Commentary

Up-and-coming aces get two starts

Strategy, matchups and pitcher rankings for Week 3

Updated: April 18, 2010, 10:42 AM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster
Fantasy Forecaster last updated Sunday, April 18 at 10:42 a.m. ET.

On tap: It's a cavalcade of young two-start pitchers, as a whopping eight pitchers under the age of 25 will work twice during the upcoming week. It's a group that includes such promising names as Homer Bailey and Rick Porcello, but the two youngsters everyone will want to own this week are the Atlanta Braves' Tommy Hanson and Tampa Bay Rays' David Price. Hanson already has 14 strikeouts and a 2.38 ERA in his first two turns of 2010, while Price has defeated the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles to the tune of a 2.45 ERA in his first two starts.

The Chicago Cubs might also welcome Ted Lilly back to their rotation on Saturday, assuming all goes well with his scheduled rehabilitation appearance on Monday. But who might he replace in the rotation, Tom Gorzelanny or Carlos Silva? We shall soon find out.

Quick click by section, if you're seeking advice in a specific area:
Projected starting pitchers | Pitching strategies
Team advantages | Hitting strategies
Weather report | Week 3 pitcher rankings

Projected starting pitchers

The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' schedules and projected starting pitchers, and provides a matchup rating for each day's starter. Pitchers scheduled to start twice this week are in color-coded boxes.

Tristan's pitching strategies

Neither the Cleveland Indians nor Kansas City Royals presents much of a threat offensively, which is why the Minnesota Twins boast one of the most favorable pitching schedules of Week 3. The season-ending injury to closer Joe Nathan hasn't presented this team nearly the problems that some feared; the Twins' bullpen has a 1.66 ERA and 0.92 WHIP through its first eight games. Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano in particular are off to scorching-hot starts, with only Nick Blackburn a question mark for his fantasy owners right now. … Despite their problems with West Coast swings in seasons past, the New York Yankees stack up surprisingly well in a week in which they'll play three road games apiece versus the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels. With the exception of Javier Vazquez, this rotation is off to a red-hot start, and it'll help the Yankees' cause that both the Athletics and Angels rank in the bottom half in the majors in team OPS thus far. … Four games at New York's Citi Field is a favorable enough fantasy schedule for the Chicago Cubs alone, though a three-game stop at the Milwaukee Brewers isn't anything to sweat, either. The Cubs have aligned two of their stronger starters, Randy Wells and Carlos Zambrano, to each work twice, and Tom Gorzelanny should be a one-day sleeper in his Thursday turn at Citi Field. … The Colorado Rockies are off to a hot start, with a 3.27 team ERA and 8.73 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio through seven games, four of which were played at Coors Field. A four-game trip to Washington's Nationals Park is about as favorable a schedule as the team can ask, which makes the Rockies' four starters there, Aaron Cook, Jorge De La Rosa, Jason Hammel and Ubaldo Jimenez, instant fantasy starters. … Speaking of aligning a rotation well, the San Francisco Giants' three-game set at San Diego's Petco Park is an obviously favorable schedule, but it also bodes well for their chances in Week 3 that they have both Tim Lincecum (Friday) and Matt Cain (Sunday) aligned to pitch during their three-game series versus the St. Louis Cardinals at home.

For more insight into Week 3 pitching matchups, see my rankings for every scheduled starter at column's end.

Team advantages

The chart below lists each of the 30 teams' total number of scheduled games, home games and games versus right- and left-handed pitchers, and provides a matchup rating for the week's games in terms of overall offense, offense versus left- and right-handed pitchers and base stealing. Matchup ratings for each individual game are listed under the corresponding date.

