- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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On tap: Baseball's traditional Opening Day arrives Thursday, April 5, with seven games chock full of intriguing starting pitching matchups. Reigning American League Cy Young and MVP Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers host Jon Lester and the Boston Red Sox; Stephen Strasburg makes his 2012 debut at Chicago's Wrigley Field; reigning National League Cy Young Clayton Kershaw gets an outstanding opening assignment at San Diego's Petco Park; Johan Santana marks his return from shoulder surgery as his New York Mets host the Atlanta Braves and a fellow pitcher returning from injury, Tommy Hanson; and other notable names such as Roy Halladay and Ricky Romero also take the mound.
But let's not forget that game the night before: The Miami Marlins christen their new ballpark, Marlins Park, with a home game versus the reigning world champion St. Louis Cardinals. Josh Johnson will start for the Marlins in his first appearance since May 16, as he's now recovered from a shoulder issue.
Fourteen other teams will play their 2012 openers on Friday, including American League East rivals the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays in Tampa, and the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks in Arizona.
ESPN leagues: "Week 1"
"Week 1" in ESPN leagues began with the two Japan games last week and continues through the Los Angeles Angels-at-Yankees "Sunday Night Baseball" game on April 15. In a head-to-head league, the next 12 days encompass your first matchup of 2012.
In daily ESPN leagues, players lock at their individually scheduled game times. These are the scheduled first pitches of the first games by day:
Tristan's lineup-setting philosophy
Always start your best players over your best matchups. It's as simple as the potential for regret; you will always regret the negative result from having made the incorrect move the more talented -- and higher regarded by you -- the player is. It's for that reason I'll make only minimal tweaks -- think one to five per week -- to my lineup in any weekly league, mostly to address injuries or poor performance by incumbents. With the exception of daily formats or shallow mixed leagues, if you're making many more lineup changes weekly, you're probably overdoing it.
It's for that reason that I consider the charts below most helpful for mapping out your pitching matchups -- the most important weekly lineup decisions to be made -- as well as identifying hitting matchups that stand out as extreme on either end. It's why you won't find much of anything said, ever, in any week, about the "obvious" fantasy studs; this isn't the place to read about how great Felix Hernandez's two matchups versus the Oakland Athletics are, because you already know Hernandez is great and would never have benched him. Hernandez will be in my rankings because everyone gets ranked. But that's all the press he'll get.
