Commentary

Prepare for rotation adjustments

Updated: July 24, 2011, 12:07 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Fantasy Forecaster updated Sunday, July 24 at 12:07 p.m. ET.

On tap: One of baseball's most significant dates on the calendar arrives on Sunday, that being the July 31 trade deadline. It's not necessarily the final day teams can trade, but after that date players must first clear waivers. That means the majority of midseason moves are likely to happen within fantasy Week 16. That, of course, complicates owners' plans, especially pertaining to starting-pitching assignments. Jeremy Guthrie, Aaron Harang, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez and Jason Vargas are just seven such candidates to be traded, and all of them except Kuroda are currently scheduled to make a start on Wednesday (July 27) or later in the week. All of them could stay put and make those starts, but there's a chance none of them will, and in the event of a trade, assignments such as Myers' and Vargas' Sunday (July 31) starts could be pushed into the following week by a prospective new team.

Fantasy Forecaster

As always, I'll keep the Forecaster updated throughout the weekend to account for any possible trades before your lineup deadline, but if you own a player rumored to be on the block, keep it in mind during your planning.

This is a critical week for the upstart Pittsburgh Pirates, who entered play on Friday, July 22, tied for first place in the National League Central. They continue their challenging 13-game stretch with perhaps the most treacherous portion this week: They'll make a four-game stop in Atlanta followed by three games in Philadelphia. The Atlanta Braves (58-41) and Philadelphia Phillies (61-36), incidentally, are at least 5 1/2 games better than the Pirates (51-45) in terms of record, and those foes are a combined 64-34 (.653 winning percentage) in their home games. That's not to say the Pirates cannot win and provide meaningful fantasy stats. But it's quite the test for one of the game's most pleasant surprises.

Reminder: For those of you in weekly-transactions leagues, there is an early start time to Week 16, due to the San Diego Padres-Philadelphia Phillies game beginning at 1:05 p.m. ET. Here are this week's other scheduled first pitches by day: Tuesday 7:05 p.m. ET, Wednesday 12:05 p.m. ET, Thursday 12:35 p.m. ET, Friday 7:05 p.m. ET, Saturday 1:05 p.m. ET, Sunday 1:05 p.m. ET.

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 16 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 gray/beige boxes.

Tristan's pitching strategies

• It's hard to argue with any pitching staff led by Justin Verlander, 8-2 with a 1.26 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and nine quality starts in 10 tries since June 1, but might it be that the right-hander's recent performance is rubbing off on his teammates? Brad Penny has five quality starts and a 3.98 ERA in his past seven starts; Rick Porcello has won three straight starts with a 3.44 ERA; and Max Scherzer has back-to-back quality starts and a 4.25 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in his past seven turns. But the real reason to exploit the Detroit Tigers' matchups is how brilliantly they've lined up their rotation for that key, opening-week series at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field. Verlander, Tuesday's starter, is 4-1 with a 3.16 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in five starts versus the Chicago White Sox since the beginning of 2010; Scherzer, Wednesday's starter, has five quality starts, a 2.56 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in six starts against them; and Penny, Thursday's starter, is 3-0 with a 2.89 ERA in three starts, all of those this season. As for the Los Angeles Angels series, keep in mind the Angels have managed .226/.297/.366 rates as a team in July, .189/.275/.294 since the All-Star break.

• If the Tampa Bay Rays indeed are going with the six-man rotation, that's a frustration for fantasy owners, being that it's going to cost David Price a second turn in Week 16. But six starters means an extra streaming option, and yes, every member of the Rays' rotation at least warrants consideration accounting for those matchups at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Seattle's Safeco Field. In particular: Jeff Niemann, who starts Friday at Safeco, threw seven shutout innings to win in his only career start there, on May 6, 2010. Alex Cobb, on track to start there on Saturday, has four quality starts in his past five tries. Wade Davis is the toughest call of the bunch … but … if he pitches well during his July 22 return from a forearm injury, he'd be worth a look in AL-only formats.

• I'm giving the edge to the Braves, at least, in that four-game set against the Pirates, because one of the primary reasons the Braves have been so successful at home has been their pitching. They have a 3.03 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in home games, the latter third-best in baseball. To begin that series, they have also lined up their three best Turner Field pitchers: Tim Hudson, 6-3 with a 2.73 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 12 starts at home, goes Monday; Tommy Hanson, 5-3 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in nine starts, works Tuesday; and Jair Jurrjens, 7-1 with a 2.52 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in nine starts, starts Wednesday. Keep this in mind: The Pirates' strength is their pitching, not their hitting; their 3.34 team ERA ranks sixth in baseball, but they've scored the sixth-fewest runs (373).

