimes even three games per week listed as TBD in the schedule. TBD usually meant the team would be using an opener. So what, right? Tampa’s problem, right? Not so fast.

We need to avoid those starts by not picking up “openers” off the wire for spot starts. You do, however, have to look closely at the player being used. He may have great ratios and great K-rates, etc, but you’ll also notice he is being used one to two innings at a time. Other than the most rubber armed of the bunch out there, a pitcher has to be stretched out to go at at least five innings, let alone the six needed for a QS. So, all you will get is an inning or two. Maybe it will be a good inning or two, with no runs and six Ks. That is all well and good. We already roster relievers to snag some extra Ks and innings throughout the week. The difference is, they don’t burn a start.  If your league has weekly limits for starts, as most should, this could be a problem.

As an example, in my legacy contracts league I own Chad Green of the Yankees. Never mind that he is having a crap season — I had high hopes for him this year — but that is beside the point. Anyway, if he is in my active lineup as a reliever and the Yanks suddenly decide to deploy him as an opener, I will burn one of my starts. In a head-to-head league that could have a disastrous affect on your match if you needed one more start to win some categories and Green’s Saturday “start” made it so you could not get in your scheduled Sunday start for Lucas Giolito or even Steven Strasburg or whoever you had scheduled for Sunday. It might take longer to affect you in Roto, but those leagues have start limits also. The point is, you have to pay attention now to how your relievers are being used. Don’t let a sudden opener assignment mess up your plans for the rest of the week. Be prepared to bench him. At least until we can find a way to create a scoring category for openers. I haven’t thought of one yet. But, as we learned with the closer committee/closer carousel phenomenon of the past few seasons, it is not going away. MLB managers don’t care about us. We have to evolve with the real game to keep our game fun.

Speaking of fun. Let’s talk about some pitchers who may be relevant in the second half. Some will become rosterable starters who should be owned. Others will emerge as good match-up plays who could be spot started. They will always be there. The Abyss is a fertile farm team for spot starters. If you are good enough to make the major leagues, you are good enough to have a dominating start now and then even if the bulk of your work is substandard. It is our duty to figure out which match-ups are ideal for the pitchers who are available. That is the basis of “Pick Your Spots” every week.

This Week’s Trivia Question: What former top Yankee hitting prospect was traded to the Mariners for Michael Pineda in 2011?

All ownership figures are from Fantrax. All advanced stat data is courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. References from the following text: (1) Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus 2011 prospect rankings.

Michael Pineda, RHSP, MIN (58% owned Fantrax, 13.6% ESPN): Some of you may be too young to remember (tongue in cheek) that Michael Pineda was once one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. (2011 #16)(1)  In 2011, at the age of 22, Pineda was traded from the Mariners to the NY Yankees for their best hitting prospect, and #3 prospect in baseball(1), catcher Jesus Montero. Montero last stood on an MLB field in 2015 and was last seen playing 1B in the Mexican Leagues. Pineda has been in my articles quite a bit the past few weeks, and deservedly so. The right-hander has given us seven quality starts in his last ten starts with a 3.93 ERA and 53/7 K/BB through 60.2 innings over that stretch. He has earned an elusive W in four of his last five starts with a 29/5 K/BB over that stretch. What is most amazing is that he is still little enough owned for me to spot start him. Except I’m not dropping him anymore. If he is available in your league, and your team does not roster six aces then he will help you the rest of the way. One reason he is so sparsely owned is the bloated 4.56 ERA he is carrying with him, mostly caused by a few early season blowouts. After three ugly starts to close out April he suddenly had a 6.21 ERA. It has gone down every time he has taken the mound since. Look a little deeper though and your’ll see the 1.18 WHIP and 4.28 FIP. You’ve heard me say often that after major injuries the last thing to come back is overall command. If you look at Pineda’s game log over the course of 2019 you will see an evolution of command back to his career norms. Over the past two months his K/BB has remained steadily elite, but his walk rates have reduced, his HR rate has dropped tremendously, one HR in his last 42 Innings covering his last seven starts. His LD% and Hard Hit % have dropped and his GB/FB rates are steadily increasing. Last week I said, “The Rangers are hitting to a .271 wOBA, .225 Average and pitiful .096 ISO against righties on the road in June. This is a Fantasy Must-Start.”It was. Pineda is 2-0 over his last two starts, with a 17/2 K/BB and two earned runs over 12 innings. Don’t leave him on your wire another minute.