Tristan's hitting strategies

What's not to like about a seven-game schedule played entirely at home in which the most talented starting pitcher you're likely to face is either one with a 4.00 career ERA (Jeff Niemann), one who pitched in Japan the past two seasons (Colby Lewis) or is a rookie with just 10 career starts under his belt (Brian Matusz)? That's what the Boston Red Sox draw this week, so while their lineup right now seems like a one-man wrecking crew -- that man being Dustin Pedroia -- the Sox's other bats will get plenty of chances to awaken. As is, Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro and Kevin Youkilis are off to better starts than it seems like people are giving them credit. … Three games isn't enough of a return to draw conclusions about Minnesota's new Target Field, but just to present you the statistics, the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox totaled 24 runs, 59 hits and four home runs in their season-opening series, or 8.0, 19.7 and 1.3 per game. Those aren't poor offensive numbers, and the Twins should benefit while closing out their season-opening homestand there facing the soft back end of the Cleveland Indians' staff, before hitting the road to face the soft back end of the Kansas City Royals' staff. … There might not be a more favorable hitters' schedule than that of the Colorado Rockies, who make a four-game stop at the Washington Nationals before returning home to host the Florida Marlins, a series in which only Ricky Nolasco (but not Josh Johnson) will be an opposing starter among that team's aces. The Rockies entered April 16's play fifth in the majors in team OPS (.823). Seth Smith could be an intriguing sleeper, especially in light of some of the injuries to their other outfielders recently. … Don't take that as a knock on the Marlins' schedule, because three games at Coors Field represents a hitting-friendly schedule, not to mention three at the Houston Astros, who won't pitch either Roy Oswalt or Wandy Rodriguez during that series. Though he's off to a slow start, Chris Coghlan is one Marlins hitter to keep an eye on; he was a .348/.418/.508 (AVG/OBP/SLG) hitter in his road games last year.

Now, let's take a look at some Week 3 sleepers:

Jeff Baker, 2B, Chicago Cubs: Perhaps those of you in ESPN standard mixed leagues won't find Baker a helpful option, but if you're in a deeper league -- think NL-only -- this is a shot you might want to take. Baker is seemingly in a straight platoon with Mike Fontenot at second base, he has already popped two home runs versus lefties so far this year and the Cubs are scheduled to face a major league high four southpaws in Week 3. A lifetime .290/.349/.565 hitter versus lefties, Baker might thrive facing such soft matchups.

Daric Barton, 1B, Oakland Athletics: One thing you might not realize about Barton is that, for a left-handed hitter, he has little-to-no trouble hitting southpaws, with .286/.399/.460 career rates against them. That helps explain how he has started all 11 Athletics games thus far, and in his six home games in Week 3, he'll face three right-handers who have significant issues with left-handed hitters: Phil Hughes, Fausto Carmona and Justin Masterson.

Chase Headley, 3B/OF, San Diego Padres: As a switch-hitter, he lacks any platoon disadvantages, but note that he's especially strong versus right-handers, against whom he has .310/.383/.440 numbers since the 2009 All-Star break. Why is that important? The Padres face five right-handed starters this week.

Casey Kotchman, 1B, Seattle Mariners: The Mariners are entirely comfortable using him every day versus right-handers, and he has rewarded them with a .526 slugging percentage in 22 plate appearances against them thus far. Here's the best part about Kotchman's matchups: The Mariners should face only one lefty, John Danks, and Kotchman already has success against him, going 2-for-4 with a double and a walk against him in his career.

Alex Rios, OF, Chicago White Sox: This is in a sense a defining week for Rios, who endured a dreadful finish to 2009 with the White Sox yet has gotten off to a somewhat hot start this season. His team plays entirely at home, and Rios historically has been at his best in the season's early stages, as evidenced by .800-plus career OPS in the months of April and May. This is the week to take a chance on him, as six games at U.S. Cellular Field give him as good a chance as any.

Gaby Sanchez, 1B, Florida Marlins: The Marlins hit the road this week, but be aware they face the weaker links in the Houston Astros' rotation in their first three games, then two left-handed starters in a three-game stop at Colorado's Coors Field. Sanchez is off to a hot start and might be primed to feast on Colorado Rockies pitching during the weekend, considering he was a .341/.435/.565 hitter versus left-handers during his minor league career.

Marcus Thames, OF, New York Yankees: Heads up to those of you in AL-only leagues, the Yankees are set to face three left-handed starters, Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden and Scott Kazmir, this week. Thames has .353/.389/.647 rates in 36 career plate appearances against those three pitchers combined.

Will Venable, OF, San Diego Padres: Through the Padres' first nine games, he has started every one versus a right-hander, and the Padres will face five right-handers in their six games. Venable has .260/.325/.489 career numbers versus righties, and a three-game weekend trip to Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park battling nothing but righties gives him quite the matchups advantage.

Weather report

Through the first 12 days of the 2010 season we haven't seen a single postponement due to inclement weather, which means we're about due, right? Perhaps not, because even the northeastern cities don't appear to have any rainy forecasts in the early part of Week 3, with cities like Boston, New York and Washington experiencing 20 percent chances of rain or less. It's the southwestern cities, oddly enough, in the 40s and 50s in percentage chances of rain, though it's hard to imagine cities like San Diego or Los Angeles suffering rainouts.