St. Louis Cardinals at home, St. Louis Cardinals at home, St. Louis Cardinals at home … despite the fact that their 3.53 ERA in home games ranks just 11th in the majors. This is a team that -- historically speaking -- thrives at home, and their two opponents, the Houston Astros (four games) and Chicago Cubs (three), have already flipped their calendars to 2012. Also consider this: The Astros have scored the sixth-fewest runs per game on the road (3.82) while the Cubs have scored the 10th-fewest (3.98), and in 14 games combined against those two teams this season, the Cardinals have allowed 54 runs (3.86 per game). This week's matchups provide bounce-back potential for struggling right-handers Kyle Lohse, Kyle McClellan and Jake Westbrook. Remember, McClellan tossed eight innings of two-run baseball to defeat the Astros on May 19. Westbrook, meanwhile, is coming off one of his better starts of the season and has a 4.07 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in four July starts.

Also favorable: Colorado Rockies, New York Yankees, Phillies
Unfavorable: Baltimore Orioles, White Sox, New York Mets, San Francisco Giants

For more insight into Week 16 pitching matchups, see my rankings for the top 75 starting pitchers, as well as every two-start pitcher, 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 for left- and right-handed hitters and base stealing. Matchup ratings for each individual game are listed under the corresponding date.

Tristan's hitting strategies

• Don't let that 4-0 loss on July 20 be the lasting memory you have of the Orioles' offense. It's the 37-game hot spell -- .267/.324/.450 rates, 56 home runs -- that includes that game that should be your measuring stick, especially with the team set to make stops in two hitting-friendly ballparks, Toronto's Rogers Centre and New York's Yankee Stadium. Look at what some current Orioles have done in their careers at either venue: J.J. Hardy, 10-for-23 (.435 AVG) in eight games at Rogers Centre; Nick Markakis, .304/.393/.462 in 45 games at Rogers Centre, .291/.337/.481 in 20 games at Yankee Stadium; Nolan Reimold, .333/.386/.692, four homers in 11 games at Yankee Stadium; and Matt Wieters, four homers in 15 games at Rogers Centre, four in 14 games at Yankee Stadium. Get 'em all into your lineup this week.

• The Yankees' games in Yankee Stadium are usually obvious picks, yes, but with Alex Rodriguez on the shelf and the team having averaged 3.82 runs per game with .249/.312/.371 rates in 17 July contests, it's understandable if you've had some doubts. The bottom line: Don't. Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez will present a challenge on Wednesday, but the Yankees can handle every other opposing starter, including two spot-starters during the weekend Orioles series. The Yankees you need to know about: A-Rod fill-in Eduardo Nunez is a .326/.356/.488 hitter in 12 games in July; Jorge Posada is a .265/.344/.456 hitter in 41 home games, which are respectable numbers from a designated hitter; and Brett Gardner has been a sensation recently, with .333/.413/.454 numbers and 20 steals in 43 games since June 1. You know to use Gardner; you might not have known to activate Nunez and Posada, but this week you absolutely should.

• I'm pouring on the anti-Pirates picks, I know, but "feel-good" stories don't always win fantasy leagues … the best matchups do. The Braves, simply put, match up more favorably of the two squads during their four-game series, and it's a help that during the weekend Florida Marlins series, the Marlins will throw a spot starter plus the unpredictable Ricky Nolasco in two of the three games. Something to think about, Nolasco owners: He's 4-6 with a 4.98 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in 17 career games (16 starts) versus the Braves. Now turning to the Braves, they've managed .244/.315/.420 rates, 23 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 17 games in July, their 87 runs scored in the month seventh-best in baseball. Freddie Freeman is one of the hottest hitters in the game, a .308/.392/.646 hitter in 17 games in July. Dan Uggla has regained his power stroke, with 10 home runs in his past 33 games. Meanwhile, here's a sneaky nugget for NL-only owners: Jordan Schafer, who has four stolen bases in his past seven games, could capitalize upon a week where his team is rated an "8" in terms of steals.

• Again, the Pirates aren't known for their hitting, and if they're to succeed during their road trip, it'll need to be with some outstanding pitching performances. These are their seven opponents: Hudson, Hanson, Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and the white-hot Vance Worley. That's a brilliant mix of performance and experience, and it's going to prove difficult for the Pirates to overcome. You are not going to sit players like Andrew McCutchen or Neil Walker in any fantasy league. But everyone else on the roster? It's fair game to consider benching them all.