Brendan McKay, LHSP, TBR (72% owned in Fantrax, 37.2% ESPN): I didn’t expect to be writing about McKay in this article as heis 72% owned in Fantrax, but then I saw he is owned in only 37.2% of ESPN Leagues. He should not be out there, pick him up immediately. McKay is the latest “2 way” player, as he can hit pretty well, but he is mainly in the MLB because of his pitching. He has been nothing short of brilliant in the minors since dedicating himself to pitching, sporting ERA’s in the sub 2.50 range and with a K/BB of about 12/2. The Rays are Starting Pitching starved, McKay should have a spot the rest of the season.

Ross Stripling, RHSP, LAD (88% owned in Fantrax, 49.5% ESPN): As I said with McKay, I didn’t think I’d be writing about Stripling, but then I saw he was only 49.5% owned in ESPN Leagues. He has been one of the best pitchers without a permanent rotation spot for a while now. This is mainly a testament to the depth and quality of the Dodgers pitching staff. Now 29, he has a lifetime K/BB of about 9/2. He made his first start in two months last Tuesday and gave up one earned run in only three innings. He should have a higher pitch count going forward, but it may take some time for a full starter’s workload. Stripling has a 3.08 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and [52:17] K:BB over 52.2 innings this season and is expected to remain in the rotation for the foreseeable future with Rich Hill facing an extended absence.

Casey Mize, RHSP, DET (44% owned in Fantrax, 2.4% ESPN): He has not even sniffed the MLB yet, but as soon as he is announced as the next DET call-up, you will already be too late. This is the ultimate grab and stash. He hit a speed bump recently, being diagnosed with minor posterior shoulder inflammation and placed on the 7-day injured list. The Tigers are understandably exercising caution with their young pitching prospect, which is why Mize underwent an MRI after exiting Thursday night’s outing due to shoulder soreness. He’ll remain on the shelf for at least the next week, though he certainly won’t be rushed back into action before he’s ready. When he is though, he should already be on your roster.

Bryce Wilson, RHSP, ATL (29% Fantrax, 1.0% ESPN): Wilson earned the win Wednesday with two runs allowed over six innings, but he was optioned after the game to Triple-A as the Braves bolster their bullpen depth ahead of the All-Star break. He would not have pitched anyway, so the Braves sent him to Gwinnett. The 21-year-old is expected to return to the majors when the Braves first need a fifth starter after the break, lining up to pitch July 16 against the Brewers. He has been a beast in the minors the past three years, sporting K/BB’s in the 9/2 range and less than a HR per nine innings. If he pitches like that in the MLB he will stick around.

Jose Urquidy, RHSP, HOU (29% Fantrax, 5.5% ESPN): Urquidy was not a top prospect in the Houston system coming into the season. After posting 104 strikeouts over 76.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A he had suddenly caught some attention in the Stros brass. He has plus command and a plus change-up to turn over batters. He also has a fastball that sits at 94 MPH and a quality slider and curve-ball. While not an overpowering power pitcher, he does have a deep arsenal to combine with strong command. The only thing that might derail him if he pitches well is that the Stros are perennial contenders and could trade for SP depth at the deadline. I’d take the chance on that happening.

Dakota Hudson, RHSP, STL (72% Fantrax, 29.9% ESPN): I recommended him in Week 11, when he was about 50% owned and have not looked back, owning him on two of my teams. The 24-year-old righty has been great recently, holding opposing teams to three or fewer runs in each of his last ten starts. Both his 16.0 percent strikeout rate and 9.9 percent walk rate are rather poor, but he’s gotten by thanks to a strong 61.7 percent ground ball rate. He does not always go deep into games either but somehow has made it to 7-4. He owns a 3.51 ERA with a [68:41] K:BB over 92.1 frames. The 4.99 FIP and the walks could eventually be a problem, but so far so good. Again, don’t forget, in leagues that have roster limits on SP, he is RP primary. That is very valuable over time. He has a similar profile to another Hudson. Former Braves starter Tim Hudson carved out a pretty good career with similar stuff. I’m not saying he is that good, and even that profile has limited fantasy value, but at 30% owned in ESPN, if you are starved for SP then here he is.

