This week’s two-start piece features a recently-dealt lefty, a young up-and-comer, a recent DL activee, and a deep sleeper who can get whiffs but thus far, not wins.
LHP Francisco Liriano (21.7 percent ESPN/41 percent Yahoo!) – @BAL (.308), @DET (.313)
It’s been an uneven season for Liriano, and if we’re completely honest, it’s pretty indicative of his entire career. The 5.12 ERA is scary, as are the nearly five walks per nine, but the whiffs (9.9 per 9) are the second best of his career, and have resulted in a solid 3.91 xFIP. For every part of his fantasy game that is bad (just five wins, too many walks, and a somewhat alarming home run rate), he somewhat redeems himself (back on a relatively good innings pace, whiffs, best batting average against since his ridiculous rookie campaign) on the other side. Is he a reliable starting option? Probably not, considering 12 of his starts have resulted in four earned runs or more (22 overall), but he’s been really good since the Twins re-inserted him into the rotation in late-May after a brief bullpen demotion (3.88 ERA, 10.6 K/9, .616 OPS allowed). Baltimore is lousy versus southpaws, and Detroit isn’t much better — just shy of league average, really — so Liriano should be in store for a pretty good week. One other thing possibly worth noting: Liriano is 2-0 in five starts since coming over, while he was 3-10 with the Twins. The biggest help? The Pale Hose offense, which has posted a .323 wOBA over the past 30 days (10th best in MLB, slightly better than .321 season mark).
RHP Chris Tillman (4.2 percent ESPN/7 percent Yahoo!) – v. CWS (.318), @NYY (.347)
Liriano’s mound counterpart on Monday evening is Tillman, who looks like he may be the first Orioles pitching prospect in a while to overcome a rough start to re-assert himself as a viable rotation candidate. He’s certainly done more than that, thanks in large part to a huge velocity jump (89.5 → 92.8 from ‘11 to ‘12) and some polishing to his secondary offerings. As a result, his contact rate is down five percent, his swinging-strike rate has jumped over two-and-a-half percent, and his strike rate is up a full percentage point over last season. At 24, it’s hard not to believe we’re seeing some legit growth from a guy who was ranked as high as 22nd overall in Baseball America’s rankings back in 2009. But let’s reel in expectations just a little bit. It’s only been 51 innings — granted, VASTLY improved innings — and he’s still facing the Yankees at the back end of this week to come. Still, I think it might be a good idea to strike early on Tillman, because signs seem to point up for the young righty.
LHP Brett Anderson (20.1 percent ESPN/21 percent Yahoo!) – @CLE (.292), v. BOS (.338)
Anderson showed virtually no rust in his 2012 debut on Tuesday, limiting the Twins to one earned run on four hits with six whiffs over seven frames. Granted, this wasn’t the best Twins offense possible — with a lineup including Darin Mastroianni, Pedro Florimon, and no Denard Span — but Anderson was masterful, inducing 13 groundballs on 62 strikes (86 total pitches, 72.1 percent). It can’t possibly remain this rosy for the 24-year-old port-sider; his 2011 season ended on June 5 so he essentially sat out 14 months, and that likely means that there’ll be bumps in the road in his continued recovery. Still, he should be able to put off some of those bumps until after this week, as the Indians are abysmal against lefties — and have been downright awful since the break — and Boston is on a bit of a slide as well (.323 30-day wOBA, 3-7 last 10, 6-15 in August). I’d consider Anderson sort of on the edge of long-term replacement and this week fodder; one can never be sure how rust may show, but Anderson is clearly young enough and good enough that he ought to merit at least some regular roster consideration.
RHP Marco Estrada (2.7 percent ESPN/6 percent Yahoo!) – @CHC (.302), v. PIT (.305)
I’ve been trumpeting Estrada’s case as a viable fantasy starter all season due to his propensity for the whiff, but his production has severely lagged behind is peripherals all season. This week, the Cubs provide a good chance for the Mexican right-hander to finally get on the winning track. The Pirates aren’t the worst matchup in the world, either.