Weatherproof games: Marlins at Astros (3, Tue-Thu); Pirates at Astros (3, Fri-Sun); Royals at Blue Jays (3, Mon-Wed); Cubs at Brewers (3, Fri-Sun); Cardinals at Diamondbacks (3, Mon-Wed); Phillies at Diamondbacks (3, Fri-Sun); Orioles at Mariners (3, Mon-Wed); Blue Jays at Rays (3, Fri-Sun).

Tristan's Week 3 pitcher rankings: Top 75

Rankings take into account several factors: The pitcher's raw talent, historical and recent performance; number of starts; strength of opponent(s); and ballpark factors. Be aware that different leagues might emphasize different pitching statistics that could change these rankings slightly. These are based upon a fairly standard Rotisserie scoring system, like ESPN's.

1. Dan Haren (ARI) -- Tue-STL (Lohse), Sun-PHI (Kendrick)
2. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Tue-PHI (Kendrick), Sun-@NYM (Pelfrey)
3. Matt Cain (SF) -- Mon-@SD (Richard), Sun-STL (Penny)
4. John Lackey (BOS) -- Mon-TB (Niemann), Sat-BAL (Matusz)
5. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Thu-@ATL (Lowe)
6. John Danks (CHW) -- Tue-TB (Price), Sun-SEA (Fister)
7. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Thu-@OAK (Braden)
8. David Price (TB) -- Tue-@CHW (Danks), Sun-TOR (Morrow)
9. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- Sat-@SF (Zito)
10. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Fri-STL (Garcia)
11. Randy Wells (CHC) -- Mon-@NYM (Niese), Sat-@MIL (Davis)
12. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Thu-@WAS (Hernandez)
13. Jorge De La Rosa (COL) -- Tue-@WAS (Olsen), Sun-FLA (Volstad)
14. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Sat-@WAS (Stammen)
15. Johan Santana (NYM) -- Thu-CHC (Gorzelanny)
16. Josh Johnson (FLA) -- Wed-@HOU (Norris)
17. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- Wed-@ARI (Jackson)
18. Kevin Slowey (MIN) -- Tue-CLE (Masterson), Sun-@KC (Bannister)
19. Brett Anderson (OAK) -- Sat-CLE (Carmona)
20. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Wed-BAL (Millwood)
21. Zack Greinke (KC) -- Wed-@TOR (Marcum)
22. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Fri-BAL (Guthrie)
23. Matt Garza (TB) -- Fri-TOR (Tallet)
24. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Wed-PHI (Happ)
25. Jonathan Sanchez (SF) -- Tue-@SD (Latos)
26. Jake Peavy (CHW) -- Thu-TB (Shields)
27. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Wed-@PIT (Duke)
28. Javier Vazquez (NYY) -- Tue-@OAK (Gonzalez), Sun-@LAA (Kazmir)
29. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Sat-@ARI (Lopez)
30. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Thu-@LAA (Saunders)
31. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Wed-CLE (Huff)
32. Rich Harden (TEX) -- Sat-DET (Willis)
33. Scott Baker (MIN) -- Thu-CLE (Talbot)
34. Carlos Zambrano (CHC) -- Tue-@NYM (Pelfrey), Sun-@MIL (Bush)
35. Josh Beckett (BOS) -- Wed-TEX (Harrison)
36. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Fri-@MIL (Suppan)
37. Randy Wolf (MIL) -- Thu-@PIT (McCutchen)
38. Justin Duchscherer (OAK) -- Fri-CLE (Westbrook)
39. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Tue-@CIN (Bailey), Sun-@WAS (Olsen)
40. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Wed-DET (Bonderman)
41. A.J. Burnett (NYY) -- Fri-@LAA (Santana)
42. Brad Penny (STL) -- Mon-@ARI (Lopez), Sun-@SF (Cain)
43. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- Fri-SEA (Rowland-Smith)
44. Wade Davis (TB) -- Wed-@CHW (Buehrle)
45. James Shields (TB) -- Thu-@CHW (Peavy)
46. Shaun Marcum (TOR) -- Wed-KC (Greinke)
47. Aaron Cook (COL) -- Mon-@WAS (Stammen), Sat-FLA (Robertson)
48. J.A. Happ (PHI) -- Wed-@ATL (Hudson)
49. Roy Oswalt (HOU) -- Fri-PIT (Maholm)
50. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Fri-@COL (Smith)
51. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Wed-@CIN (Harang)
52. Ricky Romero (TOR) -- Sat-@TB (Niemann)
53. Mark Buehrle (CHW) -- Wed-TB (Davis)
54. Joel Pineiro (LAA) -- Mon-DET (Willis), Sat-NYY (Pettitte)
55. Phil Hughes (NYY) -- Wed-@OAK (Sheets)
56. Bronson Arroyo (CIN) -- Sat-SD (LeBlanc)
57. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- Sat-PIT (McCutchen)
58. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Fri-@TEX (Feldman)
59. Ben Sheets (OAK) -- Wed-NYY (Hughes)
60. Rick Porcello (DET) -- Tue-@LAA (Kazmir), Sun-@TEX (Lewis)
61. Jeff Niemann (TB) -- Mon-@BOS (Lackey), Sat-TOR (Romero)
62. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Sat-@NYM (Niese)
63. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Fri-SD (Correia)
64. C.J. Wilson (TEX) -- Thu-@BOS (Buchholz)
65. Colby Lewis (TEX) -- Tue-@BOS (Wakefield), Sun-DET (Porcello)
66. Brian Matusz (BAL) -- Sat-@BOS (Lackey)
67. Carl Pavano (MIN) -- Sat-@KC (Hochevar)
68. Andy Pettitte (NYY) -- Sat-@LAA (Pineiro)
69. Fausto Carmona (CLE) -- Sat-@OAK (Anderson)
70. Edwin Jackson (ARI) -- Wed-STL (Carpenter)
71. Barry Zito (SF) -- Sat-STL (Wainwright)
72. Jake Westbrook (CLE) -- Fri-@OAK (Duchscherer)
73. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Fri-@SF (Lincecum)
74. Mike Pelfrey (NYM) -- Tue-CHC (Zambrano), Sun-ATL (Hanson)
75. Brett Myers (HOU) -- Tue-FLA (Volstad), Sun-PIT (Morton)