Also favorable: Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, Cardinals
Also unfavorable: Arizona Diamondbacks, Mariners, Rays

Weather report

Weatherproof games: Orioles at Blue Jays (3, Tue-Thu); Rangers at Blue Jays (3, Fri-Sun); Cubs at Brewers (3, Tue-Thu); Astros at Brewers (3, Fri-Sun); Rays at Mariners (3, Fri-Sun).

Tristan's Week 16 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. Justin Verlander (DET) -- Tue-@CHW (Buehrle), Sun-LAA (Weaver)
2. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- Mon-SD (Harang), Sat-PIT (McDonald)
3. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- Tue-@PHI (Worley), Sun-@CIN (Cueto)
4. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- Tue-@CLE (Tomlin), Sun-@DET (Verlander)
5. Tim Hudson (ATL) -- Mon-PIT (McDonald), Sat-FLA (TBD)
6. C.J. Wilson (TEX) -- Tue-MIN (Pavano), Sun-@TOR (Morrow)
7. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- Tue-PIT (Karstens), Sun-FLA (Nolasco)
8. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- Tue-SEA (Fister)
9. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- Fri-PIT (Morton)
10. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- Tue-COL (Chacin)
11. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- Tue-BAL (Arrieta), Sun-TEX (Wilson)
12. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- Wed-@NYY (Hughes)
13. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- Tue-NYM (Niese), Sun-SF (Lincecum)
14. Ubaldo Jimenez (COL) -- Sat-@SD (Harang)
15. Daniel Hudson (ARI) -- Thu-@SD (Latos)
16. Zack Greinke (MIL) -- Wed-CHC (Dempster)
17. Dan Haren (LAA) -- Mon-@CLE (Carmona), Sat-@DET (Below)
18. Jeremy Hellickson (TB) -- Mon-@OAK (Moscoso), Sun-@SEA (Vargas)
19. Mat Latos (SD) -- Thu-ARI (Hudson)
20. Jon Lester (BOS) -- Mon-KC (Davies), Sat-@CHW (Floyd)
21. David Price (TB) -- Tue-@OAK (McCarthy)
22. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- Wed-@SD (Luebke)
23. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- Thu-HOU (Rodriguez)
24. Matt Cain (SF) -- Thu-@PHI (Kendrick)
25. James Shields (TB) -- Wed-@OAK (Cahill)
26. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- Wed-SF (Zito)
27. Josh Beckett (BOS) -- Thu-KC (Hochevar)
28. Chris Carpenter (STL) -- Wed-HOU (Norris)
29. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- Wed-PIT (Maholm)
30. Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) -- Tue-FLA (Nolasco), Sun-NYM (Niese)
31. Justin Masterson (CLE) -- Sat-KC (Paulino)
32. Gio Gonzalez (OAK) -- Fri-MIN (Liriano)
33. Trevor Cahill (OAK) -- Wed-TB (Shields)
34. Colby Lewis (TEX) -- Wed-MIN (Duensing)
35. Ricky Nolasco (FLA) -- Tue-@WAS (Zimmermann), Sun-@ATL (Hanson)
36. Tim Stauffer (SD) -- Fri-COL (Hammel)
37. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- Sat-@CIN (Leake)
38. Anibal Sanchez (FLA) -- Fri-@ATL (Beachy)
39. Phil Hughes (NYY) -- Wed-SEA (Hernandez)
40. James McDonald (PIT) -- Mon-@ATL (Hudson), Sat-@PHI (Lee)
41. Cory Luebke (SD) -- Wed-ARI (Kennedy)
42. Mike Leake (CIN) -- Mon-NYM (Dickey), Sat-SF (Bumgarner)
43. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- Sat-HOU (Happ)
44. Michael Pineda (SEA) -- Sat-TB (Cobb)
45. Hiroki Kuroda (LAD) -- Wed-COL (Cook)
46. Vance Worley (PHI) -- Tue-SF (Lincecum), Sun-PIT (Karstens)
47. Max Scherzer (DET) -- Wed-@CHW (Peavy)
48. Alexi Ogando (TEX) -- Fri-@TOR (Cecil)
49. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- Fri-@OAK (Gonzalez)
50. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- Sat-ARI (Owings)
51. Jeff Niemann (TB) -- Fri-@SEA (Beavan)
52. R.A. Dickey (NYM) -- Mon-@CIN (Leake), Sat-@WAS (Marquis)
53. Ricky Romero (TOR) -- Wed-BAL (Simon)
54. Derek Holland (TEX) -- Mon-MIN (Blackburn), Sat-@TOR (TBD)
55. Matt Garza (CHC) -- Sat-@STL (McClellan)
56. Ted Lilly (LAD) -- Fri-ARI (Collmenter)
57. Juan Nicasio (COL) -- Mon-@LAD (De La Rosa), Sun-@SD (Moseley)
58. Shaun Marcum (MIL) -- Thu-CHC (Zambrano)
59. Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- Tue-@CIN (Cueto), Sun-@WAS (Zimmermann)
60. Freddy Garcia (NYY) -- Mon-SEA (Vargas), Sun-BAL (Arrieta)
61. Ryan Vogelsong (SF) -- Fri-@CIN (Willis)
62. Aaron Harang (SD) -- Mon-@PHI (Lee), Sat-COL (Jimenez)
63. Brett Myers (HOU) -- Tue-@STL (Westbrook), Sun-@MIL (Narveson)
64. Matt Harrison (TEX) -- Thu-MIN (Baker)
65. Brandon Beachy (ATL) -- Fri-FLA (Sanchez)
66. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- Wed-@MIL (Greinke)
67. Javier Vazquez (FLA) -- Wed-@WAS (Hernandez)
68. Chris Narveson (MIL) -- Tue-CHC (Lopez), Sun-HOU (Myers)
69. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- Tue-@LAD (Kershaw)
70. Jake Westbrook (STL) -- Tue-HOU (Myers), Sun-CHC (Lopez)
71. Randy Wolf (MIL) -- Fri-HOU (Lyles)
72. Derek Lowe (ATL) -- Thu-PIT (Correia)
73. Kyle McClellan (STL) -- Mon-HOU (Happ), Sat-CHC (Garza)
74. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- Wed-@CLE (Huff)
75. John Danks (CHW) -- Fri-BOS (Wakefield)