Jordan Yamamoto, RHSP, MIA (67% Fantrax, 29% ESPN):  I recommended him in Week 12 when he was only 31% owned in fantrax, and like with Hudson I have not looked back. The Marlins seem to want to keep Yamamoto in the MLB rotation in the wake of their two best pitchers, Jose Urena (back) and Caleb Smith (hip) being on the injured list. The 23 year old Hawaiian born Yamamoto, with the very American first name had a pretty good minor league career. With K/9 rates consistently over nine or ten and very low walk and HR rates, he is a pitching coach’s dream. Keep the ducks off the pond, the ball in the park and the bats missing the ball and you are good to go. He may also make for a good draw for a team that has trouble putting butts in the seats. Jumping from 6% owned to 31% after one start means that he will not be available after his next start if it is as good as his first. It was. He isn’t. Unless you are in 70% of the ESPN leagues or 33% of the Fantrax leagues where he is available. He is now 3-0 with a 1.24 ERA and .897 WHIP. He gave up no runs at all in 3 of his last 5 starts. Can that last, no. But half that is good enough in most leagues.

Don’t forget us. We used to be on the fast track, or we got hurt, or something, but here we are for streaming or stashing:

Danny Duffy, LHSP, KCR (49% owned IN FANTRAX, 6.4% ESPN): Flashes of Brilliance. Tons of disappointment.And a son with a green face. Ok

Dylan Bundy, RHSP, BAL (57% owned IN FANTRAX, 25.2% ESPN):Flashes of Brilliance. Tons of disappointment.

Steven Matz, LHSP, NYM (16% owned IN FANTRAX, 27.8% ESPN): Maybe the demotion to the pen will wake him up.

Brett Anderson, LHSP, OAK (48% owned in FANTRAX,15.5% ESPN): Don’t look now but 9 Wins and a 3.86 ERA is not better than your worst pitcher?

Anthony Desclafani, RHSP, CIN (76% owned IN FANTRAX, 56% ESPN): A top prospect as recently as 2014. May be best for spotting at this point. She does dress better than he does no?

Luke Weaver, RHSP, STL (77% owned Fantrax, 19.7% ESPN): A follow-up MRI on Weaver’s elbow showed improvement, but there is still no timetable for his return. This is a pick up and stash.

That’s it for this week. Picking Your Spots will be back to normal next week when the 2nd half starts in earnest. As always, there are plenty of good spotters on the wire, including some new ones. We just have to find them. Hopefully, this week’s edition will be helpful. See you next week, when we’ll pick some more spots for the season’s fifteenth week. Even better still, may all your injured players continue to return healthy. As always, I’ll be on Reddit today talking spot starts. If you ask about a starter, please save me some time and let me know who he is pitching against and where. If you want to speak to me directly, my Twitter and Email are below. Thanks for reading.

joseph.iannone021@gmail.com                    @Joeiannone

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr., Cole Freel live on Sunday July 7th, 2019 from 8pm-9:30pm EST for episode #168 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. You can listen live on blogtalk, majorleaguefantasysports.com, or download the podcast on I-Tunes or any Android podcast app. We will discuss spot starters for the coming week, plus a weekend update, and look ahead to next week.

Our guest this week are Joe IannoneJoe is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com and his articles publish every Sunday. He focuses on spot starters for the coming week in each article.

I'm an accountant and an amateur writer of fiction and sports commentary, mostly baseball. I've been a student of the game of baseball since the Dinosaurs roamed the earth, or at least since a few years before the world knew what a designated hitter was. Otherwise, I like "antique" cars of the 60's and 70's and have been a fantasy baseball fanatic since my first draft many years ago. I live in CT with my wife Megan of 25 years, our daughter Caitlin and their (their) cats. I'm also the better looking of the two guys in the the photo.

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