Two-start pitchers for deep leagues:
Homer Bailey (CIN) -- Tue-LAD (Billingsley), Sun-SD (Richard)
Dave Bush (MIL) -- Tue-@PIT (Morton), Sun-CHC (Zambrano)
Doug Fister (SEA) -- Mon-BAL (Bergesen), Sun-@CHW (Danks)
Scott Kazmir (LAA) -- Tue-DET (Porcello), Sun-NYY (Vazquez)
Justin Masterson (CLE) -- Tue-@MIN (Slowey), Sun-@OAK (Gonzalez)
Clayton Richard (SD) -- Mon-SF (Cain), Sun-@CIN (Bailey)
Tim Wakefield (BOS) -- Tue-TEX (Lewis), Sun-BAL (Bergesen)

One-start sleepers:
Dana Eveland (TOR) -- Tue-KC (Davies)
Tom Gorzelanny (CHC) -- Thu-@NYM (Santana)
Jason Hammel (COL) -- Wed-@WAS (Lannan)
Kevin Millwood (BAL) -- Wed-@SEA (Hernandez)
Kenshin Kawakami (ATL) -- Fri-@NYM (Maine)
Ryan Rowland-Smith (SEA) -- Fri-@CHW (Floyd)

No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Brian Bannister (KC) -- Mon-@TOR (Morrow), Sun-MIN (Slowey)
Brad Bergesen (BAL) -- Mon-@SEA (Fister), Sun-@BOS (Wakefield)
Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Tue-NYY (Vazquez), Sun-CLE (Masterson)
Kyle Kendrick (PHI) -- Tue-@ATL (Hanson), Sun-@ARI (Haren)
Rodrigo Lopez (ARI) -- Mon-STL (Penny), Sat-PHI (Hamels)
Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- Mon-KC (Bannister), Sun-@TB (Price)
Charlie Morton (PIT) -- Tue-MIL (Bush), Sun-@HOU (Myers)
Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Mon-CHC (Wells), Sat-ATL (Jurrjens)
Scott Olsen (WAS) -- Tue-COL (De La Rosa), Sun-LAD (Billingsley)
Craig Stammen (WAS) -- Mon-COL (Cook), Sat-LAD (Kershaw)
Chris Volstad (FLA) -- Tue-@HOU (Myers), Sun-@COL (De La Rosa)
Dontrelle Willis (DET) -- Mon-@LAA (Pineiro), Sat-@TEX (Harden)

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.