Fantasy baseball starting pitcher rankings for week 18

The fantasy baseball starting pitcher rankings and data you see below were pulled Friday morning. Please be aware the matchups are subject to change. The analysis was written Thursday, so some of the information may be incorrect, but the overall recommendation is what’s most important.

Must-start pitchers

Jon Lester makes his Athletics debut Saturday against the Royals. I recently wrote he’s not going to continue to have a sub-2.60 ERA, but what he’s doing is legit. He’s missing a lot of bats again, gets to pitch in a great pitcher’s ballpark and will have the luxury of the best outfield defense in the majors (when Craig Gentry and Coco Crisp are healthy). The Royals are 21st in the majors in OPS against lefties. If you own Lester, you’re starting him regardless, but I would trade for him. … David Price goes to a slightly better team in the Tigers, but the trade hurts his fantasy value. First, he leaves the pitcher friendly confines of Tampa Bay to a neutral pitcher’s park. Second, the Tigers have a bad outfield defense. Torii Hunter has lost a step; Rajai Davis and J.D. Martinez are well below average defenders. The infield defense isn’t much better. Nick Castellanos has quietly been almost as bad as Miguel Cabrera, who also has not been good at first base. It’s only been 42 games for Eugenio Suarez so I will forgo judgment.

Stream options in 10-team & must-starts in 12-team

After a rocky two months of the season, it looks as though Jake Odorizzi has finally turned the corner. In his last nine starts, he has not allowed more than three earned runs (he only allowed three once). During this stretch, he has a 25.7 percent strikeout rate and 7.5 percent walk rate. The walk rate may not jump off the page but it was nearly 10 percent before his current stretch. … Mike Minor has not pitched well lately; he has a 7.00 ERA and 1.74 WHIP in his last five starts. I’m still a believer in Minor for the rest of this year and beyond. The quality of his stuff is intact and the reason why he’s struggled has been due to bad command. Bad command can be fixed more easily than a decrease in velocity. It’s possible the injury he suffered (a strained shoulder recovering from a urinary tract surgery) in the offseason has contributed to his poor command. It’s possible a normal regimen corrects this in 2015. He probably will not return to the 3.21 ERA this year because his command has been much worse, but he is going to be one of my sleepers heading into drafts in 2015. … Zack Wheeler has been impressive in his last five starts: 1.67 ERA, 1.18 WHIP with a 21.7 and 6.5 percent strikeout rate and walk rate respectively. He’s looked better, and I like how he’s not walking as many batters, but it’s important to note the competition he’s facing: Phillies, Brewers, Marlins, Rangers and Padres. This week, he gets the Phillies again and the Nationals. He’s pitched well enough to start in 12-team mixed leagues, but I would be worried about the Nationals matchup.

Stream options in 12-team & must-starts in 15-team

Jesse Hahn has been a tremendous find for the Padres. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but he can ramp it up to 96-97 mph if he wants to. He’s mostly throws a curveball and change-up as well as the occasional slider. The best pitch is the curveball, which is a true bat-misser. What I love about Hahn is he’s been a ground-ball machine (51 percent), but I think that regresses because fastball-curveball pitchers tend to allow more fly balls. He’s not going to continue to have an ERA in the low twos, but an ERA in the 3.25-3.35 range is very possible. For more information about Hahn you check out this piece from Doug Thorburn.

Stream options in 15-team

If you look at Hiroki Kuroda’s last three seasons, his numbers are almost identical with the exception being a slight decrease in the strikeout rate and ERA this year. Since his brutal April, he has a 3.62 ERA and has been consistent. However, this week he faces the Tigers and Indians, two teams in the top five in OPS against righties. Even in deeper leagues I’m trying to find other options if I can.

Pitchers to start only in dire circumstances

Justin Masterson will make his Cardinals debut against the Orioles. After he was traded to the Cardinals, I said Masterson was a buy-low. However, in this start at the Orioles, I’m trying to find other options. The Cardinals have fixed pitchers in the past, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns it around. … Since the no-hitter, I have been a relatively high on Tim Lincecum’s fantasy value for the rest of the year. In his last two starts, he has looked like the Lincecum of the past two seasons, giving up 11 earned runs in 7.2 innings. This week, he’s a two-start pitcher and I’m avoiding him because of that fact. If he was a one start pitcher at the Royals he would be 10-15 spots higher in the ranks, but the start at Brewers worries me.

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