Down the stretch, we’ll be covering the probable starters and highlighting our favorites to stream as you chase down your fantasy titles. The pitcher in question must be available in 50% or more of leagues according to FantasyPros.com, which combines ESPN and Yahoo! roster rates (sometimes exceptions just over 50% will be mentioned if they are really good and should have a much higher roster rate). I’ve listed the players in order of interest.
Note: * denotes that ESPN ownership rates were used, as rates on FantasyPros were unavailable.
John Means (11-11, 3.54) at BOS |42%
Means has been a master at inducing soft contact this season, both on flies and liners (90.7 mph EV) and grounders (82.5 mph EV). Now he gets to face a Red Sox offense that ranks in the bottom third in ISO and wOBA for September. They may also still be adjusting from playing in high-80s temperatures in Texas to cool, damp weather in Boston. Means is a must-add and must-start.
Can Offer Categorical Help
Adam Plutko (7-4, 4.25) at WAS | 19%
Plutko is finishing strong, posting a 3.44 ERA over his last seven starts with 33 strikeouts over 36.2 innings. However, the Nationals are vying for home field advantage for the NL Wild Card game, so Plutko won’t likely get a break by facing a watered-down lineup. He is no sure thing, but among your streaming options, he could be one of the safest.
Brett Anderson (12-9, 4.00) at SEA | 19%
Anderson’s most notable skill is inducing grounders, and he has a shot at a quality start in opposing a Mariners team that has a .146 ISO in September. Facing them at T-Mobile Park doesn’t hurt either. Anderson is not who you want if you need strikeouts, but he could come through with a win and some ERA help.
Caleb Smith (10-10, 4.31) at PHI | 50%
Smith has pitched a little better of late, as he given up only three homers over his last four starts covering 22.2 innings. While that trend could reverse itself at Citizens Bank Park, Smith gets the benefit of facing the free-falling Phillies. It seems like there is more reward than risk with this start, and Smith could be one of the better strikeout options on waivers.
Zach Eflin (9-13, 4.16) vs. MIA | 32%
Eflin had his worst start in at least a month on Monday, when he gave up five runs (including three home runs) in five innings against the Nationals. He gets a considerably more favorable matchup on Saturday with the Marlins, so his 3.74 xFIP from his prior five starts is probably a better guide for our expectations for this outing. A quality start is a strong possibility.
Adam Wainwright (14-9, 3.98) vs. CHC | 44%
Prior to Monday’s start against the Diamondbacks (five runs in five innings), Wainwright was on a serious roll, allowing two runs (one earned) over a 27-inning stretch. Though he struck out only 14 batters across those four starts, opponents averaged a meager 88.7 mph EV FB/LD. Against a Cubs lineup that won’t likely be at full strength, he could succeed through inducing soft contact yet again.
Trent Thornton (5-9, 5.00) vs. TB | 4%*
Ever since he started to use his cutter more often at the beginning of August, Thornton has been better at preventing runs (4.11 ERA), much better at preventing hits on balls in play (.270), and he has been throwing more strikes (41.4 percent Zone%). The latter two improvements have resulted in a 1.19 WHIP over this 50.1-inning stretch. If you’re skeptical of the low BABIP, bear in mind that Thornton has limited exit velocity on grounders during this span to an average of just 79.6 mph. He may not last more than five innings, but if you need a low WHIP, Thornton should be your top target.
Steven Matz (10-10, 4.37) vs. ATL | 50%
Matz could see some reserves in the Braves’ lineup, but it could still be risky to rely on the lefty. He is coming off two outings in which he has allowed 13 runs in nine innings. Granted, one of those was at Coors Field, but it’s easy to see Matz having just about any outcome here. He is not the best choice if you are prioritizing safety.
Logan Webb (2-2, 5.61) vs. LAD | 2%*
Webb’s ERA is a bit misleading, as it has been inflated by a 62.5 percent strand rate that is could be partly the result of bad luck. He is also coming off a strong start in Atlanta and a respectable outing in Boston. Now he gets to start at Oracle Park, and though the Dodgers are typically one of the least favorable matchups, they could rest some regulars. Webb is far from being the best streamer available in most leagues, but especially in deeper formats, you could do a lot worse.
Jhoulys Chacín (3-11, 5.81) vs. BAL | 13%*
Even though he is coming off a pair of poor outings, there are some things to like about Chacin for this matchup. As mentioned above for Means, the conditions are good for a low-scoring game, and the Orioles are not an especially fearsome opponent. Also, going back to his last seven starts with the Brewers, Chacin has 54 strikeouts over his last 42.2 innings, thanks in large part to a 20.5 percent called strike rate. However, he has not pitched as many as four innings in an outing since July 14. Unless you are in a really tight race for strikeouts, there is not much appeal here.
Chi Chi González (2-6, 5.68) vs. MIL | 2%
González is coming off an impressive start against the Dodgers (two runs, none earned, with eight strikeouts over five innings). He has had a good month of September (1.69 ERA), and the schedule — a pair of home starts plus two road starts against the Dodgers — has not been easy. While González can’t be counted on for strikeouts, he has been unparalleled in avoiding hard airborne contact this month. Of 116 pitchers who have allowed at least 25 flyballs and line drives combined, none has an EV FB/LD as low as González’s 85.8 mph. He could be worth a try in deeper leagues.
Reynaldo López (9-15, 5.57) vs. DET | 17%*
It’s hard to know how well López will perform from one start to the next, but there has been much more bad than good of late. Though he began September with a one-hitter against the Indians, López followed that up with three straight starts in which he allowed at least five runs. The most recent of those was against his Saturday opponent, the Tigers. Right now, it’s hard to trust him, even against this opponent.
Avoid At All Costs
James Marvel (0-3, 10.22) vs. CIN | 1%*
Marvel has been getting grounders (51.1 percent GB%) and whiffs (9.5 percent SwStr%) at respectable rates through his first three starts, and he deserves better than a 10.22 ERA. Still, FIP, xFIP and SIERA agree he has been worse than a 5.00 ERA pitcher. There is no reason to take a chance on him here.
Jose Suarez (2-6, 7.34) vs. HOU | 1%*
Suarez was not bad his last time out, allowing one run over two innings following an opener against the Astros on Sunday. That did not put much of a dent in his ERA, which now stands at 7.34. There is little upside to be had in what will be Suarez’s fourth appearance against the Astros this season.
Garrett Richards (0-1, 11.81) at ARI | 3%
Richards’ first two starts back from Tommy John surgery have not gone well, as he has allowed a combined seven runs over just 5.1 innings. He froze the Brewers for 20 called strikes in 61 pitches in the first of those starts, but in both contests, opponents squared him up for a line drive rate above 30 percent and a hard contact rate above 50 percent. Richards must absolutely be avoided.
Glenn Sparkman (4-11, 6.11) vs. MIN | 1%*
Throughout this season, Sparkman has had little fantasy appeal, and he is currently going through a particularly rough stretch. Over his last six starts, he has a 9.00 ERA with eight home runs allowed over 26 innings. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Statistical credits: FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, Baseball Savant.
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.