Starting Pitcher: Target the Soft Schedule

It’s mid-August and if you’re in the top third of your league, you’re either trying to figure out how to wriggle your way up the standings or better yet, hold on to your top spot. This is about the time when managers start getting tricky about the standings, trying to maximize games played and targeting roto categories where they might topple someone ahead of them. If you’re chasing wins, one of the things you could do is look ahead at the strength of schedule. In particular, you could target teams that struggle (sometimes struggle mightily) to win baseball games that also have an anemic offense.

While the Colorado Rockies might not have that many wins, they also might bludgeon the opposing pitcher in the process of losing, which is why you might want to set your sights on pitchers facing the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, or the Seattle Mariners. For purposes of simplicity, when I put a percentage after a player name, it’ll be Yahoo ownership percentage, okay?

The Astros face the Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Mets, Giants, Reds, Pirates, Cubs, Phillies, and Brewers over the remainder of the season. However, if you want to plan strategically, they face the Cardinals in three separate series and they face the Reds and Pirates both twice. This could bring pitchers into play such as Jake Westbrook (36%), Jaime Garcia (38%), Erik Bedard (30%), Bronson Arroyo (13%), Mike Leake (11%), Homer Bailey (31%), and maybe even Jeff Karstens (10%). If you’re cautious, err on the side of home games for your starters as well.

The Chicago Cubs face the Reds, Brewers, Rockies, Giants, Nationals, Pirates, Astros, Cardinals, and Diamondbacks from here on out. They face the Pirates, Reds, Rockies, and Brewers twice. So in addition to the names above from the Reds and Pirates, you might want to consider Marco Estrada (7%), Randy Wolf (3%) and then absolutely nobody from the Colorado Rockies, please. If you do consider Wolf, I’d encourage you to try to get him at home where he’s been considerably more successful (K rate 20% at home, 9% on the road).

The Mariners face the Twins, Angels, Athletics, and Rangers all twice going forward, each one getting the chance to play at Safeco Field. The Angels and Rangers have staffs comprised of high-ownership starters, of course, but between the Twins and Athletics, you could consider Samuel Deduno (3%), Anthony Swarzak (0%!), or Bartolo Colon (29%).

Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that the Pittsburgh Pirates have 16 games left against the Padres, Astros, and Cubs combined. They also face the Mets four times in late September, when it’s likely they’ll be resting some of their regulars once the playoff picture becomes clearer (and clear that the Mets won’t be in on it. Sorry, Eno). So not only do the Pirates have something to play for, but their schedule is pretty cushy going forward, which should make some of their available starters a pretty decent play.

The Cleveland Indians and the Miami Marlins have been among the worst offenses in baseball over the last month as well, so if you want to play the schedule, it’s worth taking a peek at who they are facing off with. I’d try to avoid throwing a pitcher out there against a lineup including Jose Reyes and Giancarlo Stanton if you can help it though, even if the supporting cast hasn’t been doing much. If you’re considering matchups vs. the Indians, shy away from using right handed starters as the Indians have been pretty successful against RHP with a team wOBA of .327, which is good for 7th in baseball. But versus left handed pitchers, it drops to .290, which is a stones throw from last in the league.

If your roster is deep, roster moves are free, and you have a revolving door of players you’re willing to cut, you could add a great deal of names to this list of course. But if you’re trying to plan ahead with a handful of starting pitchers, definitely take a peek at the softer schedules and be as assiduous as possible in your pursuit of the pitchers with the highest likelihood of a win.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

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lester bangs
lester bangs

Assiduous! Check out the big brain on Brett.

Target the soft schedule! That must be a new thing.


I don’t think the idea of the article was to come up with a new strategy. I think the idea was telling people the tactics they should use for carrying out the strategy.

Cap'n Obv.
Cap'n Obv.

Dude, no need for that, you wanna do the labour (yes, I’m Canadian) and go to the trouble of making your own blog or website or twitter you can say the same thing in as many words.

Stupid to come onto this site and act like their spreading the gospel to new ears; just doing sound work and saving owners from menial tasks for little thanks.

Thanks Fangraphs and Michael, much appreciated.