Players discussed below faced some sort of question about their fantasy value, ranging anywhere from an ESPN standard mixed league to a deep AL- or NL-only league.
The chart below lists each of the 30 MLB teams' schedules and probable starting pitchers, and provides a matchup rating for each day's starter. Pitchers scheduled to start at least twice this week are in gray/beige boxes.
P: The starting pitcher's matchup rating, which accounts for past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days), opponent and ballpark. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst.
1. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) -- 4/5-@SD (Volquez), 4/10-PIT (Correia), 4/15-SD (Stauffer)
2. Felix Hernandez (SEA) -- 4/7-@OAK (Colon), 4/13-OAK (Colon)
3. Roy Halladay (PHI) -- 4/5-@PIT (Bedard), 4/11-MIA (Johnson)
4. Jered Weaver (LAA) -- 4/6-KC (Chen), 4/11-@MIN (Pavano)
5. Cliff Lee (PHI) -- 4/7-@PIT (Karstens), 4/12-MIA (Buehrle)
6. Justin Verlander (DET) -- 4/5-BOS (Lester), 4/11-TB (Niemann)
7. Dan Haren (LAA) -- 4/7-KC (Hochevar), 4/12-@MIN (Liriano)
8. Stephen Strasburg (WAS) -- 4/5-@CHC (Dempster), 4/11-@NYM (Santana)
9. Matt Cain (SF) -- 4/8-@ARI (Collmenter), 4/13-PIT (McDonald)
10. Ian Kennedy (ARI) -- 4/6-SF (Lincecum), 4/12-@SD (Luebke)
11. Tim Lincecum (SF) -- 4/6-@ARI (Kennedy), 4/11-@COL (Guthrie)
12. Cole Hamels (PHI) -- 4/9-MIA (Sanchez), 4/14-NYM (Niese)
13. Zack Greinke (MIL) -- 4/7-STL (Wainwright), 4/12-@CHC (Garza)
14. CC Sabathia (NYY) -- 4/6-@TB (Shields), 4/11-@BAL (Arrieta)
15. Josh Johnson (MIA) -- 4/4-STL (Lohse), 4/11-@PHI (Halladay)
16. Mat Latos (CIN) -- 4/7-MIA (Nolasco), 4/12-@WAS (Gonzalez)
17. C.J. Wilson (LAA) -- 4/9-@MIN (Blackburn), 4/14-@NYY (Hughes)
18. Cory Luebke (SD) -- 4/6-LAD (Billingsley), 4/12-ARI (Kennedy)
19. Tommy Hanson (ATL) -- 4/5-@NYM (Santana), 4/11-@HOU (Rodriguez)
20. Yovani Gallardo (MIL) -- 4/6-STL (Garcia), 4/11-@CHC (Dempster)
21. Brandon Beachy (ATL) -- 4/9-@HOU (Happ), 4/15-MIL (Narveson)
22. Jon Lester (BOS) -- 4/5-@DET (Verlander), 4/11-@TOR (Romero)
23. David Price (TB) -- 4/7-NYY (Kuroda), 4/13-@BOS (Beckett)
24. Brandon McCarthy (OAK) -- 4/6-SEA (Vargas), 4/11-KC (Chen)
25. Yu Darvish (TEX) -- 4/9-SEA (Noesi), 4/14-@MIN (Blackburn)
26. Matt Garza (CHC) -- 4/7-WAS (Gonzalez), 4/12-MIL (Greinke)
27. Daniel Hudson (ARI) -- 4/7-SF (Bumgarner), 4/13-@COL (Nicasio)
28. Madison Bumgarner (SF) -- 4/7-@ARI (Hudson), 4/12-@COL (Moyer)
29. Shaun Marcum (MIL) -- 4/9-@CHC (Volstad), 4/14-@ATL (Minor)
30. Adam Wainwright (STL) -- 4/7-@MIL (Greinke), 4/13-CHC (Samardzija)
31. Hiroki Kuroda (NYY) -- 4/7-@TB (Price), 4/13-LAA (Santana)
32. Matt Moore (TB) -- 4/10-@DET (Porcello), 4/15-@BOS (Doubront)
33. Chad Billingsley (LAD) -- 4/6-@SD (Luebke), 4/11-PIT (Bedard)
34. Gio Gonzalez (WAS) -- 4/7-@CHC (Garza), 4/12-CIN (Latos)
35. Vance Worley (PHI) -- 4/8-@PIT (McDonald), 4/13-NYM (Dickey)
36. Johan Santana (NYM) -- 4/5-ATL (Hanson), 4/11-WAS (Strasburg)
37. Erik Bedard (PIT) -- 4/5-PHI (Halladay), 4/11-@LAD (Billingsley)
38. Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) -- 4/8-@CHC (Samardzija), 4/13-CIN (Arroyo)
39. James Shields (TB) -- 4/6-NYY (Sabathia), 4/12-@DET (Smyly)
40. Colby Lewis (TEX) -- 4/6-CHW (Danks), 4/11-SEA (Millwood)
41. Ubaldo Jimenez (CLE) -- 4/7-TOR (Morrow), 4/13-@KC (Hochevar)
42. Neftali Feliz (TEX) -- 4/10-SEA (Beavan), 4/15-@MIN (TBD)
43. Anibal Sanchez (MIA) -- 4/9-@PHI (Hamels), 4/15-HOU (Happ)
44. Jaime Garcia (STL) -- 4/6-@MIL (Gallardo), 4/11-@CIN (Cueto)
45. Ricky Romero (TOR) -- 4/5-@CLE (Masterson), 4/11-BOS (Lester)
46. Derek Holland (TEX) -- 4/7-CHW (Peavy), 4/12-SEA (Vargas)
47. Jeremy Hellickson (TB) -- 4/8-NYY (Hughes), 4/14-@BOS (Buchholz)
48. Max Scherzer (DET) -- 4/8-BOS (Buchholz), 4/14-@CHW (Floyd)
49. Chris Sale (CHW) -- 4/9-@CLE (Tomlin), 4/15-DET (Porcello)
50. Clay Buchholz (BOS) -- 4/8-@DET (Scherzer), 4/14-TB (Hellickson)
51. Johnny Cueto (CIN) -- 4/5-MIA (Buehrle), 4/11-STL (Garcia)
52. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) -- 4/6-COL (Guthrie), 4/11-ATL (Hanson)
53. Brandon Morrow (TOR) -- 4/7-@CLE (Jimenez), 4/13-BAL (Chen)
54. Justin Masterson (CLE) -- 4/5-TOR (Romero), 4/11-CHW (Danks)
55. Josh Beckett (BOS) -- 4/7-@DET (Fister), 4/13-TB (Price)
56. Bartolo Colon (OAK) -- 4/7-SEA (Hernandez), 4/13-@SEA (Hernandez)
57. Tim Stauffer (SD) -- 4/10-ARI (Cahill), 4/15-@LAD (Kershaw)
58. Francisco Liriano (MIN) -- 4/7-@BAL (Chen), 4/12-LAA (Haren)
59. Doug Fister (DET) -- 4/7-BOS (Beckett), 4/13-@CHW (Peavy)
60. Ervin Santana (LAA) -- 4/8-KC (Sanchez), 4/13-@NYY (Kuroda)
61. John Danks (CHW) -- 4/6-@TEX (Lewis), 4/11-@CLE (Masterson)
62. Jair Jurrjens (ATL) -- 4/7-@NYM (Dickey), 4/13-MIL (Wolf)
63. Phil Hughes (NYY) -- 4/8-@TB (Hellickson), 4/14-LAA (Wilson)
64. Edwin Jackson (WAS) -- 4/9-@NYM (Pelfrey), 4/14-CIN (Leake)
65. Ryan Dempster (CHC) -- 4/5-WAS (Strasburg), 4/11-MIL (Gallardo)
66. R.A. Dickey (NYM) -- 4/7-ATL (Jurrjens), 4/13-@PHI (Worley)
67. Jonathan Sanchez (KC) -- 4/8-@LAA (Santana), 4/14-CLE (Lowe)
68. Gavin Floyd (CHW) -- 4/8-@TEX (Harrison), 4/14-DET (Scherzer)
69. Matt Harrison (TEX) -- 4/8-CHW (Floyd), 4/13-@MIN (Hendriks)
70. Juan Nicasio (COL) -- 4/8-@HOU (Norris), 4/13-ARI (Hudson)
71. Ivan Nova (NYY) -- 4/9-@BAL (Hunter), 4/15-LAA (TBD)
72. Jhoulys Chacin (COL) -- 4/9-SF (Zito), 4/14-ARI (Collmenter)
73. Jake Peavy (CHW) -- 4/7-@TEX (Holland), 4/13-DET (Fister)
74. Ted Lilly (LAD) -- 4/14-SD (Richard)
75. Randy Wolf (MIL) -- 4/8-STL (Lynn), 4/13-@ATL (Jurrjens)
76. Jonathon Niese (NYM) -- 4/8-ATL (Minor), 4/14-@PHI (Hamels)
77. Aaron Harang (LAD) -- 4/8-@SD (Richard), 4/13-SD (Moseley)
78. Mike Minor (ATL) -- 4/8-@NYM (Niese), 4/14-MIL (Marcum)
79. Edinson Volquez (SD) -- 4/5-LAD (Kershaw), 4/11-ARI (Saunders)
80. Chris Capuano (LAD) -- 4/7-@SD (Moseley), 4/12-PIT (Karstens)
81. Trevor Cahill (ARI) -- 4/10-@SD (Stauffer), 4/15-@COL (Pomeranz)
82. Carlos Zambrano (MIA) -- 4/8-@CIN (Arroyo), 4/14-HOU (Norris)
83. Homer Bailey (CIN) -- 4/10-STL (Lohse), 4/15-@WAS (Detwiler)
84. Bud Norris (HOU) -- 4/8-COL (Nicasio), 4/14-@MIA (Zambrano)