Two-start options for AL-/NL-only leagues:
Rubby De La Rosa (LAD) -- Mon-COL (Nicasio), Sun-ARI (Saunders)
Jeff Karstens (PIT) -- Tue-@ATL (Hanson), Sun-@PHI (Worley)
Brandon McCarthy (OAK) -- Tue-TB (Price), Sun-MIN (Pavano)
Dustin Moseley (SD) -- Tue-ARI (Saunders), Sun-COL (Nicasio)
Guillermo Moscoso (OAK) -- Mon-TB (Hellickson), Sat-MIN (Blackburn)
Carl Pavano (MIN) -- Tue-@TEX (Wilson), Sun-@OAK (McCarthy)
Joe Saunders (ARI) -- Tue-@SD (Moseley), Sun-@LAD (De La Rosa)

No-thank-yous, among two-starts:
Jake Arrieta (BAL) -- Tue-@TOR (Morrow), Sun-@NYY (Garcia)
Duane Below (DET) -- Mon-@CHW (Humber), Sat-LAA (Haren)
Nick Blackburn (MIN) -- Mon-@TEX (Holland), Sat-@OAK (Moscoso)
Fausto Carmona (CLE) -- Mon-LAA (Haren), Sun-KC (Davies)
Kyle Davies (KC) -- Mon-@BOS (Lester), Sun-@CLE (Carmona)
J.A. Happ (HOU) -- Mon-@STL (McClellan), Sat-@MIL (Gallardo)
Rodrigo Lopez (CHC) -- Tue-@MIL (Narveson), Sun-@STL (Westbrook)
Andrew Miller (BOS) -- Tue-KC (Duffy), Sun-@CHW (Jackson)
Jason Vargas (SEA) -- Mon-@NYY (Garcia), Sun-TB (Hellickson)

One-start sleepers:
Homer Bailey (CIN) -- Thu-NYM (Capuano)
Alex Cobb (TB) -- Sat-@SEA (Pineda)
Josh Collmenter (ARI) -- Fri-@LAD (Lilly)
Wade Davis (TB) -- Thu-@OAK (Harden)
Jason Hammel (COL) -- Fri-@SD (Stauffer)
John Lackey (BOS) -- Wed-KC (Chen)
Felipe Paulino (KC) -- Sat-@CLE (Masterson)
Brad Penny (DET) -- Thu-LAA (Pineiro)
Rick Porcello (DET) -- Fri-LAA (Chatwood)

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.

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