85. Luke Hochevar (KC) -- 4/7-@LAA (Haren), 4/13-CLE (Jimenez)
86. Mike Leake (CIN) -- 4/9-STL (Westbrook), 4/14-@WAS (Jackson)
87. Tommy Milone (OAK) -- 4/9-KC (Mendoza), 4/14-@SEA (Noesi)
88. Josh Tomlin (CLE) -- 4/9-CHW (Sale), 4/15-@KC (Mendoza)
89. Josh Collmenter (ARI) -- 4/8-SF (Cain), 4/14-@COL (Chacin)
90. Ricky Nolasco (MIA) -- 4/7-@CIN (Latos), 4/13-HOU (Harrell)
91. Henderson Alvarez (TOR) -- 4/9-BOS (Doubront), 4/15-BAL (Hunter)
92. Lance Lynn (STL) -- 4/8-@MIL (Wolf), 4/14-CHC (Volstad)
93. Mark Buehrle (MIA) -- 4/5-@CIN (Cueto), 4/12-@PHI (Lee)
94. Clayton Richard (SD) -- 4/8-LAD (Harang), 4/14-@LAD (Lilly)
95. Dustin Moseley (SD) -- 4/7-LAD (Capuano), 4/13-@LAD (Harang)
96. Jason Vargas (SEA) -- 4/6-@OAK (McCarthy), 4/12-@TEX (Holland)
97. Jeremy Guthrie (COL) -- 4/6-@HOU (Rodriguez), 4/11-SF (Lincecum)
98. Daniel Bard (BOS) -- 4/10-@TOR (Drabek)
99. James McDonald (PIT) -- 4/8-PHI (Worley), 4/13-@SF (Cain)
100. Jeff Samardzija (CHC) -- 4/8-WAS (Zimmermann), 4/13-@STL (Wainwright)
• I'm a big fan of Baseball Challenge -- put together your own team (for free) here, and make sure to read Mike Sheets' strategy column -- and, as such, will pick my best team pitching-matchup values in the Forecaster each week. Baseball Challenge uses team pitching staffs, and these selections can also help those in Rotisserie and points-based leagues because they're designed to highlight the strongest team pitching matchups. Not best teams, best matchups for an entire team. These are my top four, in ranked order, for Week 1: Los Angeles Dodgers (@SD-4, PIT-3, SD-3); Texas Rangers (CHW-3, SEA-4, @MIN-3); Oakland Athletics (SEA-2, KC-3, @SEA-3); Philadelphia Phillies (@PIT-3, MIA-3, NYM-3).
• The remainder of the "pitching notes" portion of the Forecaster will discuss individual pitching matchups of note, the first this week being Ricky Romero. Although he gets a cozy opening assignment at Cleveland's Progressive Field, his second comes at home versus the Red Sox, a team that has historically owned him. In 13 career starts against the Red Sox, he has three quality starts -- albeit all of those coming in their past five meetings -- a 7.12 ERA and 1.93 WHIP. And to the point about recent improvement in those matchups, be aware that Romero has never managed a better Bill James game score than 59 against the Red Sox and only three times has managed 50 or higher (generally regarded the minimum quality-start performance by that formula).
• Mark Buehrle's opening matchups -- at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park -- might look poor, but in his defense, he has 13 wins, a 66.7 quality start percentage, 2.87 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 21 career starts when the game-time temperature was beneath 50 degrees. Although neither game -- especially the Thursday opener at 4 p.m. ET -- might endure weather that cold, it supports his being a more successful pitcher when the temperatures are lower. Keep it in mind, especially during that Phillies matchup.
• Jair Jurrjens is a perfect 5-for-5 in quality starts with a 2.94 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in his career at New York's Citi Field, and he has a history of stronger early- than late-season performances (2.86 first-half ERA, 3.99 second-half, in his career).
• Chad Billingsley gets two of his favorite matchups, historically speaking, in Week 1: In the past three seasons combined he has five quality starts, a 2.68 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in seven starts at San Diego's Petco Park (his Friday, April 6, matchup); and he has three wins, a 2.70 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in four starts versus the Pittsburgh Pirates (his April 11 matchup).
Among streaming starter options -- something I define as single-start options in daily leagues among pitchers owned in 25 percent of ESPN leagues or fewer -- for Week 1, here is one pick for each day:
Thursday, April 5: Erik Bedard versus Philadelphia Phillies
Friday, April 6: Jake Arrieta versus Minnesota Twins
Saturday, April 7: Chris Capuano at San Diego Padres
Sunday, April 8: Juan Nicasio at Houston Astros
Monday, April 9: Mike Leake versus St. Louis Cardinals
Tuesday, April 10: Philip Humber at Cleveland Indians
Wednesday, April 11: Edinson Volquez versus Arizona Diamondbacks.
Thursday, April 12: Chris Capuano versus Pittsburgh Pirates. (This is a weak day for streaming options with few viable alternatives.)
Friday, April 13: Bartolo Colon at Seattle Mariners
Saturday, April 14: Carlos Zambrano versus Houston Astros
Sunday, April 15: Henderson Alvarez versus Baltimore Orioles
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.
Some of the data used to generate this chart is derived from Baseball Musings' Day-by-day database.
H: Hitters' matchup rating, which accounts for the opposing starting pitcher's past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days) as well as ballpark factors. L: Hitters' matchup rating accounting only for left-handed hitters. R: Hitters' matchup rating accounting for only right-handed hitters. S: Base-stealing matchup rating, which accounts for the opponent's catchers' ability to gun down opposing base stealers. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst.
• As mentioned with Buehrle above, colder weather could have an impact upon games in northern cities, and rain is always a possibility in northern cities during April. The Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Miami Marlins, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays and Washington Nationals will each play at least six games in northern cities during Week 1. Among individual player notes, Kevin Youkilis is a career .352/.467/.626 hitter with a 16.2 percent walk rate in 54 career games in which the game-time temperature was beneath 50 degrees; Jhonny Peralta is a .178/.277/.282 hitter with a 26.6 percent strikeout rate in 44 such contests; Alex Rios is a .224/.303/.336 hitter in 32; Asdrubal Cabrera is a .231/.321/.333 hitter in 33; and A.J. Pierzynski is a .238/.299/.372 hitter in 69.
• The Astros are the only team to play all of its games in weather-controlled environments; although they play their final three games of "Week 1" at Miami, remember that the new Marlins Park has a retractable roof. As Astros players won't be the most popular in fantasy lineups, there's a pretty decent balance in terms of weather risks among the 30 big league teams. The Padres (LAD-4, ARI-3, @LAD-3) are the next-most safest, and again, it's not like the Padres' roster is loaded with fantasy superstars.
• Looking at the Rangers' outstanding matchups for Week 1, the name that stands out in their lineup is the left-handed Mitch Moreland. He concluded spring training with a .283/.358/.450 triple-slash line in 60 at-bats, and the Rangers are likely to face as many as eight right-handed starters in their 10 games. Moreland might start all eight of those between first base and/or designated hitter.
• In a deeeeeeep NL-only league, be aware that the Atlanta Braves will face a whopping six left-handed starters during their nine-game "Week 1." That's a plus for a straight-platoon player like Matt Diaz, currently ticketed for significant time in left field with Chipper Jones on the disabled list.
Tristan H. Cockcroft breaks down the schedule and offers helpful tips for the second portion of an extra-long "Week 1" of the fantasy baseball season, including notes on Mark Buehrle, Kevin Youkilis and others.